Halloween Freebie

Although I use a great piano course that’s full of improv games and theory, I still find it useful and fun to use games not in the book.

Much of my inspiration comes from Teach Piano Today; they’ve got lots of freebies on their site, so go check them out! I am a huge fan of their improv games. Most of these games come with printable cards with themed words that are set to rhythms. It’s a very natural and helpful way to help students with rhythm.

I took their Halloween set a step further by using these cards to help my students compose their own Halloween song!

We first go through the entire deck (there’s only 9 cards, so it doesn’t take too long) and make sure they understand the rhythms. Then I show them my version of the final song  and tell them to pay attention to what repeats. They point out the four-measure phrase that repeats twice, and then I have them guess what AABA form means. And so far, 100% of my students have guessed correctly!

Then we  go through and pick out their own set of four cards to use. Since the piece is in A minor, I limit their note choices to A-E, so their pinky stays on A, and 5 stays on E. This works for every level, even the ones who don’t yet read music (they’ve only been playing a couple weeks). Then, for the B section, we jump their thumb to C and have them choose notes from there. As they choose notes, we write them into this handy template.

It takes about 10 minutes to do each section, so the last ten minutes of two lessons in a row is a good way to incorporate some Halloween fun! If you can find some fun Halloween paper to print it on, that’s even better!

Hope you got some good ideas from this game, and let me know if you have any other fun ideas for Holidays!

Tuesday Tips: Fingerings

One of the first pages of a piano lesson book contains an image of the hand with numbers assigned to each finger. It’s a way to communicate a part of piano technique through text. The next pages include exercises of finger patterns that later move into full songs. For the first few books, finger numbers sit under every note. From the author’s perspective, writing fingerings down is part of the process.

From the student’s perspective, however, these numbers are just a crutch that professionals don’t use.

For as long as I’ve been in the music world, young musicians perpetuate the idea that “real musicians” don’t need these. Perhaps this is due to a flaw in the teaching system, but that’s a discussion for another time. It’s true that more advanced sheet music is not printed with these guides, but they’re still imperative to the musician’s success and leave room for individual hand anatomy to be taken into account.

Frederic Chopin is known for much of his work being in keys full of sharps and flats. These are typically regarded as “more advanced keys” since they’re a little harder to read. Chopin’s work feels good to play, once the work of figuring out all the accidentals is done. His music possesses an innate understanding of the patterns of keys compared to the shape of the hand.

His legacy shows us that some fingerings are better than others. It’s an art form in itself. It’s better to figure out the patterns, write them down, and then learn them than have to puzzle through and learn a multitude of patterns until the “right one” is reached.

A little preparation goes a long way, especially in the professional world.

There are a few books on the art of fingering, but the one most recommended is Natural Fingering: A Topographical Approach to Pianism by Jon Verbalis. This one bases its suggestions in Chopin’s philosophy of proper piano technique. I have yet to read it, but I look forward to checking it out.


Career Thoughts

Careers have been on my mind a lot lately. I recently gave up a job accompanying a choir full-time and a job teaching piano in favor of a full-time, assistant manager retail job. And I really don’t know why I did that.

It certainly wasn’t for the pay and probably not for the experience. I fell back on retail because the places where music took me weren’t a good fit.

The short of it is that I don’t enjoy practicing that much repertoire all at once, so a job in piano performance is not suited to me. I also don’t enjoy teaching, at least not from the very beginning. One thing I do love is giving presentations, which is teaching in a way, but it targets a specific audience with a predetermined level of knowledge in a subject.

My dislike for teaching baffles me. Growing up, people always told me I was so good at teaching, so I thought that’s what I had to do. I gave it a try, and here I am at square one again.

Perhaps I’m not starting completely over though.

At least I know where not to go. One thing to consider is the skills that make me a good teacher. These run deeper in each individual than the public is likely to notice. Thus, when I ask friends and family why they think I make a good teacher, their answer lies somewhere around, “You just have the personality for it.”

But what, in that personality, makes me a good teacher?

Through the experience of trying a multitude of jobs, I have come to the conclusion that I am an effective communicator. I possess the ability to present any idea, regardless of complexity, in a way that anyone can understand. That skill lends easily to public speaking, management, publishing, writing, music, and yes, teaching.

That’s the point of this lesson: skills are transferable.

A kid that’s good at soccer doesn’t have to find their career in athletics. Perhaps that person is a good forward in the game due to their aggressive nature: they go after what their team needs. In this example, it’s the ball. In their future, the target might be a merger in the business world, or a bigger budget for a school arts program. It might even be a flight to the next destination.

Most of the time, we have to identify these skills on our own. We are the only ones who can answer the deep “Why?” underneath people’s accolades of our so-called talents.

Now that I understand the reason why people tell me to teach, I can confidently say, “Teaching is not for me.” I no longer feel obligated to teach. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on my true calling, whatever that might mean.

I could write stories, make music, pursue business, become a scientist that publishes sound papers of discovery, and so much more. I feel like a kid again, the whole world before me like a map with so many paths to discover and many more skills to understand. Even though I have yet to find my fit in the world, I am hopeful that I will find it.

Never stop asking why. It’s never too late. Become that kid again. Maybe you won’t find your place immediately, but you’ll begin the journey to finding your role in the world.

If you have any advice regarding careers or finding one’s place in the world, please share below! You’ll help many people by sharing your story.