In November, I had the privilege of attending another state conference. (Since we moved to Utah, it worked out for me to attend both Texas and Utah conferences this year.) MTA conferences are so well done in both of these states with fantastic sessions and artists! Grateful for all the work that goes into them. They inspire me and improve my teaching so much.

Today I wanted to share some of what I learned from my favorite sessions. My sister was coming into town for a short visit so sadly I only went to the first day this time. But it really was a great day full of learning for me.

First I heard a session from Lydia Artymiw and David Grayson,  the visiting artists and presenters this year. They are both fabulous musicians and hearing them speak together about interpreting tempo markings was so neat. Showing numerous examples of Robert Schumann’s tempo markings that were later edited by Clara Schumann, they made the point that with interpretation there is no one right way or wrong way. Rather it is what you believe in as the artist. You’ll play in such a way to persuade your listeners if you believe.

Dr. Yu-Jane Yang gave a presentation titled, “What is Good Teaching?? Evaluating Your Piano Teaching Effectiveness Objectivity and Systematically”.  I love being reminded to review my own teaching!  As teachers, we’re constantly helping our students by assessing and strengthening their piano skills. Yet we forget sometimes that our students will be helped by having a constantly improving teacher who realizes their own shortcomings and works to strengthen them. Dr. Yang reminded us to review my own lesson records so my goals and expectations are clear to each student and parent. She also discussed the importance of delivery and communication skills, minimal verbal teaching so we have more non-verbal teaching moments, and watching the sequencing of our lessons so we consciously increase the possibility for practice success at home. There was so much to write down and remember from this session!

Later we got to hear improv and arrangement tips from the composer Kevin Olson. He was so down to earth and encouraging about helping our students constantly create music. When he discussed the creativity crisis, I resolved to try to bring some type of creative exercise into every lesson! And since the conference was right before Christmas, I got many great tips to help my students try arranging simple Christmas music to share with their families.

We also had the option to learn more about recording instruments and software requirements with the music technology specialist at WSU, Mark Maxson. He showed us various levels of mics and cords needed, then asked an audience member to perform a short improv on the piano so he could set it up and take an actual recording. The sound was much better than my previous experiences with iPad apps or computer recording so I hope to be ordering a mic or two soon for myself and my students to try recording more.

At the end of the day, there was a dinner followed by a short recital by Lydia Artymiw. If you haven’t heard her, you really need to attend one of her recitals. Her musicality is incredible and everything she plays is perfect! It was a wonderful day followed by a fantastic performance.


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

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