“River Flows in You” is a popular piano piece among the middle and high school students.  Jessica, 7th grade, recorded this tonight.  Awesome job Jessica!

River Flows in You

I love this student.  She started taking with me when she was just itty bitty, zooming though the method books.  She quickly became the student that all teachers love–one that arrives to lesson with an awesome smile and attitude, with a binder full of music, more than we could ever cover in one lesson.  I loved the angle that she took in lessons–learning how to play chord charts, and singing and performing.  Playing the pops pieces were a great chance for us to work on rhythm and sight-reading and integrate theory concepts such as chord structure and harmonic rhythm.  She even started composing….(love that!)  And to top it off, she’s got an amazing little sister who is following in her footsteps.

Last May we did a pops recital as one of our recitals.  The kids that participated in the recital all played with a drummer and a bass guitarist.  ALL of the performances were incredible.  Little Meagan rocked it out with singing and playing the piano (at the same time folks–that’s hard to do!).  Her mom just sent me a youtube clip of her taking her dream a little bit farther this summer with another performance opportunity.  Someone get this girl an agent!

Check out her youtube video…..


I often get asked from prospective students what I teach, and how I teach.

It’s quite simple:  I teach skills.  I teach students how to fish.

A couple of months ago, I was hired as a substitute organist at a very big church in town.  You know, the ones with the massive organs front and center of the church, so that everyone can see me fumble with an instrument that I am not used to playing day in and out.  It’s quite intimidating, to play in front of so many people in that type of situation.  They are used to their organist–who is there daily to practice, to work with their choirs, and who knows the ins and outs of the instruments in the church.  This was an emergency situation too–there was a death in the family, so I was called in to play the evening before, meaning I had no practice time on the instrument.

I walked in, 6 am on Sunday morning, music in hand, ready to practice before the 7:30 choir rehearsal for the first 8:30 service.  I walked out at 1 pm, after playing 3 services with 2 different soloists an 2 choirs, exhausted from the work, but with a warm feeling of what I had accomplished that day.  So as a pianist and a piano teacher, what did I have to do that morning?  How has my career prepared me for this type of work?  In the scope of 7 hours, I had to:

1.  Prepare service music that fit the instrument–I chose 2 Baroque organ pieces, meaning that I had to register the organ, an instrument that I wasn’t familiar with, to fit the pieces, and practice pedal lines (with my organ shoes half eaten up by my golden retriever puppy!) that I usually don’t encounter on a day to day basis as a piano teacher.

2.  Prepare traditional hymns for the services–again, figuring out how to register the organ for congregational hymn singing.

3.  During the choir rehearsal, I was handed 2 pieces to sight read.  Both pieces were upbeat, fast pieces with changing meter and key signatures.  I had never seen these pieces before–I had to jump in and play them with a 50 person choir who had been rehearsing them for 2 months (this was a festival Sunday).

4.  Accompany an Irish fiddler on his solo piece.  Again, I had never seen this much, nor am I very familiar with Irish fiddle playing.  This gentlemen that played with me was an impressive violinist, who also plays in the Austin Symphony and worked abroad in chamber music groups over the past 10 years.  I wasn’t playing with a slouch–he knew if I was making a mistake!

5.  During the middle service, the music was “contemporary church music.”  I had to step out of my organ shoes, away from my Bach prelude, and into contemporary Christian music.  What does this mean from a musician standpoint?  I had to read chord charts.  There was no printed music in front of me, only chord symbols.

6.  For the solo during the contemporary service, the soloist was feeling a little under the weather and wanted to sing at a lower pitch.  I had to transpose her solo on the spot for her.

7.  During the last service, a entire rhythm section of drums and bass accompanied us throughout the service (remember, this was a festival service!)  The rhythm section was behind me, the conductor and the choir in front of me.  I had to work with unfamiliar music, with musicians spread out over the room, and the acrostics of the room making the sounds go everywhere.  I followed that conductor’s beat like crazy.

Did I walk out of those services with an adrenaline rush?  Absolutely.  Do I feel like I walked out successfully doing my job, earning my paycheck?  Absolutely.  Would traditional piano lessons have prepared me for such an encounter?  Doubtfully.

