What will teaching look like for you this summer? It may be unusual, but my studio does not follow the school calendar. In part because I teach students from several different school districts, and it would be near impossible. But even more than that, it is my desire that my studio families view piano lessons as a year-round learning experience. We take small 1-2 week breaks throughout the year, but they are not based on anyone’s calendar but my own.
So when it comes to summer, you will find me teaching an adjusted schedule (no evenings) with lessons continuing as normal. OR not so normal…
Students often go on vacation, I take a couple of pre-planned weeks off, and summer in general is less structured for most of my students than during the school year.
While I choose not to change my teaching curriculum during the summer (I love what I teach, and it’s individualized for each student), I always try to bring in a fun summer challenge that will spice things up just enough to give the summer some novelty.
In the past I have worked hard to put together in-depth, complicated, and themed projects. And although they had great value, I often ended up spending more time and money putting it together than necessary, and parents tended to need a lot of coaching to keep from being confused. Too many details ended up being a recipe for disaster!
These projects started out simple, but somehow never seemed to stay that way…
The past few years though, I’ve worked to keep myself honest with what I present in the way of studio wide challenges. Last year in the midst of the pandemic, my entire studio worked on a composing project for the summer. Easy to create, easy to manage, and applicable to all levels. The compositions all turned out to be really impressive!
This year, lessons will be more sporadic as people feel safer to travel. So I wanted to create a motivator that will work whether I see my students consistently or not.
Enter – the Piano Ninja Challenge!
The Piano Ninja Challenge will allow each student to set 3 attainable goals each time I see them.
Truthfully, I always want my students to be reaching towards these overarching goals, but summer is the perfect time to package them a bit differently 😉
What are the 3 piano ninja goals?
1- Practice Consistently: Summer may not be all about practicing every day. So it’s important to turn our attention to helping our students create achievable goals. Are they planning on being on vacation this week? How can they use their music on the car trip to practice without the piano? They’ll be home this week? Let’s aim for 5 days of 15 minute practice in between dips in the pool. Crazy week coming up? Why don’t they aim for 3 days practicing for 20 min? How can their short practice be effective and time saving in the long run?
2 – Pay Attention to details: This is score study and intentional practice. But score study itself doesn’t have to be boring. Actually, far from it! How often do you have a student come in and play the notes and rhythms perfectly, only to have absolutely no dynamics or expression. Studying the score can catch problems early and lead to more effective practice – all for a more expansive knowledge of the piece with better results!
3 – Learn the Big Picture: Simply learning one song, then the next and next, is a dangerous method. It’s extremely important that we are teaching our students skills that can be used across all songs. For example, learning the notes in Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an important task. But if you only know the notes for one song, and don’t have a good grasp on all of the notes, then the next song will be just as difficult to learn. Same goes for almost any element of music you can think of 🙂 Big picture also includes things like music history, different styles of music, world music, etc. Learning about all of music will make your student’s experience with their own repertoire much deeper and richer in the long run.
Today, I’m including everything you’ll need to get the Piano Ninja Challenge started in your studio. The beauty of this? You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like 🙂 By printing off the student packet, you will have weekly practice charts, score study sheets, a big picture activity sheet, ninja throwing stars, and completion certificates at your fingertips. Stay tuned because this summer will be filled with fun ninja extras you can add to keep the theme going!
There is flexibility in how you choose to use each element. This summer my students will have the opportunity to achieve 3 different levels of piano ninja status by completing each element and earning throwing stars.
My students will have to work for them, but I plan to be fairly generous in awarding the throwing stars. I’ve broken it out like this …
You can download the Piano Ninja starter pack for FREE below 🙂
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more ninja themed material to give your summer lessons the spark they need!
Want to diver in deeper today? Grab some basic folders and print this pdf for a quick and easy way to keep all the ninja challenge materials together 🙂
Other fun resources …
Piano Ninja Challenge Posters