Category Archives: Pedagogy

A New Format for Masterclasses

iphone6_spacegrey_side2-1There’s something very charming about serendipity, isn’t there? I spend a lot of time planning, organizing and goal-setting. And fairly often, I achieve my objective. But it’s especially fun to attain recognition at a time when I’m not even seeking it.

That was my experience when I read the latest installment of the Music Teacher’s Helper blog, “The iMasterclass—MTNA National Conference Las Vegas Part II”. It’s written by Yiyi Ku, an outstanding California teacher. She describes my masterclass for intermediate students at the MTNA Conference in Las Vegas, which took place on March 24, 2015.

I was trying an experiment utilizing technology. In general, I work hard to make my masterclasses informative: I want students and teachers both to come away with inspiration and fresh ideas, as well as the cognitive tools to make their own decisions. The danger, though, is that I spend too much time talking and not enough time interacting with the student.

So at MTNA I used a new technology called SlideDuet, which enabled me to put all the necessary facts on an application that attendees could view, free of charge, on their mobile device as the class unfolded in real time. When I spoke about the technique of ‘rotation’, for example, a brief explanation would appear on-screen, along with a diagram. I also included background notes on the works and composers, and biographical information about the performers. Here’s my actual SlideDuet presentation, so you can see for yourself.

Yiyi found my class “audience-engaging” and felt “fully drawn to what [was] happening on stage and inspired by the way Dr. Smith interacted with students.”  I appreciate her comments very much.

I’m looking forward to working some more with this exciting technology. I think I can get better at integrating the information with the live teaching. Since this was my first time, I succumbed to the temptation to include too much supporting material and the spontaneity of my teaching suffered a bit. My opinion, anyway!

Never mind. Teaching is all about continuous improvement and I plan on doing some with this cool and innovative teaching tool.

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Piano Performance for Adults

Audience at Rocky Ridge

I applaud everyone who studies the great art of playing the piano, but I have a special place in my heart for adults who begin—or return to—piano study at a mature age.

A recent article in the New York Times detailed 59-year old Sara Solovitch’s comeback performances, beginning at the San Jose Airport (not as odd as it might seem, really; people passing through aren’t listening all that closely, which might be a good thing for an inexperienced performer), complete with sweaty palms and pounding heart. “I looked like a cornered animal,” she says, “and sounded like a robot.”

In her successful quest to return to performance after a 40-year break, Ms. Solovitch tried everything to calm her nerves. The problem wasn’t a lack of desire. “Upon returning to [playing the piano], I discovered I loved it more than ever. I practiced as much as I could, sometimes for two or three hours a day.”

Playing in front of others? Not so much fun. To conquer her fear, she tried biofeedback, deep breathing, cognitive behavior therapy, Alexander technique and even drugs: beta blockers, which her doctor called “the public speaking drug.”

There is another option: attending an adult piano camp. The one I know the best is the Adult Piano Seminar at the Rocky Ridge Music Center, for the simple reason that I just finished teaching at their 2015 session.

Rocky Ridge was founded by a remarkable woman, Beth Miller Harrod, in 1942 in the beautiful Colorado Rockies outside of Estes Park, CO. A student of Josef and Rosina Lhevinne, who spent summers in the area in the 1930s, Beth (everyone is on a first-name basis at Rocky Ridge) began with a group of seven girls, who lived in one big cabin and practiced on pianos scattered around the area. The program has grown to encompass both genders, chamber music, orchestra and programs for all ages.

This year’s Adult Seminar attendees were a wonderful group of supportive adults, who provided enthusiastic support to each other, inexperienced or veteran. Their love and commitment to music was palpable, and their enjoyment of being together infectious. I’m looking forward to being back again in 2016.

Here are some additional photos from my time at Rocky Ridge:

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Mindfulness, Part II

Here are my own ‘Five Steps’ to piano mindfulness, adapted from those found on the Mindfulness in Schools Project website.

mindfulness1. Taming the animal mind

That’s what the Mindfulness people call this step, and they’re right. Most students’ brains (and sometimes even those of piano teachers…cough) are ranging all over the place, everywhere except where they need to be: on the sound. I assign calming exercises, focusing on the breath and on the feeling of being anchored and settled. Directed visualization helps, too.

