MineCraft in Piano Lessons

Why?

Have you heard of the popular app called “Minecraft”?? It was nominated as the Kid’s Choice Award for favorite video game earlier this year. I first heard about the game when one of my students somehow decided that in between playing her scales was a perfect time to tell me all about it in detail. (Don’t ya love those moments??)  I heard about it here and there after that, until out of curiosity, I asked every single student I saw in the week if they had heard of, played, or possessed the game Minecraft. I was somewhat shocked to find that out of my forty-nine piano students, only one had never heard of it, and only three others did not have it on one or more of their devices, but had played it at a friend’s house. I started to realize quickly that this little popular app was a key point of interest to all of my students. Filed that fact away in my mind and didn’t think any more about it.

Until this past January. When I myself was bored to death of piano lessons, and I know my kids had to be too. There’s something about January-February when the Christmas music is over and our Christmas recital is passed that frankly makes learning the piano not super fun. I remember having a conversation about this with Abe recently. He works a 7am-3pm job every day, every week, no breaks except for a few weeks vacation. Can you imagine?? I know that is typical for many. But for this school teacher, I just can’t imagine doing the same thing every day with no spring breaks, spirit days, summer vacation, field days, field trips, etc. I LOVE my job, and am living the “dream” in a way, in that I have always wanted to be a music and piano teacher. That being said…it has it’s moments. 😉 And during those cold winter months after Christmas, I told Abe that I don’t think I want to be a piano teacher anymore. I told him I didn’t think I was good at it anymore, that it had gotten old, I didn’t like it, and maybe I missed my calling. He un-sympathetically laughed at me. I remember trying to impress on him the seriousness of my dilemma! I wasn’t enjoying my dream anymore! His answer: “Join the Club.” Thanks a lot. We had a whole conversation about how work is not always fun. Even when it’s something you love. Abe told me I’m growing up so fast. 😛

So what do you do when you’re bored, tired of the monotony, and lacking excitement for something you love? If you’re like me, you don’t like dying of boredom. So it’s time to make our own excitement! That is when an idea started forming in my head based on the fact that all of my students love MineCraft. That is exciting, right? Why can’t piano lessons be as exciting as MineCraft??

So How?

I found out they can be as exciting! I worked on this idea for one month before introducing it to my students. I named it “PianoCraft.”  🙂 It took me a little while to sort out the details and organization in my head–like how to make it work physically in a classroom instead of on an iPad, what the rewards would be, and how to incorporate musical concepts. But once I decided on what I wanted, the game itself was SO easy. (For those of you who don’t know what MineCraft is–it is a virtual world with grass/trees/animals/sky etc. where you use bricks, trees, stones, straw, and basically every material you can think of to “build” your own world. It is actually very complex, and my students understand it better than me. I had one student asking me how they could get diamonds in PianoCraft. Umm…there’s no diamonds in PianoCraft this year. Just decided.)

Details

Anyway, the general concept of Piano Craft was to complete musical tasks related to the piano in order to get bricks to build with. For instance, one of my tasks was to play through your scale routine perfectly, without any mistakes in any scale. The student would then get four bricks for completing that task. You can see a whole list of the tasks and number of bricks assigned to each one here: PianoCraft Bricks (PDF file).

Then I just laminted blank sheets of white paper. (Can you get any easier??) I did add clipart to the bottom of the white paper before printing it out–green grass. That’s about it. 🙂 Then I put each student’s name at the top of one piece of paper. I sticky-tacked these up on my studio wall, and wa-la, each student had a blank world to build on. Then came the one hard part…I bought big brick-designed scrapbook paper on sale at AC Moore. Then, believe it or not, I cut out every little tiny 1/2 inch brick that would fill my “Bricks” Jar. As students earned bricks, I would put sticky-tack on the back and let them place the bricks anywhere on their “world.” I have some interesting designs going on! 🙂

Prizes

I decided on three prizes. 1st Place goes to the student with the most bricks. The reward is an ice cream sundae in the lesson while we watch an old comedy of pianist/comedian Victor Borge. (They ALL want the ice cream and movie prize!) Second place goes to the student with the 2nd most bricks. I will bring in cupcakes for that prize. And third, I will give a King-sized candy bar to the student with the most creative design on their world. Pretty simple, easy, and so fun!

