12.08.2023

๐Ÿงญ My Piano Journey: A Side Quest

December 08, 2023 0 Comments
Part 1 - Side Quest (You Are Here) - Part 2
An untitled piano piece from my childhood


Composition

When it comes to movies and video games, I'm most interested in who wrote the music. Not the actors, not the directors, not the writers. It's a career that I've been drawn to for over 20 years. While it hasn't become a career, composition has been a wonderful hobby and creative outlet. 


How I Started Composing

Around 1997, my very first composition was called "Butterflies" for my flute when I was 9.


A transcription of my first composition.


In 2001, at 13, my brother asked if I could try to learn the opening to Linkin Park's "In The End." It was a very popular song at the time and I did my best to pick out the introduction notes in D minor. 


I think it was that day that I decided to try playing my own piece in D minor. My left hand played open 5ths down the minor scale: Dm, C, Bb, Am. I improvised a repetitive melody over the top. And I mean repetitive. I made a middle section of repeated fifths, then I finished by playing part one again, this time an octave higher. 

My first composition for piano. As you can see, it's extremely repetitive!



I typically wrote in D minor or D dorian because it reminded me of fantasy stories about princesses and kingdoms. In middle school, I spent a lot of time in class drawing my story and character ideas on the back of school handouts. It's a time of my life that I remember with fondness; a reminder that I love being creative. I even started world-building and designing original characters. I was going to write, draw, and animate an original story! And, of course, I would score it too. 


Ambitious? Yes. 

Impossible? No. 

Has it happened? Not yet. Never say never!


My Planned Fiction Story Soundtrack


I created similar themes using this same chord progression. The tunes were short and I didn't know how to develop new motives and sequences. I have no idea which piece came first; The Legend of Kanali handwritten above or the Kanali transcription I was sure was my first composition. 

When September 11th happened, I wrote "Song of Peace". 


I wrote a piece for my mom. 


I wrote a piece on the black keys that sounded like it was from China. My friend in high school played the guzheng, a Chinese harp. She was able to learn my piece by ear after I played it for her on the piano. 

If I recall correctly, the transcription below has so many cross-outs because I didn't leave enough room for the accompaniment.




Around this time, my dad bought me a music writing software called Music Write. He said he would pay for any music I wanted to copyright with the Library of Congress until I turned 18. 


I didn't take him up on it because I thought my music wasn't good enough to warrant an official copyright. 

I didn't major in composition because I thought what I had created wasn't good enough for a portfolio. 


Dear traveler, never pass up opportunities when you hear "not good enough" in your mind. How do you know unless you try? Failure is an option and it's a good one, contrary to popular belief. It helps us grow and learn. 


I was embarrassed by the compositions that I created and didn't feel like sharing them because I thought they would be ridiculed. Honestly, my cultured piano teacher, Mrs. Turner, was less than thrilled with my musical taste and time spent composing! I had the support of my family, but I tended to discount that because of course they would say it was good, they were my family. 


In college, I remember receiving my homework and my professor, Dr. Edwin T. Childs, had mentioned that he liked my bass line. He was the composition professor and I wish I had asked him if he thought I could change to composition when I developed repetitive motion injuries from being a piano major.  He was very kind and encouraging. I’ll always remember that.


About a year and a half ago, I ventured into the world of orchestration. Remember the repetitive music I wrote when I was a kid? The final movement of my 8 and a half minute piece is a mashup of those themes. I hope to write a post about it in early 2024.

-Jenny

12.01.2023

๐ŸŽ„ Twelve Weeks of Lessons (Parody)

December 01, 2023 0 Comments

On the first week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
to improvise on the black keys

On the second week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the third week of lessons, my teacher taught to me
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the fourth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
dynamic contrast
always count 
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the fifth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me the
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the sixth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the seventh week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the eighth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me
eight intervals
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the ninth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me
nine lines and spaces
eight intervals
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the tenth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me
to change the pedal
nine lines and spaces
eight intervals
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys

On the eleventh week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
eleven Czerny etudes
to change the pedal
nine lines and spaces
eight intervals
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys.

On the twelfth week of lessons, my teacher taught to me 
twelve tone series
eleven Czerny etudes
to change the pedal
nine lines and spaces
eight intervals
seven sharps and flats
set the metronome
Circle of Fifths! 
dynamic contrast
always count
to sit up straight 
and to improvise on the black keys!!!!

Merry Christmas!


What are some of your ideas for Christmas song parodies? 

-Jenny

10.22.2023

๐Ÿ“œ Happy Birthday to the Composer of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2!

October 22, 2023 0 Comments

So how can you celebrate Franz Liszt's birthday?

๐Ÿ“œ Listen to Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat major.  


๐Ÿ“œ  Choose a Liszt piece to start learning as a repertoire piece. 