2. Pay attention

This is the key. Many students aren’t really listening to themselves and when they try, they don’t know what to listen to. My task is to gently but persistently direct students’ attention to the task at hand, and to provide benchmarks to measure themselves against. These may include verbal directions or asking them to model on my singing or a recording. Or both! Even more useful is asking the students to give their own verbal directions to themselves or to sing the phrase without me, modeling the sound each wants to achieve.

3. Respond, rather than react

Reacting is what students are doing when they repeatedly stop and start, talk while they are playing, begin again and again or continue to make the same mistake even after correction. They hear something that bothers them, panic and act out. This doesn’t work. What we want them to do is: respond. Responding is thoughtful. The act of responding dispassionately recognizes and acknowledges a problem. It has nothing to do with playing on autopilot.

4. Make a plan—and work the plan

mindfulnessI ask students to assess what they heard during their “response” and to come up with an improvement plan. I asked Mary (from my last blog post) how many times she “stuttered” on the first page. She had no idea, which in itself is part of the problem, and had to play it once more to come up with an answer.

She agreed that her task would be to practice one phrase at a time, at a slow tempo, without stopping, no matter what happened. I asked her how many repetitions she though necessary for each phrase. Her answer was “seven”, which surprised me. I was going to suggest five.

The overall objective: at the end of the seven repetitions, the number of “stutters” should be reduced.

5. Assess and repeat

Proper assessment involves three parts:

  1. Did I follow my plan? If Mary didn’t play at a slow tempo, if she let herself stutter or if she didn’t repeat seven times, then she didn’t accomplish her tasks. The practice plan needs to be repeated until she reaches her objective.
  2. Did accomplishing my tasks improve my performance? If not, or not enough, the practice step needs to be repeated or adjusted.
  3. What’s the next step?

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Mindfulness, Part I

MindfulnessinSchools“I practice as long as it needs, every day,” my teenage student Mary 1 told me, with an air of purposeful self-satisfaction. I almost believed her, sort of, until her more skeptical (perhaps ‘realistic’ is the better word) Mom interrupted, “if only that were more than seven minutes per piece”.

Believe it or not, I am firmly convinced that Mary sincerely thinks she is doing a good job. Despite lengthy lessons, detailed practice plans and frequent preparation checks from me, all indicating that more work on her part is needed, she really believes that she is completing her assignment…in seven minutes.

What’s the problem? Lack of aural skills is a big part of it (I’m working on a future blog post on this). She doesn’t hear what her performance actually sounds like to an outside listener, only how she perceives it as it sounds to her, or as she wishes it sounded. This type of thinking is part of a bigger problem: an absence of mindfulness.

A good definition of mindfulness can be found on the Mindfulness in Schools Project website:

“Mindfulness involves learning to direct our attention to our experience as it unfolds, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, it trains us to respond skillfully to whatever is happening right now, be that good or bad.”

The benefits of mindfulness in adults have been well recognized by research. Recent studies have documented even more dramatic improvement in performance by school children who practice mindfulness. A Time magazine article earlier this year claimed startling improvement in behavior and test scores by Canadian fourth and fifth-grade students who participated in the MindUP program, which promotes thoughtful social and emotional learning. These include 15% higher math scores and 24% improved social behaviors.

The Mindfulness in Schools Project has several components, one of which is what they call “The Ten Lessons”. These explain the concept of mindfulness to young students, teach them to handle stress and worry, detail how to make mindful choices instead of simply reacting to each thought with a possibly negative behavior and cultivating an attitude of gratitude. I think each has a lot of worth.

I’ve adapted “The Ten Lessons” from the Mindfulness website to use with my own students. I’ll share my ideas with you in my next blog post.


  1. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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Rotation and the D Song

PinkyLast week, we learned about the basic motion of rotation. Are you ready to use rotation on a real work of music? Great! But first we need to take a brief detour.

