Archive | July, 2018

Why Should I Learn an Instrument?

Why should I learn an instrument? It’s a good question: perfectly legitimate. It begs an answer. Perhaps it’s a question that your students will never ask you. They may not, after all, be able to summon the courage to face their teacher and actually put their thoughts into words. But regardless, it’s a question that is probably surfacing in their minds multiple times a week, maybe even subconsciously.

Some students genuinely enjoy their instrument, but in keeping with the human need for purpose bigger than themselves, will find themselves asking. I know, because that’s my own personal experience. Why should I learn an instrument? Actually, it was more along the lines of, “Why do I put six or eight hours into practicing every week… it’s fun and pleasant, and I want to excel… but what makes this this important?”

Other students may be learning an instrument because it’s a goal their parents have for them, but really have no interest in it themselves. Still more are interested in it for a passing season but the pleasure evaporates after a few months when it’s time to sign up for participation on the local sports team. And so the question surfaces again, Why should I learn an instrument? Or, why should anyone learn an instrument?

I’m going to make the assumption that if you are a teacher reading this article then you have already searched out the answers to this question for yourself. My point in writing this is to help all of us remember what may be going on in our students’ lives and minds and thus be more prepared to help them wade through some of these muddy areas.

It is not imperative that every person in the world learn how to play an instrument or two or three, or that everyone who does play an instrument becomes the next J. S. Bach or Leopold Auer. What is imperative is that everyone love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) This means that if you play an instrument, you must do it first and foremost for the glory of the Lord, rather than for selfish fulfillment or vain glory. Also, that if you are learning at the expressed desire of your parents and/or authorities that you do all to the glory of God and submit to that authority. I believe this is the ultimate foundation for why anyone should put time into practicing and the pursuit of musical excellence (or excellence in any other area).

Now for general purposes, we will that your student and/or his parents have already made the decision to begin lessons, which is why you are working through these questions to begin with. How do we as teachers help our students find answers?

Because most students are not going to come right out and ask questions like this during lessons, it is wise to assume that the questions will come at some point “behind the scenes,” and then be working in advance to establish a biblical foundation in your students’ minds. Make a point during lessons to casually bring up the topic of why we do this. Take the time to explain the what a privilege it is to be able to serve the Lord and others through music, and how we as musicians can be used both in and out of the church to point weary ones to the cross of Christ. I sometimes hesitate to talk a lot on any topic during lessons because of a preconceived notion that I am being paid to critique the students playing and technique, which I am. However, a teacher who ignores the foundation is not only undermining everything they are trying to pass on but is also setting the student up for quitting because if something doesn’t seem to be worth doing, then they will probably stop putting the effort into it. Once isn’t going to be enough to really solidify the reasoning behind this, so on a practical level, bring it into conversation frequently over a period of time. Not every lesson lends itself to long (or even short) discussions on such topics, but you as the teacher have the reins, so to speak, so I encourage you to keep this mindset present throughout your work.

I love to think of the verse “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23). Although we are not talking about literal animals, anyone charged with the responsibility of leading anyone or anything else (as shepherds lead their sheep) would do well to heed this nugget of wisdom given to us by the wisest man who ever lived. Given this, we as teachers ought to strive to know where our students are in their journey of the “whys” behind music, and then to direct our lessons and conversations accordingly.

Now back to our original question, Why should I learn an instrument? There are myriad reasons and more than I can thoroughly enumerate here, but I will share two that come most prominently to mind:

  • So that you can more effectively be prepared to fulfill the command to “Sing unto the Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Psalm 33:3).
  • So you can minister to other believers (Colossians 3:16).

May you be blessed with wisdom, knowledge, and discernment to be able to lead your “flocks” in the righteous paths of our Lord and endeavor to redeem each moment with your students for the Kingdom!

 

P.S. Keep an eye out for the next article: titled “Playing Skillfully.”

