Using monthly themes in your studio can give you the clarity you need to really move your students’ learning forward in particular areas. Find out in this episode how this could work for you and get some ideas for monthly themes you could use.
- Practice Kit
- Practice Pro
- My favourite iPad apps for practising scales
- Scale level challenges
- Challenge poster
Click on any word to jump to that point in the audio. 🙂
Vibrant vibrant vibrant music teaching proven and practical tips strategies and ideas for music teachers.
Welcome to episode 12 of the vibrant music teaching podcast. I’m Nicola Cantan. And in this episode we’re talking about how to use monthly themes in your studio for maximum effect.
Ok. So I want to talk to you about themes today and for those of you who don’t understand what I mean by this what I mean is where you take a particular topic or focus or extra thing that you want to include in your studio and you do it just for a particular month in the year. It could also be split up into terms or a couple of months at a time it doesn’t have to be monthly but it’s where you have specific planned out focuses at different times of the year. One of the reasons this is fantastic for teachers is because they tend to feel pretty overwhelmed. And believe me I hear from them often that that’s how they feel. They’re looking at everything online and trying to do everything and end up doing nothing. If that ends I do then maybe monthly themes could be a way to curb this overwhelm when we use monthly themes in this way you see it gives you that focus to know what you’re supposed to be doing at that time. It stops you from floundering and doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that and not really getting anywhere with your students and allows you to really hone in on something that’s important to you in that period of time. Now of course it’s not the only thing you’re going to do for that month. You’re still going to have standard things that you do for the whole lesson no matter what.
So that could be that you continue working through the method book. You also always do scales or you always work on lead sheet playing or you always work on this that and the other. It depends on your studio and what’s really helpful when you’re planning this out is actually to make a giant list of all the things that you often or sometimes teach your students so divided up whatever way you like but writing and a whole list of repertoire scales. Like I say lead sheets improvising extra theory work practice tests whatever it is in your studio write out a whole list of all the stuff that you do with your students and then identify which things you need to do every single week which are the things that should be a part of your standard lesson and then save an extra five or ten minutes from your lesson to rotate these other things in doing things this way let’s you plan out and save on planning time because you’re not planning for one individual student. Yes you will need to do different things with different levels of students but you’re going to save a whole bunch of time because there’s a ton of overlap within your studio. And if you talk chords to Emma in September and then Joan in January and February you taught them to Tim and then going forward like that.
Right. If you do it that way and you basically do the same thing with all of them you end up wasting a bunch of time planning that stuff when really it could have been carried through all those students during those weeks and just turn at the same time if you’d planned it a little bit more in advance. So if you know that your monthly Focus Is Cord’s then everyone who that level of working on chords is applicable to you just group them all into one group and then you plan core teaching at that late intermediate level or whatever it is for that month. And it saves you on planning time in the long run. You also know when you’re working this way that everything is covered. So like I say it stops that feeling of overwhelm because you don’t feel like oh but I could be doing this. Oh I could be doing that. I could be doing the other thing if you have it all planned out on your calendar and you can look at it physically look at it on the page and go. Yeah but I’m getting the to chords in February so we don’t need to do it today. It just helps you to feel relaxed about what you are doing now and to prioritize things that are important to each month or in each term.
This kind of approach also can be pretty exciting for students because they can’t really get behind a theme like this. They know what you’re doing. They know where we are at. And you can base different challenges around this or different incentives other fun stuff that’s going on and events that are happening and it really rallies the whole studio together so it can be a fantastic way to work. Now I don’t necessarily work with monthly themes but I’m trying this out in a bit a more structured way this year. And I think it’s going to be really beneficial for me and my students. I’ve always done it to some extent but this year and going more into this idea whether it’s one month at a time or two months at a time and actually I’ll share a screenshot or a picture of my monthly theme calendar so you can see what it looks like in the episode shownotes. So those will be vibrant music teaching dot com slash 12 numbers 1 2. So I’ll share that and you can see what it looks like it’ll just be a loose guideline but we’ll see as the year goes on how this works out doing it in a more structured way for me now as I’ve been putting this together there’s been different possibilities for themes that have come up and that I know other teachers rather do with their studios.
So I’m going to go through a few examples here so that you can see how this would lay out what kind of things you could do as your monthly themes and what you might do for that month for those themes. So the first one is practice. Now a lot of you know that I’m pretty passionate about improving practice. I have a book about it. The piano practice physician’s handbook. That’s on Amazon if you haven’t got it already. So when it comes to practice it can be really helpful to focusing on it for a month or two. And that’s what I did for September this year September leading into October so that my students could get off to an amazing start and establish great habits that would continue all year. I did that using the practice Pro Plan which is from the Vibrant music teaching library so members can get that now they want to do a practice month. You could also do this though using practice kits which you can find on my blog. Leave a link again in the show notes to those or just your own strategies that you want to teach your students. Maybe you make it your goal that every student learns to new practice strategies in that month. It doesn’t have to be some grandiose plan. It can be simple and straightforward but still give you that extra boost you need on that particular area during the month.
