Thursday, September 21, 2017

Piano Scale Thumb Tuck Challenge

Last week I introduced the "Can Can" to one of my piano students with a focus on playing even one-octave scales without a wrist bump.  I started with a daring challenge that really intrigued him.  I asked him to try and crawl his hand up slowly all the way across the fallboard using thumb tucks while balancing a popsicle stick on his wrist before the video on this song ended.  After a couple of failed attempts, he really slowed down, focused and got just inches from the end before the stick fell. He was eager to keep on trying, so I sent the stick home with him so the Thumb Tuck Challenge wouldn't overtake all of our lesson minutes! And the bonus was, he became familiar with his song at the same time.

For more fun activities that prepare students for proper technique motions at the piano check out this post that combines several techniques including thumb tucks into one quick activity.
Caterpillar Crawl: Teaching Technique motions Creatively

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fidget Spinner "I Spy": A Piano Piece Prep Game

Training piano students to look before they leap can be a challenge. If you are going cliff jumping into the ocean its a good idea to survey your surroundings before taking a plunge.  Are there sharks, sharp rocks, other swimmers or shallow water? Despite these dangers, some unfortunate jumpers find the blue water just too appealing to take the time to scan their surroundings before jumping in sometimes with disastrous results.

Some students find a new piece so irresistible they just can help themselves from diving straight into a piece from start to finish with a lot of errors before checking it out to see what they are up against.  But just like with cliff jumping, this usually isn't the best approach.
Taking an off the bench approach when introducing new pieces can help them to see the patterns, challenge spots and details in their music that they may overlook if they just do the dive in approach. This fun "I Spy" game can help cure this tendency.

How to turn a piece into an "I Spy" Challenge:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eighth Note lays down and stretches out for Eighth Rest

At our last group lesson I invited my students to create posters to illustrate music concepts, and later I was inspired to do a little designing myself. My natural artistic skills are nothing to brag about, but with a little help from Picmonkey the message looks a little more flashy.
Eighth Rest Poster with a little help from picmonkey!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Piano Safari and Teaching Rhythm: Sound before Symbol Makes Sense

I love using the Piano Safari rote pieces with my students!  They enjoy being able to play cool sounding songs from the beginning, and it allows them to really focus in on proper technique from the start. This video posted by Julie Knerr, one of the authors of Piano Safari, is a perfect example of how engaging playful activities in lessons delight students as the time just whizzes by. The order she introduces concepts in is very intuitive.

Sounds before Symbols:
Introducing rote pieces first really encourages students

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Memorable Approach to Teaching Ties and Slurs

This week as one my students turned the page to unveil his next piece he said, "these lines are so confusing!"
His piece was filled with multiple ties and slurs on every line. So I handed over the pencil and had him color the ties one color and the slurs another after a brief explanation about the visual difference.

 A tie connects 2 notes that are the same pitch (same line or same space). To identify ties pretend you are walking on the noteheads in your music.  Imagine a runner staying in the same track lane (line or space) on the staff and touching the "target notes" in his lane.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Piano Studio Tour

I am so thrilled to now have a specific room in my home dedicated to music teaching!  I was a little hesitant to move my piano out of our family room, because I always envisioned the piano being a gathering place for my large family ... but being able to shut the door while I teach and while children practice has definitely been worth switching it to a smaller space.

I'm a big fan of a bargain, so when I saw this bulletin board at the thrift store I was excited to snatch it up.  You can read more about how I plan to use it on this piano bulletin board post.

Once I secure something to the wall, its likely to stay there until I move (which will hopefully never happen again!)  So the DIY photo collage above has velcro backed frames that I can swap out for different photos when I want some change without a lot of hassle. You can view more details on how I made it  here.
 I paired this dollar store quote plaque with an old "sand tray that I spray painted white and covered with music wrapping paper.  I can easily swap out the picture in the middle when I'm ready for a change.

The glass insert on my desk is removable, so I slipped some music wrapping paper underneath it to go with the music theme.

