Category Archives: MTNA

Pianos, Keyboards, and Disklaviers

This is the second post in a four-part series on how technology is changing music education. Check back over the weekend to read more, or subscribe to new posts by email!
  1. Music Teaching and Technology
  2. Pianos, Keyboards, and Disklaviers
  3. The “Gamification” of Education
  4. Technology: MTNA Into the Future
Disklavier Controller
Disklavier Controller

The first reason that technology will help us reach more students is simply financial. Acoustic pianos aren’t cheap. Nor are private music lessons. Surveys indicate the overwhelming majority of American families want music lessons for their children, but that costs associated with this are a major impediment to music study. Sales of acoustic pianos have been down since the 1970s, as sales for more affordable—and perhaps more “hip”—guitars have skyrocketed (according to the Music Trades Industry, a total of 3,302,670 electric guitars were sold for the year 2007 in the United States, compared to 62,536 total pianos. 1)

Author and educator Kristin Yost makes an interesting point. “I keep reading articles about decreasing sales of acoustic pianos,” she told me. “But does this mean that piano teaching is declining? Or is it that the entry point for study isn’t always an acoustic piano?”

I see the increased availability of reasonably priced digital pianos as a boon to piano teachers. More students can afford to take lessons. And as distance learning becomes more common, teachers will be able to reach more students, rather than limiting themselves to those who can travel to the teacher’s studio.

I am a great advocate of Yamaha’s Disklavier. The University of Kansas owns one, and I have my own in my home studio. I consider it the greatest innovation in piano teaching in the history of the instrument. The play-back-at-any-speed capability alone makes it unique; I don’t believe we have even begun to tap its distance learning capabilities. The Yamaha Disklavier Education Network is a great hub for teachers who use this marvelous technology.

I believe we will continue to see development of hybrid grands, with elements of the traditional acoustic piano enhanced with electronics. “These are the wave of the future,” Mike Bates, the retired head of Institutional Sales for the Yamaha Corporation, told me. “They are much more durable, require less maintenance—and the price point is appealing.”

There are many instrumental options for people who want to learn to play the piano. No one I know thinks keyboards will replace the grand piano. But any technology brings more people to music making is a good thing.

Check back tomorrow (or subscribe to get new posts by email!) for Part 3 of the series: how games for learning are changing the face of education
  1. Music Teaching and Technology
  2. Pianos, Keyboards, and Disklaviers
  3. The “Gamification” of Education
  4. Technology: MTNA Into the Future

Notes:

  1. Cited in Danielle Baldassini “The changing role of the piano”, Blast Magazine, March 1, 2010

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Music Teaching and Technology

This is the first post in a four-part series on how technology is changing music education. Check back over the weekend to read more, or subscribe to new posts by email!
  1. Music Teaching and Technology
  2. Pianos, Keyboards, and Disklaviers
  3. The “Gamification” of Education
  4. Technology: MTNA Into the Future
iPad Piano
Seen in a Best Buy store

To me, it seems like the technology revolution has arrived. In my local teachers group, even older teachers (OK…the same age as me) are creatively using their iPads for teaching in ways that would have been astonishing even two years ago.

I started to write this blog post on February 7, after just finishing serving as moderator for a discussion group at the online MusicEd Connect Conference. We were scheduled to discuss “Memorization”, the topic of my workshop a couple of days earlier. We did talk about it–for about 2 minutes. Then followed a lengthy and lively discussion about distance learning, camera set-ups and favorite apps. I learned a lot.

For the teachers in my MusicEd Connect group, as in my local Music Teachers Association, technology has transformed teaching. But has it for everyone? “People assume technology is a done deal in music teaching,” Mike Bates told me in an interview. Mike is the retired head of Institutional Sales for the Yamaha Corporation, now working as an independent consultant. “Music teachers’ attitudes still need to change. Technology is the way children learn these days. Even little kids can intuitively use devices.”

Many have concerns about this. Do children spend too much time staring at a computer, and not enough time playing outdoors? Maybe…but since the average eight–ten year old child spends eight hours a day in front of a computer screen 1, perhaps more important questions for teachers to ask themselves are: what activities take place when students use technology? and what is the educational outcome?

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center did a survey about children’s use of computers. They found that kids from aged two–ten spent less than half of their screen time on “educational” material. What if we took part of their computer time and used it for music learning…would more people play an instrument? Would they reach a higher level of accomplishment? Early research seems to answer “yes”.

