What do you value?

We just passed the season of gifts and giving. What was your favorite gift? My husband and I had the privilege of spending time with both our children and their families. That’s priceless. You only have a set time to create certain memories and this year my husband and I tried to make as many memories as possible.

But what else do you value?

Time

Have you ever been discouraged about your studio practice?

In my early years of teaching I would bring my husband to work and go home. Then I would teach my lessons and go home – only to turn around and get my husband at 11 pm and travel home. We could only be a one car family at the time, but we made my teaching piano work. However, several times I would drive up to a student’s house only to find they were out (The mother wanted to go to the mall.) – or still in bed! I decided to end the madness and only teach at home.

The wasted gas stopped; however, there were still calls canceling because students didn’t practice or worse yet the no-shows. I bawled in private but was gracious to those that little valued my time. But help came.

A colleague told me, “If you don’t value your time, the students will never value it. Charge them for their missed lessons.” So after five years of teaching I finally wrote a studio policy. Who would have thought boundaries bring…

Freedom.

When you know what the rules are you can point out to the parent the policy and say, “You agreed to these terms and I still get paid whether you practiced or not.” When I was called to jury duty, I reimbursed my students. My time became a commodity of a set value and my students, the parents, my family and myself knew what value I put on it.

Opportunity

Then there are the scholarships. I made it a practice to give greatly reduced rates or free lessons to one or more individuals each year. Over time I saw the result of my generosity. With one, maybe two exceptions, of the dozens given – the students didn’t value their opportunities. I sat amazed at the gifts given to them and the way they squandered their time and lessons. They were some of the most ill-prepared students and what once was desired became an annoyance to their daily schedule.

So, if I really feel the need to offer scholarships, then I have a 3 strikes policy. The first lesson they come unprepared I warn the student. The second lesson I give a written warning to the parent stating the scholarship is in jeopardy. The third lesson (and not necessarily consecutive) and the scholarship is withdrawn.

It may sound cruel. I am a soft soul and have given latitude for mid-terms and injury but what do I teach them to value if I don’t value the opportunity I have given to them?

I would like to know what you value? How do you protect what you value?

Visits in Time

The Catalyst

I just returned from a visit to my two Texan sisters. I am 3 dozen eggs lighter on the return and a couple bags of clothing heavier from Deb. I brought the eggs down to prove to Deb that baby chicks don’t hop out when you crack them just because we offer fertile, free-range eggs. At least I spared her the goose eggs.

Yes, it was hot, Yes, we spent most of the time chatting in the pool. Yes, we had fun. Topics ranged from the July 1st death of Peter Falk (I love Columbo movies) to childhood neighbors trying to sell their houses. In fact, some topics brought up would never have crossed our minds a decade or so ago. Normally, the time would be ripe for old-age jokes, but just telling you – we compared 401K and retirement plans, wills and those golden year aspirations.

Repertoire

Change is inevitable. We’re not just talking sagging bodies here. Circumstances change and shape our outlooks. Life experiences shape our coping mechanisms, our likes and dislikes. The song we obsessed over as a high school student seems silly now. Yet, we involuntarily respond to “That Song” that symbolized a bond we had with special people in our lives.

Now my brother may have played “Ole Yeller” until the record warpped but I couldn’t stand songs that made me cry. Give me “Along Came John” over “God Didn’t Make Little Green Apples” any day. Of course, my genre really included “Climb Every Mountain” and “To Dream the Impossible Dream” but I grew up in the age where the pop culture did not speak for me. Other than “Hey Jude, and “I Want to hold Your Hand” I couldn’t name the top hits except for Simon and Garfunkel’s two songs I liked: “Sounds of Silence and “Like A Bridge Over troubled Water.” I still prefer sacred, religious and inspirational music (along with the classics) that carried me past my school days through my adult years.

What are your favorite songs over your lifetime?

As a musician, do you try to update your repertoire? If you haven’t mastered playing by ear, have you purchased music you love and learned it – memorized it? This is the time. No classes. No grades. Just your heart wanting to speak through the keys. Try it.

Wedding Blues Pianist

Wedding Blues
A couple of blogs back I challenged musicians to be prepared so opportunities can be seized. Playing for funerals is easy. They generally start on time, and as long as you can play soothing music – you’re home free. Weddings are entirely different. Bridesmaids have other things to do half way through practice, ministers forget rehearsals and you have to drag them across the busy street to the church while they’re still wearing slippers and then there’s power outages that shut down the organ in the middle of the mother-of-the-bride’s appearance.

