MTNA Music Achievement Award Program

Brunner Studios will be participating in the NMTA Music Achievement Award Program for the 2011-2012 music year. 


The follows goals can be selected to be set by the students for the year.  Select all or a few for a customized achievement program.  This is a great opportunity for those students who do not wish to participate in the traditional festival circuit in the spring.


1. Set a required practice amount per day/days per week and follow. (Time to be
approved by the teacher.)
2. Complete one lesson/methods book or comparable segment of vocal literature.
3. Complete one theory or ear training book.
4. Complete one technical exercise book (or specific assignment as set by the teacher).
5. Complete a scale or vocalise assignment as outlined by the teacher.
6. Complete a sight-reading assignment as outlined by the teacher.
7. Memorize one to four pieces (or more)—to be determined by the teacher.
8. Learn one piece from several different style periods or learn several contrasting style
9. Learn a complete sonatina/sonata (or suite or set of songs, and so forth).
10. Learn a duet with another student (or teacher). Or play/sing a piece with an ensemble.
11. If keyboard, accompany a voice/instrumental student on one piece. If voice/instrumental,
sing/play a piece with a student accompanist.
12. Perform as a soloist on a recital.
13. Perform for a religious event, nursing home, senior citizen center or civic event.
14. Participate in an event sponsored by MTNA on the local, state or national level.
15. Participate in school choir/band/orchestra or church choir/orchestra for one school term.
16. Write a report on a composer. (Composer to be approved in advance by the teacher.)
17. Read a book on some aspect of music. (Book to be approved in advance by the
18. Compose a piece.
19. Learn to play/sing a pop, blues, jazz, etc. piece of the student’s choice.
20. Purchase a CD, approved by teacher, and listen to it at least once a week for _______
24. Arrange a piece to include other instruments with piano.
25. Attend a concert/recital/musical.
26. Watch a musical concert on public television.
27. Watch a video about a musical or composer.


For more information contact Brunner Studios in Charlotte, NC.

Topics at a First Piano Lesson

So you’ve signed yourself or your child up for piano lessons.  Now what?  What are you going to learn in that first 30 minutes?  Is it going to be overwhelming or a piece of cake?  How are you going to practice 30 minutes 5 days a week?  Let’s look at a very simple check list of topics that are usually covered in a first piano lesson.


1.  How do you sit and the piano and position your hands over the keyboard.


2.  The Keys.  There are black keys and white keys.  The black keys are in groups of 2 and 3.  Can you find middle C?


3.  If the student is going to begin reading on the musical staff, then the topic of lines and spaces is covered.  How do the treble and bass clef relate to the right and left hand?


4.  A musical note.  This could be quarter, half or whole notes.  What does the note look like and what is its value?


Believe it or not, it can take 30 minutes to cover those 4 topics with a new student.  I love it when a child comes in and recognizes some of the musical notation from their music school at class.  The student feels so smart and head of the game.


Students, be patient with yourselves.  Parents, help the students in any way that you can even if you aren’t a musician.  Read the directions and make sure they are using the correct hand for the piece.


Good luck with your piano lessons!

Planning the Academic Year for Piano

Here in the south the school supply lists are already putting in an appearance.  Last week I was at a Target store here in Charlotte, NC and they were already putting out school supplies.  (On a side note, I did purchase some new markers and folders.)  This is the time of year that students feel like they get to start over with their goals and you might get an influx of new and transfer students.  Many of these students will want to participate in festivals and competitions during the coming academic year.  How do you make sure they are prepared and stay on schedule? 


If I am getting to see my students during the summer, then I take part of a summer lesson and we evaluate our goals.  If the student is not taking summer lessons then I try to use the second lesson back to evaluate the situation.  What are we evaluating?  I give the student their options for festival and competitions and we talk about how much music they would need to learn and what could overlap for these events.  For example, if a student wants to participate in NFMC and NCMTA the choice piece for the NFMC festival could be drawn from the NCMTA list.  This bring the required pieces down from 5 to 4.  All 4 pieces could be used for Guild Auditions. 