I believe that technology and social media have the potential to revolutionize music teaching and expand opportunities for music study to more students than ever before. Educational technology, used by qualified teachers, can make the learning experience more fun and ultimately more successful.

Check back tomorrow (or subscribe to get new posts by email!) for Part 2 of the series: my thoughts on the changing roles of acoustic pianos and electric keyboards
  1. Music Teaching and Technology
  2. Pianos, Keyboards, and Disklaviers
  3. The “Gamification” of Education
  4. Technology: MTNA Into the Future

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“Money Talks” — The MTNA Foundation

MTNA Foundation“Money talks,” as my grandmother used to say. How we as an organization of music teachers spend our money tells us what our priorities are and what programs we find worthy of support. There are so many legitimate needs, so many great ideas—and never enough money to fully sustain all of them.

Donations to the MTNA Foundation go a long way to filling the void. Many of us have devoted our lives to our great mission of music teaching, depending on the programs and services that MTNA offers. Giving back through a donation to the MTNA Foundation makes many of these programs possible.

It is with great pleasure that I formally congratulate you on your designation as an MTNA Foundation Fellow. This honor is bestowed upon outstanding individuals who have made a significant difference in the music world.

Scott, you are very loved and respected by your colleagues and friends. This is evident from the generous donations we have received on your behalf. Your contributions to the music profession have inspired and will continue to inspire teachers and students everywhere.

Gary L. Ingle, MTNA Executive Director & CEO

So it was a source of great pride to me when the president of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers, Jennifer Snow, contacted me and let me know that CAPMT was nominating me as an MTNA Fellow.

MTNA Fellows are nominated by colleagues and friends who wish to honor a teacher, colleague and friend with a donation to the MTNA Foundation.

“Your contributions to California as a leading teacher and pedagogy specialist combined with your many years of service to CAPMT, MTNA, and the broader teaching profession make you an obvious choice for all of us,” Jennifer wrote.

The MTNA Foundation chair for California, Sharon Townsend said, “Scott and I have worked together on many projects, from summer music programs to major conferences. He is a dynamic leader, and a wonderful colleague and friend. We are delighted to honor him as a 2015 MTNA Fellow.”

Thank-you, Jennifer and Sharon, for your generous words. I hope CAPMT teachers’ substantial gift will inspire others to donate to the MTNA Foundation.

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MTNA Elections are Live! Who can Vote?

The big day has finally come: the MTNA Officers Election is now open! There are four easy ways to submit your ballot:

Ballots will be accepted until March 2, 2015.

Many of you have contacted me asking how to vote. The first prerequisite is: you have to be an MTNA member.

If you are not, MTNA has a great deal for you! If you have never held an MTNA membership, or if your membership has lapsed, now is a perfect chance to join.

MTNA has a variety of other membership types, and not all types of membership are voting-eligible. I have checked with the MTNA Head Office to confirm the following information, which I hope you may find helpful:

MTNA Membership Voting Rights

  1. Active Members

    If you know you are an MTNA member but are not sure what type, this is most likely you! Active members can vote. Active Membership information.

  2. Collegiate Members

    If you are a currently a student and joined MTNA through your school, this is you. Collegiate members cannot vote. Collegiate Membership information.

  3. International Members

    If you are a member of MTNA but do not currently live in the US, this is most likely your membership type. International members cannot vote. International Membership information.

  4. Patron Members

    If you are not a music professional but hold an MTNA membership, this is you. Patron members cannot vote. Patron Membership information.

  5. Retired Members

    If you were a member of MTNA for at least 20 continuous years, are over age 65, no longer maintain an active studio, and have petitioned the MTNA Executive Director, you are a Retired member. Thank you for your long service! Retired members can vote. Retired Membership information.

  6. Former Members

    Former Members. If you previously held MTNA membership, but have let it lapse in recent years, I invite you to rejoin the organization and be a part of the movement of change I hope to lead. You may renew your membership online, and newly-renewed Active members can vote.

  7. Non-Members

    Non-Members. If you have never held an MTNA membership, now could be a perfect chance to join! The Six-Month Membership is a special discount for first-time members, and counts as an Active membership. You may also join as a standard Active member for the remainder of the 2014-2015 membership year (until June 30th, 2015) for prorated dues of only $35. New Active members through either option can vote.

I invite you to continue checking this page over the next few weeks. I have a lot of ideas to share!

