It's no secret that this year has been a year we don't ever want to return to. 2021 HAS to be better, right? But, it's got me thinking a bit these past few weeks as I've been working on our Winter Un-Recital Recital. I want to end 2020 on a high note!
I've been working on holiday pieces with most all of my students. I say every year that the best part of playing piano is being able to play holiday music! It's the one time a year that I personally make time to sit down and just play the piano. It fills my home with beautiful music, it makes me happy, and it never fails that I sing along while playing! This year, as I'm teaching my students their holiday piece(s), it feels different. It feels different because so much has been taken away from us.
Last week, while watching the CMA Awards, Eric Church accepted his award and really spoke to so many of us:“This award this year, at least for me, has been about the loss of this year. Loss of life, loss of playing shows, loss of freedom, loss of kids being in school. You know what the win is? The win is we were all here tonight together in person, live, not on zoom,” he went on. “It’s going to be music that brings us out of this. That is the one thing that is going to save the entire world. Politicians are about division, music is about unity. And I promise you, it’s going to take everyone in this room to unite.”
I think he's very right. The other day, as I was teaching a preschool music class, I stopped and just watched the kids singing, smiling, and happy without a care in the world during a world-wide pandemic(!). This is proof that there is still so much happiness out there (especially in our children) and that music can bring a smile to anyone's face. It brings us together all year long, but especially in the holiday season.
This year, more than ever, I am thankful for what I have. I want to enjoy the little things like playing Christmas carols, teaching them, spreading my love of them to my students. I think all of the teachers are feeling this right now. Normally, this is a stressful time for us as we pick pieces, memorize, and spread all of the carols out among recitals. But, we have thrown those rules out the window and it is so gratifying to say "Yes! Let's learn another carol!" even if 5 other students are playing the same one.
As we enter this holiday season, take time to listen to music! Fill your hearts with family and music because it's the one thing that cannot be taken away. Let's really end this 2020 year on a high note!
The title of this post sounds rather negative, almost repentant, but I ask that it not be viewed so. The problem with many people’s attitudes about learning is that it is based on the fundamental principle of improvement—which is accompanied, for some reason, by the shaming of “unimprovement”, when that is the most natural component of learning anything. It is “unimprovement” that shows just how much one knows, and “unimprovement” that teachers should care about the most. Most teachers are reluctant to address weaknesses as they are. They are afraid of hurting their student’s feelings (such a well-intentioned act of love!)
I, too, am afraid of hurting my student’s feelings. I’m afraid to address my student’s weaknesses: to tell them that they are sliding backward from their goal, or that they must turn back to the fundamentals…I’m afraid because I have the same attitude as them. Mistakes are shameful. They must be eradicated or buried as soon as possible. If they are not, social consequences occur, and along with them the feelings of guilt, exclusion, even abandonment.
I need to shake off this fear of being wrong. I will be wrong. I will always be wrong about something. I need to learn that mistakes are a good thing. In fact, they are the most helpful tool to learn. The more I understand my mistakes, what I’m doing wrong and why, the less I fear them. They will become friendly to me, and I will care about them and will want to change them because I love them.
I’d like to practice embracing my mistakes by listing them here, for all to see. My goal this year is to become comfortable with them, then to understand why they are my mistakes. What fundamental source do they come from? What basic truth do I need to re-address? How can I keep myself from committing these bad habits?
Some of my “wrongs” are listed out in the chart below, as well as my procedure for how I will work on them:
There are many other things I must improve. If anyone wants the rest of my list, I’m more than happy to share. The more I expose my weaknesses, the less I have to hide, and the more I will trust myself in my ability to improve.
For my own students (and my student’s parents), keep me accountable and tell me when I make these mistakes. Help me become a more useful teacher to you all.
These are stressful times...unprecedented...uncharted… You have heard these terms ad nauseum in the past several months. We have been forced to learn more technology than ever before-as students, teachers, parents, and families. We are living through a pandemic and social unrest. We have been separated from friends and family. Our normal way of life has been put on hold
Here you are, at the beginning of a new school year, starting music lessons in the midst of the chaos; adding more to your already overflowing plates.