And that’s why I teach the way I do.  Not only is every single one of my students different, with different personalities and different interests and talents, but every situation as a “real life musician” is different.  Sometimes you get called 20 hours before a performance like I did.  Sometimes you have to compose, sometimes you have to teach, sometimes you have to transpose for a sick singer, and sometimes, just sometimes,  you might have to play a  Beethoven Sonata.

Speaking of Beethoven Sonatas, I was you to listen to this sweet recording by one of my 7th grade students.  She’s playing a Beethoven sonata, 1st movement, for the spring recital.  She’s playing it well.  She’s at the point in her lessons where she gobbles up music as fast as I can give it to her.  But last fall, I had her step back from the musical notation, and I had her work on chord charts.  I showed her (and she figured out a lot on her own!) how to play a chord based on a symbol on the page–how to fit that chord into the melody line.  In her case, she took it a step further and learned how to sing the melody line while she was playing the chords.  Bravo.  You are learning how to fish.

[mp3j track=”https://velocitymusicacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Blessings2.mp3″]

More student recordings!

[mp3j track=”https://velocitymusicacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Raul.mp3″]This is from Raul, one of our adult students.  Nicole recorded him on her cell phone!  He’s playing Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from childhood)  No. 1

[mp3j track=”https://velocitymusicacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Tristan.mp3″] Another one of Nicole’s students, Tristan.  Also recorded on Nicole’s cell phone 🙂

[mp3j track=”https://velocitymusicacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Dream-Memories.mp3″] And here’s a piece called “Dream Memories”.  Megan (a 7th grader) is playing it on the piano, but wanted to recording it using a guitar sound on garage band.

[mp3j track=”https://velocitymusicacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Kylah.mp3″]And one of Sue’s students, Kylah, recorded on our Kawai digital pianos:

I believe in the well rounded music student–one that can read music, understand music theory, transpose, harmonize, and compose.  Yes compose!  Many of my students see composition as a terribly difficult task until they actually sit down and do it.  It is a wonderful way to integrate theory skills and performance skills–after all, they have to compose something that they can play!

Below is an assignment that I had one of my students do.  We’ve been studying the waltz pattern, and she has played several waltzes in the past month.

Here is her wonderful waltz composition, appropriately titled “Thao’s Waltz.”  Congrats Thao, it’s a beautiful composition with lovely handwriting!

For the past 10 years or so in my own personal teaching, I’ve always given my students the opportunity to record their pieces.  We do this one lesson at a time, one piece at a time.  It’s become an event that the students look forward to.  If a piece is polished, they slap a sticker on the page and pull out their USB memory drive.  At Velocity, our Kawai digital pianos record and save directly as a MP3.  The students know automatically to connect their drive under the keys.  At my home studio, I have my Roland connected to my mac with a USB-MIDI cable, and we use Garage Band to record, and iTunes to convert to MP3.  After the student records a piece, the entire process takes less than a minute to save and transfer to the students USB memory drive.  At the end of the school year, we have a nice compilation of pieces to put on a CD for the student to take home.

But why record?  Why bother?  (even if it only 1 minute taken out of the lesson?)  Every minute of lesson time is valuable time that is needed to polish and work on pieces and musical concepts.  Every minute of lesson time is time that is being paid for.  So why do this?

Here’s why:


