Leslie’s Music Studio hosts Sean Hephner Piano Clinic

Leslie’s Music Studio was honored to host guest teacher, Sean Hephner, on September 8, 2018. Sean taught master lessons for students from Leslie’s Music Studio and Simmons Piano Studio to help them prepare for the KCMTA Fall Festival.

Sean’s playful approach eased student tension, helping students bring out a more natural and expressive tone. He offered new insights on score markings such as dynamics and articulations by encouraging students to imagine different characters within the contrasting sections of their pieces.

The KCMTA Fall Festival is known by area teachers to be one of the toughest judging events in the state of Kansas. Brenda Simmons and I are thankful for the masterful guest teaching Sean Hephner brought to our students this September, helping ensure successful performances on October 13-14!

Sean Hephner Biography

Born and raised in Wichita Kansas, Sean Hephner began playing piano in second grade. While the bulk of his formal training was at Dr. Timothy Shook’s Creative Keyboard Studio in Wichita, Sean also expanded outside the traditional piano curriculum, leading church praise bands, participating in choral music and music theatre productions, playing in jazz bands, and studying voice as a tenor.

Sean began attending MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas in 2011, where he studied under Dr. Erika Kinser, Jessica Koebbe, and Dr. John Leavitt. Here he participated in a wide variety of bands, vocal groups, school ensembles, and piano competitions before graduating in the spring of 2015 with a Bachelors in Music Education (Choral Focus). Sean was then accepted in the master program at WSU for Piano Performance in the fall of 2015, completing a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance in the fall of 2017, studying under Dr. Andrew Trechak.

Sean is currently an accompanist, pianist, singer, composer, and arranger working in the Wichita area. He teaches private lessons at the Creative Keyboard Studio, as well as at the Community Music School at Southwestern University in Winfield, Kansas and performs on both piano and voice. Ensembles that he has worked with recently include the Wichita State University Jazz Ensemble, The Friends University Singing Quakers, Concert Choir, and Opera program, as well as the Wichita Symphony Chorus and many others.

“Count Metronome” Halloween Practice Challenge

 

The maleficent mascot of meter visited Leslie’s Music Studio this October… and stole all of our Halloween candy! (*Insert maniacal villain laugh*)

To conquer the king of counting and take back their candy, students meticulously practiced their pieces with the metronome this month. Individual metronome challenges were assigned and completed and candy bags were filled one rhythmic reward at a time.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when candy is at stake. (Yes, there is a vampire pun in that sentence!) But really, I was amazed at the progress my students made in terms of playing with the metronome because of this challenge. Since this was such a success in my studio, I’ve decided to share it with you. Music teachers, please let me know how it goes if you decide to try it!

Framed picture of “Count Metronome” and candy bowl.

“Count Metronome” Halloween Practice Challenge
Instructions for Private Music Teachers

Materials

  1. Metronome – I hope you already have this if you are a music teacher! You will also need to make sure all of your students have access to a metronome at home.
  2. Paper bags – One for each student.
  3. Bowl for candy – Mine is clear so they can see the candy. You could instead use a decorative Trick-or-Treat bag or plastic jack-o-lantern bucket.
  4. Candy – In September, ask students what kinds of candy they like and try to purchase some of those kinds. Beware of peanut allergies. Calculate the amount by figuring each student should earn 10-12 small candies.
  5. Count Metronome (click to download PDF) – I framed mine so I can use it again year after year.
  6. Optional: Halloween decorations to enhance the Halloween theme.
Candy bags for students

Directions

Before beginning the challenge in your studio, prepare the materials by writing your students’ names on the paper bags. Print the picture of Count Metronome and display it in a visible location. Pour the candy into a large candy bowl and place it near the picture of Count Metronome.

When students arrive at their lessons the first week of October, tell them what has taken place: “Count Metronome visited the studio and stole all of our Halloween candy! All of the candy bags are empty now, but you can win back your candy by completing metronome challenges each week.”

Older students won’t care so much about the story, but younger students will enjoy some embellishment. You might tell them “Matching the count’s tempo will help you sneak past the ghost that is guarding the candy in the Count’s secret vault!” Or “playing your song with the tempo the Count asks is like playing his game… if you match his tempo, you win!”

