Be Our Guest: F.U.N. is not a 4-letter word

photo

I’m super excited to introduce our guest today! Many of you are familiar with her name and her music. Jennifer Eklund is the owner and composer of the ever growing, very popular among students and teachers, PianoPronto.com. If you haven’t heard of PianoPronto.com, as soon as you are done reading this article, then go into the search bar and type in Piano Pronto and you will find several posts and reviews. Then go visit her website. All her music is available to view and listen to, so you know exactly what you are getting before you click the purchase button. Her music is motivating and inspirational to say the least. Jennifer’s post today is one that I know all will enjoy reading…

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.19.41 PM

 


Jennifer Eklund

As the new academic year approaches I want to pose a couple questions to all the teachers out there: are your students having fun? Do you think fun is an essential part of the lesson experience?

I sometimes hear the idea batted around that fun piano lessons are somehow less serious or less productive and/or not goal-oriented. I’m here to challenge that idea and tell you why F.U.N. is an essential element in any successful piano studio.

As a teacher my ultimate goal is to pass a love of music and piano-playing on to each and every one of my students. I play the piano because it’s fun. I want students to have fun and to look back on their lesson experience as a positive aspect of their childhood and to still want to sit down and play when they’re in their 20s, 30s, and beyond.

Tip: With my over-stressed teens I remind them each week that piano playing is their deadline-free activity. Just taking the “due date” mentality off the table is enough to relax them and opens up the experience to be fun, enjoyable, and most often a stress-reliever.

My personal definition of a fun lesson experience is a student leaving the lesson excited, motivated, and feeling confident enough to go home, work on their assignments, and be ready to move on to more material the following week. Closely linked to the fun experience factor in lessons is the perception of personal progression which is what keeps us motivated in any endeavor. In the beginning of the lesson process this is easy because there are new concepts introduced often and the forward trajectory is apparent. As students hit those inevitable hurdles in their progression it is easier for stagnation and complacency to set in when it isn’t as easy to sense that progress. The changes are smaller and therefore harder to perceive. As teachers we need to constantly adjust our approach to make sure that the students (not just us as teachers) perceive their own improvements.

Tip: If you’re having one of those days with a student here’s how to turn it around. I like to pull out their assignment book and flip back to the same date one year ago and review with them what they were playing back then. Students have a tendency to get bogged down in the present and always forget where they were. This is often just the wake-up call they need to get their engines revved up again.

Things were much different back in 1994 when I first started teaching. Back then piano lessons were competing with, at most, another sporting activity, homework, and after-school cartoon watching. Twenty years later the piano-lesson landscape has changed drastically, and therefore we as teachers need to make sure we are adjusting our teaching styles. Today we are competing for the attention of our students as they try to balance an ever-increasing homework load, multiple sports, club teams, dance lessons, AP courses, scouts, etc. Out of 168 hours in the week, the small fraction of time you spend with a student needs to be memorable enough to grab their interest so that they will carve out time to devote to the piano during their non-lesson hours. I don’t think of this as pandering or catering to kids – in my mind this is adjusting to the needs of our students and being effective as a teacher.

Tip: It’s always good to have goals in mind – and as teachers it’s our natural inclination to have milestones for our students. BUT, I find that with a lot of students it’s better not to mention all these goals out loud because it can overwhelm them and suddenly piano lessons seem to be a lot like school (and let’s face it, for some students school isn’t fun). Instead, I wait and when a milestone I’ve had in my mind is reached that’s the point when I mention it to the student (and make a very big deal out of it). The student most often doesn’t see what they’ve accomplished as such a big deal because they’re already at the destination and they tend to disregard the difficulties and work that went into achieving that goal and suddenly the achievement is placed into the “well that wasn’t so hard” category.
So are you ready to take your studio to the next level? Maybe you’re already having fun in lessons, but here’s a few tips that I think will lead to happier students and a bustling studio that is always fully-booked – and it’s all about F.U.N.