My game/contest runs from March-April. I have some very competitive students, I’m finding out. Meanwhile, the lessons are much more exciting as the students can’t wait to show me the tasks they have completed and get their bricks. I’m excited to see who wins, and I have no idea how I am going to pick most creative. I have a student re-creating Stonehenge, another designing a mustache, and even a page with a very recognizable bunny shape.

Results

This game has taught me more about this generation that I am teaching. My students are smart, and “Candy if you practice five days!” doesn’t always cut it with them. They understand complex games, concepts, and rules. They are thriving in this PianoCraft game that I can barely understand myself. In complimenting one of my second grade girls on her design, I related that I had tried to build something with the bricks and it didn’t look good. She responded, “Well, I’m just really good at pixelated art.

I’m pretty sure I had no clue what a pixel even was when I was in 2nd grade!! 

I have found that these kids love, enjoy, and even need a challenge that makes them think. Using paper bricks on plain paper to create a picture (which has nothing to do with piano) stimulates their creativity in a way that just sitting at a piano doesn’t always do. I’ve noticed that their lesson songs go smoother and faster, and each student has risen to the challenges of each task. I have thought of ways that I could improve the game too, adding in more elements from the actual app. (For instance, making a “survival” track and “creative” track, having more materials than just bricks, and designating some lessons as “Night-time.”) And my students are already asking me what game I’m going to do next year. One suggested doing a Mario theme. Oh my. I’m going to have a lot to live up to. At least I won’t die of boredom staring at the clock. 🙂

 

Are you a teacher who has created any kind of game for your students? How did it go? I would love to hear about it! Let me know if you try MineCraft and how you make it work for you!

❤ Flossie

minecraft game wall

Students’ “Worlds” displayed on the wall. This was the first week of the game–the designs are much bigger now! 

 

 

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Sunday Situations (True Stories from a Church Pianist)

Church music.

The venue that gives a musician the most experience and the most inconvenience; the most encouragement, and the most anguish; and the most opportunities to mess up a whole service.

The church pianist and organist (in a traditional worship service at least) hold the power to turn a serious, worshipful service into a laughable circus act. I have seen it done before, and I have unfortunately contributed to it myself, too.

For example, have you ever stood up with your hymnbook ready to sing out a strong “I Sing The Mighty Power of God,” only to have the organist come in at a different key than the piano? The single notes in that beginning phrase is a nightmare to start out in different keys. At least other hymns have chords that blend in the wrong notes…

One time I used the offering prayer to put my big, bulky offertory notebook up on the piano rack. Unfortunately, as I was pulling the heavy thing up from the floor, I accidentally bumped it too hard on the music rack and the entire rack crashed down onto the soundboard. In the quietness of the prayer, the crash seemed to just echo through the entire building. More than one jumped at the noise, including the usher praying. From a startling crash to an usher’s voice cracking…there wasn’t much recovering from that. 😉

Another time I managed to sit (yes–SIT.) on the piano keys as I was heading back to my seat in the audience. It’s another whole blog post to explain how that happened…but just know that a lot more notes are played when you sit on the keys, than when you accidentally bump the keys with your fingers.

There was the time I forgot my choir music and the whole church waited five minutes while I ran back to the choir room to grab an extra copy. There was another time when I brought the wrong choir music and began the introduction, only to stop when the director stopped directing to stare at me in confusion. Five minutes later, I was back with the right music. 😀

Oh, and did I mention the time I forgot to come back to play for the choir all together? We have two morning services, and I play for both. I sit through the whole first morning service, then leave for my Sunday School Class after the choir sings in the second service. Except for that one Sunday–I just went to Sunday School right away and completely forgot about playing in the second service.  Halfway through Sunday School I had a heart attack and grabbed Abe’s arm with a death grip. I whispered in a panic, “I FORGOT TO GO BACK TO THE SECOND SERVICE AND PLAY FOR CHOIR!” His eyes got big for a minute and then he laughed and laughed. Ohh welll…. The pink slip’s coming! 😉