Thank you for your support. It would be an honor to serve as MTNA President.

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MTNA Competitions & The Big Umbrella Theory

Kiowa Results
Ensemble Kiowa in Fargo, ND

I thought (feared might be a better word) that this might be my final blog about MTNA Competitions, at least for now. But there will be a few more miles for me to travel, in every sense, since the University of Kansas string chamber group of which I am co-coach, Ensemble Kiowa, received First Place in the West Central Division Competition in Fargo, ND and will go on to compete in the National Finals in Las Vegas on March 21.

Below you will find a short video of the students in the group when they heard the announcement that they won. The cinematography (by me) leaves a lot to be desired, but I want you to see how excited they are and how much the MTNA Competitions means to them.

I sometimes hear criticism that our MTNA Competitions take too much from our organization: too many resources and too much volunteer time. Of course there is always a reason to offer legitimate criticism and practical solutions. But not sponsoring MTNA competitions is, to me, a “no go”.

It goes back to my “big umbrella” theory of MTNA. Just as MTNA should sponsor programs in popular music and improvisation, we should also offer events for the highest level of traditional music making. The MTNA Competitions are unique in the world in their range and scope, involving students from all 50 states. I’m very proud that my students and I can be part of them.

Problems? Or course there are a few. As I remind pupils, we are on earth, not in heaven, so perfection is not to be expected. The expense for students performing can be considerable. I estimate that taking Ensemble Kiowa to Fargo cost in total about $1800—and this is just one round of the competition. The cost is definitely a bar to participation for some.

But I can testify about the benefits from my own experience. Another KU chamber group that I coached, the Wakarusa Trio, was the MTNA Chamber Music–Strings winner in 2013. The group has now disbanded as individual members pursue their own dreams.

But before they moved on, they won the Coleman-Barstow Prize for Strings as the Best String Group at the 2014 Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition, the world’s oldest chamber music competition. This, and their win at MTNA, led to a wealth of personal and group opportunities that we could never have imagined.

More important, though, is the personal growth that each member (including me) earned by setting a goal, working hard to achieve it and coping with all the problems and disappointments along the way. And, finally, the real confidence that emerges when success is achieved. All of this, to me, is the real reason we have MTNA Competitions.

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How to Expect the Unexpected

Today is Ensemble Kiowa’s competition day and, as often happens, there is a problem that requires special handling. The piano on which we will be competing does not have an operational sostenuto pedal.

Not a problem, you think? Who uses it anyway? Our Ensemble Kiowa pianist, a marvelous KU doctoral student named Cong Cong Chai, does. He and I have worked out our pedalings very carefully for this program, including the sostenuto, and its use is notated in our cool, funky contemporary piece Techno-Parade (2002) by the French composer Giles Connesson.

Deann Brown and the MTNA West Central Division Competition staff have been very fair. They gave us an extra 15-minute rehearsal in the concert hall, and will inform the judges about the problem. The North Dakota State tuner was great, too; he tried his best to fix it, but “no go”.

I always tell students that the contestants who remain cool, stay focused and make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation are often the winners. Ensemble Kiowa will have a chance to test that today!

This short video is from the end of our 15-minute session. I have my students review competition pieces in reverse order, ending with the work that they will play first in the competition. It my view, this imprints the all-important opening firmly in their minds. So this is excerpts from their first piece, Aram Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, third, second and finally first movements, with loud interjected comments from me. The shaky camera-work is mine, too.

 


Ensemble Kiowa is Margaret Lambie, flute; Mickayla Chapman, clarinet: Man (Mandy) Wang, violin; and Cong Cong Chai, piano, all students at the University of Kansas. The group is co-coached by my KU colleague, Dr. Michael Kirkendoll and me.

 

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On Preparation and Performance Anxiety

This is the day before Ensemble Kiowa (the string chamber music group from the University of Kansas that I co-coach with my colleague, Dr. Michael Kirkendoll) competes in the MTNA West Central Division. We all had a good night’s sleep after yesterday’s 10-hour drive to Fargo, ND, and are ready to get to work.

I follow research about performance preparation and I wish there was a clearer model of “what-to-do-right-before-the-event”.  It seems that every successful performer has his or her own idiosyncratic routine.

Shura Cherkassky
Shura Cherkassky at an upright piano

I remember taking the late, great Shura Cherkassky to try out a piano. He played one ascending arpeggio and asked, “when can we go to dinner?” That was it. But he insisted on having an upright piano moved into his backstage dressing room, on which he practiced at an excruciatingly slow tempo right up to the moment of performance. That’s the routine that worked for him.

