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I spy with my little eye…

IMG_4074One of the neatest things about practicing before my lessons begin is that my students get a chance to look at my music.  We often have conversations about the notation, usually about how big the piece is – “Wow, that’s so many notes!” or “That song must be really long!”  But I also try to have them spot things that they already know – middle C, quarter notes, sharps and flats.  Think about the way children learn to read: Along with books they can read on their own, it is helpful to have books above their level around so they can see what books are like for adults and look for words or symbols they already know to give them confidence in their abilities.  The same experience rarely happens in music learning.  Students often look ahead in their own books and want to talk about whichever song is at the end, but unless they have someone else in the house who has played at a higher level, they won’t be exposed to reading more advanced music until they can play it.

So what can I do to expose more students to more advanced notation?  Musical I-Spy!  I’ll put out a different page of music every week for students who are waiting for their lesson to look at and examine on their own.  I finished putting it together yesterday, just in time for next week’s lessons!  Be sure to look for it in the beanbag room 🙂

Piano Party!

Our Piano Party on Sunday was a rousing success!  Now that we’ve had a few of these informal performance gatherings, many students came knowing exactly what was going to happen and gave some wonderful support to those students who were new to our get-together.  Highlights included:

  • Songs from “Phineas and Ferb” and “Home Alone”
  • A son-and-mother duet
  • Some sneaky “what did I change?” tricks involving the damper pedal and repeated notes
  • Playing a song from memory
  • A few renditions of a classic Beethoven tune
  • Students composing their own songs after the performances were done

After the playing was done, we all had snacks and spent time socializing as a group.  Piano can be such a lonely instrument to practice; I’m so glad we had this chance to get together and celebrate how much fun it is to play for others!

Full for the Fall

My schedule for Fall 2014 is full, so I am currently not taking any new students.  It is on one hand really exciting to have put together a full studio of bright, creative students in the span of a year, but it is also a little disappointing to have to close my schedule to prospective students.  Please let me know if you’d like to be added to a waiting list or if you would like some advice on other musical experiences for young children in the Arlington and Lexington areas.

Piano Party!

Performing is such a huge part of music – we want to share what we love about the songs we play, to show off our skills, and to have something to show for our hard work and dedication to our instrument.  So having to perform for others should be an exciting and fun experience.

But when someone throws out the word “recital”, people tend to shudder.  I found many parents sharing stories of having to walk onto large stages alone, feeling nervous prior to playing, and being upset afterwards because they had made mistakes.  It really made me think about the  stereotypical traditional recital experience.  How can we prepare students for performing in a holistic, child-centric way?

The first step in playing for others is to be comfortable playing in front of peers (preferably, friends.)  To that end, I invited my piano students over at the end of the spring for a Piano Party.  Many of the students had not played in front of anyone besides their parents.  Since this would be such a new experience, I tried to keep everything as familiar as possible, including squeezing 15 kids (and some parents) into my apartment where we have lessons.  The children were allowed to pick any song they wanted to play, and we pulled names out of a basket to see who would play next.  There were still some children who were very nervous, but we also got to talk as a group about the performance experience, and how to act as a performer and as an audience member.  This was so much easier to do in my living room than in a large unfamiliar space!

I was so proud of everyone, and it made me more determined than ever to make performing an integral part of our learning experience.  My grand plan for the coming year will be a few more piano parties throughout the year, culminating in an actual spring recital.  My hope is that my students will come to see performing as joyful and exhilarating, and will look forward to hearing what others are working on and sharing their own learning with their friends and family.

It’s the holiday season!

Music has always been a huge part of my family’s Christmas celebration.  Every year we get together on Christmas Eve, have a huge dinner, eat some tasty desserts, then gather around the piano to sing Christmas carols.  Everyone has their own little book so no one can get out of singing by not knowing the words!  Even when I had just started taking piano lessons, I was encouraged to play a song or two while everyone sang along.  The first couple of years, the singing was a little touch-and-go as I tried to find the right keys (“Jingle… Bells, Jin-Jin-Jingle bells, Jingle… all… the…. (pause)  Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells”).
But nowadays, I usually just give myself an hour before festivities start to sight read through everything.  It always make me so proud to play for everyone, and plus, making music with others is extremely fun!

Christmas comes to the West family piano
The West family piano is extremely festive.

So whether you’re a seasoned ivory-tickler or still playing one note at a time, consider making playing and singing a part of your family gatherings.  It may start a new tradition that will bring you joy for years to come.

Little Shop of Horrors

Just in time for Halloween, Moonstruck Theater Company presents “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham.  I am so incredibly happy to be working with the Moonstruck team again – I love how passionate these people are, and their talent and creativity never cease to amaze me.  I’ll be playing keyboard 2 (aka “that sweet organ solo” and the “wa-ka-wa-ka-wa”) during next weekend’s productions.  To whet your musical appetite, here is a video from their live show at the WERS studios in Boston:

For tickets, directions, or to learn more about this wonderful group, check out Moonstruck’s website.

“… I think it’s suppertime!”

An Astounding Acoustic

Here at my little music studio, there’s been an exciting change – I finally have an acoustic piano!
A Familiar Friend

This beautiful upright has been with me since I started playing piano.  It has player piano parts (which do not work, but are really interesting to look at), a clean action on the keyboard, and a colorful resonant sound.  Students have spent the past couple weeks exploring the components and learning about how a piano works.  I’m so glad to have it in my house – it’s like having an old best friend come to live with me!

Piano Lessons for Fall!

Are you looking to make your or your child’s daily life a little more musical?  Autumn is a great time of year to start learning an instrument!  I have many openings available for private piano lessons: Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays in Arlington, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Framingham.

Unsure if private lessons are right for your child?  I offer a complimentary introductory lesson in my Arlington studio – it’s a wonderful way for you to see the materials I use, tour my fantastic living room, and give your child a taste of what a private lesson will be like.  Email me for more details: jess@jesswestmusic.com!