The most important activity my beginning piano students perform in their first piano lessons is singing, and then playing, pentatonic folk songs. This is because I want them to experience piano playing primarily as an aural and kinesthetic art, rather than one that is reading-based. I introduce steps (two next door notes), skips (two notes separated by one note in the middle) and leaps (anything bigger than a skip) in this context—as something one hears and feels, rather than lines on a printed page. We sing, before taking it to the keyboard.

It’s not long before I progress to half steps and whole steps. A half step is two keys as close as possible together; a whole step is two keys, separated by one key in the middle. Confusing? It could be, since the definition of a whole step is dangerously close to that of a skip.

Here’s where a listening-based approach really pays off. The definition may be similar, but the sound is not close at all. Students hear and understand this readily, after some repetition. We are laying the groundwork for a conceptual understanding of scales. They are built on patterns of half steps (semitones) and whole steps (tones).

Our old friend The D Song is whole-step based, the first two notes of many scale patterns. After the student can sing The D Song more or less 1, both parts, it’s ready to be learned at the piano.

The D Song

The D Song

Tobias Matthay felt that fundamental movement problems in scale work were always functions of rotation. That is correct, in my view, so it’s important to introduce the rudiments of rotation early in piano study to avoid later problems. Let’s do it with The D Song, after the notes have been learned. We’ll start with just one note.

If you want to perform any kind of movement, you have to prepare in the opposite direction. If you want to put your foot down to step, for instance, you have to lift it first. If you want to throw a ball forward, you have to wind up backward.

The first finger to be played in The D Song is the thumb. Because of its length (or lack of it), the thumb is always played with a medial rotation, toward the middle of the body. That means that the preparation has to be lateral, away from the body.

Here are the steps, starting with the left hand:

  • Preparation
    • gently rest your thumb over middle D
    • rotate (turn the doorknob) laterally, to the left. Your thumb should lift and be facing up at about a 45 degree angle
    • flex your fingers so that they are strong—not stiff, but not totally relaxed, either
      • I show students the correct flexion by asking them to hold a Beanie Baby, before we start the rotation process. The fingers should be firm enough that the Beanie baby doesn’t drop, but not so strong that the Beanie Baby is clenched
  • Play
    • release the energy of the arm and let the forearm fall and the thumb push into the key, in good thumb position. If you do it right, you will get a full, resonant, bell-like sound
  • Follow-through
    • the arm continues the rotary movement medially, to the right. This is not a separate motion, it’s a continuation of the forearm motion that caused the thumb to play. The thumb rolls a bit to its side, so it is resting briefly on the nail
  • an important component of this process is that the thumb has to relax once it has struck the key, so the rotational movement can continue, while the thumb lightly holds the “D” key down. It should not be pressing as it rests on the keybed.

Is this too much information for a beginner? for one note? Way too much, if you try to present it all at one time in words. I don’t do that. I demonstrate, I make up stories, I correct as I go, and I don’t expect too much perfection at the beginning.

More notes—and gestures–to come!


  1. D is a good note on which to start singing, since it is well within the range of most students. For our purposes right now, it doesn’t matter too much whether you use a traditional solfège approach or simply sing note names. A simple two-note song may take some students several weeks with which to match pitch. Don’t worry, it will come as long as they keep singing.

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Beginning Rotation

Cat ToyPiano technic can be a tricky proposition. Getting just the right degree of muscle tonus 1 in some tissues while maintaining a different state of flexion in others is tough. Especially when one is trying to move at the same time. Too much tonus and movement is difficult or even painful; too little, and movement becomes impossible because too relaxed.

We’ve taken an important first step in working on thumb motion. Now let’s begin work on what I consider to be the foundational movement of piano technic: rotation. As I said in my first blog entry in this series, we try to base our piano-playing motions on the “natural” motions of our arm and body. Rotation is one of those.

In the history of piano teaching, rotation is often associated with Tobias Matthay 2 (1858-1945), the distinguished teacher of such legendary British pianists as Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany and Dame Myra Hess, and a prolific writer on piano teaching and technic. Matthay stated that he based his ideas on observations of three great pianists who played in London in the 1880s: Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, and Hans von Bülow. 3

Matthay wrote in the spirit of 19-century scientific experimentation, in a technical language that, to me anyway, is difficult to make sense of. 4 The basic principles, though, are clear.

