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

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.

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.

Mo: Solo & Duet, January 2016

Quite often when I post current student performance videos I end up comparing them to older ones of the same student and it sure is gratifying to see unmistakable fantastic progress during the elapsed time between videos. Mo always falls into that category.


Shirley: Duet, January 2016

This lady just turned 80. Yes she did. Still going strong with her diligent practice routine, careful adherence to instructions, and great ideas for repertoire to study.

What I Do & Why I Do It: Application for BC Registered Music Teachers Assoc.

Warming up for my first recital after my little one was born.

Warming up for my first recital after my little one was born.

Recently I thought, I will join some professional associations this year. It was a decision based on several factors. I wanted to see if my brain had recovered at all from pregnancy, childbirth, baby/toddler care and housewifery. I wanted to expand my teaching practice and get better at proactively promoting my business. And quite frankly, I wanted to see if I could meet the challenge of bureaucracy and hoop jumping. I want to go back to school you see, and this seemed like a good way to test my tolerance for forms, tracking down pieces of paper from various institutions and assembling an application package.
Along the way I had to do some writing. Specifically, for the BCRMTA (BC Registered Music Teachers Association) a maximum 2 page statement describing my teaching practice and activities. This turned out to be a difficult yet satisfying task. For the first time in 10+ years of teaching I set down officially what I do, why I do it, and why I believe in my approach.

BCRMTA Application Written Statement Of Teaching Activities and Methods
Alison Maira, B. Mus.

Teaching Practice 2002-present
I am a piano teacher who does in-home lessons in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Vancouver, and North Burnaby. My music training is in jazz piano and music education. I graduated from Capilano University in 2002 with a B.Mus, Jazz Studies, Education Major. From 2002-2011 I performed and recorded in local bands (pop, indie rock, jazz, classic rock, original music, covers) playing piano, keyboard, organ, and singing while teaching piano full time to a roster of 38-41 students year round.
In 2012 I became a mother and cut back from full time to part time teaching hours. Since 2012 I have taught 12-14 students year round. Lessons are weekly, 45 minutes.
Here is what I consider most important for you to know about me and my teaching practice.

First Things First
Proper technique, note reading skills, ear training, flashcard drills, music theory, understanding music terminology and my personal favorite, playing in time with and without a metronome. These are the essentials for anyone studying an instrument. I design my lesson plans to address all of these elements.

It’s A Beautiful World Of Music Out There
And not just beautiful, of course. Fascinating, disturbing, confusing, exciting, inspiring, comforting, all the adjectives we have are not enough to describe music. For each person it’s a different key that unlocks the door to musical wonder. That is why I expose my students to many genres through their method books, the music I choose for them, and the music they choose for themselves. My goal is to help them discover their taste(s) in music and find sounds that move them. I have seen this happen many times and it is wonderful, to share in someone’s joy of discovering a new song they love and must play over and over again.

The Best Motivation Is Love
I ask my students to choose some of their own repertoire, from any genre. When my students study pieces they have chosen for themselves, their motivation to learn it is much stronger than for pieces I assign to them to address various musical elements. They learn more effectively and are more engaged if they have a say in what’s happening. Often the songs they choose have a higher difficulty level than material selected by me. Yet they eagerly push through the new concepts, master them determinedly, and improve in great leaps and bounds simply because they are playing something they care about.

The Big Picture
I teach beginner, intermediate and advanced piano to children, teenagers, and middle aged adults. I teach piano because it is the conduit through which I can express, explore (and hopefully instill in my students) my fascination with music. I believe in music and its power: to inspire, heal, comfort, inform, and challenge all of us.
Through a great deal of hard work I have made a small career of playing and teaching music. I trained in a very competitive environment and am well aware of what it takes to get to the highest level and then keep improving. My work is not with the small number of elite students who will become professional players. It is with the vast majority of humanity, whose brains are hardwired to respond to music. It is our birthright as a species to be rhythmic and melodic. As more research is published every year detailing the incredible benefits of music making for our physical, mental, and social health as well as music’s ability to heal and alleviate so many painful conditions, teaching everyday people how to play the piano as well as they possibly can is important work I am proud to do. My work not only has a positive impact now on my students, but will continue to throughout their lives as long as they continue to play piano and/or listen to music.

