We talk with the founder of KeySpark, Hannah Hickman, and how she's helping young saxophonists develop meaningful connections with like-minded peers. Through interactive learning experiences and curated online resources, KeySpark is the student’s inspirational and accessible springboard for all things saxophone.
Having a space dedicated to young students is such a great idea, how did you figure out that this was needed?
Much of my inspiration for KeySpark came from my own experience growing up in a rural area and heavily relying upon the Internet to learn about saxophone techniques, repertoire, history, equipment, etc. When virtual classes became more common during the pandemic, I decided to create KeySpark to encourage students to keep playing and learning during the pandemic, even with performances and band classes canceled. I reached out to band directors, parents, and former students to ask what types of topics would be most helpful for them and started planning classes from there. The small online setup allows students to participate how they choose, and I like to encourage interaction and collaboration.
The idea for a forum and resource library was inspired by inquiries I’ve received from parents, teachers, and students about saxophone-specific techniques, equipment, and repertoire. There are multiple existing forums that are loaded with information, but because of their size, they can be hard to navigate, overwhelming, and intimidating for younger students to participate in. The Internet can be a great resource, but I wanted to curate a starting point for junior high and high school saxophonists to efficiently find relevant information for their level and interests. In addition, I wanted to help students meet peers with a similar passion for the saxophone. I was (and still am) motivated, inspired, and challenged by conversations with peers. The forum is a great place to ask questions and problem-solve together, especially for students without a saxophone community in their area.
What kinds of issues/questions do you find young students are dealing with?
I’ve found that young students are very eager to learn and excited to attend the group classes. Some have had private instructors for years and some have never had instruction outside of band class. I get to help expand their knowledge and skill sets and take on a mentorship role in a low-pressure and fun setting. Students bring in questions about sound, response, equipment, articulation, and I’ve been very impressed by their thoughtfulness and motivation. Questions about how to practice come up regularly.
Starting a practice routine can feel overwhelming to young students so I like to emphasize setting small daily goals to build a flexible routine based on the student’s priorities. Students have so much information available to them online, and I encourage them to listen, read, and research experts around the world. The interactive experience of KeySpark allows them to ask questions and discuss in real-time, ultimately saving them time searching the Internet or comment sections for answers.
How can students join/sign-up for the online forum and lessons?
All upcoming classes and events will be listed on the website here. An email address is needed to register, and students will receive reminders leading up to the class.
Students can join the forum and click the “sign up” button to create an account for free. Students can also reach out using the contact form for inquiries about private lessons or meetings. I’m always happy to hear from students and answer questions.
What kind of topics are you looking forward to presenting in the future?
I would love to present and work with students on audition preparation and presenting yourself both on-stage and off, whether it be for an audition, solo contest, community performance, conference, etc. I rotate classes on saxophone fundamentals (tone, technique, scale work, vibrato, articulation) regularly in a play-along format. I am also excited to present soprano, tenor, and baritone specific classes for students who might be primarily on those instruments in their school band. I would love to present a musician’s health and wellness series on topics like posture, hand position, injury prevention, stretching, taking breaks, mental health, etc. Those are all topics I wish I had known more about when I was in junior high and high school.
When I choose topics, I like to consider the needs and interests of the students and focus on topics less likely to be covered in their band and music courses. I am looking forward to creating the next set of classes, and will be taking suggestions from my KeySpark newsletter subscribers and student members.
Are you taking submissions for topics or presenters? If so, where can someone submit a proposal?
Yes! I am always accepting submissions for topics and presenters. Topics can range from performance skills, knowledge, musician’s health and wellness, goal-setting, etc. I am also accepting submissions of materials to be added to the resource library on the website. Please reach out to me at email@example.com or fill out a contact form to get in touch.
I am looking forward to expanding the KeySpark community and hope to collaborate with more students, teachers, and community organizations this year. I’d love to present local KeySpark clinics in-person when it is safe to do so, and I am also in the process of creating short instructional videos and planning weekend workshops for the future!
About Hannah Hickman
Hannah Hickman is a saxophonist and music educator based in Kansas City, Missouri. She has been a prizewinner in competitions from the local to international level, including the Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition. Most recently, she performed as a featured soloist at the 75th Annual Iowa All State Music Festival. She is passionate about commissioning new music, increasing accessibility to music education, and connecting with her community. Hannah has worked with students of all ages in both private lessons and public school settings. In 2020 she founded KeySpark, an online platform that provides curated classes and learning resources for 7th-12th grade saxophonists. Hannah holds degrees in music education and saxophone performance from the University of Minnesota and the University of Michigan. She is currently an Artist’s Certificate student at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory, where she studies with Zach Shemon. Her previous teachers are Timothy McAllister, Preston Duncan, and Eugene Rousseau.