P Plate Piano Masterclass (VMTA January 19)

It’s been a while since I talked P Plate Piano. After a flurry of launch events introducing the P Plate Piano philosophy and publications in the last weeks of 2009 and the first six months of 2010, I’d had a welcome lull. But the new teaching year is almost upon us, and AMEB Victoria saw the Victorian Music Teachers Association Conference as the perfect opportunity to look at P Plate Piano one year on. One year on means that students (and teachers) have actually been using these books, playing the pieces, experimenting with the activities, and exploring the things they can do with this repertoire. One year on also means that the world has changed: touch-screen technologies have gone mainstream, with primary school students receiving iPodTouch and iPad devices for Christmas. [Yes, one would think they’d have had to be particularly good to have an iPad in their Christmas stocking.] Factor in toddlers and preschoolers expertly manipulating any range of

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Some of the things that have been on my mind

In contrast to my normal 1000 word blog entries, today’s is one of my “quick – make a list of all things I want to blog about” pieces. Last week (for the first time) I joined in a twitter conversation held every Tuesday at 11am Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time called #musedchat. It’s an hour of thought-exchange between music educators, most of whom are working in classroom contexts, most of those it seems working with high school aged students. Last week’s topic looked at ways of assessing musical understanding, and I loved each of the 60 minutes spent involved in that conversation. Most music assessment looks at a student’s ability to do something, usually performing a technical feat, or recognising a musical occurrence, being able to label something appropriately, and so forth – many things which are not necessarily measuring a student’s understanding. Which raises the question, how much music education is directed to increasing or deepening understanding? I spent

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How Hard Is a Piece of Music: June 2010 Installment

Exam boards release new graded material from time to time, unpredictably in the case of the AMEB, every two years like clockwork in the case of the ABRSM, and it’s an exciting moment when piano teachers get to take a look at the new material they can/will use with their students over the next few years. Particularly exciting when a personal favourite makes the cut, or an appealing piece one hasn’t come across before, but the downside is always possible: discovering inclusions that simply are too hard for students to seriously consider performing them in a graded assessment context. ABRSM doesn’t often stray in this regard – in fact, I’d say that teachers with more than 20 years experience would say that the selections have been getting easier (not harder) over the years. But the AMEB, with its 100+ pieces per grade syllabus, seems to lurch all over the place in terms of the grading of pieces, often with the

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Major Harmonic Revisited

The last scale-of-the-day I blogged about (back on February 20) was the Major-Harmonic scale, and when I wrote my post about this particular pattern I found myself with little good to say about it (much to my own surprise). I complained about the clichéd cadence that this pattern allowed, and surmised that it may well have been the first scale to which I was impelled to give a thumbs down. This negative assessment was no doubt impacted on quite considerably by the fact that that weekend I was supposed to get my first 8 hour sleep since 2006 (pregnancy, newborn, toddler who doesn’t sleep through) and thanks to noisy hotel neighbours it just didn’t happen. But I think maybe more germane to my disdainful summary was that I was only thinking about this pattern in its C incarnation. This is an important point, because I know full well that the physical sensation of any pattern changes from one semitone to

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P Plate Update: meeting with examiners.

P Plate Piano (and its various launch and discussion events) have kept me outrageously busy of late, and I’m ashamed to note that it’s been close to a month since I last posted anything to this blog – a record time without new contributions.  All the more shameful as I’ve set myself the task of discussing a scale every week, and that’s looking a bit like a failed New Year’s Resolution at present. But back to the topic of today’s post: an update on P Plate Piano. The website is increasingly functional, and the forum for teachers has been up and running for a week or so. Not many posts as of yet, but 19 members, which (by Australian piano teaching demographic standards) is not a bad start! The last two weekends of February saw me tearing around southern Victoria doing my final launches for teachers in that state. Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon (I had to look that one up on

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P Plate Piano website is live!

One of the most exciting aspects of creating the P Plate Piano series with the Australian Music Examination Board has been their corporate commitment to the project.  So many times in business (let alone the print music business) lateral thinking is simply not part of the equation, so it has been a joy to be involved in a project that really is designed for the 21st century. So this is the first examination board-produced repertoire series ever to have its very own website, and that website has just gone ‘live’ at http://www.pplatepiano.com.au Still not live are the online student journal, the teachers forum and some other bells and whistles, but this website does have some nice features already, including some short videos we made at the end of last year.  And I’ll be reporting on when new features are added as the year goes on. I’m still very much involved with the project, with launch events still running til the

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Links to Vodcasts……

My blog has featured my ideas in written format, venturing as far as to include some scored examples – so I am hardly pushing the envelope of the available technology. I’d love to change the status quo, but for now I’ll just include some links to vodcasts that have just gone up on YouTube with me discussing teaching ideas for three pieces in the P Plate Piano series (and hopefully this style of link isn’t too irritating to click through on). From P Plate Piano Book One, a discussion of the fabulous Jane Sebba piece Quick as a flash: http://tinyurl.com/yjboyp8 And from P Plate Piano Book Two an exploration of Daniel Türk’s Presto: http://tinyurl.com/y8jzpzx And from P Plate Piano Book Three an explanation of the stunning little Too tired for anything from the fabulous 2 volume series, Seventy Keyboard Adventures with the Little Monster published by Breitkopf Hartel: http://tinyurl.com/yjy4sx4 There will be a dedicated P Plate Piano website, which is truly

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Anita Milne is my mother

It’s time to write a piece about my mum.  Mums are self-evidently worth writing about, but in my case I am further motivated to do so knowing that about 10 people have discovered my blog in the past seven days because they were wanting to know more about my mum, Anita. A brief history: Anita was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1943 and started piano lessons at the age of nine. She progressed rapidly, and was teaching the piano herself by the time she was in her late teens, as well as working as an accompanist and organist. She married Richard Milne (born in Prosperpine, QLD, and working in Christchurch at the time) in 1963. I was born when Anita was nearly 24 and living in Wahroonga, Sydney, and I grew up listening to her piano lessons (as a baby) and hearing her students practice (as I became older). When she was 27 our whole family moved to the

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Choosing Repertoire

I’m preoccupied this week with thoughts revolving around how we choose repertoire for our students.  I’d like to be able to say with rather than for our students, but most of the time the student gets at best a veto (not quite the same thing as being actively part of the process). This topic was one I spoke on at the 2009 Australian Piano Pedagogy Conference held in Sydney in July, and at that time I titled my presentation Repertoire Roulette, attempting to draw attention to the hit and miss nature of a piano student’s repertoire selection, the element of risking something valuable (the attention and long-term interest of the student) if we should happen to stake our lesson time on a piece of repertoire that doesn’t come up a winner. If only the pieces of piano music we use in our teaching came with guarantees. Or at least a warranty. So here’s the thing that comes first, something which

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Younger Beginners & Piano Exams (in Australia)

I’ve just completed a tour of the four of the major centres in Australia (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide) and three of the smaller ones (Coffs Harbour, Launceston and Geelong) with the Australian Music Examination Board launching the P Plate Piano publications and assessments to groups of piano teachers. More of these launch events will take place in the first few months of 2010, but the eleven events we’ve already done gave a good insight into the issues piano teachers grapple with getting students ready for their first (Preliminary) AMEB exam. In my seminar I talk about the four pressures Australian piano teachers are feeling in regard to their beginners in 2009: The AMEB Preliminary examination has been getting steadily and substantially more difficult (comparing the syllabus repertoire in the mid-90s with that in 2009). Piano students are starting lessons younger. Whereas most beginners were 7 or 8 years of age twenty years ago, in 2009 beginners are often 5

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