Week 3 is done, and aside from one challenge that was done a day late, it was a success! I am continuing to get organized for the fall and explore new ideas for my teaching this year.
Here is my wrap-up for week 3:
- Done! For this challenge I chose to listen to the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, K. 310, performed by Daniel Barenboim (thank you, YouTube!). Now, I feel like I am breaking some kind of piano teacher code by admitting that while I admire Mozart’s compositional talents, he is not one of my favorite composers to listen to. However, I really enjoyed this movement. I suspect it has something to do with the stormy minor sound and the almost Romantic-sounding harmonies he uses here.
This movement is in sonata-allegro form, with Theme 1 being a forceful minor theme with a recurring dotted eighth-sixteenth note rhythm, and Theme 2 being a more delicate, whimsical theme in C major. The closing theme of the exposition provides quite a left hand workout! The development section begins with Theme 1 played in C major, but quickly descends into chaos, with diminished seventh chords and chromatic melodic patterns abounding. The recapitulation features Themes 1 and 2 returning in the home key of A minor. Upon reading some history about this sonata, I learned that it is one of only two minor sonatas Mozart ever wrote, and it was written around the time of his mother’s death. Perhaps that accounts for the passionate sound of this movement.
Improvise a piece using the I-vi-IV-V chord progression.
- Done! This is my kind of challenge. I improvised a short little tune that I look forward to writing out on staff paper as part of next week’s challenge.
Play all the major and minor chords in root position and inversion.
- Done! I should have my students do this challenge, too! Being able to play chords and their inversions quickly is so important to improvising, playing by ear, and lead sheet playing. I do drill chords with my students pretty regularly, but I bet a timed challenge would motivate my students to practice their chords even more. Something to keep in mind for the fall!
Sight-read 3 pieces by living composers.
- Done! For this challenge, I chose to sight-read a few pieces by a living composer that I know personally: Tom Lohr, one of my former college professors. I sight-read three pieces from his “Meditations and an Exaltation on Medieval Chant Melodies.” It would take more than just sight-reading to really delve into these pieces, which are a lovely mixture of chant-like melodies combined with rich harmonies. But I enjoyed the challenge of sight-reading these pieces. I don’t play enough contemporary music with shifting meters and modern harmonies—and I really should!
Make a list of new games, apps, and materials to try.
- Done—but a day late! On the day of this challenge, my husband had a vacation day from work and we decided to take a trip to the zoo. So, I was late getting my challenge completed for this day, but I did get to feed a giraffe! That has to count for some kind of professional development, right?
On to the new materials I hope to try this year!
- Super Metronome app: I have the lite version of this app, which is basically a drum machine. I plan on upgrading to the full version and using it to create rock beats for my students to practice their scales with in their lessons. Has anyone else used this app with their students?
- Earpeggio: I have been on the hunt for a good ear training app for a while. So far I have used “Hear it Note It,” which is fun but doesn’t allow much customization, and “Tenuto,” which has some good interval training exercises but doesn’t have any melodic ear training practice. I also have “Ear Master,” which looks a bit intimidating for some of my younger students. Today I found “Earpeggio,” which I am hopeful will be a good addition to my app toolbox. I especially like the melodic dictation exercise, which can be customized to include only step-wise melodies or melodies with larger intervals.
- “Write That Down” composition book from Piano Pronto: this book has been on my radar for a while, but I finally downloaded it and I think it will provide some great guided composition activities for my students this year. I especially like the “tasty templates” (one measure melodic ideas that students can choose from and write on the staff in whatever order they like) and the pop templates (a left hand pop-style pattern is provided and students create a melody to go with it).
Listen to a concerto you have never performed before.
- Done! I listened to “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” by Ben Folds. I have been a long-time fan of Ben Folds, an NC native who formed his band the “Ben Folds Five” while living in Chapel Hill, not far from where I grew up. So I was really excited to learn that he had written a piano concerto. Since I myself enjoy composing music in a contemporary classical/classical crossover kind of style, I was really interested in hearing this piece. At times I was reminded of film and video game music, especially in the lush string melodies that Folds wrote. There were sections reminiscent of Gershwin, and even a few Mozart-like piano phrases thrown in. It was a melting pot of classical, jazz, and contemporary styles that I found unique and enjoyable. I recommend giving it a listen, especially if you are a fan of Ben Folds!
List 3 things that worked well in your studio last year.
- Done! In no particular order, here are 3 ideas that I implemented over the past year or so that have worked well and I will continue to use this fall:
- Note Rush app. This is hands down the best app purchase I made last year. My students love trying to “beat” each level and the colorful backgrounds they can choose from when they play the game. It has also been great practice for matching a note on the staff with a specific key on the piano—a very important concept for improving sight-reading skills. This app will be in heavy rotation this fall, I am sure!
- Musicianship binder. Last year, I organized all of my various “musicianship” worksheets--transposing, guided composition, play-by-ear challenges—into a binder that I kept stocked throughout the year. This worked really well to keep me organized and made it easy for me to pull out an extra worksheet to assign my students during lessons. I will be adding more of my new finds to this binder in preparation for the fall.
- Repertoire/Wish Lists for each student. I posted these simple sheets HERE, and I have been giving them out to my students at the start of each school year and after Christmas break. It has been enlightening to have my students write in their own words what their “wishes” are for piano—often things I would never have guessed! It has also been helpful (and confidence-building) for my students to have a special place to make note of their favorite pieces from the past semester on a repertoire list. I will continue to give out these sheets to my students at the start of each semester.
So that is Week 3, with a giraffe thrown in for good measure. Any thoughts on the challenge so far? I would love to hear your ideas!