BlitzBitz - Samantha's Blog
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Samantha Coates' musings on teaching, publishing, theory, musianship, music craft, the AMEB and other things that spring to mind.
By Samantha Coates on 28/08/2014 9:49 PM
sports-equipment (1)When it comes to playing piano – in fact any musical instrument - I think there are enormous similarities between sport and music. For example:

1. It is a physically demanding activity that takes hours of practice/training each week to do it well;

2. It is not possible to ‘cram’ – that is, ignore practice on a daily basis, and then practice madly the night before a game/an exam and still pull...
By Samantha Coates on 28/05/2014 8:45 AM
There is no question that music exams are a huge part of Australian culture. Recently, the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) published in their newsletter five excellent reasons for doing music exams. In a nutshell, these five were:

1. Have a goal to practice towards

2. Practice a broader range of skills (than repertoire only)

3. Gain performance experience

4. Get constructive feedback

5. Have achievements recognised.

These are all good points and very relevant to budding young musicians.

But what if the music student is not interested in exams? Perhaps he or she has done an exam in the past, but had a negative experience and doesn’t want to go down that path again? Or what if it just doesn’t suit his or her personality? As a teacher I find that it is an uphill battle trying to convince children and parents that learning music without churning through the ‘grades’ is a perfectly valid music education.

So this article is here to acknowledge that...
By Samantha Coates on 10/04/2014 1:41 PM
Well, the results of the practice survey are in, and they are very interesting!

There were just five questions in the survey (each phrased slightly differently, depending on the answer to question 1):

1. Are you a student/teacher/parent?

2. Did you practice much over the holidays?

3. Were you rusty at the beginning of term?

4. Did you take long to get back into the swing of things?

5. Did you recommend ways to get into a good practice routine?

A whopping 73% of all responses were from teachers, probably because these issues are at the forefront of their daily lives, but also due to the fact that my database is mostly made up of teachers! The graphs and pie charts following show the survey results as percentages of the total responses; so it’s worth remembering that whilst 50% of teachers comes to a total number of about 120, 50% of students only represents about 20 responses.

The answers to questions 3 and 4 were pretty consistent amongst the 3 groups: the...
By Samantha Coates on 28/03/2014 7:49 AM
…and the Consequence of Copies  

music-w-bookCall me old-fashioned, but I love using music books. I insist that all of my students buy them. To me, a music book is something you have for life, an addition to a library, a nostalgic possession that can be passed on to the next generation of musicians.

However, I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. In this digital age, today’s music students are increasingly expecting to get all of their music...
By Samantha Coates on 9/02/2014 3:24 PM
If your child loves to practice, and never has to be reminded, ordered or bribed to do it, then that is wonderful. However, you are in the VAST MINORITY. Most children will baulk at practice, and below are the top 10 reasons why.

1. No routine If a child senses that practising is optional, most times they will opt out. Most would do the same with bathing and brushing teeth. Practice, just like personal hygiene, needs to be timetabled in, so that it is a normal part of the daily/weekly routine. If you wait for the magical time when your child ‘feels like’ practising, you might be waiting a very long time.*

Music practice works best when it is done a minimum of four times per week. It’s very much like physical training: just as an athlete needs to train each day, and wouldn’t cram the whole week’s training into one day, so musicians need to practice several times a week (and not, as many students would believe, only on the morning of the lesson J) in order to improve.

*Like, forever.

By Samantha Coates on 7/11/2013 1:42 PM
With the recent announcement by the AMEB that the May Written series will be abolished, leaving candidates with only one option per year for sitting a ‘traditional’ face to face written exam, it seems that online exams are being embraced with such force that they may be the ONLY option available to students in the very near future.

I have very mixed feelings about this. There is no denying the convenience of online exams, but there is so much to experience taking a ‘real life’ exam, not to mention developing the important skill of actually writing music, as opposed to dragging and dropping it.

Back in March this year, I wrote an article in the newsletter about my daughter’s class at Australian Music Schools, who were all studying towards their ‘face to face’ Grade 3 Theory exam in May. However this year their...
By Samantha Coates on 6/11/2013 4:04 PM
It has been a while since I’ve instigated a competition of sorts with my students. In the past I’ve had things like the House Points system which tallied up minutes of practice and the 50-piece challenge which tallied up actual pieces learned. However I felt there needed to be something new, a bit of a twist on the way a goal is achieved, something to motivate them to learn repertoire more quickly AND more thoroughly. I also wanted my students to be rewarded during the learning of a piece, rather than at the end. So this term I am trying ‘Battle of the Bars’!!!

I have decided to award points per bar of music learned. To get the points, the bar has to be perfect:...
By Samantha Coates on 16/08/2013 11:32 AM
I have recently inherited a student from a colleague. Luke (not his real name) is a tall, mature and very friendly adolescent, and seemed happy to be coming to the lesson. He had had a break from piano for about six months after his previous teacher moved away, and had decided to come back to it purely because he loved it.

Luke was not your typical inherited student. He had not done any recent piano exams and was not entered for any in the near future (and didn’t have any desire to do any, nor was he being pressured by his mum). Although he had not played scales and arpeggios much recently, he seemed to have a good idea of what they were and how to play them. He could sight-read extremely well – in fact he is going to be my first ever inherited student to start on Book 3 of the Blitz sight reading series rather than Book 1 (which is where most students start, even the really advanced pianists, as they are usually not advanced sight readers)....
By Samantha Coates on 5/05/2013 10:35 AM
clip_image002Technique is an incredibly subjective issue. Get 10 piano teachers in a room and you will have 10 different techniques. Dare to criticise someone else’s and you’re in for a long night. I’d like to start this article by describing three personal experiences, all to do with comments on technique.


Many years ago when I was a third-year Bachelor of Music student at the Sydney Conservatorium, I received an assessment report which...
By Samantha Coates on 29/04/2013 12:26 PM
There are some brand new worksheets for AMEB Theory Grades 1 and 3 that have just been posted on the BlitzBooks website.

‘Writing Triads with Accidentals’ - (Theory Grade 3) In the more recent Grade 3 AMEB examinations, the skill of writing triads has been tested with accidentals rather than with key signatures. This is quite a bit trickier so this worksheet provides good drills, asking students to write down the names of the sharps or flats in a key signature and then ‘apply’ those to the chords they have written. There are already drills on naming triads with accidentals in the current Grade 3 Theory workbook.

‘Let’s write Triads (with accidentals)’ – (Theory Grade 3) This is a follow up worksheet to 'Writing Triads with Accidentals', providing more practice, with a particular focus on dominant triads in minor keys.

‘Theory Grade 1 Test Paper NEW’ (Theory Grade 1) A new updated test paper which is ‘ready for marking’ and then available to complete. If you are not familiar with the concept...
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