You better be prepared.

In fact, you’re the one in need of soothing music. I have played for brides who insist on both organ and piano music, though the instruments are on opposite sides of the platform. So I have vaulted over bridal trains as silently as possible while the preacher offers up solemn prayers. Some brides believe everyone owes them Oscar-level performances. My proof? One bride had five (5) solos, two (2) duets and two (2) instrumental pieces I was to play. This wasn’t a wedding-it was a full length Rogers and Hammerstein production. The rehearsals alone with all the vocalists tired me out weeks before the wedding. Probably one of the most frustrating times was when I played for a very accommodating bride only to have the rod controlling the damper pedal slip from the piano, clang onto the marble floor and roll loudly to stop a couple of pews back. Again, the mother of the bride was being seated. Umm. I had to play the remaining service without any damper pedal. Immediately I went into the organ method of fingering but wished I could have pulled off the music as I knew it should have sounded.

POISE is EVERTHING!
So, it’s a good idea to be prepared to play an additional 20 minutes of prelude before the wedding party marches down the aisle. Be alert – don’t think the accomplished vocalist won’t accidentally skip half a verse and don’t get startled if the candle starts to burn the tablecloth during your solo.

What experiences have you had in your weddings-as-a-musician?

Wedding repertoire
When it comes to the church service part of the wedding, I do not like to play show tunes and popular songs unless they sound very spiritually appropriate. If the bride insists on “We’ve only Just Begun” she can find someone else. You can decide what songs you will play for a wedding. That is YOUR choice. If the wedding is more informal and in a garden setting I might be a little more lax (as long as I am still comfortable with the words of a song and it’s rendering is compatible with a setting of vows exchanged before God. Again, as a musician, you must beforehand decide what you want to be associated with in your performances. As a church musician, I was very strict with my own choices but even I found no problem playing for a garden wedding where the ring bearers were two, well behaved miniature schnauzers.

Also, be prepared to improvise when emergencies arise. Take songs (vocal songs are more apt to fit this category) and practice playing them several different ways. Pull out the classics like Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Canon in D” by Pachabel and other traditional pieces.

But remember, it is a happy occasion so have fun with it. Play with a glad heart and smile.

Music Notation – Help!

Music Notation Software – A Blessing or Curse?

This month was filled with making up level appropriate tests for my piano students. Testing is so important for both students and teacher. Students have a sense of accomplishment knowing they learned another level of music. Teachers use the results to choose material that teaches the weaker areas of the student. They also can use these results to point out to the parent why it is important for their child to learn “X” in the assignment.

All this preparation is a bit time consuming at the present – all because I can never get a good musical notation program to work with my computer.

I’ve bought a program only to find out my computer (just a year old) wasn’t compatible though the box said my computer was – SUCH FRUSTRATION!

So I manually write out my arrangement and notations, scan, Crop to size, edit for clarity, then cut and paste and print out neat little problems for my students. (They did pretty good on their tests).

Probably the best software I tried recently is “Notation Composer.” It’s ease of use was good but it does look computer-generated instead of the visually better engraved-appearance. LilyPond looks so readable but seems harder to learn. Any thoughts?

Stocked pantries and Piano Repertoire

Preparing for Opportunity

Before you can seize the opportunity, you must prepare for it.

Starlings outside the breakfast nook windows found the down from the ducks. They are stuffing their bills with as many as possible before flying to the nest site. Unfortunately, as they are plucking the feather up they drop one and they must stop and try to reload. It’s so comical seeing their bills crammed with feathers looking half their size.

At the same time the starlings were raiding the feathers my husband and I were trying to calculate the amount of beans to plant. Now I love beans. I don’t even mind canning them – but picking them! If you didn’t feel like you were 80 years old you did by the time you picked a few hundred feet of beans-especially knowing you couldn’t stop and relax. No. Snapping and canning them while fresh is imperative. So I wasn’t too enthusiastic about planting “miles” of beans. In fact, I am thinking about just turning pro by picking only once. In fact, instead of picking, I’ll pluck each plant, pick the beans and put the plant to good use in the compost pile. After at, many gardeners use succession planting, don’t they?

I must admit, a pantry full of my “Dilly Beans” (I’ll put up some tarragon infused Blue Lake beans for more refined meals), Romano Beans with garlic, onion and bits of tomato, canned tomatoes, homemade jellies and pickles sound great. I was looking through a vintage “The Ball Blue Book” for canning (1943) and found a charming recipe for Brunswick Stew that started with: 4 young squirrels or 4 frying size chickens. Along with the “Green Walnut Sauce recipe, I was beginning to think people during the Depression (we’re approaching that scenario) made use of everything.