 

Take a look at this beautiful collection of sacred piano solos by Dan Forrest for the intermediate pianist. These hymns are artistically arranged and reinforce common pianistic techniques.

Cover tiny file look inside Fairest Lord Jesus Intermediate piano solos. Composed by Dan Forrest. Sacred. SoundForth #215798. Published by SoundForth (S2.215798).

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, check out other articles on music pedagogy here.

 

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Thera-pit-ics are restocked!

Yes, it’s true – Thera-pit-ics are now restocked with many of your favorites, as well as some all new prints. Check out Garden Galaxy (pictured above), Candy Jar, and summer’s best: Beach Towel. But that’s not all! We are pleased to introduce the new Cloud & Sunshine series for summer, which includes Stripe, Chevron, and Floral. Stop by the online Marketplace to browse the full range of options. And until August 4, use coupon code SummerPits to receive 10% off your Thera-pitics order. 

Teaching Music to Little Ones

One of the greatest joys is teaching music to little ones – the size person that sits on the piano bench and can barely reach the pedals, or whose violin measures an approximate 10.25 inches. I always find that these times gratify my love for adventure, and it is so rewarding to see the progress that such small children can make in a week’s time. There is so much potential in the minds of children. It’s a true joy to answer the phone and hear from the other end, “I would like to have my son/daughter start lessons.” “How old are they?” is usually one of the first questions I ask, and in reply I love to hear “almost 6,” or “just turned 4.” Often parents are unsure of whether or not their child is ready for music lessons at such an early age, and though sometimes it is probably true that some children would do better to wait a few more years, I love to start them young. The opportunities are so much greater when the mind and hands begin to be trained early in life.

But let’s get a little more practical for a while. Teaching anyone can be challenging, as delightful as it is. (Is there anything worth doing in life that isn’t preset with its own challenges?) Starting early isn’t going to eliminate all challenges, but it does exchange many of the actual intellectually-growing challenges for what I think of as practical challenges.

Practical challenges are things that you need to work through to help you reach the goal. The solutions to them are almost never ends in themselves, but that doesn’t reduce the need for solutions.

Some of the most prominent practical challenges I have faced while teaching music to little ones include:

  • Short attention spans
  • Abounding energy
  • Dramatic exhaustion

Though the list could probably go on, you have no-doubt observed that the three things mentioned above could all be connected in some way to the first one – short attention spans. There are also things to consider such as distractions from student siblings, the great outdoors visible from the windows, attractive books on the shelves in the home studio, and more.

It’s always fun to be creative and work through these challenges to keep the student engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish. Thirty minutes can be a long time for one of these little ones to sit or stand still. If you are teaching violin or another arm-held instrument, it can be even more difficult because little arms get tired quickly. Sometimes little things make a big difference in how smoothly the lesson goes, and here are some of my favorite go-to techniques for making the time pass in a productive and fun way.

  • Let them choose the color pen that you use to take notes. It gets them excited about starting the lesson.
  • 15-20 minutes through the lesson, play a game with the child by sending them running across the room, touching something that you specify, and then have them come running back to you. This burns energy, and as long as you are directing where they go, solidifies your authoritative position as teacher.
  • For students who are just “so tired,” let them set their instrument down (or take a break from sitting at the piano) while you take notes. Just a little break like this can go a long way.
  • While you are writing, ask them about their week. Let them talk about their favorite activity or what fun antics their pet has displayed.
  • Tell stories about your music learning journey, or about other things – what funny things have your pets done this week?

With any of these things, keep in mind that you are together for the purpose of learning, and after a minute or two of talking and playing, bring them back to focus gently and firmly. “Go ahead and play page __ now.” These little breaks can be repeated as often as needed, and you will {probably} gradually find that the student is maturing and diversions are not as necessary as they used to be.

Lastly, never forget: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” –Mark 10:14

 

Check out these hymnbooks for beginning pianists by Dr. Peter Davis. We love these books and how they fit in so beautifully with the Keys for the Kingdom method series. If you are searching for supplemental hymns for your students, look no further!

Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 1 A Graded Hymn Anthology Primary Piano Solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110213. Published by SoundForth (S2.110213).
Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 2 A Graded Hymn Anthology elementary piano solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110221. Published by SoundForth (S2.110221).

If you benefited from this post, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, read other posts on music pedagogy here.

 

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Ten Skills Every Church Pianist Should Have

Nearly every pianist will, at some point, fill the role of a church pianist. Even if it is not a long-term arrangement, every pianist should be prepared to serve in this capacity by developing certain skills. Here are the top ten skills that my church music professional sister and I have found extremely beneficial to have in ministry.

The skill of:

1.       Improvising from the hymnbook for supportive congregational accompaniments

2.       Improvising from the hymnbook for supportive and artistic accompaniments for soloists and ensembles

3.       Improvising from the hymnbook for solo work

4.       Adapting improvisational styles to the emotions of the moment when playing solo, and even when not alone

5.       Sight-reading choral music

6.       Sight-reading from the hymnbook (and improvising while doing so)

7.       Playing “Happy Birthday” from memory, or preferably by ear

8.       Following a conductor through rehearsals and planned performances

9.       Following a music director in congregational playing

10.   Being able to play by ear in at least a general sense (hearing the basic I, IV, V chord progression necessary to playing basic songs by ear)

 

If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, don’t forget to check out other articles on music pedagogy here.

 

Here is one of our favorite books of piano solos for church pianists-in-training. These arrangements are wonderful for supplementing classical studies while building a solid repertoire for ministry.

Cover tiny file look inside Bless the Lord Early-intermediate Piano Solos. Composed by Gina Sprunger. Sacred. SoundForth #256305. Published by SoundForth (S2.256305).

 

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What Defines Our Teaching Success?

Many times at the end of a long day of teaching I’ll sigh and wonder if my students will ever succeed as musicians. Always, this question is tailed by another that is just as haunting and perhaps even harder to answer: will I ever succeed as a teacher? After all, don’t people define good teachers as those whose students win the most awards, play for the most prestigious audiences, and advance to the highest level in their musical careers? Well, maybe that is the case, but maybe it isn’t. At the end of the day, what defines our teaching success?

Everyone has gaps in their education, because none of us are omniscient. Only the triune God has all of the answers, because He is the one true God and “by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” – Colossians 1:16-17 It would be a waste of time for us to try to convince each other that any of us could teach anyone else everything they would ever need to know, because none of us can see into the future any more than any of us have learned everything there is to know. So how are we to get through life? This discussion could be prolonged far into the future and pertain to just about every area of life. For the sake of time and the primary focus of these articles, we will keep it centered on music pedagogy and what potential answers to these questions mean to us as teachers.

Week after week I sat next to the piano, endeavoring to communicate the important aspects of music to my student. Lesson after lesson we worked, side by side, as the spark of musical knowledge and experience began to take hold in [her] mind and life. It wasn’t easy for either of us, though perhaps neither of us would have admitted it at the time. There were wins and fails, successes and discouragements, yet each time we would rise up again. We studied; during the week [she] practiced what we had discussed, while I thought, researched, and thought again so that I would know better how to guide [her]. We were making progress as a teacher-student team, and then it happened. I didn’t see it coming, but it came anyway. The last lesson arrived, and the student I had labored over for so many hours would be leaving my studio, never to return. It was relatively easy for me to move on for myself, as a teacher, but what would happen to [her]? Questions began to fill my mind: had I done everything possible to get [her] to the highest level possible? In what ways had I failed as a teacher and how were those failures going to impact [her] future as a musician? Was she leaving my studio equipped to take on whatever ministry or other opportunities the Lord wanted to bring into her life?

