Friday, July 25, 2014

How to conduct an INTERVIEW with a new student

Hello friends! If you teach private lessons, here is an article I just wrote about how to conduct an INTERVIEW with a new student.

Pedagogy Ponderings Question of the Week: "I’m curious to know what you do during an interview process."

Answered by:  Kathleen Theisen, NCTM, Past-President, CT State MTA; Independent Piano & Voice Teacher, Darien, CT; Minister of Music, Darien UMC; Music Teacher/Choral Director, Darien Public Schools.

To know what I do during the interview itself, you'll need to know what I do BEFORE the interview! When I first get an email or phone call from a prospective new client, I take down all pertinent info - names of the student(s), age(s), approximate years of study, what music they are currently playing, what books they own, name(s) of previous teacher(s), reason for changing teacher (if a transfer), goals, other instruments played/studied.

My initial interview is set up as a lesson, but is usually shorter than a regular lesson. I leave time to answer questions from the student and parents after I work with the student for a little while. I normally work with each student 30-45 minutes during this interview. I often start out by asking the student to play something that he/she loves to play. This is often something he/she performed on a recital with the previous teacher, or could even be a theme song to a video game that he/she learned on his or her own! While the student is playing this piece, I can informally assess sense of timing, sense of geography of the piano (can they get around easily), sense of posture and ease at the instrument, use of arm weight, turning of the hand, proper finger positioning on the keys, etc. I also get a very good idea about musicality by the phrasing, expressiveness, etc., in the student's playing of the piece that they 'love the most.' Sometimes, I make a few comments about the piece, or work briefly on one or two big ideas within that piece. With an early intermediate student, I might work on phrasing of a melody or balance between the hands.

Then I usually go on to some melodic 'playbacks' using either a major five-note scale, a 5-note Dorian scale or a blues scale. I play a one or two-measure ‘riff’ and the student copies me exactly. I start off with very easy patterns and progress toward harder patterns to see the student’s ‘feel’ for ‘time,’ as well as his/her ability to hear or watch a melody and then play it back. I usually play on my own piano and he/she copies me at the other piano. Then, I let the student improvise a few 'choruses' in a blues or a bossa nova pattern while I accompany them from the 2nd piano. The bossa nova pattern in D Dorian allows them to play in straight 8th notes throughout their improvisation and the Blues  shows me if they can feel 'swung 8ths.’ While playing this bit of improvisation, I get a good sense of the student's natural ability to think outside the box, their creativity, their willingness to take risks, and so much more. When they are copying me, I can also see quickly how good they are at timing, fingering, pitch and much more.

What we do after these two activities varies from student to student. Sometimes, I will have a student work on some rhythms with me. For example, we will do some sight-reading of just rhythms, or I will have them speak, tap or clap various patterns by rote or note. I often have my students ‘patch’ a beat on their lap while speaking rhythms out loud as they keep that steady beat. Some transfer students are able to do this easily. They are usually the students who have a very good innate sense of rhythm (and would likely be the kids who would score high on a test like Edwin Gordon’s PMMA.) Some of the APPs I use: RhythmLab, SmartMusic, RhythmCat

Sometimes, I have students sight-read melodies in an app like Smart Music, SightReadPlus or PianoMaestro. At other times, I use sight-reading books like those by Faber&Faber or Olson&Marlais. I immediately sense if the students are reading line-to-space or if they are reading 'note names,' a common habit in transfer students (especially those who play a single-line instrument like violin or flute in addition to piano) that needs to be broken quickly! We read music by pattern, not by note name (though note names need to be learned, as well, but in thick texture, no pianist is reading every note name. We look and see PATTERNS.) I often have students play a simple melody and say things like 'up a step, down a step, or simply, UP/DOWN.'

I usually try to teach a few pieces to the student while they are here, as well. These are very short, quick, easy pieces, just to see how they practice and go through various processes of learning. Sometimes, these are rote pieces (especially with younger kids). I will even use a piece like EBENEEZER SNEEZER (by Lynn Freeman Olson) with the kids under 7 to see how well they can play repeated notes, use their arm to bounce, and how well they can copy me. With slightly older students, I often teach some of the easier pieces from Catherine Rollin's PATHWAYS TO ARTISTRY, BOOK 1 (Repertoire Book). A piece like TIC TOC MUSETTE is easily taught by rote (especially since I have added words to it that include each student's name!) but can also be used to assess a student's level of reading skill. Another great piece for the interview is LORD BLOOMFIELD'S TRILLING MARCH. I like this one because the LH is primarily DO and SOL and I can have the kids play the bass line and sing the solfege, even if they've never done solfege. This allows me to assess sense of pitch, as well! DRUM DANCE is great too, even if we only work on the melody. The syncopation in measure 5 shows me if students are able to play short - LONG - short rhythms easily, with and without out-loud counting.