We did come to some consensus on how much to plant so my hubby went to clean some fish he caught from the pond last night. It’s always nice when the pond is in your front yard – he left them in a cage in the water over night. Just three bass, two smaller ones and one a whopping 23” long and 5 lbs 2 oz. I’m sure glad it’s out of there before I swim this summer. I wonder if I should can some?

Choosing and Learning Repertoire for Preparedness

I have had a few students who started as or stayed with me as adults who wanted to “perform.” Now few students will ever earn a living as concert pianists so definitions of performance are moderated to fit different abilities and lifestyles. When students are asked to play for family – well, anything goes. Formal recitals usually require a variety of repertoire in either when the piece was composed or the different forms (types) of music.

My experience playing as a church musician for twenty -two years is quite different in musical scope than the hodge-podge events such as playing for school events, weddings, birthday parties and fashion shows. I do favor the role of background musician and my choice and treatment of repertoire is different than celebratory events where people expect more interaction with the music.

So the teacher and student must discuss choice of song and performance of song. Amazing Grace is played differently at a funeral than as a rousing anthem for a church’s postlude. Also, playing 3-5 songs for a church service is not the same as playing 30-45 minutes of easy listening music for a fashion show.

Make the student practice various skills, then when opportunity knocks, they can seize it!

Truth & Consequence ?

Remember the game show – Truth or Consequence? (That question , I think, just dated me). Are there any consequences today or is that term truly archaic?

So, What happened?

He was brought up in a Bible-believing Baptist church and attended a college of similar description. He was like many in his youth group. The standards set by his elders had no personal meaning for him, and slowly, over the next few years, he rationalized the subtle changes in his moral code. What could have been a dynamic life, blessed with the gift of persuasion, leading many to eternal life became known as the infamous Jim Jones incident, responsible for a thousand deaths in Guyana. This is the potential when biblical standards are not taken personally.” (The following excerpt was taken from my book, Music Ethics: A study of Musical Ministry in the Church).

So, what happened? Jim Jones developed a code of conduct where he believed he could use people rather than serve people. We see that today. Where? Lobbyists and politicians readily come to mind. Mankind tends to be self serving in one degree or another so society puts up laws and guidelines keep people – us – on the straight and narrow. The more disciplined a society is, the fewer rules are needed.

Food for thought

But we are not a disciplined society any more. Proof? Just walk into a classroom where a teacher has lost control over the students. (We covered that a few discussions ago). It’s not just the students – remember the mayhem during the aftermath of Katrina? So we all need accountability.

I say, the more we push God out of society, the more chaos caused by our self-serving attitudes flood into the void. It’s either God or government. David, when given a choice of punishment for numbering the people ( as found in II Samuel 24:10) said, “ I am in a great strait: let us now fall into the hand of the LORD; for His mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.” Seventy thousand died as a consequence of David’s sin. If you were in church, the sermon would, at this point, summarize:

  1. Actions always bring consequence

  2. Consequences always involve more people than the transgressor originally thought

  3. The LORD is merciful.

So this is “Holy Week” to many around the world. Let us take note the example Christ left us as quoted from Philippians 2: 5-11.

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Gift of Accountability -& the Studio

So, a disciplined life is accountable to someone or something. When we know “the rules” we find freedom to life and progress by them.

How does this apply to the music studio? Every lesson has accountability built into it. We listen to the consequence of the student’s adherence to last week’s “rules.” We write this week’s “rules” in the assignment book. We may even show the student how to accomplish (live by) a particular “rule.” If a student did not abide by the guidelines set down in the book, we reassign the work.

If you want to string out the biblical application more, you could say the “final judgment” for a teaching year occurs at the yearly recital and tests. Tests? Yes, in Kansas, the KMTA puts on a program called Music Progressions. This event tests students on performance, keyboard skills, listening, sight-reading and rhythm aptitude and theory. This topic should be discussed more thoroughly the next time we meet.