  • Here are my personal suggestions!
    • Consolation No. 1 in E major
    • Consolation No. 3 in D-flat major


๐Ÿ“œ  Watch Victor Borge play Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.



๐Ÿ“œ  Watch Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry play Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

Which one do you think came first? Let's settle this once and for all!


๐Ÿ“œ  Watch Mao Asada skate to Liebestraum No. 3


๐Ÿ“œ  Learn German and French.


๐Ÿ“œ  Compare Paganini's final movement of Violin Concerto No. 3 and Liszt's La Campanella


๐Ÿ“œ  Read books about art and religion. 


๐Ÿ“œ  Read his book, The Life of Chopin. (ebook)


๐Ÿ“œ  Read The Holy Bible.

"I pray to God that He may powerfully illumine your heart through His faith and His love. You may scoff at this feeling as bitterly as you like. I cannot fail to see and desire in it the only salvation. Through Christ alone, through resigned suffering in God, salvation and rescue come to us." -Franz Liszt


๐Ÿ“œ  Read a biography about Franz Liszt. 

What are some of your ideas to celebrate Liszt's birthday? 


-Jenny

P.S. Yes, I did just use a list emoji to symbolize Liszt.

10.18.2023

๐Ÿณ The Griddle (parody of The Middle)

October 18, 2023 0 Comments

Teaching my students their favorite songs is important to me. 


Sometimes the lyrical content isn't appropriate in pop songs, so I decided to rewrite the lyrics to The Middle for that very reason. 


This parody is based off the song by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey. 


I hope you enjoy it!


The Griddle

Verse 1

Whisk and beat

Fill it with air, beyond compare

Whip soft peaks

Put sugar in there and I’m unaware

Of just how I made all of this mess, this is impressive

Spilling cream was not my intention


Pre-Chorus

Toast in the toaster

Oh no, I burnt the toast

This breakfast is all over

I gotta let it go


Chorus

You said, Baby, why don't you just put eggs on the griddle?

And only cook mine just a little

Cuz I like runny yolks right in the middle

In the middle


Baby, why don't you just put eggs on the griddle?

And only cook mine just a little

Cuz I like runny yolks right in the middle

In the middle


Verse 2

Ohh, break an egg

Wait for a minute, you’re in the kitchen

Watching me

My spatula’s flipping, now yolks are broken

Oh how did I make all of this mess, this ain’t impressive

Breaking yolks was not my intention


PreChorus

And now you’re closer

Why have you come so close

Oh, you want to take over

I guess I’ll let you cook


Chorus

You say baby, why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

Let’s work as a team just a little

So why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

On the griddle


Bridge

Looking at you, I can't hide

Want you to be cooking

Regardless of my objection

And it's not about my pride

Just pouring ingredients

Just take over, you’re cooking


Chorus

You say baby, why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

Let’s work as a team just a little

So why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

On the griddle no no

You say baby, why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

Oh yeah, Let’s work as a team just a little

So why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

On the griddle Baby-y-y, why don't we put pancakes on the griddle, baby?

Let’s work as a team just a little

So why don't we put pancakes on the griddle?

On the griddlegriddle

On the griddlegriddle 


The piano version we used is in Pop Hits for Kids (Easy Piano) published by Hal Leonard (HL00279378).


I hope you enjoyed this rewrite! I am a huge fan of Weird Al, so if you want more pop parodies, I suggest listening to his music. I love writing my own parodies. If you use these new lyrics, please credit me!


What song should I parody next?

-Jenny

10.09.2023

๐Ÿ•ต️‍♀️ And Then There Was a Piano

October 09, 2023 0 Comments
It was a bleak and blustery autumn afternoon when I received the first of many similar emails.

October 7, 2022

Greetings, I want to give away my late husband's Yamaha Baby Grand Piano GC1 to a passionate instrument lover. If you have any family or church in mind who will cherish it, share this message with them. God bless you.

Regards,
Arianna

I imagined Arianna to be an elderly woman with long, white hair and a sweet smile.  I immediately felt sorry that she had lost her husband. I imagined him to be a retired concert pianist who could play Rach 2 instantly on request. 

'A family or church in mind.' Too bad my apartment was too small and my church already had a baby grand. I definitely would have cherished this piano, but since I didn't have anyone else in mind, I passed on the email without responding. 

On a crisp, fall afternoon 10 days later, I received another email. It was similar, but the widow was named Tammy, not Arianna. 


October 17, 2022

Greetings,
I am giving away my late husband's Yamaha Baby Grand Piano GC1 to a passionate instrument lover as God's lead. If you have any family, Organization or Church in mind who will CHERISH it, Please help me share this message with piano teachers, piano studio, Or any family in need of a piano. God bless you.

Sincerely,
Tammy.