I leave the end of the ‘interview lesson' for questions from the student and parents, and use this time (if I haven't already done this) to ask the students if they can commit to daily practice. My general rule is: 'only practice on the days you eat.' That basically means every single day! We also discuss use of any technology that can be utilized at home, the use of the assignment binder, purchasing of music (I do not photocopy things unless it’s public domain or unless I composed it!), and any other studio policies that need clarification.

In general, if a student is coming for an interview, they have already seen my website. They usually are referred by another student or by a local piano technician, so they already know about my teaching. Some even come to studio recitals to 'check out' my students' playing before they come for the interview. (I recently took on 2 new students where I exchanged emails with the parents, then had a phone interview with both parents on a conference call, then they all came to my June studio recital, then they came for the initial interview. They already knew a LOT about my studio even before we worked together, and after about 6 lessons, they are doing very well and have settled into my studio routine.)

Remember also that an interview is a two-way process. It’s the student’s chance to see if he/she wants to work with YOU and it’s your chance to see if you feel the student is a good fit for YOUR studio. If either side of that equation has qualms about the match, it’s best to refer the family to a colleague. A successful interview will give you a great deal of information about the student and the family. You will likely be able to come up with a plan for this student after that initial meeting, and then within a lesson or two beyond that, you will likely be able to confirm your original thoughts about which path to take with that particular student.

Best wishes in your upcoming interviews!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Using your iPad - a few basic questions answered

There were so many questions posed in the DREAM STUDIO/GEEK BAR at the NCKP conference!!! 

Here are a few of them answered in print: 


Q. How do I make folders on my iPad?

A.  Simply hold your finger on an APP until it wiggles, and then drag it on top of any other APP.  Now they have become a new folder.  You can rename it by clicking the little X at the right end of the long white bar at the top of the folder window.

You can pull APPs out of a folder by opening the folder and then holding your finger on the APP, waiting for it to wiggle, then drag it out of the folder.

To stop the APPs from wiggling, touch the HOME button (the round button on the surface of the iPAD). 

TIP: I like to keep FOLDERS of APPs in my DOCK for my students. I have labeled these MUSIC, MUSIC2 and MUSIC3. Then, I can easily find the APP I need to reinforce a certain concept.

Q. How do I close APPs on my iPAD? 

A.  This is important, since open APPs can drain the battery.

Double-tap the HOME button (round button on surface of iPad).  The screen will appear to 'lift up' and will reveal a list of APPs along the bottom of the iPad.  These are all the APPs that are currently OPEN (RUNNING).

Hold your finger on any APP you wish to close.  You will see a little red circle with a straight line through its center. Click on that little circle and the app will close.  Notice that all of the apps along the bottom got red circles after you clicked on just one.  That makes it quick and easy to just hit all of those red circles and close the APPs you don't want open any longer. 

There is NO QUICK WAY to close all open APPs on an iPad.

Q.  How can I organize which APPs appear on which screens on the iPAD?

A.   From the home screen, just hold your finger on any APP.  This will cause all of the APPs to wiggle. Then you may drag any wiggling APP to any other place on the screen, even to the dock at the bottom. You can even drag them to another 'page' by dragging them far to the right or left of the screen.  A new page will open up and you can drop your APP there if you like. 

Q. How can I quickly find an APP? 

A. From the HOME SCREEN (main window), swipe to the LEFT and you will get a search window.  Type the first few letters of the APP and several choices may appear.

Q. How do I move files to my iPAD?

A.  You can move files to your iPad several ways: 

My favorite way to move files to an APP within the iPAD and keep them organized is to use a program called DISK AID on my MAC. All you have to do is install this program (which is about $20) and then you plug in your iPad to your computer via a USB cable.  (NOTE: You can also do this wirelessly as long as the computer and iPad are on the same wireless network.)  DiskAid allows you to drag and drop folders from your computer into any APP on the iPad.  It's so simple!  For example, I use the program Home Concert Xtreme with MIDI files so that my students can play along with a virtual band/orchestra on their pieces.  I like to keep these MIDI files organized by method book or composer, so I leave them in folders and drag them into the window inside Disk Aid.

