It is always a privilege to be able to attend the MTNA national conventions. I think I am enjoying them even more over time as I get to know more teachers across the nation. I can only imagine in 20 years how many good friends I will be reuniting with at each MTNA conference. The amount of new information can be overwhelming, and it takes me a few days of decompressing to figure out what I really loved and want to apply to my teaching.
Instead of giving you a rundown of each individual session I attended, I’m going to share with you four big “take-away” ideas and three new resources that I want to try. So first, here are four big concepts that stuck with me:
1. Every piece does not have to teach every skill.
This was a statement made in the Intermediate Masterclass given by Diane Hidy and Elissa Milne. They both introduced a new piece focusing on sound rather than the notation. Teachers may be worried that teaching this way means a student will not be able to sightread, that’s where the preceding quote comes in. Some pieces can be focused on teaching a reading skill, while others are focused on a specific technique, expressive quality, articulation, or rhythm. Isn’t that a freeing idea? I feel like that takes so much pressure off of me as a teacher to not have to teach all the skills all the time. We do want our students to be well rounded musicians but we don’t have to teach them all those skills with every piece.
2. Mnemonics are an unnecessary detour in the sight reading process.
This tidbit Came from Samantha Coates’ session “Every Good Boy Deserves…Forgetting?” I’ve never leaned on mnemonics in my teaching, but I’ve been a little bit ambivalent about them. A lot of theory books use them to teach note identification, and a lot of students learn them from music class at school or their parents and friends. But, Samantha makes a convincing case that mnemonics are not harmless, they slow down the reading process and confuse students. You can read more of her explanation here: https://blitzbooks.com/every-good-boy-deserves-forgetting/. Her session was entertaining and convincing. From now on I will stick to teaching guide notes and avoid the use of mnemonics completely.
3. Don’t do things just because this is how you’ve always done them.
This was my biggest take-away from David Cutler’s keynote address. Question why you do things the way you do, and consider whether there is a better way. Why do we teach most piano students in 30 minute private lessons? Because that’s how it’s always been done…but is it the best way? Using this approach to analyze your studio can open up all kinds of new possibilities.
4. Children are valuable and the things that make them children should be treasure, not stifled.
This idea was emphasized in Bruce Berr’s session “Pedagogy in Pictures,” and Amy Immerman’s session “Successful Teaching Tips for Young Piano Students.” Bruce showed a video clip from his own teaching that he called “Guiding a Fireball.” He stated that “children bring marvelous gifts of humanity” and we don’t want to damage these gifts. He emphasized that we could explore the fun and creativity of music with our students. Amy emphasized that as teachers of young students it is our responsibility to help them fall in love with the piano. We should be enthusiastic an excited and if we aren’t prepared to do this, we possibly should not be teaching the young. This was a good reminder to me that although I teach 60 piano lessons a week, my students only get 1 piano lesson each week. It is my responsibility to make that one lesson special.
And here are three resources that I want to learn more about and try in my studio:
- Carol Matz’s Interactive Piano Method: You should all be familiar with Carol’s wonderful arrangements and original compositions that have been a staple of piano teaching for years. Over the last year she has been furiously composing a new piano method that includes a large library of online activities. The online portion is web-based, not app-based, so it can be accessed on any device (all of our android friends rejoice!). I have not taught out of her method but I definitely want to give it a try.
- The Curious Piano Teachers: This is a UK-based online professional development program for piano teachers worldwide. The ladies of the Curious Piano Teachers were kind enough to share tea and cake with Whitney and I at the booth and tell us about their program. It is a subscription which offers new materials each month on different topics. They were kind enough to offer a free trail to MTNA attendees, so I’m looking forward to trying it out!
- Piano Safari’s Animal Adventures: I’ve been trying out the Piano Safari method over the last year and I like it so far. I think my favorite part about it is the Rote Pieces, my students love them! The new Animal Adventures books include technique, rote pieces, and improvisation. They also have some wonderful new illustrations! Piano Safari gave out a free copy of level 1 at their Showcase and I’m excited to try it out!
We ended this week by presenting our session “The More the Merrier” with our colleague and friend Sarah Alexander. We are presenting this session again at TMTA this summer, so if you missed us in Baltimore maybe you can catch us in Dallas!
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.