I begin by asking students to let their arms hang with their hands at their sides, as if walking. Notice that, in this position, both the thumbnail and radius bone are facing forward. In order to place our hand on the piano keys to play, we have to lift our arms (from the forearm) and rotate the forearm 5 so that the thumbnail and radius are facing medially, to the center of the body. This is called “pronation”. Pronation is not an uncomfortable position, but the arm naturally wants to rotate back to its initial position, with the thumb and radius facing upward. We want to take advantage of this natural inclination and use it in piano technic.

I use a cat toy to begin to explain the motion to students. Here are the directions:

  • Gently outstretch your arm
  • Hold the cat toy in your hand with enough muscle flexion to keep it in an upright position, but not so much that you squeeze the poor little cat too much and make your hand stiff.
  • Pretend the cat toy is doorknob, and you are going to turn it.
  • Turn it to the left, then to the right.

Congratulations! You just rotated.

Is it really this easy? Yes, in a way, as you get started (the nuances will take more time). Here are some things to check as you start to master the gesture.

  • Make sure the motion is initiated from your forearm.
    • The upper arm and shoulder support the motion, but do not initiate movement
  • Medial rotation (pronation) necessitates a slight repositioning of your elbow, out and up. But don’t let it waggle too much!

Practice with your own stuffed animal, or even a doorknob until you get comfortable with the basic movement. We’ll apply it to music in my next blog.


  1. Friendly reminder: “tonus” is a word physicians use to describe a state of low-level muscle activity. I sometimes refer to this state as muscle “flexion”.
  2. There is a fascinating recent biography about Matthay by American Matthay expert Stephen Siek, England’s Piano Sage: The Life and Teachings of Tobias Matthay (Scarecrow Press, 2012)
  3. Alan Walker, Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times (Oxford, 2010), p.396
  4. In fairness to Matthay, as an Associate Editor for the magazine Clavier Companion, I well understand the difficulties of trying to explain piano technic in prose. I have learned a lot about Matthay’s ideas as a member of The American Matthay Association.
  5. Matthay was, perhaps inevitably, attacked by competitors, some of whom stated that the very act of rotation is impossible. Matthay responded (correctly, I think) that it’s impossible to even place one’s hands on the piano without rotation.

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A New Faculty Member at Rocky Ridge—Me!

rrmclogoI’m a firm believer in taking on creative challenges at any age, including mine. I think it keeps you fresh, helps you learn new skills and builds forward thinking. So I’m going to follow my own advice.

I am proud and honored to inform you that I will be joining the faculty of the Rocky Ridge Music Center Adult Piano Seminar, for two sessions from May 30-June 7, 2015. I will be teaching lessons, giving masterclasses, a lecture on J.S. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, and offering a multi-part series of talks on “Fundamentals of Basic Piano Technique”.

Longs Peak, CO
Longs Peak, CO

Rocky Ridge is an extraordinary place. It is one of the oldest summer music programs in the country, located in the lovely Colorado Rockies at the foot of Longs Peak. Its natural beauty inspires even more artistic music making.

Amateur aficionados of the piano, piano teachers and college or conservatory students will all benefit from this program. I hope you’ll consider joining me!

Click here for more information, including an online application page.

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How My Readers are Using Technology, Part 2

letter-writingHere is the second set of responses to my blog series on technology. Lots more good ideas—and some different viewpoints on the pros and cons of using technology itself. This, I think, is excellent for our ongoing dialogue.

I know and respect all four contributors, but the last entry, by Dr. Melissa Martiros, was submitted by special invitation (OK, begging!) from me. I heard Melissa give a very moving workshop on teaching piano to special needs students, and I was fascinated to hear how she uses the iPad.

As always, I am getting a lot of great ideas from everyone who writes in! Thanks—and keep sending!!

Music Teaching and Technology I have been teaching with computer programs hooked up via midi since 1984. A lot has changed since those first days, but a lot is the same too. Technology is a teaching tool for me. Students can drill sight reading, ear training, rhythm reading, basic theory, compose, learn about music history, etc. with head phones on while I teach other students the finer points of playing their repertoire and technique. I have an iPad too, but just haven’t added too much on with that since I was already set up with comprehensive computer programs doing the same things as most of the iPad apps, but with more power. I do love the price of the iPad apps vs. what I spent on computer programs.