F” is for FAMILIARITY. My Piano Pronto method book series was conceived in large part out of years of teaching and finding that time and time again students of all ages are motivated by recreating tunes that are already familiar to them. This is linked back to what I mentioned earlier about perceived progress. When students can confidently go home and know that they are practicing something correctly because they are already familiar with it chances are that they will carve out more time to practice during their non-lesson hours.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.37.13 PM

Practicing effectively is a battle we wage from the very beginning with students. Luckily there are great assessment tools out there these days to help students do exactly that. I’m a huge fan of the iPad app Piano Maestro by JoyTunes because it offers instant feedback for students when they practice their Piano Pronto materials at home – all wrapped up in an awesome game format! If you’ve yet to discover this awesome teaching tool you can read all about it HERE and get a month FREE membership if you use this code: JTS1MJENNIFER.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.42.10 PM
U” is for UNIQUE & USER-FRIENDLY. Are you using the same method books you were using 10 years ago? Do you stick with certain materials mostly because you are familiar with them? Do you tailor materials to fit each individual? Are you afraid to teach pop music because there are just too many fads to keep up with? Are your students proud to present what they’re playing for their peers?

I want to challenge you to consider your teaching materials and ask yourself if they are unique and user-friendly, or just the same old stuff that everyone else is probably teaching. The publishing landscape is changing quickly due in large part to a surge in self-publishing houses that offer new and fresh materials for students and teachers—materials that are often times more in line with the tastes of most students. It is an exciting time for you as a teacher as you are no longer bound to big publishing-house releases or whatever your local music store has in stock.

My students love pop music, but as a teacher I’m highly annoyed by music that is in style one week and out of style the next week. As a composer I decided to start combatting this issue by writing pop-style solos that mimic what students are listening to on their free time, but offer the pedagogical meat within the material that satisfies teachers and their goals for their students.   The Spotlight Solos book is an example of a user-friendly collection of memorable, catchy ear-worms that make practicing easy and fun. The music feels relevant and current for students and they are proud to show off this music to their friends.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.38.33 PM

N” is for NEIGHBORHOOD NICHE. This is mostly on the business-side (you know the stuff that a lot of us would rather not think about). This may be hard to hear but if you are losing students, or if you’re having a hard time obtaining new clients it may be time for a change. Are you offering a niche service for your area? What makes studying with you a unique experience?

I found the most success as a teacher when I stopped doing what everyone else was doing and carved out my specialty areas. For me those items are: incorporating technology into lessons, using technology to teach composition, and focusing on popular music styles and unique repertoire. Set yourself apart from the crowd and word-of-mouth will drive more business towards you.

Once you decide on your niche(s) strive to hone these skills and don’t ever stop fine-tuning your methods. Are you hard up for ideas? Feeling a bit lost, unmotivated? There are a number of great groups on Facebook where you can find daily discussions about everything under the sun about our field. I moderate once of the largest groups on Facebook, Piano Teacher Central, where you will find loads of information about teaching materials, business practices, how to deal with student issues, etc. It is a closed group, meaning only group members (who are screened before they are admitted to the group) can see the posts. Think of it as your new virtual water cooler.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.40.03 PM

For those interested in the Piano Maestro app the JoyTunes Teachers group has lots of cool ideas and it is THE place to keep up with the latest news about Piano Maestro.

Here are a couple other groups that are great for ideas to help you carve out your niche:

Piano Teacher FunMakers Group – moderated by Joy Morin and Susan Paradis and focused on off-the-bench activities.

iPad Piano Teachers Group – moderated by tech guru Linda Christensen answers all your pressing iPad queries.

So are you ready to have F.U.N. in your studio this year? Tell us how you plan to implement F.U.N. into your teaching this year and by leaving us a comment you will be entered to win a FREE copy of the Spotlight Solos collection by Jennifer Eklund! Deadline to enter is Thursday, August 14; 10:00pm (AZ MST).  GIVEAWAY HAS EXPIRED

38 thoughts on “Be Our Guest: F.U.N. is not a 4-letter word

  1. I have made my lessons more F.u.n. with duets! I just finished a lesson with A Minor Mystery. (by Jennifer Eklund). This student is highly motivated but cheats at counting. She doesn’t know I am sneaking in a counting lesson with the duet (shhhh, she just thinks it is fun!).

  2. Love this! I just introduced Jennifer’s music last spring and am looking forward to using it more intentionally this fall. I especially am looking forward to using the tracks she has made available.