How interesting that Tammy is also a widow giving away the same piano that also belonged to her husband. The word CHERISH was now written with some urgency. There were strange placements of capital letters, but these were not Taylor Swift liner notes; no message could be deciphered. The cadence of her English, the incorrect grammar, and the placement of a period at the end of her name could only mean one thing. 

This was definitely a sca-


ndalous murder mystery. I'm no Nancy Drew, so I decided to leave this mystery to the professionals. Surely someone would notice this strange string of events and realize the key to solving my musical theory. 

And then it became personal... 


November 20, 2022

Hello,

How are you doing? I am looking to give away my late husband's Yamaha baby grand piano to a passionate instrument lover, so please let me know if you will take it or have someone who will care for it.

Regards,
Bianca.


How am I doing, Bianca? No, how are you doing? Once again, her husband has also mysteriously died! And there it is. That ominous, killer baby grand piano. How in the world is it continuously killing people, always virtuoso pianist husbands, and no one is noticing? 

I decided to let Bianca know my suspicions. 

I wrote back:


November 20, 2022

No, thank you. It seems that Yamaha baby grand pianos kill a lot of husbands. Evidently, they are very dangerous. You, Arianna, and Tammy have emailed me that their late husband's Yamaha baby grand piano is also available. I am not interested

I love my husband too much to risk it on this dark piano. 

How does the piano kill its unsuspecting victims? I wondered. 

Muahahahahahaha
Does a piano string burst mid-performance and strike them? (Yes, piano strings can burst and fly across the room.)
Do they get crushed trying to put up the lid with the high stick? 
Is there a poison tuning peg that pricks them like Sleeping Beauty's spindle? 
Or has Bugs Bunny rigged a key with TNT like in an episode of Looney Tunes? 

In vain, I hoped that Bianca would have taken my warning seriously. But unfortunately, it appears that Elizabeth Lozano's husband was a passionate instrument lover and they unsuspectingly adopted this fiendish instrument. 


May 5, 2023

I am giving away my late husband's Yamaha Grand GC1 to a passionate instrument lover. If you know of a fellow teacher, student, family or church that might be interested, please forward this email to them. 
God bless you.

Sincerely,
Elisabeth Lozano


Poor, poor Mr. Lozano. 

What prompted me to write this blog post for you, dear reader is the most recent of these tragic emails. Because it seems as though these women are continuously becoming widows and don't see the larger picture, perhaps I can spare you the pain of unsuspectingly adopting this Puck (note: This is not performed on a Yamaha).


October 5, 2023

Hello,

I hope this mail gets to you soon. I'm looking to give away my late husband's baby grand piano to a loving home, music school or church. Please let me know if you will adopt it or if you have someone in mind who wants it, just in case you don't need it.

Best Wishes,
Rebecca.

A seasoned detective really needs to look into this. Immediately. 

And when they do, I hope my blog post will be the tip off and that I will get a reward for the lead.

My counsel to you, dear reader: if you have a husband, you do not want this piano. If Rebecca or any other future widow contacts you, ignore this email and do not refer her to someone else. If someone asks you on behalf of a widow, say no. It's not worth it. Do not send this widow (or future ones!) money to pay for movers that she prefers. 

Oh, and here is the full text of my email to Bianca. 


November 20, 2022

No, thank you. It seems that Yamaha baby grand pianos kill a lot of husbands. Evidently, they are very dangerous. You, Arianna, and Tammy have emailed me that their late husband's Yamaha baby grand piano is also available. I am not interested






in your scam.


Have a nice day.


In reality, I do love Yamaha pianos, so this is not to create a villain of all models of Yamahas, simply this one in particular. 

If you do adopt it, please do us all a favor and roll it off of Navy Pier. 

-Jenny

9.26.2023

๐Ÿ™️ Happy Birthday to the Composer of Rhapsody in Blue!

September 26, 2023 0 Comments

September 26th is George Gershwin's Birthday! 

So how can you celebrate?

๐Ÿ™️ Watch George Gershwin play his own compositions. Here's I Got Rhythm

๐Ÿ™️ Sight-play his jazz standards like his first hit, Swanee.  


๐Ÿ™️ Choose a Gershwin piece to start learning as a repertoire piece. 

  • Here are my personal suggestions!
    • S'Wonderful (improvisation transcription)
    • Prelude No. 1
    • Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano


๐Ÿ™️ Listen to Rhapsody in Blue.


๐Ÿ™️ Watch Kim Yuna win the Olympics skating to Concerto in F.




๐Ÿ™️ Watch An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly. 


๐Ÿ™️ Visit The Music House Museum in Traverse City, MI to listen to Gershwin playing Rhapsody In Blue on the 1925 Webber Duo-Art reproducing piano.


๐Ÿ™️ Listen to Alan Berg's Lyric Suite


๐Ÿ™️ Learn to improvise jazz. 


