So today is a bit different than our usual topics – I want to ask each of you what you do to keep your creativity alive?! Life gets so busy and if you’re like me, teaching keeps my life pretty hectic. From planning new repertoire to preparing new games to correspond with concepts taught next week, to cleaning up the studio or traveling to lessons(depending on your teaching situation), or attending local association meetings and volunteering with festivals or theory tests… The list goes on and on. And that’s just for our job as teachers, not to mention our lives with responsibilities to family, church duties, or anything with friends.
When I am beginning to feel totally tired, I start to worry I may be close to burning out. And a burnt out teacher is no fun – we all know that one teacher we had sometimes in school or college years who was just teaching for the requirement of the job. It was no fun to go to that class was it? If I become that burnt out piano teacher, I’m sure my students will start hating lessons so I do my best to avoid feeling this way. But how?
For me, an important part of the answer to this question is to exercise my own creativity. Yes, I am creative in lessons when I come up with another new way to explain eighth notes or with fun ideas to mix up that piece we’ve already played for months. But I’m talking about enhancing my own creativity so that I can flow with more ideas and energy to be creative when teaching.
Now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Creativity Crisis that Newsweek reported on years ago. And if you research this idea, most people don’t think it’s getting any better (see this article). If you take a moment to reflect on your day, what did you create? How did you boost your creativity? Often on my “down” days, I have realized that I didn’t take time to boost my creativity. So I’ve spent a few weeks researching & collecting ideas and seeing how they work for me. I’d love to hear about other ideas that work for you too so I can add more to my arsenal when I need to boost my imagination or gain some inspiration!
I’m not a runner, I never have been and I don’t think I ever will be. Regardless of how fulfilling it sounds to complete a marathon someday, I don’t think I have the stamina that requires! But I do love to walk or take classes at the gym. Now we all know that exercising is great for our bodies in so many ways. This study by Stanford shows that walking improves creative thinking. So cool! The article talks about several famous company leaders holding walking meetings to boost their creativity. When I teach piano lessons I do sit and stand (and maybe dance a bit) but really we’re confined to a smaller space with a grand piano that is hard to move around very much. So when I’m out of lessons, it’s become important to my sanity to make sure I get some movement in. And I love walking or hiking in the mountains now that we live so close to them again!
2. Find Inspiration from Other Sources
With my current commute, I’ve become a lover of podcasts. And usually, I like to listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with music. I’ve found so many neat ideas that I can relate to my teaching or to help talk to students/parents or to try with our blog from these podcasts. My current favorites are the She Reaches podcast and the new Positively Creative podcast. She Reaches inspires me because they interview all types of women in business to share ideas and problems. Many of the entrepreneurs or authors they talk with inspire me with new perspectives I’ve never thought of before! The Positively Creative podcast is pretty new and they interview artists of all types. It’s been fun to hear about their creative processes and lives behind their businesses. I love hearing about the times they’ve taken advice from other sources to enhance their own art and businesses.
There are many other ways to gain inspiration from other sources too. So many great books to read that can encourage you in personal and business pursuits. Or visit with that neighbor who is an expert at something totally different. It’s amazing what we can all learn from each other!
3. Take a Break
We all need those winter breaks or summer vacations. Frankly, weekends are awesome breaks too! But if you’re like me, teaching is a passion so you’re always planning and reviewing materials throughout breaks. Yet sometimes, I need a total break. Rest is so good because I always come back refreshed and ready to work again. It’s hard to put down the projects sometimes but really good to do when it comes to this point. I love when I wake up after relaxing for an evening, and I have the perfect idea for that student’s next piece! So sleep well and take breaks.
4. Ask for Advice
When I’m stuck on something, I often call/text colleagues or friends or mentors for help. Depending on what it is, it always helps to get a fresh opinion on it. That’s one of the reasons this blog has been so fun for us to do! Spring & I (Whitney) were so used to our days when we saw each other all the time while teaching and learning together at TCU. So when we suddenly were apart and barely meeting up once a month for brunch it was a big change. We had so many ideas to share and problems we needed another opinion on. For us, this blog let us share our ideas with each other and with you.
