APPC: Interactive Teaching Games for the Modern Studio (free Note Rush theme giveaway for conference delegates)
Effectively using technological and hands-on tools to enhance the piano learning experience
I really enjoyed presenting my interactive workshop at the APPC. I was delighted to be given an opportunity to talk about something I am really passionate about - that is gamifying teaching and learning in the piano lessons.
So how did I get so interested in games in the piano lesson? Well, I first started playing the piano at around about 3 years old. Thinking back to my first few years of piano learning as a preschooler, I was lucky enough to have my grandmother as my first piano teacher, and I remember I just loved practicing everyday. My grandmother had never formally studied the piano or any kind of educational pedagogy, but she clearly knew that play, fun and discovery based learning is how to entice a young child to love playing and learning the piano! Her ways of gamifying learning eventually became a big influence on my own teaching today, as I strive to harness the obsession kids have with games and use it to my advantage as a piano teacher.
I was really excited to be able to share some of these games with my audiences, but because we had very limited time, I could only demonstrate one or two games on how each of the following aspects of piano playing could be gamified:
And of course, how could I not mention Note Rush! I use Note Rush all the time in my teaching, and I love the fact I can customise the notes I would like my students to practice each week. I also use the app to train for sight singing and relative pitch skills in my students. Here's a video of what I got the whole room of piano teachers to do:
Thanks to the awesome creator of Note Rush, APPC delegates can get a free Studio Licence of the Dinosaurs theme! (requires purchase of Note Rush to redeem). Go to www.noterush.app/appc to redeem! This is for a limited time only.
Studio wide challenges: I also mentioned a couple of my studio-wide challenges. I have written about these previously on my blog: Student of the Week Polaroid Challenge, and Around The World Scales Race.
Teaching Italian Terms and Expressions: I wanted to give everyone at my session a quick taste of how entertaining learning aspects of music theory could be. Traditionally when we teach Italian terms and expressions, we might give students a list of words they have to learn by the next lesson and we test on them on it. However, for such a theatrical and expressive language, there are many better ways of learning it! One of my favourite ways of doing so is to play a game of charades with students. For example here we have a list of Italian terms. I got two volunteers to come up act out one of these words to give clues, and the audience had to yell out the correct answer as fast as possible. Here's our entertaining clip from my talk:
I think I have scratched the surface of what we can do with games in the lessons during my talk. I believe pretty much any element of piano teaching can be gamified to some extend. As the famous nanny Mary Poppins once said: “in every job there must be done, there is an element of fun!”
What I hope I also demonstrated is that when games are used correctly as an educational tool, it has the benefit of giving instant feedback to the student in a fun and non threatening way. It allows us to extend our teaching beyond the studio and yet still have a role in designing and activating learning. And for me an unexpected positive outcome is that it gave me a chance to show our kids how relevant classical music can be in their modern lives, because as teachers we should never cease to think of ways to connect our students to their music every day.
If you will be anywhere near Brisbane, on the 8-12th of July 2019, I would love to invite you to join me in the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference (APPC)
I am so excited to be presenting two talks in this conference, both topics are aspects of teaching I truly enjoy researching, exploring and constantly evolving in my lessons.
The first talk will be on the 9th of July, from 13.45-14.30pm. It is titled: Interactive teaching games for the modern studio: Effectively using technological and hands-on tools to enhance the piano learning experience.
I have always loved the idea of making learning entertaining, as I have always had fun learning the piano as a child. I first started playing the piano at around about 3 years old. Thinking back to my first few years of piano learning as a preschooler, I was lucky enough to have my grandmother as my teacher, and I remember I just loved practicing everyday. My grandmother had never formally studied the piano or educational pedagogy, but she clearly knew that play, fun and discovery based learning is how to entice a young child to love playing and learning the piano! Her ways of gamifying learning became a big influence on my own teaching today, so in this interactive session I will be sharing some of the games my students and I love playing in the lessons. There will also be some freebies and giveaways thanks to the awesome founder of the app Note Rush!
The second talk will be on teaching through story telling which I did for the IRMTNZ Conference in Dunedin earlier on this year. This is scheduled for the 11th of July, from 13.45-14.30pm.
I am so looking forward to catching up with fellow teachers as well as checking out the talks and concerts by the amazing lineup of pedagogues and pianists!
See you soon, Brisbane!
Term one has just zoomed past and currently I am looking at our Easter Egg supply and wondering if it will last past Easter Weekend… My guess is that I probably need to do another trip to the supermarket today!
Just a quick update on how the Round the World Scale Challenge went this year… check out the chart:
In total, we had 16 students from the studio who completed at least 12 keys (for the grade 5+ students they had to do the major and relative minor scales), and I have never had so many students emailing me half way through their week asking for more scales to learn! A couple of my adult students also ended up doing a lot of the scales, except they were not as interested in stickers!