๐Ÿ™️ Play tennis.


๐Ÿ™️ Paint a portrait.


๐Ÿ™️ Read a biography about George Gershwin. 


What are some of your own ideas to celebrate Gershwin's birthday?

9.11.2023

๐Ÿ“š Review: Daring Greatly

September 11, 2023 0 Comments

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brenรฉ Brown, Ph.D. LMSW


For piano teachers and students alike, there are many situations that make us vulnerable. Lessons, recitals, auditions, and teaching are a few of the many arenas we may find ourselves in. If you have ever felt afraid and thought that you are not good enough, I highly recommend this book. 


This non-fiction, research-based psychology book teaches assertiveness, taking risks, and having courage. Brenรฉ Brown, Ph.D LMSW presents her extensive original research in shame: an overwhelming emotion with which many of us have suffered at one time or another. It is a subject that we often try to avoid. The purpose of Daring Greatly is to encourage people to take risks, especially in the face of possible failure. 


Dr. Brown points out that many of our critics are not "in the arena" with us, they are on the outside and are often projecting their shortcomings on us. She describes the scarcity mindset, characterized by "never good enough," and contrasts that with the abundance mindset. Her practical recommendations for adopting this new mindset are clear and life-giving. 


I learned that failure is necessary to one day be successful. I learned that what I create is not the same as who I am. I learned that I am not the sum of prizes and accolades I have collected from other people. 


I'm finding joy in playing piano and teaching that I didn't have before.  The love of music and curiosity that drew me to piano in the first place is back and I feel freedom to continue to learn. I have also written new music and entered competitions. Rather than stopping myself because I might not be good enough, I decided it can't hurt to try it out. I've had disappointments and hurtful words from professors in the past that I carried on my shoulders for over a decade. When that happens, why even try to improve? But by not taking their words personally, I have found that I have been able to thrive in ways I never imagined. 


Dr. Brown's tone is humorous and colloquial. Her personal anecdotes are descriptive and realistic. Reading each personal story felt as though I was present in the scenario. (As a note, she does use profanity occasionally, so if you are sensitive to that form of language, please be forewarned!)


Some of my favorite quotes from this book:

"You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high Amazon.com ranking." (page 64)


"I have never heard one person attribute their joy, success, or Wholeheartedness to being perfect." (p. 128)


"Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It's about courage." (page 248) 


I encourage you to read this book and I hope that you find it to be transformative. 


What books have helped you?


-Jenny

9.06.2023

๐Ÿ˜ด Case Study: The Importance of Rest

September 06, 2023 0 Comments

After a confident and amazing recital presentation, my student suddenly decided she didn't like piano as much anymore. I had assigned her an original piece and a simplified version of Fur Elise over the summer and she felt as though they were too difficult, despite playing them for me with a high level of accuracy and understanding of the music. 


I was worried. Having shown amazing work ethic and commitment to musicality, was this it? Was our time together coming to an end? How could I reengage and help her joy to return? 


Well, I didn't do anything! But after leaving her piano books at home during a vacation, her motivation and drive returned! 


What I learned: it's okay to take extended breaks from the piano. Especially after spending so much concentrated time to get to this level!  Now, we are working on some Faber Popular and Rock 'n Roll books. We're also doing some rote pop chord progressions. I'm super excited for what this year will bring with the renewed energy and excitement! 


Have you experienced any student breakthrough discouragement? What did they need? 




-Jenny

8.22.2023

๐ŸŒŠ Happy Birthday to the composer of "Clair de lune"!

August 22, 2023 0 Comments

August 22nd is Claude Debussy's Birthday! 

So how can you celebrate?

๐ŸŒŠ Listen to Debussy play his own compositions. 

๐ŸŒŠ Listen to my mashup of Clair de Lune and Happy Birthday To You. 

๐ŸŒŠ Sight-play an "easier" piece such as Rรชverie or Page d'Album. 

 
๐ŸŒŠ Choose a Debussy piece to start learning as a repertoire piece. 

  • Here are my personal suggestions!
    • Arabesque No. 1 in E Major 
    • Rรชverie 
    • Prรฉlude from Suite Bergamasque
    • Clair de Lune from Suite Bergamasque
    • Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum
    • La Fille aux cheveux de Lin 
    • La Cathรฉdral engloutie - I think I will begin learning this one. 

๐ŸŒŠ Listen to La mer.


๐ŸŒŠ Watch Carolina Kostner skate to Prรฉlude ร  l'aprรจs-midi d'un faune.


๐ŸŒŠ Go for a boat ride. 

๐ŸŒŠ Visit The Art Institute of Chicago to view paintings by Claude Monet. 

๐ŸŒŠ Read poetry by Paul Verlaine and Stรฉphane Mallarmรฉ.


