Snowball the Dancing Cookatoo


There is certainly no shortage of fascinating and really useful material on utube. It’s a great teaching resource. And while I will not pretend that this can ever compete with the experience of live performance and real people working together one-on-one, it is giving us access to some truly great performances of repertoire.

I have to say that so far, Snowball is my favourite amateur utube performance just for the sheer joy of experiencing music. If you haven’t yet played the video, do it now. It’s guaranteed to made you feel good! There is also some interesting science behind this.

Until neuroscientist, Dr. Aniruddh Patel, saw this wildly popular utube video of Snowball, he and the scientific community believed  that keeping time to a beat was something unique to humans. His subsequent study of Snowball is the first to document that non-human vocal learners also share this ability, something they suspected but had not yet proven.

If you are interested in a clear and concise explanation of the science behind his research, check out this great blog entry by Isobel MacIver on Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo, YouTube and Scientific Discovery.  Well worth the read.



Music is Key to Child’s Development

Music activates, stimulates and uses the entire brain.

In case you haven’t received this directly from the Royal Conservatory of Music, here is a link to The Benefits of Music Education, a  summary of the recent neuroscience research proving that music education is a powerful tool for attaining children’s full intellectual, social and creative potential.


Spring Newsletter

This week I think Spring has finally arrived for good! And that means that we are into the last six weeks of lessons before the summer break. I have already been talking with students about preparation for our June Recital.  Please be sure to mark your calendars!

Friday, June 13, 2014, 6:45-7:45 pm

St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Peterborough, doors will open at 6:30.

As some students graduate and move on to college and university, I have some openings coming up and would certainly welcome referrals. Registration forms will be going home with students this week so that you can indicate interest and scheduling preferences for next year.

I am also happy to arrange summer lessons, so please let me know if you are interested.

Happy Spring!


Great resource for Interval Training

Sometimes I wish my ears were as good as these guys!

Sometimes I wish my ears were as good as these guys!

Today, I found a great site that students can use to make up their own individual song cue lists for interval recognition. This is a terrific resource because students find some tunes more useful than others, and it includes the more difficult ones like major and minor sevenths.

Check out the EAR MASTER and have fun creating your own list!


Music Training and the Brain

An interesting article on music practice and performance and the brain was just published today in Education Week.

“New research suggests that the complexity involved in practicing and performing music may help students’ cognitive development. Studies released last month at the Society for Neuroscience meeting here find that music training may increase the neural connections in regions of the brain associated with creativity, decisionmaking, and complex memory, and they may improve a student’s ability to process conflicting information from many senses at once.”

Click HERE to read the full article


Music Lessons and Healthy Aging

Here is another interesting article on long term benefits of music lessons.

I am a great example of a student who took music lessons through to the end of high school and than took a long hiatus. I returned to playing and studying when my own children started lessons and that led to a wonderful second career in teaching. In many ways, I wish I’d taken that path straight from high school, but it’s never too late!


Upcoming Recitals

There are some exciting events coming up, so be sure to mark your calendars.

November 17-23 is ORMTA‘s Canada Music Week. The Peterborough Branch is celebrating with a recital November 24, 2013, St. Luke’s Anglican, 3:00 pm. There will be duets and solo performances as well as the annual scholarship awards presentation.

Friday, December 6, 2013 is our Studio Recital, also at St. Luke’s Anglican, 6:45 pm. Students who normally have Friday lessons will be offered an alternative date. Beginning this week, I’ll be talking to students about what they would like to play in December.

Koerner Hall, Telus Centre for Performance and Learning

February 14th, 2014 is the date of the ORMTA Field Trip to a concert at Koerner Hall with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus. Last year’s trip was a great success and sold out. Details are in an upcoming post.

March 1st, 2014 students will have the opportunity to participate in a masterclass with local composer, musician and clinician, Sheila Tyrell. This is designed to give participants an opportunity to perform pieces they are preparing for exams or festival and to enhance and develop their performance artistically and with confidence.


