This is the second post in a series. Check out Day 1 of the 12 Days of Inspiration over at Colourful Keys!
Check back for links to the rest of the days at the end of this post.
Who else was sooooo ready for this break? I definitely found myself spread a little thin these last few weeks, and I'm really excited for my vacation...which has technically already started...but this is a short post, and I'm writing it in my pajamas with my cat in my lap.
Breaks are great! Taking vacations has been proven to reduce stress, keep you heart healthy, improve mental health, and improve relationships (source). Vacations are also shown to increase productivity and creativity (source), two things that are vitally important to us working artists.
A number of surveys have shown that Americans don't take advantage of all of their paid days off, and I know from experience that it's even worse for those of us who don't have traditional paid vacation time each year. The thing is though, we entrepreneur/teaching artists need to take time off! Without it, we will suffer from burnout, decreased creativity, and compromised mental and physical health.
I hope you just decided that you are on vacation with me now. If you somehow end up in Pasadena, let's get lunch!
Ok, so you're on vacation, but you want to make the most of it, right? You want to come back from your break refreshed, reenergized, and ready to take on the world. How do we do that?
Yes, there will be quite a bit of sitting on the couch with your cat and a book (for my fellow introverts. You extroverts out there are probably going to want to do all kinds of exhausting things like having lunch with your friends and taking your kids to Disneyland. To each his own.) But if you really want to make the most of your time off, I'd like to suggest that you do 2 things:
Take some time to look back at this past semester. What went well? What got you excited? What were some of your favorite moments? What are things you're never going to try again? What caused you stress and anxiety?
This is not a planning session. You should set aside some time at THE END of your vacation, after you've read all your books and your cat has grown tired of you, to do some planning. I have my planning session scheduled for next Monday.
This is mental and emotional unloading.
Write these things down, get out your journal/notebook/computer/this handy pdf, and let it all out. This is especially important for external processors who don't want all of their friends and loved ones to avoid them because they're unloading everything on them (I do this all the time. My cat doesn't mind. The humans in my life tire of it quickly.)
This one is multi-faceted. There are many things in our lives from which we can become disconnected when we're busy. Time off is the perfect time to reconnect with those things, and you will be much happier for it.
Reconnect with loved ones. The holiday season can get really busy, and it can be really easy to lose touch with the people we care about the most.
I hope you got to spend some quality time with your loved ones over the holidays. Keep reconnection in mind over the next few days. Have lunch with a good friend you haven't seen in a while. Call your mom. Put your phone in the other room and actually talk to your family. Relationships enrich our lives. They give us a sense of belonging. Take some time to nurture them.
Reconnect with your art. We are music teachers. We are artists sharing our art with the next generation. I don't know about you, but when I get busy, the first thing that goes is my piano time. I might practice things that I need to learn for performances, but I don't play for fun. I don't spend time being creative at the piano, and my students can tell!
You can't pour from and empty cup, so spend some time at the piano. If you're on vacation away from home, play the piano in the hotel lobby until someone asks you to stop, or find another creative way that you can reconnect with your art.
I'm not just a pianist, and I imagine most of you also have other creative outlets and crafts. Spend time doing those things too. Crochet a scarf for a friend, write a new song or poem, spend some time working on that detective novel. Whatever you do, let your creative juices flow!
If you spend some time doing these two things over your break, I can guarantee that you will feel refreshed and ready to go when you get back to work.
One last thing: Don't think of these things as chores, or things to check off your to-do list. This is what vacation is for. If should be fun, relaxing, and on-going.
Need a little help getting started? Here's handy pdf to get the juices flowing:
Check out the rest of this series here:
Day 3: 3 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress at Music Educator Resources
Day 4: New Year's Resolutions for Your Studio at Violin Judy
Day 5: 5 Ways to Reset Your Music Studio After the Holidays at Pianosaurus Rex
Day 6: 6 Things That Should Happen at a First Piano Lesson at Pianissimo: A Very Piano Blog
Day 7: 7 Tax Deductions for Music Teachers at Sara’s Music Studio
Day 8: 8 Questions to Bring Your Studio into the New Year at Fun Key Music
Day 9: 9 Ways to Increase Your Studio Retention at Woods Piano Studio
Day 10: 10 Impressive Benefits of Learning Piano By Ear at Piano Picnic
Day 11: 11 Finds for the New Year at Piano Pantry
Day 12: 12 Tips for Teaching Tricky Personalities by Tracy Selle
Recently on social media a fellow teacher expressed concern that she was wasting time this holiday season because she was spending most of her lesson time on holiday music, games, and fun activities, rather than moving forward in the lesson books and introducing new concepts.
I understand the inclination to feel like you're wasting time if you're not moving forward, but I'd like to argue that, with most students, it's a waste of time to introduce a lot of new things in December. When the holiday season kicks off after Thanksgiving, children are overwhelmed and distracted by everything else that's going on around them:
Families are shopping and participating in holiday traditions.
Kids are busy making wish lists and Christmas cookies.
They're rehearsing for plays and school programs.
They're planning for trips to visit relatives.
And then there is the recent trend of giving final exams to children in Elementary and Middle School!
Adding to this overwhelm with new musical concepts and practice demands can be counterproductive, so let me offer an alternative: Review Season!
In my studio I do review season twice a year in December and in June. Review Season is two-fold, and here's what it looks like:
1) We take a break from lesson books and concentrate on fun repertoire that is not overly challenging.
This usually means a Christmas book or a few engaging holiday pieces.
For Christmas music recommendations, see my previous post here.
Some students aren't interesting in playing holiday music, and that's totally fine, but I still like to give them something fun to work on this time of year. Here is a great collection of "wintery" pieces by Dawn Ivers that your students will love!
