Recital! Recital! Recital!

   

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,

Our annual Summer Piano Concert will take place on Saturday June 17 at 1:00 pm. The location is Mount Olivet Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy, North Vancouver. I invite all of my students to seize this performance opportunity! And please bring your family and friends. Everyone is welcome. Students should go through their 2017 learned repertoire, choose their best solo and duet, and prepare it for their lesson this week so they will have plenty of time to polish their selections and get really comfortable with them. Performing is exciting and exhilarating if you are prepared. Performing is terrifying and a unique form of dreadful torture if you are not prepared. I’m just sayin. As an experienced teacher and performer. 

     Students can arrive early at the church to warm up on the grand piano. Church appropriate attire please. Please rsvp to me by June 13. 

     Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing all your shining faces on June 17th.

Alison

Winter Piano Recital 2017!

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful relaxing break. Now we are all back in our various saddles of work and school and it is that special time once again when all my delightful piano students enthusiastically prepare two pieces, one solo and one duet, for our semi-annual performances.This week I will be asking all my students to choose their two songs for a performance video, to be filmed the week of the concert (2 weeks from now) which will be posted on my Mobile Piano Geek twitter and facebook page, website and youtube channel. In addition I encourage all my students to attend or participate in the upcoming live concert!

The Details:
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy, North Vancouver
Saturday January 21
2:00-3:00pm

Grandparents, extended family, and friends are invited too.
Please let me know if you or your child will be participating. If you don’t feel comfortable with performing, you are still more than welcome to attend and enjoy.
I will send out a program as soon as I know how many will be performing.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!
Cheerio,
Alison

If Your New Year’s Resolution Is To Try New Things…

As of January 4 2017 I have one lesson time available, Wednesday afternoon 3:30-4:15pm.

If you live in North Vancouver and have always wondered, “What would it be like if a cheerful, skilled, sensitive, intelligent, and extremely modest piano teacher with 10+ years teaching experience came to my house once a week to impart exciting musical knowledge and guide me in a new adventure of learning to play my favorite songs on the piano IN ADDITION to being introduced to hitherto unknown elements of musical style and genre that would vastly expand my horizons as a human being?” then I have good news for you: the answer to your question is,” It’s pretty fun and interesting and you can get started by contacting me to set up a few lessons to try it out”. For yourself or that child you love so much and want to best experiences for.

Perfect Practice

I know, I know. Practice makes perfect, not the other way around. Here are (more) of my thoughts on how to maximize your investment in piano lessons, for you or your child.
The Perfect Practice Session: By Alison Maira

You need a digital keyboard with full size weighted keys, or acoustic piano that has been tuned and maintained within the last year.

You need a comfortable bench at the correct height for your size. When resting your curved fingers and slightly rounded wrists on the white keys in the middle of the piano your arms should come out at slightly less than 90 degree angle. Your shoulders should be relaxed but your back is tall and straight (but not straining to be so) Exaggerated wrist bend or straight arms = too close or too far away from the piano.

You need a footrest if your feet cannot rest comfortably flat on the floor. Additionally, it is very difficult for a child to maintain focus during their piano practice if their feet are dangling in the air. Feet resting flat and still increases focus and creates what I call your “dance space” – a solid unit of good posture, healthy finger, wrist and hand position, feet grounded and comfortable. This consistent and solid foundation allows for a lot of expressive body movement while playing, which many good piano players engage in BUT their dance space remains a solid unit from which the movement flows. The arm, hand, wrist, finger, elbows, shoulders, back, and feet move as one beautiful unit. Motion is typically generated from from the hips while seated on the bench. The dance space can move to the right or left and real power comes straight down from the shoulders and a slight lean forward from the trunk.

You need a good light on or near your piano. It is not fun and too difficult to practice when you can’t really see the keys or your sheet music. Just sayin’.

You need to follow your teacher’s instructions for every practice session. I have yet to meet a student who has memorized my practice instructions perfectly and has no need to refer to their assignment sheet or notes I have written on their sheet music. I have met plenty who take a glance, get it wrong, practice the wrong thing for a week or two, or three – and have to painfully un-learn the wrong thing and re-learn the correct one. Tremendously frustrating and completely preventable. One of those things that makes people think piano lessons are a drag and really stupid.

