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Enter the name for this tabbed section: Writings:
"Your queries and thoughts, while appearing in a music magazine, have universal applications to life in general." Bettye W.
My current writing is about piano teaching and music in general, and is published in two music magazines. In American Music Teacher, I write a column on personal observations entitled "ad lib." I also write and edit articles for Clavier Companion which are more pedagogical in nature. Click on the tabs above for more information.

Besides these regular assignments, I have published articles in Piano & Keyboard and Clavier magazines. I also wrote the foreword to A Practical Guide to Solo Piano Music, by Trevor Barnard with Elizabeth Gutierrez (Meredith Music).
"To me, that back page of American Music Teacher, those articles by Bruce Berr, those alone are worth the price of my MTNA dues."  Conference attendee
Enter the name for this tabbed section: American Music Teacher magazine


American Music Teacher magazine is the official journal of Music Teachers National Association.

My column "ad lib" currently appears on the back page of every issue. Beginning with the Oct./Nov. 2007 issue, this series of terse personal essays has covered a wide range of topics relevant to piano teachers and pianists, whether in an independent studio or at a university. The current issue is running the essay, "A Picture of Music."

Here are all past "ad lib" titles with the most recent listed first. Any of these can be obtained by purchasing back issues from American Music Teacher, or can be downloaded for a fee from various sources on the internet; do a Google search for the title of the desired article.

Links seen below either go to supplementary multimedia/text which accompanied the essays on AMT's website, or point to discussions on the internet about that particular essay.
A Picture of Music (J/J 2013)
Google Families (A/M 2013)
The Siblings of Silence (F/M 2013)
The Transfer Teacher (D/J 2013)
Beginner's Luck (O/N 2012)
A Nourishing Meal (A/S 2012)
Transforming Style (J/J 2012)
Manhã de Carnaval (A/M 2012)
Just Ink On A Page (F/M 2012)
Happy Mirth Day (D/J 2012)
The Musical Gifts of Linda Martinez (O/N 2011)
Polarize, Baby, Polarize (A/S 2011)
What Is Autotelic? (J/J 2011)
A Colorful Life (A/M 2011)
From the Mouths of Babes and Adults (F/M 2011)
Double Thirds As Gatekeeper?!? (D/J 2011)
When Quantity Is Quality (O/N 2010)
"I Don't Know" (A/S 2010)
"The End Is Where We Start From" (J/J 2010)
Simple Works (Sometimes) (A/M 2010)
Hitting the Sweet Spot (F/M 2010)
The Gift (D/J 2010)
The Village Revisited (O/N 2009)
The Pleasure of Appreciation (A/S 2009)
It's An Anacrusic Life (J/J 2009)
Playing It Right (A/M 2009)
Where It All Begins (F/M 2009)
iSwoons Over iTunes (D/J 2009)
The Half Hour Before (O/N 2008)
The Swing of the Pendulum (A/S 2008)
On A First-Name Basis (J/J 2008)
Shall We Dance? (F/M 2008)
Appreciating Empathy (O/N 2007)
Responses to "ad lib" have been enthusiastic and numerous since its inception. Here are just some of the communications I've received about '"ad lib" and the ideas discussed in them:
General comments:

I was quite taken by your latest ad lib, "A Picture of Music." It's such a wonderful way of graphically representing form, and is such a clear system to use in discussion with students regarding form, practicing, memory, and performance. Thank you for your insight. Sheryl I.

I received the most recent AMT magazine yesterday and as usual, I went first to the last page to read your article. Once again, you hit a bull's eye! Elvina P.

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the column in the MTNA journal regarding silence, taking small practice breaks, learning while sleeping, etc.Very well done, interesting, and unique—which as someone who writes columns knows how ridiculously hard that can be at times :-) Thanks for the good read! Scott Houston (The Piano Guy on Public Television)

Your article (The Transfer Teacher) is long needed and well presented. You have captured the needs and the unknowns in this situation. I am amused that you left the end of the story to the reader's imagination. After reading your article, I was confident that your new student will flourish. After touring your studio, I am convinced this student will come alive musically and his entire personal development will resonate with his good fortune to have entered your studio at just the right time in his life and musical development. Your finest comments are in the summary ─ " the challenge of illuminating without tearing down, of sparking the habit of questioning without inducing the questioning of oneself, of building new capabilities without devaluing the supplanted ones. For him or for myself." Sterling, through and through. Mary Gae G.

