Wednesday, December 31, 2014

7 New Years Resolutions from a Busy Music Teacher!

Resolution #1 - I will provide aesthetic experiences for my students 

No matter if I am teaching a song with two pitches, beginning recorder or a song with kazoos I will work to find ways to draw the attention and effort of my students to the aesthetic aspects of making music together. Our repertoire will be balanced so as to provide a varied pallet of experiences for my students as they collaborate together to create something beautiful.  

Resolution #2 - I will approach my practice of teaching with the same dedication and artistry as I approach the musical instruments I love.  

When I think of the time, dedication, reflection and refinement I have given to my preferred musical instrument I am reminded that those same habits and hard work would be of huge benefit to my teaching.  What if I spent as much time practicing teaching as I did practicing singing or piano?  I want to embrace that same level of exactness, of  precision.  I want to have an attention to detail and finesse that will leave me as satisfied with my classroom experiences as I am when I sing as a soloist.   

Resolution #3 - I will plan REALLY well. 

Nothing influences the quality of my lessons like a really well made plan.   So I resolve to plan early and plan often in detail.  Have you ever noticed how those little details that felt like extra work to add them into the plan actually save time?  For me the big time saver are CD numbers, track numbers and page numbers..... I really hate taking the time to add them into my plans but when I do it saves me valuable time when it's time to actually teach the lesson.  It's a little thing but it matters.

Resolution #4 - I will be RESPONSIVE and INSPIRED! 

Nothing can elevate teaching out of the lesson plan book and into the memories of my students like a little responsiveness and inspiration. Regardless of what I've written down on paper, I want to be sensitive to the needs of my students and adjust accordingly.  To teach responsively, I will sometimes say yes and sometimes say no to the request for "one more turn".   I will listen with my heart to determine which is the right answer at the moment.  
To act more often upon inspiration I will embrace every teachable moment and facilitate discovery and rehearsal more often than I demonstrate my own skill.  I will hone my listening skills as I "feel" the energy in the room and become more expert in steering the wave of enthusiasm called REAL "play". 

Resolution #5 - I will work hard and then go home at 5:00 p.m. every day! 

This is a resolution that seems impossible for me.... Since I'm don't have a family waiting for me to cook dinner at home, I stay at school WAY too late!  I'm better than I used to be, mostly because my co-teacher is such a good influence on me, but I still have a ways to go....I used to stay at work until 8:00-9:00ish..... now I rarely leave before 6:00.... An improvement for sure, but I think I can do better!  

Resolution #6 - I will take care of myself....mind, body and soul.  

When I work too many hours, I don't have time to cook healthy meals or go to the gym like I should.....When I don't eat well and exercise, I get sick more often and then I miss more work which leads to working more hours to catch up.... Yes... it's a vicious cycle.... Ya'll know!  

I am at my best when I take the time to pursue hobbies and activities for fun.  I enjoy singing, writing music and writing for my blog the most.  My goal is to be more intentional about all of those things. If I play when it's time to play then I'll be refreshed and ready to work when it's time to work.  

I will spend more time reading the Bible and spending time with friends.  

Resolution #7 - I will remember to express my gratitude.  

I have so very much to be grateful for.  When I'm busy, which is most of the time, it is easy to "think" about how amazing folks are without actually taking the extra time to tell them..... I want to find new and creative ways to express my gratitude to the wonderful folks that I have in my life.  So I'll start now!  Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog!  

What are your teaching resolutions for 2015?  

Please share your resolutions and hopes for 2015 in the comments below!  

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Teaching Music 101 - 3 Things to Consider When Choosing a University

Just recently I found myself in a conversation with a young lady who was trying to make decisions about where she should pursue a degree in music education.   Here are some ideas I hope she will consider as she looks for the best place to study.

If you enjoy this article, please feel free to read the first article in the series  Teaching Music 101

Most people first need to consider price and location.  However, when you get to the point where you are comparing two or three options that will work, you may need to consider a few things more carefully.  This is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, but a list of things that you might not think of initially that can make a HUGE difference in your experience at college.  Remember that no matter what school you choose, the quality of education you receive is most dependent upon you and your willingness to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you gain as a result of your hard work.

