At the very beginning of my summer, the day after my son's eighth grade graduation, we got the horrible news that Paula had died. Even though she had suffered so much pain and trauma over the 9 months after her fall which resulted in a brain injury, we still held out hope that she would one day recover. But knowing she is in a place without suffering is an answered prayer.
So who is Paula? Well, the easiest explanation is that she was my piano teacher's wife. To the general person, that may not seem like much, but as I started thinking about what most people think, I have really begun realizing why I put so much effort into my students and why I think being with the "right" piano teacher is so important.
At the beginning of this huge loss, I was so confused as to why people were asking me who Paula was and why was my entire family at her funeral? To be honest, I was dumbfounded. Jerry, my piano teacher, and Paula were a huge part of my family. They became part of our life when I was 8 years old. Paula worked for the Dallas County Commissioner, and regularly ate at my parent's restaurant. She had told my parents that her husband was a piano teacher, and literally the rest is history. My parents instantly became friends. We had piano twice a week, with all 4 of our lessons back to back, which meant we were at their home for hours. Paula ended up spending evenings with my family while Jerry accompanied the Dallas Symphony Chorus every Monday night. She helped us with homework- in fact, she was an amazing tutor! Seriously, I have no idea how I would have gotten through 7th and 8th grade history or Ursuline without her help!
As our lessons continued and our relationship became stronger, Jerry and Paula went on family vacations with us. They never had their own children and it's not really a secret that they adopted us. They even came to Greece with us! In college, I had a trip to New York that had me a little freaked out, and Paula took off from work to come with me. Paula, especially, was like a second mom to me and my 3 siblings. Even just writing this brings tears to my eyes.
It wasn't just my family. To explain how many students Jerry and Paula affected is not even possible. Together they attended countless student weddings, college graduations, and music productions. They supported every single student. I can't count how many of his students reached out to Jerry with Paula's death or were at her funeral.
I can't possibly give enough of a tribute to Paula's life. I can smile when I see my wedding certificate, and know that Paula's signature is on it (this is where working at the Dallas county comes in handy! I remember her so giddy with excitement taking care of this for me and Brian). I think of all of the ways my "piano teacher" affected my life, and it's not all at the piano! When I say that relationships are important, this is where it stems from. I'm not saying that you will have the same sort of relationship with your piano teacher, but there will be a lot of influence both at and away from the instrument.
Even just today, one of my students was dropping off her brother for a guitar camp and she wanted to stay and "help me work". I love being invited to my old student's weddings! I still stay in touch with them, even if it's just through holiday cards each year. This one bit of family and kindness is what our world is. And it's important. Life is short and relationships are important. I know we all stay so busy, but Paula has made me realize that we all need to slow down and enjoy each other and life just a little more.
-James Brett Landrum
You see that look in your child’s face as she watches the neighbor’s family play with their new guitar. They take it on walks, to family gatherings, and sometimes let it stay in the bed at night.
You love the idea of musical family charm, but you worry that your child will not care for it like they swear they will. You don’t want the constant noise late at night, the mess of music all over the floor and in the carpet, or even finding picks in the laundry!
When you choose to adopt an instrument, you are picking up more than just a fun hobby, it is a responsibility to care for a fragile tool that does need maintenance, but thankfully not walks.
I’m primarily the guitar teacher here at Music SO Simple, and guitars require lots of maintenance, but most of it is simple and achievable. Here’s some things that apply to both guitars AND pianos that we should all be aware of:
Guitar specifically requires a few things pianos don’t:
Instruments today are all masterful pieces of skilled craftsmanship, their own pieces of art even without the sounds they make. If you want them to provide years of beautiful music, treat them just as good as you would Rover.
One of the things I look forward to in the summer is starting a new round of Creative Keys group piano class! This class is for students going into kindergarten or 1st grade in the fall who are brand new to the piano. Our summer class is only 8 weeks, but boy, do we learn a lot in those 8 classes!
We like to keep the class small (limited to 5 students) so each student also gets individual attention. The goal being to continue the class through the school year and “graduate” to private lessons next summer. There are some real advantages to starting piano in a group setting at this age versus going right into private study. In this blog, I am going to walk you through what our Creative Keys class is like!
