8.17.2022

🧭 My Piano Journey: How I Started Playing Piano - Part 1

August 17, 2022 0 Comments
Part 1 (You Are Here) - Side Quest - Part 2
How I Started Playing Piano

This is my personal story of how I started playing the piano. Part 1 starts when I was 9 years old and ends when I was 14 years old. I hope you enjoy! 

Embarking

I hopped in my mom’s van after swimming lessons, tired and wet, wrapped in my beach towel. 

“I did it!” she said. “I bought a piano!”

My tired eyes lit up. While I was in swim class, she drove to an estate sale and immediately bought a spinet upright piano for $700. That evening, a warm night in June, the breeze wafting through the sheer curtains of the living room, a small walnut Acrosonic sat in our living room by the stairs. I was told that it wasn’t just my piano; my brothers would learn too, but over the next 7 years, I was the one who played it the most.

My approach to learning piano was unorthodox. Using knowledge from general music class, choir, and teaching myself flute, I taught myself to play the piano. I remember first learning Liebestraum by Franz Liszt from the Faber Classics 2A book. With hesitations, I deciphered the music while holding down the pedal, missing many notes and creating a murky, dissonant noise. I was learning piano, albeit alone.

I briefly took lessons at the local music store beginning that summer. I remember learning simple classical pieces from The Developing Artist Preparatory Piano Literature book. The music was pedestrian, but I still fondly remember Little March by TΓΌrk and Melody by Beyer.

At my first recital, I proudly and confidently played Send In the Clouds from Faber Popular 3 (they have since revised this book and it is now in the Adult Piano Adventures Book 2). I remember my former classmate, Lauren, being present and she complimented me. That performance was my first experience with the flow state while performing. I was in the zone and so calm and focused, loving every sound coming out of that baby grand. I felt elated when I left the stage.

Stumbling Block

One day during recess, my friends and I were playing leap frog over serpentine-shaped bike racks. After jumping over one hump, my foot caught a crack in the sidewalk and my right hand slammed into the pavement. I sustained black bruises at the base of each finger of my right hand and I had to cease piano lessons at that point. I got a custom brace from the doctor and I recall asking the nurse if I would be able to play piano after my hand was healed.

“No!” she said, annoyed, and left the room. As a sensitive 10-year-old girl, I began tearing up. My mom told me that it was an old joke. 

“Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after the operation.
“Yes, of course."
“Great! I never could before.” 

I did play piano again after it healed, but, much to my dismay, I was without a teacher for about a year following that incident. There were piano teachers in my city, but they were in high demand with long wait lists. 

My Tour Guide

“Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you…” 

I delicately played the notes to My Heart Will Go On from my easy piano songbook. Channeling CΓ©line Dion, I would play with marked intensity at the key change. 

“YOU’RE HERE, there’s NO-O-THING I FEAR…” 

I remember dramatically pausing at the climax of the song because of the new key signature. With no framework for understanding keys other than C Major, it overwhelmed me to keep track of the additional sharps. 

Soon after learning this piece, my mom found a college student named Billie to teach me piano. I played My Heart Will Go On for her to show her what I could already do. She created a sticker chart to help me learn my one-octave major scales. With her help, I tackled Level 3 and 4 of the Faber Supplemental Library and early elementary classical piano literature. My favorites were Song of the Dark Woods by Elie Siegmeister, Carol of the Bells from Faber Christmas Level 4, and a fairly difficult piano arrangement of Awesome God by Rich Mullins.

A Bump in the Road

For my middle school talent show, I played Maple Leaf Rag from Faber Ragtime and Blues 3. I remember the band teacher who auditioned me saying he was impressed that I could play ragtime. That boosted my confidence.

I played the piece on a brown upright piano in the middle of the gymnasium, perfect for that saloon-style, honky tonk feel of the rag. The first show for the 7th graders went really well and I received a loud applause and cheers from the bleachers. I didn't really know how to bow, so I just stood in front of the crowd with a wide smile. But I suffered a memory slip in the second performance for the 8th graders, my grade. My fingers twisted up, like being tongue-tied, and I kept repeating the same cadence trying to get to resolve to the final chord. I was embarrassed and I left the gym quickly without acknowledging the audience.