Clair de Lune by Paul Verlaine

Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life's largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The calm, pale moonlight, whose sad beauty, beaming,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming--
Slender jet-fountains--sob their ecstasies.


Apparitions by Stรฉphane Mallarmรฉ

The moon grew sad, and weeping seraphim,
Musing among the vaporous flowers aswim,
With slow bows from the sobbing viols drew
White tears that sank in their corรณnals blue.
It was the blessรฉd day of your first kiss.
My reverie, eager with new miseries,
Was all a-swoon with perfume of shy grief
That leaves the heart to gather its own sheaf,
And frets not, nor yet sickens of its prize.
I wandered, and the worn way held my eyes
When in the street I saw your sun-girt hair
And you all smiling in the twilit air.
I took you for that elf who, crowned with beams,
Once passed before me in my childish dreams,
And shed white posies of sweet-smelling flow’rs
Star-like for tiny hands in snowy show’rs.


๐ŸŒŠ Learn musical terms in French.

๐ŸŒŠ Read Edgar Allen Poe, especially The Fall of the House of Usher. Debussy was working on an opera based on this work. 

๐ŸŒŠ Read a biography about Claude Debussy. 


What are some of your own ideas to celebrate Debussy's birthday?

-Jenny

8.12.2023

๐Ÿงญ My Piano Journey: So You Want to be a Music Major - Part 2

August 12, 2023 0 Comments
Part 1 - Side Quest - Part 2 (You Are Here)



Note: All locations and names have been changed to protect the privacy and reputations of the people in this true story.

Finding a New Guide

My goal was to get a bachelor's degree in music. I was sixteen and I needed a serious college-prep teacher as soon as possible. Once again, the studios in my area were full. It seemed that no one would be able to take me on. 


But then one summer day my mom got off the phone with one more piano teacher recommended by a teacher who had a full studio.  I set up an audition with her. 


I remember pulling up to the one-story stone house with three gables. Walking inside, I took my shoes off and walked on the plush white carpeting. Ahead of me was a shiny black Yamaha grand piano. The living area was spacious and looked like a museum. Diana Turner was a middle-aged woman, married with no kids, hailing from England. She had short, straight, sandy blonde hair. Her aristocratic accent and cultured demeanor were exactly what one would picture to be a great piano teacher. 


I sat down at the grand piano; a stark contrast from my chestnut Acrosonic spinet. The keys were wider and heavier and the pedal was stiffer. I think I may have prepared Moonlight Sonata or Fรผr Elise for her. I played a few scales and arpeggios and I told her I would like to be a music major at the state university. At the end, she looked thoughtful and said she would take me on as a student. 

A Long Way to Go

The practice expectations were a lot to handle. 2 hours a day! Although I knew 4 octave scales, I needed to speed them up.  What are chord progressions? Much of our lessons were spent picking repertoire and marking in fingerings. I distinctly remember the way she would say, "Right." She had a hesitant, skeptical tone most times to my comments. I believed that I was unintelligent because of this. 


My state had an examination system very similar to the Royal Conservatory of Music and Mrs. Turner determined that I was Level 7 or late intermediate. I began working on classical music very heavily and realized that I was discouragingly behind in understanding music theory. In May, I would take the Level 7 exam and I had a lot of work to complete in order to be ready. 

An Unexpected Journey

On a cold day in November, Mrs. Turner drove me and another student to the state university, the very same to which I wanted to earn a music education degree. She was taking me for a lesson with her teacher, Dr. Ratigan. What an opportunity!


The early snow was patchy on the grass, melting a little. I was nervous during the one hour drive on the interstate. I looked out the window at the trees. Sitting in the front seat, I had very little to say. Whether it was my accent or my word choice, I rarely felt as though my small talk or comments were received well by Mrs. Turner. I don't remember much other than trying to be on my best behavior, hoping to make a good impression, and getting lost in thought as I looked out the window.


This was a school I was considering going to for most of my life. Many members of my family attended this university going back to my great-great-grandfather, a first-generation Irish immigrant, who studied agriculture. While I was planning to send in applications for many schools, I thought it was fortuitous that my new piano teacher had connections with this university. I could get an orientation to the music school and create a contact.


Upon arrival, we walked through the Student Union. It was a massive food court and study space. The wide-open, grassy campus was beautiful and I felt instant excitement that this could be my future school.


But then we visited the practice rooms. I will admit, I was very disappointed by the set up. It had an unwelcoming, cold, concrete interior. It was dark and extremely loud with reverb; devoid of carpet or sound panels. The pianos were decrepit uprights. I warmed up my hands by playing scales, but I was unimpressed, especially since my ears were hurt by the loudness and my fingers were still stiff from the lack of heat. The pianos were tinny and in desperate need of a technician. 

