Musical Amnesia

It happens every September. Sometimes even in late August.

Piano lessons resume, students file into the studio and choose their keyboard.  You greet them happily and chit chat about how big they’ve grown and what grade they are now in. When all these pleasantries are done, you ask for keyboards to be turned on and “Let’s play a D major scale together”.

And that’s when the blank stares appear.  And the questions begin….”Is this C?”, “Are we going up or down?” “Does C major have any black keys?”….

WHAT??????? I quietly whisper to the air….  Or even worse.  I don’t react.  I just expect it. I already know.

Every year during the month of May  I let go of a group of wonderfully capable piano students who have at least a repertoire of 6 to 7 memorized pieces, can play 5 different scales (major or minor), have learned to write simple songs, can harmonize with 3 different chords and improving their note reading every week.  And then for some “WE NEED A BREAK” reasoning they do not continue lessons during the summer or practice on their own and 80% of what was learned during the school year goes down the drain of forgetfulness.

But …we  can’t afford it!

Parents might think that I am whining about loss of income during the summer months. Not at all. My Boss owns everything in the known and unknown universe.  I will not worry.  Plus I also enjoy a more flexible schedule in the summer to spend time in the pool and catching up on all those books I started reading and never have time to finish.

But do parents realize the loss of money they incur while their children sit away from the piano for 8 to 10 weeks? This is exactly where musical amnesia sets in.  Students are no longer plugged in to their routine of practice, singing, listening, dancing and playing instruments, and the connections, those vital pathways that we worked so hard to attain, quietly disappear.

Is there a solution?

Of course there is!

When students are not coming to the studio on a regular basis parents must provide consistent and varied practiced times at home.  If they have sacrificed during the school year to provide musical training, they should find a way to continue when they decide to “take a break”.  Parents owe it to their pocketbooks and to their children.

There is always the  option of scheduling lessons during the summer.  That is the ideal.  But if families are traveling all summer, involved in too many other activities, struggling with carpool issues or other conflicts, it would be wise for teachers to provide a way for them to keep the connections plugged in.

Here are a few things you can offer your families (besides a flexible summer schedule at your studio):

  • online assignments (click here)
  • Youtube tutorials (check out ellenjoh’s tutorial)
  • general assignments written in their assignment books
  • computer theory assignments (such as Music Learning Community)

Help your students prevent musical amnesia…

By providing and encouraging various ways to stay plugged into the musical skills they have already acquired!

Recital Nightmare

I am writing this on my first “Let it Go” day and wondering if there is anyone else out there that needs to “let it go”!

I thought I had forgotten but the memory is still there. Every once in a while I go back to 1995,  disappointed, worried and discouraged.  It is one month away from my graduate recital at TCU under the masterful teaching of Judith Solomon (now deceased), and I have not even begun to learn one of my pieces.  Why did I procrastinate?  Why did I not use my time wisely? I can’t even sing the melody of this piece I have not learned and I know I am expected to play it in front of a jury. This jury will decide if I am ready or not to give my graduate recital.  What should I do? How can I make this work?  Why did I not prepare?  All the months of preparing and studying  other subjects will go down the drain because I neglected to learn one piece!  Now I am a total failure!

And then I wake up.

I focus my eyes on the ceiling.  What year is it?  Where am I?

Oh yeah. Its 2011.  I DID practice and memorize all my pieces.  I DID give a beautiful piano recital.  I DID graduate with a M.M. in Piano Pedagogy.   The diploma is somewhere in my studio office.  Maybe if I put it on the wall and glance at it in passing, I will be able to “let it go”.

Performing in recitals is a not a comfortable thing for me.  I walked out on Bach when I went blank during my Junior recital in college. I never dream about it.  You would think THAT recital would be a recurring dream…

So, I am going to “Let It Go”.  How?  I am going to think about all the positive things that happened during and after this graduate recital. I am going to listen to the recording of this recital and enjoy the perfect parts and the not so perfect parts.  I am going to find my diploma and put it on the wall.  I am going to” let go” of this recital nightmare!

Rebuild Your Studio This Month

new home

Summer is officially here.  You are  teaching less students. Days are longer.  Time to make changes!

What? No money?  Then here is a list of things to do to make life easier once Fall comes around:

  • Deep cleaning – When was the last time you cleaned the nooks and crannies of your teaching space? I’m talking about sweeping, mopping, dusting and bug spray.  Are the windows clean? Window sills dusted? Look up at the ceiling fans.  Do they have cute little dust balls? Gross.  If you need ideas of how to keep your space clean, read this.
  • Back door as seen when you are in the music room.

  • Classroom supplies – Pencils, markers, crayons, paper, etc. Does everything have a place?
  • Dorla's office

  • Pianos – Are the keyboards clean and disinfected? Dusted? What solutions are safe? Click here.


    keyboard lab 

  • Office – Do you know where your registration forms are?  What about the brochures for the different classes you offer? Where do you keep your “Bills to Pay”? Are your finances in order? What about your lesson plans, are they organized?
  • music library

  • Online presence – Website, Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Yahoo groups, Youtube. Do you need them all?  I DO have them all and most of the time I think they are a hassle.  What am I doing about it? Reading Simple Blogging and putting the simple mindset into practice.

Even though these are just a few suggestions, the point is that you can rebuild your studio just by working with what you already have.  Maintain it.  Have pride in it.  Organize a little every day.  In a month you will have a rebuilt studio – from the inside out!

Attracting Adult Piano Students

Adult piano students can be the best group of students you will ever teach.
They have their own transportation, pay their own bills, are responsible for their own practice and are taking lessons because they WANT to.
How many times have you heard: “When I was 9 my parents let me quit piano and wish I had stuck with it”?  These are the adults that willingly enroll their children in lessons (for the long run) or enroll themselves for lessons.
After an eight year dry spell from teaching adults, I decided to start again, this time using Musikgarten‘s adult method.  It is written to be used in a comfortable group setting where your students will not feel embarrassed to sing, move and enjoy.
Here is what I did to attract adult piano students:

Free classes with strings attached.

Classes are free unless you miss a class – that is the class you pay for.  At the time of registration you hand over a check for $160 – the book/cd are paid for separately with check or cash.  Every time you are absent, for any reason, I earn $20.  At the end of the 8 weeks I will return your check or write you a new one if you were ever absent. Simple.  You probably won’t make any money those first eight weeks, but now you have a group of students who WANT to return because they learned so much and you are such a fabulous teacher!

Did it work? I have offered it twice and it worked beautifully both times.  I have only offered this when starting a new class.  But they signed up for 3 more sessions and now  half of them are still taking private lessons at my studio.

If you already teach using the Musikgarten piano curriculum, it will be an easy transition to the adult method.  If you are new to this fantastic program – go for the training!

Piano Teacher Challenge!

(see updates here)

So, dear piano teachers…how many of us practice every day? You know, like what we expect our piano students to do? I know some of you perform every week in church or give a recital once a year.  But what about the rest of us? Your piano skills might not be of the concert pianist caliber, but are you maintaining and polishing the skills you have?
This is exactly what I was thinking this morning on that darn treadmill!

So I decided to challenge myself. For many years I have been relying on my ability to sightread easily – and fake it – through easy pieces.  But today I am challenging myself to play 12 scales and a new sonata or sonatina every day – for 30 days!

If you need to bring back some discipline into your piano practice, join me!  I will keep myself accountable by posting my progress every day.

Off to the piano I go!

Day 1