My piano game card storage pouch hangs inside the closet along with music, string instruments, my children's personalized piano bags, and storage drawers containing rhythm instruments (maracas, castanets, etc.), piano group game supplies and white boards.
Since large box style tvs are a thing of the past, I found this tv armoire for a great deal on craigslist several years ago.  It is perfect for housing my most often used piano library music, piano teaching binders and teaching caddy.  I made book organizers using Costco cardboard milk carriers covered with decorative contact paper to separate books into different categories.  The colored dot stickers on the spines make it easier for me to quickly find supplementary music appropriate for the student's level.  The caddy keeps silly putty, game pieces, dice, dry erase boards/markers and colored pencils with in easy reach when a student needs some hands on fun to ramp up the learning.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Proper Hand Position with Nile the Crocodile

As a child I became a master at the learn-regurgitate-forget method of acing tests and earning perfect grades in public school.  But unfortunately, much of the knowledge I was exposed to did not truly sink in to stick with me much after the test was done. As I teach piano to children, I want the learning process to be memorable enough that the brief interaction we have each week will stick with them easily enough for them to recall it at home.
Story telling is one of the powerful tools in my teaching bag that I often pull out because it creates vivid, memorable images in a listener's mind and often evokes emotions that make more connections within the mind. A good story can make all of the difference when retention and repetition is the goal. When teaching piano hand technique to young beginners I  have used this story to make the lesson more memorable so the concepts stick.  If their hand collapses or wrist droops it is much more fun and less threatening to dramatically say "Oh no an earthquake squished Nile," or "Nile's getting all wet" then to directly address the issue.  Of course some students will be more enamored with making a house for a cute little polar bear or teddy bear, so I let them choose from my mini erasers the perfect character to build their home for.

Once upon a time there lived a crocodile named Nile.  He was searching for the perfect home.  But Nile had one problem.  He was scared of heights!  So he didn't want to climb any mountains to find the perfect home. And he didn't want to go in a canyon, because he would eventually have to climb out.

He walked along the level ground

Music Studio Bulletin Board

I'm a big fan of a bargain, so when I saw this bulletin board at the thrift store I was excited to snatch it up to display on my piano studio wall to add even more memorable teaching moments at every lesson.  Following are a few of the things I plan to feature on it.

  • Theory Teaching Posters  - I have one student who now checks the board first thing each week because he got a good laugh after seeing my "You're under a rest" poster depicting a stick figure standing under a quarter rest.  Enjoy Piano has another fun free downloadable version with a half rest here. On the ColourfulKeys blog I love Nicola's tempo teaching posters  "A leg grow's quick" poster. Susan Paradis's Noteboys, Key Signature Chart and Inversions Posters are sure to take their turn on my board too.
  • Composer Posters-  The right side features a composer poster that D'net Layton at Layton Music has available as free printables on her website. I love how they list the music period associated with each composer.
  • Inspirational Quotes- The Quest for Monthly Virtues Quotes/Art go along with a practice incentive I did in the past and are available here.
  • Practice Incentive Tracking Chart- We just finished  "Mountains to Climb" over the Summer and I'm excited to be starting a Pirate Themed Incentive this fall.  I found my inspiration from the JoyTunes Piano Teacher Facebook Page where Lorie Burningham shared her Pirate Treasure Map Incentive as a free download in the files.
  • Student Achievement Recognition - Each week I post the name of student who practiced the most on piano maestro and the student who earned the most home challenge stars (another free file from the Joy Tunes Piano Teacher Facebook Page. I also like to recognize students when they reach certain milestones like completing a method book, becoming a rhythm master (all levels of Rhythm Swing complete), or finishing a scale level chart.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Playground CDE Improv

A few weeks ago one of my new beginning students was having difficulty mastering the concept of directional notereading so I pulled out my whiteboard and magnets and had her construct "magnet patterns" for different playground activities.
Jumping Rope - "Jump" on the same key over and over
Teeter Totter - Move High and Low alternately
Climb up the Slide - 3 stair steps up
Slide Back Down - 3 stair steps down

Then we tried an improv duet (in Hal Leonard Lesson Book 1) with her selecting any pattern to play on any group of CDE on the keyboard.  Eventually she was able to combine several patterns to make a fun pleasing melody on the spot.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DIY Piano Room Photo Collage

 I recently completed my dedicated piano studio room and have been searching for the perfect piano themed decor to adorn my bare walls.  I wanted a photo collage with something personal and inspiring, yet versatile enough to change up to fit my studio themes. 

I began my project with this scrap board which I painted white with spray paint I had on hand(FREE-YIPPEE!).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer Piano Group Synergy

Group lessons are one of my favorite aspects of piano teaching!  I love the synergy of gaming and the sense of accomplishment students exhibit as they perform for each other on a regular basis.