What a different way to think about Happy Birthday.  I can't wait for my students to come this week.....the children and  adults will learn a new way of thinking.  Your articles are always interesting and I look forward to reading them, but this one really struck a chord!  What fun to try in minor......thank you for your insight.   Estelle S.

I laughed when I read your article, as I do almost exactly the same thing!  I tell my students they will be very embarrassed if they can't play Happy Birthday when called upon. I put up a chart every year that reads: I CAN PLAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, and have students sign.  They have to be able to play it any time I ask, or the name goes off. I must confess, however, I feel good if they can play it in one key.  You have given me inspiration, however! Julie M., NCTM

I just read your piece in the AMT mag. on Linda Martinez, and immediately ordered the Snowy Days collection. . . Thank you for bringing Ms. Martinez's music to the attention of lots of music educators who would have never heard of her otherwise. Ann P.
I just read your "Polarize, Baby, Polarize" . . . Congratulations on a unique and thoughtful discussion of musical expression through the use of what you call "polarization."  I really like your ideas on "exaggerated differences first, then more nuanced gestures."  (I never heard of "ghosting" before, but I can't wait to try it with my students.) You managed to pack so much thought-provoking insight into just one page. Thank you for tackling a very complex issue in such a concise and articulate way. Ann S.

I just wanted to send a quick note saying that I really enjoyed reading your recent column, “What is Autotelic?” That topic is a really great one to write about. Our students have become so goal-oriented, especially at universities, that it is sometimes difficult to regain perspective in music. As a tenure-seeking faculty member, I find myself often falling into the same trap. Your comments were really heart-warming. Thanks for sharing! Courtney C.

Re: Double Thirds as Gatekeeper?!? Thank you for one of the most valuable articles I've ever read.  I am a longtime piano teacher (friendly, neighborhood type), and you have given me courage to tweak pieces, change awkward intervals for small hands and otherwise make common sense alterations to help students play pieces which they love and play well---except for that pesky, impossible part! You have solved the dilemma: abandon the piece or "prune" the part to enable success. I love your last sentence:  there is a "difference between the dead-end pursuit of perfection versus the lifelong pursuit of art." Pat J.

My copy of the latest issue of AMT arrived yesterday. I thumbed through it quickly, just to get a glimpse of what was there. When I got to the last page, I stopped and read your column. As usual, your thoughtful reflection and skillful narrative enriched my day. I admire your commitment to excellence, your passion for teaching, and your willingness to expend your energies improving the profession. Steve B.

I'm an almost-retired piano teacher (2 students), and want to tell you how much I've enjoyed and benefited from your column in AMT magazine over the years.  Two especially stand out in my mind: the most recent one, posing thoughts on the possible answers to "I Don't Know."  The other was an article in which you mentioned Hiram Percy Maxim's biography of his father,  A Genius in the Family.  I found a tattered copy on Amazon and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I thank you for making it known to me. Your queries and thoughts, while appearing in a music magazine, have universal applications to life in general.  So, while I have few students with which to apply your words of wisdom and inquiry, I'll continue to pass  your columns on to my former students who are now teaching, and to glean life gems for myself. Bettye W.

The issue of having "protected" time seems more important with every passing semester, as workload creeps and compensation lags.  Thanks for setting an example that it's OK to establish and protect boundaries, especially when the quality of the teaching we offer is at stake.  It's difficult to wrap my head around it sometimes, but all those emails will still be there when I finish teaching! Ian M.

Comments including longer pedagogical discussions:

I just finished reading your article on the Amy Chua book "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Here are my comments: a. the book should have been called "Why Chinese students are superior" b. those who criticize Ms.Chua's book miss the essence of the story which is that for the Chinese (and Asians in general) education is based not on talent alone but on hard work and determination. You can and will succeed if you work hard, though your level of success might not all be at the very very highest level since not everyone can be number one. The expected outcome is that having learned to conquer one problem, one can have the confidence to conquer another and another. c. In the Asian family tradition, everyone has a job to do and must do that to the best of their ability. The job of the children is to study, not to go to parties, be an athlete or do dating. You can do that in time when you have done your work and when you are mature enough to handle it, and know how to prioritize and divide your time. d. You are correct - all my Asian students do well, very well, above the white children, although there is one Ukrainian boy also is doing very well because the parents have the same educational philosophy. e. In the end Ms. Chua did recognize the value of having time with friends, having down time, not only for the psychological effect but also so the brain can rest during which time it can digest what it has learned. f. and yes, you are correct, not all Chinese mothers are so strict as her parents, but the expectation is there. Hope this gives another insight into the article. Thank you. (yes, I am Chinese). Evelyn L.

