What I Did On My Summer Vacation – And Why My Students Are Oozing Music


263460_1934126004312_2113099_nDisclaimer: the guest author of this post, Kristi Negri, was not paid to write this gripping testimonial for the cause of creativity! Last summer, I made my second trek from Oregon to Dallas for the SMU Institute for Piano Teachers. My first time there had so positively impacted my teaching and the way I run my studio that I was wishing I could go back, but when I saw what the program in 2014 would focus on off-the-page teaching, my wanting to return changed to my having to return.

For years, I have felt that there was something missing from traditional piano training. It has to do with creativity and freedom at the keyboard. I am eternally grateful to my piano teacher from junior high and high school years for showing me the rudiments of playing by chord symbols. Other than that, using my ear had been purposely and rigorously trained out of me from my earliest years. I don’t improvise well, I can’t play requests by ear, and (shhh don’t tell on me) my ability to transpose is, well, hardly worthy of the word. Determined that my own students would fare better, I’ve always encouraged good ears and found little ways to foster creativity and the basics of composition in my studio. I try to interest students in learning to read by chords, but somehow I wasn’t consistently transmitting what they needed to be confident about it.

Whatever I was doing wasn’t good enough. I had some junior composers, some improvisation dabblers, but I wanted to see music – beyond memorized repertoire -- oozing out of my kids when they sat down without a score. I wanted to them to be free to arrange a pop song using an array of tools literally at their fingertips. I wanted them to sit down with another pianist and jam. In short, I wanted them to be able to do more off the Kristi quotespage than I could.

I had a foot-high stack of jazz methods I’d combed for the magic solution. I’d looked for years, and I hadn’t found it. While I knew I had been making inroads into this problem, and was connecting the dots in a lot of good ways – I was looking for something that would not only help me to have a concrete idea of what I need to change, but also, what I really needed was a clear idea of how to change.

Enter Bradley Sowash, Forrest Kinney, Leila Viss, Sam Holland, and others. The SMU Institute for Piano Teachers was everything I had hoped for. I was inspired, validated, supported, and humbled. It was exactly the mix of knowledge and growth I needed. And, in addition to the well-designed week of sessions, I made some lovely lunch friends from Texas who generously shared ideas that have also inspired my teaching this year.

I can’t convey in a few paragraphs what our leaders taught us that week in Dallas in 2014. I’m guessing that the implementation of what was learned at the Institute is as varied as the number of participants who attended. And, of course the “right way” is what works for each of us. We were given tools, not a step-by-step prescription. For my part, I believe that parts of it have percolated into all of my teaching, but the Institute also inspired a major and visible change in my studio. Here’s part of what I did....CandCsmiles2015

Curious? Look for a second post where Kristi shares specific steps on how creativity took hold of her studio! You won't want to miss her inspirational approach.

Isn't Kristi's excitement contagious? Got the bug to add creativity to your lessons? Then it's time to make your way to Denver and join Bradley Sowash and me for our third annual 88 Creative Keys Camp. Registration is now open, there's an early bird discount AND you can save even more if you bring a friend. Learn more here.


If the Denver dates don't work for you, consider NCKP 2015 (National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy.) For the FIRST time, the conference will include a Creative Pianist Track. Learn more here.