The first few lessons are jam-packed with important stuff! The very first thing we talk about is how all music has a steady beat, and how the beat can be different speeds. In our first class, we practice playing along with the beat of songs with different tempos with rhythm sticks. We start learning about basic rhythm by drawing quarter notes and rests on the dry erase board, and later adding half and whole notes/rests as our lesson book progresses. We also look at different rhythm patterns and practice clapping or playing them on the drum. Since understanding rhythm and steady beat is super important to playing any instrument, we always do some sort of rhythm activity at the beginning of class!
Our first class also introduces finger numbers. We trace our hands in our workbook and label the fingers, which parents can refer to at home when practicing. As our session continues, we review finger numbers each week by playing what I like to call the “fast finger quiz”, where I call out a number and have the students wiggle the correct finger. Knowing finger numbers well is essential for piano success!
Early on, we discover where the high and low notes are on the piano and the groups of black keys (2 key groups and 3 key groups), which is where our first songs begin. We also start ear training with various listening games- whether a note is high or low, if a notes move up or down, and listening for rhythm patterns. Ear training is really important to start right away because it takes a while to develop, and it’s important for students to be able to listen to themselves as they play.
So why start with a group piano class instead of going right into private lessons? I think the main reason is that learning in a group can be way more fun! The social aspect of a group class keeps kids engaged and perhaps provides a less intimidating learning environment. Group class also offers more opportunity for learning with different activities, versus only sitting at the piano like in a private lesson. Having the chance to move around during the lesson is important for very young students- they will not stay focused or be as engaged if they are just sitting on a piano bench for 30 minutes, and chances are, they won’t want to come back for lessons! What’s nice about group class also is that students learn some valuable lessons right off the bat- when they should be listening quietly to another student play and how it feels to play for other people (like in a recital), and how to play as an ensemble (when we all play the same song together).
Our next enrollment period for our group piano class will be in August, and we are in the works of some exciting changes to our group piano program for the fall. Stay tuned!
It’s that time of year when our spring semester is wrapping up and we as teachers reflect on our students’ accomplishments from the past school year. One of the pros to being in our studio is that all of our teachers complete bi-annual evaluations for each and every one of their students. Evaluations are done in May and October: the October evaluation focuses on what goals and objectives are set for each student for the coming year, and the May evaluation assesses whether or not these were achieved.
Evaluations gauge students in four main categories. The first is musicianship, which is subdivided into rhythm, reading skills, creativity, theory, and interpretation/expression. The second category is practicing where we assess consistency, progress, following directions, and thoroughness. Our technical development category has some variations based on the instrument. For piano/guitar students, we evaluate posture, hand position, touch, fingering, articulation, and dexterity, with balance of hands and pedaling added for piano students. Evaluations for voice include posture, breathing technique, vocal articulation, and projection. The last category is performance skills, which is divided into memorization, stage presence, and final polish. We also feature a general comments paragraph at the bottom so that each skill can be explained further if necessary.
Not only are evaluations great for parents and students, but also for teachers: it really allows us to see what is going well and what might need a different approach. Each student is unique with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, so these aid us in making sure we are doing the best job we can to help our students reach their goals. It’s also a great opportunity to look back at previous evaluations and see how far they’ve come!
If there are any concerns about your child’s evaluation, talk with your teacher. We always strive for good communication with our families throughout the year, but sometimes busy schedules can get in the way. This allows us to have a checkpoint and just make sure everyone is on the same page!
At the start of each new school year, we give our students a chance to learn at least 40 pieces. That's a lot of music! In a school year with 33 weeks, that at least one and a quarter pieces each week!! Congratulations to those who have achieved this award by our recital date!
A lot has changed since we originally wrote our blog, “What Makes Us Different From Other Studios” back in November 2016, so I decided that we needed to write an updated version! Besides our Music Buck system and our very own Early Childhood curriculum which we wrote about in the first blog, we’ve got a lot of new things that makes us different than any other studio out there!
Student of the Week is something that we really love about our studio. Each teacher can choose a student who stood out that week in their lesson- or not choose anyone if there was nothing to write home about! Students’ pictures are displayed on our Student of the Week board at the studio. They also get 10 music bucks and a printed certificate, and the best part- our Student of the Week yard sign, which they can sign their name on the back and keep at home for the week!
Our Adult Performance Opportunity called the Champagne Serenade is also new this year. We wanted our adult students to have a casual and fun performance experience to showcase what they’ve been working on, and meet our other adult students! We are really excited to host our first Serenade this Saturday, May 4th.