We actually had four grand winners this term, with all four students completing the “race” on week 9. Congratulations to Benedict, Annie, Fiona and Felix!
Cost of the challenge:
Enjoy the Easter Break everyone!
How to determine if your student or child is ready for exams? A quick guide, quiz and a checklist to help kids get the most out of their music exams.
"Exams provide goals, motivation and important measures of success... But we need to use exams wisely, recognising how they do, and do not, help us progress." - Lucinda Mackworth-Young, pianist, teacher, lecturer, writer.
It is the time of the teaching year where a lot of parents and students will be asking their music teachers the same question: “Can my child sit an exam this year?”
The short answer is of course anyone can sit an exam, but a responsible teacher should be asking: will sitting an exam promote growth and more appetite for learning in this particular student? Or, will it do the opposite?
Before we commit ourselves and our students to their next exam, there are a few very important points to cover with the students and their parents. We want to ensure the students benefit from this experience and will jump at the opportunity to do their next exam after a suitable amount of time has passed. I personally think exams can be used as a powerful tool to motivate the right student at the right time, helping them polish their performances and elevate their playing to the “next level”.
Try this quiz to find out if your student or child is ready to enter for their exam!
When to enter a student for exams:
I have always found examinations to be the most rewarding for student, parent and teacher when a student has made significant improvement in their learning over a period of time, their learning has “plateaued”, or they are more excited about exploring new repertoire rather than polishing the review pieces. For students at this stage of their learning, a tangible goal and reward would help them to recognise the satisfaction of sharpening their performance and musicianship, and take their playing to the next stage. Examination can support and benefit this type of learning need immeasurably.
As a teacher, I sometimes get very enthusiastic students approaching me asking when they can do their next exam. Usually these students are in their tweens or teens, have a fantastic record for consistent practice, and are already exhibiting many other signs they will succeed at doing an exam (e.g. maturing performance skills, capable sight-reading skills, have a good understanding of music theory, etc), so I match their enthusiasm by saying “Yes that’s a great idea! Let’s do it!”
This is because the student themselves wants and is ready to be challenged in this way and have the best motive behind their decision. Maybe they would like to test their skills and knowledge on their instrument and receive feedback and validation on their musical accomplishments, maybe the band/orchestra they desperately wish to join require a certification of a specified grade, or maybe they just want to feel empowered by measuring their progress against an international standard.
When the desire to do an exam is driven primarily by the student themselves, the vehicle of learning and teaching becomes a well-lubricated machine that churns out steady success. However, if the student is an unwilling participant, this educational journey is likely to be cut short as soon as the student is able to make their own decisions to stop lessons.
When NOT to enter a student for exams:
It is not suitable, however, for all music students during various stages of their learning, and exams should never be a means to an end when it comes to teaching and learning music. Furthermore, if a student has not been set up to succeed in their exam, there is a high chance they will be discouraged and/ or distressed by this experience.
Here are a few signs to look out for when exams might not be the right thing for a student, and perhaps other types of goals and assistance is more suitable before reconsidering exams:
Exams should be an assessment for learning, not assessment of learning.
I think all music teachers would have encountered cases where the student’s parents convey a strong desire for their child to do exams. In this case, often the students in question are still in primary school and have not yet developed their own desire to do exams. It is always interesting to ask the parents: “Why would you like your child to do an exam? What are you hoping your child will achieve?"
It is often fascinating and occasionally eye-brow-raising to hear the response from the parents. Here are some examples of common answers that all music teachers could probably relate to:
“I want my child to do exams because their friend did one last year.”
“I think it would be a good goal for them, because they are not practicing very much at the moment and need some pressure to improve.”
“Their previous teacher said they could do a grade 6 this year.”
“I want them to get to grade 8 by the time they start high school so they can focus on their school work.”
“I said they can stop learning the piano once they get to grade 8.”
The last statement is probably the most devastating for a piano teacher to hear, as there is nothing more tragic than knowing a Grade 8 certificate would be the end goal of a student’s piano learning, when the joy and development of music learning should last for a life time. I personally believe this type of thinking is a result of the implementation of the “exam-oriented” learning model, where completing graded exams is often the main or only goal for learning. From my childhood learning experiences, the prevalence of this type of goal-orientated learning differs significantly between the educational systems in different countries and cultures.
This is where the data from the new parent questionnaire is invaluable. As a part of my initial interview with new potential parents of young students, I always ask them to fill out a questionnaire to allow me better understanding of their intended learning outcomes. Being able to refer back to their original answers to this question later on allows me as a teacher to bring the parent on board as a partner in the education process, and collaboratively explore the best approach for their child to maximise their involvement in the learning process.