Back to the research, there are two consistent factors for successful preparation that I have identified. First, be well rested and don’t over practice. Second, do what you need to do to feel confident and “in a good mental place to play”.

Let’s see what we need to do today to make this happen!


 

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MTNA Competitions

Our MTNA-sponsored competitions are one of the crown jewels of the Music Teachers National Association. Their long history of excellence, starting at the state level and concluding in gala events at the National Conference, is unique in the world. I’m proud to have my students be part of the excitement.

Is music a competitive art? The answer is complicated. In my opinion, the overall answer is, no, it’s expressive. Despite that, I enter students in MTNA competitions every year. I believe that having a goal focuses attention and motivates improvement. Most important, competing in MTNA events gives these wonderful young people a chance to earn recognition for their talent and hard work. They deserve it.

Ensemble KiowaWe’re off again today! My chamber group Ensemble Kiowa (Chamber Music–Strings) and I are on our way to Fargo, ND. Ensemble Kiowa is the Kansas state winner and will be competing in the West Central Division competitions against the other state champs from our region. We’ve been working hard and our hopes are high.

Wish us luck!


 

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A Landmark Study from ABRSM

ABRSM-logoMaking Music 1 is the fourth survey of music making in the United Kingdom undertaken by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. This report, prepared in cooperation with Trinity College London, is the first such in 14 years.

Authors of the document describe it as “the most comprehensive collaborative survey of this kind yet undertaken.” Almost 5000 British music teachers participated, 1700+ children and about 1250 adults.

The data, and the conclusions drawn from it, are fascinating. In Great Britain, just as many young learners now play the guitar as play the violin and many young people play two or more instruments. Older learners make music in a wider variety of ways, compared to previous populations studied, and technology plays an increasing role in musical engagement.

Adults in Great Britain report significant levels of musical involvement. Those who took music lessons as children and participated in a music exam are more likely to continue playing. The higher the exam grade achieved, the greater the likelihood that they will continue learning

British music teachers, too, seem to be quite happy (but see the last two bullet points below). According to the survey, both vocal and instrument teachers express high levels of professional fulfillment; they find the act of teaching enjoyable and rewarding.

Positive? Yes, but there are some areas of concern:

  • Lack of student access to music lessons
    • Children from lower socio-economic groups have significantly less opportunity for music study
  • Many students have no music lessons beyond elementary school
  • The cost of instruments and lessons is a major barrier to music study
  • Teachers reported widely varying experiences concerning job security and rate of pay
    • For some, rates have dropped and job security is low
  • 50% of teachers report lack of school and parental support and poorly motivated students as the negative aspects of their career choice.

I’m still studying the implications of all this data. There’s a lot to think about! Readers (and especially MTNA members), I’m curious about your ideas on this. Are you highly fulfilled professionally? or are you having some problems, be it low pay, lack of security or lack of support. What do you see as the barriers to music study in your area?

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MTNA: A Big Umbrella

When I was president-elect of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers in 2008, I undertook a special project. Some of our student programs dated almost back to the founding of our organization in 1968.

People live differently nowadays, I reasoned, so it’s a good time to take a look at what we music teachers do and see what revisions might be needed, without eliminating any of the strong points that attracted teachers and students in the first place.

I wrote up a survey and sent it to CAPMT members, asking their opinion. We had about a 22% return rate, which is very high compared to that of many other surveys.

One comment that came up over and over again was: our piano programs needed more selections in popular styles. “I’m losing students to the guitar,” one teacher wrote. “To them, it’s more cool.”

Her statement perhaps explains certain sales figures. According to the Music Trades Industry, a total of 3,302,670 electric guitars were sold for the year 2007 in the United States, compared to 62,536 total pianos. 1

What does this mean for MTNA? I have what I call my “big umbrella” theory. In my opinion, high-level music making and teaching exist in a wide range of forms,  and styles, including popular music, jazz and improvisation. I would like MTNA to be a “big umbrella” that shelters outstanding student programs in each of these areas. There already are some fine programs at the local and state levels.

I believe that any type of music that brings students to music study is inherently good and should be encouraged.

Notes:

  1. Cited in Danielle Baldassini “The changing role of the piano”, Blast Magazine, March 1, 2010

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