Friday, July 13, 2018

Inspiring Creativity in Piano Lessons with 20 Variation Cards


When motivation for playing piano was waning for one of my students after a busy day, I pulled out these variation cards and it was definitely a game changer! Not only did he have a new excitement about learning his new piece, but I was able to assess his knowledge and teach some theory and technique skills in a lively engaging way that drew him in asking for more.  He wanted to complete the entire set of cards!
Instead of playing the "What Changed" game, that I blogged about on this previous post, I instead used the variation cards as a springboard of ideas for the Variation Practice Challenge.

My variation cards simply include a basic idea for varying the song with an image to represent the change.
Scrambled Eggs- Mix up the Melody
Ornament Ending- Add a trill turn or other embellishment to the end of the piece
Snail Cheetah-Change the tempo

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Music Mapping in Piano Lessons: A Tool to Aid Memorization and Sightreading

Last weekend I attended a workshop sponsored by my local music club. I was really intrigued by the concept of music mapping and how it can help students learn pieces more quickly and securely.

Friday, May 4, 2018

May Music Mash-up Piano Group Lesson

This month's theme in my studio includes a mashup of concepts including ear training, note reading, and rhythm, and at our group lesson, students had fun literally mashing up music concepts :)
 Major/Minor Pinata

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Music Theory Carnival Piano Games

For my most recent piano group lesson, we played carnival themed games with a music theory focus.  I brainstormed so many different ideas that it was hard to pick just a few to squeeze within an hour! 

Lucky Lolly Signs - Identifying Music Symbols
Lucky Lolly Music Carnival Game
Take turns naming music signs attached to the lollipop of your choice.  If you name it correctly and the sucker has a colored dot on the bottom you get to keep it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Piano Metaphor: Growing from Failure to Failure

"Mistakes are a fact of life. Learning to skillfully play the piano is essentially impossible without making thousands of mistakes or maybe even a million." 
"Success isn't the absence of failure, but going from failure to failure without the absence of enthusiasm" -Winston Churchhill
"Consider failure as a tutor, not as a tragedy."
"Success is GROWING from failure to failure without the absence of enthusiasm" - Lynn G. Robbins

I loved these profound ideas from a recent inspiring message given by Lynn G. Robbins and his example of an inspiring college professor's approach to exams reflects my approach to piano theory exams.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Composition 101: 5 Avenues to Begin Composing


Which is better creativity or conformity?
For a person who likes the comfort zone of predictable instructions, checklists and rubrics to measure progress, conformity is definitely the easier path, so embarking on a new adventure of preparing students for a Composition Festival this year was an intimidating challenge for me. I tapped into a lot of resources and discovered that there are a lot of different paths that lead to the same destination.
As I led my students through the process of creating their own pieces I was amazed at the many layers of learning this project created as they applied rhythm dictation, fingering choices, time signatures, dynamics, form and note naming. The best part was that my students were so motivated to apply these rules of "conformity" because they were passionate about their compositions. Following is a roundup of links that can unleash the creativity and get the juices flowing in a variety of ways.
Make a Motive or Theme/Mood with Sound Effects
Inner Musician.com
Wynn Anne Rossi Creating Creature Sounds
Compose Create Cartoon Motif Contest
Scale Ingredients Composing with Flour and Salt
(Major, minor, Pentatonic, Blues or Whole Tone)

Piano Group Lesson Plans and Ensemble Inspiration

Being a musician can often feel like a solitary skill unless teacher's make an active effort to plan ensemble opportunities for their students.  I love living in a small community that supports the arts!
I was blown away by this amazing performance at my daughter's recent high school choir concert when her friend Haley sang "The Prayer" with George Dyer accompanied by the orchestra, choir and another friend on the piano. I'm sure being a part of this ensemble will be an unforgettable memory for her, and it has made me contemplate how I can involve more ensemble playing in my studio. Group lessons are the perfect stage for ensemble experience and can provide synergy for students who may be lagging at times.

Here's a roundup of Group Lesson blogpost Plans I've had fun using in my studio in the past.
Technique and Artistry
Composing and Valentines Day 
Piano Cranium
Effective Practice 
Christmas Themed  and More Christmas Group Activities
Theme and Variations Form and Composing 
Summer Combo - Technique, Notenaming, Theory, and Ear Training


Other Fun Group Games:
3-2-1 Chord Blastoff
Music Theory Headbandz
Collect-a-Chord
Rhythm Telephone Race
Rhythm Tag

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My Favorite Foundation for Rhythm and Chords #LETSPLAYMUSIC

I take a very playful approach to my piano teaching, because not only does play encourage creativity and have powerful cognitive effects  (The cognitive benefits of play: Effects on the learning brain), it is also a lot more fun! So "playing" with my son as he practices his "Let's Play Music" songs is something I look forward to.  This is a video I took in his class this week for #LPMSpiritWeek2018.


