Saturday, April 6, 2024

Gifts for Students Poll: Yes or No

I have waited until the major holidays have passed before giving you the results from my December 2023 poll on "Gifts for Students: Yes or No." I didn't want to influence private music instructors, in either direction, during the gift giving season. 

This poll included teachers from the United States of America and Canada. Teachers that are local to me, and teachers from private piano teacher face book forums, were polled. I have listed some of the comments left by teachers in each corresponding section. There didn't seem to be a grey area in this poll. Teachers were either strongly for giving, or strongly against giving, anything to a student.

I requested that teachers, who chose to respond to the poll, give their location and their gender. They were also given space to leave a comment. Some of the comments were quite strong. The poll was taken near the Christmas holiday in 2023 and many teachers were feeling stretched from a very busy season. And knowing their responses would be anonymous, I believe the option to take this poll might have been therapeutic for some of these teachers. Teaching private music lessons can be alienating for some teachers. Teachers often work out of their homes or through a single teacher studio. Some may not have other teachers near with whom they feel safe enough to discuss their business frustrations.

If you were one of the teachers who participated in this poll, THANK YOU! Some of you have contacted me with your eagerness to read this poll's outcome. Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Music Recitals: What are the Options?

Until the early 2000s, like many private music teachers, I held an annual Christmas Recital with a large food spread. I could usually count on one or more adult students, and a parent, to help with the kitchen end of setting up the food and drink tables and monitoring the food until after the performances had ended. Every studio member attended and brought extended family. We never had less than a feast with families bringing meat trays, casseroles, ice cream punch mixes, cookies, cakes, and more. The students had fun and there was a real sense of community. How times have changed. 

Event spaces and churches were always happy to extend free, or reduced fee, recital space to private music teachers in their communities. However, since the pandemic, and along with event rental inflation in our area specifically, it is close to impossible to find a place to hold recitals. Event space rental here in Charleston is now priced beginning at $5,000.00, per portion of a day (not even a full day), for most of the locations we have researched. Churches, that would donate space for a contribution or smaller rental amount, no longer offer use of their buildings saying they are concerned about covid, and other safety, liability. Church music directors - who also teach privately - have also told us that they are no longer able to use the facilities, in the churches where they serve, for student recitals. 

For those lucky enough to find a space for a studio recital, the expenses can include: rental, cleaning fee, insurance costs, key holder fee, security fee, video-photographer, parking lot fee, recital programs, certificates, and gifts for the participants. If there is an afterglow reception those costs also must be considered. After this preparation, teachers may experience last minute surprises from students who have to cancel the day of the event due to sports, family outings, or other last minute conflicts.

I recently heard from an elderly colleague who told me she has held her last recital and isn't even going to try for options in the future. For decades she held an end-of-the-year holiday recital at her local methodist church. But her church no longer allowed use of the space because of the pandemic. The instructor put together a large recital event for her studio last year. She and her husband invested in reserving a pizzeria in their town for the recital. Cheese, and cheese and pepperoni, pizzas along with all beverages, were complementary for students and attendees and were purchased in advance along with the space. The date was scheduled four(4) months ahead of the recital and families were notified of the recital date and location as soon as it was scheduled. The students had all prepared their musical selections, the restaurant had been paid, gift bags were prepared, and programs were printed. This teacher has a large student base and when the recital date came, only nine of her students and their families attended. She said the families who didn't show did not notify her that they decided not to come - even having confirmed the week before.  She  had purchased food, as part of the rental contract, for over 30 students and their families. Can you imagine? Fortunately her husband was able to contact a person from the local Salvation Army who arranged for distribution of the surplus pizzas that were already purchased.  This is not an isolated "Recitals Gone Wrong"  story in our current day. Families are simply over-scheduled. Even teachers who charge a "pay-to-perform" fee tell me students often don't attend when the family has purchased tickets, or paid, to be in an event. So, with the cost of event space, and over extended families, what other options are there to provide for important performance opportunities?

A number of my colleagues have opted out of any type of student events and gatherings. However, there are still those of us who are focused on finding a way to offer opportunities for students to get performance practice, and believe, like me, that even if a few families are interested, it is well worth the effort and investment. 

Here are some ideas teachers are coming up with:

  • One teacher I spoke with over social media was able to use her community HOA room by offering any other music teacher's students or piano players, within that HOA community, the opportunity to perform on the recital. 
  • A Florida teacher is nervously preparing for a backyard recital, and praying for no rain and a happy septic tank, for next Saturday.  
  • I have one colleague who has been able to purchase a large home this year, with her family's help, that will accommodate the recital space she needs; This is the ideal, but quite a financial leap. 
  • A Michigan teacher has persuaded her husband to clean out the garage and purchase portable heaters so they can use their garage and driveway for a true winter recital.
  • Some private teachers, like me, are experimenting with virtual gatherings, and others are still searching to find an answer to keep the recital tradition alive. 
Inflation in rentals and recital costs, along with families that are over-extended in commitments, are all challenges for teachers who need new performance platform ideas. I am curious to see what the future holds for small studio recitals, especially in tourist areas and towns that are seeing large increases in event space rentals. 


As a private music teacher, how has your outlook on recitals changed over the years? Do you think they are still important for music students? If you schedule recitals for your students, what platform are you using now to provide studio recital opportunities? I would love to read your responses. Please feel free to email your thoughts, or respond on this blog. Musically, Miss Dolly.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Coronation and The Derby (Today's Double Header!)

I have to smile at all my colleagues who, like me, watch the royal events across the pond for love of the music and pageantry. And today's musical performances were so worth the time to hear. 

However, my takeaway from the coronation was the parade. For years I have wondered why parades did not coordinate their music to be played in unison and have their movement in unison. After all, we have had the technology to make this happen for quite some time now. Today that itch was scratched for me and in such an excellent way. I am happy and relieved that someone finally decided to champion this parade precision. After all..aren't parades precision events? 