1.  Piano Requirements - In these days of very expensive degrees,  most universities are looking for ways that they can trim can cut costs for students.  Music schools are no different. However, your goal should be to receive a degree that actually prepares you for real life.  I think that schools who cut down their piano requirement are doing a disservice to their students.  
  •   In real life, the music teacher is often the only pianist on campus. 
  •  In real life, no one will have time to come in and accompany your choir AND you won't have  the $$$ to pay them even if they have time to help you....
  •  In real life, sound systems fail but the piano in the corner of the cafeteria will still play. 
With that in mind, you should choose the school with the program with the most rigorous piano requirements for music education students whose primary instrument is NOT piano.  Request the information from the schools you are interested in.  For example: If one school requires 4 octave scales in just major and harmonic minor while the other requires you to also play melodic and natural minor, choose the one that requires all 3 minors. It's more work, but you'll be better for it.  The required repertoire should be varied and challenging.  Choose the most difficult piano barrier so that when you have met the requirement you actually have employable skills.  That little bit of extra piano will pay off and is worth the extra hours and you have to pay for and the extra work you have to do to get it!  

When I was going to school, I didn't know to look for such a thing because I thought that all the universities somehow got together and decided upon the same piano requirements for their music ed majors.  Not true!    I went to a small private school called Howard Payne University.  Our piano barrier was quite challenging and my piano professors were AMAZING!  Dr. Wallace rocks!!!!    When I shared my experiences with friends of mine who attended larger state schools, I was shocked to find out how little those students had to accomplish in order to pass their piano barrier.   I am NOT a pianist, but I left school ready to play what was needed and although no one would ever let me accompany if someone else with more skill was available, in a pinch, I can muscle my way through.... I would not be able to do that at all, had my university piano program been less rigorous.  I also want to say that I've never ever heard a music teacher say that they wished they had taken LESS piano! Everyone I know wishes they had had more!  

2. Observations, Music Ed Classes and Student Teaching - If you are hoping to be a music teacher it is important to choose a University that has both an EXCELLENT school of music but also an EXCELLENT school of education.  Your music education classes should prepare you well to pursue a variety of methodologies and prepare you to meet the needs of students in a variety of settings.  When you leave with your Bachelor's Degree in Music Education, you should know what to teach to who and have a good grasp on how a variety of methodologies would accomplish the task.  This is especially important since you may find that you are the ONLY music teacher on your campus, and there may not be anyone around for you to ask.... You NEED to know your stuff!    
Choose a University whose school of music and school of education have a good partnership and collaborate well.  You don't want to be half way through your education and find that you are in the midst of a conflict.  Both of your schools, your school of music and school of education should be accredited nationally and should be current in their pursuit of best practices, educational philosophy and research.   Pay close attention to schools of education who have strong Early Childhood programs in place have solid coursework in child development.    Early childhood is a very important and often overlooked reality of being a music teacher.  At least in Texas, the certification for becoming a music teacher is PK-12.  This is a REALLY wide range.  Most of the music teachers I know have to put more effort into planning, preparing and executing their Pre-k and kinder lessons than the rest of their day.  Therefore some focus on early childhood would be time well spent.
You won't begin your education classes until later, but it would be a good idea to find out about how observations and student teaching works.   You should choose a school that provides the most opportunities for observation and for student teaching.  Find out what partnerships are in place between your university and local school districts and even neighboring metropolitan school districts.  Some schools are more flexible than others about where you observe and student teach. Make sure that you understand their policies.  Additionally, be prepared to work with your education faculty to arrange observations in actual music classrooms.  I found that unless I spoke up, they would schedule me to observe whatever class was available, but I REALLY needed to spend the majority of my time in the music classroom.    

3.  Performances, Private Lessons Ensemble Opportunities -  As a music education major you should look for schools that have room for you to have opportunity to join the best studios and to participate in the advanced or elite ensembles and performances.  Sometimes schools are forced by the limits on their performance space and their calender limitations to give a significant priority to their performance students.  That is understandable and arguably the right thing to do for those performance majors , but depending on how you want to use your Music Education degree in the future, you may find that you really need to be a part of those more performance based elite opportunities.  There are schools that have plenty of room in their advanced programs for both performance and education majors.  There are schools that simply don't. You should find out about how private studios are formed and how ensembles and performance opportunities are cast before you enroll.   Are some auditions open to only certain majors?  Are some auditions open to only certain studios?  Do music education majors have the opportunity to give a senior recital?  (I think they should.) Choose a school that will give you the best opportunity to perform both in ensembles and as a soloist.