My final and most mortifying mistake regarding church music took place one summer at my grandparents’ church in Marcus Hook. The majority of members in their church are elderly, and the pianist had some type of health problem making her unable to play for a while. I was home on break from college, and my Mommom asked if I could come a couple Sundays to help out with the piano playing. Everything went great for the most part. Then one Sunday they had a special speaker—-an older, white-haired, distinguished-looking preacher. I played the hymns and offertory then sat with my grandparents. Then.. the preaching started. Maybe it was how late I stayed up the night before, or maybe it was the mono-syllable flow of his voice and lack of main points. (I have to admit…I am used to hand-outs with lots of fill-ins, exciting illustrations, and PowerPoint presentations that display the main points of a sermon…) Anyway, whatever the reason, I found myself slightly day-dreaming and spacey…my mind was everywhere except the service. I could tell it was going to be a long morning as the message seemed to go on and on. I was ready for him to say  a final “Let’s Pray” so I could go  play the invitation song softly in the background while he invited sinners to be saved. Then my job would be done and I could go get lunch. Finally, I heard those relieving words: “Let’s Pray.” I glanced at my phone and was shocked to see that only twenty minutes had passed. Wow! We lucked out today–a short message! I quickly headed up to the piano and began playing “Just As I Am” as beautifully and emotionally as I could.

Suddenly, I heard the special speaker ending his prayer without an invitation. I started playing even quieter than before, suspicion forming in my mind that maybe I missed something… I glanced at the schedule of the service on my right…Yes, this is the right song. There’s no special announcements at the end, so I think this is right… Maybe I should have went to bed earlier last night, why does my brain feel like it’s in such a fog? Then, the speaker said “Amen,” and turned to stare directly at me. I continued playing softer and then just awkwardly faded out and stopped playing. Why my brain could not grasp the situation, I do not know, but I was still sitting there confused when the preacher smiled and said, “Young lady, that sounded beautiful, but that was just my opening prayer after my introduction. I’ve still got a whole sermon to go before we sing that song.” Twitters of laughter spread throughout the congregation as my dreams of a short sermon and lunch receded and my utter mortification increased. I managed to make it back to my seat and somehow made it through another forty-minute sermon. By the time we made it to lunch I was able to enjoy a good long laugh with my parents and grandparents about it. But I will ALWAYS remember that humiliating moment of realization, that I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that feeling, that deep wish to go back and erase that decision from history. But alas, since that is not possible, I will continue to always have a most-embarrassing moment to share without even having to stop and think about it. 🙂

Do you have a humorous church music story to share? I’ve heard many from my musician friends, and could probably make LOTS of posts out of the stories I’ve collected. From showing up to direct the choir wearing only a slip for a skirt, to accidentally pressing the demo button on the electric keyboard. I’d love to hear yours, too!

I have to add that there are plenty of inspiring and rewarding moments involved in being a church musician, too. I love playing for my church, even with all the possibilities for mixing up the order of the service. 😉

Within the next few weeks I’m hoping to post some more church music helps–PDF’s of hymn arrangements I’ve made, as well as hymn-playing tips. Stay tuned!

Happy Sunday!

~Flossie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney + Piano = 1 Incredible Summer!

How is it already June 10th?? Feels like just yesterday it was the beginning of May and Abe and I were looking at our crazy May schedule and wondering if we could make it to the other side without crashing and burning. But May came and went in a whirlwind and here we are, in the good old days of summer, soaking up the sun and enjoying more free time!

Today’s post is about my summer theme for piano lessons…

Revealing….. My piano studio’s first ever summer theme….. DISNEY!!

First, I’ll tell you how I came to decide on such a pop-culture theme, and then I’ll show and attach some of the ways I’ve been incorporating it into piano lessons.

The idea slowly came to me over this past school year, when I had several students coming to me with these giant Disney songbooks, wanting to play one of their favorites for the end of the year piano recital. Due to the classical, formal nature of the end of the year recital, I gently denied them Disney and tried to lure them into more fun sounding classical pieces for the recital. I began thinking about how could I use/incorporate Disney music, or any fun pop music, into lessons. We spend a lot of time on theory, technique, and classical repertoire…all very much needed! But I figured there had to be some way to let the students enjoy the music they like to listen to and still get some type of beneficial skill training out of it. Even if just for a summer. 🙂 A second reason was that this summer I am teaching solely out of my house, and I was unsure how many students would agree to the new location over the summer. Trust me…doing a Disney theme definitely helped keep the kids signed up for the summer!