Pianos, Keyboards and Disklaviers I teach with both acoustic pianos and digital pianos. The price range of many of the decent console pianos is out of the range of a lot of beginning students, or it is more than they want to spend until they find out the true interest level of the student. In most cases they are left with a choice of a poor used spinet or a digital piano. Thankfully, manufacturers have seen this need and have been steadily improving upon the digital pianos and most students can now afford a lot for their money. Plus, they don’t need to tune the instrument and it has a built in metronome, often a small choice of other instrument sounds and rhythm patterns. Some even have other teaching features built in. In my opinion, dollar for dollar a decent low priced digital piano beats a spinet that is in poor repair.

The “Gamification” of EducationWhen a concept is drilled with a great game, kids won’t want to stop playing and don’t realize how much that they are learning. It is the best tool. There are some nights, in the computer lab, that the parents have to go in to get the students because it is time to leave and they don’t even realize that much time has passed.

Technology: MTNA Into the Future Our daughter is in this age group. She opted for an Associate Degree in Art Illustration. When she started school, she was going to double Major in both Music Composition and Art Illustration. It soon became very apparent that the scheduling of classes was not going to allow this to happen. Also, she was seeing the employment opportunities for young graduates and decided that going for more education at this point would not necessarily land her a better job in her chosen field. Colleges, Universities, and groups like MTNA need to look more at how to train these bright young people to find the best jobs for themselves. It is a challenge. She has her degree in Art, but is currently working at a piano store.

LeAnn Halvorson, Music Perceptions, IL

So many new ideas are blossoming in piano pedagogy. Online teaching seems to be catching on all over. I’ve not seen so many games before that seem to work hand in hand with student’s books and sheet music. I have to familiarize myself with some of them from so many available choices.

Yes, I am enjoying online teaching very much as well as teaching locally. Teaching online brings out elderly people who always wanted to study piano but never had the time to do so until now. Their ‘aha’ moments are so wonderful to behold! One of the best things they like about taking their lessons is they don’t have to travel anywhere. Until I started giving online lessons I primarily taught school age children. I still enjoy teaching young people but also teach adults who never learned to play or who want to pick up where they left off 40, 50 or more years ago.

Along with the joy of giving lessons and seeing students beam with excitement of learning to play, sadly there are physical problems that many aging people have to face.  Some of my retired students have had to discontinue lessons from time to time when these problems prevented them from practicing and studying. Those who come back for more are so eager to learn to play music they love, especially songs from their youth. Surprisingly, some people have retained much of the music they learned years ago.

My teaching has taken on a whole new dimension. Within the past few years I studied website building and created my own website, so people can find me online. I tell students that they can supply the content of what they want to learn and I will teach them the concepts and skills needed to learn music that they love.

Carolemae Katz, Indepdendent Music Teacher, OH

I have long believed that the traditional classical-only approach is missing the boat and needs to be more inclusive as you advocate. I also continue to attempt to keep up with and incorporate the blazing speed at which music education technology is developing. It is a constant challenge to the brain and the pocketbook! Of course it also enhances the reach and efficiency of a teacher who is relieved of some of the challenges of repetition, time constraints and geography.

However I would like for you to consider an additional educational angle with regard to the technology revolution. As a teacher and grandparent of this generation of children who are so heavily exposed and often literally addicted to screens, I believe that off-screen, off-the-bench activities are now more important than ever for students. I was an early adopter of digital keyboards and group classes in my studio, and still use both on a regular basis. But along with the ubiquity of screens, I have noticed that children have recently become over-exposed and often under-enthused about online learning. They want and need live interaction and tactile learning activities of group and one-on-one. I would hope that in your advocacy of educational innovation you would point this out. (Disclaimer here: Music Educators’ Marketplace specializes in such hands-on learning materials, but we do so because we know that they are so effective in providing novelty, clarity, and enjoyment!)

Karen Koch, Coordinator, Music Education Marketplace, NCTM, IL and MO

Technology Use with Children with Special Needs

Technology plays a very unique and important role in my lessons with children with special needs. I embrace the use of technology in these lessons and have come to really value the role it plays instruction and learning.