We get a lot of compliments and positive feedback from our parents about our sense of community, which has always been super important to us: we really strive to make our studio feel like a family. We’ve created an inviting studio space for our students who have lessons there, but we also want our students who have in-home lessons to feel just as much a part of the studio. Each Sunday we send out a weekly email newsletter that includes Students of the Week, upcoming student birthdays and events, our Merry Musicians preschool class, and our latest blog.
Recital Prep/Theory Group Classes are something we’ve added since we opened our studio space. We offer 2-3 group classes before each recital and DMTA festival, so that students can perform their prepared pieces in front of a small group and get feedback from the teacher. As of now, we have a group theory class every February for those students who are taking the Texas State Theory Exam.
We know that there are amazing teachers all over the metroplex, but something that helps us stand out from the rest is the time and care we put into matching students with the right teacher based on personality and learning goals. Before we enroll any new student, we conduct a phone interview with potential families so that we can pair them with a teacher that we think they will mesh well with. The right fit between student and teacher is extremely important for happiness and longevity in lessons!
Last but not least, we are very proud to say that all of our teachers at Music So Simple are Dallas Music Teachers Association (DMTA) members, with three of our teachers serving on the board. We think that being involved in our local association is essential for continuing education, personal growth, and extra opportunities for our students.
We are really proud of the studio we’ve built in the last 3 years, and we will continue to make improvements where needed. We value feedback from all of our families and most importantly we always put people first!
Since the beginning of January, I have been doing some leadership and strength building classes. These have been unbelievably helpful to me as I am leading our team of teachers. The first thing I had to do was take the Clifton Strengths Assessment so I could know my top 5 strengths. This was a bit like a personality test, but I loved that it was automatically focusing on the positives. The idea is to take these strengths and make them known in our every day lives.
So, my top 5 are Discipline, Responsibility, Harmony, Relator, and Maximizer. What do these mean? It means that I love to be organized, and that I thrive in routine and structure. When I have everything in order, I can think more clearly. The "responsibility" in me says I am dependable and I am always wondering what I can do better. With "harmony", this strengths allows me to listen and be straightforward with my thoughts. I don't like conflict, so I'm always looking for agreement. I enjoy close relationships with others and I find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal- this is my "relator". Lastly, my "maximizer" means I am always trying to be better in what I'm doing. I like to take something strong and turn it into something superb. I think this is especially true in picking strong teachers and putting us together to make our team superb. It may sound a little corny, but I believe whole-heartedly in this!
So, all of the teachers took the strengths assessment. Together, we are very strong in our strategic thinking and executing tasks. 5 teachers have "achiever" in their top 5! Our other strong area as a team is in relationship building. Obviously, this is pretty important as we work together with our students, parents, and teachers. As you can see below, we are not strong in "influencing", so it doesn't sound like we are going to be taking charge- maybe we let our students direct us??
When I told my students that I was going to a conference to make me a better music teacher, their reply to me was “But you’re already the best teacher ever, Ms. Stathia!!”. That made my heart smile. But, I sincerely believe that we can all benefit from continuing education and networking with others in our same field, and that is exactly what Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Conference is all about.
I am so lucky to be apart of MTNA, but also of TMTA-Texas music teachers- which has the largest MTA in the country. With this, we also have an amazing conference every June, which we have written about before. But national connects us with teachers from all over the country and Canada. We were at the beautiful convention center in Spokane. Washington. For those of you not familiar with Spokane (which I was not!), it’s pronounced “SPO-can” and the people were super friendly. There was snow on the ground and it was just beautiful!
Clinicians from all around the country gave presentations from 8am till 5:30pm for 5 full days. An example of just a few sessions I went to were:
Obviously, there were many other sessions that I went to in addition to the publisher showcases (seeing new music!!). I had a great time getting to meet teachers from around the country and even connecting with the Texas teachers at our Texas Dinner! Being at the conference energized me in my teaching just when I needed it. But, it also gave me the desire to want to be better and do even more! I’ve got a little list going of things that I would like to do over the next few years, like finish applying for my MTNA certification (which I’ve already started), get on the TMTA board (which might be happening sooner than I expected, lol), get my yoga teacher certification, and possibly even speaking at one of these conferences. When do I have time to any of this?! I have NO idea, but I’m shooting for the stars and this girl has some serious goals!!
We’ve written many, many blogs over the last 3 years, and I am surprised that we haven’t thought to write about this subject. Possibly because it’s not the most positive topic to talk or write about, but it is certainly important. With our May Awards Recital about 8 weeks away, I was thinking about the performances of my past and current students. While most of my students have performed well, there were a couple who had disappointing performances, so I wanted to write about the importance of failure.