Best Of 2015 Part 1

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:)

Featured Student, Rebecca

I started teaching Rebecca when she was about 6 years old. For the last 5 years she (with her mom’s help) has been wonderfully consistent with her attendance to piano lessons. She continues her lessons throughout the summer and very rarely cancels during the school year. I know if Rebecca has another event that conflicts with piano lessons she and her mom will schedule a make-up lesson rather than miss a week of piano. This is pretty remarkable because Rebecca is a hockey kid. She gets up at an ungodly early hour at least twice a week for practices and games. She is the only girl on a boy’s team. She travels for games and tournaments. She does summer hockey camps. I have had very few hockey kids as piano students in my 12 year teaching career. It’s one of those activities that tends to crowd out everything else if you’re serious about it. Rebecca is a rare bird who is gifted athletically, academically, and creatively. She is also polite, friendly, and easy to teach. I often try and say something funny to her because I enjoy her snort and giggle combination, and I marvel that in addition to all her talents she has a sense of humor.
Rebecca is the only student I have ever taught that continued piano lessons with a broken arm. She was quite little, maybe 6 or 7 when it happened. Despite a large cast that extended past her elbow she managed to keep playing. She figured out how to position herself at the piano so that she could still play with both hands. I decided then, even though I hadn’t known her for very long that I would take her seriously and that this was a child to watch out for in 20 years. (Maybe less if she makes Team Canada for Women’s Olympic Hockey) I have a lot of respect for Rebecca because she knows how to combine hard work with her talents to take her where she wants to go, and because doing a really good job is important to her. She practices piano with dedication and her playing is expressive with good time and accuracy. She is also the only student I have taught who has performed a memorized 12 page long Coldplay song at a recital with no mistakes. Her fearlessness amazed me that day.
Every Wednesday Rebecca greets me at the door while holding on to her enormous dog Baden as he attempts to shake her off so he can knock me over while he kisses me to death. I always laugh to see this medium sized girl gamely attempt to subdue a much stronger more powerful creature than herself. She never gets cross with him and she never gives up. I love that about her. She reminds me that determination and a good attitude are an unbeatable combination in this life.

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*

Featured Student, Sylvie

Oh Sylvie. She is such a special person. I love the name Sylvie now – hadn’t heard it before I met her – only because this particular Sylvie is such a gem.
We’ve had hundreds of piano lessons together over the past 7 years or so. She was a sweet, smart, funny little girl and now she is a funny, smart young woman with a dry wit and a very well placed eye roll (never at me). Sylvie is one of the few students I have who listen fully to me without interruption and then tries exactly what I have asked her to do. Consequently, she has made real and impressive progress as a piano player over the years.
She always greets me with a smile and is ready to learn. She never complains about any of the repertoire I choose for her and I have always enjoyed teaching her the repertoire that she chooses for herself. She went through a year long Beatles phase when she was 9 or 10. Of all the students I have taught over the past 12 years, no one has learned more Beatles songs than Sylvie. And she is the youngest person to have done so in my teaching practice. In many ways, all you need are The Beatles to learn about music. What a fantastic world their body of work is. Sylvie reminded me of this and it was amazing to teach those songs to someone who was discovering them for the first time.
Now we have moved on to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheerhan. I knew their names of course, but sneeringly dismissed them as idiot music for idiots. (Why yes, I do have a teeny judgmental streak about music) I have Sylvie to thank for opening my ears to Taylor Swift. At first I hid my blossoming love for her like an illicit lover. But when Shake It Off came out and I got to teach it I was like, I love her. I do. I will eat my words about her being lame. I will go home and transcribe her songs and sing & play them with the zeal of the newly converted. Sylvie helped me realize that sharing a love for a certain artist is one of the most positive things that can happen between a teacher and student. It’s a rare opportunity to create a special bond that helps the teacher teach more passionately and the student learn more passionately. And that is a thin slice of heaven my friends, to teach and learn with passion. I am grateful I got to share those moments with Sylvie.

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.

Featured Student, Max

Max is one of those students who the thought of makes me smile. And shake my head a little, and then smile again. I first met Max when he was 7 years old. During our first lesson he jumped up and rolled under his piano bench, where apparently he intended to stay for the rest of the lesson. That was a first for me. I convinced him to come out and try playing a song. He was suspicious but agreed. I could see that Max was a very active child who needed to move a little while he learned. That’s ok with me. A lot of kids learn better while they’re moving. I could also see that he was very, very smart. His brain absorbed new information quickly and if he was interested, he was hungry to learn more more more. I made it my mission to make piano interesting for him, because it was so rewarding for both of us (I hoped) to devour new concepts and new material.
Now Max is 13. He has developed into one of the nicest teenagers I have ever spent time with. He’s still smart, and very funny, and one of those gems who spontaneously display polite good manners and respect when his parents are nowhere in sight. His enthusiasm at discovering new elements of music inspires me to fall in love with music and great artists and pieces all over again. I felt the way that Max does when I was his age. The thing I loved WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAD EVER OR WILL EVER EXIST. Sometimes I forget I used to feel that way. Max reminds me. I run with it and feed him whatever I can think of to kindle the fire of his sharp intelligence.
This year Max discovered the 12 bar blues and the basics of improvising. In this video he is playing a 12 bar blues chords in his left hand while improvising with his right hand using the blues scale, with a metronome. He feels the pulse in his body while he plays. He fairly vibrates with excitement. The combined elements of memorization, staying in time and spontaneously crafting a melody that uses only the notes of a specific scale pattern make for a challenging brain workout for a person of any age. He is the youngest person I have taught who can do this and I am looking forward to seeing what he will accomplish in the coming school year.