My feelings were hurt when a close friend of mine later said another pianist put me to shame. But I know now that wasn’t true. He started playing when he was 3 years old and had nearly 10 years of experience. Meanwhile, I started when I was 10 and had 3 years of experience. It made sense that he was accomplished and playing a complex, high level classical piece. Still, her comment stung and I believed her at the time.

A Creative Path 

One day, I came home from school and composed a piano piece on a whim. I named it the Legend of Kanali, picturing an adventure fantasy story for which this could be the soundtrack. The D minor composition was a repetitive melody and used descending open chords.

My brother really enjoyed listening to it. I began creating more original tunes and my dad noticed my interest in writing music, so he purchased a composition software for me called Music Write. I recall using it on my Compaq PC, creating scores for my family to play. My dad was really excited for me and even told me he would pay for me to file my copyrights with the Library of Congress, but I never took him up on it because I feared I wasn’t good enough to be a real composer.

Scaling the Mountain

The notation software had Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 by Chopin as an example file. I printed it and began learning the hardest piece I had ever attempted to that date. In addition to three flats in the key signature, there were a plethora of accidentals. I remember writing in the notes one by one and pushing myself to learn this piece. I wanted so badly to play it like Maria JoΓ£o Pires, the Portuguese performing artist who has the best recordings of Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes ever.

Billie was very impressed when I played the Nocturne for her and she soon decided that she would be my piano coach instead of my teacher because I was self-guided and surpassing her level. With her support and encouragement, I entered the Solo and Ensemble Festival in my state for solo piano. 

The adjudicator was writing notes from the previous performer and he asked me to warm up while I waited. I played much of the Nocturne exactly the way I had practiced. He interrupted me to say not to play too much before he was ready. He also told me this was his favorite piece. I smiled nervously and butterflies started flying in my stomach.

When I started playing, my hands began to shake and my performance sounded nothing like my warm up or my practice at home. The ending, however, was clear and calm. He told me that I needed to see the forest for the trees; that the ending was beautiful, but I didn’t seem to understand how the whole piece fit together. I left feeling dejected. Why didn't I sound like Maria? Billie told me that had she been in my shoes, knowing this was his favorite piece would have done the same thing to her. That's a huge order to live up to!

Becoming A Guide-In-Training

In eighth grade, I was assigned to do a job shadow project as part of my career development. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do as a career. I had narrowed the category down to music, but who would I shadow? My mom thought for a moment, "What about your music teacher from elementary school?" Bingo! Being a teacher had always been in the back of my mind. What about combining that interest with music? 

The job shadow went really well and I was so happy to reconnect with my music teacher. I believe to this day that my brothers and I can improvise and compose with our respective instruments because she taught us to sing, to recognize major and minor tonal patterns, and create and understand many rhythmic patterns in elementary school.

At the end of eighth grade, Billie graduated college and moved away. She was so encouraging about my progress thus far, that when she started teaching me, I was "all fingers." She said she was excited for my future with piano and that she believed I would be very successful; that when I grew up she'd be able to say, "I knew her when...".

On My Own Again

The following year, I entered Solo and Ensemble Festival with RΓͺverie by Debussy. I was thrilled to be given a Superior medal and the ability to enter the State Festival. My dad was super excited for me as well. With the absence of a piano teacher, I spent the month in between learning the required scales and a required Bach Invention. I asked my orchestra teacher for help with the Invention and he loaned me his Bach study score. 

“It doesn’t have any fingerings,” Mr. K warned.

Even so, I plugged away at it until the two-voice contrapuntal piece was complete.

My dad drove me to the State Festival and was gushing about my accomplishment. At the State Festival, I played through both pieces sans mistakes. I was on a stage with bright lights in an auditorium playing on a baby grand. 

The feedback from the adjudicator was that it could be more dream-like. RΓͺverie means daydream after all. While I was disappointed to get an Excellent rating instead of Superior, I felt good about what I had learned. After all, I had never played a two-part contrapuntal piece before. Even though the Bach Invention in F major is one of the easier inventions, it is difficult. 

Future Outlook  

My goal was to get a bachelor's degree in music. I was in high school 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 day...

To be continued

What is your piano story? Let me know in the comments!