My day ended with the Kentucky Derby. Congratulations to Mage, number 8. 

So have a mint julep tonight if you are in a celebratory mood and, if you have the chance, catch some of the coronation performances on the web. Here is an overview:

Hubert Parry's (1848 - 1918)  setting of Psalm 122:1-3, 6-7

Paul Mealor (b 1975)  Kyrie eleison 

William Byrd (c 1540 - 1623)  from the Book of Common Prayer

William Byrd   Gloria from Mass for four voices

Debbie Wiseman (b 1963)   Psalm 47: 1-2/6-7a (composed for this service)

Rabanus Maurus (c 780 - 856)  Veni, creator spiritus, plainsong (sung in English, Welsh, Gaelic, Irish)

George Frideric Handel   1 Kings 1:39-40 Zadok the Priest

Byzantine Chant Ensemble   Psalms 72: 1-2,4-5, 7; 20:9

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)/arr. Paul Mealor   Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare

Thomas Weelkes (c 1576 - 1623)  Lord Grant the King from the Book of Common Prayer

Henry Walford Davies (1869 - 1941)/arr John Rutter  Confortare after 1 Kings 2: 1-3

Andrew Lloyd Webber (b 1948)   Make a Joyful Noise after Psalm 98

Henry Purcell/arr James O'Donnell (b 1961)  Westminster Abbey

Roxanna Panufnik (b 1968)  Sanctus (composed for this service)

Tarik O'Regan (b 1978)  Lamb of God (composed for this service)

William Boyce (1711 - 79)  Psalm 2: 1.3

William Walton/arr. John Rutter  Te Deum laudamus

Edward Elgar/arr. Iain Farrington  March Pomp and Circumstance no. 4

Hubert Parry  chorale Fantasia on 'The Old Hundredth'

*  *  *

Busy Time Passing

I am amazed at how long it has been since I posted here. It really opens my eyes to how busy my life as a private music instructor and coach has been during the past three months. 

Students have been very busy preparing and taking part in classical and jazz piano school recitals, voice and piano auditions for the School of The Arts, Charleston Music Teacher Association assessments, Junior Festival Assessments in Columbia, Music Theory Assessments in Charleston, Honors Recital performances, and taking highest marks with honors in State events.  I am so very proud of all of these amazing students! 

Thank you for allowing me space to breathe my friends! 

Monday, December 26, 2022

12 Days in the Studio for Christmas

As I write this we are entering the second day of Christmas, the end of this year's Hanukkah celebrations, Boxing Day for my Canadian friends, and Kwanza. The first day of Christmas has passed and now is the time to relax a bit with leftovers, continued gatherings, and a look to the New Year. 

The last quarter of this year was quite an upheaval in this studio with flooding from Ian, home repair delays which included my piano being in storage, vehicle concerns, health concerns, and other bumps in the road that all reared their ugly heads at the same time. But bless God, we came through. So now I can start focusing on what will help me and my students as we come to the end of the year. 

In 2022 I joined a number of music organizations and supported other music businesses online to gain more tools for my studio. As the year has been coming to an end I have noticed that there simply isn't enough time to read all their emails. And honestly, many of the organizations looked like good fits for my studio, but after the initial membership was satisfied, I didn't receive any information that was new to me, or tools that were helpful to my studio and students. I am finding that many of these organizations offer information that is helpful to teachers who are not formally trained, or new to the field and feeling overwhelmed. But for seasoned and degreed teachers, the material is too basic. 

Trimming back music organization memberships for my studio has started. My personal big three connections will continue because there are State connections that my students can benefit from. But I have already disconnected from receiving and renewing memberships to, at least, eight organizations. Will each organization start the year with a new platform to regain my interest or find new followers? Yes, I expect that, but I have seen what they had to offer through 2022 and I know that they are not a fit with my studio. 

What changes are you starting to think about for your studio in the coming year? What changes have you made this year that helped you succeed? 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Women in Jazz Piano Listening List for a Gloomy Monday Morning

Here is a brief post to brighten up this very gloomy and rainy Monday morning in Charleston, South Carolina.  It is a short list and it comes with apologies to the many amazing female jazz artists around the globe whose names I have not included. 

Toshiko Akiyoshi

Geri Allen

Lil Hardin Armstrong

Carla Bley

Barbara Carroll

Alice Coltrane

Eliane Elias

Marian McPartland

Terry Pollard

Zoe Rahman

Diane Schuur

Helen Sung

Kate Williams

Mary Lou Williams

Katherine Windfield

In the above list you will find, not only fine pianists, but composers, arrangers and ensemble leaders. Enjoy finding their recordings, and listening to their styles. And, please leave names of your favorite female jazz pianists, that I have not listed, in the comments.  

Monday, August 15, 2022

Practice Makes....Progress

The legendary cellist, Pablo Casals, was asked why he still practiced when he was 90 years old. His response was, Because I believe I am making progress.

Growing up I always heard "Practice Makes Perfect" from adults. But I never knew how to get to perfect. When it was time to perform my music for others I was a nervous wreck. I was told that only perfect was acceptable, and I knew I wasn't there. I'm so happy that I haven't reached perfect because there is no opportunity for growth and new discoveries there.  

As musicians we want to express ourselves more clearly. Whether we are comforting our own soul, using our music as meditation, praising our personal God, or sharing music with others. Every time we practice our music, and even while performing for others, improvement and progress is made in our skill set. This gives us the ability to communicate more expressively.

One single music tone can be approached, played, and released in so many different ways. Therefore, there is no perfect, static, goal because music moves and breathes. I think that is what captures our hearts and minds when we rehearse or hear music. Each note is a momentary sound that can be expressed with many subtle variations within that movement of time. 

Communicating is our work. Making progress with your music means you are becoming a better communicator by gaining the skills to add more inflections to your personal sound. The beauty is that you can confidently communicate at the skill level where you are. A simple five finger position on the piano, with one hand, can create a musical line that moves others. 

