Another year, another list

The school year is over and my summer teaching doesn’t start till next week (um, by the time I’m finishing this, that would be tomorrow…), so I guess this week is/was vacation?
Vacation might be a strong word since we  spent the week completely upending our living room (i.e. my teaching space) in preparation for some new arrivals (a post on that coming soon!). But having a week off from teaching has given me some moments (in between Ikea trips and sorting piles and piles of music) to reflect on the year. So, in no particular order here are some highlights and insights:

Studio class!

Offering a regular studio class to my SFCM Pre-College students was one of the highlights of the year for me. We had five Sunday afternoon classes over the course of the academic year. Each class was structured somewhat differently but all involved the students playing for one another, giving feedback and support, some ear-training, some music history, and lots of time to be musicians together. Here’s a recap of one such class.

In our final class of the year, the kids worked together to organize the recital program, making decisions about how to group the various repertoire people had prepared. This collaborative effort definitely made a difference in the final performance. Through my work in musical theater I’ve witnessed the power of “putting on a show”– the way that collaborative performance strengthens individual performers, energizes them, and provides the enthusiasm that can transform “nerves” into the rush of being in front of an audience. My hope was to tap into some of that energy in the context of a piano recital, where performers are all alone on a big empty stage. In the past, the students have all sat in the audience, but this year I offered them the option of being all together back stage. Sitting out in the recital hall,  I hoped that their time together over the year would allow them to support each other, and hopefully experience some of the thrill of “putting on a show”. Here they are at their collective curtain call:

Mixed recital programs!

This isn’t the first year I’ve tried this, but it once again proved a success. Rather than having recital programs organized youngest to oldest or beginner to advanced, repertoire was grouped thematically or by historical period. In my private studio recital we still started with the youngest students (to avoid creating sleepy, cranky five-year-old pianists!) but the rest of the program was mixed. I like giving students a chance to take the stage more than once (if they are playing multiple works) rather than being up in front of the audience for an entire set of pieces. I figure each walk up to the instrument is an opportunity to practice managing nerves! Plus, I’ve found that the students listen more to each other that way. Plus, it’s more interesting!

Embedded google calendars!

Sometimes it is the little things… Last August I mustered all my technological know-how and figured out a nice plug-in to use for calendars on this site.  I know there are simple ways to just embed a google calendar, but I wanted something that looked a bit nicer, and found this. It was probably 4 hours or so of tweaking and searching and cut and pasting code that I didn’t quite understand, but the results have made my life so much easier this year.
I am a google calendar junkie and have separate calendars for all my various activities (studio teaching, teaching at SFCM, my church job, bills, and many many more). So, in a stroke of brilliance, I created a make-up lessons calendar. Whenever I was notified of a lesson cancellation, I would switch that time slot to the make-up calendar. And through the magical powers of the internet, that time slot would pop up on this lovely calendar here where parents could check periodically and simply email me a request to come at one of the available times. This was a tremendous time saver! Writing one email response to “what available times do you have?” only takes a moment, but writing those emails day after day sure adds up. I also kept a calendar of relevant dates (scheduled vacations, exams, competitions, deadlines, recitals). Only having to enter the info in my own calendar and having it automatically update to that cute little widget in the upper right hand corner– the best!

Those were some of the thoughts buzzing in my head this week…but there are many more! And speaking of lists, I started one of blog posts I intend to write but never actually get around to posting. Who knows…maybe I might just write something again soon!

She Tweets Again!

I’ve been on Twitter for a while now, and enjoy following all sorts of lovely, hilarious, brilliant people and various illustrious organizations. However, as with many forms of social media, it feels so diffuse. I have non-musician followers, who likely don’t care about which Bach Sinfonia I am practicing. And then the music folk who likely don’t care about what I am cooking and/or knitting. I’m all for a healthy mix of everything in my own Twitter feed, but I rarely ever tweet myself since it seems that the great internet void is hardly interested in the disparate minutiae of my life. So, in an attempt to create order out of chaos, I’ve decided to start a separate twitter account that will just be music related.


Come follow me! No knitting or food photos. Really. (I’ll be keeping all of those fun tidbits over at @MissLuba). Just tweets about what I’m practicing, what I’m listening to, and the really funny things my students say!