Guild Auditions and the National Achievement Program both have technical requirements.  I use my checklist and have every student go through all of the technical exercises that they should have learned up to this point.  One sheet that I use is found on the Resources page.  This lets me know what we need to review and when compared to the festival levels what we need to accomplish in a set time frame. 


I try to give a theory evaluation if there is time.  Otherwise we do this in the next few weeks.  If a student is participating in the National Achievement Program I use a practice test to see how prepared they are for this level of examination.  These exams are quite difficult and it seems that half the battle is reading and following the instructions. 


With all of this information, we can plan when to choose the literature and what schedule we need to keep to be prepared with the technical skills.  Students sometime practice a little aimlessly when there isn’t a clear deadline.  This can give them a mini-deadline for every week.  For those high school students who are so busy, it is pretty easy to divide their pieces into sections and set a measures goal for each week.  For example, we need to learn and memorize 10 measures of the Prokofiev this week and 5 measures of the Bach.  It’s amazing how well they will practice when not overwhelmed.

Piano Assignment Sheets Update

Today I added a Beginner Piano Assignment Sheet to the Resources Page


Also on the Resources page you will find the Piano Assignment Sheet and the Technique Assignment Sheet.


Please feel free to use these in your own studio.


Supplies for Piano Lessons

What supplies does a student need to help make taking piano lessons easier and to make practice at home run more smoothly?


1.  Assignment Book- Every teacher has their own method of tracking assignments.  Some teachers write the date on the page, other use a pre-printed book that goes with a method book series, a spiral notebook is always effective, or a 3 ring binder.  I have my students use a 3 ring-binder.  Every week I print out assignment sheets that are customized to the lesson with the listening and music history assignment printed in.


2.  Music Bag-  Most kids have a clumsy streak and go through phases of forgetfulness.  A music bag is a quick way to keep track of everything.  Pack it up the night before a lesson so that the student doesn’t forget any books. 


3.  Pencils-  keep a few sharpened pencils with good erasers at the piano for use during practice.  I like to have my students make notes of any questions they have during the week.  Also, theory should always be done in pencil.  Would you do your math homework in pen?


4.  Metronome- Counting is essential to playing music correctly.  A metronome can aid in this process.  My students usually begin learning to use one quite early on in the process.  The sooner they have the hang of using the metronome the better.


5.  Timer-  Kids are forever asking if they have practiced long enough.  Forestall this questions by equipping them with a timer that is easy to set.


These are just a few things that help students succeed in piano lessons.  A prepared student makes for a happy piano teacher.  

Sight Reading Rhythms

Now that festival season is coming to a close, I hope that I can get my students back on track with their technical exercises and rhythm drills. 

We all know the importance of good counting.  We also know that some students have a natural ability for rhythm and other do not.  Last summer while teaching Piano Artistry Camp at the Charlotte Academy of Music, I discovered that some students who I thought had excellent natural rhythm were really just hard workers. 

At camp, each student had a binder with rhythm drills.  We took turns clapping and counting rhythms.  I had thought that since the students were playing advanced music that they would be able to sight read intermediate rhythms correctly.  Bad assumption on my part.  We went all the was back to elementary level rhythms before they could successful clap and count the rhythms correctly on first sight.  So while the students could correctly learn the more difficult rhythms during the week between lessons, they were struggling on the sight reading front.

My solution to this was to give every student successive sheets of rhythm drills and sight read rhythms each week in their lessons.  The rhythms that they struggled with they practiced over the week at home.  The ones that were sight read correctly got a star sticker.

A good source of counting work sheets is

I would like to review the Rhythm Clapback/Singback series by Boris Berlin and Andrew Markow that is published through Frederick Harris Music.

I have a few of the Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests books and have found those to be useful as well. 

Playing correct rhythms is just as important as playing correct notes.  Our students deserve a strong foundation in this area.