When Do You Dump the Method Books?

Michael Peterson Going to State!

I lie in bed fighting off the bronchitis that followed my case of flu and suddenly the phone rang. It was Michael calling to tell me he placed a rating of #1 at the KSHAA District Competition at Winfield, KS. I wish I could have been there. He said he was rather nervous, but he pulled through with a fine performance of Chopin’s E flat Nocturne. It may be a bit overdone, the piece, but he wanted to do it and he learned it well, so I figured experience is sometimes more valuable than running with the strategy for trophies. So Michael encountered his first judge. I await to read the comments. We both prepare for the next level.

Love vs Tradition (and Method books)

Michael came to me two years ago. The shy, soft-spoken young man whose mannerisms try to hide a good intellect and the uncommon sensitivity rarely seen today almost hid his love for music. It took me a few months to see the awe and joy on his face created by the mystical sound of a deceptive cadence. As a beginning piano student, I was determined to get him to read and play the grand staff notation and grow in hands-together coördination, but his love for music and the drive to move on made me finally abandon the method books. When is it wise to set aside the “normal” curriculum?

The more experienced teacher will be sensitive to cues of boredom and frustration and quickly adjust materials to keep interest up. This is common and I did as much when I showed my grandson some level 3 jazz to bribe him to continue lessons. (We should probably explore teachers’ motives in the future). Michael, however, was wanting to play classical and specifically Mozart’s Alla Turka with less than just one year of lessons. So I decided to only use original versions and went with the following:

Hanon                  selected exercises, arpeggios and interval runs

Chopin                 A minor waltz

Joplin                   Maple Leaf Rag

Clementi              Sonatina in G major

Mozart                 Alla Turka Rondo

Burgmueller       Ballade

Bach                       Musette in D major

Beethoven           C sharp min (Moonlight) Sonata, 1st mov.

Bach                        Invention in F major

Rachmaninoff     Op 3. No 2 (C sharp min Prelude)

Chopin                   Op 9 No 2 (E flat Nocturne)

So after he did one movement of Clementi, I let him play the original Mozart and he did it well. He played it with the Maple Leaf Rag for the studio recital and did just fantastic. He is a senior this year, so you see we were up against the clock, so to speak, and he wanted to try at least one competition. So in addition to some lessons in improvisation, drills in sight-reading a lot of technique and theory, and a couple of fun songs (Super Mario’s soundtrack music), I’d say he’s building a well-rounded repertoire and still maintaining his love and interest in music in spite of the lessons in Common Chords and Harmonizing a Melody. If I had more time, maybe some Schubert or Debussy and more Baroque…..

I am interested to hear from other teachers who had to throw out the method books very early and really customize the lesson plan.

How Do You Open A Closed Mind?

Art Supplies

I’m getting excited about painting. I used all my Christmas and B-day gifts to buy some materials. Since I’m usually house bound, I shop online. It’s hard finding what I need in the Wichita area anyway, so I pulled out my Dick Blick catalogs, made my list and after some online comparative shopping, stuck with my original order. With all the lesson openings in my piano studio schedule and the upcoming summer slow down, I figured it’s about time to paint.

Now, I’m pretty good at graphite drawings but it’s been a long time since I just painted for fun. Some one who saw my murals for church-use said they saw my artwork and that put me off a bit. Large scale murals painted for illustration purposes does not at all represent the nuances of fine art. I didn’t bother trying to sway a mind closed to the idea of discussion.

Closed Minds VS Ambitions

So, that brings up an interesting point – How do you open a closed mind? How can a piano teacher convince students they can do it? There are many reasons for a closed mind.

Now, I’ve engineered decks, wired an entire house, sewn suits, and trisected an angle with only a straight-edge and compass before the other student did it and made the papers – so I can safely say I’m a person willing to try most anything (I will not jump out of planes and ride backwards on a rollercoaster – so don’t even go there). But when it’s been a long time since I’ve done something, I admit to being afraid of failure.

