Brainy Challenge 2020

This year, Brainy did an entirely digital version of his yearly brainy challenge! This is a studio event where students are challenged to practice one piece 8 times during the week to earn the food bank $1. This challenge runs for 3 weeks, so students have the opportunity to earn $3 each for the food bank. Parents can also optionally match that $3 earned by their child.

A stuffed puffin taking a picture of a stuffed octopus and animal erasers.
Brainy taking a picture of the ‘friends’ used to count the money students had earned. The inner circle is the money earned by students (15 as of this picture, later updated to 17). The outer circle is matched donations from parents!

Students did a great job this year! With the studio being online, students had to keep track of their practicing for themselves (using sheets sent out via email). They did a great job tracking their practicing and making sure they did their challenges every week.

Brainy and his photographer, Puffy the Puffin, setting up their ‘thank you’ photo for the students

October 29th mini-recital

Our first mini-recital of the year was held last night! Students had the opportunity to play two pieces each. We also played a number of musical games.

To start off our concert, we started with musical charades. Students had to act out a symbol, then the rest of us would try and guess what symbol it was.

After that came the performance portion of our concert. Students got to perform two pieces each, which we did live.

After, we did a ‘silly’ performance each – we practiced making a big, silly mistake and continuing on with our performance! This is really good practice as it gets students used to the performance mindset of knowing that you can’t stop in a performance, even if things go a little awry.

Lastly, we played a Halloween-themed game – the Bats and Cats note game. Students enjoyed getting the chance to hang out and play a musical game together. It is a great opportunity for students to feel a part of the studio community even when they can’t see each other in person!

Picture of Bats and Cats note naming game

How to Get the Most from Online Lessons

Online lessons are new to many of us, so before the teaching year starts, I have put together a list of tips for how to get the most out of your online lessons!

  1. Get set up early – Make sure you know how long it takes to set up for a lesson! Make sure to include time go get all your equipment together (your instrument, music, a pencil, a music stand, and anything else you might need) as well as all your technological equipment. I usually start setting up 20 minutes prior to the start of a lesson to make sure I have time to get everything prepared without having to feel rushed!
  2. Make sure you have everything you need – as mentioned above, make sure you have your instrument, a music stand, pencil, all music you may need, the device you are streaming from and any other technological items you may need
  3. Pick the right spot for your lessons – a student needs a quiet distraction-free location to stream from so they can concentrate on learning. If it is possible, make sure it is near the source of the wifi, or plugged into your router/internet source via an ethernet cable if possible.
  4. Be present during lessons – Sometimes technological difficulties can happen despite all of our preparations! It’s good to be around in case your child need any assistance.
  5. Set a reminder prior to the lesson – There’s a lot going on in our lives. It can be especially hard to remember now when all of our schedules are being changed around. If you think you might forget a lesson, set a reminder! Ideally, set a reminder at the time you would start setting up for lessons (and if you want, some phones will let you add a second reminder!)
  6. Read the lesson notes with your child – make sure you know what was assigned to the student during the week, and that they know too! Check the lesson notes and make sure to ask me if something doesn’t make sense!
  7. Talk to the teacher – if you have questions, concerns, or problems, please talk to me early! If there is a problem with setup or practicing, it’s always easiest to deal with the problem right away rather than leaving things to pile up!
  8. Remember: Learning music is a team effort! It takes the combined work of parent, teacher, and child to make lessons & practicing work. Students cannot practice and learn on their own. If we are all on the same page regarding practicing, music, and lesson goals, that will really help to make sure the child is most prepared to have a good musical experience this year.

These tips will help make sure you get the most out of your online lessons. There’s lots of ways to get a chance to have a good musical experience, even whilst we are far from each other!

Do you want to get even more from your lesson? Keep reading for a few bonus tips!

For those of you who feel you have the hang of online lessons, you might want to up your game and try and make sure you’ve got everything set up. For you, I’ve got a few bonus tips!

