Thursday, February 19, 2015

Five Big Parrots

I enjoy teaching fingerplays and rhymes to my preschool music classes. They are perfect for developing a sense of rhythm, coordination, and vocabulary, and most importantly, the children love them! If they are having an off-day, and do not feel like singing or playing instruments, this is a great way to engage them again.

The parrot puppet pictured above was a recent purchase, and I have used it with a few songs in class already. I decided to look for a parrot themed rhyme and found this one written by a "Mr. I":

Five big parrots perched on a tree (puppet perched on arm)
Flapping their wings happily. (flap arms)
One saw a jaguar on the forest floor. (creep hand on the floor)
It flew away, (flap arms)
And then there were four. (let students give number and hold up fingers)

Four big parrots perched on a tree,
Flapping their wings happily,
One saw the jaguar climbing up the tree.
So, it flew away. 
And then there were three.

Three big parrots perched on a tree,
Flapping their wings happily.
The jaguar kept creeping the the under-story, too.
One parrot flew away.
And then there were two.

Two big parrots perched on a tree,
Flapping their wings happily.
The jaguar reached the canopy, up close to the sun.
One parrot flew away.
And then there was one.

One big parrot perched on a tree,
Flapping its wings up in the canopy.
The jaguar leaped through the air with a great, big pounce.
But the parrot flew away. I wonder? Do jaguars bounce?

I also used the parrot puppet with this fun fingerplay, skillfully demonstrated here: 

There was a little bird, who lived up in a tree
Chirping at the clouds that floated by.
Then that little bird, flew on down to me
And landed on my shoulder and winked his eye. 
He said, "Tweet, tweet!"
I said, "Tweet", back,
And didn't know what else to say.
Then that little bird, flapped his little wings
And flew himself away.

I demonstrated this finerplay for the class and then gave each student a chance to hold the puppet and say and act out the rhyme with me. The preschool classes are small, so it worked out well. They all liked this rhyme so much that the students watched attentively while each one had their turn with the puppet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Piano Mastery: The Harriette Brower Interviews

Piano Mastery: The Harriette Brower Interviews is a collection of forty-three interviews of the most prominent pianists of the early 20th century. The 2003 Dover Edition of this book is a compilation of selected chapters from Brower's 1915, 1917, and 1926 interviews. Although some of the material is "dated" by current standards, there is value in taking the time to learn from the past and applying the truths found there to contemporary piano pedagogy.

Brower's book offers a glimpse into the personal lives, insights, and teaching styles of her professional contemporaries. Her writing style is typical of that period; flowery and detailed. She takes the time to describe the interview setting, as well as the appearances of the pianists that she interviewed. Modern readers might become impatient with these descriptions, so it is important to keep the original publication date of these interviews in mind while reading this book. Taken in the correct context, this book offers a lot of insight into the musical world of the early 1900s. 

Some of the pianists that Brower interviewed are still remembered for their compositions, performances, and teaching methods. These include Edward McDowell, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Moritz Rosenthal, and Teresa Carreño. It is beneficial to read what these great pianists thought and said about music, teaching, and technique, especially when studying their compositions or listening to the recordings of their performances.

Brower's interview with Rachmaninoff is particularly fascinating. She describes his “reserved yet intense personality” on page 206 and the “peace and quietude” of his home on page 207. The sense of who Rachmaninoff was comes to life through her words, and adds clarity to his compositions. His "reserved yet intense personality" is discernible in even the first measures of his famous Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Op. 18. His advice on teaching is still applicable today:

 " not place a child of even five years old under a poor, inefficient teacher. Else what is poorly done will have to be done all over again--a difficult matter, for early impressions are most lasting, as we all know." (page 210)

Piano Mastery was an enjoyable book to read and is a must-read for piano teachers. Although it was written 100 years ago, it is a timeless and relevant look into the lives of the people who created the music that has permanently shaped our culture today. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weighing the Options: Piano or Keyboard?

When students are registering for lessons, I am often asked, "Do I need a piano?" The answer is yes; my students begin playing the piano at the first lesson and will need access to a quality instrument on which to practice throughout the week. The question that inevitably follows is, "Will a keyboard work just as well as a piano?"

For very young students (under 6 years of age), who are trying private lessons for the first time, I actually do recommend a keyboard. It is more affordable than a piano, it requires less maintenance, and the keys are smaller and lighter for tiny fingers. If the student remains interested in piano, and wants to pursue it further, it is a good idea to plan to purchase a piano.

Pianos and keyboards, although they look similar, are actually unlike each other in many ways. Read more about these differences here. I have also compiled some information about acoustic pianos, digital pianos, and keyboards below for easy comparison. 

Acoustic Pianos:
  • Typical Price Range: $4000-$8000
  • Benefits for the student include beautiful tone color, range of dynamics, a responsiveness unmatched by electronic pianos and the opportunity to develop more nuanced musicianship right from the beginning.

Electronic/Digital Pianos with 88 Weighted Keys: 

  • Typical Price Range: $400-$700
  • Brands: Casio, Yamaha, Roland, Kawai
  • Benefits for the student include better development of hand strength with the weighted keys and the opportunity to experience a responsiveness that is close to an acoustic piano
  • Available at: Guitar Center, Best Buy and other stores that sell electronics, Walmart (online), Target (online), Amazon

Other Keyboards:

If a keyboard with 88 weighted keys is still out of your price range, a quality keyboard with at least 61 keys is recommended. If the keyboard has less than 61 keys, the student will not be able to practice the exercises and pieces correctly because the notes will not exist to play. I have used one like this in the past . It's an excellent entry level portable keyboard and very affordable at $99! I do recommend buying a well-known brand such as Casio, Yamaha (my personal favorite), Kawai, or Roland. You will also need to purchase a stand and a bench to ensure correct sitting position at the keyboard. Improper position and posture can lead to injury. Ideally, the player's arm from wrist to elbow should be parallel with the floor. Again, these can be purchased at the stores named above. 

Some of the advantages to having an electronic keyboard includes:

  • The ability to plug in headphones so that practice will not disturb anyone (this could be a disadvantage if your child is not actually practicing!)
  • The ability to connect the keyboard to a computer with a midi cable and use it with educational music software
  • Portability 
  • Never needs to be tuned

Ideally, students should have access to an acoustic piano, but electronic pianos can provide a great start and the student can move on to an acoustic piano at a later time.