In one week…

…I will be on my way to New York for the MTNA 2012 National Conference. I anticipate being in a complete “kid-in-a-candy-store” haze the entire time I am there. The other day, I was starting to figure out the schedule of sessions, master classes, etc. and ended up cutting and pasting together a sloppy Word Document of the schedule since there was not a convenient format of it to be found on the MTNA site. Today, however, while poking around on Twitter, I discovered that MTNA (@mtna1 on Twitter) is actually being quite tech savvy and has the entire conference info available for the Guidebook App (A free app available both on Android and IPhone). Once I downloaded the app, my initial searches for “mtna” and “new york” did not turn up anything, but upon looking under the main “Trade Shows and Events” heading, sure enough, there it was! From the app, it is possible to view the daily schedule (with room specifics listed), maps of the hotel and both exhibit halls, a listing of all the marketplace exhibitors with their booth numbers, and even add specific events to your own “schedule” within the app.  Quite convenient! So, if you are headed to the conference, get Guidebook, and follow @mtna1 on Twitter, and maybe follow me while you are at it…@missluba. I’m usually pretty quiet over there, but I think my conference excitement is likely to manifest itself in the Twitter-sphere!

Feels Like “Happy New Year!”

It is June 1st, but here in my corner of piano teacher land it feels a whole lot like January 1st. With the crazy race to the end of the semester finally complete, I sit here in that same post-holiday daze most people find themselves in come New Year’s morning. And it wouldn’t be New Year’s for me without lists! I don’t exactly bother writing resolutions in the usual sense, but I love looking back on the year and trying to think of all the highlights, changes, accomplishments…really, it is like retroactive resolution writing! I just look at all the good things that happened and pretend that I resolved to do them the previous year. Very gratifying, I tell you!
June 1st seems like a good day to apply this very activity to my teaching life, particularly because this past school year was one of many changes for my studio. Once I start musing it is tough to stop, so I warn you that this may turn into the first of several posts. Today we will stick to the concrete and tangible: (I’ll save my philosophizing for another day!)

Semester system billing

The biggest change I made last year was to switch to a semester/tuition system for my private teaching. I plotted out the entire school year calendar based on 36 lessons between September and May and had families pay a set monthly rate. Best decision ever.

Technique Practice Charts

I spent some time last summer planning out a more systematic way of introducing new technical elements for each of the National Music Certificate Program levels. I then created packets of weekly practice charts with checkboxes (oh the gratification of checking a box– no child can resist it!) to help kids track their technique practice. These charts still need some tweaking (summer project) but I’ll post them here sometime soon in case other folks find them to be helpful!

Lesson Notes in Excel

In the past, I have tried various systems of notebooks and such to keep lesson notes. This year I started doing my notes in Excel and though this is another work in progress area, I did a much better job of keeping track of student progress. Plus I could actually remember what happened at the previous week’s lesson!

Music lists on

I wrote about this recently here. Ordering new materials became much easier with this system.

Ultimate Music Theory

I have been less than satisfied for a while now with the theory books out there and was thrilled to discover Ultimate Music Theory. As my students have started taking the NMCP Rudiments theory exams these books have been a huge help! is a charming music games website by Christine Donkin. This was my first year using the site and I found it to be a great means of getting my kids to practice ear-training and theory concepts on their own. It has been very neat to watch the site develop and I appreciate how quick the creators are to respond to input from teachers. Some of my kids really took to it and did their games consistently all year. Others were a bit more haphazard, and frankly I did not get into consistent routine with checking in myself. (New Year’s resolution maybe?)

Another really big change this year was my discovery of the internet. I mean, sure, I was already online all the time reading cooking and knitting blogs…But somehow it just never occurred to me until recently to investigate whether music teachers were out there in the ether too. I may save some of my poetic thoughts on this subject for my next “philosophical” New Year’s post, but really, I am just brimming with excitement over the amazing community I have discovered. Starting this site has been a fun adventure and I look forward to where it will take me in this New Year!

Music Lists on SheetMusicPlus

Last week, Joy over at Color In My Piano had a discussion on purchasing materials for students. I have tried various approaches, but this year, I discovered a method that has made life easier for me and the parents.

While I wholeheartedly believe in supporting local business, my nearby music stores don’t always carry all the books I need for teaching and have not proven particularly quick in ordering them. So, most of my studio music purchases happen online. (I reduce my guilt over this by periodically going to those local shops and getting thoroughly carried away once I start browsing around!)

I usually purchase teaching materials from They have a huge selection and happen to ship ridiculously fast to where I live  (I may be geographically lucky in this regard since I think they have a warehouse in the area). The website also has teacher rebate accounts- 8% back on purchases. Once a certain rebate amount is reached you can opt to receive it as a check, gift certificate or via PayPal. The really nifty thing is that you can create “music lists” which can be sent via email.

I have been using these lists with great success this year. I send parents a list of the exact books needed for their child. If they prefer to go to a local music store- they know exactly what they need! If they prefer to search for the books on another website such as Amazon, that works too. But the easiest thing to do to simply add all the books to your cart right there and then! An added perk for teachers is that if someone orders straight from your list, it counts toward your teacher rebate. Works for me!