I have found that many of my students with special needs are motivated by the iPad in the studio. The iPad serves as a strong positive reinforcer for my autistic students and others who have difficulty staying on task during an entire lesson.  At the onset of each lesson, the student and I decide on a list of activities to accomplish during our time together. If the student completes all of these tasks within the lesson time, he/she is rewarded with iPad use at the end of the lesson. This is not just free time—there are restrictions. I set the timer on my iPhone to provide concrete boundaries during this earned reinforcement time. And, in most cases, the student is limited to educational music apps and age appropriate music videos on YouTube.

As an educational tool, I use the iPad for both in-studio and at-home learning. This is especially useful when providing instruction to non-verbal and minimally-verbal students with autism. It is also useful for students with learning disabilities. When introducing new pieces, exercises, and/or scales, I will pre-record my hands playing from a birds-eye view and play the video as an additional mode of instruction during the lesson. I will then email the video to the parents for the child to view during practice sessions at home. I do emphasize note reading with all of my students. However, these videos serve as audio and visual practice aids for students who struggle with audio and visual processing. They are also incredibly useful for students who struggle with memory, as is the case with a current student of mine who is coping with the cognitive side effects of severe epilepsy.

Finally, I use the iPad for student self-reflection. In some cases, students are resistant to my entering their personal space on the piano bench and more responsive to video instruction during the lesson. If I’m working with a child who has trouble with the receptive and/or expressive language, I will record the student performing and engage in playback activities in order to provide the instructional guidance I may not be able to on the bench in the lesson. In this way, technology complements the work I do in the lesson and provides the student with a chance to self-correct. This technique works with behavioral challenges as well. Often, children who exhibit challenging behavior don’t fully realize what their behavior actually looks like to others. Videotaping these behaviors for playback and reflection can be a useful reflection and management tool.

Melissa Martiros, D.M.A., Assistant Professor of Music & Faculty Service-Learning Liaison, Martin Methodist College

See you in Vegas!

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How My Readers are Using Technology, Part 1

Letter WritingThe best part of blogging is getting responses, and my four-part technology series has generated a lot! I’m impressed with my respondents’ thoughtfulness, and the wide range of their thinking on this important topic.

Over the next few days, I will be posting my readers’ ideas, with their permission, and adding a few comments of my own. But if you are looking for an all-knowing guru to endorse and promote, I encourage you to keep looking because I have not yet found one either.

My goal is encourage the dialogue about technology: what we think about it, how we use it and how it impacts our students. I invite teachers of all different viewpoints to participate. The publication of their ideas here, as always, does not represent an endorsement by MTNA or me. It’s all about the conversation.

Alison makes an excellent point that technology can never usurp the centrality of the teacher-student relationship. It’s a tool (to quote her) that should be used to enhance “the listening, the empathy, our ability to stay connected to the world.”

I do use some technology in my studio, but I never let it usurp the energy, power and centrality of the relationship between musician-teacher and musician-student.

I was the first (at least around here) to use computer-assisted music instruction, digital piano with recording, etc., but after a few honeymoon years, I found it unsatisfying in some ways.  Students began to have growing access to technology and they were easily figuring out how to use it (more easily than I ever could!) so I downplayed the role of it in the curriculum.

Of course, I use the ready technologies —  iPad, YouTube, recording software to make CDs, notational software for their composition books.  I mostly apply technology when we have special projects, or as homework assignments.  I do not have a lab set up in my current home studio (outside my own equipment.)  I am just now designing my own website.

Right now, I’m writing an article about remaining “relevant” as an independent teacher.  Many people automatically think that technology is the key to this.  I’m in diametric opposition. Relevance to me is about the relationship, the listening, the empathy, our ability to stay connected to the world.

Alison S. Barr, NCTM, MA

YouTube is so common these days that it’s easy to forget how many musical treasures are within. It’s a great tool!