-Jenny

4.07.2022

πŸ“š 8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons πŸ‘©‍🏫

April 07, 2022 0 Comments
8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons

Beginner piano lessons are foundational for music reading skills, healthy technique, and audiating music. While there are many great resources for teaching beginner piano, the following have been effective and engaging for my students. Listed below are my beginner piano curriculum must-haves. 

1. Piano Adventures Method

8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons: Piano Adventures Method
The Piano Adventures Basic Method is comprised of 8 levels (Primer, Level 1, Level 2A, Level 2B, Level 3A, Level 3B, Level 4, and Level 5). There are 4 core books per level; I typically assign two. Recently, I have chosen the Technique & Artistry books. The exercises provided are fun and give detailed instructions and fun illustrations for executing many different articulations in a healthy way. 

I appreciate the progressive difficultly of reading skills, the colorful pictures, and the amusing lyrics in this series. It also has backing tracks for each piece for free on the Piano Adventures Digital Cloud.  Many duets are written in the books for the teacher and student to play together. I love the duets because I believe providing ensemble experience is a cornerstone of music education.  

In addition to the Basic Method for elementary-aged children, Piano Adventures has additional methods specially designed for preschoolers, teenagers, and adults. They are adapted to the learning styles of each age group and enter into the Basic Method at various points. For example, the adult method prepares beginner pianists for Lesson Book 3B in the basic method. 

Click here for a PDF showing all of the Piano Adventures publications and how they relate. Stay tuned for reviews of the various method series from Faber Piano Adventures

2. Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards
Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards

This set has 89 cards. This deck has all the concepts a beginner student will learn in the method books. They reinforce note reading on the treble and bass clefs, common musical terms, rhythms symbols, and articulations. 

To use the Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards, I mark the answer side with a color-coded number. The colors match the Piano Adventures book in which the concept is first introduced and the number matches the unit.  This way during a lesson, I can quickly pull the current flashcards.

3. Note Rush app 

Note Rush App Icon
Note Rush is a cool app for quizzing notes on any instrument. Using various themes, such as bugs, outer space, and holidays, Note Rush shows you notes on the grand staff one by one and hears you play the note. You do not need a MIDI cable to use this app, but it does have that feature if you would like it.  You are able to turn the timed test feature on and off and build your own quizzes that can be shared with your student to practice at home via a link or QR code. 

4. Board Games

Ice Cream Intervals by Joy Morin Example
My favorite resource for music games is Joy Morin's Color In My Piano blog. My favorite games are Grand Staff Pass, Ice Cream Intervals, and The Amazing Keyboard Race. Another resource I have is The Big Book of Music Games that has games to copy, color, and assemble on file folders. While it is more geared toward general music class, it has many games suitable for 2 players as well. 

5. Elective Book

Faber Supplementary Library
I firmly believe in providing students with additional piano literature outside of the method books. The more the better and I do count working on extra music as practice time. The reason is that self-guided learning in conjunction with enthusiasm for the music quickly builds neural passageways and takes away the drudgery that can often accompany the thought of an upcoming practice session.

As I think back to learning how to play piano, I loved having a library of piano books at my level and beyond. I pushed myself to learn "My Heart Will Go On" from a book of popular piano songs.  I worked on the Faber ShowTime to BigTime Library series books spanning pop, jazz, classical arrangements, ragtime, hymns and Christmas music.  The experience I gained from regularly playing for enjoyment allowed me to progress through intermediate piano literature very quickly. I love to lend my books to my students and I also encourage them to build a music library at home comprised of exciting music books.

6. Theory Worksheets

The Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines Worksheet
There are many theory books available for students, but personally, I enjoy making my own curriculum or finding free worksheets from other piano teachers. The most helpful resource for creating my own curriculum has been Joy Morin's Music Symbols Pack. You can drag and drop the symbols from the file into a word processor and create very professional and polished worksheets for your students. I have assigned theory lessons from MusicTheory.net and created an accompanying worksheet to have the student apply the information learned practically. I love MusicTheory.net because it also allows you to build your own theory quizzes and share the link with your students to use on their computers at home. 