We use the word practice for many professions: She practices dentistry, he practices medicine. These are also fields that are alive, growing and improving. Like music, when you spend time practicing, progress happens.

I will be the first to admit that I have overused the word perfect as a teacher and I am removing it from my teaching vocabulary. 

Progress is a direction forward. Perfect is a dead end with no more growth. As a musician we are working in a space that is alive and breathing and progressing forward. A musician's age is of no significance, and years of advanced skills on a musical instrument are only a reminder that there is so much more for us to discover in our practice and sharing sessions.    

Going forward, this studio will be saying, Practice Makes Progress. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

A Closer Look at Major and Minor Scale Finger Patterns for Piano

A Closer Look at Major and Minor Scale Finger Patterns for the Piano by Dolly L Paul MA


Piano finger patterns used in major and minor scales are patterns that have been chosen because of their contribution to optimal playing. While playing scales, the hand needs to flow as smoothly and effortlessly as possible. 


The ideal pattern for any scale is, what I call, standard fingering. This pattern allows the player to use adjacent fingers, one through five, in a continuous flow with only one turn after the third finger of each hand in the span of an octave. We know this pattern as the 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5 finger pattern ascending in the right hand, and the 5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1 pattern ascending in the left hand. However, when black keys need to be accessed, the flow of this pattern may not be optimal. Therefore, we must use alternate finger patterns for some piano scales. 


One of the rules we want to consider, when playing a scale, is to avoid playing a black key with the thumb. Using the thumb on a black key alters the weight and balance as the hand plays through adjacent keys. This does not support fluid scale passage playing.


A second rule we want to consider is using the same finger pattern in the minor key scales (natural, harmonic, and melodic) as we have used in that key’s relative major key. However, again we must keep in mind that a thumb does play on a black key, and this is the area where many novice players struggle with patterns.


The last, or third, finger pattern consideration comes into play when we have scales that contain many black keys. When the area of the keyboard where two black keys are positioned between C-D-E, the flow of the pattern favors fingers two and three for the black keys on both hands. And the area of the keyboard where three black keys are grouped together between notes F-G-A-B, favors fingers two, three, and four on the black keys. 


Scales that use standard fingering in both hands are:


            C major and its relative a minor forms 

            G major and its relative e minor forms

            D major

            A major

            E major

            c minor forms

            g minor forms

            d minor forms


b minor, D major’s relative minor key, uses standard fingering in the right hand, but must shift the left-hand fingering to the pattern 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1 in all forms (harmonic, melodic, and natural.)


f# minor, A major’s relative minor key, offers a confusing finger pattern. Logically the left hand would follow the same finger pattern as the A major scale. This would allow us to use the same pattern for all three forms of the minor scale in the left hand 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3. Instead, the third rule is used: L.H. 4-3-2-1-3-2-1-4 all f# minor forms.


In the right hand of the f# minor scales, the fingering that would follow the A major pattern looks logical for the natural and harmonic forms and that fingering is used in those forms. However, in the f# melodic pattern ascending in the right hand, we would end up with a thumb on D#. To remedy this the fingering is altered from traditional patterns and the fourth finger is substituted to play the D# on the ascension of the scale with the thumb playing the E#. Then the third finger plays the top F# and the original pattern used in the natural and harmonic forms (which aligns with A major) returns on the descending scale pattern.

R.H. 3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3 harmonic and natural R.H. 3-4-1-2-3-4-1-3 melodic ascending 


c# minor, E major’s relative key, follows the same trail as F# minor. 

L.H. 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3 for all C# minor forms (this follows the E major finger pattern)

R.H. 3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3 harmonic and natural R.H. 3-4-1-2-3-4-1-3 melodic ascending


B major uses standard fingering for the right hand. The left-hand pattern for B major must shift to 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1 to avoid a thumb on a black key. (You may notice that B major and b minor keys use the same finger patterns in both hands. These keys are not relative to one another, they are parallel to one another.)


The g# minor right-hand pattern follows B major fingering for all forms starting on G#, 3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3. The left-hand pattern for the harmonic form and the ascending melodic form is 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3 which differs from B major’s pattern. The natural pattern aligns with the B major finger pattern. Melodic ascending, natural descending:   L.H. 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3  


Gb major follows the third rule for both hands (the key of F# is enharmonic to Gb)

R.H. 2-3-4-1-2-3-1-2    L.H. 4-3-2-1-3-2-1-4


eb minor, Gb major’s relative key, follows Gb major’s pattern in the right and the left hands:

R.H. 3-1-2-3-4-1-2-3   L.H. 2-1-4-3-2-1-3-2  


Db major also follows the third rule in its scale finger pattern.

R.H. 2-3-1-2-3-4-1-2    L.H. 4-3-2-1-3-2-1-4


bb minor, Db major’s relative key, follow Db major’s finger pattern in all its minor forms starting on the Bb note:

R.H. 4-1-2-3-1-2-3-4    L.H.  2-1-3-2-1-4-3-2


Ab Major follows the third rule in the fingering pattern of the right hand. However, in the left hand the fingering pattern is shifted which offers more flow to the left-hand pattern. 

R.H.  3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3    L.H. 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3


f minor, Ab major’s relative key, uses the right-hand Ab scale pattern for all three minor forms: R.H. 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. The left hand of f minor uses the standard finger pattern for all three forms.


Eb major uses an unfamiliar pattern in the right 3-1-2-3-4-1-2-3 and the left 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3. The bright spot with this scale pattern is when played in contrary motion (hands together) the finger patterns are symmetrical.


Bb major is another unfamiliar finger pattern in both hands. The right-hand finger pattern is 4-1-2-3-1-2-3-4. The left-hand finger pattern 3-2-1-4-3-2-1-3. For some students it helps to remember that when the hands play in parallel motion, the R.H. finger 3 is on the note Bb, your left-hand finger 4 will be on Bb as well. Likewise, when your L.H. finger 4 is on Eb your R.H. finger 3 will be on Eb. Focusing on the finger 3-4 combinations can help you remember the finger patterns for this scale.