Culinary Snobbery & Teaching Flexibility

Confessions of a Culinary Snob
I like to cook. If an ingredient is missing – no worry-improvise! My daughter does me proud by following in my footsteps. We may improvise but we would never, I repeat, NEVER use put cottage cheese in a lasagna, use anything but real butter and avoid Cheese whiz like the plague. My daughter-in-law made the mistake of asking me how to cook “burnt carrots” – a name that does NOT do this vegetable justice. I had to tell her the “real” way. FYI:

1.Peel (or wash) 1 lb carrots (for 2-4 people) and cut length-wise thick roots
2.Cook in a little water 8-10 minutes until tender-crisp. I do this in my pressure cooker and it only takes 1 min under
pressure.
3.Drain. Pour into an oven-proof dish and toss with 1½ Tbsp butter to coat.
4.Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (or whatever temp you may be roasting at for something else). Carrots are done
when edges are turning brown. The darker the brown, the sweeter the carrot. Serve warm.

This is such a simple recipe with a big WOW but like my dad would say, “No sugar.” Well, the memories of sage culinary wisdom flooded my mind. I would be sitting in a room while my dad and his brothers were visiting and their verbal parries of cooking comparisons would intensify. But none brought more ammo to the debate than how to cook  the humble yet signature dish of any respectable caterer to Polish weddings – the “Pork-Cabbage” recipe. “You add just a bit of brown sugar” was countered with “Never, it would ruin the balance and you would have to add vinegar!” That discussion once exploded into such deep convictions that my father picked up a loaf of bread (homemade by his mother no less) and threw it at his brother. They all hitched up their pants, and strutted out of the various exits from the dining room. As I grew older, I realized there was little hope for me, for I, too am a culinary snob.
So, garlic bread on my table bears no resemblance to the soggy, artificial loaf wrapped in foil from the store. My breath will bear witness to the authenticity of the garlic in my house!


Flexibility in the Studio

So I am not very flexible in the way I want to cook, but what about the way I teach?

Method Books

Every teacher has his/her pet method books. For some it may be the newest pedagogy backed by trials in teaching studios. Other may prefer the “tried and true” oldies. Some teachers still use the Thompson and Aaron courses of old. I use John W Schaum’s series of “A” book, “B” book, etc. for the majority of my students and lean towards Hal Leonard’s basic course when there are siblings learning in near enough time that learning-by-ear poses a threat to the beginning student’s progress. The Middle C approach seems to fit most students and they develop independence in learning skills and materials that I found lacking in Suzuki transfer students. I give myself credit for standing hours in the music store pouring over materials only to reject most of them for one reason or another. This is usually not because they are bad, but I know how and why I teach Middle C approach. Some progress too slowly and have more eye appeal than progress for me to imagine myself being excited about teaching 5 weeks of one element though it may be perfect for just a certain student needing reinforcement. It’s hard finding the perfect method but that’s why supplemental material abounds.

An aside: Why Middle C is so effective
1.   Most of my first grade students can start in the Primer (Beginning) book and learn staff reading after 2-4 weeks.
2.   It starts with one homing point. It doesn’t matter pupils are playing off of any “C” on the keyboard, they are all still “C”. I have my
students playing hand-over hand “C” arpeggios by the second or third lesson.
3.   Relationships between “C” and other notes are quickly established both visually and mechanically.
4.   The eye has a chance to gradually read an expanding Grand Staff.
5.   Many familiar songs can be introduced with this method.

It might be good to discuss my encounters with other approaches in future visits.

Ambiance

So, where I teach has been very flexible. Like many new piano teachers, I traveled to the student’s homes like Mr. Ernest St. Jacques taught my sister and myself. The advantages were I didn’t have to disrupt our family in our teeny tiny house and I got to see what my student were practicing on. This, at times, was very enlightening. There was one place, though, that few of my peers can say they taught. One of my students wanted to learn the organ but on the instrument she could practice on and would be called to play on. So off I went to teach her in a cemetery/crematorium. There we would be, reviewing her foot drills and one of the staff would roll another cardboard box up the chapel aisle in line to be cremated. I was hard put to assign her some of the music that normally came to my mind.

There were a few other times I was flexible in my approach in the studio but I’ll save it to another day. Until then, Be Flexible!

Unintended Consequences to Mandatory Education

The Motive

Last time I talked about discipline in the studio. It helps when there are options for the teacher when handling difficult students. When children are mandated by law to attend school until the age of 16, there are consequences. Consider the progression of events.