I enjoyed your column about recital attentiveness. For many years, I too was similarly chagrined at the lack of focus for some of the students in the audience during recitals. I also yearned to hear a recital of the "cream of my studio crop" but felt I'd hurt some feelings (and students) if I chose the best myself. My solution was similar to yours except with a twist.  After every (spring) recital, students are asked to vote for their three favorite performances. It can be anything from "That was a really fast piece!" to "Well, that kid messed up but kept on going, so I want to give him a vote of confidence" to "I remember that student from last year and she has really improved!" The students with the most votes get to play in a fall "Honor's Recital." Finally, I also tell the students that if they would themselves like to play if voted in, then they may vote for four performers instead of three. This provides a whole host of solutions and information: 1. Students listen more attentively. 2. Students let me know what type repertoire they like. 3. Students voted into the fall recital nearly always come back the following year so they can play in that Honors recital! 4. Since only I know the actual vote tally, I can put students in who either need a vote of confidence, or who did well and were somehow overlooked. 5. Students see that there are more than just flashy fingers that matter to their audiences. Students are genuinely touched when their peers give them enough votes to be in an "Honors" recital. MaryEllen B.

I enjoyed your column on having the students choose favorite pieces at recital. I started by having students choose two favorites. My sister who teaches violin wanted to combat the tendency violinists have of being "stuck up." She had them write compliments for the other string players. We started having the students write compliments for all the other players to encourage them to be positive toward each other. Now we buy sheets of address labels. I use a mail merge program to create labels from the same information I use for the recital program. Each label has the name of a student and his/her piece. After recital we "peel and stick" so that each student gets a copy of all their compliments. Thank you for sharing your ideas through AMT! I know we've had good success with recital assignments, and I hope other teachers try them. Rebecca W.

I'm an independent piano teacher and wanted to thank you for your ad lib column suggesting assigning students to keep track of their favorite pieces during a recital. I read it just in time to give it a try at my student recital in May.  I tweaked your suggestion a bit and thought you might be interested in how it worked out. Before the recital I gave each student a pencil and a program with their name written on the outside. As we started, I announced that I had a special assignment for them, and that anyone in the audience wishing to do so could also join in. I told them I would like for them to put a check mark by the pieces they particularly enjoyed, and that, if they liked, they could write a complement for individual performers whom they thought were doing something well. Following the recital, I collected the programs and had them available at the next lesson. I was amazed at the results!  I noted many of the same benefits that you mentioned, and some slightly different ones: 1) The students performed better at this recital than any in recent memory. (Maybe they were just better prepared, but I think knowing their peers would be evaluating them made a difference, plus #2, below.)2) Students reported to me that they experienced much less in the way of performance anxiety during the recital, because they were busily engaged in the task at hand...determining if they especially liked the piece they were hearing and thinking of a complement they could pass along to the student.  They didn't have time to think about how soon their name would come up on the program. 3) There was good participation. Every student at least put a few check marks in their program.  (I didn't expect anything more from the youngest kids, but some of them tried to write anyway....one first-grader wrote "OSOM" next to a duet:  that's "awesome" in case you can't figure it out!)  Most of the older kids wrote a complement on EVERY student.  4) The complements were the pay off for the students' hard prep work.  Some were: "You did a great job with your dynamics!" , "I hope in a few years I can play this piece as well as you just did!" , "Played with confidence", "Played with great musicality!" (my favorite, of course!), "Your tempo was fantastic!"  On hearing a high school student perform her own composition, one girl wrote, "That is absolutely THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG I HAVE EVER HEARD!!"  One student, bless her heart, even put "Great posture!"  And of course, no one wrote exactly the same complement, so there were lots of different ones for each student! 5) At each student's next lesson, I had the stack of programs available and we ran through them all quickly to see what everyone said about them.  They LOVED this feedback from their peers!  Invariably they wanted to know who said what, so we just looked at the name on the front of the program. A few adults in the audience participated, as well. 6) We now have a better idea of what each student aspires to play, and can make a list of pieces for them to learn. Thanks again for making this suggestion!  I will probably incorporate it in some form in recitals to come! Sherrie A.