7. Music Learning Theory 

Have you ever experienced a piano student adding an extra beat to the last note of each measure in 3/4 time?  What about a student who is unable to distinguish D major from D minor, missing the F# each time and not even noticing? If so, I believe understanding and implementing the concepts of Music Learning Theory by Dr. Edwin E. Gordon will be very helpful to your students. 

I was introduced to Music Learning Theory by my elementary school general music teacher.  We would sing major and minor patterns and chant rhythms.  When I was older, I read a post on the Color in my Piano blog (if you haven't noticed, I adore this blog), about Music Learning Theory and immediately recalled my elementary music classes. I firmly believe in the importance of teaching piano students to sing because it prevents simply decoding the notes to press the correct "buttons".  I have had transfer students unable to tell if they missed a note and unable to feel the difference between duple and triple meters.

The resources on The Improving Musician website are very helpful tools for learning to audiate various tonalities. Check out this resource explaining the process. 

8. Exploring Improvisation and Composition

I have not yet created a printed curriculum for improvisation and composition, but I am brainstorming.  Typically, for the first lesson, I play chords on the black keys and ask the student to play any black keys. For later lessons, I play a white key-based chord progression (I, V, vi, IV or I7, vi7, ii7, V7) and ask my student to play white keys in any order.  The main issue for my students has been confidence and not being willing to make mistakes, even though with the black key improvising, you really can't make a mistake. 

This is one of the main reasons why Music Learning Theory has become so important to me. It helps students to have musical ideas (audiation) and the ability to recreate them on their instrument and with their voice. As another plug for Music Learning Theory: my brothers and I are all improvisers and composers on our respective instruments, and while some people would say we're genetically all musical, I say it's because we all had the same general music teacher growing up. 

For me, improvisation and composition are staples to my musical life. I post my compositions and arrangements to SoundCloud and Sheet Music Plus for fun.  None of those compositions would exist without my initial improvisation to create those ideas.  The composition aspect develops those ideas and creates a coherent piece that becomes a score.  I work hard to impart this skill to all of my students. I hope to teach them music notation software such as MuseScore and the free Apple DAW, GarageBand, so that they also can become composers. 

In Conclusion

I use many resources to build my beginner piano curriculum.  It is not simply piano, it is also games, singing, moving, creating, and collaborating. 

Stay tuned for my intermediate and advanced piano curriculum must-haves!

What are materials are essential to your piano curriculum? Let me know in the comments!

-Jenny

1.21.2022

πŸ“‡ How to Present a Professional Image as a Piano Teacher

January 21, 2022 0 Comments

Starting Out

Studio Documents

You are a pianist with years of experience in taking lessons, practicing, and performing various songs and pieces.  It is a passion of yours and you feel it has been elevated above a hobby for you; however, you are looking for a profession in which to use your skills.  If you find that you enjoy imparting your knowledge to other people, perhaps a profession in piano teaching is for you!  If so, welcome to the community! 

While perusing job listings, you may find many schools are hiring.  Working for a school is a great way to start because the administrative tasks are taken care of for you.  Your responsibilities will typically be to teach lessons, submit the the titles of student recital pieces, and take attendance. Meanwhile, an administrator will take care of advertising, billing, communicating and enforcing policies, displaying a professional environment, scheduling, preparing recital programs, and tax withholding*.  This gives you freedom to spend your time planning your lessons and focusing on your craft.  However, the rate that is charged to your students is split between you and your company.  The company also will determine your rate for you.  If you don't consider what your education and skill level is worth, you may be accepting a rate that is too low.  
*As an independent contractor, you will receive a 1099 from the school and file your own self-employment taxes.  There are other important things for you to know as a contractor that I hope to talk about in a future post. 

If you are able to open your own private studio in your home or by renting a local community location, such as a church, you are responsible for not only teaching, but all of the administrative tasks listed above!  

When I decided to open a private studio in my apartment last year, the pandemic had started a few months prior and my husband was home while we waited for his work to reopen.  He would be available to watch our small children while I taught. My model was to use Skype for online lessons and I began working on structuring my studio. This post is about how to present a professional image as a piano teacher.