  3. I heard about the PTC group and Piano Teacher Funmakers thanks to Wendy Stevens. There I saw everyone talking wonderful things about fabulous ideas of activities to do off-the-bench, about Wendy’s Rhythm Cups Exploration, Susan Paradis’ resources, THIS SITE (Jennifer Fox’s) and about Piano Pronto. I’m trying little by little all of these with my students, therefore doing something new and different every class and they are liking it. With PP I started asigning some of the pieces this summer and will be using for the first time Prelude (with the new duets) and Movement 1 with supplementaries. Spotlight Solos is a collection that IS on my wishlist and would very much like it to use with them, since everyone speaks so wonderful about them. Lastly, want to thank both Jennifers for your work -I’m learning something new from you everyday and bringing all your resources to Mexico 🙂

  4. FUN in my studio was holding a Pops in the Patio concert this summer. Four students chose Jennifer’s music to play, and they sounded great with our live rhythm section!

  5. Wow! F.U.N. times at our Sunrise School of Fine Arts. Looking at trying to match music with individual students instead of the song that comes next in the method book. See a brother/sister duet being a nigh hit! Thanks for getting me ready for the new semester.

  6. Thank you! Good info to remember. I’ve been much better recently at looking for ways to incorporate F.U.N. for my students and it’s been enjoyable to learn about other teacher’s thoughts and teachings.

  7. I discovered Jennifer’s solos last year and started using them with some middle school and high school students who wanted to play current pop hits but just didn’t have the “chops” for it. They were always disappointed in either themselves, for not being able to play challenging intermediate level versions of songs they knew, or disappointed in the sound of the easier elementary level arrangements . With Jennifer’s compositions, they get the sound they’re drawn to in popular music, but at a “playable” level. I’d like to point out that Jennifer has several arrangements of her most popular pieces for students at different levels- and they’re all satisfying- nothing “watered down” here!
    As for “fun” in my studio, we’ll be using a lot of Piano Pronto materials( of course!) and I’ll be giving the students more opportunities to interact with each other this year- duets (live & digitally), peer evaluations ( clever “smiley face” evaluation forms are available for download at Pianomation), we’ll be doing Rhythm Cups at our group Holiday class- there’s no limit to the good ideas available for sharing on the piano teacher facebook groups!

  8. What a great article! I plan to have FUN in my studio by offering: a really motivating monster-themed practice incentive; awesome music to play; weekly games; and enjoyable rhythm activities!

  9. Found Jennifer on Facebook this summer and have just started using her music. Love it! Also, trying to make my lessons more fun by using my iPad as a teaching tool.

  10. I’m renovating my studio this year, so I’m going to have lots of fun things go on this fall. We’ll have a lot more wall-space, so I’d like to implement some “clubs” this year: Memorized Club, Cool Chord Progression Club, and a Days Practiced Club. That might be a bit much, but I have so many *different* types of students this year, and it might be nice to give them options!

  11. I loved this article! I look forward to discovering and using Jennifer Ekland’s music. I’m glad someone has Finally written music that students want to play. I also look forward to adding piano maestro to my apps I use.

  12. This quote really hits home with me this year:

    “With my over-stressed teens I remind them each week that piano playing is their deadline-free activity. Just taking the “due date” mentality off the table is enough to relax them and opens up the experience to be fun, enjoyable, and most often a stress-reliever.”

    I have one senior, two juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen (all high school) in AP and Honors classes, several of them in the High Achievers math/science magnet school. Then you get to middle school age where they’re already adding Honors classes to their schedules as well.

    Some of these kids suffer from gastric ulcers, TMJ syndrome, social anxiety, and spinal issues from the tight muscles they have from stress and tension each and every day. Some of them are seeing specialists multiple times during the week in order to combat their issues they’re dealing with. And I honestly can’t, in good conscience, add to their stress. I just can’t.

    Thanks for so clearly enunciating what I need to do to help them get through this and still have a love of playing the piano and music in general. I am using a variety of materials, moving away from most method books, implementing more fun yet purposeful activities, to keep piano as a stress *reliever*, not stress builder. And, yes, MUCH more Piano Pronto is planned, including Spotlight Solos which I do not yet own. Hoping I might win a copy for these precious students who are working so hard with their sights set on college. 🙂

  13. It’s always a good reminder to incorporate F.U.N.! Great article. This semester I’ll be looking to provide some fun new literature (including some Piano Pronto, which is new to me, so winning the solos book would be fantastic!), and we’ll do a Christmas duet event (which is brand new to my studio!).

