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October 2013 Teacher Spotlight

Madison McCarney, Piano Teacher
Heid Music Oshkosh

Madison Madison McCarney holds a Master of Music degree in Piano Pedagogy and Performance Studies from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, where she also received her Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Music.  In July 2012 she became a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music, and is a member of the Music Teachers National Association as well as the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association.  Ms. McCarney has taught private piano lessons for nine years, and is currently a studio piano instructor for Heid Music in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Music has been a prominent part of Ms. McCarney’s life.  She grew up playing and listening to music with her family, and enjoys music from a wide variety of musical genres, including classical, bluegrass, fiddle, jazz, religious and even pop music!  In addition to playing the piano, she also sings and plays guitar, and has participated in these genres as a pianist, vocalist, chorister, and guitarist.  Ms. McCarney has enjoyed a budding musical career as a studio piano instructor, accompanist, church pianist, youth choir director, vocalist, adjudicator and performer.  She has done solo performances at the University of Idaho, Treasure Valley Community College, and at various churches and professional venues.  While a graduate student at the University of Idaho, she held a full teaching assistantship and taught class piano for music majors and minors, class piano for non-majors and applied piano. In 2012 she co-authored an article featured in the February edition of the MTNA e-journal titledNew Music And The American Pianist; in December 2012 she completed her master’s thesis on performance-injuries, titled Pianists and Pain: Occurrence, Treatment, and Prevention of Playing-Related Injuries. She has presented on multiple pedagogical topics at the local and state level and has received awards in area music festivals for her sensitive and expressive playing style.

red_dressWhy is piano your favorite instrument?  It’s my favorite instrument because it is such a beautifully dynamic instrument. I love the range and diversity of sound the piano can produce. The piano has the potential to produce sounds that are powerful, loud and ominous, and also tender, subtle, and soft. For me, a melody played on the piano resonates much like the human voice. The piano speaks a language that reaches me in a way that’s different from any other language. I love it also because it is the most versatile instrument- you can be the orchestra and the soloist all at once!

If you had the time and could pick another instrument to master, what would it be?  It’s hard to choose just one… there are so many wonderful instruments on which you can create such beautiful music. I love bluegrass music, so the instruments I’d want to learn most are ones that you could play in a bluegrass jam or band.  I would love to be able to play the 5-string banjo. Something about the raw, pure, resonant tamber of the banjo really resonates with me.  I’d also love to master guitar. I do play guitar, but I would love to find the time to get better at it! It’s one of the most versatile instruments, much like piano- it can serve as a solo or backup instrument, and it’s suitable for playing just about every genre of music!

What makes you a great teacher?  I help my students bring music to life. We look at pieces from all different perspectives: why did the composer write this piece? What is the mood of the piece? How does the key affect the mood? What does it sound like to you? If we were to put this music to a movie, what would the movie be about?  My lessons are very dynamic, and together we look at pieces from a story-telling perspective. I also approach each student as an individual that has their own needs and strengths, and teach each student in a little bit different way.  I incorporate all of the important components of music in every lesson, so that they have a “toolbox” to draw from when they go home to practice every week.  In these ways I nurture students that become independent learners, thinkers, and musicians!

teachingWhat do you like most about music teaching?  I love seeing my students build pride and confidence as they learn new skills at the piano. It doesn’t matter whether they have just figured out how to count a dotted half note or they’ve successfully brought their Schubert sonata up to tempo, that “ah-ha” moment is priceless. I also love that music lessons build skills and confidence in so many other areas of a student’s life. They learn how to make and reach goals, to have pride and confidence in themselves, and that the work they put in really does pay off in the form of progress and accomplishment.

What was the best musical advice you ever received?  First, that anything worth having is worth working for.  This applies to many things in life, not the least of which is learning to play an instrument. All of the greatest achievements in life are hard work, and learning to play piano can be very hard at times. But the reward is so great, a person will never regret the work they put in to learning to play the piano.

The second pertains to musical performance.  I was told by my college professor to create a “bubble” in which I play when I’m on stage (or anywhere that I am performing a piece of music). Inside this bubble, the only thing that matters is the story I am telling through the music. The notes no longer matter; all the technical things that we spend countless hours to learn and perfect are no longer the focus. The focus is only on the story, and the connection I have with my instrument and the music. It takes practice and focus to learn to tune everything out and find your performance bubble, but once I found it, my playing improved, and I enjoyed performing so much more.

What advice do you have for a beginning student?
Break it down.
 This is so important when learning a piece, or practicing an old one. Don’t try to play the whole piece at once. Take it in chunks: one line, two measures, maybe just three notes at a time. Break it down and master small amounts, and pretty soon you have the whole piece mastered.
Go slow. NEVER try to play something at performance tempo the first time around. Or the fiftieth, for that matter. Slow practice will lead to better, easier playing at any tempo. Plus, you are apt to feel less frustrated when you practice!
Have patience with yourself.  Remember that it will come with time, proper guidance and practice. If you can’t do it right now, it’s okay. This is especially important for adult beginners, who tend to have unrealistically high standards for themselves.
Don’t give up.  –On yourself, or on music lessons. You can do it.  Later in life, you’ll be very glad you did.

What other instruments do you play?  I play guitar and sing. I can play a few chords on the mandolin, pluck out a few lines on the bass, and scratch out a tune on the violin, but not well enough for anyone to ever hear me do it! I have played a lot of rhythm guitar for bluegrass and fiddle music, which is a ton of fun.  I have sung since I was a baby. My mom first heard me harmonizing to music at the age of 2- I had the music in me! It was my first instrument, and I have always had a passion for singing. I’ve sang in church choirs, children’s chorus, and a number of college choirs and small ensembles, and as a soloist. I love singing jazz and bluegrass music, and I really love singing in harmony with others in choir. My sister is a singer as well, and there’s nothing like singing with someone that’s your flesh and blood. We have almost identical voices!

codyTell us something unique about yourself, unrelated to the musical world:  My other love (besides music) is horses. I have a Mustang gelding named Cody, and I ride him regularly. I used to work on a ranch, herd cattle, and train colts- I would put their very first rides on them! I don’t train colts anymore, however- a pianist has got to take care of their fingers! I love to get out and trail ride with my husband and friends, and just spend quality time in the outdoors with my horse.