So practice is one example. Another thing you might like to do which I’ve mentioned a little bit already is chords. Now this one might not be applicable to very young students. I take on a lot of preschoolers and I don’t teach chords when they’re really young. I only really start teaching chords when they get to say age 8 or so because their hands just are not big enough to play them. I certainly adapt things that I would do with chords with students. If a younger student is at a certain level but will work with say third’s or even open fifths or something like that. If they need to work on lead sheets or harmonization or something where we would usually be doing chord work. So this not everything will apply to every student is what I want to say here. Chords for example may only be for all of your over nines or over eights or teens and above it could be anything. So that’s one way to work on this particular month. The theme is to have it over a certain age and then you might have different categories or different levels of working chords depending on groups of your students. So all of your late beginners students they’re just going to learn all the major chords because they don’t know them yet and all of your slightly more advanced students they’re going to learn minor chords major chords and inversions and be drilled on them.
You could work on this in different ways. I like to correlate this with my chord levels which are my challenge poster which is like a wall of fame that I use in my studio at students work to get their name up on the board in various categories such as chord level scale levels and you can find out more about that on the colourful keys blog. So I would correlated with that and depending on where the student has gotten up to they would work on the next level during that month we would do lots of drilling with the real pro op during that time because this is a fantastic way to work on chords. I started doing this based on the advice of Bradly Sowash who’s a fantastic jazz teacher really good at breaking stuff down in a way us non-jazzers could understand and he suggested this idea of using real pro which I already used to work on chords and chord drills so we work on the white keys first. Then all of the keys chromatically and then I do an extra stage which he didn’t mention which is to work around the circle of fists and do those as chords drills so we do those with majors with minors and then when it comes to inversions we’ll be working on different games to do with that and practicing them lot in different contexts so using lead sheets etc..
Now speaking of lead sheets that might be another theme that you choose to do for one of your months or your terms. Having everyone work on some form of arranging or lead sheets so it could be as simple as everyone is going to learn something by ear. They could all learn the same thing you could if you’re not particularly comfortable with this. A great way to start would be to take the beginning of Faras Kinney’s puzzle playbooks where he works on happy birthday and just have everyone in your studio get up to a certain level whatever level they can get to with Happy Birthday preschooler’s could learn to play it by rote by ear or slash throat just the melody hopping around with finger 2. They need to bend slightly more advanced or slightly older students could work on harmonizing it but just using one note in the other hand so got their left and just playing a C or a G or an F to go along with the song and then other students could start out with that but then they could advance to using chords. If they’re further along they could learn a new left hand pattern and apply that to Happy Birthday and work on really creating their own arrangement. But everyone would learn some form of this.
That’s only one way to approach a lead sheets a month. You could also have them work on harmonizing one of their songs or creating their own arrangements of one of their songs. So I like to do this actually with my beginners who are in Piano Safari. There’s a lot of single line staff reading to get really good at reading and a lot of folk songs with that and will spend the lesson working out which chord goes with which bar each bar will have one chord to keep it simple and that’s usually accurate anyway and will work on it just with one note at a time to figure out which one goes and then we might add chords or just third’s together so that they can basically build their own lead sheet out of the single line staff pieces and then play them in a way that is up to their abilities and their level at that stage. So for some students they actually can do a little bit of arranging even in piano safari book one. Some students will just play the chords and that’s still great and it’s a wonderful way to work on their sense of harmony and the skill of playing from lead sheets of this notation that looks a bit different. So that’s another way that you could work on lead sheets during the month and you could mix all of these depending on.
But I would err on the side of saving yourself planning time so I would say if activity is possible for another student don’t design them a separate activity just because you want to try something else. It’s great to try new things but I find I actually learned a lot. If I try something with several students at the same time it really establishes teaching in that way or teaching using that concept or that structure or whatever I’m doing in a much better way and a much stronger way that I can call upon as a teacher in the future. If I do it with multiple students across a few weeks or across a month so lead sheets is another one. And that’s a couple of ways that you could work with cheats. Another thing you might like to do is scales so scales are probably something you’re doing most of the time but it can be great to have a month where you focus on the extra where you put that extra little bit of attention into scales. You could set a challenge where everyone has to learn a certain number of new scales and of course the skills they learned will be dependent on their level. But everyone has to learn five new skills this month or two or everyone has to learn a new skill pattern that they don’t already know so they could work on windmill scales.