I’m confident I’m not the only teacher who has had situations like this one (which, by the way, was a combination of many stories and not just one in particular, as you probably perceived). Besides this, not every student who commits to taking music lessons for a period of time is committed to studying their instrument for life. But how can we best equip our students to continue learning and growing beyond the walls of our studio? If you’ve read my previous articles, you have an idea of the goals I have for my students, but reality is, most students do not stay with any given teacher for all of their musical education, and many of those goals will not be realized before they move on to the next season of their life.

Up to this point, there has been much potential for discouragement because we feel like we will never “measure up” as teachers. But there is still opportunity. It may be limited, it may be unlikely, but it is there. How can we capitalize on it and make the most of every chance to build up the next generation of musicians? While it is ideal to always have a teacher who is there for you to build you up, encourage you, and help you find answers to your questions, and while it is also ideal that you be the same constant and everlasting encourager and resource for your students, this scenario is just what I said it was: ideal. It does not often become a long-term or life-long reality for students and teachers. So what can we do? Let me suggest a shared answer in two parts to this question and our previous one, what defines our teaching success?

  1. Teach your students to take responsibility. My most recent violin teacher recently made the point that a student is their own best teacher. Try as we might, there is no way for us to pound knowledge into our students’ minds and hands. They must learn to take responsibility for their own education and take heed to the instruction of their teacher.
  2. Teach your students to teach themselves. Once the character has been established for the student to take responsibility, they are ready to move on to part 2 of the long-term solution. If a student must be spoon-fed information or always told what the “right thing” is by their instructor, then they will be crippled when the crutch of structured lessons is removed and there is little chance of them being able to survive as independent musicians. But, if student can see something they don’t understand and dig for the answer (music dictionaries and Google are amazing resources!), take initiative to speak to other musicians who are further ahead in their knowledge than themselves, and learn to keep their eyes and ears open for learning opportunities, then they are well on their way to being able to succeed as effective ministers in the area of music as they “play skillfully” (Psalm 33:3).

The best teacher is not necessarily the one with “the most,” “the greatest,” or “the most affluent.” Rather, the best teacher is one who will teach a student to excel for the glory of the Lord and take responsibility for teaching the next generation to take responsibility, for themselves and for the children who are yet to be born. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?

 

If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Don’t forget to read the previous entries on music pedagogy here!

 

We are so grateful for the team at Shawnee Press that is behind our all-time favorite series of method books for piano. Keys for the Kingdom offers a Christ-centered approach to music that is thorough and easily grasped by the average student. If you are unsure of how to lay a musical foundation, start here!

Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom Level A Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 64 pages. Shawnee Press #H5001. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012003).
Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom Level B Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 63 pages. Shawnee Press #H5002. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012009).
Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom: Level C Level C Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 72 pages. Shawnee Press #H5003. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012015).
Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom: Level D Level D Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 38 pages. Shawnee Press #H5004. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012022).

 

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Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 2, Harp

In my previous article, Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 1, I highlighted some of the primary ways in which piano students should be prepared for future ministry and occupation. In this article, Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life – Part 2, we will endeavor to do the same for harp students. Even if you are not a pianist, I encourage you to go back and read Part 1, as that lays some very important groundwork for this and future articles. Also, please note that while not all masters of the harp are ladies, the harp is most commonly thought of among laymen as a lady’s instrument. Due to this thought process, I use feminine pronouns throughout this article.

As most of us know, the harp shines in a different sphere than that in which we typically find the piano. Piano is better known for accompaniment, while harp is most commonly thought of as an unaccompanied soloist. Consequently, the skillset required for a well-rounded harpist is going to be different from that of a well-rounded pianist. It may not, however, be as different as we think. With that said, let’s get take a look at the goals that it are helpful for harp teachers to have for their students.

Performance

Classically trained harpists should be well-versed in the upper-lever works from the great composers of the instrument, including Dussek, Pescetti, Grandjany, Salzedo, Handel, and others. Much as for a pianist, this sort of study lays the foundation for future usefulness in chamber groups, orchestras, and church-oriented ministry. Goal: To be able to play well – technically and artistically – the foundational works found in advanced musical literature. Also, to be able to perform as a soloist in various scenarios, including weddings, receptions, seasonal events, funerals, and more.

