Giving Students the Gift of Calm


Every year, I struggle with what to give my students as a token of my appreciation for their hard work when the holidays roll around. This year was no different, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to look any further than the top of my piano.

Giving Students the Gift of Calm

These framed signs (which I wrote about here) have been conversation pieces amongst my students since I decorated my piano with them back in June. So as my holiday gift this year, I gave my students their own “keep calm” sign in a simple frame, to be placed in their practice area. Kellan (pictured above, thanks to his mom!) and most of my other students have been happy to receive their gift, and excited to display it just as I do in my studio.

Christmas gift for music students

I gave different framed signs to my students, based upon whether they study piano, voice or guitar. For my music therapy students, I went a bit of a different route:

Music therapy student gift

A tambourine might not be the definition of “calm” (quite the opposite, actually!) but hopefully it will inspire my students to keep making music during the holiday break.

I still have some gifts to give out this afternoon, after which my studio will officially be closed until 2012! It’s hard to believe that the first semester of the school year is coming to an end, but I’m looking forward to a fresh start in January. I’m also looking forward to lots of zen-like, well-practiced students, thanks to their “keep calm” gifts! ;)

A Quick Fix Can Make All the Difference

Quick Fix

Can you guess why Dawson looks so happy in this picture? It could be the fact that he LOVES guitar lessons so much…or it could be that we’ve finally figured out a way for him to comfortably play his guitar.

That box underneath his feet was such a simple solution, but it has made all the difference in the world. We spent Dawson’s first couple of lessons trying to figure out a way for him to keep that giant guitar (comparatively speaking) propped up on his leg. Even though my stools are child-sized, they’re just a little too tall for this situation; and the floor was no good either.

So when I spotted that box underneath my desk — I actually have two of them — I pulled it out and told Dawson to rest his feet on it. Voila, the perfect fix! I now have three or four students who use that box for the same purpose.

I’ve implemented several other quick fixes in and around my studio that have been quite effective. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • My “MacGuyvered” ukulele strap (here’s a picture)
  • The tubano drum which stands in as a side table while I teach piano lessons
  • A waiting room coffee table that provides extra seating (here’s a picture)

What are some easy solutions you’ve come up with to make your life (and your students’ lives, too) a little easier?

Do You Keep Parents in the Loop?

Do You Keep Parents in the Loop?

I have found that some methods are more effective than others when it comes to keeping parents up-to-date with their music students’ progress.  As in, my old method didn’t work so well…but luckily, my new one does.

Old method: I sent a form home in each student’s binder outlining that day’s assignments, practice tips, and new repertoire. There was a space where daily practice could be recorded, as well as a signature line for both parent and student. While I did have a handful of families who very diligently filled this out each week, most did not.

New method: I send an email to parents (and/or students, if they are old enough to receive email) outlining that day’s assignments, practice tips, and new repertoire. While not all families record practice time in the log provided on my website, many of them respond to my emails with notes of their own, or even specific questions related to the lesson.

I wrote about my method for taking notes during lessons in a previous post, in case you’re curious. But the purpose for today’s post is to stress the importance of parents being involved in their students’ education.

Just today I received an email from a parent:

Thanks for this great information every week! I like being able to show Elly what she needs to do/remind her what she needs to work on.

If the parent values his or her child’s progress, then the child is more likely to do so, as well. My most motivated students are those who are encouraged (but not forced) to practice at home, and whose parents take the time to respond to my feedback and pass it along to their children.

When I was growing up, my mom dropped me off for my piano lesson, I was sent home with nothing but my current piece or book each week, and there was never any communication between her and my teacher. No wonder I didn’t apply myself very well back then!

I love the fact that my students’ parents call me on my cell phone to discuss practice strategies, chat with me before and after lessons, and keep in touch regularly via email and Facebook.  All of the above makes me a better teacher, and my students are more successful as a result.

Friday Fave: Kids Sing Studio

Kids Sing Studio

After almost three years of blogging (and over 700 posts), it still amazes me that some people think of me as an “expert” on certain topics related to studio teaching, songwriting, and music therapy.  Yet I continue to receive emails and comments from people thanking me for my resources and advice.  (Not that I’m complaining — each one of them truly makes my day!)

But I have a list of go-to people that I consider to be the true experts.  Lisa Casciola of Kids Sing Studio is one of those people.  I first met Lisa on the second day of my music therapy internship, since she was one of my supervisors.  I got to spend almost nine months learning from someone with whom I shared many of the same interests and goals.  Not only did she help me become a better music therapist, but I also got the bonus of learning about running a teaching studio.

Lisa is the kind of teacher I aspire to be.  Her studio holds masterclasses (with famous Broadway performers, no less!), yearly recitals, holiday parties, and offers all kinds of cool classes and summer programs related to music technology and performance.  Like me, she teaches students of all abilities.

Just this week, I emailed Lisa and asked for some new repertoire suggestions.  She replied almost immediately with a huge list of songs and resources for me.  Looking back over the last four years of teaching, I think I owe Lisa for all the songs that have been the biggest hits amongst my students.

So now that I’ve sung Lisa’s praises, I want to know…who is your go-to expert, or the person you look up to as a role model in your field?

Getting Flashy

USB flash drive for lessons

When I was growing up, my voice teacher would have me bring cassette tapes to my voice lessons.  We would record warmups, new songs, and sometimes even full lessons so that I could practice more effectively at home throughout the week.

In college, I bought a handheld voice recorder for the same purpose, thought not the modern kind that allows you to download mp3 files from it.

When I started teaching lessons, and even up until this past school year, I made CD after CD for my students — each time they learned or recorded a new song.  I was going through so many CDs each month that I finally decided I needed to find an alternative.

I experimented with a few different options.  I tried out Dropbox as a method of sharing mp3 files with my students, but that took up too much space in my already full account.  I also tried sending mp3s as download links, but that wasn’t very convenient for either of us.

And then I had a “duh” moment.  I used a USB flash drive to transfer new songs from my home computer to my work computer, so why couldn’t my voice students do the same thing?  I suggested it to just a few students at first, and now almost all of them bring a flash drive to each of their lessons.

No more wasted CDs or excuses about not being able to practice.  Most of my students are very good with computers and know how to use iTunes, YouTube, and so on…this is just one more excuse for them to use the computer, and I’m okay with that :)  Parents are happy too, because they get to hear what we’ve been working on in our lessons.

How do you share music with your students and encourage them to practice throughout the week?