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The Beginner’s Guide to Improvisation: How Teachers and Students Can Start Creating Together

Why Improvise? For many of my students, the highlight of the lesson is scale improvisation. These short improvisation exercises build familiarity with scale and chord patterns while providing a space for creative play. By allowing the opportunity to experience spontaneous music making, you are opening the door to many great benefits. Here are just a few: Strengthens aural awareness Provides an opportunity to assimilate patterns and apply music theory concepts Requires students to organize rhythms on top of a steady pulse Serves as a gateway activity to music composition Ignites emotional expressivity and creativity Anyone Can Improvise I’ve had a lot of students (and teachers) give me the de

Why Duet? Strategies and Benefits of Ensemble Playing in the Piano Studio

We’ve all likely experienced the benefits of duet and ensemble playing for ourselves over the years. Turning music into a social experience that encourages students to actually practice and count sounds like a win-win scenario, but duet playing can be stressful and have a negative impact if students aren’t well-prepared. Throughout my career I have coached competitive choral ensembles, musical theater casts, accompanied all levels of solo vocalists, instrumentalists, and choirs, played in worship and jazz bands, and of course, taught duets to all my students. I’ve developed a few strategies over the years, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned. First, a few benefits of duet playing that

How to Host a Coffee Shop Performance

If you need an easy but unique performance idea, consider taking your students to a local coffee shop! We recently did this during the holiday season and called it “Coffee and Keys.” The evening featured holiday, jazz, and classical music in an informal, public venue, which gave our students the chance to play a “real gig.” We even set out a tip jar. Each student took away around $20 at end of the night and, not surprisingly, this was a big hit! We performed piano, violin, and vocal repertoire, which created a really well-rounded set. Students and parents told us that this event was a winner. The relaxed environment allowed people to chat, play board games, and move around. You'll notice in

Best Graphic Design Options for Music Teachers

Want to design something snazzy for your music studio but don’t know where to start? Even if you don’t have a lot of design experience, it's still possible to create a really clean design without much effort. Here are our top graphic design suggestions, starting with the easiest and least expensive options and moving up to more complex solutions: Recruit a Student Asking a student to help you do a design can be one of your most savvy options. Several of my students have wanted opportunities to not only showcase their skills but also build their portfolios and fulfill service learning credits for school organizations. Not only were the designs really awesome, but it was free for me! It was a

How to Create an Art Showcase Recital

Since 2012, Davis and I have experimented with ways to make our student recitals more dynamic. We recently gave a webinar for MTNA called Rethink Your Recital: Practical Tips for Dynamic Performances. You can watch a brief preview of the webinar here or watch the entire presentation here if you are a member of MTNA​. Let’s take a closer look at one of the recital projects we highlighted in that presentation: the Art Showcase Recital. Art and music make a great pair for live performance. Adding a visual component to live performance can help performers and audience members make deeper connections with the music. Showcasing student art is a great way to rethink your recital, and it can be done

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