Friday Fave: Festival Time!

NFMC Piano Festival

Every February, many of my students participate in the Illinois Federation of Music Clubs’ Junior Festival. This will be my fourth year as a member of the federation, and it’s no less nerve-racking than it was when I first started!

At the end of October, I help my students choose their two pieces (one required, one choice) that they will learn, memorize and then perform at Festival. It’s a long few months, and by the end of January, we’re all ready for the big day so that we can move on to some new repertoire.

But all their hard work pays off in the end: last year, two of my students received their first gold cups, meaning they received a “superior” score three years in a row. This year, I have 5 students hoping to receive their first gold cups.

I like participating in Festival for many reasons, both for my benefit and the benefit of my students. Here are just a few of them:

  • It makes me a better teacher. My job is to help those kiddos get ready to perform not only for an audience, but for judges who will score their playing. No room for slacking!
  • My students are held accountable for their practicing. If they don’t do the work, they don’t get that superior score. It’s funny how motivation levels skyrocket between October and February :)
  • It’s an opportunity to learn from other teachers and students. I really enjoy being amongst a group of teachers, all of whom have different teaching styles, and my students can learn from the other participants.
  • Performing in Festival builds self-confidence. There’s nothing better than the smile on a student’s face after he or she has played well and received a great score.

It’s going to be a busy weekend for all of us, as they perform both on Saturday and Sunday while I’m busy serving as a room chairman (of two rooms, this year!). I have a feeling we’ll all be much more relaxed come Monday…but until then, wish us all luck!

Friday Fave: The Pencil Trick

Pencil Trick

Yesterday during Sergei’s piano lesson, we were working on C chords. Forming chords is a new concept to him, and when he was having trouble getting his 2nd and 4th fingers to stay out of the way, I introduced him to the pencil trick.

I’m not sure where I came up with this idea, but I’m positive that there are others out there who use it as well. As silly as it looks, the “pencil trick” really does help my students get the hang of playing chords.

Sergei was more than happy to serve as my hand model for the photo above, though just a few moments after I snapped the picture, he was ready to put the pencils down and play his C chords without them. Success!

Do you have any funny-yet-helpful little tricks like this that come in handy with your students? My motto when it comes to teaching is whatever works — no matter how seemingly ridiculous or silly. Long live the pencil trick in my studio ;)

Hidden Treasure Revealed

Hidden Treasure in the Piano Bench

Most people might look at this picture and see an old piano and bench. That’s what my students saw…until I opened up the bench at the end of their lessons or music therapy sessions to reveal the hidden treasure they now look forward to each week:

Stickers for Students

That’s right…stickers. The $1.99 variety you find at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or even the grocery store. Who knew that kids could be so easy to please?

“Sticker time” has been a part of my lessons and music therapy sessions for several years now, but only this summer did I think to put them in the piano bench (before, they were in a boring old expandable binder).

After the last piece has been played or the goodbye song has been sung, my students have the opportunity to choose a sticker from the bench and place it on that day’s date in their monthly calendar. And let me tell you, they don’t take their selections lightly; sticker time is serious business (well, as serious as anything involving stickers can be) to many of them.

It’s amazing how my students find such joy in something so simple, but I’m definitely not complaining. It’s the little things, you know?

Brand New Key(s)

Casio Privia PX-130

My search for a new keyboard has finally ended! As of Monday, I am the proud owner of the Casio Privia PX-130 — my “brand new keys” as my friend called them in reference to the old country song, which I perform frequently at gigs.

But to tell you the truth, the latest addition to my instrument collection isn’t actually brand new. When I first asked for help finding the perfect keyboard, I received a few tweets (including one from my music therapist friend Allison) recommending the Casio Privia.

I checked it out and was impressed by what I saw — it had 88 weighted keys just as I wanted with lots of positive reviews — but I kept looking. However, I knew it had to be fate when one of my Facebook friends and fans of my business page (hi, Lori!) told me that her boyfriend was selling his barely-used Casio Privia.

He sent me an email explaining that he just didn’t have time to play the keyboard and was willing to give me a good deal. Music to my ears! I thought about it for a couple weeks while I continued my search, but I just kept coming back to this one.

When I picked it up on from him on Labor Day, he told me that he was happy it would get lots of good use. And that it will! I even skipped an afternoon at the pool to play it on Monday, which my friend Michelle Erfurt rightfully commented was a big deal. (I take my pool time seriously, people.)

I didn’t waste any time buying the proper accessories, since the main reason I bought the keyboard was for use at gigs. Thanks to Amazon’s free two-day shipping, I had a gig bag, pedal, and new stand even before I had the instrument in hand.

I’ll give my Casio Privia a proper review once I’ve gotten some real use out of it, but for now I can tell you that I am thrilled with my purchase. Thank you to everyone who provided suggestions and recommendations, and a huge thank you to Lori for leading me to my new keyboard! Who ever said that Facebook isn’t useful?!

The Keyboard Search is On

Keyboard Search is On

Okay, people: I need your help! The time has finally come to buy a new portable keyboard. The hand-me-down Yamaha my mom gave me a couple years ago has served its purpose, and will continue to do so in my studio’s waiting room, but I’m in the market for an upgrade.

Yesterday I put out the following tweet, hoping to elicit more than a few replies:

I did receive three responses — thank you Kat, Allison and Caitlin! — but would love to throw a few more options into the pool of candidates.

So if you have a recommendation for a keyboard that is easy to tote (back and forth from gigs, rehearsals, etc.), won’t break the bank (preferably under $500), and sounds great, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Thank you in advance for your help!