F major uses the standard finger pattern in the left hand. In the right hand the pattern shifts to 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 to avoid using a thumb on the scale tone Bb. (Although unrelated, some like to compare F major’s finger patterns to the B major patterns because they are opposites. In B major the right hand has standard fingering, and the left hand uses the 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1.) 


All Rights Reserved by Dolly Paul and Low Country Studios, Ltd. Co. (c) June 2022





Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Incorporating Theory at All Levels Provides for Lifelong Playing

As a child I remember a classroom music teacher telling us that the musician's work was studying, practicing, performing, and sharing music. I heard that statement again in my undergraduate and graduate music education. The first part of that statement, studying, is the reason I have always made written music theory assignments a part of my students' lessons. Reading about music, thinking about what you just read, and understanding that element of music enough to be able to write it down, takes the application of music (playing on the instrument) to a higher level. 

I love the "aha moments" when students make the connection between what they have learned in a theory assignment to what they are playing on their instrument. It always leads to them being a better and more confident player.

I was surprised when I met private music instructors who did not include music theory, technic, and/or scales in their students' music lessons. And they were just as surprised that I chose to include these elements. 

The oddest parent to teacher experience I have ever had was with a child who came to me from a teacher who had moved on to another field. The parent was very upset that I gave homework to her daughter. She did not understand why the daughter had to do written work and practice on an instrument between lessons. The woman was well educated - but could not comprehend the need to do anything outside of the private music lesson time. She withdrew from my studio and found another teacher that would serve her request. The daughter was not challenged in any way, mentally or emotionally, and was a teenager who had been with the previous private music teacher for a number of years. Sadly, I found that students who had worked with this teacher played everything through rote learning: they could not read music at any level. Many had no knowledge of the key names on the instrument. It really blew my mind that parents had accepted this.

The revelation for me was the fact that there are teachers who charge more than the average fee for private lessons, yet don't provide a full music education...and people accept that. I discovered later on that this approach has actually become a standard method of teaching commercially. Because this method never gives the student reading skills, in order to play even the simplest music score on their instrument would require complete dependence on that teacher showing them how to play by rote. Then, unless the student had an above average memory, they would never be able to play this song again after moving on to a new piece. I see this as a cruel marketing angle - it is not giving a person a music education - and I was shocked to learn it is very common.

When we are young we learn how to spell words, the function of words in a sentence, and how to begin a sentence with a capitalized word and end a sentence with a period, etc. If we did not learn how to read and write, would our conversations be as rich? If we did not know how to put thoughts down on paper, what would life be like? Music is a language, and learning how to use that language from a written function in addition to a kinetic and applied function makes it a full rich skill and language that any private student should be able to access beyond their years of education and training.

An education in music theory needs to start at the first lesson. It can be approached simply and in small bites for the young or challenged learner. And it will allow the student to play independently years after ending their lessons, which is the hope for every student that comes to this studio.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Blackwater Ukulele Festival #7

I had a great time teaching a beginner class for ukulele at the Blackwater Ukulele Festival this past Saturday in Cypress Gardens. Jim Ravoira did a fantastic job, as always, getting the volunteers together and providing a welcoming festival for performers, vendors, ukulele enthusiasts, and players. This was the seventh festival and benefitted the Berkley Animal Shelter and the Magdalene House of Charleston. Festival performers included the Charleston Hot Shots, Lil' Uke Band, and Nathan Gabriel Miller. An open mic segment provided an opportunity for amateur ukulele players to get their feet wet in performing on a live stage. Participants came down from Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Georgetown, and up from Georgia. Vendors included a music instrument shop, live plant shop on wheels, stickers, jewelry, art, food, and more. 

A fun event I hope to see continue. For those in the Charleston area who are interested in learning more about the ukulele and ukulele gatherings, follow Low Country Studios on Facebook, and the Charleston Ukulele Society on Facebook. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Music Teacher or Music Coach?

Advancing music students often work with a private music teacher as well as a separate music coach.  However, most parents I've come into contact with don't understand the differences between these two positions, or the importance of each to their child's education. While school age children often work with one private instrument teacher who wears both hats, students attending music and arts public schools, and students on professional tracks, need both of these individuals.

Music students in larger cities, where the arts have always prospered, can easily tell you what the function of each music mentor is within their circle. When I worked with children performing in national tours I always knew who to consult for the child's lesson or coaching plans. And I knew my boundaries in my capacity as their teacher, or their coach, for that tour. If I ever slipped into the wrong role those little kids would let me know right away! These students clearly knew what they were supposed to gain from a music teacher and what they were supposed to gain from a music coach. 

Students from smaller towns, who play on progressive sports teams, can tell you very clearly the difference between their private trainer and their coach. I often use sports examples to explain the differences between music education providers to my students. But there are still some parents, and students, who consider anyone who works with them in music education as the child's music teacher. And when the roles become blurred a student's music education can go sideways. I know that many of you have heard a parent say, "Well I just assumed the public school teacher did the same thing so we stopped private lessons - I didn't know." Or had a parent who insisted that one (either the coach or the teacher) be subservient to the other. Not understanding the different roles and importance of each of these music mentors to their child's progress also confuses the student.  

With the push to put the arts into STEM, many communities are seeing the advent of public secondary schools labelled "Arts and/or Music Schools."  While attending a secondary public education in an arts school, a child will continue growing with a private music teacher while the public school teacher becomes the student's music coach. [It is rare to see the student's public school music teacher as their private music teacher and, for ethics reasons, most teachers keep these boundaries clear. But in instances where a student's family may be struggling financially, a public school teacher can also step in as a student's private music teacher.]

So, what is the difference between a music teacher and a music coach?

