After a crazy trip home full of flight delays and missed connections, I’m glad to be back yet already looking forward to the next conference. The MTNA Conference sessions were amazing (as usual), the concerts were great, and the city was so fun to explore. So many delicious restaurants with fresh seafood – Yum! Looking back through my notes, I wanted to share the highlights that really stuck out to me. Many thanks to the MTNA conference planning committee who put everything together!

I loved so many presentations, masterclasses, and speakers but here are a few of my top four takeaways from the 2017 MTNA Conference:

1. We need to incorporate more creativity in piano lessons.

This statement came from David Cutler in the keynote speaker session. He stated that piano lessons aren’t always necessarily creative so we need to incorporate more creativity through composition, arranging, improvisation, finding new sounds, modal transfers, meter transfers and more within each lesson so we are really teaching this vital survival skill of creativity to our students. There are so many skills from piano lessons that translate into life and we need to constantly show parents & students how these are developed within lessons so they realize the value of lessons even more.

2. Negative experiences stick to us whereas positive experiences slide off us, like on Teflon.

Loved this session by Dr. Barbara Fast, especially because the research applies to so much of life (not just piano teaching). Dr. Fast discussed how research has proven that our brains get stuck on the negative rather than on the positive. Phrasing questions differently in our teaching can help overcome this negativity bias. She referenced the masterclass given by Leon Fleisher where he asked, “Can you tell me how you succeeded in portraying or creating the sound you wanted in this piece?” Pointing our questions to the find the positive will help students become more self-empowered to see the good.

Also when evaluating yourself or others, start with the question: “What went well?” Dr. Fast suggested filling one side of a paper with positive comments then the other can be negative. At the end, she suggested several books to continue reading about this topic by authors such as Rick Hanson, Gretchen Rubin, Martin Seligman, and Carol Dweck. I’ve added these to my reading list for the summer!

3. We must be involved in arts advocacy. If we as professional artists and musicians don’t do it, then who will??

With a background in economics, Dr. Karen Thickston presented a very data driven session full of great pointers for private teachers. Her first trend struck a chord with something I’m working to be better at myself right now – the need for advocacy. With budget proposals threatening the NEA right now, this seems to be a hot topic for many music professionals around the country. We need to be involved within our communities and local/state arts organizations. I’m not even sure what the local arts and music associations around me do so I really am determined to step up in this area.

Dr. Thickston also talked about how teaching options have expanded over the past 20 years. We need to have a vision and know ourselves – our strengths and our passions. She emphasized the need to research location, develop a plan, seek out mentors, get the best credentials you can afford and say yes to new opportunities! We must diversify our skill set as musicians and be able to do more than just perform or teach. I often discuss this with my high school students headed to college as music majors – being well-rounded in many areas is so beneficial.

4. Make sure to show my students where to focus their practice.

Just as the podcast titled “Freakonomics” examines myths in our lives, Peter Oehrtman aimed his session at going through practice myths and using research to find out what was true or false. One of the points he made was that beginners mostly do run-through practice and knew “what” to practice but not specifically “where” to focus. Another research example showed that it’s not how much students practiced but rather how they practiced that mattered.  To help with this issue, Peter shared a handout with goal setting assignment sheets and self assessment pages to work through with students. Another tip he shared was that audiation research shows how better sight reading skills lead to better ear training as audiation develops. And when students are listening better or audiating better, it definitely improves their practice. Thus I’m also trying to incorporate more listening in lessons and at home.


For resources that I want to try, I’m working on checking out more apps on my iPad to help teach and have fun with students! Lesson time is so valuable and short that I often forget to pull out my iPad. Joy Morin, who writes the awesome blog, shared a huge list of amazing apps in her session. She focused on how to use each app for different activities during the lesson. My goal for the year is to get a new app ready for lessons each week. And she had plenty of free app codes to give away – I won one for the app Tenuto which I loved using this week!! Now onto preparing another one for next week!

Our presentation on Wednesday morning was a highlight of the year for me. It’s always been a dream of mine to present at MTNA Conference and I’m grateful we had the chance this year. So much fun with two of my favorite colleagues!

We also spent the morning at the Baltimore National Aquarium and then ran over to see the Peabody Library – isn’t it dreamy?? I just wanted to sit down and read forever in there.  It was so fun to explore all of the restaurants and walk by the the Atlantic Ocean every day! Great location and a great MTNA Conference!

Peabody Library


Author: Whitney

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