  • Recording bridges the gap from lesson to recital.  What makes recitals intimidating?  The one shot mentality.  You have only one shot to be on stage and get your piece right.  How do we practice for recitals?  We practice to perform.  Those mistakes that students are eager to let slip by during a lesson or at home become huge elephants in the room when they are recording.  When a student is recording, they will often do 5-10 takes of their piece, concentrating at a level that they haven’t expressed in their lesson.  Often, when frustrated that they can’t get it right, they take the piece home to practice for another week and bring the piece back more polished than before.  They want to get it recorded on the first try.  They often tell me how their hands sweat and they are nervous during recording.  This is so similar to performing, that it gives students a chance to practice what a recital feels like.
  • Timeline of progress.  There’s nothing like pulling out an old MP3 file from last year and showing the students their progress.  Remember when?  It’s a wonderful pat on the back to all of their hard work.  It’s also a wonderful way for us as parents to file away in a secure spot, just as we carefully folded their first birthday outfit, or filed their first grade handwriting papers.
  • Sharing.  Instead of keeping the files on my computer, I now ask that my students all have portable USB memory sticks.  That way they can take home their pieces every week and e-mail the recording to grandma overseas.  Or their best friend who just moved across the country.  Or just put it on their MP3 player to show their friends at school.
  • Analyzation of technique.  More often than not, it is difficult for us (any of us!) to hear what is going on while we are caught up in playing a piece.  We are reading the music, we are feeling our fingers moving, we are concentrating.  I can point out a half note that was not held long enough.  “What do you mean?” responds the student “I always hold that note long enough!”  With the recording, there is one simple way to find out.  We move the mouse pointer to the beginning of the piece and listen.  And watch.  We watch as the notes are show as MIDI data lines on the program.  All of a sudden that too short half note become more apparent than ever.
  •  Joy.  There’s noting more rewarding, as a teacher, than seeing a look on a student’s face when they have put all of the pieces together, and hold the recording in their hand.


Here are some recordings that my students have been working on this week.  We hope to showcase weekly student progress on this blog throughout the school year!

[titled_box title=”Julian, age 6″ variation=”blue”]The first performance is by my own son, Julian. He’s 6. We are still on the rough draft of his recording. There are some rhythm errors, some timing issues. However, he couldn’t wait to get through the recording so that he could send it to his grandma in Oregon. And I personally love the small bobbles in this recording. I think this recording will always remind me of his 6 year old self–wiggling on the piano bench, feet twitching and kicking the stool, yet incredibly sensitive beyond his years. I’m playing the accompaniment part with him, he’s playing the melody. [mp3j track=”Somewhere-over-the-rainbow1.mp3″] [/titled_box]

[titled_box title=”Luke, 9th grade” variation=”blue”]The next two recordings are by Luke, a 9th grader. Luke has been working on motivational pieces (we alternate between classical pieces and pieces such as these) that he can play for his church. [mp3j track=”Danny-Boy-1.mp3″] [mp3j track=”My-Savior-My-God-5.mp3″] [/titled_box]

[titled_box title=”L, 4th grade” variation=”blue”]And a final recording by L., a little 4th grader, who is working a lot this year on polishing her pieces without worrying about them too much!  Here’s a recording of a piece that she just loves.  She got it on the first try! [mp3j track=”Erie-Canal.mp3″][/titled_box]

Just a few samplings of the wonderful recording that has gone on in my teaching this week.  It’s why we do what we do!



Last week I had a wonderful surprise: one of my students that I taught seven years ago came back to visit me! I taught him when he was 4 and 5 years old. We worked together diligently, yet had a lot of fun during the lessons. I myself didn’t have any children 7 years ago, so I was teaching a young child based on what I knew pedagogically, what I had learned in school. Now that I have two children myself, my views on working with children have definitely changed. However, I still believe in the potential of young children and their innate ability to progress at the piano with the correct teaching and diligent parent involvement.

This was such a student (and he has such a dedicated mother!). I remember working on him with two hand pieces when he was 4 and 5, working through both traditional piano method books and using the repertoire from the Suzuki piano books.

Now little M has grown up and is a 7th grader! It’s so difficult for me to imagine that so much time has passed since I have not seen him since he was 5. It was a shock to me as a teacher to see a young man walk through the door, and not a little 5 year old! M played several pieces for me: Mendelssohn and Haydn. He was preparing for a concerto competition.  His technique was flawless, and he played though pieces as if he owned the piano–proudly showing me the medal that he had been awarded last year for his playing at a festival. I was proud, of course I was! The best part of the afternoon visit was M’s summary of his past years of studying the piano: “the most important time in learning anything is laying the foundation. Thank you so much for providing a foundation for me to continue my music study!”

Yup…I had tears in my eyes.

Thank you M for visiting!! I hope to see you again soon.