So I brainstormed with my sister (an elementary ed major who is brimming with creative ideas) and came up with a plan for a Disney summer. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” I figured I will “let it go” over the summer and just go Disney crazy to get it out of their systems, and then focus back on the standard literature in the fall. The challenge for me was finding ways to make it beneficial pianistically. With Disney songs, they can work on:

  1. Bringing out the character and mood of a piece. (“Under the Sea” should be played in an entirely different mood from “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”!)
  2. Keeping a steady rhythm that someone can sing to. (Songs they know the words to = songs they can sing with!)
  3. Analyzing a composition–how did the Disney writer start out the song? (mood of the introduction) how did the Disney writer use harmony/notes/rhythm to paint a picture of the words? Do the words always go with the music style? (There are also several videos online about how Disney songs are made…It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about composing and the process of making your own music. What better way to introduce composing than with the favorite Disney songs?) 

These are just a few of the ideas I came up with. Now for the fun part… the part I’m not as good at… making all the ideas work in each lesson. I’m great at coming up with ideas, not always so great at actually doing them. 😉 (yeah…I’m one of those people!) 

Thank goodness I have an incredibly creative sister who thrives on classroom creativity.

The extent of my creative ideas: let’s learn Disney songs this summer and call it a Disney Summer!

Tricia’s creative ideas: OK, we can do a party at the end of the year and have everyone dress up as the character who’s song they learned and play their pieces for everyone, and have Disney themed food, and have a practice contest where the prize is a Disney movie day at your house, and we can have a treasure box of Disney toys from the Dollar Store that they can pick out of when they play good, and the program for the Disney piano party can be a puzzle with the song titles and clip-arts of each movie, and the parents have to match the song title to the correct movie….

Wow.

I literally kind of stood there with my mouth open for a minute, mainly because those are all spectacular ideas, but also because not one of them would have ever entered my head! Except for the performance party at the end of the year where they play their pieces for each other…but I never would have thought about the costume part or the program puzzle… Again, I’m thankful for a sister in education! 🙂

So here’s a PDF of our Disney Summer Details. I wish I had the skills to make it show up like a little picture and if you click it it becomes bigger and you can download…I have no idea how to do that, so here’s just a link to the PDF! Feel free to use it if you are a piano teacher reader!

Disney summer handout

If you click on the link, it will take you to another page on my site with the link again and a description of it. Click the link a second time, and it will come up in your browser as a PDF. Sorry it’s not a one-click deal…oh well! 🙂

Basically it’s a two page handout, with lots of Disney character graphics and creative titles. “Disney Drills” is our practice contest–with no set number of days required each week (since it’s the summer!) The students simply get one “Disney Ticket” for each single day they practice, and then can redeem their tickets at the end of the summer for the prizes. The lowest prize, for a minimal number of tickets, is the “Toy Story Box”–simply a box with Disney toys (and other toys) that the students can purchase with their tickets. The next prize up is a chance to buy toys from the Toy Story Box, PLUS having ice cream cones in the last lesson. The GRAND prize is the one Tricia came up with–a Disney movie afternoon at my house, with popcorn and soda. The kids were all excited about each level of prizes!

The “Characters Concert” is what I’m calling the party at the end of the year. Each student will play the song they have been working on, and they may or may not dress up–it’s up to them. Some of the older elementary kids aren’t into dressing up…the boys especially! 🙂 I’m planning on using Pinterest to come up with cool food ideas and just go wild with Disney themed ideas! (They are ALL over Pinterest!) And I am planning on having the program puzzle…the kids will get it right away I’m sure, but the parents might not be as quick. I’ll have the student’s name with the song being performed, like normal programs, but over to the side I’m planning on having pictures of different Disney characters that everyone will have to match to the correct song. Maybe have a few cheap door prizes for those adults who get them all right!

I think that is the gist of what is on my hand-out. Needless to say, I am almost as excited as the kids are! It’s bringing out my inner Disney-obsession. 🙂 Who doesn’t love Disney?? 

Have you ever done a similar theme? Do you love Disney? I have gotten several flyers in the mail for the Disney Summer Music camps. I didn’t even realize they had music camps! That would be so awesome, held at Disney World! Unfortunately, there is no option for pianists–it is all vocal or band-instruments camps. Maybe one of these years I will do my own summer Disney camp….I will REALLY need Tricia’s help then to make it as magical as possible without actually going to Disney World. 🙂

“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever.” -Walt Disney

Hope you’re enjoying your summer!!