Why did you decide that this was a good idea?
I submit to you that you know something on a deep and visceral level. You understand that across cultures and across eras, music is the thing that connects all of humanity. You understand that in all times, but especially during difficult times, music practice is self-care.
To be sure, it is not to be taken lightly; to get good at anything, one must put forth effort and dedicate time to the study of an instrument. But, the creative process in general and music study specifically, affects our brains and our whole being. “Music”, as Oliver Sacks writes in Musicophillia: Tales of Music and the Brain, “is part of being human.”
Certainly listening to music for the purpose of affecting or reflecting our mood is not a groundbreaking idea. However, learning a musical instrument can be even more beneficial than passively consuming music. In addition to increasing cognitive functioning, memory, and focus, learning an instrument, increases dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. And couldn’t we all use more of that these days?
So, when it is time to practice your instrument each day, don’t think of it as yet another duty to check off your to-do list. Instead, recognize it as a gift to yourself. Taking moments out of each day to tap into that which connects us to all of humanity is the highest form of self-care. In a time when connection may seem hard to achieve, let music be the glue that connects you to our human family.
Take good care.
Williams, Amanda. (August 20, 2018) Stop. Pause. Play-Using Music for Self-Care. https://www.tendacademy.ca/using-music-self-care/
This month, we are 4 years old!! I seriously can't believe it! I think it's been 4 of the best years ever!
Recently, I have friended another music teacher who is going through the same thing I did four years ago. It has brought up many memories of what happened with me and how I started Music SO Simple, but honestly it's made me more thankful! Even in a strange and life-changing time like COVID-19, I am beyond grateful for having started Music SO Simple with a great friend, Meredith Manley.
Ending the spring semester with 165 students was truly incredible, especially during COVID! We've had to change our business model a bit and continue lessons via technology. Thank goodness for technology- it has truly been a huge gift. I think our virtual recitals were absolutely amazing- and if you haven't watched them yet, please do now!! It was super cool to see each student perform in his/her home setting and everyone worked so hard to make these virtual recitals extra special. They truly are a souvenir from our "shelter in place" time and will be cherished for a very long time.
Over this past year, we have welcomed a few more teachers and a few more students. I take pride in that we only hire teachers that are the best of the best. It has taken time to get to where we are! We have also been in our amazing studio space now for almost two years. I sometimes laugh, that 2 years ago, it looked like a completely different space! We now have so much art/student pictures filling the walls and furniture to host our waiting parents. During this time of COVID-19, it is so hard to see the waiting areas empty, but I know one day, we will be able to go back to where we were. Our entire mission was built on relationships, music, and families and our studio space was created to reflect this.
Thank you for being a part of our MSS family. Even those who no longer take lessons are still part of our musical family. The silver lining in our time is that we have really learned what matters to so many of us, and not surprisingly, music has continued to keep us going and brings us together like nothing else. This time will pass, but we will cherish everything we have learned and will continue to grow! Happy 4th birthday, MSS!!
Our May Awards Recital is always something we all look forward to at the end of each school year! Due to the circumstances, our May recital this year looks a little different: instead of performing for a live audience, our students are submitting a recorded video of themselves performing at home. They have been working so hard on their recital pieces, and we wanted to give them a chance to still perform in the safest way we could. We will be putting together the videos to make virtual recitals and sending them out to all of our families!
At the end of the May recital, we call up students one by one and present them their bag of yearly awards. Most families head home with their awards, but don’t always understand what they are for or how their child earned them. So I thought this blog would be a great way to explain all the different types of awards students can earn!
Our last category of awards has to do with how long a student has been studying their instrument. Awards start at half a year of study all the way through their senior year.