Every musical element that I teach in my piano classes can be better understood with YouTube selections.  One of my favorite uses of YouTube is comparing the performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the closing of the 1998 Olympics (Nagano, Japan) compared with a flash mob version and in the movie Sister Act II.  Students identify the repeating phrases higher and lower, louder and softer, and discuss the differences in each movie version. I also like students to identify 4/4 and 3/4 meters with a Sousa march, Morning has Broken by Cat Stevens, Blue Danube, and a Beatles song. YouTube makes it possible for me to use student preference of music (as well as my own selections) in lessons in a meaningful way. My goal is to engage students!

Pat Bissell, Gateway Community College, CT

Charlene, like me, uses pianos in many different ways. In my home studio, I have a beautiful small Steinway that used to belong to the famous conductor of the Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner; a Yamaha Disklavier; two Roland digital pianos; and upstairs in my living room, a superb Shigeru Kawai. I think it’s important for students to get used to hearing, and adjusting to, all different types of pianos.

I use technology for teaching sightreading. I have put my Yamaha Clavinova CVP 205 in the back room of my studio. This piano was purchased in 2000 so it requires a floppy disk, which is not floppy! The students walk in, get their chart from the file cabinet and pick up their sightreading book where they left off the week before, from a bookcase behind them. They are using different music than their private lesson.

Their instruction for the chart is to put down the date, what book & what page they were on when they quit.  There are two headsets so their mom can listen. I sneak in occasionally when the next student is late. They are to come a half hour early and go to the back room, scan the piece, tap it out and then start at a slow speed that they can handle. If that is reading is close to perfect, they are to keep moving the MM to the original speed. They can’t go on until each example can be played up to tempo with the disk accompaniment.  When they come in for their private lesson I ask if they had any problems.  If they can never get to tempo I ask them to go back and next week pick an easier book. Their sightreading improves almost 50% the first semester.

I also work on sightreading in each student’s private lesson. I use The Four Star Sight Reading of Frederick Harris Music and make home sightreading assignments. I started using them when it was just by Boris Berlin (at $2.95). Now they have been republished with Berlin and Markow with Scott McBride Smith as the editor.  Because students go through them so fast I keep several copies of the first few levels and 2 of the upper levels and then check them out, rather than have each student purchase their own.  With Scott’s careful editing they can be practiced at home and I just check the test piece in the lesson.  I tell parents that I check out music so they don’t have to lay out $13.50 (or more) every 10 weeks.  Also makes them feel better about my tuition. The only time I am involved in the back room half hour sightreading with Clavinova is if they get stuck.

Charlene Cox-Clifton, NCTM, NM

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Technology: MTNA Into the Future

This is the final post in a four-part series on how technology is changing music education. Find the previous posts below, 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

“Millennials” is the accepted name for the group of young Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s. It’s the largest generation in the U.S. today, representing one-third of the total population in 2013. They are diverse and educated, family-oriented and eager to contribute to their community. 1 They grew up with and are comfortable using technology. All of this makes them ideal MTNA members.

But there are some problems, too. Many of them pay for their higher education through loans. Outstanding student loan debt was a staggering $1 trillion in 2014, making it the second largest category of household debt in the U.S.

Millennials have faced tough challenges entering the workforce during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment for this demographic group was over 13% in 2010. While this figure has gradually improved since then, mirroring the growth in the U.S. economy, Millennials still face significant pressure on long-term earnings. One study showed that workers who begin their career during a recession earn 2.5%-9% less per year for at least 15 years.

So our younger colleagues are not being selfish when they ask: what’s in it for me? What does MTNA have to offer that will make my life—and my family’s life and my community’s—better?

I’m encouraged by some of the ideas on technology I see coming out of MTNA. I like the idea of the “Members Only” section. The legal documents and member discounts already there (among other things) are great; I understand there are plans for webinars on all sorts of practical strategies to help MTNA members, of any generation, build skills and increase their income.

This initiative needs to build and expand. We need to make music lessons available to all the children in the U.S. Technology will help us do so. Mike Bates told me “anything that doesn’t allow students to experience music is a mistake”. I’d go even further. Anything that expands opportunities for music study should be a part of the MTNA mission.

This is the final post in a four-part series on how technology is changing music education. Find the previous posts below, 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


  1. My statistics are drawn from a 2014 report by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors,

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