If you are a music teacher, please share a tip or advice that you wish you had known before you started your degree in the comments section! :)  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Teaching Music 101 - 5 tips for students who want to become music teachers

Occasionally, I get find myself in conversations with high school and college students who are hoping to become music teachers.   Recently, this seems to happen more often.  Here are the things that I tell my young friends when I have the chance.

Disclaimer:  Remember, these tips are especially for students hoping to become music teachers because that is the career that I know the most about.... 

1.  PRACTICE PIANO!!!!   - It doesn't matter what instrument you hope to specialize in while in college.  It doesn't matter that you have taken piano lessons since you were 3.  It doesn't matter that you've never even seen a piano. Please practice!  Practicing piano is important for these reasons

  • If you actually are an accomplished pianist, you can find work while in school and will be able to pursue really cool opportunities that will set you apart from other students. Those with the best skills entering in as freshman will be ahead of the game! 
  • If your piano skills are lacking - NOW is the time to get on the ball.  Most music degrees carry a piano requirement and in order to continue with your study you will have to pass a piano barrier. Don't let a lack of piano keep you from pursuing something you love, when a little hard work and dedication can get you to where you need to be.  
2.  BE INVOLVED!!!!  - Participating in musical ensembles will help you with the basics.  Often, there are opportunities to compete in a Solo and Ensemble setting or as a part of of an All-Region, or All-State competition.  Pursue those opportunities as an avenue to scholarship money.   The distinctions you earn as part of an ensemble or as a soloist can have a huge impact on the opportunities available to you as an entering freshman.  

3.  WORK WITH CHILDREN!  - As it turns out, spending every day with a room full of children is harder than you might imagine.  When you are working on your music education degree, there will be classes embedded in your program that try their best to prepare you for the realities of the classroom.  However, nothing can replace real live "boots on the ground" experience.  Seek opportunities to work with children's choirs at your local church.  Get a summer job at the YMCA  as a camp counselor.  Babysit.  Figure out how to redirect children without exasperating them.   Sing with children.  Teach the children in your life a song.  

4.  LEARN A NEW INSTRUMENT!!!  - More instruments mean more opportunities.  Take lessons now so that later, you won't be clueless.  University level private lessons move fast.  If you are a complete beginner you may find yourself REALLY squeezed for time.   

5.  LEARN YOUR THEORY!   - When I got my first letter from the School of Music that I had enrolled, it contained a list of things that would be included on my entrance exam that they use to place incoming freshman.  I literally had to take my letter to my choir teacher and have him explain things to me.... I was not a theory novice, but neither did I have what I needed to make a good start.  If you have access to an AP Theory class at your high school, take it.  If not, then take advantage of the internet and catch up. Between websites like and youtube, you should be able to create a good start in theory for yourself.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

FREE! 1812 Overture by Tchaivovsky - Listening Map

My students REALLY enjoyed this listening map!  Now that it is part of my google docs collection, I can easily share it with students.  I think it has been their favorite so far.  Enjoy!
Download listening map for FREE! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

FREE! Swan Lake Listening Map

I love studying composers with my students.  Tchaikovsky is definitely a favorite, but when time allows, I dearly love sharing more than just the music from the Nutcracker with my students.  When I have time, I like to share several other pieces with them including the Swan Theme from the Swan Lake Ballet Suite.  I created a listening map using PowerPoint to go along with the piece.  When I shared it with my students I projected it and had them use a pointer to locate certain features that they thought were important.  After we had listened to the piece using the listening map, we then moved to the music to accompany our exploration of the traditional ballet positions.  The students had a wonderful time and loved getting to be real ballet dancers. 

Since I have put this slide show into google slides, now I can share this slideshow with my students on their devices that they bring to music upon request.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have. 

To view the slideshow listening map click HERE