Our intention is never to hurt anyone’s feelings if they didn’t receive many awards. We know how challenging it is to earn some of these, and we feel that students who achieve them should be recognized and celebrated. Reflecting on the quality of a student’s work is a valuable lesson no matter the outcome because it shows them how far they’ve come in the last 9 months, and shows them what could be improved so that they earn a certain award next year. We think awards are the perfect way to end the school year, and we really are so proud of all of our students!
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed every aspect in our daily lives, and we’ve all had to adapt quickly to this new way of life. From figuring out how to continue school and work remotely to being isolated from family and friends, this virus really has turned our world upside down. It’s easy to dwell on all the things that are going wrong, but what about the things that have been better? In the last few weeks, I’ve reflected on what positive changes are happening, even though they are sometimes hard to see.
Like a lot of people, there have been many changes in my work life, and I am so grateful that I am one of the lucky few who are able to work from home. Before the pandemic, I had never taught virtual lessons before, although I know that many teachers across the world were already teaching this way. After teaching online for 2 weeks, I definitely miss being with my students in person, but at the same time, I am learning a lot about what my students really understand and my own teaching abilities. Because I am not there to point to certain things in their music or to demonstrate something, I have had to become a clear communicator: my feedback and instructions are now much more specific and descriptive than before. Online lessons are really showing me what my students do and do not understand: can they find certain keys on the piano? Do they really know their finger numbers? Do they understand what all the different notes are called? Do they understand measure numbers? If they don’t, they are learning these concepts much faster because they have to do so on their own!
(my home studio setup- teaching assistant included!)
My students are also becoming better communicators with me as well. If they have a question, they have to be able to explain different musical elements to me. My younger students who have relied on me to point to their music as they play are now responsible for keeping their eyes up and following the notes independently. I believe my students are also becoming better listeners and applying their ear training in a new way. If I hear something wrong in their piece, I will play it back to them correctly, so they now have to be more aurally engaged to figure out which notes need to be fixed. Another huge improvement I’ve noticed is that students are completing their weekly theory homework on a regular basis. I usually text students or parents sometime before the lesson to send me a picture of their completed work, so just having them check in on whether or not it has been done has been a huge success in the theory department!
It’s also been very enlightening to get a glimpse of my students’ pianos at home (for those students who take studio lessons). It’s allowed me to learn about sticking keys, broken pedals, pianos that need tuning, and for those students who use keyboards, if it might be time for an upgrade in the near future!
So to sum everything up- are online lessons effective? Yes. Would I rather teach in-person? Yes. But teaching virtually has allowed me and my students to grow in a way we wouldn’t have before, and I can see how virtual lessons could be useful in the future after this virus has subsided. Virtual lessons can be a great way to get in a make up lesson without anyone having to travel, or would allow for a regularly scheduled lesson to still happen if the student or teacher has a contagious illness. We are so grateful to our families who have stuck with us through this difficult time, and I know I speak for all the teachers when I say we can’t wait to have in-person lessons with you all again soon! Let’s keep making music!
I have been doing a lot of soul searching in this past week, as I'm sure a lot of you have as well. I think this is only natural when the world feels on edge and everything is very uncertain. As we begin to face our temporary "normal" in finding new schedules, routines, and embrace technology in a way that is so very different, I find myself grabbing on to the things I know and need.
Why is learning an instrument so important? And why should we continue now as our lives have been disrupted? Well, for starters, here's what we know learning an instrument does:
So, knowing why learning an instrument is good for us, the next question would be why do you value music lessons? Well, the answer is going to be different for each family. For my family, it is important that we are well-rounded. I'm a music teacher and my husband is a software engineer. We are on two different planets! But, we want to raise our children to use BOTH parts of their brains! So, why does your family value lessons?
Why not quit when it gets hard? Um...I get this question a lot!! Are we really teaching our kids to quit when things get hard? That's when the REAL learning begins! Try holding a plank- how long can you hold it? Do you drop out when it's hard? Nope- we push through so we can build muscles and get stronger. What does letting our kids quit help them? It doesn't! It teaches them that when something gets difficult, that you move on to something different. This is why we ask for a commitment to learning an instrument.