Featured Student, Emma

Emma is a person I have taught once a week for 10 years. That adds up to a lot of time alone together, just her and me doggedly solving one musical puzzle after another. I didn’t realize until our time was over that I watched her grow up, sitting beside me on her piano bench. Our routine never varied. I always sat on her right, the piano was always in the same place at the same angle. My chair was always the same. I never saw the rest of her house, only the living room where the piano was. I never saw her outside of piano lessons and recitals, although I hope to now that our teacher-student relationship has ended. I have friends who are 20 years older and I guess I’m old enough now to have friends 20 years younger.
Emma started piano lessons with me as a beginner when she was 6 years old. I gently pressed her teeny fingers one at a time into the keys until she learned how to control her fingers individually. Now she is a delightfully cool, sardonic, cynical, smart, kind, and funny young woman who controls all 10 of her fingers just fine without me, thank you very much. We have a common geek love of science fiction, particularly Star Trek.
“Kirk!” she foolishly insists.
“No way. Picard!” Obviously. Patrick oh swoon, although I’d rather not know he’s 73 now. But still, swoon.
“Kirk!” and so it would go. We agreed that the new Star Trek reboots are the best thing ever though.
This year she discovered Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. I was as pleased about this as if I had introduced them to her myself. I taught Emma classical music, pop, blues, folk, video game music, and most recently some choice 70’s rock. I taught her how to read music, how to transcribe music by ear, harmonic and melodic analysis, chords, arpeggios and scales, how to play good time with and without a metronome, how to play outside of time with tempo changes, rubato and fermata. How to subdivide rhythms evenly, how to play dynamics, and how to improvise her own musical expression. I told her many times that it’s always worth it to try unfamiliar music, that this is how you discover what you like and just as importantly, what you don’t like.
There’s a lot to like about Emma’s playing. A naturally healthy technique and posture, her willingness to follow suggestions and combine these with her own ideas, her calmness and subtlety, her accurate note reading skills and dedication to practicing. Some weeks were better than others, as it goes with all humans, but over the course of our time together she was on a pretty straight upward trajectory. However many hours I put in teaching her, she put in far more than that practicing my assignments.
Emma’s last lesson and last recital performance was a few weeks ago, this past June. Her mom cried when we said goodbye after our last Thursday 5:30-6:15pm session. I did too. How good her family was been to me over the years. How I appreciate their trust in me to guide their lovely daughter. Good luck and godspeed, Emma in whatever glorious things your future holds for you. And yes, I am serious about going to a Star Trek convention with you in costume.

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.

 

 

 

Why Adult Students Are The Bomb

I teach little kids, teens and adults. I like it all. But today I want to talk about why adult students are special and inspiring. There is something very brave about a grownup who is willing to be a beginner at something. Adults invest so much of their identity and self worth in being competent or an expert in their chosen field, whatever that is. As adults we get used to being pretty good at most things in life and managing careers, friends and family with casual proficiency. This is completely different than how most children function. They are used to struggling for mastery in all aspects of daily life. Adults leave that struggle far behind at the earliest opportunity and most of us stick to the things we are best at so we don’t have to feel that icky uncertainty of trying and failing, IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.
Beginner adult piano students have my unqualified respect and admiration. They take action to realize a dream that is usually decades in the making. They have wanted to learn piano for years and years and finally they decide, today is the day. I’m going to find a teacher and get started. Enter, me. I bring them a stack of beginner lesson and repertoire books, a metronome, and a binder full of blank assignment sheets which I proceed to fill up every week with detailed instructions. For the first time in many years they have regular homework and a teacher’s expectations to fulfill, in a subject that is basically a foreign language to them. It’s humbling. Add to that the fact that I am younger and less experienced in life than they are. It’s kind of amazing they get past the first lesson really.
I want them to succeed very much. They deserve that exquisite feeling of pride mingled with delight that comes from gaining understanding and competency at something once impenetrable. Nothing is more life affirming than knowing you are becoming more intelligent and continuing to grow, no matter what your age number is.
My adult students have taught me that opening oneself to trying (and failing sometimes) at something new, struggling, and investing hours of practice to get better has benefits that spin off into all areas of life. It makes you more patient, less arrogant, and more compassionate towards yourself which in turn helps you become more compassionate to others. From them I have learned that it is very healthy to always have at least one new thing in my life to be a beginner at.
The picture above is me with one of my students. Agnes started lessons as a beginner at 81. She took lessons for 10 years, and I still go to see her every week to visit. Her relationship with my 3 year old daughter is a priceless thing to behold, another spin off benefit of our professional relationship that deserves its own blog post. It is never too late to start doing something your heart has longed for. The best time to begin is always, now. Find a good teacher who you can understand and makes you feel good about striving to become a more intelligent human being. Block out the haters – they’re always there, jealous that you have taken action to fulfill yourself while they are too scared to. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t look stupid while making mistakes. There is no other way to learn. You just look human.