  1. Motives were just. For the most part, these laws were passed to protect the future of the child. Not all parents valued education enough to send their child to school. These laws made sure every child had the same opportunities for a successful life as children of parents who did value education.
  2. Schools that were once filled with students who’s parents valued education were now populated with some children of parents who cared less or resented the need for education.
  3. Teachers who once had the support from appreciative parents now must also try to teach children without the support of some parents.
  4. Children who know that parents at home resent teachers telling their little “Johnny” what they can and cannot do push the barriers that define a controlled classroom.
  5. All discipline breaks down, thus creating an environment of non-learning for both the troublemakers and those students who want to learn.
  6. Teachers are frustrated and spend more time on implementing what little disciplinary actions they have left in their arsenal than on the lesson material and teaching the willing students.
  7. More students fail to learn as they should and could and the drop out rate is increased as once willing students fall behind and become discouraged.

I admit this is VERY simplistic. It does not even take into account the breakdown of parental support and training once offered by multi-generational households and neighborhoods. Not discussed is the trivialization of meaningful curriculum and life skills and the glorification of multiculturalism and self-esteem. Finally, what is staring us in the eyes today is the union’s growing domination over communities using the fear of strikes and unmet “educational” demands and the indoctrination of the teachers that the community undervalues them and their work was worth more than the current contract. The present mandatory education requires a COMPLETE overhaul.

The Fix

So, what was once an attempt to pass laws so all children could learn how to succeed in the world has become the root cause for an increase of failure within the educational system. Money is not the answer. An over-simplification of a corrective action might be:

  1. Define and prioritize the goals of the school classroom. Pay for the most important things first, then communities won’t feel guilty for not affording everything.
  2. Determine needed skills from a teacher to teach the material, maintain an atmosphere that encourages learning and be mature enough to be realistic in the expectations from students, parents, colleagues and administrator/community.
  3. Decide appropriate actions the student must do to achieve social/intellectual maturity for his age and match the curriculum to each level of growth.
  4. Demonstrate a respect for teachers and students by establishing boundaries of conduct from each of them towards the other and, likewise, within the educational community at large.
  5. Demand accountability from the teachers and school personnel for the expenditure of time and resources of the community’s largess.

We use these steps often in solving problems we face in our daily life. For example:

  1. The car brakes down. We know we need a working vehicle so –
  2. We determine we need a mechanic with the right skills.
  3. We set criteria that helps us chose the right mechanic.
  4. We show we respect each other when the mechanic is honest about the need and the car owner pays him for an honest day’s work.
  5. When the fix doesn’t work, we expect a warranty – the mechanic makes good on his word and work.

Accountability and Enticement

If this applies to us in our everyday life, shouldn’t we demand the same from those who borrow the brains of our children so they can program them seven hours a day? These steps mean the whole educational system needs to be reevaluated, but isn’t it worth it? If the community wants educated citizens to reside there, shouldn’t they demand accountability? Money really hasn’t come into the equation except as a show of respect in #4 of each discussion above. If you think money is needed for a good education, ask those who walked to the one room school houses found in this country’s younger states and passed proficiency tests a majority of today’s teachers would fail. Mandates require accountability on the part of all parties and the enticement from teachers for students to learn.

We are blessed not to have students mandated to take piano lessons – it leaves more option for us. So, the piano studio is an option. Maybe not for the student, but at least the parent. Are you ready to be accountable to them? Can you entice the unwilling student?

A Piano Teacher’s Impact, Discipline in the Studio

March is “one of “those months” for our family. Birthdays galore! Now this can be rather fun – all that cake, ice cream and goodies, but I am on a so-called “diet war” with my sister. We both set our own goal for how much weight we want to shed by April 1st. Needless to say, it’s looking grim for me. Now I wouldn’t be worried about this except my sister had to e-mail a reminder to me about it. She also mentioned looking up info on our former piano teacher, Ernest St. Jacques. Now that brought back some memories.

The Legacy of a Piano Teacher
Ernest St. Jacques showed up to my sister and my first lesson wearing a tux. My first thought was, “He means business!” Later I found out he played bass with a small band who entertained diners with the sounds of the 20’s-50’s, hence the tux. He was first violinist at the symphony orchestra and professor of strings and composition at the Smith College in South Hadley. For 5 ½ years, year round (even in the humid summer months) he wore a tux and we sat straighter on the bench because of it. This was a gift given to Deb and myself – a qualified instructor. He never raised his voice, lectured or veered from his soft, French inflected voice. In other words, he was professional not just in his performance career but in the teaching studio. My MTNA colleagues would gasps disapproval when I tell them he usually went 15-30 minutes over for my lesson time. I had so many questions and he loved to share those little mysteries behind the magic of sound. (I feared Deb and a distant cousin of mine who studied violin with him after our time slot may have suffered a bit from this.) But God was very good to me. My college professor, Celia Steward was just as professional. “Let’s get down to business” was the approach, but caring and respect also was evident. So how does a teacher maintain discipline?