A teacher is the term for anyone who provides one-on-one music instruction of any kind - instrumental, theoretical, historical, compositional, arranging, et cetera. A teacher is the full-service educator. A teacher builds a student's musical knowledge (theoretical) as well as their playing (applied) abilities. A teacher practices with the student at lessons to help the student understand instruction on how to practice. They develop lesson plans for a student's progressive progress as a musician. They teach a student how to; interpret different periods of music or different composers, how to read music, develop technic on their instrument, performance practices, theory, and some will also offer music history supplements. Lesson assignments will include exercises, practice guidelines, written or reading homework, repertoire selections to build skills, and repertoire selections for upcoming auditions and performances. A private music teacher will find or create performance opportunities for the student. 

A music coach will not teach a student pieces from scratch. Unlike a teacher, where there are regular standing appointments for instruction, a coach often offers appointments as needed. A coach may guide a student with personal artistic choices as they work on a piece of music - and offer guidance on the music the student has already learned with their private teacher at the coaching session. 

A primary or secondary music school teacher often has to wear both hats (teacher and coach) due to the fact that there are families that cannot afford private instrument lessons. Public music school teachers are often found in the roles of: instrument division heads, ensemble directors, band directors, choir directors, theory division heads, and history division heads. In more prestigious arts schools, the public teacher takes the role of a music coach for the student while the student continues to study privately with their own music teacher.  

I have known instances where teachers have unfortunately convinced their professional track students that they don't need a coach and the student no longer seeks out a coach for performance preparations. This is not beneficial for the student and you can see the decline in the student's performance when this happens. I have also known of coaches who bring technic into sessions and start teaching the student. Technic is not an area of coaching. This can confuse a student and/or cause physical injury to a student who has developed under a different playing technic. The best situations I have seen have arisen from teachers and coaches that work together for the benefit of the student, respecting one another's boundaries. This type of teamwork has created some of the most successful performers. 

# # #

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Composers for Piano of Asian Heritage

Happy day 9 of the Chinese Lunar New Year!

The Francis Clark Center presented Piano Music by Composers of Asian Heritage this morning. Each composer shared their process and their music that is suitable for early to advanced levels. Here is a brief look at each composer along with information on how to access their music. 

Naoko Ikeda, lives in Sapporo Japan. Her music is published through Willis Music Company. Her complete catalogue is available at the Hal Leonard website. Naoko incorporates the Japanese Scale in her compositions. The melodies are lovely and captivating. One piece I will be ordering for my studio is "Shooting Stars in Summer" from Celestial Dreams. This piece is also available in the RCM (Royal Academy of Music) Level 8 Piano Repertoire. It is a mid-intermediate selection.

Li-ly Chang grew up in Taiwan and now resides in the U.S. Li-ly uses mixed styles of pentatonic, quartile, quintal chords, some jazz and blues flavors, and paints a story with her music. A complete list of Li-Ly Chang's music can be found at Lily Chang Piano. Her late beginner-early intermediate level pieces "Snow Play" and "Grasshopper's Waltz" are fun pieces I hope to incorporate in my studio. 

Chee-Hwa Tan is Malaysian Chinese and now resides in Colorado. Many of her works can be found on Piano Safari. Chee-Hwa's pieces have a strong pedagogical focus and will be fun to learn. Her pieces start from Early Elementary.

Alexina Louie is Canadian Chinese. She uses contemporary composition styles and experiments with pedal resonance in her works. These pieces are wonderful choices for students who are interested in learning about, and performing in, contemporary styles. Alexina's music is available at the Canadian Music Center and Alfred Music. You can visit her personal website Alexina Louie

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Learning to Improvise with Basic Jazz Chords and their Scales

One of the first questions students ask me is, "How do I know what notes to use for improvising?" 

Every chord that you see on your lead sheet has come from a scale. We are going to start today by looking at five basic scales you can use to improvise within chord areas on your lead sheets. These five scales are a good start for beginners. As you gain experience you will learn more chords, and more scale choices for each chord. Your teacher has probably started you on a lead sheet that contains the following basic chord forms. We will use the key of C as our example.

Now that you know each chord's name, let's look at the spelling of each of the above chords:

Now refer back to the chord name in the first chart, this is also the scale name we will use. Here is the pattern for each scale in whole steps (W) and half steps (H):

Now we will use those patterns in the key of C so you can see how to use the patterns with any other key:

Within the rhythm of the chord on your lead sheet, you can practice playing the solid chord, in any inversion in your left hand, and improvising over that chord using the corresponding scale notes in your right hand. Take your time. Enjoy the process. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Music for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

 "Musicians are not politicians." Those were the first words I heard when I started college. Sitting in front of me, in my first theory class that freshman year, was a middle-aged professor who had on sandals and white crew socks. He was an internationally recognized organist and a very gentle spirit. Outside the window professors from other disciplines were on strike. In, not so many words, he told us we would serve many religions in our lifetimes, and provide music for many secular gatherings. We would play music to support beliefs that were not our own. We would belong to musicians unions, professional music organizations, and eventually teach music to others. And we would learn to do the work without taking sides.  

Most of my peers in college were working church musicians, PKs (preacher's kids), or hoping to work in the sacred music industry. One young man was on the path to becoming a Jesuit Priest. Another had already landed a respected organist position in the Archdiocese in Detroit.  (Not being a Catholic and having lived in many different places since those days, I have learned that the Jesuits are some of the most passionate workers for their communities. I was quite shocked when I came to Charleston and realized priests here were allowed to amass their own wealth and did not have to take the same vows as other priests I had known.) 

The first young man I became friends with in college directed the music for his father's church. Both of his parents had numbers tattooed on their arms from their days of captivity. His dear mother never slept. His father was a strong man of faith and had no doubt that Jesus had saved him and his wife from death. His father's story of how his life was miraculously spared from death during the Holocaust was moving. He started, perhaps, one of the first Jewish led churches that preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he arrived in the States. 

The next student I became friends with told me of how her mother had marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. And then others shared the same story about their parents. Another had a father who was a construction worker and who literally built the church that he led. 