Hopefully, I've given you some things to think about today besides the spread of the Coronavirus. This is much more fun to think about! lol. But in all seriousness, do your best to keep your routines, give your kids (AND YOU!) a creative outlet. Sit and enjoy making music together. If there's anything that we can learn from this situation, it's that we are getting lots of quality family time together. Put on a family concert! Ask your teacher if they can teach you a few lessons! Use a part of your brain that allows you to distract from our problems and makes you think on a different level. I'm praying everyone stays safe and healthy!! I hope to see you all soon!!
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!
With 2016 coming to an end, this time of year is a time of reflection, pride, and setting goals for 2017. In the past 6 months, we’ve come a long way: preparation to open this studio, launching it in June 2016, growing and adding a new teacher in the fall, and then capping it off with wonderful holiday recitals. It’s easy to say that 2016 has been pretty stellar! We are excited to share with you in this week’s blog some of the goals we have for next year.
Our first goal in January is to hire another piano teacher. We’ve just announced the job opening on social media, so we’d love it if our followers could also help us spread the word! Currently, we have 10 students on a waiting list, and we are definitely growing fast. Please see our job posting on indeed.com if you or anyone you know would be interested in joining the Music SO Simple team!
Another major goal for us next year is to find a studio space. We are still deciding where the best location would be for us to grow, and will most likely commit to a location in the spring so that we can have summer programming. This is one of the most exciting changes we hope for next year, so stay tuned via our Facebook Page for more details!
We would also love to start developing our early childhood programming once we have a space to call our own. We are planning to provide parent/child music classes for babies and toddlers, preschool music classes, and beginner’s group classes for piano and guitar.
And lastly, we’d love to keep growing in our private student list. We cannot express our appreciation enough to our families who have passed our names onto friends looking for lessons. There’s an added bonus for them too: they receive one free lesson for each new student they bring to us! Our ultimate goal is to provide quality music lessons and to help our families build a love of music.
Teaching in a big city like Dallas has its pros and cons: on the plus side, we have more potential students, more connections, and more resources. But with a larger population, that also means we have more competition. There seems to be a teacher with space in their studio around every corner. In a competitive city, it is important for us to make sure that our studio stands out amongst the rest.
One thing that differentiates us from other studios is our reward system. We’ve written about music bucks before, but I can’t say it enough- they REALLY work in helping students progress and reach their yearly goals. Students can earn Music Bucks for practicing, memorizing pieces, participating in classes outside of their lessons, or doing extra theory work. At the end of the month, they can spend (or save) their bucks to buy prizes. I’ve seen a lot of studios do prizes every 3 or 4 months or once a year, but in my experience the more often they receive rewards, the better!
Another unique feature of our studio is that our early childhood curriculum was created by us based on our teaching experience and expertise. We’ve taken the favorite songs and activities from over the years and put them into a successful program. Ms. Stathia has been teaching these classes for over 15 years, and Ms. Meredith has been teaching Music Together for over 10 years, so we really know what works. Our preschoolers learn about different instruments, cultural music, and learn to identify notes and rhythm patterns. It’s a great program that is not only educational, but helps prepare them for private lessons later.
Ms. Stathia and Ms. Meredith are also both board members of the Dallas Music Teachers Association. We feel it’s important to be active in this organization, and we make it a priority for our students to participate in DMTA events. We also encourage our students to take the state theory exam each year. Being involved in DMTA helps us stay connected in the teaching community, and elevates our expectations for our students.
And last but certainly not least, our strong relationships with our students set us apart. We really feel that building trust and a friendship with our students is what really helps them blossom, and they want to make us proud. If there is no attachment, students typically don’t care about how well they do and tend to quit. We strongly believe in the teacher/student relationship and taking time to place each student with a teacher. Our students are very special to us and it’s this bond that we cherish the most.
Not that other studios don’t feature these things, but it’s hard to find a studio that has ALL of these. If you are searching for a studio, please be sure to think about other things besides proximity and price- it is the quality of the teacher that it most important.