Now that they get the idea, start assigning sections of their music with a specific tempo. I used an orange highlighter to make parentheses around the sections I assigned. Write the beats per minute they must match at the beginning of each section, and next to that draw an empty checkbox so that you can check it off once it’s completed and the student has received her candy for that section.

Here’s where the pedagogy comes in: You can give students a few easy challenges (i.e. 4-8 simple measures at an easy tempo) and one difficult challenge (i.e. 12-16 difficult measures at a faster tempo). They might complete the easy challenges in 1 week, but they will work hard to complete the difficult challenge over the course of the month, making major gains in their rhythm skills.

You can see how each section is 8 measures and was worth 2 candies per section. I decided to give the student 1 candy during a lesson where she played the first section 95% correctly, then I gave her the other candy the following week when she could play it 100% correct.

When students come back the next week, have them play their assigned sections with the metronome. They get 3 chances to play it correctly. If they can play it without mistakes or pauses, they earn candy! I gave out one small piece of candy for every 4 measures completed. If the sections were very difficult, I gave out more candy. If a student had to work on the section for a very long time and didn’t earn any candy for a couple of weeks, I gave out more candy when they did experience success. Have the students pick out what candies they would like from the bowl and put them in their bag. They will be excited to see their bags fill up!

As metronome challenges are completed, assign new sections to give students opportunities to earn more candy each week. Adjust the difficulty of the challenges as necessary for each student. The goal is for everybody to fill up their candy bags! Celebrate even the smallest successes for a student who has great difficulty with the metronome.

Differentiating for Special Circumstances

Kids who don’t like candy: I found that even the students who don’t like candy are still motivated by the playfulness of this challenge. As an alternative, you could offer them stickers, pencils, gum, erasers, etc. I like to use practice points that students can collect and eventually exchange for prizes.

Brand new students: During the challenge, I started two new students in lessons.  I let them earn candies for each song or worksheet they completed in their lessons this month instead of doing metronome challenges. (What a way to start piano lessons!)

Learning Disability: One of my students who struggles with a learning disability blew me out of the water with her progress due solely to playing with the metronome. Before the Count Metronome challenge, I thought adding the metronome would only make reading music more complicated for her. I was dead wrong! As soon as we added the metronome, it was like the music finally made sense and her playing improved dramatically. This may not be the case for every student. Alternatives to playing sections of their music with metronome could include clapping short rhythm drills, note name flashcards, or completing music theory activities/worksheets. Use your own judgment as the teacher to adjust assignments as necessary.

It has been so rewarding to see the pride my students have in their progressing playing skills because of this practice challenge. I’ve been pleased with these results and hope “Count Metronome” brings success to you and your students as well!

How to Practice Piano at Home

We have all heard the statistics about how studying and playing music makes children smarter, or at least helps them get better grades. I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but I believe the primary reason is because learning an instrument takes practice, builds discipline, determination, patience, and resilience. You might say it builds character. And all those character traits make a very good student, whether in primary school or the school of life.

To make the most of your child’s piano lessons, it’s important to establish a consistent practice routine. Unlike most sports where kids meet for multiple guided practices throughout the week, piano students are expected to practice individually at home. Figuring out how to practice can be a process, especially for a young student. It’s common for parents to experience frustration in this department (“Getting Timmy to practice is a non-stop battle!”), but with a few basic guidelines it’s possible to facilitate an effective practice routine for your child.

The Daily Routine

I encourage my students to practice 5 days a week. Everyone needs a breather now and then, and life gets busy – that’s why there are 2 “off” days built into this schedule.

In general, kids thrive on consistency. If your child doesn’t already have an established practice routine, you might help him or her by choosing 5 specific days that your child will practice piano. Think about your daily routine and decide when would be the most convenient time for your child to practice. When I was growing up, practicing piano was the very last thing I did before going to bed every night. Luckily, I was an only child and my practicing didn’t keep any younger siblings awake!