You need a reasonably quiet environment while practicing. Not church-like reverent silence, but a time and place when it is possible to carefully read the instructions, go though the assignment one item at a time, experiment without feeling self-conscious, and hopefully fall into the flow of relaxed concentration and the deep satisfaction of hearing yourself improve as you apply your best effort.

You need to gather your materials and have them ready when you begin. Metronome, assignment sheet, songbooks, tablet/phone/laptop for online ear training exercises, a sense of curiosity about what musical puzzles you will solve today, and a pleasant attitude. Like really there are worse things than learning how to practice and play a musical instrument, yes teenagers I am talking to you. I love you but sometimes your determination to be cool is not cool with me as it effectively torpedoes your potential to stretch out and truly achieve something better. Learning requires vulnerability and risk taking. I can promise you as your teacher that your sincere efforts will never be mocked or belittled by me. So have your damn metronome ready when you practice so there is no need for weak excuses about why you still can’t come in on the and of 2.

And that’s it. Good instrument, bench, footrest, light, some quiet, posture, hand position, follow the instructions, have all your stuff ready and be uncool enough to sincerely try. Voila, the prefect practice session. Repeat at least 4 times a week between lessons to see encouraging results and grow as a human being.

End Of Term Newsletter 2016

Dear Lovely Parents and Students,
Another year of music study is winding down. I’ve learned a lot from you and your kids. One of my goals this year was to unashamedly teach with love and find the method of encouragement that worked the best for each individual. I don’t know everything about teaching and learning, but I have observed over the years that students learn better when the lesson is delivered with love, humor, a rock solid foundation of support and a side of don’t mess with me. My standards and expectations are high, and I know students respond positively to that as well. Finding that sweet spot of expectation that is higher than they are used to yet not too high that it seems impossible is a dance I am constantly learning, practicing, and perfecting. Thank you for being part of this fascinating journey with me.
Now is the time of year when I must ask you all to declare your piano lesson intentions. There are three options: continue with lessons during the summer, stop for the summer but resume in September, or give notice that you are terminating your lessons at the end of June.
For summer lessons: scheduling is a somewhat casual affair. Simply ask for the times and dates you would like (my hours are Tu-We-Th 3:30-7:30pm, Sat. 3:30-6:30pm). You can keep your regular time slot if you like. I will invoice you for all the lessons you have booked for July and August. Summer lessons are pre-paid up front for the whole summer. We proceed as normal, except there are no make-up lessons for summer cancellations. Please let me know if you wish to continue with your current time slot when regular weekly lessons resume in September.
For taking a summer break from lessons: I require a non-refundable deposit to reserve your current time slot. This is in the form of a postdated cheque for the amount of September lessons. If you continue in September, the deposit is applied to September lessons. If you change your mind about continuing, the deposit is not refunded.
I hope to see all of you at least a little bit over the summer. Like most teachers, I am in favor of year round learning. Summer lessons are an excellent way to prevent forgetting and losing the skills students have worked so hard to attain during the school year and avoids completely the frustration of weeks and months of review in September, knowing that you used to be able to do this but can’t anymore and there is hours and hours of re-learning ahead of you. On the other hand, I take a certain satisfaction in whipping students back into shape after a long break…so it’s kind of a win either way:)
I will be posting the most recent performance videos soon on my website and social media. Please share with family and friends. They are a reassuring yardstick of your or your child’s growth and progress in their study of music, something to be celebrated in this world where minimum effort and mediocrity is the norm.
Thank you for reading. Looking forward to seeing everyone this week.
Cheerio,
Alison

Featured Student, Aidan

Aidan started lessons this past September and every week I am impressed with his progress, his enthusiasm for learning new songs, and his excellent questions. He is the only 7 year old I know who is fascinated with comparing and contrasting composers within the socio-economic-political context of their life and times. He looks ahead in his lesson books, which I encourage all my students to do, and his guesses at how to proceed with new material are easily 75% right and this margin is growing from week to week. One of the things I love most about being a teacher is giving truthful, positive feedback and compliments that are well deserved. Every week I have opportunities to tell Aidan that he is a good listener, a great learner, very intelligent (especially about music), that his pieces are sounding better and better, and that it is a pleasure to teach him. He loves to hear all this stuff – I can tell by the way he listens carefully, head down looking at the keys with a little smile on his face – and I never get tired of saying it. It emboldens him to try harder and set higher expectations for himself. And so we attain a virtuous circle of learning, reinforcement, confidence, and the desire to do more and make it better. Sounds easy and fantastic but it doesn’t happen with everyone and it’s often very hard to achieve this virtuous circle. Aidan helps me appreciate the virtuous circle and renews my efforts to bring that to all my students.


