Archive for March 2012
Sometimes, my parents call when I am in the middle of a rehearsal or performance, and don’t have access to my cellphone. Yet every time they do that and I call back during a break or after the rehearsal or concert, I cannot help but think they lack a skill that provides a joy to my life, and that of many people: the ability to read music well and fluently. In fact, they will often forget that I have rehearsals or lessons 2-3 times per week so that I am not able to call them until at least 9:30 PM.
The ability to read music cuts down on the amount of TV people watch, since many prime time TV shows are during times when ensembles, especially bands and orchestras, rehearse and get together. Watching TV is often a passive, lonely activity with little to no interaction with other people. Not only that, but the time getting to the rehearsal or performance location, warmup, and the practicing of the music further reduce the amount of TV time available.
Music, in contrast to TV, is a active activity. You are practicing listening skills, communication skills, organizational skills, mastering and learning new skills on an instrument, and making new friends, who you may not otherwise meet.
Knowing how to read music well means you can join bands, choirs, and orchestras, not to mention chamber ensembles for those playing at least to an intermediate level.
TV is generally not fun to watch. But making music can be, and often is, fun even if it sometimes means hard work. Music has been enjoyable to thousands, if not millions of people for hundreds of generations. While TV was only fun and interesting for a few decades, and the quality of programming has generally been on the decline for the past 10-15 years. Plus with many networks putting their shows on the internet, there is no excuse to not go out and make music if you have the skill!
Posted March 25, 2012on:
Besides the instrument, there are a few items that are necessary for beginning band and orchestra students. Here are my top 8 items.
A Music Stand. Without a music stand to practice, many beginning band and orchestra students will prop their music on a dresser or chair, which causes problems with posture and often the tone suffers, especially in wind players.
A full length mirror. This will be helpful in having students check their posture, bow-hold, bow movement, embouchure,and finger shape and their positions.
A good-quality mouthpiece. Especially with clarinets and saxophones, the mouthpiece that comes with those instruments are mainly useful as doorstops. A quality mouthpiece makes it much easier to produce a good tone, especially in the higher registers of the instrument.
An extra box of reeds or strings. For those moments when a reed chips or just won’t play, or a string snaps in the middle of the practice session.
High quality lighting. If necessary, consider getting the student a music stand light, such as the types used by musicians who play in pit orchestras for musicals.
An electronic tuner. For students to develop an accurate sense of intonation (tuning) of the instrument.
A metronome. This can help students make sure they play their pieces and technical exercises at the correct speed. It is especially helpful when the student auditions for special ensembles, as many will require a minimum speed for scales.
A keyboard or piano, with some basic instruction on how it relates to music theory. So that students can learn the relationship between the notes printed on the page, and how they correspond to the keyboard.
If the student is a percussionist, there are a couple of other items you should seriously consider:
A snare drum with drum sticks, or at least a drummer’s practice pad. Since they are not allowed to take their instruments home, you will have to supply them with one. The drummer’s practice pad is often around $20-$30 and may come with a pair of sticks.
A 2-octave glockenspiel. A basic one that will probably be suitable for the first 2-3 years of most school music programs, is called Angel Glockenspiel, and sells for $30-$40 depending on where you purchase one.
Louis-Claude Daquin: The Cuckoo
Mikhail Glinka: The Lark
Edward Grieg: Little Bird
Joseph Haydn: String Quartet: ‘The Lark’
Albert Ketelby: In a Monastery Garden (there are several representations of bird calls in the music)
Felix Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words, Spring Song (no. 5)
Oliver Messaien: ‘Abyss of the Birds’ from Quartet for the End of Time
Leopold Mozart: ‘Toy’ Symphony (often incorrectly attributed to Haydn)
W.A. Mozart: Papageno’s Aria from The Magic Flute, Piano Concerto no. 17
Sergei Prokoffief: The Cuckoo from Peter and the Wolf
Jean Phillipe Rameau: Le coucou (The Chicken)
Giocomo Rossini: The Thieving Magpie
Franz Schubert: Vogel Als Prophet (Bird as Prophet)
Camille Saint-Saens: ‘The Swan’ and ‘The Cat’ in Carnival of the Animals, which contains an imitation of a cuckoo call
Jean Sibelius: Swan of Tuonela
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird
P.I. Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Dance of the Cygnets
Antonio Vivaldi: Flute Concerto in D, op. 10/3 RV 428, ‘The Goldfinch’
Alexander Borodin–cats, dogs
Mikhail Glinka–mostly birds, had other pets as well
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart–had several pets, including a starling, whose song inspired one of the themes for a piano concerto that premiered just two weeks after he bought this bird.