In the wise words of Yoda, “The greatest teacher, failure is”. While it is difficult to get a poor test score back or to perform poorly at a recital or festival, I think it is these situations where we really learn what to change and are able to fix our problems. I’ve thought back to my own performances that were disappointing, but I know exactly what I did wrong, and I rarely ever make those mistakes anymore. I needed to experience failure in order to grow and improve. Of course, I would never let a student go up and play in a recital who was totally unprepared. But, if a student has had plenty of time for their piece and has chosen not to practice, and has it mostly memorized, he/she will participate. It’s never easy to watch a student “bomb” their piece, but we always address it at the next lesson and usually the student knows exactly what they need to do differently next time. “Maybe I should have practiced more”, “Maybe I should have read my assignment sheet to see what my goals were”, “Maybe I should start memorizing my piece earlier instead of trying to memorize it at the last minute”- these are all things I hear after a poor performance. I reassure them that no one performs perfectly every time and that these are experiences that everyone goes through.
It’s also critical for students to learn how to recover from a mistake in the middle of a performance. To prepare for this, the student and I pick out a spot or two to start from again in case their memory slips or they can’t get past a troublesome passage. You can turn this into a game as well- I’ll point to a measure anywhere in the piece (usually in the middle of line somewhere) and ask them to start from there. Students that know their piece really well can do this fairly easily. Students that need to start from the beginning of the line or all the way at the beginning of the piece will need more practicing.
I think all teachers and parents want to prepare children to be successful adults and to learn how to deal with all types of positive and negative situations. Rejection and failure are real world experiences, whether at work, school, or even in relationships. We can’t ignore them because they are unpleasant to deal with, but we can be supportive and teach our students and children how to grow from them. Students who go through failure end up being the most resilient and prove to themselves that they can recover from a poor performance experience.
This blog has been mulling around in my brain for a while and I’m finally sitting down to write it out. I’ve had a lot of friends and students going through some pretty rough times here lately, and it has made me really think about how our children react and cope with life changes.
First, let me tell you a little about me and what I went through exactly 8 years ago. We had just gotten home from a super relaxing 3 ½ week trip to Greece. Dominic was starting kindergarten and Juliette was almost 3 years old. I started having some health issues and was going from doctor to doctor. My hands were completely swollen, my feet had blown up to practically the size of 2 tree trunks- I didn’t even have ankles. I had some of the worst doctor experiences ever and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. This went on for about 4 months. I was literally a basket case- crying all of the time, unable to move, I couldn’t hold Juliette, I was exhausted all of the time, and super small things like making my bed were impossible. My diagnosis eventually was Rheumatoid Arthritis. I started some pretty heavy medication, and it was months until I started feeling like myself again.
This situation for me and my family was incredibly stressful. I tell you this because as I was battling my everyday issues, I had to communicate with my kids’ teachers and my friends. I needed all of the help I could get to take care of my children and function. When children are affected by these things, they cope very differently. Some children act out for more attention. Some stay the same. Some simply need a little more love and maybe hold on to their teacher more often if they normally don’t.
Life changes are unavoidable and they affect our kids. These changes could be moving to a new home, separation/divorce, new baby, new job, loss of job, death of a family member or pet, change of schools, or applying to a new school. Anytime something changes in our lives, our children notice it! What should you do? I understand you don’t want to broadcast your life to everyone, but giving your teacher a heads up as to what is going on is incredibly helpful. Besides the teachers in your child’s life being there for your child, they will be able to watch for signs while they are away from you. Sometimes, no changes really happen, Other times, that child might just want to sit and chat. Or sometimes they are acting out, and we need to know why,
Being ill was not only stressful for me and my family, but it was a bit humiliating. I didn’t know what was going on or why. Plus, I had no control over what was happening (for those of you who know me know I like having control in my life!). I thought I had done something wrong, or wasn’t being “healthy”. It was hard for me to tell my kids’ teachers what was going on, but once I did, they were able to help me in different ways than I ever anticipated. They were a set of eyes when I wasn’t parenting. Some started giving me a little advice or pointing me in directions of others who were going through something similar. I began to not feel alone. The best thing I did was open my mouth and talk about what was going on with me. We are a community and the best thing about that is caring for one another. Never think you are alone. You need the support, and your children need the extra care. We teachers genuinely care about the well being of your child, and we want to be sources of support for your family when you need it.