This is another reason we are so pro-MTNA involvement (if that’s even the right way to say it). We know the benefits first hand of working with experienced teachers around us who become friends and mentors. Once a month these local associations provide the perfect opportunity to visit and ask for advice at their meetings. I feel so grateful for the friendships from each of the chapters I’ve been a part of so far and love giving back to the associations as well. All of these ideas lead well into the next point which is…
Finding someone to work with and learn from is so powerful. I doubt I’d like to run a blog by myself – I’m more of a shy and introverted person. Yet having a friend to collaborate with in blogging has been wonderful! Other way I’ve loved collaborating is making collaborative music (find a colleague to perform with or just learn a piece together), planning great meetings for my local association with the help of other music teachers, working to organize festivals with local teachers, or combining studios for an epic summer camp. There are so many ways to combine creative forces within our profession of music making but sometimes it’s hard to remember to step outside the studio and find time.
For me, creating music without requirements or reasons is very fulfilling. I’ve recently found a new love – my Yamaha Clavinova that my husband spoiled me with after tax returns came. It’s been so fun to play with different instruments and styles (drum tracks and accompaniments). I’ve started spending Sunday mornings arranging hymns, just for our own enjoyment to record and listen to. And of course on my summer list are a few student accompaniments to record as well.
If you’re new to this area but want to learn more, there are plenty of great books that guide you such as Kevin Olson’s Music by Me series or Carol Klose’s Piano Teacher’s Guide to Creative Composition. These are teaching materials but I’ve found so much inspiration myself just going through the steps before I add it to lesson plans. I love when I create music but sometimes I need that nudge or little idea that can help get the ball rolling.
7. Try a New Hobby
You probably remember this post from Spring about taking ballet lessons. Her hobby gave her new perspectives for teaching. As I’ve picked up new hobbies, I love the new ideas and energy it gives me. Maybe it doesn’t always relate to teaching but it will give you time to be creative and learn new skills. Here are a few new hobbies I’m working on right now:
- We’ve picked up biking as a family this summer and I’m loving the exercise plus fun memories with my family!
- I have an obsession with cooking. I read cookbooks like novels and constantly check them out from the library to learn new recipes!
- Personal planner – I tried a new planner this year, the Make It Happen planner. It’s inspiring me to set goals and be more deliberate about what I pursue. I’m loving it!
These have nothing to do with piano but they are different aspects of myself that are important to cultivate. We each have seasons in our life with different priorities but it’s so important to always keep growing. I really believe that without my hobbies I would lose so much of my creativity and it would leach into my teaching attitude. So for me, it’s important to give myself time to set aside teaching and my studio duties to focus on totally different things sometimes.
8. Play the Piano Just For Fun
I hope most of us do this but I had to reteach myself the importance of this after college. Too many stressed practice sessions and lessons preparing for the next recital or competition. Now I try to let myself have goal oriented practice sessions but then also find music that I want to sight read or learn just for fun. It may be for our next piano jam session or it may be just for fun. We often tell our students and their parents to go to the music store and find one book they really want to play. So let’s give ourselves the freedom to do that as well. Then we can honestly speak with that passion again when we talk about loving to play the piano. Writing it out here sounds a bit silly but it really did take me a year or two after finishing my degrees to remind myself about playing for just me. Hopefully you are all ahead of me on this 😉
As you can probably tell by now, this topic is one of my favorites and I hope you gained a few ideas from this list. We’ll be sharing a few articles and videos on this topic on our Facebook page so watch for those over the next few weeks. I hope something will resonate with you and get you replenishing your creativity “jar” this summer!
And to end, I want to share this great info-graphic! Can’t wait to hear your ideas too!
Infographic is from this article – another great read on this topic!
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com