Discipline in the studio

It is fascinating to listen to people describe their past and present piano teachers. I’ve heard stories about the most gracious, experienced pianist in our church yelling at her student for not being more prepared. I was shocked until more and more people told me of different teachers resorting to such tactics. It reminded me of the story my father told me about a teacher whacking the backs of his hands with a rubber hose only to get it with the belt when he got home. That was in the thirties and forties when education wasn’t advanced and it only turned out WW2 generals, rocket scientists and computer developers. Now-a-days discipline is a no-no and we pride ourselves on voters who think the three branches of government are President, Congress and Senate. They must have sat in the class taught by the professor who thought there were 57 states. Now I apologize to those students who don’t know better and yet have succeeded to learn so much more. Discipline is necessary for success in the studio or classroom.

So I started teaching and followed the same approach as “my” Mr. St. Jacques because I didn’t know better and God was good to my students. I do not raise my voice. I will tap out rhythms on the piano. But I tell my students and/or parents (depending on the age) that it is not mandatory for them to be there and I am not required to teach them. In fact, this philosophy was put to the test when a thirteen year old student refused to obey me when I asked him to stop playing around on the piano while I was talking. He banged his fist on the keys and I calmly got up and exited to the parent in my waiting room.

I told her that I will not teach some one who obviously does not want to be there. Two lessons were plenty enough time to come to this conclusion and I would not be swayed to do otherwise. It hurt. Like most teachers, the income was needed. But I wanted to protect my antique Steinway (1879) and I was determined to respect myself as a professional piano teacher. So, about discipline:

1. Project professionalism in your policy, appearance and demeanor.
2. Ask (politely) the student not to do___ but let’s do___ instead.
3. Give fair warning of consequences. If there is no improvement, I tell them that I will inform the parent (if the problem wasn’t grievous enough that I haven’t done so already).
4. Talk to the parent and state that they will no longer be a part of the studio family if the problem is not corrected. (This usually happens when students repeatedly forget music or don’t complete written assignments). I take this time to inform them why this issue is important.
5. Do what you said you would do. Sad, but needed. No raised voices, no deflating remarks nor temper tantrums to rival Beethoven’s outbursts, just professional expectations and responses.

All of the above points are stated in my studio policy – such a beautiful thing!

Well, how did I do? How do you? In the near future we better talk about the mandatory classroom.

Do more with Chords, Time & What to practice

Using Chords Differently in Improvisation.

It’s the last day of February and I left my readers in Impro Limbo. So check out the next step in my Improvisation pages.

Time and responsibility

A dear friend of mine, Sandy, lost her husband. JD’s heart gave out and he went to be with his Savior Saturday. Though they are in their 80’s, there was no age barrier – no matter what the age of the person they spent time with. Time. We all have it. We all have a limited amount of it. The “trick” to making the most of it is to know when it runs out. The trouble is, you never really know when life stops here and we become accountable to our Creator. These are sobering thoughts, but we must have been bad enough for God to send His Son to pay our sin’s penalty on the cross. The only uplifting thought in all this is Christ arose! And because of that, we too can live for eternity with Him – or without Him. It’s our choice. The freedom of choice. Freedom always brings responsibility. So, how will you use your time and responsibility?

What to Practice
So as a piano teacher, one of the most important “jobs” I have is to teach each student how use use their time effectively when they practice. Students are different and learn in various ways, but I usually find the following formula to work for the majority of pianist:

Warm up with a favorite. You would think it would be scales and such, but
playing favorites improves pianistic expression and puts the player ion the mood.

Play drills, scales, etc. Play them 3 or more times each to improve dexterity (quickness and accuracy). Play them in various ways like loudly, staccato, crossed hands, octaves apart, with either a crescendo or diminuendo, ritardendo or accelerendo. Think of them as as foes to conquer or friends to enjoy, but play them!

Play the method book assignment. Learn the new skills in these books and the repertoire will be easier to learn.

Play other repertoire. If a song is really disliked, I would probably suggest you play it before the method books. Nothing like getting the spinach of the plate and ending with the brownie.

Play other keyboard assignments and more favorites. Explore interval sounds and chord progressions. Make up a tune. Have fun!

Do written work whenever possible. Theory and Harmony assignments help the student understand musical construction and read notation quicker.

Does your teacher assign from the four areas (drills, method, repertoire, written work) plus favorites? Do you as a teacher use these groups? Try it and let me know what you like to do.