You find out about that on Sara Campbell’s blog at sarasmusicstudio dot com. She talks about windmill scales which is a fun way to play them or everyone they could learn contrary motions if they don’t know those already or particular pattern of broken chords something like that. You could also work on playing with scale ops during this time I have a YouTube video about this so I’ll leave a link to that in the show notes again that’s a vibrant music teaching dot com slash 12. The numbers 1 2 so you’ll get a link to the YouTube video there where I talk about my four favourite scale apps and you could also set up a scale off or scale battle. I think this could be really fun. It’s not something I’ve done yet in my studio but it’s something brewing in the back of my mind. So if you give it a go let me know how it goes in your studio. But basically the idea would be to get lots of students together at a group lesson or a piano party type situation and have a little bit of a scale battle between them. I think that could be awesome. A few more themes that you might like to use. I could go on and on about these but I’ll just quick fire a few more so you could do pop music for one month and a way to work on that might be to get all of your students to pick their top 5.
Current favourite songs from the radio and get them to bring in their top 5 and you pick one of those. The reason we do it this way is because sometimes songs are just not play a role on the piano or they’re not appropriate or some other reason so it’s good to have a choice. So get them to bring you in 5 and you pick one and they learn their favourite part of that song say the chorus or the bridge or whatever bit they really want to learn a theme I do my studio every year for about two months is composing because we work through one of the composing projects. I have a new one up every year on the blog so you can grab those colourful keys .ie . And we do those in my studio every spring ish. So it depends on our recital dates because I work at around that but it could be say March April and every student will compose a piece on a particular theme. So when is spring themes another’s animals another one with circus collective was the one we did last year and then at the end of that I put together a CD or a book of all of their compositions so that they can see what everyone else did. Another great thing to do would be performance so you’re you know when your recital date is going to be planned the month before to be performance focused so you’re all working on your stage presence You’re bowing your memorisation if that’s part of it.
And speaking of memorization memorization is another theme you could do. I have my students work on an anytime anywhere anyone least at least some of my students do. And when we’re working on that we’re building it up and they need to be tested on those memorized pieces through the year. But during I memorization month you could be giving a special focus to those pieces and getting them maybe to play them from memory in as many different places as they can. We have some pianos in public spaces here which kids or adults anyone are welcome to play on. So that could be a great challenge for them to do. You might also like to do a theme note naming this is another great one to do as a welcome back in September or after any break. So you’re getting them all to play tons of notes naming games and level up their naming skills to more you might like to do are improvisation. You could have everyone learn a pattern from create first by Forrest Kinney or you could do an entire know Book Month or you could do a history theme. I know many teachers who actually do a different composer each and every month.
So that’s one way to do it. Those could run alongside your other monthly themes or you could do an entire history month where you work on a different period each week so you could do a Baroque week followed by classical etc.. So that’s just a few ideas for you to get your mind worrying about monthly themes and how you might use them in your studio. And remember it’s all about priorities. So setting monthly themes in this way really helps you hone in on exactly what you want to teach and avoid just going from week to week thing to thing without a greater focus for your whole studio and the kind of pianists or other instrumentalists that you want to create. This also gives you so much clarity as I’ve mentioned and helps you avoid overwhelm. It is such a fantastic way to focus on one thing at a time and really get good at it and get your students good at it without just flitting from thing to thing and spending hours and hours on Pinterest. It can really give you so much more definition around what you want to do in your studio from week to week month to month or a term to term. So give some thought today to how you might use these kind of themes either for terms or months or even semesters or years in your studio head they might work for you.
And what different monthly themes you might like to do. There doesn’t have to be one all the time. It doesn’t have to be every month. It could be two months at a time. It’s about what works for you. But I think it’s a great way to think about how you fit all of this stuff in that we need to teach throughout the year. Before I let you go I just want to remind you that I have a weapon are coming up if you’re listening to this right when it goes live. You still have a chance to sign up so you can go to vibrant music teaching dot com slash C O F that’s for circle of fifths because this webinars all about using the circle of fifths in an intriguing way in your studio. The full circle of fifths Odyssey course is now up on the VMT site so if you’re a member hop on over to the courses section and you can check that out and use those plans in your studio and members can also write their questions for the upcoming Q and A podcast episode that will be out next week. So write your questions now if you’re a member in the VMT clubhouse so that I can get to them and get your questions answered in audio format next week. Bye for now guys.
If you’re thinking about using monthly themes in your studio then you definitely need to become a vibrant music teaching member because the site will save you so much planning and organization time as you figure out what goes in each monthly theme. If you’re not a member yet you can sign up and find out more at VMT dot ninja.
Subscribe and Review the Vibrant Music Teaching Podcast
Subscribe to the podcast in Apple Podcasts or iTunes here so you don’t miss the next episode and you can take it with you as you run errands, clean the house or walk the dog.
If you’re enjoying the podcast please take a moment to leave a review and a rating.
- Click here to open the podcast page
- Click “view in iTunes” if it doesn’t automatically open there
- Click “Ratings and Reviews” and leave a review
What did you think of this episode?
Let me know in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook. I’ll see you there. 🙂