We were all children born in the 60s being raised in the greater Detroit area. Riots and other news of the day was calmly presented by local newscasters with just the facts - not the media frenzy you see today.  And our parents, aunts, and uncles, and neighbors who had lived through the Depression and served in World War II were reminiscing about their pasts and seeing the World change right before their eyes.

And through it all, music was there. Folk artists were playing songs on the radio that are still sung during remembrances on Martin Luther King Jr Day.  Motown music was on the radio along with songs from the 40s and 50s that were popular with our parents when they were young. Unlike today's stations that only play current hits, or one type of music, it seemed like the songs from every generation had come together at one time on the popular music stations.  

And so there we were, witnessing something at that young age, that went against what my professor would tell us as young adults sitting in a college classroom. Later in our Music History classes we would learn that Mozart's operas were often political satires, and other great works had political overtones as well. 

But what about the Civil Rights Movement music today; What are songs that are still a part of remembering the peaceful work of Martin Luther King, Jr. ?

On the morning before Reverend Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., the folk singer Joan Baez opened the event with her singing of the song "Oh, Freedom." It became an anthem of the movement. Oh Freedom was a tune that had been sung by enslaved Black people. "Oh, Freedom. Oh Freedom over me! Before I'll be a slave I will be buried in my grave..." 

We Shall Overcome started as a spiritual titled "I'll Be Alright Someday." It was a song used by the Tobacco Workers Union in 1946. It found its way to the Highlander Folk School where the school's director Zilphia Horton and others, adapted it to the struggles of their current labor movement and began using the lyrics, We Will Overcome. Zilphia Horton taught the song to Pete Seeger. Seeger changed the lyrics to We Shall Overcome. The song was used at a non-violent student rally in South Carolina and has become a recognized song for the civil rights movement. "Deep in my heart, I do believe. We shall overcome some day."

This Little Light of Mine is a children's song, and a spiritual. It was sung during the civil rights era to encourage personal empowerment. "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine all over the World." 

We Shall Not Be Moved was sung in union halls and also became part of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. "Like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved."

In the late 30s the civil rights movement was in its beginning stages. The well-known jazz singer Billie Holiday premiered a song written by a Jewish schoolteacher named Abel Meeropol. The song was Strange Fruit. "Strange trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." 

Bob Dylan recorded two songs that found their way into the civil rights music file. Blowin' in the Wind, he said, was not a protest song. It just raised questions that needed to be raised. Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary also recorded this work. Dylan's second song was more raw. Only A Pawn in Their Game was about the assassination of Medgar Evers. Dylan brought to light his thoughts that the murder of Evers wasn't just an issue between the assassin and his target, but a larger overbearing issue that needed repair. "And he's taught how to walk in a pack, shoot in the back, with his fist in a clinch, to hang and to Lynch...He ain't got no name, but it ain't him to blame, he's only a pawn in their game."

Music has a history of defining its place in time. Even our popular music, music of the people, is carrying its own story for others to look back on. How will our music footprint be interpreted by people 100 years from today? Will they hear reflections of our financial collapse in the mid 2000s, the pandemic we are currently witnessing, the struggles of others around the World at present day?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Reasons for Recitals

Happy 2022! I am moving into this new year like a turtle. And, I have decided that is okay! 

There has been a lot of discussion on private music instructor boards as to why we give recitals. And in this post, I want to highlight some of the reasons I believe group performances are important for students. But first I want to give a broad view of the contrasting opinions about recitals, or public performances, I have read from other private music teachers. 

Some believe recitals are important for students and offer online and in-person opportunities when possible at their own expense. Some teachers have a belief that it is too much work for the teacher and an archaic practice: They believe students should find their own performance platforms as part of the learning experience. Other teachers believe it is an expense that should be payed for by parents, instead of instructors, through the sale of tickets. And there are many other thoughts and opinions from teachers from around the world. Every teacher has a solid reason for the way they decide to, or decide not to, offer recital opportunities for their students. I am an advocate for live performances arranged by the studio instructor. I believe there are important benefits that are provided to students from participation in live performances.

Music performance is a living art form that happens in the present and can never be reproduced identically. Music has historically brought people together to experience a live art form. So much of what we experience as art today is preserved. What I mean by that is most music is pre-recorded for distribution; mp3s, videos, etc. Those are wonderful ways of sharing music, but the music is not alive in those forms. Live music is art in the now that can not be replicated. It combines with the  sense of place - people, smells, temperature, lighting, architecture of the room, attitude of the audience, attitude of the musicians, etc.   That unpredictable set of circumstances joins with the live music performance creating the art form in that singular moment. That is the beauty of live music, and that is one of the most important reasons why we study and perform live music for others.

Performing live music builds community. The students, who may never see any other students from a music studio, come together for a common purpose. The students meet, the families meet, and together with the instructor a new community is built. Young students are able to hear older students who may be at their same level. The realization that age and background has no place in art is often a boon to children and adult students alike. Anyone can be a beginner at any age, and any one can be more accomplished at any age. This gives a new feeling of support to each student, and the families also feel a bond with other musical families.

Affirmations of goals met. When a student practices, does the work, shows up, and plays for others, that is a measurable goal that is important for the student, families, and community who can see and affirm that the musician is growing and becoming more proficient at their art.

Education for the outsider. Over the years I have had people approach me who have "wandered" into a recital. Most have never heard a live student recital and they share how they become involved with each performer as they watch and listen. They begin to feel like they are a part of the collective and experience the energy of the room as each student's personality is revealed in their performance.

Student recitals/concerts are very important because they: provide a living art form, build community, provide for goal setting and affirmations, educate outsiders. 

Keep encouraging your students toward live opportunities! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Season of Music

We had a great time together on December 5th sharing music that first time performers bravely shared with family and friends. Adults and Children joined in to share Holiday Favorites and more. Congratulations to these musicians! And a special thanks to Annie O Love's Cafe of Sweet Abundance for allowing us to occupy her fun space for this event.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

How Long Should It Take To Get Through A Method Book?

