Connecting to Students
Teaching students of any age in group or private lessons requires at least some emotional connection. Whose heart wouldn’t melt at the sound of a little one running down the hall, arms open wide, saying “Ms. Beff! Ms. Beff! Ms. Beff!” on the way to her piano lesson? Granted, this will not happen with a preteen young man, but I’ll take a “hey, whatssup” any day.
In a private lesson, of course, that is easier to accomplish because of the one-on-one dynamic. Establishing rapport with each student creates a loving atmosphere that encourages trust. I’ve always been a bit of a “Pollyanna”, but I do sincerely believe that if a student knows that their teacher cares about them, they can learn anything. How do we as private lesson teachers translate that same human connection, and even friendship, through online lessons?
Steal, steal, steal!
As a former elementary music teacher, I quickly learned the adage of “steal, steal, steal”. If someone else came up with an incredible idea and shared it, that idea is certainly open game to steal...I mean, use.
When we were first made aware of COVID-19 and had to start teaching solely online, I hit Facebook, Pinterest, and any piano-related forum available. Orpheus provided instant technical training and links to webinars so that instructors could prepare. We all jumped in and had moments of great success, and some failures. We rescheduled lessons when the screen froze because of a weak internet connection, or the sound wasn’t good. Those types of issues were easily fixed. My bigger concern was implementing ideas to keep the human connection while still reviewing and teaching musical concepts.
First of all, greet the student and parent (and other family members or pets) with sincerity to set the tone for the lesson. Second, give the student a “hook” to look forward to at the next lesson, yes even adult students. This may be a hint about a new song, a cool listening assignment using “Happy” by Pharrell, or perhaps asking to meet their pet or favorite stuffed animal at the next lesson. Third, notice their surroundings and ask a quick question. I learned how to hang string lights around the room, was inspired from mom and dad’s new office setup, got great advice on WiFi boosters, and discovered one student’s pretzel obsession! Finally, toss out some theme ideas that connect your studio. For me, this week is Crazy Hair Week...and it’s been hilarious so far! My colleagues have had a Hat Week, send grandma a video week, practice games, and even a baking challenge. I’m certain there will be even more fun ideas for Orpheus students coming soon!
In preparing for our first virtual recitals, I was concerned that students, especially younger students, might lose focus in this different format. I read about a piano teacher with a large studio that had an idea on how to guide students to be purposeful listeners as well as encouragers! Hoping my parents would buy in to the idea, I assigned each performer 2-3 others to specifically listen to, and then write them a compliment or words of encouragement. After the recitals, tears of gratefulness welled up as parents began to send me absolutely precious compliments, astute observations, and simply sweet words of encouragement from one student to another.
I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends
Unable to reach through the screen to correct hand position, or write in phrasing, I’ve become dependent on others to help. Parents have been amazing! I’ve observed they would rather me ask for their help than to keep trying to explain something in different ways. This need for assistance has created more open lines of communication for me with many parents. We’re texting and emailing more, sending videos, pictures of fingering, and new song ideas. This made my day: I asked a dad if his son had looked at a song I scanned for him, and he replied, “um, not yet...but I tried it!”. I love that.
Most adult musicians adapted easily to lessons online since communicating in this manner is a norm in their work or school environments. Across the board though, they miss the direct connection only in-person lessons provide. I spend a few minutes more with them than my younger students talking about what life is truly like for them, and encouraging them to find solace and peace in their own beautiful piano music.
My fellow instructors have been an incredible source of inspiration. Sharing fun ideas to try is great, but they’re also a wonderful sounding board for advice and support. For the first time ever in a Zoom faculty meeting, I confessed to being thoroughly exhausted. This way of teaching requires hours more prep and follow-up. A few weeks ago, I would’ve never been that transparent; however, I’m learning through this crisis to be what I want others to be with me...vulnerable. To parents, colleagues, adult students - please reach out with how things are really going, how you’re really feeling. Let’s support each other through this tumultuous season of our lives. And yes, that may include putting on your Crazy Hair and dancing it out, my friends!
By Douglas Stefaniak
If you’re like me, lately you’ve been trying to find more things to do at home. One thing that most musicians and students are realizing is that they have more time than ever to practice. And with all this extra time, we need to get creative. That is why I have put together a list of apps that will help supercharge your music practice! They add a great level of motivation and diversity for any online instrument lesson. You can practice for more time, be more efficient, and be creative while doing it. These are apps that I always use in my own practice and teaching, so I know they work!
1. GuitarTuna: Guitar, Bass tuner
GuitarTuna is an app that makes tuning your instrument extremely easy. The app shows you what string you’re tuning so there is no confusion, and you will hear a ding when you are right in tune! This app is great because it keeps you in tune for practice and your online lessons! GuitarTuna is also great because it has a metronome, chord library, and various games!
2. Music Tutor
Music Tutor is a sight reading app that I use in my lessons all the time. I really like this app because you can really customize the experience you’ll have when practicing. You can help your sight reading by limiting (or expanding) the notes you have to name, choose different clefs, or even answer by tapping the correct piano keys! There are different durations of quizzes, options to turn on sharps or flats, and even a practice alarm that remind you to play at the same time everyday!
With everything being online these days, having an app to organize all of your music is essential. That’s where forScore comes in! The app is able to copy PDF files from other apps like Safari and Mail, and keep them all in one place. There are multiple ways to view the music for performance, and you can annotate music like you do on Zoom lessons! Another cool feature is the ability to connect a foot-controlled page turner so you don’t have to worry while playing an instrument. Many of the teachers at Orpheus use this app, and so do many professional musicians that perform live regularly!