Domenico Scarlatti–cat, one of his compositions was inspired by the keys the cat stepped on, the `Cat Fugue’
Richard Wagner–had a Newfoundland Labrador dog
I have bought a few musical instruments via online classified ads, and have helped others find good ones as well. On the other hand, I notice that some instruments stay on the market for a long time for various reasons. So here are some tips on how to get most instruments sold quickly.
- Don’t overprice the instrument, even if it’s barely been played. Typically you should ask between 50% and 65% of what it sells for new.
- List a phone number. I’ve seen some listings I’ve wanted to respond to where I cannot get a hold of the person via the email address.
- Respond to inquiries promptly, especially email ones. Particularly true if you are selling a piano, because they might be bidding on other instruments.
- Don’t sell an off-brand instrument. This especially applies to woodwinds and brass instruments.
- Don’t sell a instrument that needs hundreds or thousands of dollars work on it to make it playable. Especially with pianos.
- Include the brand of the instrument.
- Provide pictures on the listing.
- Include the accessories, eg: the bench for the piano if you have the original, and the supplies that typically come with woodwind, brass, and string instruments.
- Provide a serial number, especially when selling woodwind instruments.
- Let the potential buyer know if the instrument will need work or if it’s been reconditioned/overhauled recently.
- If selling a piano, consider offering the buyer to pay for the delivery, especially with acoustic pianos.
- Don’t sell an instrument with missing or broken keys.
- If the student is studying privately on instruments other than the piano, ask the teacher if they might know someone who could be interested in the instrument. I’ve had 2 piano students and 3 clarinet ones who were upgrading their instrument, and found buyers for the instrument through my musical network.
- Find out whether the person buying the instrument is a parent of a student, a an advanced student or professional, or a teacher helping a student purchase an instrument. Parents of students or a teacher assisting one will tend to be looking at several instruments; professionals are generally looking for instruments for themselves, although a few may be adding a small number of loaner instruments for beginning students.
- With digital pianos or keyboards, if the instrument has less than 88 keys, it will be much harder to sell than an instrument that is full size.
Posted March 2, 2012on:
First, the pay. While the music school may charge $20-$30 per 30 min lesson, most music schools take a 40-60% cut of the pay from the teachers. That leaves the teacher with as little as $8 per half hour. Subtract the cost of travel time (particularly if the teacher does not take public transit if available) and teaching supplies, and some teachers may be earning minimum wage or even less, especially if they only have a small number of students.
Second, the size of the rooms in most music schools. Most music schools have the students in very small rooms. This has a negative impact on all ages of students. For young students needing to learn how to play with a steady beat, it is difficult to have the student walk around the room at different speeds to develop this skill. For students of all instruments, especially those past the beginning stages, it impairs the development of sound projection. Independent teachers can, and often do, choose a large teaching space if it is available to them, or at least use a large bedroom or living room, which are several times larger than most music school teaching rooms–and enable students to move around to different areas or learn to make their sound “carry” in a big room, sometimes a large sanctuary in a church with a nice piano if available to the teacher.