Chamber

As a pre-cursor to playing with an orchestra and being useful in church music, young harpists should be engaged in learning ensemble music with other harpists, and even with other instruments. This is very beneficial in developing a harpist’s sense of rhythm from loose and unregulated to still sensitive, yet precise and consistent. Don’t think that there is something wrong with rubato, though; there is still a definite place for it in harp music. But a harpist who plays with others must learn to follow –and stay in sync with – those with whom she plays. Goal: To be able to play in chamber groups with fellow harpists and/or other musicians, holding her own while following and communicating with others in the group.

Orchestra

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, chamber music lays an excellent foundation for orchestra. The primary difference between the two is the presence of a conductor in an orchestra. Many orchestras, especially those playing sacred music, will only have one harp, and so the harpist is in a class by herself. It is essential to a successful performance of either “classical” or sacred orchestra music that the harpist have a solid and unwavering sense of rhythm, and hopefully this has been previously established throughout her years of study. The next element to playing with an orchestra is watching the conductor. This is especially challenging for harpists. The harp prevents them from seeing anything to their right, and the instrument should be positioned so as to obtain a straight line of sight to the conductor. The object here is to have the harp and music stand adjusted so that the harpist’s head has a minimum amount of movement from side to side, and rapid, vertical glances can provide constant monitoring of the conductor, music, and hands/strings. The skill that needs to be developed here is the ability to be constantly rotating what she looks at, without either losing her place in the music or becoming disoriented with the placement of the strings on the instrument itself. Goal: To be able to follow a conductor, utilizing the pre-developed sense of rhythm and ability to communicate. Also, to be able to constantly rotate eyes between conductor, music, and hands/strings without becoming disoriented or losing her place.

Church Music

For the harpist, church music is, depending on the church to be served, a combination of solos, chamber music, and orchestra. If a harpist has studied and learned well in the fields previously mentioned, she should be more than equipped to minister in the local assembly. Goal: To be confident with solo sacred music and have a repertoire for use in church services, seasonal occasions, and other events.

Pedagogy

As with a pianist, the ability to pass on what they have learned to others is the crowning feature of the trained harpist. To be able to learn is one thing, but to teach is another. This is what the future depends on in all areas of life. Just as parents are commanded to pass on their faith in God to the next generation (Psalm 78:5-7, Ephesians 6:4), so musicians should be prepared to endow others with their skills and knowledge for the glory of our Lord. Goal: To be able to be ever-learning, teaching themselves so that teacher-induced limitations may be overcome, and to have the potential to instruct future generations.

 

If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Don’t forget to read the previous entries on music pedagogy here!

 

Come visit our online store to purchase sacred and seasonal solo collections for lever and pedal harp. Additionally, check out some of my favorite harp pieces and learning materials:

Cover tiny file look inside Children’s Hour Suite for Harp, Op. 25. Composed by Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975). Classical. Solo part. With Standard notation. Opus 25. 24 pages. Carl Fischer #O004651. Published by Carl Fischer (CF.O4651).
Cover tiny file look inside Hymns and Wedding Music for All Harps Harp Solo. By Sylvia Woods. Arranged by Sylvia Woods. Harp. Sacred, Collection, Classical, Wedding. 96 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.720900).
Cover tiny file look inside Sonata In C Minor For The Harp Composed by Pescetti G B. Edited by Carlos Salzedo. Harp Solo. Classical. 12 pages. G. Schirmer #ST37591. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.50280450).
Cover tiny file look inside Short Pieces from The Masters Composed by Christopf Willibald Von Gluck / Franz Peter Schubert. Arranged by Marcel Grandjany. Solo part. With Standard notation. 7 pages. Carl Fischer #H000064. Published by Carl Fischer (CF.H64).

 

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