Now nothing closes a mind from opportunities like fear. Fear from failing to get that scholarship is often pure fear. There are the fears of making a wrong decision that make adversely impact others and the fear of injury and such. These are legitimate fears but still they are often overcome with the reward of great satisfaction.

More commonly encountered, though is the fear of being laughed at or fear of not delivering on an expectation and maybe the fear of disappointing my own image of myself. I suspect the person who didn’t want to talk about my art was afraid she would have found I was as good an artist as her grand daughter. There is always someone better than you. Some will learn faster, play faster, paint better, throw farther, etc. The question is, “Can I live with the fact there are others better than myself?” This reasoning reveals more than Fear. Pride is often the underlying cause of our fears. Acknowledging that there will be someone better than you and that’s okay really frees you up to try new adventures. You’re not doing it to be the proven best. You are doing it to better yourself and to experience life more fully. So, sorry students, you do have to improvise! So go out and try!

Impro with Stride & Art supplies

Piano Skills and Improvisation

Since the start of January’s lessons, students here have been preparing for piano evaluations. I am a member of the Kansas Music Teachers Association (KMTA), a sub-chapter of Music Teachers National Association. All this means my students usually take the Music Progressions program offered through the state level. This is great. There is no competition, but students are evaluated on their performance of two contrasting styles of piano repertoire, listening skills, theory and keyboard skills (which include scales, chord progressions, intervals or chord inversions, etc.), all corresponding to ten different skill levels.

Nothing helps cement theory and keyboard skills as well as improvising music. As soon as I figure out how to insert links to my other pages I’ll include them for your convenience, until then, click on the improvisation page on the right. I discuss how to start improvising a melody offered a couple of weeks back.

Ducks, ice and art catalogs

We had one of those nice and nasty ice storms a couple of days ago. Coming from Massachusetts, we know when to drive slowly and carefully – a skill Kansans give little thought to. It amazed me to know the police only had to respond to a bit over 100 accidents on Tuesday’s commute home. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Of course, there could have been another 100 plus that didn’t need to call in the police, but I’m hoping it will eventually get safer to drive in winter weather around here. I had the privilege of setting out around the duck yard the “anti-coyote” lights I made up and trying to pry up the water tubs from the frozen ground and still maintaining my balance. God was so good to me.

It always makes me feel good to actually experience winter weather in winter. In younger years I would have treated myself to a cup of hot chocolate after some outdoors time, but now it’s been a good cup of tea and crunching numbers from my want list in the art catalog. I got some Christmas and birthday money this last month and I’m determined to paint. Unfortunately I find my supplies greatly depleted so my list contains everything from canvases, gesso, hake brushes and acrylic paints. I think I’ll warm up with a couple of landscapes. Before my supplies arrive – I better set up my painting area. I’m starting to get excited about this! See, winter’s not so bad!

Empty studios, weather woes and merry meter maids


Why Blame the Weather? (The Case of the Diligent Meter Maid)

Yesterday was a slow day in my piano studio. Why? The weather. Now my husband and I are teeny-tiny little produce farmers with some poultry, so we are always interested in the weather but the apocalyptic announcements of approaching blizzards on the Weather Channel that never appear are starting to jade me. After all, isn’t cable’s weather channel suppose to report weather? It’s ludicrous to see Cantore standing in lightly snow-dusted roads bemoaning all the snow IN NEW YORK in January. What part of winter doesn’t he understand? The result of winter weather in the Wichita area was the cancellation of school – again. Now, I’m sure if the school board was honest (Where’s the magic of “Liar, Liar” when you need it?) they would say, “We’re afraid of the lawsuits slapped on us when buses slide into students.” Now that is a valid concern. I could easily buy that one.

There’s no excitement in our society today. Everything is so “correct.”  But I admit I’m a transplant to Kansas from the Springfield, MA area. The Meter Maids there were made of firm stuff. You won’t see Cantore out there when one of them is on a mission to decrease the city’s budget deficits.

In 1994-95 the snow was piled as high as the meters. A man tried to climb up and over the snow banks to put his cold little quarter into the meter like any dutiful citizen would. Unfortunately, he slipped, he fell, he broke his leg and he watched while the meter maid whipped open her ticket pad and wrote him out a welcome present from the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. The shame and outrage from the public was so great, the major suspended parking meter fines until the snow season ended. I don’t know, but I would guess the fallen man could have sued the city.