Sarah: Solo & Duet, January 2016

For our most recent recital Sarah put together two short solo pieces to make a larger one. Today the kids call that a mashup. Older people will know it as a medley. Either way it’s fun and fascinating to watch a student create something new by combining old ideas.

Max: Solo & and Duet, January 2016

In my current crop of students, Max is the only one who composes his own repertoire and improvises solos over a 12 bar blues. Here he is performing his first original blues tune, Purple Radishes. Not bad for a 13 year old who was introduced to the concept of the blues only a couple of weeks before this.

And here is our latest duet.

Winter 2016 Concert Details

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,

Here are the details for our upcoming Piano Recital Winter 2016

Saturday January 9, 1:00-1:45pm
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy North Vancouver
Church appropriate attire please.

This is a performance opportunity, not a performance obligation. If you or your child change their mind about performing after arriving at the concert it’s not a problem. Please let me know and I will adjust the program accordingly. I encourage all of my students whether they are performing or not to attend the concert.

Family and friends are invited too. All are welcome.

Please practice your recital pieces over the holidays:)

I will email a program a couple of days before the concert. And hopefully remember how to spell everyone’s last names.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Looking forward to seeing you all there.

Cheerio,
Alison

Alison Maira

The Mobile Piano Geek
http://www.alisonmaira.com

Featured Student, Sarah

Sarah has been studying piano with me for about the past 5 years. She has an enthusiasm and joy for music that is energizing to be around. When I am teaching Sarah and she is singing along with her right hand part because it’s so beautiful to her, I often wish I could teleport home to my piano and play for hours, to have lots of fun at the piano just like she does.
Sarah doesn’t discriminate with music. She falls in love with classical pieces, pop songs, jazz standards, and lullabies. Many times I have played a new piece for her and her eyes widen in surprised delight. ” Ooh, I LIKE that one!” she says breathlessly as the notes strike her ear for the first time.
This year Sarah is discovering her own practice strategies, which of course fills me with teacherly pride. I have long believed that practicing is much akin to puzzle solving. How do I put this song together? What steps are needed, in what order, to facilitate the magical transformation from disjointed segments to a unified whole? This process is different for every student of music.
As a teacher I can suggest strategies that work for me, others that my teachers have shown me, and create new ones that address the puzzle at hand for the student on the bench beside me. But there comes a time when the student, if they are to continue with their studies, has to devise their own puzzle solving practice devices. Things that work for that individual person. Nobody knows your brain better than you, I say to my students. You have to figure out how to put this information into your individual brain, in a way that makes sense and in a way that you can remember and draw upon. I can guide, suggest and critique, but I can’t put the information in there for you.
If I could, I’m pretty sure I would be the greatest piano teacher the world has ever seen.
But in the meantime I will look to Sarah for inspiration as she tries, struggles, and succeeds on her journey with music.

Piano Teacher’s Federation Feature Interview

Ah yes, here I am waxing sort of eloquently about my teaching philosophies and methods. Thank you to Laura Shorrt for filming this interview, and thank you also to Scott Pacey at Pacey’s Pianos for creating the coolness that is the Piano Teachers Federation. Giving my opinions about music and teaching (solicited, for once) was a lovely way to spend a Monday morning.

Click here to see my page at the Piano Teacher’s Federation.“Where Students and Piano Teachers Meet, a free service for students and teachers designed to promote piano music and playing”. We should all have more piano music and playing in our lives of course! (perhaps I am the teeniest bit biased here).