A question I am often asked by young teachers is, "How long should it take my students to get through each method book?" The short answer is 3 - 9 months. The long answer is, it depends on the family. (You thought I was going to say it depends on the student.)

The average student needs parental help to schedule, maintain, and support  their music practice and scholastic homework through the age of eleven years. This is the same for after school athletic activities. 

It is interesting to note that athletic coaches realized (about 35 years ago) that parents were no longer encouraging dance and sports routine practice between lessons. Dance studios and soccer coaches took the lead in restructuring private coaching sessions and team classes as a requirement on more than one day a week to be accepted as a student. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

What Administrative Tasks Slow Your Work Flow? Have You Narrowed Down The Reason?

The topic of Work Flow has come up quite a bit on professional boards. This past week FONS (Fons means "fountain" in Latin) founder, Eric Branner, asked what we all were planning for the weekend.  Like most of us, he shared that his studio/office was a disaster. He had a load to take to goodwill, tools and instruments everywhere, and a ton of administrative work to handle. AND, he still had family responsibilities that included taking the kids to soccer and basketball. But the administrative needs were the most abundant and unpleasant for him and for everyone else on the board - including me.

Therefore I decided to track down the exact area of administrative work that was stopping my flow. To do this, I had to separate the work into divisions: bookkeeping, social media, lesson preparation, advertising/marketing, reviewing meeting minutes, clearing out old files, scheduling, reading emails, periodicals, articles, and memos, et cetera, and then break down each task to see what was getting the least attention or what was being avoided.

I found that the task that I avoid, and that takes most of my time, is required reading. Periodicals stack up, and company or professional organization emails give me the shivers. Dealing with them is unpleasant and can usurp my weekend. I love to read books, but reading through my business memos, emails, and professional periodicals seems to challenge me the most. But why? Why do I procrastinate in that area? And why can I fly through a book but find myself crawling through business readings? Then one of the answers became obvious as I was going through guitar center company posts on my feed: I don't like Initialism and it seems to be abundant

When I did my graduate work in Arts Administration, our professors made it clear that the first time we mentioned a position, organization, function, or anything else in a memo, email, paper, or conversation - we should fully state the name with the initials that we would use as we continued. We were told it was good business etiquette to do this even within organizations where everyone may be familiar with the use of the initials. 

As I read through the electronic posts, and the hard copies this past weekend, I had to keep stopping and researching initials. In many instances, I couldn't find what the initials stood for, online or, within the company sites. This was bringing the task to a pause more than I would have liked. It was frustrating, and searching for the meaning of the initials was very time consuming. (I have to admit that some of those emails and memos that didn't impact me directly went right into the trash.)

In today's business world using initials indicates to others that you are an insider. But as the use of initialism (and acronyms) continues to rise, using them (without them being defined when first presented) may deter your audience, or worse, confuse them. 

Like everyone, I will still be confronted with initials that are not defined in company emails and professional articles. Knowing that initialism hinders my speed at task completion can help me decide which business readings get closure and which ones stay in the pile until the next weekend.

How do you feel about the use of initials, and new acronyms, when used without opening definitions? Do you flow easily with them, or do you feel that they cloud your ability to complete your required reading in a timely manner? 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Private Music Studios in Today's Climate

The daily email blasts from professional music organizations and music teaching studio employers, regarding the pandemic, is enough to keep any instructor scratching their head.

Everyone wants to know when in-person lessons will truly be safe again. Teachers are doing their best to make informed choices with guidelines set forth by the organizations that insure them and/or, the businesses that employ them. It can be overwhelming - especially for beginning teachers. Fortunately, there are a number of private music teacher boards that have popped up during the pandemic and have been a welcome help in sorting out the guidelines and regulations. The biggest message to teachers from all of the organizations around the World is this, "Don't let business owners, students, or parents bully you." Parents are beyond stressed and businesses want people coming through their doors. You have to remember that they are under a lot of pressure, too. 

You are responsible to all of your students, their families, yourself, and your family: Keep that in mind when deciding what the best choice is for your studio size and student load.

I have put all of the information that is current to me into bullet points for my colleagues. Keep in mind that all of this can change tomorrow. Keep in mind that there are teachers who flirt with regulations and will not be following the guidelines. And, keep in mind that it is wise to do your own research to decide what is comfortable for your studio's wellness. 

Guidelines and regulations for going back to in-person lessons in a public studio (This is for a multi-room facility where you may work for another party as an employee, or on a teaching commission):

  • The teacher will be in a studio large enough to accommodate two people (student and teacher), and two separate instruments, with a distance of 7 feet between the student and teacher. 
  • The scheduling gap time between students, for air circulation and disinfecting of common surfaces, is now 15 minutes. You will need to re-arrange your students' lesson times if you were on a 30 minute block schedule.
  • In the case of smaller instruments, teachers may alternate between two studios to avoid the 15 minute gap. When doing this, the studio that is empty needs to remain empty with the door open for circulation. 
  • Each studio room should have a filtration or air flow system out of the room.
  • The choice to wear, or not wear, a mask is under the supervision of the local government: Where there is no local government mandate, the business owner, and the private instructor, will set the guideline. 
  • The choice to request proof of vaccination for students 12 years of age and older is at the discretion of the public business owner and/or the instructor. Students younger than 12 years of age may be asked to present a negative covid test before each lesson.
  • Wind, Brass, and Voice instruments are heavily cautioned. Voice is completely restricted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and the American Choral Directors Society. Wind and Brass may continue with full instrument coverage and plexiglas separation between teacher and student. Again keeping the 7 feet separation.
  • No other siblings, students, or guardians should be in the room. The space is limited to two persons.
  • If a student becomes ill and tests positive within two days following a lesson, all students with following lesson times on that same day need to be contacted for testing and possible quarantine. Individuals can spread the infection up to two days before showing symptoms. The teacher will need to be tested and quarantine. (This may be problematic if the parent does not consider contacting the business or the instructor.)