Memories Like Photographs

Dr. Ratigan was a stern, gray-haired women; tall and intimidating. I wanted to create a good impression, but I felt timid and nervous. I brought to her Beethoven's Sonata in G Major, Op. 49, No. 2 and Valse Mรฉlancholique by Rebikov in Bastien's Piano Literature, Book 4. 


Typically when I felt nervous, much of my ability to emote evaporated. On top of that, my technique from playing my Acrosonic at home was not sufficient for her Steinway baby grand with the stiff keys and pedals. I didn't have a chance to warm up. 


Immediately her feedback was that my fingers were not pressing into the bed of the keyboard and my pedal was sloppy. I was not getting completely to the floor or lifting clearly. My dynamic contrast was non-existent.


I felt my cheeks getting hot and red. This always betrayed me; embarrassment is so obvious on my face. Playing through the music with her watchful eye and quizzical expression was difficult. This was a far cry from the pleasant experience I had pictured. I was really looking for helpful feedback on what I could work over the next year before my audition. Instead, I felt like a complete fool for coming to this lesson at all.


"Do you know how many diminished 7th chords there are?"

My lack of theory knowledge was completely exposed. 

"12?" I asked sheepishly. 

The correct answer was 3 and she didn't hide her amusement at my ignorance.


"How would you describe the emotion behind this piece?" She asked about Valse Mรฉloncolique.

After an excruciatingly long pause, with my brow furrowed and my mind racing through all the possible adjectives, weighing the possibilities of her response, I croaked out, "Wistful?" 

"Wistful. Huh. And what does wistful mean?"

I don't recall my response, but I was stung by her dismissal.


Why, oh why, did I say crochet?

At the end of this lesson, completely battered and fried, she asked me if I had any hobbies. I honestly hadn't crocheted much more than a dish towel, but it was all that came to mind.


"Crochet," I offered. 

I had taken the bait. 

"Well, maybe if you like doing things with your hands, you should crochet instead. And maybe piano is more of a hobby for you. If you want to be a music major, you have a lot of work to do to prepare for your audition."


I can't remember what prompted the following final comment from her. Perhaps it was my history of starting piano at age 10 and I was largely self-taught.


"I was concertizing at age 11," she boasted. And that was that.

Hindsight is 20/20

Looking back on this whole situation, I wish I had respected myself and not auditioned for this school. Yes, many of my music teachers that I respected earned their teaching degrees at this school. I thought this was where I needed to go. But this treatment was uncalled for and horrendous. Had I been secure in myself, I would have dismissed her rudeness and realized this attitude was her problem, not mine.

It Followed Me Home

I have had many piano lessons, positive and negative, and this one is forever seared in my mind. Why is it that we dwell on the negative events in life and disregard or minimize the positive ones? Why was a I so attracted to negativity; wanting so badly to change the minds of those who hurt me instead of following those who believed in me. 


I thrive under positive motivation and seize up with shame-based motivation. Strangely, I vaguely remember my mom telling me that Dr. Ratigan said I was a quick study after she talked to her on the phone. That is the type of memory and evidence I need to remember, and yet it is very foggy when the rest seems so sharp and ready to accuse me. 



The long-term damage caused by this lesson was high anxiety about practicing the piano. I was constantly fearful of not being good enough which resulted in tense muscles, back pain and chronic sadness. The joy I once felt while playing piano was sapped and replaced with intense shame. And all musicality that I might have been developing was stifled for fear that my interpretation was wrong. 


Because Mrs. Turner was her student, Dr. Ratigan's influence continued through my piano lessons following that lesson. A Mozart Sonata I was preparing for the university audition was taken away from me because Dr. Ratigan told my teacher I wasn't mature enough to interpret it correctly.  She said perhaps I could use another year after high school graduation to work on practicing piano before attending the university. I needed to gain more maturity in order to interpret music correctly. Teenagers didn't have enough life experience according to her. I heard this feedback multiple times, parroted to me by Mrs. Turner.


But back then, gap years really were not socially acceptable. I had this nagging feeling that if I didn't do everything young, then I wasn't good enough and I should just give up. 

Seeing In a New Light

Recently, with the help of a therapist, I determined that Dr. Ratigan's credentials and experience didn't make her personal attacks valid. The personal attacks on me actually said volumes about her lack of character. Her deconstructive criticism communicated that, sadly, this was how she was treated by her former teachers, and for that, I pity her. She has to live with her anger and sadness, but I am no longer taking those feelings on as a responsibility. 


As a student, I should have been taught and not ridiculed for my lack of knowledge. After all, we go to school to get an education. We should not be paying thousands of dollars merely for a stamp of approval. 


While I can't erase the past, I can move beyond it and be grateful for the resilience I developed because of it. Despite Dr. Ratigan's comments, I do have a music degree and I am a career piano teacher and regular church musician. I have found success with the piano. Stay tuned for Part 3! There are many more stories I wish to share.