Until a few years ago, most of us walked to school unless a REAL blizzard was in progress. My grandfather (Pepere, Joseph Goodreau, French Canadian) plowed for Ludlow (a suburb of Springfield), working sometimes 72 hours straight to make sure ambulances and other vehicles had access ASAP. He didn’t party it up or complain. My mother would meet him coming down our hill with a bottle of Pepsi or a cup of coffee. He was like so many others who plowed (or like today), fixed downed power lines or responded to accidents with tow trucks, ambulances and the likes. So we waited and waited for buses in subzero weather. Our school board finally drew the line at closing schools when the ambient temperature was below -20 degrees. Maybe we were soft after all.


I love looking at Mt Washington’s website. In summer I feel cooler, in winter I appreciate how warm it is around me. In other words – this is one COLD place in USA.  To “travel there” follow this link:



Next lesson in improvising will be posted in a couple of days. I’ve been busy shoveling.

Politics, the National Endowment of the Arts & the Challenge

January 5, 2011


Well, Christmas is over, the bowl games just about done (Ouch to the Big 12!) and most of us are fat and unhappy. Unfortunately my husband and I had the stomach flu and I went through a deep cleanse so complete my colonoscopy would have shone brighter than the North Star!  But – Now is the time to boost our morale by conquering something new.  Improvise!

Now, if you have never taken piano lessons – don’t despair. This is a great time to begin. Waiting lists to get into music studios are way down and many have openings for new students. Call music stores or churches to get contact information for teachers.


Now, improvisation is a funny thing. If you can read music well enough to play the melody, you often have not learned to improvise. If you can only play by ear, you probably already know how to improvise – but you are also dreaded by most piano teachers who struggle to teach you how to read music. Let’s do BOTH. Learn those staff notes and read my page on improvisation. Let me know if you are hitting any snags (or wish to call me names) and I’ll try helping you over those bumps in the road.

A POLITICAL ASIDE – and challenge

The Climate

Our nation has gone through a great upheaval in political tolerance this last year. Let’s be honest and politically incorrect – a majority of Americans finally woke up enough to hate what Washington continues to do and decided ON THEIR OWN to do something about it. They voted. Some formed TEA PARTY groups that far underrepresented the number of citizens who agreed with them. They didn’t wait for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other talk show hosts to voice their opinions. They went bodily to town halls. They told their representative exactly what that representative member was supposed to represent. They cinched the belt tighter. They budgeted Christmas expenses. They stayed home for vacation. Thosee citizens pulled out their hair while Congress spent more on protecting union jobs and Congress cut defense and Congress blew the Health Education&Welfare budget. They seethed while Obama vacated again and again and again in our face and at our expense while mouthing empty, conciliatory words from a prompter.

The Challenge

Art and Music have always claimed my love and time, yet while China continues to mop up our spilled unfunded endeavors Congress refuses to budget. If the citizens (of which our lawmakers are a part) must cut drastically because of the economy, why are they exempt? They cannot be and still claim to help America. I propose a cut of at least 60-75% in the National Endowment of the Arts. Though only one department, if all NON-essential departments cut back deeply, then maybe we can survive. Let government come to a halt for a few weeks. As long as National Security and Social Security departments still move forward who cares.  Government officials are just afraid the citizen will find out how much of the government is non-essential.  Some of the 2010 NEA expenditures breakdown as:

$ 57,708,710 for 64 partnership grants to states, regional and national entities

1,050,000 for 42 individual literal writing grants for prose

1,690,000 for 169 Challenge America Fast-Track Review grants (whatever that may be)

