2019 KMTA Conference at Tabor College

From Lisa McCluer:

The KMTA conference was held on Friday and Saturday, September 27th – 28th. There was so much packed into two short days! I came away with a lot of inspiration and knowledge that I can easily translate into my teaching. There were eleven sessions which were back to back both days, so attendees definitely got their money’s worth! We also enjoyed a delicious dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday (included in the registration fee), and a concert on Friday evening. I had never been to Hillsboro, KS or Tabor College, so I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful and modern the music building was.

I will share with you some of my biggest takeaways in hopes that you will also be inspired, and that you might wish to join us at the next conference! I did not get to attend all of the sessions, but will share with you from those I attended.

Brett Janssen did a session on how to incorporate Gordon’s audiation techniques into beginning piano lessons. I had read a bit about this in Joy Morin’s blog, colorinmypiano, but honestly, it seemed a bit overwhelming and complicated. Here is an article about it: https://colorinmypiano.com/2018/01/15/music-learning-theory-exactly/. Brett did a wonderful job of giving us practical, easy ways to incorporate ideas in our music studios that don’t require that we completely overhaul our current methods of teaching. Some of the concepts to keep in mind are sound before symbol, and sing before playing. Other ideas shared were: thinking ahead which finger/note to play before playing it, moving to the music (dancing, conducting), playing with eyes closed, and playing a scale in the key of a piece before playing the piece.

Wendy Stevens presented two workshops: “Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to be a Child?” and “Rhythm Practice Should Be All Kinds of Fun!”  One thing that really stood out to me was being reminded that children have little sense of time or the future. Everything is about right now. Therefore, it is hard for them to understand the value of practicing a difficult piece slowly and carefully, and how that will translate into future success. We must provide small victories along the way, as well as activities that will ensure success now.            Children also need to feel that they are good at something, so it is important that we break down learning into small, easily mastered steps. If students leave lessons feeling capable, practice is much more likely to occur. In line with Brett Janssen’s workshop, it is also important to incorporate movement into learning to create the most meaningful and successful learning experience.

Wendy’s rhythm workshop introduced her new “My First Rhythm Cup Explorations” which you can learn more about here: https://composecreate.com/product/my-first-rhythm-cup-explorations/ Wendy created this very thoughtfully, from the way the rhythms are presented on the page in large print, with a lot of white space, to the kid-friendly accompaniment tracks at a slower tempo. A couple of tips from Wendy that were new to me were to use smaller cups for smaller hands, and to tape two cups together to avoid cup breakage. If you haven’t tried Rhythm Cup Explorations, I encourage you to give it a try! You can use it one-on-one in a lesson or with a group. It incorporates movement, encourages develop of rhythm understanding and a steady tempo and recognition of rhythmic patterns, all while having loads of fun!

Jen Stephenson and J. Bradley Baker presented a session; “Partnering for Collaborative Success: Student Pianists in the Voice Studio”. They discussed how they teach their college students practical skills which help them to be professional and successful as collaborative musicians, such as being on time, communicating professionally in e-mails, having a good attitude, following instructions, being organized, and preparing adequately. These skills may seem obvious to some of us, but it is so valuable that they are being emphasized as they can make all the difference in the success of a collaborative musician.

Friday evening ended with a Members Recital, which was delightful. We heard beautiful solo performances of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Chaminade, Chabrier, as well as a cello/piano duo of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. The program concluded with a duet of an arrangement of Overture to “Candide” by Bernstein. It was a varied and interesting concert, and it was fun to see our colleagues performing.

On Saturday morning, Richard Masters presented a session; “Baroque Brits: A Bridge to Bach”. He gave us extensive information on English Baroque works which can be used to prepare our students for the works of J.S. Bach, including Henry Purcell, Thomas Arne, John Blow, and John Loillet. Dr. Masters also discussed ornamentation, phrasing and articulation. He provided historical context and a handout of works and how they might be used. If you are interested in the handout, please let me know.

Scott McBride-Smith presented a very insightful session on “Preparing Students to Handle Stage Fright”. He shared some very interesting and surprising research he found on the subject. First, stage fright is inevitable, as we all experience to one degree or another, but it is all in how you think of it. It is better to note and share feelings of stress rather than suppress them. It is also important not to think too much while performing (save that for practice sessions), as a different part of the brain controls performing than practicing.  Our goal is semi-automaticity.  As expected, preparation is key to help ensure a successful performance. Some of the ways we can help our brain to be prepared and achieve semi-automaticity are to play in a variety of circumstances – perhaps early in the morning wh0en you’re still groggy, or try playing on a less than ideal piano, for example. Making up a story about your piece is another tool that can be used to keep the mind occupied in a positive way and also help with memory. Dr. McBride-Smith also shared tools to help our students who might be paralyzed from stage fright or past negative experiences – help them to actively change their thinking/beliefs, start with a very easy piece to perform by memory, and assure them that nothing bad will happen if it is a less than stellar performance.

Lars Quincke and Barbara Mirano, students from the Kansas State University Student Chapter, presented a thoughtful and insightful session on “Creating a Meaningful Experience for Students with Down Syndrome”. The tools shared could also be used with any student. They presented a very interesting music reading method which incorporated colors and shapes to represent notes, and showed how this method easily transitions into traditional note-reading. They also reminded us that it is important to put the student first, saying “a student with Down Syndrome” rather than “Down Syndrome Student”. Students of all backgrounds and abilities can benefit and find joy from learning music, and their session gave us many tools to help us share music with a variety of students.

It was also wonderful to catch up with friends, make new connections, and “talk shop”. Relationships with our peers cannot be underestimated in our development and satisfaction as music teachers.

If you are still reading, thank you, and I hope you found something that will be useful in your studio!


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