This month our group lesson included Caterpillar Crawl, Music Candyland, Music Jenga,  Toss Note and Technique Pattern Bingo.  Following are some at home activities that students can try to extend the learning of the concepts we introduced or reviewed at group lessons.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hear See and Feel the Fun- Music Games and Activities

I put together this handout full of fun game ideas for a Round Table presentation I'll be doing  at a UVMTA  event for the music teachers in my area.  With so many fun game and activity resources it was difficult to choose which ones to highlight.  But fortunately the links at the bottom can take you to my organized games list so you can pick your favorites for yourself or add a note in the comments to share your favorite off the bench activities!
Why Games and Activities?
·         Engage – Games appeal to visual, tactile auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.
·         Solidify – Repetition with appealing adaptations solidifies learning without boredom.
·         Assess Mastery – Games provide a non-threatening avenue to “test” skills without the fear of failure.
·         Isolate Concepts – Gradually introducing isolated ideas prepares for mastery without frustration and is a useful tool in tuning up trouble spots.

Sample Music Games & Activities

Rhythm Tag Group Game

Rhythm Bug Circle

The  Let's Play Music method of introducing rhythms with bugs my favorite. It makes learning the more difficult eighth and sixteenth patterns seem like a cinch because the bug analogy provides both a visual and auditory memory aid.
As a parent of a Let's Play Music student and as a Connections teacher I have been amazed at how very young students really get a firm grasp on rhythm relationships.
For this group lesson game I used the Let's Play Music rhythm cards and had students sit in a circle of five and each selected a rhythm bug card equivalent to 1 beat (no Slugs allowed!).  They clapped and chanted their rhythm 3x and then "tagged" another person's rhythm to clap and pass the beat to.  (Bug, Bug, Bug, Grasshopper - Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Beetle - etc.).  After they were comfortable with the sounds of the "bugs" we flipped the cards and reviewed the traditional rhythm symbols & their names.  I love how this combines the Sound-Feel-Sign-Name learning sequence all into one short activity.

At Halloween time I like to do a similar Rhythm Circle Game but instead I use some of the Candy Bar Rhythm Cards from Layton Music that have the same number of beats in a measure. With these longer patterns, students have to repeat their measure 3 times before clapping out another person's candy bar rhythm.

Collect A Chord Game

I came up with this Collect a Chord game to help my students to solidify their chord spelling, but its easy enough that even a young beginner just learning skips can figure it out.  I love its ease and adaptability. Its quick enough to make a perfect lesson starter with student vs. the teacher and it also makes a great group game. I use 3 sets of Music Alphabet cards, but for a larger group you would need more.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teaching Piano Technique Motions Creatively: Caterpillar Crawl (updated)

I'm fortunate to have a houseful of children that I can try out my new piano teaching ideas on.  Although that can pose a challenge at times when I'm trying to provide motivation for 5 kids to  practice regularly or keep a quiet professional lesson environment, I love "playing" piano games with my children. I created this musical movement activity to practice wrist movements with my preschooler.
I started by telling a silly story about a caterpillar doing his workout activities at the gym to introduce her to flexible wrist motions necessary for piano playing.  We listened to Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca and simultaneously discovered some elements of the form of the music as each section repeats.
I came up with these lyrics to sing and made a musical map of pictures as a reminder of the motions for each melodic theme.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Incredible Scales Boardgame

Years ago, somewhere in the vast sea of internet resources I found this simple scale review gameboard that I especially love to use with my students at lessons and during home practice as festival time approaches.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to find it again despite the wonders of google.

But a similar customized scale review could be easily put together to match the needs of your students. All you need is a blank gameboard, sheet protector, dry erase marker, die, timer or stopwatch and some pencil paper.
In each of the game board blanks write a specific technique skill to be played.  For example, D Major Both Hands, E Major Right Hand, C Major Chords, A Major Arpeggios.  I like how the game board I have focuses on scales for the first half and then adds in chords and arpeggios on the right side.
To play the game:
1. Set the timer (2, 5 10 minutes?)
2. Place your game markers at start.
3. Roll the dice and play the scale you land on.  If you play it correctly give yourself a point.  If you make a mistake play the scale (chord or arpeggio) 3 times before earning 1 point and moving on.
4. As soon as your timer beeps add up your score.
5. Repeat daily(at home practice)/ or weekly (at lessons) and try to get a better score (or finish the whole gameboard!)
The benefit of this game is that students are more eager to play their technique skills and they really focus in and slow down to play them correctly the first time instead of plodding over their mistakes quickly!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Celebrating Musical Milestones