8,395,000 for 254 Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth grants

4,020,000 for 53 grants for Arts on Radio and Television

275,000 for 16 Literature Fellowship grants for Translation Projects

The total from the above grants is $ 73,138,710 and still doesn’t cover millions more in dance/opera underwriting, visual arts exhibits and more. When a nation is bankrupt, they don’t dance the jig. Our deficit calls for only essential expenditures. There is something to be said of a culture when communities will fork down millions to build monuments to sport activities for their high school or college sports but leave little resources to allow the soul to rejoice, think and mourn. Let us mourn the condition we find our beloved nation and show our resolve by leaving our feckless lover-the NEA. Let artists beg forgiveness from our true lover – the connoisseur of the arts and the honest heart begging for self-expression. Let it not be said of artists that we bled our nation dry. Staunch the bleeding wound and feed the hungry purse by giving hope to Americans by our example and producing honest arts. When our nation is again strong, both the individual and the corporation will fund the arts.

What are your (cherished) Christmas Memories?

This little exercise helps if you had an older brother. One good reason – he’d come up with the most ingenious ideas that a younger sister would never even voice. Better yet, he would get get the blame. In fact, my brother is the only person I know of who actually GOT COAL in his stocking one Christmas. What better Christmas can one have! Like the time “X” (there’s no way I’ll spill the beans) had to show me something. As soon as Mom was safely down the street, he pulls me into a bedroom that had the little hole in the closet ceiling that leads into the attic. He pops up the square insert and feels around the attic floor a bit. Down comes a small package addressed to neither of us. He shakes it. We can’t guess so up it goes and he feels around a bit more. After repeating this a couple more times, he gets impatient and pulls himself closer to the hole and feels around again. He found the Christmas popcorn balls. What a find! (Parents loved these because they usually helped fill the stocking, especially in the leaner years). We ate either one or one apiece, I can’t remember. I do remember Mom asking Dad several days later where he put the treats for the stockings. Did “X” eat the rest while I wasn’t there?

My brother was really good at ferreting such important info out. I remember a few years later when he got his comeuppance, though. When it was safe, he had to show me the new hideout for Christmas. As usual, he pulls out a present and read the label. He put it down and pulled out another gift. I could tell he wasn’t happy and it wasn’t just his scowl. “What’s wrong?” I asked. There were no names on the gifts, only numbers-the game was up!

I Found a Forgiveness Song

Just Musings Today-spiritual ones, that is.


Christmas is this week. With the commercialism of Christ’s birth, the message usually gets lost. People are about fed up with “Deck the Halls” by now and I can’t blame them. Sure, I play carols throughout the year. In fact, my large collection of CD’s, tapes and records (ask your parents) get year-round service. But don’t throw out the season because it’s celebrated with the wrong motives. Claim it as your new project of protection. Why should the spotted owl deserve more from us than the King of Kings? So look for those little caroling books you couldn’t throw away and read the words to “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” and one of Handel’s lesser known Christmas tunes, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.”


After Christmas, I will be explaining to you how to improvise those tunes you enjoy the most. But let me say Christmas is a time of joy& hope – God loved us enough to save us, it’s a time of shame & reflection – because my sinful state compelled Him to leave heaven on this rescue mission, it’s a time of thanksgiving & praise – He succeeded in His mission! Now, I leave you with the words to a real “Forgiveness Song” (read the last blog), a carol I have enjoyed in both English or Polish:

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

“Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the Babe is Lord of All.

Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tiding bring:

Christ the Babe is Lord of All, Christ the Babe is Lord of All.


Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story, tiding of a gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:

Christ the Babe was born for you. Christ the Babe was born for you.

Text: Polish carol, paraphrased by Edith E.M. Reed, Music: traditional Polish carol.

Any “Forgiveness Songs” out There?

Tomorow is my eldest granddaughter’s sixth birthday. They grow up so quickly! Happy birthday Alexandra! To tie up a lose end relating to Christ’s birthday –

Lose Ends

No one has given their favorite carol(s) yet, but there’s still time to share the goodness. On my debut blog, I gave my readers a quiz – here are the answers.

“TITLE” Known As:

  1. Vertical planes adorned via bunched Ilex –  Deck the Halls
  2. Permission for Ice Crystal Precipitation  –  Let It Snow
  3. Quiet Nocturne  – Silent Night
  4. Praise to Jehovah  –  Hallelujah!
  5. Happy sounds of the Chimes  – Carol (literally, happy song) of the Bells
  6. Ag hollow metallic device  – Silver Bells

Musings – When does forgiveness begin?