~Flossie

Piano Time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my piano lessons and music classes! I guess I have been pre-occupied…a wedding, new house and new family make piano lessons seem just slightly less important. 😉

However, I have recently been renewed in my enthusiasm and excitement about teaching. (I’m rarely sidetracked from music for very long…) Specifically, about starting my own piano studio soon! I just bought the book “How I Made $100,00 My First Year as a Piano Teacher” by Kristin K. Yost…….What are you laughing at?  That’s what I asked Abe after I read him the title. I’m sure if I were face-to-face with you, I might be asking you that too! OK, so I know that $100,000 and piano teacher aren’t usually heard in the same sentence. Maybe not even in the same conversation. But, I’m not going to let that stop me from enjoying and working at building up my students and studio experience.

I can’t wait to write more about the book—I haven’t even gotten past the first chapter because I have a list of things I need to do that I am behind on if I want to start teaching on my own. Thankfully, I’ve got the first item down: a place to teach. I’ve posted earlier about mine and Abe’s dream house and how we came to buy it. Here are some pictures of it, specifically what we call the “piano room” where I hope to teach piano lessons.

The room before we moved everything in and painted! Taken from the front entry way looking left, right leads to the rest of the house.

The room before we moved everything in and painted! Taken from the front entry way looking left, right leads to the rest of the house.

IMG_0394

 

It’s a perfect room for piano lessons–sticking out of the front of the house, not too big not too small…and since it is pretty isolated in the front of the house, that gives Abe and Kali the freedom to continue “living” in the rest of the house while I teach. When I taught at my home in West Chester, the piano was in the living room. So my family was confined to their bedrooms, the kitchen, or the basement while I taught, because I really didn’t want people walking through the lesson every couple of minutes. With this front room, Abe and Kali can get to the kitchen, the big rooms downstairs, and the bedrooms without ever having to walk through or interrupt a lesson. Perfect! 🙂

Next, Kristin Yost says to figure out the demographics of your area–who lives there, average income, etc. So I just googled demographics with my town’s name. I found some interesting information that was good to know. I live in a family-oriented community, so I’m already thinking of ideas of how to make my studio family-friendly. For instance, we have a big room downstairs that we are not sure what to do with, except to make it into a toy room for Kali and keep all of our toys and work-out equipment down there. I could make it look pretty and put a rocker or little couch in there and let families with younger kids hang out down there during the lesson. I would also like to offer group lessons for cousins. Kali has two other cousins who are around the age where they could start music classes or lessons. I’m sure there are other kids in the area who have cousins around the same age–maybe I will offer a group lesson, and if your student brings their cousin, they get two for the price of one! (Each pays half price?) Anyway…just a few ideas, not sure what will come of them! Kristin has a quote that says “Daydreaming about your business is actually strategizing.” I do plenty of daydreaming about my beautiful piano room and piano lessons, so now I can call it “strategizing!”

“Daydreaming about your business is actually strategizing.”

Lastly, she recommends setting up a website before you even begin teaching your lessons. That is what I’m currently working on. She gives a handy checklist for what should be on your website, so once I am ready with everything on that checklist I’ll start a new site. The hardest part so far has been coming up with a name. I want a cute, catchy name, but also a name that goes with my philosophy of music and foreshadows what my general purpose is in teaching. I came up with a few ideas…texted them to Abe…he shot them down. 😉 I even used Canva, a free graphic design website, to make each idea look pretty, but I agreed with him–nothing was just right. After a few days (of impatience because I want to get my site up) I finally came up with an idea that seemed to stick. I did a little design on Canva, sent a picture and text to Abe, and he confirmed that he liked that new idea. And surprisingly, it made the rest of my information flow so easily! Now, it is still subject to change since my page is not up and running yet, but I’ll give you a sneak peak at what may be the title of my new website/piano studio:

Making Piano Possible (1)

Making Piano Possible Music Studio

Like it?? Tell me what you think…and if you have any other cool ideas, let me know!! It worked really well when I went to write my philosophy section, and requirements, etc. I believe that piano can be possible for everyone–whether it’s to make a career out of, go to school for, or just play the favorite songs for the family around the holidays. The title helped me hone my goals too–I want to make painless performances possible, excellent technique possible, and enjoyable practice possible. I really believe that all of those things are possible, and that you don’t have to suffer through piano lessons like so many do.

That’s all for now…I’ll be keeping you updated as I continue brainstorming and “strategizing” for my piano studio. 🙂