Achievements are a big deal for children, and its fun to celebrate their successes along the way.  When students complete a lesson book level we celebrate with a "party" and mini-recital.  After finishing the last song in a book, they choose a few of their favorite previously learned songs review for their practice assignment and then do a mini performance for me at their lesson.  We spend the rest of the time playing games and top it off with a little treat.
And milestones like perfectly clapping and counting festival rhythms deserve recognition too!
I like how several of the apps and games used during piano lab also have built in reinforcement as they earn a new title by leveling up on Piano Maestro, become a "Rhythm Boss" on Rhythm Swing, or receive a standing ovation on Music Ace when they beat their own High score on a game.

Music Staff Monkeys

For young children, I find that concepts are more memorable when formulated into a fun game.  I incorporate games into nearly every lesson that relate specifically to concepts in their pieces.  For example  I improvised a quick game as a fun lesson starter for my 5 year old piano student who is using the My First Piano Adventures Books.  Since she's already adept at remembering the music alphabet and letter names, I upped the challenge by making a connection with the grand staff.  I had my giant staff set up on the floor when she arrived.  After she "found" the bass clef buttons that had popped off onto the wrong place on the staff and placed them above and below the Bass F line, I introduced the concept of letters on the staff by singing and pointing to the music alphabet lined up on the bottom of the bass clef starting with bass A.  The bottom line is the "Ground" (G) and then the letters step up in order (space-line-space-line-space-line, etc.).

Staff Monkey Game
1. Scramble 3 sets of monkey alphabet cards face down.
2. Take turns picking monkey card "ABCs" to place on the correct line or space by singing up the music alphabet as you point to space-line-space-line on the staff.
3.  The first player to get the all of their monkeys in a column on the staff wins.
Time flies when your having fun!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Powerful Playful Piano Practice Kits

Inspired by this Colourful keys blog post on practice kits I compiled practice kits with a few modifications as a gift for my piano students and it has definitely made practicing sessions with my own children more fun.  The mood cards were definitely a big hit and I love how some students are eager to repeat their songs multiple times in lessons so they can experiment with different moods.
Contents of Practice Pouch
Zootopia Cards (Dollar Tree)
Post-it Notes
Mood Cards
Candy Pieces
Dry Erase Marker/Eraser
Score Card

As this Ted-ed video suggests, the most effective practice begins with slow repetitions with focused precision to accuracy.  As students practice multiple repetitions while gradually increasing speed the music solidifies under their fingertips.  I was especially inspired by the results of mental practice experiment that suggests the power that practice away from the piano can have.

The various games suggested like "Beat the Dealer" and "Three in A Row" motivate students to really focus on the task at hand while encouraging slow precise practice rather than inefficiently just plodding sloppily over and over through a piece they are trying to learn.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bass Clef Lines: Hear See and Feel the Fun


A myriad of mnemonic devices are used to help music students learn their note names.  As a child I learned my bass lines with "Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always" but the "Every Good Boy Does Fine" was a little too close and I sometimes mixed them up.
As a teacher I prefer methods that "cut out the middleman" of mnemonics and actually use music to teach music just like I learned me ABCs :)! For that reason, I love the My First Piano Adventures repetitious song lyrics about the Grand Staff "G, B, D, F top line A" that actually uses the pitches of GBD and F ascending upwards just like the notes on the staff.  For younger students the associations of beginning letter sounds may not be as solid and the time it takes for them to think of beginning sound of each mnemonic word is just too time consuming for efficient note reading.
To add to the fun and the learning we add a topsy turvy version of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and have the students move up their body to match the letter names of the staff.
G-Toes, B-Knees, D-Waist, F-Shoulders, A- Head.
Even older beginners can benefit from the mental connections that this movement activity creates.  I have them use Susan Paradis's GBDFA song.  As they follow the written notes on the staff and sing the words the connection between ascending pitches, upward body movement and the letter name chant really solidifies the concept for them.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tempo Piano Theory Poster

At a recent group lesson we revisited making theory posters and it was a favorite activity for several of the girls. I loved these animal tempo representations drawn by one of my students!  I cut them up for future use at lessons.  Instead of mood cards, they can also pick tempo cards and see how well they have really mastered their pieces! Its surprising how for some playing Largo can seem a real challenge. Other students made posters to represent dynamics, articulations, pitches (treble/bass) and you view some other ideas on my previous post about theory posters.