Christmasy or not, I want these pieces to review concepts that students have been working on this year. They should present some sort of challenge, but nothing that can't be worked through in a week or two.
My goal is for students to have a handful of pieces that they can play for their families over the break.
2) We play LOTS of games!
My favorite way to combat Holiday Season Overwhelm is by making learning extra fun. We normally play games frequently in lessons, but this time of year I make sure to have lots of holiday-themed fun with me at all times. I always play at least one game, sometimes more, in every single lesson, even with older students!
Games can be a great way to review reading concepts, musical terms, rhythm, and all kinds of other theory concepts. Here are a few of my favorite free games to get you started:
Heave Ho Ho Ho! from Teach Piano Today to review Cs on the grand staff
Reindeer and Elves Keyboard Race from Susan Paradis to review piano keys
Gift Grab from Colourful Keys to review musical terms and symbols
These are not necessarily games, but they are great activities to include in your Holiday Review Season as well:
Holiday Rhythm Cup Explorations from Compose Create. (this is not free, but it is SOOOO worth the cost!)
Top 5 Christmas Piano Printables from Teach Piano Today. Follow this link for some fun holiday composing, improv, and practice activities.
Before I instituted Review Season, I had to spend a lot of January reviewing concepts students had learned in the fall. Spending December on review helps students to solidify their learning. They come back from the break confident and ready to push ahead.
What are your favorite review activities?
Sorry I've been away for so long. Life happens, but I am super excited about this new series: A Christmas Season Survival Guide for Piano Teachers.
We all know how it goes, Halloween is over, it's time to print out 25 copies of Jingle Bells for your beginners and 15 copies of Carol of the Bells for your Intermediates.
People tend to fall into 2 categories when it comes to Christmas music: 1)Those who LOVE Christmas music and can't wait until their spouses and roommates will allow them to turn on the Pandora Holiday Playlist, and 2) Those who absolutely hate listening to the same 5 songs in various arrangements over, and over, and over, and over throughout November and December.
I happen to fall into the former category, but I have plenty of empathy for those who do not.
These categories easily flow into Piano Teacher-hood. There are those of us who love shopping for new collections and arrangements each year, who can't wait to start helping students prepare for holiday recitals and playing for family. Then there are those who don't teach holiday music at all and go about November and December as if the whole world has not been covered in glitter and twinkle lights. Many may fall somewhere in the middle. I'm a big fan of spectrums when it comes to categorizing people.
Whether you're a Buddy or a Scrooge or something in between. I hope this series is helpful for you.
The first topic I'd like to address is a big one. Repertoire.
Now, I know many of you have already had your repertoire selected for months and your students are soon going to be wowing their families at Holiday recitals, but I'm sure there are others out there like me, who have started handing out holiday pieces but could still use some fresh ideas. It's still a week before Thanksgiving after all!
Here are a couple of tips, ideas, and repertoire suggestions that have me really excited this year:
1. Have your students make their own arrangements this year!
I'm sure you've figured out by now that I love giving students ownership of their own music, and I love giving them the tools to make pieces there own. Christmas music is a great place to have students warm up their creative muscles. The songs are (for the most part) familiar and a lot of them are hymns that follow fairly simple chord progressions (although no one says they have to stay simple!).
The simplest way to do this is to give your student a lead sheet of a Christmas Carol and help them to use it to create their own arrangement. Have them learn the melody and the chord progression, test out a few accompaniment patters, maybe add and introduction or a flashy ending. Ta-da! They have their very own Christmas Carol arrangement that I'm sure they'll enjoy playing much more than anything you give them that's been arranged by someone else. This one is THEIRS.
Follow your student's lead on this. Push them to use what they know to get creative. If they're far enough along in their studies, help them to change a few of the chords, or maybe change the progression all together! The sky is the limit here.
It's pretty easy to find lead sheets of Christmas carols online, but if you want something with a few more resources and a bit more instruction, I really like this little booklet from Anne Crosby Gaudet: Chord Town Christmas
2. Seek out fresh arrangements.
Sometimes the solution to repertoire boredom is simply finding something new. How many times have you taught that same arrangement of Jingle Bells from the book that goes along with your method series, right? Let go shopping! Here are a few of my favorites lately:
Jazzy Jingles by Jennifer Edlund
If you're reading this on the day I've published it: November 17, 2017, follow that link right now. It's on SALE!
This is my absolute favorite collection of Christmas pieces that has come out in recent years, and there is a second volume that was just published this year. These pieces are really simple to play. Late elementary to early intermediate students will find them really accessible, and they sound so grown up! The harmonies are sophisticated and interesting, and the pieces fit really nicely under even small hands (I don't think there are any intervals over a 7th). Your contemplative students will love Silent Night and He is Born, and your fast fliers will eat up Patapan. This is my go to early intermediate students, and I love playing these pieces too!
Up on the Housetop by Wendy Stevens
Do you have some beginners this year? Please give them this instead of Jolly Old St Nicholas. There are 4 versions, both on staff and off, with 8ths notes and without. Wherever your new littles are at, they can handle this, and it is SO MUCH FUN!
The teacher duet is upbeat and exciting, and the students get to play all over the piano and glissando! Have you ever met a kid that didn't like playing a piece with a glissando? I haven't. Wendy's trick to use an index card helps protect little hands from getting hurt so the fun can continue while you play this over and over!
The Christmas Waltz by Yours Truly
Shameless plug: I made this arrangement. It is one of my FAVORITE Christmas Songs. This arrangement is easy to play with some nice sounding harmonies, and it's not Jingle Bells. It's a perfect fit for tweens and adults and anyone else playing at a late beginner, early intermediate level.
What are some of the ways that you avoid repertoire boredom this time of year? Let me know in the comments!
I teach piano in California. Here are some of my thoughts.