Featured Student, Rosie

I started teaching Rosie when she was 5 years old. Back then she had a 15 minute lesson before her older brother Evan’s lesson. Normally I don’t teach 5 year olds unless they are very keen to learn piano. Rosie was one of those rare 5 year olds. She asked me every week for what seemed like months whenever I came to teach her brother, when could she start piano lessons. She showed me how she could play parts of her brother’s songs, just by listening to him practice. Rosie was so happy to start her own lessons with me. She practiced diligently and parked herself in her living room window, waiting for me to walk up her driveway every week. She would wave so hard when she spotted me I thought her arm might fall off. An enormous grin would light up her face without fail and she would run to the door and throw it open for me. She still does this every week, 4 years later. When I am an old lady in the nursing home I will remember Rosie’s loving joyful enthusiasm with great fondness. Her solid beat, attention to dynamics, and accurate note reading skills solidify her place in my heart.

Summer Piano Concert Saturday June 20

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
I’ve had a couple cancellations due to soccer and surprise birthday parties for grandmothers, and of course my dear adult students are determined to never play in public, but I’m planning to go ahead with a small concert anyway this Saturday. It will be the last concert for two of my longtime students and I’d like them to have the satisfaction of one last performance.

Concert Program:

Alison Maira – Mazurka in F Major
Rosie Hancock – solo, The Major & The Minor
duet, Chim Chim Cheree
Sylvie Romanick – solo, On the Prowl
duet, Barber Of Seville
Evan Hancock – solos, Chopin Waltz
Feelings
Sarah Chernenkoff – solo, Two Four Six Eight
duet, Spring
Emma Hughes – duet, The Metronome
solo, Moonlight Sonata

On the plus side, it will be a short and sweet recital, probably about 30 minutes. I have several people who need to be somewhere else immediately afterward so we will forgo the refreshments afterward this time.

See you on Saturday! 11 am at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy. Friends and family are most welcome to attend.

Cheerio,
Alison

2015 Year End Piano Concert And Summer Lessons


Hello Lovely Parents and Students,

Recital
Our summer piano concert will take place on Saturday June 20, at 11 am.  The location is Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy. Please RSVP to me regarding your or your child’s attendance.  I anticipate a short recital, probably about 40 minutes of playing. At this week’s lessons students will be asked to choose one solo piece and one duet to perform at the concert and/or performance videos to be posted online.

Summer Lessons
Now is the time, dear parents and students, when I must ask you to declare your intentions regarding piano lessons. Please advise me if:
– you would like to continue piano lessons during July and August. Please send me the dates you have in mind.
– you or your child intends to stop lessons at the end of June.  Please let me know so I can accept new students.
– you would like to take a break and resume weekly lessons in September. I will send you an invoice  for a deposit (September lessons pre-paid by cheque or email transfer) to reserve your time slot. This deposit is applied to September lessons but is not refunded should you change your mind about continuing.
Thank you for reading.  I look forward to seeing all of you at the concert!
Cheerio,
Alison

This Week’s Summary

Teaching pass:  Suddenly this week I was able to explain two concepts that I’ve always had so much trouble helping students to understand. Groups of 4 in 6/8 time  and duples  in 9/8 time.  Another reminder that one must never give up trying to figure out how to do something.  For years I couldn’t find the right words or the right combination of elements that would turn on the light bulb of understanding in the student’s mind. I’m glad I’m not as dim as I previously thought.

Teaching fail:
Me: Ok, let’s take it from the coda hands together. Watch out for the F#’ s and-
Student: You’ll have to wait. My friend is texting me.