I became a Let's Play Music Connections teacher several years ago and posted a few of the things that I found captivating about the program like Kit Kats, bubble hands, paint balls and puppet shows in a previous post, but enrolling my own child has opened up the window to even more learning.
Learning rhythm with bugs (see Blue Bugs Rhythm Reading) allows young children to read more complex rhythm patterns at a young age with a developmentally appropriate sequence with sound before sight.

I love how Let's Play Music encourages singing and a solid chord foundation. Here's a quick clip of my son practicing his chords.


 Let's Play Music has inspired me to improve in several specific ways as a private piano studio teacher.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Musical Roots + Free Music Download

One of the most inspiring moments of my week was hearing the song "Army of Angels" sung by Evie Clair (America's Got Talent Finalist) at the Roots Tech session Music: A Bridge Across Generations.  I was astonished when I found out that the composer (her cousin) McKenna Mae has provided a free mp3 download of it as well as several some mp3 recordings and sheet music of her other songs.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Piano Technique and Artistry: Group Lesson Activities

For the month of March in my studio, since the focus is on playing more artistically with proper technique as students work toward their Technique Wizard Challenges, I've rounded up and created some group activities to introduce and reinforce these concepts in a memorable way.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Using Piano Safari Rote Pieces to Teach Composing in Piano Lessons

Teaching Composing with Piano Safari

My brain has been in the composition vein for a while, so I brainstormed some clever ways to extend their my student's learning beyond the technique of Piano Safari with some creative companion composing teaching applications.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentines Composing Piano Group Lessons

VALENTINE COMPOSING- Creating a Melody
Some students are naturally enthralled with composing and can easily dive right in and create beautiful sounding melodies.  But some are much more comfortable with a step by step guided approach.
Using Susan Paradis's Valentine Composing Worksheets at group lessons I taught a mini-lesson on composition tips for younger beginners and then had students perform their creations on the spot.
1 - Start with a Scale "Recipe"
When you make cookies or soup you will end up with better results if you limit the ingredients to things that taste good together.  In music, a scale is like a list of ingredients.  Just as eating cookies with garlic powder doesn't taste very appealing, throwing random music notes together is not likely to sound amazing either.  It is easier to create good melody when you start by limiting your "note ingredients" to notes within a scale you are familiar with. For Valentine composing I had them choose a pentascale that could easily fit under beginner's fingers.
2 - Pick a Motif
Using language as a guide for the rhythm can be easier than "pulling a rhythm out of thin air." The repeating rhythms in "Roses are Red" set the stage for a repeating rhythmic motif.  I asked the students to write 4 of the letter names from their scale in any order for the first line to create a melodic motif.
3 - "Play" with the Motif
Although repetition can be a good thing, too much of the same thing gets old quick.  But a random assortment notes thrown together sometimes doesn't bring the best results either.  For the next 2 lines I taught students 2 easy ways to "play with the motif."
Line 2 - Write the letters of your motif from Line 1 backward (ex: CDGE becomes EGDC).
Line 3 - Repeat the first 2 letters from Line 1 and then change the ending.
4 -  End at "Home" Although this is not a "never break" rule, your song will sound more finished if you end on the tonic (do) which is the letter name of the scale you chose.
This Any Day Composing activity is a similar activity, perfect for beginning composing practice for any season of the year.

STEAL A HEART - STAFF NOTES
This Steal a Heart Staff Notes game elicited a lot of laughter as students reviewed the note names on the staff, a basic skill necessary when they transcribe their alphabet melodies into real music. My students loved this game so much, I decided to use it at my son's kindergarten Valentine Party.  I added some sight words written on post-it notes to several of the cards and the kids got an extra turn if they picked one and could read the word.  This extra twist could also be a fun addition if you add music terms or symbols to some of the cards.  Kids loved the playfulness of stealing and giving hearts!

HEART CANDY RHYTHMIC DICTATION
It was hard for me to narrow down the perfect game with so many fun options from Compose Create.com on Wendy's Valentine Music Games post, but I chose an adapted version of Candy Heart Rhythm Dictation using Beat Boards from Pianimation.com in sheet protectors with dry erase markers.  I wanted to emphasize counting as part of rhythmic dictation so students could more effectively dictate their own melodic creations using correct rhythms, so I added the "counts" below each heart.
1. Begin with Quarter Notes and Rests in 4/4 (1-2-3-4)- Remove the candy on the rests.
2. Quarter and Half Note Rhythms - Remove and eat the candy where the note "holds" and choose the correct note that can fill up the space.
Split each heart in half for more complex eighth note rhythms and subdivide the counting(1&2&3&4&).  Students point to the heart halves as they count along to the rhythm to determine which notes are held longer than 1/2 a beat.