Forging a New Path

I have made a commitment to always provide constructive feedback. I do not personally tear them down. Criticism can always be constructive. I don't cover the entire gamut of mistakes I hear during a lesson.  I find one or two focus points and always have something positive to say. A student was struggling with a piece, but her G major scale was smooth and even as butter. While I helped her out with the feel of the waltz, I definitely made sure to gush about how her diligent work on technique has paid off. She looked so invigorated and re-energized for the rest of the lesson and subsequent ones. Our students have the ability to thrive and we are major players in making that happen.


If you have any difficult memories associated with learning music and feel discouraged, I highly recommend finding a therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I believe that it will help you to thrive in music by challenging negative cognitions and rewriting your core beliefs about yourself. I wish you well on your piano journey. 

-Jenny

7.28.2023

๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿผ‍๐Ÿซ How to Start Teaching Piano in 5 Easy Steps

July 28, 2023 0 Comments

Aside from knowing how to play the piano yourself, what are ways to start teaching piano? Once you've started teaching, what are avenues for continuing to improve your teaching craft?


Sometimes, all it takes is playing piano in public to be asked for piano lessons. This may take you by surprise or you may have been hoping to get a student, but everyone starts somewhere!

Little girl asking for lessons
"Will you teach me?"

No matter how you get your first student, you will have questions and maybe some hesitancy to start on this journey. 


Here are 5 steps for beginning piano teachers:


1. Be willing to try and fail.

Believe it or not, failing as a piano teacher happens the moment you decline because of feelings of inadequacy. Failure happens before you even started!  While I can't speak to your specific situation, I believe that if you have put in the time to learn piano; maybe 5 years of consistent lessons, practice, and performance experience, becoming a piano teacher is possible. 


Certainly, if a student eventually surpasses your skill level and knowledge, be honest. You may fit as a practice coach and an encouraging, helpful constructive critic. You may refer this person to a more skilled pianist that you trust or that your student finds. You will cross that bridge when you come to it! 


If you have a desire to teach piano, have confidence to start a beginner who is interested. You have to start somewhere just as much as a piano student has to start somewhere. If your thoughts say, "I'm not good enough," say, "I would like to teach and I am committed to continuing to learn and grow in this skill." Making mistakes is part of the process.  


2. Ask yourself who, what, where, when, why, and how.

  • Who? Will you market your studio or just use word of mouth? 
  • What? What level? What style? 
  • Where? Have a location to meet with a piano, whether that is your house, their house, a music school, or a local church that you rent.
  • When? Look at your calendar and determine your availability. Remember to consider prep time and follow up time. 
  • You're Big Why: What is your purpose in life? How does teaching piano serve you towards that purpose? What are your goals?
  • How? Decide your method series and other curriculum. 

I have written posts about starting up an independent studio: 

Resources that have been so helpful to me:

  • The Independent Piano Teacher's Studio Handbook by Beth Gigante Klingenstein
  • How to Teach Piano Successfully by James Bastien
  • Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils edited by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger
  • Faber Piano Adventures website

Consider taking a piano pedagogy course at a local college or online:

In addition, you may want to pursue continued piano lessons with a professor of music or even pursue a bachelor's degree in music. I personally earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music, however, I don't believe that this a pre-requisite to start teaching.

Other blogs that I recommend:


3. Create Lessons Plans

Having a list of activities and a general idea of time commitment is very important. 


As you teach, you will find that the student may need extra attention in a different area or even have questions that they would like to explore. Write your plan in pencil; have flexibility. However, you need to have a direction. 


Do not become a "turn the page" teacher. Have supplemental games, apps, worksheets, and activities ready to go. I refer to Joy Morin's Color In My Piano blog regularly as she has created many engaging games and activities (many of them are free to print!). She is a huge source of inspiration to me. I definitely suggest finding teaching blogs that you are drawn to and consulting them regularly for relevant activities and new teaching ideas.


4. Familiarize yourself with the method.

Have your own copy of all the books you are planning to use. 


Read through the table of contents and all of the concept pages. Use these as springboards for supplemental games and activities to reinforce. You don't need to go in order and you can present ideas sooner than the book. That way your student will be ready for future challenges in their music as it incrementally gets harder. 


Play through all the music and spend time practicing any songs that are difficult for you. Write down how you learned the pieces and think through your approach. What are the patterns? The form? What notes need to be reviewed? What articiulations are present and what technique do you use to create those articulations? How will you teach this to someone else?


If you are using a no-book method or passing down a skill by demonstration, such as playing pop chords or in the jazz style, have a structure and outline of how and when you will present new concepts incrementally. Have a list of songs you will teach and any reference materials that will be helpful for the student printed and attached to follow up lesson notes.