Third, you cannot choose the students who you teach. You have to take almost every, if not every student assigned to you, from whiny, spoiled brats with a poor quality instrument to advanced students ready to go to study music at a university or conservatory. And everything in between, with most being students who might come every week to lessons, but do little practicing, in which you’re like a musical babysitter. (Plus highly unlikely getting the advanced students going on to study music after high school; almost all of those go to independent studios) Independent teachers can choose not to teach students who are over-scheduled, have poor attitude, have poor ability to follow instructions, or have various intellectual, emotional, behavioural, or learning challenges or if the parents have a history of things such as constantly late payments, lots of missed lessons, and teacher hopping.
Fourth, many music schools will not let teachers take the students with them if the teacher leaves the school. This is bad news if students develop a close relationship with a teacher that they really enjoy.
Fifth, many music schools have overly long concerts at the end of the year. Considering that some of these concerts are 2-3 hours long, and some teachers need to spend time with their families or have performance commitments which they need to attend performances, rehearsals, or practice plus travel time, this can impact a teacher’s relationships outside the school and even income!
Sixth, teachers are not able to teach the length of lesson the student needs or wants. For example, 45 min lessons are offered only at a few music schools, and no community music school that I know of offers longer than 60 min, even if the student needs or wants it. I’ve taught 75 min to 2 hour lessons to at least 4 students which the student or their parents requested extra time. I love having lots of time, for students who need extensive prep for auditions for music programs after high school (there are lots of requirements to fulfill for these), or need major remediation, or want lessons on a couple of instruments.
Seventh, some music schools, especially for piano students, choose the method book teachers are supposed to use, even if that method generally produces students who play poorly.
Eighth, music schools offer very little flexibility. A teacher cannot take a day off to do special performances or run a workshop during the hours they are assigned to teach, or would be travelling to the community music school if they work for one. This happened to a flute teacher friend of mine, who wanted to do a flute workshop at a public school I was doing a clarinet workshop at, and could not perform for a special memorial service for one of the musicians at the church, because she would be on her way to teaching at the school during the service. Perhaps it is because music schools feel that they want the teachers to be dependent on the music school for students. Teachers working independently can ask for students and parents to accommodate other events occasionally.
Ninth, teachers of orchestral instruments are typically not able to hire someone that they like and is good as a pianist for solos, and are asked to use someone who teaches at the school. The flute teaching friend above wanted to use my husband for her student’s flute exams, but the school would not permit her to do so.
Tenth, teachers at music schools are generally limited to using the tools in their teaching that are available at the school. This means that, for example, a teacher cannot bring a laptop computer to help students learn theory or ear training or have their playing recorded and seen/heard.
Eleventh, many music schools separate learning music theory from learning to play an instrument. This means that students may be far less likely to connect music theory to music learning, and the students of parents spend at least twice the amount on lessons than they should be. (the instrument lessons and the theory classes!)
Finally, music schools will not let you teach the instruments which you are known as a good or even excellent teacher, but may, according to the music school’s rules, be unqualified to teach. Several of my musical colleagues, including piano teachers who teach for the Royal Conservatory in downtown Toronto, think of me a really good piano teacher (and they have observed my teaching and student performances), even though I do not quite meet the minimum qualification to teach that instrument in most of them. (usually at least Level 9 piano, though a few say Level 8 minimum and others require Level 10)
Many private music teachers work alone, sometimes in a defensive manner in an attempt to guard what they think are their “secrets of success”. However, for just over 9 of the past 12 1/2 years I have taught private music lessons, I have worked as part of a team of teachers with my husband, and a larger close network of teachers of instruments that neither myself or my husband teach. I would like to discuss some of the advantages of team teaching.
1. Teachers are more accountable to each other. Many of the musical charlatans, the most famous one probably being Scott Houston, who ran a franchise called “Play Piano in a Flash”, work alone. And they rarely if ever expose themselves to a wider community of musicians, both where they live, in their country, and around the world. But the teachers who work as part of a team, especially if there are just two or three teachers, tend to keep the musical standards very high. Students of teachers who work alone sometimes have tone or rhythm problems for example, which is far less likely to happen in a team situation because the relationship can partially depend on those high standards.