  • Discuss platforms with your teacher – I teach on Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype currently. If the one you’re using now in lessons is not working, let me know! I’m happy to try out one of the other two with you!
  • Check your sound settings – both Zoom and Skype have settings that let you turn of the ‘auto adjusting’ these platforms do (this means they try to quiet down background noise to make it easier to hear people talking. This can affect how it plays back our instruments!) You can easily change these items in settings, let me know if you need help finding these settings, I’m happy to send screenshots!
    • In Zoom, go to ‘settings’, ‘audio’, then click the button that says ‘advanced’ in the bottom right corner. In this menu, check the box that reads ‘show in-meeting button to enable original sound’. When in a meeting, if you click this button, the audio will stop auto-adjusting, and can result in much better sound quality for your instrument
    • In Skype, go to ‘settings’, then ‘audio and video’ then switch off ‘automatically adjust microphone settings’
  • Check in if you’re having technology problems – there are work arounds for technology problems, so if you’re having issues, be sure to talk to me so we can find a solution. Replacing some of the live lesson with recordings are an option, as is using the video from a platform like Skype but the sound from a ‘regular’ telephone call. Please talk to me if you need help with this!
  • Send in recordings at least a day early – this will help me to make sure I have lots of time to look over them and make comments prior to your next lesson

And most importantly, have fun! Music is meant to be enjoyed, so have fun with your adventures in learning an instrument!

Online Lesson Tips

This is a list of easy tips to get the most out of online lessons.

  1. Use what works for you – Online lessons can be done in a myriad of ways, and different options will work better for one family. Lessons can be done in different formats:
    • Real time: lessons take place in real time. This can involve video conferencing software, or telephone calls. The studio has accounts on Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts/Duo. I am also able to hold lessons via FaceTime. Families can pick the platform that works best for them. If internet connections are a problem, regular telephone calls can be used alone or in combination with video conferencing software
    • If real time lessons aren’t an option, students can also trade videos with me instead of having live lessons.
  2. Test out your technology – If you are using video conferencing software, it’s good to set it up and have a little test prior to the first lesson. On the day of the lesson, set up your technology early so you have time to work out any bugs. Let me know if you’d like to do a test call at some point to assure things will work!
  3. Talk to the teacher if you have any concerns – Let me know if you have questions about the lessons, or the quality of the call. As mentioned above, there are many options for how to hold an online lesson, and I’m happy to help with any issues that come up.
  4. Students may need help – parental assistance is always helpful for any kind of lesson. Being involved with your child’s lessons and practicing will help them to stay more motivated and give them another person to go to when working on their practicing. When moving to video lessons, try to stick around in case there are any technical difficulties, especially during the first lesson.
  5. Make sure everything necessary is all set up prior to the lesson – this includes having the student’s music and instrument set up, making sure there is a pencil for writing notes and making sure devices are charged and charging chords are nearby in case they are needed.
  6. Setup: if possible, set up the device so that the teacher can see the student’s face as well as their hands at the piano/on the clarinet. For clarinet, you simply need the device to be in front of the student, and far enough ahead to see both the child and their hands. For the piano, different options might work for you. Some students have put the device on the music rack, or on the end of the keyboard. This angle below works well:
Picture of a good angle for a piano video lesson
One of the studio cats, modelling a good angle for a video lesson!

Further tips: If you’d like to get the most out of your lessons, here are some a few technical tips to help get you set up to have a great lesson:

  • If location/proximity permits, try to plug into your router with an ethernet cable rather than via wifi – this will allow you to have a more stable connection.
  • If you have multiple devices, you might find different ones give you better sound. Test out a few options, if you have them, and see which one works best for you.
  • Some platforms will allow you to adjust the sound settings to give you better audio. If you’re having trouble hearing the piano on my end, let me know and I can let you know if there’s audio settings you can change on your end!

This article will be updated with new tips and FAQs as needed! As usual, if you have any questions, please contact me. I’m happy to help students get set up for their online lessons.

Brainy Foodbank Challenge 2019

The Brainy Foodbank challenge has concluded for another year! Every year starting in November, Brainy the octopus runs a practicing challenge. Students are given a challenge – they must practice something eight times during the week. Challenges are chosen by teacher and student together. If they complete their challenge, they earn the Foodbank one dollar. This challenge lasts for three weeks, so students have the possibility of earning the Foodbank three dollars each. Brainy uses pennies as counters during the week, then exchanges them for loonies at the bank at the end of the challenge. (Octopi get very good exchange rates at the bank!) :

Puffy the puffin taking a picture of Brainy the octopus

Parents are optionally invited to match donations, so brainy often gets to spend extra on the foodbank food.

This year, students earned Brainy $20 to spend on food for the food bank. He was very impressed. Donations were matched, so he had almost double that to spend!