Now, the playing that you hear at the end is me messing around and warming up. I had a solid, pretty, thoughtful solo piano arrangement of Days Of Wine And Roses all ready to go. But it was my warmup that made it into the video much to my surprise. So you will hear a slightly too casual version of Don’t Panic by Coldplay. I can actually play and sing this song quite well…but that was not this day. Luckily, Coldplay songs sound beautiful on solo piano even in an imperfect rendition:)

Beginning Of Term Piano Lessons Newsletter Sept. 2015

The Mobile Piano Geek

Piano Lessons Newsletter
Beginning Of Term
September 2015

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Here we are, at the beginning of another year of music study. For some of you, the first year of piano lessons. (How exciting!) I for one am refreshed and full of energy, ready to teach and learn with you all year long. Well, at least until December and winter break. Here is some information from the wonderful world of piano lessons I would like to share with you.

Practicing:
Piano lessons without consistent, effective practice results in a painful experience for student, teacher, and parents. A painful lesson experience leads to associating music study with frustration, boredom and resentment. This is the opposite of our intentions as teacher and parents, as music provides so many amazing benefits to a person’s physical, mental, and social health. I recommend building piano practice time into your family or personal calendar. This will address the problems of procrastination, ‘not enough time’ and negotiating every practice session with your child. Try building in at least 4 practice sessions every week. Some general guidelines I use are:
6 – 7 year olds 15 minute sessions
8 – 9 year olds 20 minute sessions
10 – 12 year olds 30 minute sessions
Teens and adults – 45 minute sessions with at least one longer session of 60 min + every week.
It’s also important to consider your practice set-up at home. A room at a reasonable temperature, a footstool for young children whose feet don’t yet reach the floor, a chair or bench at the right height, and a quiet environment free of distractions all go a long way in making a practice session feel comfortable and not something to be endured.
For more information, please see “Practice Tips For Beginners” at http://www.alisonmaira.com

Piano Maintenance:
Acoustic pianos should be tuned and inspected once a year. If it’s been longer than one year since your piano has been serviced, now is a good time to get it done. Electric keyboards do not need yearly maintenance but sometimes need to be cleaned by a technician when dust and dirt builds up inside them.

Cancellations:
Each student receives two free cancellations per school year. Subsequent cancellations will not be credited or refunded. All cancellations can be rescheduled for a make-up lesson if the student desires. Contact me for availability.

New:
This year I am adding ear training exercises and flashcard drills on a rotating basis throughout the month. Ear training is the skill of identifying specific pitches aurally, and flashcards reinforce music vocabulary.

Accepting New Students:
I have a time slot available for one new student. If you know of anyone who is interested in piano lessons please feel free to pass along my contact info.

Music Enrichment Activities:
Practicing a piano assignment for a weekly lesson is one part of a musical education. Here are some suggestions for additional activities:
– play for fun, just mess around at the piano.
– try to figure out familiar songs
– buy some sheet music and learn songs you like.
– go to concerts. Seeing music performed live can be so inspiring.
– listen to recordings
– watch videos of live performances on you tube
– research composers or songs you are studying. Youtube is a good option here as well.

Website:
I have posted more student performance videos on my website. You can find them by going to Current Students, and searching by student name. I started a Featured Student series this summer and will be posting another Duet Series soon.

Follow Me
Please join me on facebook, twitter, and Instagram.
https://www.facebook.com/alisonmaira
https://www.facebook.com/themobilepianogeek
https://twitter.com/alisonmaira1
https://instagram.com/okmaira/

You can follow my blog too at http://www.alisonmaira.com

Thanks for reading!
Cheerio,
Alison

Here We Go Again

It’s the first day of school. After a lovely, relatively lazy summer of teaching some casual lessons here and there it’s time to get back in the saddle. I’ll see all my students this week and many of them will not have touched their piano since June. Which I am okay with, by the way. If it works for your kid to have summers off and go outside and generally go crazy I support you 100%. I will have those little whippersnappers set up with a new practice routine and review assignments before they can say “Why you gotta be so strict and yet hilarious at the same time?!” I had a busy day yesterday – a busy week, actually, getting ready.

work table

My work space. All the essentials, netflix controller included.

stickers

New stickers. Got some new littles starting this year and I want them to enjoy collecting shiny things for a job well done.

new student binders

New student introductory packages. Everything you need to get started in the wonderful world of piano lessons, provided by your guide The Mobile Piano Geek.

new binders

Oh I am not messing around this year. The dollar store sells binders now and I have a deep need to organize. Technique worksheets, Duets, and Ear Training exercises are in the house. BAM. We’re gonna work on this stuff on a rotating basis every week and you’re gonna love it.