Christmas is more than a birthday. In the movie “The Music Box,” the character played by Maureen O’Hara defines the meaning of Christmas in these words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Many would recognize this quote as John 3:16. God’s act of forgiveness towards mankind. Of course, a man’s restoration to God happens when we ask for God’s forgiveness, but still, an interesting thought – when does forgiveness begin? There are many songs about love, but how many of forgiveness.  Sure, there’s “I’m Sorry” made more popular by Bounty’s commercial. We tie forgiveness with actions – or we should. It is no more different than love. Prove you love me, show that you’ve forgiven me. Sometimes we have to forgive the offense over and over again because daily life brings the hurt up, but eventually, the emotions line up with the conscious decision to let God take care of the account and you are only responsible for your actions and feelings toward the former offender.

What does this have to do with music? Not much, because I cannot think of any popular songs that deal with the topic of forgiveness in a realistic manner. It makes one wonder, “Why?”


Give the Gift of Music!

One of the best Christmas gifts you can give is the gift of music.

Decades ago my younger sister prayed for a piano – daily – for two years. I came home from school a few days before Christmas only to find a piano in the living room. Yes, the small living room. But the night before lessons started I dreamed I was playing beautiful arpeggios (didn’t know what they were called at the time) and sure enough, my piano lessons with Mr. Ernest St. Jacques opened a whole new world for me.

Now I have the privilege of showing my students the same world. Adults as well as children can learn to play piano. One of my most ambitious students started playing for worship singing in just two years of beginning piano instructions and played for a double wedding a couple years later! Most play for enjoyment and children learn a valuable discipline in mental assimilation and coordination. Whatever your motives, give the gift of music!!

If you haven’t solved the Christmas quiz, checkout my last blog.

Christmas Quiz – Are you up to it?

Can You Recognize these familiar songs in the titles below?

  1. Vertical planes adorned via bunched Ilex
  2. Permission for Ice Crystal Precipitation
  3. Quiet Nocturne
  4. Praise to Jehovah
  5. Happy sounds of the Chimes
  6. Ag hollow metallic device

Well, how did you do? I’ll have answers in a couple days. Til then, Merry Christmas! You may want to read my feelings about one of the oldest carols known. If so, keep reading.


So what is the longest Christmas Carol? I suspect it would be “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – a song greatly aggravating to my mother, but she had five children singing it in one of those tiny little ranches (which did NOT sprawl) and prone to migraines (which we probably caused) so I can actually understand why it would be aggravating. As a piano teacher, I would HATE to be forced to listen to my students play all the verses! Come on, teachers, you can admit to your closet fears and hates. So, that’s probably my least favorite carol.

I must say, one of the oldest carols is one of my favorites – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” My sources say it has been sung from the Latin Text since the ninth century. There’s a great deal of Biblical doctrine found in the words. Whether the singer refers to The Christ as “the Rod of Jesse” or “Day-Spring,” meaning Sun-rise or branch (Is. 11:1) or sings of our great hope in the words “From depths of hell Thy people save and give them victory o’er the grave.” – a wonderful promise stated in I Corinthians 15:20-23 – it is surpassed by the word “Emmanuel.”

GOD with us. Such love is found in John 3:16 where God says He loved us and in Philippians 2:5-11where it details the cost of that love. It was the Emmanuel part that touched my heart and made me realize I needed the Savior that God was telling me He was.

So, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” just doesn’t cut it for me. Actually, it is Caribou that live in the Lapland, angels never sang at Jesus’ birth, we don’t really know how many wise men there were and they weren’t in Jesus’ presence until He was a toddler. Let us not lose sight of the whole reason for Christmas because of all the errors found in the songs. So, what is your favorite carol? Okay, favorite carols.

This sight is not meant to be religious or preachy – just a little thought provoking and engaging the reader to share their thoughts and questions – musical or otherwise.