Single, In Home, Teaching Studios:

All of the Comments and Guidelines for public studios apply.

  • Only the student should enter the home of the instructor. Siblings and parents/guardians are expected to wait outside, or in their vehicle.
  • Students are not allowed early entry. Instruct parents to park and wait with their child in their vehicle if they arrive early. (Texting the student when you are prepared for them is recommended.)
  • If the student appears ill or feverish they must not be admitted. Teachers  may need to meet students outside to assess each student before bringing the student inside. (For homes with a covered porch, a waiting area can be set up outside of the home on the porch.)
  • When a student's time is complete the student leaves the instructor's residence and waits outside for their parent/guardian to pick them up. 
  • The instructor will schedule a 15 minute block between students to clean common surfaces and air out the studio room. 
  • In transferring back to in person sessions it will become evident that there is less time for in person lessons than online lessons. Most 30 minute in-person lessons average 20 minutes of work. The remaining time is used for removing shoes and jackets, arranging books and supplies, washing hands, using the restroom, settling in, etc.  
  • You will need to close the student's lesson up to 5 minutes earlier to allow them to gather their belongings, put on shoes or jackets, etc., for timely exit so preparations can be made for the next student.
  • Remind parents to have their children use the restroom before arriving at your home studio to avoid extra time in disinfecting the restroom between students.
  • Payments should be taken through electronic means. Encourage parents to speak with you through emails or texts to allow for as much lesson time as possible for their child.  

Private music teachers in the U.S. appear to be the most unsure of the regulations that guide their profession at this time. Private music teachers from other countries are showing a more clear and more unified understanding of what their countries have directed. (This may also be due to the fact that other countries have heavier licensing and education requirements for private music teachers than the U.S.)

Everyone's decision process will be different. I am online to stay for a few reasons; 
  • I have had at least one student every month who has been exposed or has been ill. (If I had been teaching in-person I would have had to go through a number of quarantines myself and all of my local  students would have been exposed.) 
  • I have students that live too far outside of the area for in-person lessons. 
  • Expanding 30-6o minute blocks to teaching blocks with an additional 15 minute "clearing block", just won't work for many of my students who already have to shuffle times between extra curricular activities. 
Having said why I am staying online, and knowing that I will always have online students, I still really miss seeing my younger students in person. Like most of you, I keep watching the information that is coming out from specialists that our professional organizations consult, every day. And I know that tomorrow everything can change again. 
                                                        *  *  *

Stay centered and keep in touch. I would be interested in knowing if you have; discontinued teaching and are considering returning at a later time, are staying online, or have found a safe way to return to in person teaching. Send your comments and questions to:

Here is more info from Guitar Center and Music & Arts:

At the Guitar Center Company, we are learning and doing our part together to protect our Associates, customers, and communities from the spread of COVID-19.


If you have felt scared, angry, overwhelmed, confused, or all of the above as a result of the virus, you are not alone. Your health and safety are our top priority, and we want to equip you with tools and resources to help keep you informed.


How Do Viruses Spread Between People?


Viruses rely on living things to survive, and their goal is to spread. While they can live a very brief time on surfaces without living cells, they will die quickly if they do not have a live host to latch onto.


Imagine a house guest that comes over uninvited, never leaves, dirties up your house, and gets really comfy on your clean furniture. That is what the virus does to your cells.

Once a virus is in a host cell, its mission is to reproduce as much as possible until the living host’s immune system kicks in and stops it. When you are sick, your body goes through a cycle of symptoms that get progressively worse before (hopefully) getting better. That is because when a virus invades, it easily spreads, causing anything from minor colds to serious diseases. When finally stopped, it—along with its copies—packs its bags and moves to attack another unsuspecting host.


Viruses travel from one live host cell to another through infectious droplets (from sneezing, coughing, or talking) on surfaces or in the air. When someone encounters the droplets, they can get infected. If that happens, the virus can easily pass from one person to the next through close proximity or being indoors with other people.


After the first sign of symptoms, viruses can be contagious for up to two weeks. They can also start to spread before people realize they are sick. For those who are asymptomatic, they never develop any symptoms of illness and are often unaware that they are carrying a contagious virus. And, for those with weakened immune systems, they can spread viruses for even longer because they may not have the capacity to fight the virus in the same way as someone with a stronger immune system.

What is a Variant?


Delta or Lambda – what does it mean? There are times during virus reproduction when the copy made is not a perfect replicate. This is normal and expected virus behavior. What happens, though, is that the virus changes and then proceeds to make additional copies of this now “new” virus. The changed virus is what is referred to as a variant, and in the case of the Delta variant, it is more infectious than other coronavirus strains, spreading faster with the potential for differing symptoms.


6 Ways to Protect Your Loved Ones from Viruses


Viruses can be devastating for communities, and deadly. It is up to us to do what we can to protect those around us and prevent viruses from creating a destructive, domino effect or outbreak, as in the case of COVID-19.


Here are a few measures that each of us can start or continue doing:


  1. Get vaccinated – Get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect you and others.
  2. Wash your hands – Throughout the day, frequently wash your hands with soap and water – 20 seconds is the magic number. If soap and water is not available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is the next best option.
  3. Don’t touch your face – Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces.
  4. Clean and disinfect – Using a disinfectant, clean high traffic surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, tables or desks, faucets, handles, etc.
  5. Keep a distance – Maintain social distancing while in public and avoid close contact with those who are sick.
  6. Wear a mask – It is the easiest thing we can do to ensure that our communities are safe.

Why Are Vaccines Important?


In a vaccinated community, a virus has little to no chance of survival. Vaccines have played a significant role in eliminating deadly and highly contagious viral infections, such as measles and polio. They not only stop them from spreading but can prevent the replication that causes variants. When you get vaccinated, you are protecting yourself, your family, and everyone else.

*Not everyone can be vaccinated, age, and medical history, may prohibit vaccination. If you are well and can vaccinate but still have questions, talk with your physician about your concerns.