  14. Great article Jennifer! Fun for me is also about involving the student. Getting rid of my agenda and giving them some ownership of their own playing. Students get a sense of motivation, pride, and enjoyment when they feel like they’re in control of their musical destinies. And by giving them choices, like A or B, and asking why they choose certain pieces or styles, I still keep some order and gain invaluable insight into the unique tastes and motivations of each student. I totally agree with you about not making lessons just like school, with deadlines and stress. Learning music may have it’s challenges as well as rewards, but it should never be a chore 🙂

  15. I have also been highly annoyed with pop songs that are popular one week and not the next. I hear this from teens. They think that if a song is not on the top of the list then it’s “old” and not worthy of listening to. How did this happen? When I was a teen I remember loving certain songs forever and they still bring back memories. For me, every song was interesting. The point is – and I think this is a most important point – I buy Jennifer’s music because most of time my students will actually work hard on them, they carry the sound of today’s musical interests.

  16. Thanks for the reminder to have F.U.N. with piano lessons. Over my years of teaching, both music and grade school, the best comments I get from students, parents and grandparents are when they say the student is learning because they are having fun doing it. Our ultimate goal is not learning scales and theory, but about playing music and enjoying it. I just took a small group of students to a retirement home and one of the student’s comments to his mother was, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again!” Btw, he played the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by “Home Run.”

  17. I really liked the part about not telling your students about all of your goals for them ahead of time. It can overwhelm them. That’s why I love the digital license. I have not told anyone about the new thing we are doing or how much is in the books. I did with one really good student who loves the music. She became so anxious that I told her we wouldn’t do it. Never mind she is in Movement 2. She knows but not really.

  18. Great article Jennifer! Always so inspiring: wonderful music, a lot of FUN, and great inspiration for music teachers in business too. So glad I found Piano Pronto. Thank you!

  19. Such wonderful words to set us teachers off on the right foot for the coming school year. Sometimes I find myself using a lesson as a “practice session” for an over-scheduled high school student, sending them home with tools and skills they were having a hard time getting motivated to use on their own. In a few weeks, the piece was learned. Goal achieved. Thanks for these wonderful directives, Jennifer.

  20. I have been enjoying PianoMaestro with my students this summer, and went to an energizing teacher session on creativity and composing with students with Pat Plude. I’m feeling excited for a great year of teaching and composing.

  21. I enjoyed reading this article a lot! I love to incorporate a lot of games at lessons and piano group parties. Lately a new element of fun in my studio has come from teaching some rote duets from PianoSafari to reinforce technique and challenge their memory abilities. They especially love the challenge of learning the 6 parts of “I Love Coffee” (I call it the half step song).

  22. Spotlight Solos sounds like it would be great for several of my students! This year I plan to get out of the method books a little more and into supplementary music so my students will be exposed to different types of music and find what really excites them. I also want to work on composition.

  23. I love this! Who doesn’t like to have fun, especially kids? Thank you, Jennifer, for a great article expressing the value of making memorable music experiences in every lesson for the students.

  24. Thanks for the great article. This year I plan to use more supplementary material (Piano Pronto and have more group classes with fun games, etc.

  25. F.U.N. For me is about listening to what the STUDENT wants and following them, if an adult student just absolutely love jazzy pieces then that’s what my lesson plans will work towards, if a young student clearly needs to get off the bench then I get them up and moving in the middle of their lessons. Love what you’re saying here about the long term goal being for your students to still want to play the piano for years to come, that’s exactly what I strive for!

  26. evidently FUN means a lot from now on and related to Jennifer Eklund, I´m her follower. It is good to see that you are always trying to help both students and teachers in the task of teaching and learning, and I thank you for that.

  27. I really loved this reminder to have FUN while teaching! I have started doing this during my summer lessons and have seen some great results. I can’t wait to include all my piano students this fall! Jennifer’s article really hit home with things I have been thinking about already. She is inspiring and a great support! I can’t wait to use her music more in my studio and branch out with technology more this year with my students!! Thanks! 🙂

  28. I am going to focus on familiarity. I have fallen into the trap of assigning music the kids don’t know. Just because I know it and like it does not mean it is cool!

Leave a Reply