One of the questions I always ask is: “Why would you like your child to learn the piano?”
Often the parents tell me the heart-warming reasons why they choose music to be a part of their child’s education: some want their child to cultivate a life-long hobby and love for music; or to use music to nurture their self- expression and creativity; or that they can eventually join a band or orchestra so they can experience the delight of making music together with their friends.
As for some of these parents, somewhere down the line these wonderfully loving aspirations for their children get tainted and distorted by opinions of previous teachers, influences of students’ peers, parents and their acquaintances, and perhaps topped up with a sprinkle of societal expectations and judgements.
The truth is, none of these factors should have anything to do with the readiness of exam undertaking. As educators, we need to put learning at the centre of why we choose to do exams. In other words, use examinations primarily as a tool for learning and not as an assessment of learning.
If any of the above points are not yet ticked–off, teachers should work with the student and parents to reach them before agreeing to enter the students for an exam. If it is not in the student’s best interest to do an exam at this particular point of their studies, teachers can offer other goals to motivate their learning (new blog on this coming soon!).
As teachers and parents, we need to understand that music at the core, is not supposed to be examined or judged but to be loved and enjoyed through the experience of making and listening to music. Examinations should never be a means to an end, but only a small part of a student's education to help them unearth one of the greatest delights humans have ever known.
“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Sergei Rachmaninoff
A creative activity to get the entire studio excited about scales, sight-reading, key signatures and traveling! *Free Download for Teachers*
After a wonderful summer break, I am guessing most of us are going back to teaching this week. I have been really looking forward to seeing all my students again, which must be a sign that I enjoyed a rejuvenating holiday!
What I love about this time of the year is that every student comes through the door with a renewed enthusiasm for learning, and the delight of seeing them standing a smoot higher than the previous year!
The beginning of a new year is also a good time to establish a routine to encourage the practice of some of the “less popular” (or indeed, least popular) aspects of piano learning. I’m talking about scales. Arpeggios. Broken Chords. Sight reading. Theory.
As I imagined myself repeating the above elements to my students, I pictured the smiles on their faces fading away, and their newly-gained stature starting to deflate. Those are not the words most students want to hear on their first lesson back. We have to find a more engaging way to get students to master these components of piano learning without them pouting over it!
A little studio challenge I am setting up for all my students this term is the “Around the World Key Signature Challenge”. I have done this a few times throughout the years already, and this is what the “challenge” looks like:
Objective of the challenge: The first student who collects a stamp for all 11 countries wins the grand prize, and every other student who collects a stamp for all 11 countries by the end of term wins a small prize.
Learning goal: To explore different key signatures through sightreading and scales.
Duration: Term one (Feb- April)
Cost: Printing of the Around the World Chart, prizes at your own discretion (I recommend Easter Eggs!)
And here is how the conversation usually goes...
“Let’s have a look at this term’s studio challenge! What you want to do, is to try and visit all of these countries and collect a stamp for each of them by the end of this term. The first student to collect all of the stamps wins the race and gets the grand prize from me, and everyone else that has all of the countries stamped by the end of this term will get a small mystery gift from me.”
If you get this kind of response from your student, you know you have them “hooked”. It is then time to lay down the terms and conditions:
To earn a stamp for a country, a student has to complete a series of tasks for its correlated key signature. Depending on the level of the student, I will differ the tasks to reinforce pre-existing knowledge and skills, as well as nudging them a small step forward to stimulate their learning.
I would recommend teachers adjust the requirements for each student slightly each week to optimise the learning experience, but here I have included some examples of what I might do for the different levels:
I tend to be flexible and alter the weekly task for each student, adding, subtracting or swapping activities depending on how much a particular student can process in a week. A good rule of thumb is that if this assignment takes more than 1/4 of a student’s daily practice routine for them to accomplish then chances are, they are going to be put off rather than encouraged to explore these keys. So, for a grade 3 student who practices 40 minutes a day, I may include Noterush, a natural minor scale, and blocked chords. But for a grade 8 student who practices an hour a day, I might include Noterush, sightreading, chromatic scales a third a part, and a contrary motion arpeggio.
It is important to find the balance - we want a student to feel like they are slightly challenged, but they still believe they can succeed and get that stamp by the following week. So, it is crucial to adjust the “difficulty” setting for each student.
I have done this challenge a few times in the past years, and although not every single student would finish the race, it really does benefit the majority of students in my studio. Last year there were 9 students out of 35 in the studio who ended up learning 12 keys or more in 10 weeks' time as a result of it. It was also the only time I got asked by students if they could do more than one scale that week because they really want to “win the race”! I always think if such challenges get even one student excited about learning more key signatures, then it is well worth the effort.
This blog post is by Melody Deng