I often ask my students “When would be the best time of day for you to practice?” Many answer with ‘right after dinner,’ or ‘after I get home from school and have a snack.’ Practicing at the same time every day will help your child get into that focused mindset more quickly as it becomes routine.

How to Practice

Here is a wonderful guide from www.teachpianotoday.com:

  1. Read Lesson Notes: Read over practice assignments for the week
  2. Technical work: This includes scales, triads, warm-ups etc.
  3. Focus on Rhythm: Play assigned pieces with a focus on the rhythm
  4. Focus on Expression: Play assigned pieces with a focus on phrasing, dynamics and articulation
  5. Pick 4 Measures: Choose 4 measures that were difficult and/or needed extra attention and spend extra time on those.
  6. Review: Choose 2 “old” pieces and review them. (This is optional, but a great way to solidify prior learning and boost confidence by playing something they are already good at.)

The length of time students practice will vary depending on their age, skill level, and performances for which they are preparing. A brand new 6-year-old student will not be practicing 30 minutes a day, but a 16-year-old student who has been in lessons for 10 years and will perform in a judged competition will be practicing for at least 30 minutes a day. The main thing is that all students are focusing on improving their technique, rhythm, expression, and fixing trouble spots. A young student or new student will most likely need the help of a parent or older sibling while practicing each day.

Incentivizing

What you do to motivate your child to practice depends on his or her personality. Here are some ideas I’ve heard from parents of my students:

  • “Brendan gets an extra 5 minutes of screen time for each day that he practices piano for 20 minutes.”
  • “Sarah’s practicing is directly related to her privilege to drive her car.”
  • “When Charley meets his weekly practice goal, we let him download a new song or two from iTunes.”

Though I am not a parent, I imagine one of the best things you can do to support your child in piano lessons is praise their effort and express how much you love hearing them play. Here are some more ideas to help kids get excited about their music studies and motivate them to practice:

  • Remind them that they are a musician and they have special skills that not everyone else has.
  • Express your excitement about what they will play at the next recital or festival.
  • Bring parents and grandparents or your children’s friends to our recitals and go out to eat afterward to celebrate their accomplishment.
  • Take them to the music store to look around.
  • Go to concerts and professional recitals. (Check out local colleges like JCCC, the Bell Cultural Events Center, or venues like the Folly Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.)

Though practicing piano certainly is a discipline, music truly is a gift and I hope that your child’s piano lessons bring a lifetime of joy to them!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s practicing, don’t hesitate to contact me.

July 2018 Group Lessons

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At our K-3rd Grade Group Piano Lessons, students learned finger warm ups and performed for each other. Students listened for the variety of dynamics, tempos, and articulations used in each performance. Afterwards, we played a magnetic music vocabulary sorting game. The sorting categories were dynamics, tempo, and articulations. Then we played “Headbands” to review our new vocabulary words. During the last few minutes of class, students created covers for their piano binders and ate a snack.

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At our 4th-7th Grade Group Piano Lessons, we reviewed finger warm ups, performed for each other and used critical listening skills to give feedback to each other about their dynamics, tempo, and articulations. Afterwards, we played “Sparkle” to practice spelling pentascales and triads. Towards the end of class, we played “Headbands” to review music vocabulary and ate a snack.

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At our 8th-12th Grade Group Piano Lesson this week, students reviewed finger warm ups, performed, and practiced listening critically and giving constructive feedback to each other. After performing, we played “Sparkle” to review the order of sharps and flats, and key signatures. Towards the end of class we played “Headbands” to review music vocabulary and ate a snack.

Dennis Alexander Workshop

IMG_9259On April 18, 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite composers: Dennis Alexander. He debuted a new duet and presented a piano pedagogy workshop at Schmitt Music, covering teaching topics such as composition, playing by ear, and engaging students of all levels with quality repertoire.

It just so happens that Dennis Alexander and I are distant relatives! My husband’s great aunt is Dennis’ aunt. I will take that as my claim to fame!

Two of my favorite compositions by Dennis Alexander:

  • Toccata Brillante, Intermediate Piano Solo
  • King Tut, Late Elementary Piano Solo

Click here for a complete list of his compositions.