You can also move files using iTunes. This works well for PDFs that you might be moving to PiaScore or Adobe Reader, for example. I don't like to use this method for Home Concert Xtreme, since it will not keep the files organized in folders. 

You can also put files into DROPBOX and then open them in the DROPBOX app on your iPad. Then DropBox will ask you which application should open the file.  Quick and easy!  Dropbox is a free service for storing files online. (Only free up to a certain size limit, however.) 

You can sync some files through iCloud.  Certain apps work very well with iCloud, including Keynote, Pages and Numbers. 

You can EMAIL the files to yourself, and then open them in the email on the iPad and then choose an application to open the file. 

By far, my favorite method is DISK AID! It is available for Mac or PC!  Here is a link to their website:

**Oh, and did I mention that Disk Aid also works for transferring things to/from your iPHONE!? 

Q.  I am walking into a concert hall.  How do I silence my iPad? 

A. Um, well, you could just turn it OFF all the way.  That is accomplished by holding down the top button (power button) until a screen appears that says 'slide to power off.'  Then just slide your finger along the red arrow and the iPad will shut off.

If you don't want to turn off your iPad for any reason (for example, you're writing a blog!), but want it to be totally silent, go to the SETTINGS (grey/white APP on your home screen) and scroll down to SOUNDS.  On the right side, then, slide the ringer and alerts to the left (off).  You can also set 'change with buttons' to On/Off, so that you can easily silence the sounds of the iPad using the volume buttons on the side of the iPad.  At the bottom of this right-hand window, you'll also see LOCK SOUNDS and KEYBOARD CLICKS.  The lock sounds are when you slide your window across the unlock/lock screen (if this were 'on,' you'd hear a swooshing sound when you swipe; frankly, it's annoying!). The keyboard clicks are also VERY annoying, so I choose to leave mine OFF. You can turn them ON if you like the simulation of hearing clicks with each key that you type.  Those of us that grew up with typewriters are used to the sound of clicking upon each key stroke, but it seems odd and out of place on the iPad (to my ear!).  It's up to you!  Also, on this screen, you can set the various sounds you might hear with each notification on the iPad, including ringtone, text message tone, the sound heard with new mail/sent mail, facebook posts, etc.

To ensure that SIRI doesn't suddenly start talking in the middle of the concert hall, you might also want to go to SETTINGS and then GENERAL and click on SIRI on the right side and turn OFF.  Siri has a funny way of speaking when she shouldn't...

Q. How do I keep using my iPad but prevent notifications or calls from being received? 

A.  Turn your iPad on 'do not disturb.'  You will find this in SETTINGS, then DO NOT DISTURB.  Just slide that to ON and no notifications will pop up on your iPad screen and no calls will come through. You will not even be notified of text messages.  

Note:  You can schedule a 'do not disturb' time by going to SETTINGS, then NOTIFICATIONS.  On the right side, DO NOT DISTURB will be at the top and you can touch that to open another screen to schedule a time to put your iPad into DO NOT DISTURB mode.  On that screen, you can also choose to allow calls or messages to come into the iPad from people on your Favorites list, everyone, or no one. 

TIP:  I recommend using DO NOT DISTURB mode while you are teaching, especially if you are with a student on SKYPE!

More iPad tips to come... 

Post your questions below and I am happy to answer them!

Copyright 2013 Kathleen Theisen

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Noontime recital ... Saturday -- Sean Chen

The amazing SEAN CHEN is performing a concert right now in the main ballroom. The program includes Bach: French Suite in G Major, Ravel: Valse nobles et sentimentale and La Valse.  Wow, just wow. Sean is the 2013 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellow of the American Pianists Association and was also the third prize winner in the Cliburn Competition about a month ago. Sean lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he is pursuing the Artist Diploma at Yale. His Bachelor and Master degrees are from Juilliard. 

If you'd like to sample his playing, go to YouTube! There are many recordings there, including his incredible performance of Beethoven op 106, Das Hammerklavier, from the Cliburn Competition.