Reprinted from Piano Basics Newsletter Vol. 16 #1 Jan/Feb 2011
Ever imagined having a whole new studio created out of what you have learned? The key is connecting your previous studio to your present work, and with the help of technology it is possible to span space and time.
I left Atlanta to move to Silicon Valley in 2006. I packed up all of my musical belongings including 2 grand pianos, a huge file of music scores, books, a 600+ CD collection, stereo system, computer with all the files from my studio and the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association newsletter/website, and boxes upon boxes of video and 8mm tapes. So, I had to ask, Does what I do only exist in one location and how can I evolve my teaching? It was logical being in the Silicon Valley environment to look around and see social networking was going to take off, and with it the possibility of some way to communicate and learn that previously did not exist. After many years of teaching I was not feeling like the new kid on the block, but rather hoping to see things in a time-less fashion. Thus began my quest to mash up that which I had captured on my video camera with some new way of learning that was non-local, and non-time dependent.
I began doing lessons online by exchanging You-tube videos that were uploaded as “private” between myself and the student(s). This helped me continue to mentor previous students and teachers. At that time it was only possible to upload about 3 minutes at a time. This turned out to be useful to me as I had to stick to the point in my teaching. I figured out it was important to practice exactly what I was going to say/play before the video went on in order to get the most on the tape. I would then upload several three minute segments for each lesson referring to the tape they had sent me and giving examples of how/what to practice. Organizing the lesson ahead and practicing it helped me understand how to teach and say less. This learning was very useful.
I also traveled back to Atlanta to teach my former students and others as well. The teachers in Atlanta have been so gracious in having me in their homes, as it would not have been financially doable otherwise. I attempted to get good videos of these lessons, but still was not proficient enough to really pull it all together. The idea was there though and I decided to upgrade my equipment, learn how to use it better, and keep trying.
Meanwhile I had taken a few students at my new home through referrals from other Suzuki teachers. It still wasn’t a “studio” though.
My next big step was to do a website. I took all of my previous writings in newsletters and studio notes and uploaded them onto a blog. I made a video blog and began the arduous process of getting recordings off VHS and getting them onto the blog. This was somewhat random as I did not save the recital programs that went along with the videos so was going on my memory of who played in what recital when. It was however a very interesting process to look back at performances I remembered and to experience them fresh.
My web designer– a former Suzuki piano student – ask me for the current photos for the homepage. This was a new idea to choose photos and make decisions about what I wanted to personally communicate in an online format. I thought that parents might not want their children’s pictures on the homepage, but no one objected. In fact as it turns out they liked it, and love having the performances uploaded so they can share them with family and friends.
I began posting blogs for my parents as a way of doing parent education, and provided links to the Piano Basics Site and other useful resources as well. I put a Google calendar on the website which I can easily update with the schedule, and this also enabled me to let out of town people see when I was available.
The website helped me to enroll a class of Twinkle students ages 3-6. I was thinking about Dr. Suzuki using recordings and decided to see what he had said about recording lessons. “Developing Children’s Ability Using the Suzuki Teaching Method-How we are doing now “ is an article taken from 1977 International Suzuki Conference talk given by Dr. Suzuki on the “latest report on the teaching methods in Japan since the last meeting “
In that article Dr. Suzuki said:
“I consider the invention of the cassette tape recorder as a revolutionary tool for music education and Japanese members are making the most use of them… Our children are supposed to attend their lesson with their own tape recorders so that they can tape the lesson and take the tape home for their practice. Thus I can say that the utilization of cassette tapes in the way stated above has proved to be very effective.”
I decided to upload the lessons to a private blog site. I decided to put them online rather than sending them home with the students for several reasons. First of all putting the videos on the blog made watching them appealing and fairly easy. Next, the parents could gain insight from watching other students’ lessons. Also, I wanted to track progress over time so that it would be possible to see lessons from the beginning of the year to the end. Last, I had the idea that these lessons would be useful for teacher training and teacher research.
At this point technology had changed so that I could upload somewhere around 10 minutes for each clip. So, I still had to cut lessons into parts before I could directly post. I finished the year with all of the lessons, assignments and recitals posted on a private access site. The parents benefitted from the video blog, but to my surprise didn’t really see this as something radical or new.
This year I have a new class of Twinklers and another Twinkle class blog. The video makes the lessons feel important. The students accept the video as a normal part of the studio. The parents use it as a resource- of course some more than others. I found a video upload site (vimeo.com) that enables me to upload videos of any length, so that I can upload the lessons without cutting them into parts.
Overall recording the lessons has been an important part of making the lessons present and focused. Why would this be? The video is like an outside awareness watching and makes everyone just a little more “self-aware.” It is possible that this recording of the event could make people “self-conscious”, but I have not found this to occur. It is a good point to continue to research the effects of recording going forward.
Meanwhile I have continued with online lessons. It is now possible to upload any length lesson on www.vimeo.com and keep the videos private.
I have been able to do Graduation Evaluations this way as well. This has been useful for training students and teachers. I am amazed at the impact the online environment has had on the studio environment. In reading back over Dr. Suzuki’s writing about the use of cassettes in order to find the quotes for this article I noticed that Dr. Suzuki also discusses his “Practice with me” tapes he recorded for students to listen to spots and play with him at home. I am thinking there is a way to use this idea with the online lessons.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of playing music is that it only happens in the present moment. We can practice and prepare, and we can remember. But the experience itself happens in real time. The present moment experience of music making combined with the time-less perspective of playing masterpieces of Bach and Mozart teaches us about time-fullness.
The online access provides a means of experiencing the teaching-learning–performing cycle in a condensed aural/visual format that can span lengths of time and provides a time-fullness experience. The online lessons and performances are now a vital part of the music environment for the students as well as providing a means for reflection and perspective as a teacher. When I watch myself teach I can evaluate its effectiveness by the result of how the child responded. This is so useful as a present moment reflection, and provides a history, a connection to the work that goes on over many years of learning and teaching and learning. The significance of this change in the way teachers and students learn will be evident over time. First, we have to experience it,
Craig Timmerman writes this about Dr. Suzuki in his book Journey Down the Kreisler Highway:
“The answer to ‘When is Suzuki’ is, of course, “Now’ Suzuki is always now. That is why he is always here. I think that this may be one of the reasons that it is so very special to be in the presence of Suzuki. When he gives you his attention he gives 100%, and the results are incredible.”
I have been able to make lots of changes in my new studio that were difficult to enact in my previous studio. For example students come in groups for their individual lessons so that observation is a natural part of each weeks time in the studio. I have developed the habit of performing for my students because without advanced students to model it was necessary. I have learned how natural and invaluable my performing is to the students and parents. So, all of these little changes are part of the bonus one gets from making a big change. Craig Timmerman writes about his move to another town and how it affected him:
“It is such a wonderful aid in looking at things with fresh interest, It helps keep me in awe and wonder; discovering new things every day. Looking at normal and mundane things with fresh eyes makes life itself inspiring. Whether in the land of blue earth or blue grass, a tree never stops changing; it is always growing.
“The only constant is change”, and yet the only change is the deeper awareness of the constant, the basics.