Several years ago, fellow piano teacher and performer Christina Cuda Robertson took 6 months off of teaching for what she called her sabbatical. During this time, she maintained a tremendously reduced teaching schedule, where students only scheduled lessons every two weeks or so if and only if they had completely prepared everything assigned from the previous lesson.
Within her sabbatical, Christina learned new music, attended workshops, and focussed on personal musical growth. I remember feeling quite envious of her ability to plan ahead for such a valuable experience, and I was quite confident that I would never be able to make room for a personal sabbatical as long as I still had children to feed and educate.
I have been experimenting with ways to give my students a more thorough understanding of functional harmony. The deeper the student’s understanding of harmony , the easier it is to learn and memorize music. Even something as simple as knowing that a V chord usually moves to I can help a student remember what harmony follows, identify new tonal areas, and understand phrase structure.
My newest experiment involves using dice to have students construct viable harmonic motion and then play it on the piano. So far, I’ve just started playing with the concept with my students who have a more advanced understanding of harmony, but I’m excited enough about the possibilities with all my students to write about this now.
Our daughter is finishing up her freshman year in college. Probably one of the most painful things I have experienced as a parent involved with a child going to college is the application process for financial aid. It is a complicated process obfuscated by poorly written questions and confusing tax terms. Last year, I probably lost 40-50 work hours trying to figure out the two main forms that needed to be filled out: FAFSA (for federal financial aid) and the CSS Profile aid application also used by many institutions. This year was a little easier because of what we learned last year, and I hope that next year will be even easier.
Today was the Suzuki Book 1 recital of a student of mine. She had been taking piano for a year and half, starting last year with my daughter, and moving to my studio this past fall after my daughter left for college.
Two of my Suzuki teacher trainer mentors from Ann Arbor, MI (Armena Marderosian and Renee Robbins) introduced me to the concept of Suzuki Book recitals. When a child has finished learning all of the songs in a Suzuki Book, they throw their own solo recital. In my studio, the recital is held in the home of the student, on their own piano. I encourage the family to invite friends, family, and fellow studio students. Usually, the parents treat it like a birthday party, complete with cake, snacks and beverages, and some small gifts. I typically bring a CD of piano music that I think will interest the child as a graduation gift, but I have been known to give other items, like the Harvard Dictionary of Music, or even a metronome to replace a less than adequate one.
I encourage families to take ownership of the Book recital and find a twist that makes it unique to them. Many students will keep the recital to the basics — a set of order of pieces with a program handed out to the audience members, but many other students rise to the challenge of making the recital even more fun.
I was giving a piano lesson to an elderly woman who had never studied music before, and in an effort to help her understand the concept of one finger per piano key in a 5 finger position, I grabbed a dry erase marker (triple checking that it was such) and wrote the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 on my key tops. (I couldn’t quickly find my skinny post-its to write on.) The numbers greatly facilitated the rest of the lesson.
After she left, I attempted to wipe off the marker with a micro fiber cloth I keep handy near the piano. To my dismay, most of the markings did not come off! A moist cloth did not help, either. I picked up the pen I’d used to check the details. Yes, it was a dry-erase marker, yet it had written on it “indelible to porous surfaces.”