For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, August 26, 2013

MacPhail Center for Music - TOS Review

This year's TOS crew run has been filled with great, interesting products to review. One of our latest product was an online music lessons.

MacPhail Music logo photo McPhailmusiclogo_zps8577c152.jpg 

 MacPhail Center for Music is a community resource dedicated to providing quality Music instruction to all students of all background and abilities. This includes kids from K-12. MacPhail is one of the largest comminity music school in the USA and is a leader in the field of Early Childhood Program, Suzuki Talent Program and Music Therapy Program.

Their staff is comprised of highly qualified and experienced music teachers and musicians. 85% of the teachers hold master degrees in their field of music and are accomplished musicians with ongoing professional development.

The center operates out of Minneapolis but includes 5 locations in total in and around the area. They offer both online and in person lessons.

MacPhail offers music education and learning in 35 instruments, including Piano, Violin, Guitar, Trombone, flute, and also in voice.

For the purpose of this review we received 4 - 30 minutes online music lessons.

As a leader in its field, MacPhail has been able to make use of the technology available in our day and age to offer quality music lessons to students from the comfort of their own home.

How does it Work?

The first step in getting MacPhail in your home is to make sure you have the right equipment:
  • High speed internet
  • Skype
  • a good microphone 
  • working webcam.
At the beginning of our review we had to test our equipment to make sure that everything was ready and working fine. We were glad to have passed that test with a representative from MacPhail.

The second step is the matching of teacher. MacPhail seeks to make sure that each student is well matched with a suitable teacher that fits with the student learning style, weaknesses and strengths. I was rather surprised at how extensive the line of questioning was when it came time to fill that particular form out.

Finally when you are matched and put in touch with the teacher, the lessons can begin. I really appreciated the inclusion of the teacher's bio in the e-mail informing me of the match, as we were able to know in advance who the teacher was.

We were assigned Jeremy Swider:

“Jeremy Swider has been teaching violin and viola at MacPhail for the past 11 years. He enjoys teaching all ages, from 6 to adult. Other positions he holds at MacPhail include: teaching at a partnership at Ascension School in North Minneapolis through the Early Childhood Music Program; serving as Chamber Music Coordinator and Adult Chamber Music Camps Coordinator.

From classical to pop, improvisation and fiddle techniques, Jeremy’s teaching style incorporates a fun, well-balanced mixture of traditional technical materials and exciting musical repertoire to help students quickly gain more confidence in performance or audition situations. He also likes to help students develop their artistry by learning to listen carefully to themselves and form their own musical aesthetics.

He performs regularly with his wife, violinist Krista Broadway Swider, as the Broadway-Swider Duo and as a member of the Sonorous String Quartet. Jeremy has been featured in the MacPhail Spotlight Series, performing with pianist Gail Olszewski. He can also be heard playing in his church’s worship team at Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul. He is a former member of the Woodlands Symphony Orchestra and the Brazos Valley Symphony, both in Texas.

Jeremy has a Bachelor of Music degree in applied violin and music composition from the University of Houston and a Master of Music degree in violin performance from the University of Minnesota, where he served as one of the concertmasters of the orchestra. He has also attended many music festivals including: Round Top Festival-Institute, the American Sinfonietta Performance Academy; the ENCORE School for Strings; and the University of Minnesota BRAVO! Summer String and Keyboard Institute. Jeremy’s instructors have included Andrzej Grabiec, Young-Nam Kim, Judith Ingolfssohn, David Russell, Helen Richards, and Mary West.”

On their website you can read the following about their teachers:
"There are plenty of “good” teachers out there that can teach you the basics. But there aren’t very many GREAT teachers. The GREAT teachers at MacPhail not only teach the basics, they connect with their students and inspire them to love music. "
I am very happy to report that this is most assuredly true. When I was being matched, my correspondent said: "Jeremy is a conscientious, organized, and dedicated teacher.  On top of this, he knows how to break down tough musical concepts into small, easy-to-understand steps, which is very helpful for online lessons! ."  This is exactly what happened. He was able to relate to Zachary, see, identify and explain exactly what and how to correct whatever needed correction and improvement, without even Zach saying anything, and all though a computer screen and microphone. 

The first lesson was really about seeing where Zach was at. He was asked to play whatever song he'd like. This gave the teacher a sense of his ability. Then the rest of the lesson was spent on giving him tips on how to improve his tone and tips on practising his scales

After the first lesson Jeremy asked me to e-mail him the 2 music sheets Zach was working on for the summer (he has been on a 2-months summer break from his regular lessons), which are what they ended up working on for the duration of the review period.

The last lesson ended with Jeremy doing some ear training as well as theory teaching and practice with Zach.

The whole process was all in all very smooth, and everyone on the other end were very knowledgeable and helpful.

Our opinion:

I was delighted by the lessons. Zach has been doing violin for the past 4 years (2 in Suzuki and 2 conservatory). He has good ear but is only now getting comfortable with note reading. He is a very introverted child and does not speak much especially to new people. 

During the lessons, he did not talk much and tended to speak under his breath but his teacher was very understanding, and as I mentioned before, was really good at detecting what advice, or tip needing to be given.

Jeremy was also very flexible and gentle in his approach. Zach sometimes was not very responsive or tended  to start playing the instrument when he should be listening, but Jeremy showed obvious patience and was always encouraging.

In Zach's  own words:
"Mr Swider was really helpful and he helped me improve on the songs I was having trouble with. He was great!"
Zach was able to work on his pizzicato, dynamics, finger positioning (especially for 2nd position and lows), and his teacher was able to give him some tips as to how to practice more effectively such as changing the rhythm so as to get familiar with getting notes right, and some more. Zach definitely improved his technique in the course of the month of lessons.

All in all I was very pleased with the lessons and I think it was a very good experience for both the mom and the child. I was enjoying the lesson as much as Zach, so I did not even remember to take pictures!

I can testify that MacPhail does deliver on what it promises.

If you are interested they are offering a special introductory price for homeschoolers:

Four online individual lessons for $111
**** four 30-minutes individual online lessons, from an outstanding teaching artist, from the convenience of your home. All K-12 homeschool students can receive a 25% discount from standard tuition rates.
Daytime Flex Packs for Live Online Lessons offer flexibility to accommodate your busy schedule and help you achieve your unique musical goals. Simply schedule 8 Live Online Lessons during the 18 week semester on any weekday from 9 am – 3 pm CST. Unexpected scheduling conflict? Our cancellation policy gives you the option of canceling your lesson up to 48-hours in advance, without forfeiting the lesson. Whether you travel for work or leisure, juggle kids' extracurricular activities, or live in an area where options for studying your instrument are limited, MacPhail's Daytime Flex Pack can help you experience the joy of music-making. 
Standard pricing will apply after introductory lessons at $37 per 30-minute lesson. 


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