Enter the name for this tabbed section: Clavier Companion magazine


Clavier Companion magazine is published by the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy. It was founded as Keyboard Companion magazine in 1990 by Marjore and Richard Chronister.

I have been the associate editor of the Rhythm Department since 1997 (when the magazine was called Keyboard Companion), and also occasionally edit and contribute to other departments—parti
cularly, the Harmony and Home Practice Departments. Besides creating topics, procuring writers, and preparing copy, I also have contributed about a dozen of my own articles. I also created the magazine's first website in 1998 and was its webmaster until the end of 2006.

Many articles have been used as study assignments in undergraduate and graduate pedagogy courses in universities, and have also been well received by independent teachers across the nation and in several other countries as well.

Here are the most recent articles I have edited and/or written (all are in the Rhythm Department unless otherwise noted). Any of these can be obtained by purchasing back issues from Clavier Companion.

"How do you teach memorization to elementary and intermediate-level students?"
“What aspects of teaching pedaling do you think are most important?”

“Extraordinary teaching spaces”
John Ford

Trevor Barnard, Anne Olson

Bruce Berr
July 2013,
Home Practice
March 2013, Technique
Jan. 2013, cover feature
“What are the most important rhythmic skills for the early-level student?”
“What is the 'practice toolbox' you use with your students?”

“How do you decipher rhythms when transcribing the recordings of Bill Evans?”
Elvina Pearce
Steve Rosenfeld

Pascal Wetzel
July 2012
May 2012,
Home Practice
March 2012
“Can young students learn rhythmic flexibility?”
“Thoughts on the Tiger Mom debate: Not everyone is winking”
“Why should I consider having my piano tuned in anything but equal temperament?”
“What aspects of teaching rhythm are the most difficult for your intern teachers?”
Nancy Garniez
Bruce Berr
Trevor Stephenson

Carla Davis Cash, Scott Price, Tim Shafer
Nov. 2011
July 2011, feature
July 2011, Harmony

March 2011
“How do you teach your students to listen and respond to harmony?” Part 2
“How do you teach your students to listen and respond to harmony?” Part 1
“How do you teach the rhythm challenges in Debussy’s Clair de lune?”
Anne Olson, Louis Nagel
Bruce Berr
Bruce Berr, Amy Greer, Steve Betts
Nov. 2010, Harmony
May 2010, Harmony
March 2010
“Is a physically gifted student likely to be rhythmically reliable and musically aware?”
“How do you teach polyrhythms?”
“What is your plan for teaching a new piece? How does it vary for different levels of students?”
Trevor Barnard

Pete Jutras, Sonnet Johnson
Bruce Berr

Summer 2009

Spring 2009
March 2009,
Home Practice
“A Chicagoland Humor Revue - but what is it reinforcing?”
“When is it appropriate to leave rhythms UNperfected for a given student? Have I mis-assigned a piece in that case?”
“How do you teach measure groupings (hypermeter) to your intermediate-level students?”
“What are some common pitfalls when teaching music reading?”
“What common pitfalls occur in the teaching of rhythmic subdivisions?”
Erin Creighton, Bruce Berr
Bruce Berr, Alison Barr, Marienne Uszler, Lee Evans, Donald Waxman

Bruce Berr, Matthew Hagle, Michael Benson

Bruce Berr
Craig Sale
Winter 2008
Autumn 2008

Summer 2008

Spring 2008, Reading
Spring 2008
“How do rhythm and tempo interact with each other, and how does this inform your teaching?”
“What are some interesting rhythm challenges found in intermediate-level Scarlatti Sonatas?”
“What have I learned being an editor of the Rhythm Department?”
“How do you get students to really play the rests in their pieces?”
Christos Tsitsaros

Steve Rosenfeld

Bruce Berr
Bruce Berr
Winter 2007

Autumn 2007

Summer 2007
Spring 2007

To see a list of articles published before 2007, please visit the Clavier Companion website and click on "Index of Past Print Issues."