2. Sets of siblings taking lessons sometimes can be a challenge for teachers who work alone. However, for teachers that work together, one teacher can teach a student while another “babysits” the other sibling(s), perhaps by doing musical drawing activities.
3. Teachers can help remind each other of upcoming deadlines. For example, I am much better at remembering deadlines to register for auditions, competitions, and exams than my husband. In addition, sometimes I am the one who sends the reminders about upcoming deadlines for these events to parents of his students.
4. A team of teachers can assist each other. For example, I have no trouble teaching the repertoire, studies, technical elements, sight reading, and orchestral excerpts for clarinet up to Level 9. But I have had challenges with teaching the ear requirements for students beyond level 6 RCM. (Ear requirements are identical across every instrument), unless the student is quite a natural at it. My husband, however, has much more experience teaching the ear requirements at those levels, and can play the melodic dictation much better than I can at the higher levels. Not only that, but the piano parts for the clarinet students I teach, except for some parts in the first two levels, are almost always quite difficult to very difficult for even an early advanced level pianist, if they have little time to practice. But my husband can play them fluently, either because he’s played the music before, or because of his really fine sight-reading skills. Conversely, perhaps because of my wind instrument training, I sometimes catch his piano students cutting their longer notes (anything longer than a quarter note) too early, and can mention it to him.
5. Music teams can bounce off ideas between each other, and find or create new resources. For example, Finale Notepad 2012 became available for free for the first time in several years, which I distributed copies to mine and his students who wanted it on a CD-ROM I made after downloading it online. I have also found printable music games and resources for students and parents to use in lessons. My husband has used several of these resources I found or created.
I used to hate the electronic tuner for musical instruments, and rarely used it. I started using it again in September 2011 before performances to tune my instruments to the desired pitch level, especially on the A clarinet I play on currently, particularly in that instrument’s very lowest and highest notes. Over the past month however, I have been using the electronic tuner not only to tune up my instruments, but even during the playing of technical elements, etudes, and repertoire.
It has helped me learn of problematic notes in various passages, when my instrument needs to be taken in for adjustments due to leaks, and has helped me play very consistently in tune, even though people have said that I am very good at that; in some ensembles I play and have played in, other musicians liked to tune to me because they assume I was going to be in tune very quickly if not immediately.
Many experienced musicians, for some reason or another, end up in a situation where their music lessons stop. However, some of these musicians, years or decades later, decide to take lessons on one or more instruments again because of circumstances in their lives are allowing them to do that again. My husband recently acquired a new adult student who had earned her Level 8 piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music 40 years ago, who had done extensive preparation for her first lesson with him since she stopped lessons as a teenager, and I am in the process of preparing to take clarinet lessons again for the first time in nearly a decade due to being in a very stable position to do so for several years. I am writing this to give some ideas on how to prepare for taking lessons with a new teacher.
First, schedule your first lesson with your new teacher 1-2 weeks after contacting them and making an appointment. This gives you time to practice some material.
Second, learn, or in most cases really, re-learn your scales to at least 4 sharps and flats. Orchestral instrument players should also at least re-learn their arpeggios and dominant and diminished 7th arpeggios to at least 3 sharps and flats, and preferably 4. Keyboard players should re-learn their triads, 4-note chords, dominant 7th and diminished 7th chords to at least 3 sharps, and preferably 4.
Third, prepare some etudes, Keyboard players should prepare at least 1, and preferably at least 2. Orchestral instrument students should prepare at least 2 etudes, though 3 is desirable.
Fourth, prepare some repertoire. At least 1 piece for orchestral instruments, and preferably 2; keyboard students should have 2-3 pieces with significant work.
Fifth, brush up on your music theory. Especially if it’s been more than a decade since you took your last rudiments exam.
Finally, sight read LOTS of pieces at least 2 levels below the level you left off at, and if that is too difficult, try 3-4 levels lower. You can find new material to read through at a large music store or university music library, some public library systems have extensive sheet music libraries to sign out as well.