by Leila Viss
The fact that you are reading this second article in this series means that the idea of a lab plus a lesson has sparked your interest. Read Article #1 to understand why you should consider adding a lab to your lessons. The following will provide answers to the questions you may have regarding equipment, scheduling and resources for setting up a successful lab.
How do I SCHEDULE students with this new format?
Essentially, two students will be scheduled on the hour. Instead of one arriving at 3:30 and then another at 4:00pm, both students would arrive at 3:30 and leave at 4:30. Some of my high school students schedule a 45 min lesson (due to their level of repertoire) with a 15min lab time. I do not have as many of these students and they usually arrive early (2:30pm) before most K-8 students. After setting up the high school student with a lab assignment, I use those precious 15 minutes to check emails, get a snack (and go to the bathroom!) before the line-up of 30/30min students arrive at 3:30pm.
What TOOLS are essential to get started?
Most likely you will already own the basic equipment:
- Computer: I am an Apple fan but PC’s work as well with most software and of course any online sites.
- Headphones: Although I have had little trouble with the set I purchased from Guitar Center, headphones can break (you know how kids can be) so invest in a good set. I do know that some teachers have asked students to provide their own headphones to avoid major replacement expenses. Note: It can get a little noisy as I am teaching in the same room as the student at the computer. However, there are really few complaints thanks to headphones that cover the ear entirely.
- Internet Connection: Since you are reading this online, that means you already have 2 out of the 3 required tools.
- Support: Do not be bashful, ask for help early and often. The Apple Store offers One to One workshops, and the Genius Bar. Microsoft has stores and support as well. My husband is a computer “guru” so his assistance is always appreciated. I attend conferences and make sure to make friends with those who are clearly more “tech savvy” than me. Find other teachers in your area who have a lab or wish to begin one and work together by exchanging information and ideas. Hopefully, this series at ComposeCreate.com will promote a collection of helpful tips, new ideas and a community of “lab + lesson” teachers.
I have the equipment, but now WHAT?
The main purpose of lab time is to enhance and supplement what is being learned at the lesson. Keep in mind that all the software and websites generally fall into these categories–those that offer:
- Lessons or Tutorials that Teach
- Games that Teach
- Drills to Master
- Features that promote Creativity
- Listening and Reading
- Listening and Watching
1) Here are some great websites that provide
carefully designed, engaging activities to fill lab time that are available immediately upon subscribing:
- MusicLearningCommunity.com: This ground-breaking site offers hundreds of games to master theory, ear training, rhythmic skills, terminology and more all within a fun and challenging environment. They even have MIDI games (more on that later!) A monthly subscription for a teacher runs $19.95 a month–a bargain for what is offered! Sheets showing how the website games correlate with many leading method books are provided as well. (B)
- TonicTutor.com: The look and feel of Tonic Tutor is quite different than MusicLearningCommunity.com, however the premise is basically the same. The graphics are slightly more enhanced and it seems there is more feedback available to track student progress. I look forward to implementing this website soon into my lab assignments. Teachers can set up a free Tonic Tutor account for up to 10 students. They have additional plans that are equivalent to about 75 cents per student per month. Again, the site provides sheets that correlate their games to your present method book. (B)
- Theta Music Trainer: It has been fun monitoring the development of this site as I have been following since it’s early days. The primary purpose of Theta Music Trainer is to train the ear of musicians of all levels and style interests. A 30-day training program is offered that claims to sharpen the musical ear and mind. The graphics are sophisticated, appropriate and particularly “cool”–fitting for those who are interested in playing in rock/pop/jazz bands. I look forward to using this site this summer as students will be working on playing by ear, improvising, harmonizing, etc. (Mostly B and C, although lessons (A) are offered “textbook” style)
When you visit the sites listed above, they assume teachers will encourage students to complete assigned lessons at home, which they can with a correct password. However, with a lab time, there is NO DOUBT that the assignments will be completed. Pianists just need to squeeze in home practice at the piano and not at the computer too.
In the first article it was mentioned how much to charge for the lab as part of your tuition rate. If you choose to subscribe to any or all of the websites, cover the cost by an annual lab fee. This alleviates “nickel and diming” your parents and respects your out-of-pocket expenses for lab supplies. This one-time fee always appears on the fall invoice and for those with siblings, the family is charged only one annual fee.
2) There is nothing like “free” resources so make sure you take advantage of them! Here’s just a few ideas.
- Piano Explorer Magazine: This unmatched resource for all young musicians now has a web page to supplement the fine magazine. The combination of carefully-selected videos chosen to complement the various articles provides a wonderful lab activity. (E)
- Youtube: Take advantage of Youtube (if you haven’t already). The resources available on this site can be overwhelming; however, if you create your own channel, you can store your favorite videos and file them in the “cloud”. Ask students to watch various performances of their assigned repertoire and encourage them to build a discerning ear. Videos explaining how a piano works or clips of inspiring performances provide stimulating lab times–students never complain when I ask them to watch a movie! (F)
- ComposeCreate.com: Wendy Stevens has designed level-based exercises to prepare her students for various exams. They are diligently organized, easily to access and free for all of us to use and enjoy. Just look under the students tab for 9 levels called “Web Rewards” Thanks for sharing, Wendy.
- iTunes: All of my CD’s are imported to iTunes so creating listening assignments is easy–more ideas in the future. (E)
What should I place on my WISH LIST for my new lab?
- A MIDI-compatible digital keyboard can connect to your computer which will allow your students to enjoy so many more online games, software, programs, etc. To use MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) a cable will be needed to connect the computer and keyboard allowing them to send data back and forth.
- An iPod conveniently stores music for listening assignments as well as helpful apps such as the Steinway Metronome app and of course, so much more (see future articles).
- Of course, an iPad is the latest and my favorite lab addition. More and more apps are available everyday that offer terrific sight reading, ear training, and theory drills for musicians of all levels. Click here to see my ongoing list of iPad apps. It is hard for me to keep up!
- A Clavinova is such a magnificent digital keyboard, however there are many other digital pianos that would suffice–just make sure to place one on your wish list! I can only begin to tell you how much I enjoy and utilize my CVP 505 each day. One of my favorite features: with the correct cable, my iPod and iPad connect to the Clavinova and all my” tunes” are played through terrific speakers. More ideas in future articles.
Where can I find HELP and more details on all these TECHIE Terms?
Again, the Studio Makeover: Technology Addition mentioned in the last article provides detailed information about the items listed above. Also, check out Keys to Imagination hosted by Michelle Sisler. I consider her an expert on all things associated with a studio lab. While I claim to be an avid consumer of technology as I stated last time, I consider Michelle as an expert in technology. She offers webinars to demonstrate software , authors books correlating methods to software, and presents sessions around the country on this subject. Her website could answer many of your questions–basic or beyond. If you know of others who are experts in the field, please share!
I look forward to hearing your questions, comments, suggestions.
Next time: a list of my favorite software programs and more.
Leila Viss owns an independent piano studio which features a tech-savvy lab. She seeks to create innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player of any age to stick to the bench for life. She holds a Masters Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Denver and has presented at local, state and national conferences. She adjudicates at local, state, regional and national piano and composition competitions. She serves on the Keys to Imagination Advisory Board and holds a full-time church organist/pianist position. Leila posts regularly on the MusicTeachersHelper blog. Visit her studio website.