I use a spreadsheet where I write which pages I will assign, what concepts we will cover, and what activities tie in.  Doing this in one large batch gets the hard part of brainstorming out of the way early.  When lessons come, I can refer to my chart and plug those into my lesson notes. 


5. Lesson Structure

Keep your introductions short, try to avoid long conversations that are off topic. Every situation is different, but avoid spending more than 5 minutes catching up.


Be open to a student opening their book to show you their progress. If you would like to encourage a more spontaneous day, ask "What would you like to show me first?" or "What topic or skill would you like to work on today?"


As the student is playing, avoid looking at the music score. Instead, watch their hands, body movements, flexibility, and relaxation.  Give constructive, positive comments.  Avoid reacting to each missed note. Instead, find a way to communicate how to be expressive with music.  


Oftentimes, students will tell me it was perfect at home, but in front of me it's not.  I do whatever I can to help my students feel comfortable, but I always keep in the back of mind how hard it is to play for someone who knows what the music is supposed to sound like. You will be able to tell if they worked on it. If they did, have stickers ready! Find something that sounded great to comment on. Demonstrate a way to vary the dynamics or articulation.  


After the lesson, type up your notes, detail the assignments, and email them to your student. 


Bonus: Have a sticker book

If you are still unsure about teaching because you don't know if your student will like you, make a sticker sheet collection and make a prize box.  Their eyes will light up, I promise. 


Tell me how your first lesson as a piano teacher went!  Did any of these steps encourage you?  If you are an experienced teacher, what is your advice? Let me know in the comments. 


As Brenรฉ Brown says, we're letting go of what people think + "supposed to" and cultivating meaningful work. I believe in you! 

-Jenny

7.21.2023

๐ŸŽ„Christmas In July

July 21, 2023 0 Comments

Do you remember Christmas in July? TV networks would air all of their Christmas specials in the middle of July and I remember distinctly the suggestion to make peppermint ice cream sandwiches while we watched. 


In my studio, Christmas in July means that it's time to get out the Christmas books and pick pieces and songs. I start this week on July 19 and end on July 25. 


Is it too early? Actually, no. By the time the holidays come up, there is simply not enough time to learn Christmas music for our winter recital and celebrations with family and friends. 


This year, I decorated my studio with a wreath and put little Santa hats on two of my little plushies. 


Requests so far have included Sleigh Ride, The Holly and the Ivy, Silent Night, and O Little Town of Bethlehem.  I have two more lessons coming up during this week, so I will update with the rest! 

Books and sheets I currently own:

  • Sleigh Ride
  • O Holy Night (High Voice)
  • You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
  • Faber Supplemental Series Christmas books - solos and duets, especially Level 4 solos
  • Faber Supplemental Series - Classical Level 3A-3B - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies
  • George Winston Piano Solos - The Snowman and more
  • Peanuts Illustrated Songbook - This contains transcriptions from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Christmas albums (and specific tracks) I love to listen to: 

  • Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
  • A Fresh Aire Christmas
  • Christmas in the Aire
  • A Family Christmas by John Tesh - Carol of the Bells
  • Kenny G Miracles: The Holiday Album
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Home Alone soundtrack
  • Winter - George Winston
  • Linus & Lucy - George Winston - Skating and Linus & Lucy
  • Forest - George Winston - Music from The Snowman
  • Elf Soundtrack - The Nutcracker Suite by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • 1996/ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

When do you start teaching Christmas music? What are your favorite carols or songs to teach, play, and listen to?

-Jenny

7.19.2023

๐ŸŽผ First In-Person Piano Recital

July 19, 2023 0 Comments

On June 3rd, my studio presented our first in-person piano recital. Since I recently opened my own small business out of my home, I only had 2 students for a year and a half, including my 6-year-old daughter. But in March, my current student's brother joined! Then, their mom, who also plays piano, joined us for the performance and we presented a 30-minute piano recital complete with a reception. 


This was my students' first time playing a baby grand piano; up until then, they practiced on my Yamaha digital piano and their Kawai digital piano. I made sure to give them a warm up time to get used to the piano first. I also gave them a pep talk to relax, to know we're all supporting them, and to ultimately play for the Lord and share the joy of music. 


Performing Bonfire

Duet





Only my students' family joined us from out of town, but that was okay! I made a livestream using my church's camera and YouTube channel and our long distance family members and guests who were unable to come in person were able to watch!


At the end of the recital, each participant received a prize from my prize box!


Refreshments at the end were provided by my family and my students' family. We had an assortment of cookies and ginger ale/pineapple juice punch. 


I used one of Joy Morin's program templates, which I will link below. 


Here is the program (with last names redacted):



This recital was very fun! 


What did you do for your piano recitals this spring? 

    -Jenny