Tuning in….

I love giving students a tour of the inside of the piano. It’s amazing to see how the hammers and strings and dampers all conspire to create such amazing sounds. The piano has the full range of an entire orchestra!

Often students tell me it sounds so different in the lesson than at home. There are lots of reasons for this. Every piano sounds and feels different, and the environment it’s in affects the sound, too. A small space with lots of hard surfaces tends to amplify the sound while, lots of carpet and upholstery absorbs sounds.

We can learn to adjust to these factors, as long as the instruments we play are kept in tune and good repair. Our Ontario weather with big changes in humidity and temperature can play havoc on tuning. As we move out of summer and in to the winter months, now is an excellent time to have your piano tuned. Pianos should be tuned at least once a year. There are a number of excellent tuners working in this area, and I am also happy to make recommendations.

Inside the upright

It’s important to listen carefully and critically to the tone and phrasing and dynamics as we develop pieces artistically. These are things we work on in lessons, and it’s important to carry on with that work throughout the week. If the piano at home is out of tune, this becomes very difficult.

I’m also recording some of the work we do in lessons, using a digital recorder, and sharing it with students using Dropbox. It’s amazing what we are able hear in our own playing when we sit back and listen.


Practicing… Tips to Save Time and Find Your Groove

This RCM site offers plenty of great reasons to pursue private music studies: self-discipline, poise, precision, confidence, empathy, collaboration, listening and communication, focus, self-awareness.

“Music education fosters many of the skills children will require for success in school and the workplace, as well as their personal and social lives. Many scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of learning music, including: increased self-confidence, improved self-discipline, gains in memory, and reduced stress.”

The time we spend practicing has a lot to do with that. But sometimes, there are those days!

This month I’ve been working with students to discover ways to make practice time efficient and rewarding. Here are some ideas that work!

1. Set a goal. Achieving a goal in every practice feels great! Each week, I write goals for the technique and pieces we’re working on. In every practice, set yourself a goal. For example, “I am going to learn these two bars, hands together.” If we are working to learn 8 bars hands together in a week, you can break it down into 4 manageable goals, 2 bars per practice. All of a sudden it’s not so daunting.

2. Practice technique with the metronome all the time. This develops a good sense of steady rhythm, pulse and works to make you think ahead.

3. When you have to re-take a section, stop and mark it on your music. Make a new goal for that day, or the next practice. Sometimes, just stopping to figure out what is causing you to stumble is all it takes!

4. Take time to look over the music before you start to play. Take four bars a a time and look for familiar patterns that you already know: scale and broken chord patterns make up a lot of our music… that’s why we practice technique. It’s kind of nice to find some old friends in a new piece. Identify notes that are not as easy to read, ones on ledger lines for example. When you start to play, it will feel like you already know the piece.

5. Keep track of your accomplishments during the week. It feels so great to see just how much you’ve done.

The next few posts will offer some more ideas, so stay tuned!


School attendance and Private Music Lessons

As music education becomes less of a focus in the school curriculum, the role of private music study is becoming even more important. Music lessons have been proven to develop human potential. A recent article in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Music Matters magazine reports that “from early childhood through to retirement years, whether involved in recreational music making or training for a professional career, people who are engaged in music study are happier, healthier and contribute to society in more meaningful ways.”

But what are parents to do when the after-school hours rapidly fill up with homework, sports and other extra-curricular activities, and the private music teacher schedules fill just as quickly?

In Ontario there is a solution.

The Education Act of the Government of Ontario (1990) provides the opportunity for students in Ontario schools to receive music instruction, often by a private music teacher and to be excused from attendance at school. In Chapter E2, Part 11, Statute 21.2(e) of the Education Act Revised Statutes of Ontario, it states: School attendance may be excused when the child is absent from school for the purpose of receiving instruction in music and the period of absence does not exceed one-half day in any week. (Government of Ontario, 1990, p. 36)

I realize this is not a viable solution for many families, but is is certainly something worth considering.