And there you have it. Happy New Year. I have two more duets binders and a transcription binder to make, I’m out. *drops mic*

New! Saturday Flex Lesson Packages

Car Sign!

Are you (or your child) interested in beginning or continuing piano study but can’t commit to weekly lessons? Fear not, good people! Here is your solution. I am offering flexible lesson packages on Saturday afternoons.
I have three lesson times available on Saturdays. 3:30-4:15pm, 4:30-5:15pm, and 5:30-6:15pm. They are offered on a first come first served basis. Students can book one lesson at a time or as many as they like. No refunds for cancellations, but you can use your prepaid lesson as a credit for a future Saturday lesson. Lesson times might need to be adjusted depending on where you live, travel time, traffic, etc.
I teach in-home lessons in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, north Burnaby and Vancouver. For more details or to book your flex lessons please contact me at alisonmaira@live.com or 778 318 3916.

Thinking About Practicing.

Sometimes I wonder what I have spent more hours on, thinking about practicing or actually practicing. As a seasoned list-maker I have made plenty of mental and written lists organizing all the elements a musician needs to address. There’s a lot to consider. There are broad categories such as fully notated music, reading lead sheets, improvisation, scales chords and arpeggios, and transcription. There are temporary, specific projects like pieces to be learned for other people i.e. as an accompanist.  A conscientious musician will also be aware of the specific weaknesses in their playing and practice remedies to smooth out these rough spots. There’s also different feels and genres to master, playing uptempo, transposition, and the weird little bugaboos about your particular instrument that need your attention. Jeez, it’s so hard to not go off on all these things separately. Stay tuned for like a hundred future blog posts on practicing.

I’ve had a lot of great teachers over the past 20 years of studying music and each one has offered something different about how to approach practicing.  Now I am into my second decade of teaching and I spend year after year trying to guide my students into good practice habits. The advice I offer my students is a combination of what my teachers told me to do, things I accidentally discovered, research, careful observation of successes, and experiments that worked. I should add, teaching beginners how to practice is a critical, sometimes maddening task and how a beginner practices is completely different than how a self-directed musician practices.  But if I do my job right, the solid foundation of good practice habits can take a student from beginner to advanced and then to professional musician if they so desire (and may the lord have mercy on them if that is the case). Here are some of the tips I offer my beginners and their parents:

1. Make sure you have a quiet place to practice where no one will interrupt you.

2. Gather your materials ( practice assignment binder, songbooks, lesson books, metronome, pencil) and have them ready at the piano.

3. Open your piano binder and turn to this week’s assignment sheet that I have written for you.

4. Follow your practice instructions carefully. Ask your parents or teacher for help if you need it.

5. Practice slowly. Go slow enough to keep a steady beat, play the correct notes, and use the correct fingers. If you make mistakes, you are playing too fast. Slow down and try again. The speed of your playing will gradually increase as your fingers become more confident.

6. Be kind to yourself. Learning how to play music takes a lot of effort and there will be many mistakes along the way. Don’t give up! You can do it. You will feel so proud of yourself every time you master a new song. Share the songs you have learned with your family and friends. Sharing music with others can help spread happiness.

7. Build practice time into your family or personal calendar.   Set aside at least four 30 minute sessions every week, and make it part of your weekly routine. This eliminates the problem of ‘not enough time’ and procrastination.

8.  It is not a waste of time to practice for ‘only’ 5 minutes. Small frequent sessions work very well for many people, especially young children. Do not fall into the trap of avoiding practice because you don’t have 3 uninterrupted hours to devote to that piece that really needs work.

9. Take breaks if necessary.  If you are becoming filled with rage or frustration, STEP AWAY FROM THE PIANO.  Come back later with a clear head and renewed optimism. It’s just piano.  No one is going to die.  It’s supposed to be fun and fascinating.

10.  Patience, young padawan, patience. There is no way to know how many times it will take before you master it. 99% of the time it will be more than you think it should be. Every repetition takes you closer to your goal. You will get there. And it will be worth it.