Becoming an Independent Teacher

There are so many facets to starting up a business.  Today's topic is how to present a professional image for your piano studio with studio documents.  The resource that I use to guide me in this endeavor is a book by Dr. Beth Klingenstein called "The Independent Piano Teacher's Studio Handbook: Everything You Need to Know for a Successful Teaching Studio."  I took classes with her and her handbook is about 2-inches thick and contains everything that was included in her college piano pedagogy course.  It is an invaluable resource and will give you a step-by-step guide to starting your studio.  I highly recommend purchasing this book. 

Presenting a Professional Image with Branding

I hired a graphic designer and her price for an extended branding package was $300 that included a logo, business card, stationery, ads, product design, social media posts, and a website.  I opted out of the website since I had already coded my own, so she reduced the price. She interviewed me for insight into my business goals and aesthetic preferences.  

Then I received multiple logo possibilities and she included 2 revisions once I chose the one I liked.  

Examples of Logo Designs and Color Schemes
Logo Design Options and Color Scheme Options

I chose logo 1 and color scheme b. Then we revised the logo together. She drew the piano herself. I love the finished product! 
Final drafts of Logos: Black and White, Ombre, Light Purple, Dark Purple
Final Draft of Logos and Color Schemes

The final drafts of the logo included black-and-white, ombre, light purple, dark purple, and white with a transparent background for the navigation bar on my website (see below). 

Next, she designed my business cards, stationery, and ads using this logo, the color scheme, and various public domain pictures. I sent these designs to Smartpress.com, which is one of my favorite printers. They have many options for paper weight, color, and gloss. They give feedback about the clarity of the images provided and give a digital proof to review before they print. Communication is very good and the turn around time and shipping cost is reasonable. 

Here are pictures of the finished printed products. 

How to Present a Professional Image as a Piano Teacher
Welcome Card and Business Card

I created the welcome cards specifically for my online students because I give sticker rewards. I ordered the welcome cards to be the size of a typical character sticker sheet and included that in the mail.  Since I resumed in-person lessons with masks in the fall, I still send the cards with the sticker sheets after the student enrolls, and I'm also able to give more stickers and prizes as well! 

My letterhead stationery is used on studio documents, such as my studio policy, calendar, and registration form.  

Letterhead with logo, watermark, and information in footer
Letterhead

Below are examples of the social media and newspaper ads. 

Ignite a love for music. Facebook Ad    
Facebook Sidebar Ad and Newspaper Ad

Sadly, my neighborhood newspaper closed the week before I was going to submit my ad. I'm considering buying an ad in a newspaper with a larger audience.  I did pay for a few Facebook Ad campaigns, but I didn't receive any inquiries. 

I also received a product design and mockup, however I don't currently want to order 300 t-shirts or tote bags, since all the product printing sites want bulk orders, so I haven't used this design yet. 

Product Design Mock-up. Tote bag with logo.
Product Design Mock-up

A style guide including the fonts used in the design products, hexadecimal colors, and explanations of how to use the social media posts was included in the final package as well. She mailed me a thumb drive with all of the designs in various formats such as JPEG, PDF, and Adobe Illustrator and she shared a folder on Google Drive as she completed each individual project. 

I am very happy with my choice to order this package and I highly recommend at least having a logo designed for your private studio. If you are interested in hiring this graphic designer, please email me at jennifermeltonpiano[at]gmail.com for a referral. (I am using brackets around at to protect my email address from spam bots.)

Designing My Website

After I received my logo, I added it to the left corner of my website on the navigation bar.  Coding has been a hobby of mine since I was in high school, so I coded my own home page using a Bootstrap tutorial.  I am a supporter on Neocities (modeled after the mid-2000s GeoCities hosting site!) and I purchased my domain name from Google Domains. I pay Neocities $5 a month to host my site and I pay Google $1 a month for my domain.  

Website Home Page
Website Home Page
jennifermeltonpiano.com

I did try Google Ads to promote my website. I received 3 leads from that campaign.  I am now applying SEO to my website to try to promote its listing on search engines for free.  I may update about how to use SEO in the future. 

Finally, my email signature contains my photo and my information, including links to my Facebook and SoundCloud. I used WiseStamp to generate the logo and Gmail is my email host. 

Email Signature


If you have any questions about presenting a professional image for your piano studio or if you would like to share your ideas, please post in the comments below!

-Jenny