Brainy likes students to feel included in the shopping fun, so he always makes sure to take lots of pictures. This year, studio friend Puffy the Puffin visited the grocery store with Brainy, taking pictures.

Puffy the puffin taking a picture of Brainy the octopus on their foodbank groceries

Brainy says thank you to all the students for their hard work this year! They did a great job practicing and earned lots of money for the Foodbank this year.

Composer Elections 2019

The studio worked on a composer elections project this year! Students learned about various eras in musical history, and during the week of the Canadian elections this year, student got to vote for a musical party of their choice.

To learn about the various eras in music history, students did a variety of things. We listened to music, learned what eras our pieces came from, and talked about what sorts of music were written in the various periods.

Baroque era poster

For the Baroque era, students got to try the harpsichord setting on the studio’s keyboard, plus students got to learn how to make inventions. Little activities like this helped students to learn some facts about a variety of musical time periods!

Modern Party Poster

The results of the election are as follows:

  • 100% of eligable studio voters voted!
  • The Modern Party won with 50% of the popular vote
  • The Romantic Party came in second with 40% of the vote
  • The Baroque Party came in third with 10%
  • And the Classical Party came in last with 0% of the vote

Spring Recital 2019

It has been a fun year in the studio so far! Students performed at the spring recital on May 30th. Performers chose some recent pieces, a few of their favourites, and also performed some ensemble music. The concert featured a clarinet trio and clarinet duets as well as one performing playing their own composition. I also performed a group composition that students worked on together at the beginning of the year.

view of the Frances Morrison Library theatre

This was the first year we held our concert at the theatre in the Frances Morrison Library, but it was a lovely venue and the piano sounded great. What a lovely recital to wrap up the teaching year with!

The Badges Challenge

One of the new activities students took part in last year was a badges challenge.  Students worked hard in lessons to collect a variety of lesson-related badges.  Students could earn badges for playing scales in lessons, practicing, learning music, and taking part in studio events.  Taking part in this activity was a great way for students to appreciate all the hard work they’d done in lessons.

The full list of badges is a few pages long, but here’s a very small sampling of badges:Examples of various badges

At the end of each term, students also had the opportunity to design their own badge.  I asked students to make a badge about something they thought they’d done a great job at in lessons.  It was great hearing students talk about what they were proud of!

Students collected their badges on a sheet of construction paper all year, which they got to take home in June to show off.  Here’s part of one student’s sheet of badges:

Badges example

About the Spring Festival 2018

This year the studio hosted a Spring Festival.  Students were invited to attend as many of the five events as they wished.

Our first two events featured special guests.  Melissa Goodchild was invited to give a workshop on improvisation.  She brought over a whole bunch of percussion instruments for students to try out as a part of her workshop.Melissa's Percussion instruments
Tuesday, Janna Willard discussed composition with students.  Prior to the festival students have worked on composing by ear as well as experimenting with aleatory (chance music – some students wrote pieces with the help of dice).  Thus, it was really interesting to meet a local composer and learn about a different method of composing.  We got to learn a little about how theory and composing can work together.

Wednesday, we made composer collages.  This year’s composer of choice was J. S. Bach.  Whilst the collage was put together we listened to music by this composer, looked at instruments from Bach’s time, and discussed fun history facts.

Inside of composer lapbook

Thursday was the music games night – students were invited to come over and play some of the studio’s musical games.  These focus on a variety of areas of theory ranging from beginner to advanced levels, so  there were games for students of all ages and years of study.  Having the chance to try out some new games is a fun way to learn!

The week ended with a mini-recital.  This was very well attended – many students came, as well as some family members.  Students had a chance to play multiple pieces for each other, and had time for a few group activities at the end as well.


Thanks to everyone who came out to these events.  It was wonderful to have some guests in the studio and for students to have a chance to try out some new and interesting musical activities.  I’m looking forward to planning next year’s spring festival!

Musical Timeline 2018

Students have been working on a huge musical timeline this year.  This year, we featured composers.

Composer Timeline side 1As you can see, students really filled up the timeline!  We added familiar composers students had played as well as learning about some new ones.   The composers’ age is reflected in the length of their name card.  This made it easy for students to see relative ages, who was contemporary to whom, and also to see who is still composing today.  We listened to compositions and discussed facts about the lives of the composers.  It was really interesting to learn so much about both familiar and unfamiliar musicians.

Composer timeline side 2

We had so much fun with this project, we had to add a second side so we could keep adding composers!