Tenuto is an app produced by musictheory.net that takes music theory learning to the next level. You can construct notes with Solfege or letter names. You can identify scales and chords. Are you looking to start learning guitar or transfer your skills to another instrument?. You can by learning to identify everything on a guitar or piano! This app was recommended to me many years ago, and it has only improved since then. If you are serious about learning how music really works, at both the beginner and advanced levels, this app is for you.
BandLab is a music creation platform that allows you to record multi-track recordings on PC or mobile. Have a CD Project coming up? This your answer! This app makes it easy to work with your ensemble partners to create performances while social distancing! You can play virtual instruments, create loops to play over, and “fork” (remix) music that other users have uploaded. This app allows you to be creative with others, something that everyone can benefit from right now!
6. Music Flash Class
Music Flash Class is another sight reading app that has different, fun games to name notes! My personal favorite is Hot Potato, where a timer counts down until a buzzer goes off! Another great one is play until you name a wrong note. Because of the games, it really doesn’t even feel like practice!
Here are some bonus resources that Orpheus recommends!
This is a website that shows you how to improve your practice, performance, and approach to music. Using scientifically backed research, Noa Kageyama gives you practice “hacks” that can improve your playing. Whether it’s finding motivation or being efficient, he has the answers to your questions. There is a blog, podcast, and free resources! I personally still use these resources all the time.
Ever seen amazing piano videos online or on Youtube like this? SeeMusic can do this for you with the click of a button! SeeMusic is available on the Mac App Store, and will produce visuals like particles and lights to match seamlessly to your playing. This download allows users to understand harmony through color, and create videos extremely easily. You could share them in your online music classes for all your friends!
What apps have you been using lately?
Mr. Doug and Dr. Klondike have challenged their students to collectively learn 100 new pieces by the end of the semester. If they succeed, the guitar students will be treated to an exclusive celebration party.
In order for a piece to qualify as one of the 100, students must evaluate their own playing based on a set of criteria they set for themselves. Criteria can include accuracy, and musicality, among others. Each criteria is rated on a 5 point scale by the student, and any piece that scores twenty or over is placed on the 100 Piece Challenge board.
“It is so great to see all of our students working together, and challenging themselves to accomplish a goal,” said Dr. Klondike.
As the students work to complete the challenge they learn accountability and self-evaluation skills. For Mr. Doug the best part about the project is the “conversation that the rating process creates.” He notes that students are able to “objectively assess” and “focus on specific ideas” related to their playing.
As of this writing students have learned a total of 71 new songs ranging from classical repertoire to today’s popular music.
Congratulations to these students for achieving great things in their musical education! Learn more about the Musical Journey here.
Orpheus Academy raised over $1,000 for the Javier Niño Memorial Scholarship Fund at our fall faculty concerts.
This scholarship honors the memory of Javi, a young man who’s drive, passion, and kindness brought joy into the lives of those who knew him.
Javi was a dedicated guitar student who led by example, and inspired those around him. Those who knew him said that Javi was a “positive force in this world” who helped peers “envision what [they] could accomplish in life.”
This scholarship benefits young musicians who seek to better their lives through higher education—an opportunity that Javi dreamed of, but never had a chance to realize. Recipients of the scholarship will receive weekly guitar lessons from a mentor of recognized excellence, will be eligible for a free instrument, and will have special performance opportunities throughout the school year.
We became aware of this special cause through Orpheus alum, and UT Music School student, Aaron B., who was good friends with Javi. Aaron’s mother, Diane S. (another Orpheus alum), helped set up the fund with Austin Classical Guitar. We are so happy to make a significant contribution to this fund and further our mission to change the lives of young people through music education.
To contribute please visit
Orpheus Musicianship instructors, Skye McManus and Rachel Kraft attended the American Eurhythmics Society (AES) National Conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was an amazing two days of meaningful movement and music from eight Dalcroze Eurhythmics’s experts. Rachel was made Chair of Social Media, and Skye was asked to be Member-At-Large, a new position on the AES board!
I am so happy to have been nominated student of the month. Many thanks to family and friends, including, Mr. Stephen for encouraging me to push my limits; my dad for making sure I practiced and covered all my lessons; my mom for listening to me even when I played the most simple songs and still truly enjoyed them; and, my little sister, Kami, for loving my music and lifting my spirits by dancing. I look forward to many more years of guitar.
—Yang-Fan C., Guitar Student
Yang-Fan has been my student for 3 years. I love how hard he works and that he doesn't give up when something is tough. In the last year he has revved up his practice to almost an hour a day, sometimes more. At home, he does so many repetitions of his pieces and hard spots that each week, he turns "hard spots" into "no big deal". The results speak for themselves. Keep up the hard work, Yang-Fan!
—Mr. Stephen, Guitar Teacher
I love Orpheus because it allows me to study piano, voice, and violin, and all my teachers are very nice. They always encourage me to practice more, compose my own songs, and to perform. I am really happy to be student of the month.
—Anna S., Piano, Violin, and Voice Student
I nominate Anna Schneider as Orpheus Student of the Month. She is passionate about music and storytelling. She is creative and loves to compose, as well as sing and play the piano! Congratulations to Anna for singing and playing the piano all the way to Student of the Month!!!
—Ms. Skye, Piano & Voice Teacher