It is now in the middle of July. After a busy year of teaching, I have launched into summer piano lessons. I realize how important these can be in the overall scheme of studying music.
Many of my summer lesson kids are younger and have only studied one year. I encourage these children to continue through the summer months to make sure they do not forget all they had learned in the school year
Summer is a little different. Instead of the regiment of school, many kids have a variety of summer camps mixed in with family vacations. Camps are often physically demanding and the children come to their afternoon lessons more exhausted than they were in the academic year. So, I try to do things a little differently. I usually don’t expect children to practice as intensely as they have the rest of the year. I also tend to steer away from mastering challenging pieces in the summer unless this is something the child wants to do. I keep the mood light and fun.
In the summer, one of my goals is to reinforce music-reading skills. This can be done in a variety of ways. There are many games available online that can be played at home or in the studio with or without a computer. The website: Teach Piano Today has some great game ideas that can be used in the studio. However, one of my favorite teaching aids is a magnetic staff board created from a cookie sheet with a sheet of paper attached and small circular magnets. (see above). The magnetic board leads to many fun activities. One is to have the child place magnets in a pattern on the staves. The child then names the notes he/she has written on the board. I play the pattern back and make one mistake that the child needs to identify. Then I write a pattern and the child plays it back. We can also write musical words with the magnetic board.
Summer is an ideal time to improvise and compose. I often ask kids to write a little melody describing a summer activity, e.g. horseback riding, swimming, hiking. The composing can happen at home or at the lesson. I urge the student to improvise a lot before coming up with the final tune. I also strive to keep the melody simple. The melody can have words or not. Then I help the child to expand on that tune to create a longer composition. The student has a notebook in which he/she writes these pieces. The writing component also reinforces note and rhythm comprehension. At the end of the summer (or year) students will have a collection of their own masterpieces.
Chord Study and Harmonization:
Summer is a delightful time to have kids figure out little melodies by ear, for example, “Happy Birthday to You!” When a child knows how to play I, IV and V7 chords, he/she can harmonize the melody. Later, the melody and chords can be transposed, or even played in the minor. The student can also choose an accompaniment style, e.g. blocked chords, broken chords, waltz.
When I teach all the major triads, I compare them to Oreo cookies. C, F and G major are vanilla cookies with a vanilla center. D, A and E major are vanilla cookies with a chocolate center, Db, Ab and Eb are the standard Oreos: chocolate cookies with vanilla filling. F#, B and Bb are the strange Oreo combinations. Sometimes, I bring in a variety of Oreos and we construct them to correspond to the chords. Naturally, the Oreos are eaten after each chord is played correctly!
It is fun to take an easy study, e.g. Hanon Book 1, #1, and have the student play it in a variety of ways: staccato, 4-note slurs, 2-note slurs, staccato in one hand and legato in the other hand, forte, piano, forte in the right hand and piano in the left hand, etc. Students can come up with other ideas too.
Group lessons with musical games can be an enjoyable component of the summer. If there are friends in the studio, duets and trios are a great social experience for them.
To summarize, there are so many possible summer activities, but the important idea is to emphasize fun and exploration. The sky is the limit.