COMPOSING INTROS AND OUTROS
We ended with some demos of Bradley Sowash's Easy Introductions. His post about improvising outros has some great ideas to help students complete their compositions with a fabulous finish.

Their take-home challenge was to choose an animal for the theme of their next Animal Menagerie composition project that they will be working on during private lessons this month.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teaching Composing: Interesting Intros with Sowash and Faber

Teaching composing to beginners can seem like an enormous feat with a myriad of approaches.  There are many different pathways to arrive at the end result. This month I began with having students developing their "trash" motives into a short piece using the Trash to Treasure Composing resource on Teach Piano Today.  They loved seeing the printed score of their own creations from MuseScore!  Now we're moving on to the concept of adding an appropriate introduction to their pieces.
Bradley Sowash has some fabulous tips on how to create an interesting intro.  Using some of his concepts as a springboard, I created this listening lab to help my students hear samples of intro styles at work in pieces that are accessible to their playing ability.  Analyzing the composing elements within student's current pieces is a great way to extend their learning and wet their appetite for composing more artistically themselves.

Friday, January 26, 2018

BAPDARP - A Systematic Practice Approach to Expressive Playing

 
"If you give specific input you get specific results."  This was my favorite quotes from a UVMTA piano teaching seminar I attended last week by Stephen Thomas, a music faculty member at BYU-Idaho.
To start out the seminar  Thomas first gave a brief overview of score preparation and practice tips that he had covered in a previous seminar regarding score preparation and tempo.
Score Preparation -

  • Add fingering
  • Divide into sections and number (or name) them

Tempo Grid Metronome - Set specific metronome goals

  • Slow Tempo
    • Set Specific Standards (Measures 5-8 Slow Hands Separate @ X Tempo, then Hands Together)Medium Tempo

  • Medium Tempo
    • Exaggerate dynamics, articulation, and phrasing
  • Fast Tempo
    • Less repetition of small sections, more focus on larger sections and continuity
Once students can play the piece with reasonable fluency they move on to BAPDARP.   For me, I think of fluency meaning correct fingering rhythm and notes. BAPDARP requires a closer look and listen to the expressive details of the piece.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fun Tools for Teaching Composition: A Resource Roundup


I've been scouring the web for fun activities and tips to help teach basic composition elements to my students and was delighted to see the link for Alfreds' latest blog post pop up in my inbox titled
"Composition Tips with Wynn-Anne Rossi."
The short video clips (about 3 minutes each) give students an opportunity to learn tips and tricks about composing from a well-known composer.  Following are a few of my favorite videos with specific assignments students can complete during lessons, lab time or at home.  If they complete them during home practice they can get an extra "Bull's Eye Target" marked off on their Bull's Eye Challenge Sheet.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Lego Game to get your Piano Students Playing Chords in an Unforgettable Way

"3-2-Won Major Chord Blastoff" is a quick game to teach chords in piano lessons in a memorable way.
321 Chord Blastoff #pianoteaching #musicgames

Recently Inspired by Tim Topham's approach to teaching chords to beginners  I came up with this game to reinforce the pattern of chord building so that even young students can remember it.

Concepts Covered: 

  • Piano key names
  • Major chord building pattern 
  • Playing and spelling triads
  • Broken and blocked chords

Materials needed: Paper Keyboards,  die for each player, legos or colored small objects
Object: Be the first to build a chord pattern with legos on the paper keyboard and play and spell it on the piano.
 In this fast action game players simultaneously race to roll the "Major chord gaps" (a 3 and then 2) which reinforces the pattern in their mind.   It could be played in either a private lesson setting (teacher vs student) or at a group lesson with multiple students playing.
1.  Pick a music letter name card to choose which chord you are trying to build.
2. All players place a colored lego on the first note of the chord.

3. Start the race by saying "3-2-1 Blastoff". Players simultaneously race to roll a 3 on their die.

4. When a player rolls a 3 they place 3 white legos on the next 3 higher keys.

5. Next they place a colored lego on the middle note of the triad and then race to roll a 2.
6. After rolling a 2, place white legos on the next 2 keys and add a colored lego to finish off building the chord.

7. Then take note of the chord spelling (keys with colored legos) and "blastoff" toward the piano to spell and play the chord you just built in broken and block style. For C chord you would sing  "C-E-G, That's a chord " as you play the broken pattern CEG +3 blocked chords.

8. Repeat if desired choosing a new chord each time until a player wins 3 blastoff rounds.

What makes this game a win?

  • Versatile-It could be played in either a private lesson setting (teacher vs student) or at a group lesson with multiple students playing. It's easy to shorten or lengthen the duration by choosing the number of rounds required to win.
  • Adaptable- For an easier version, omit the chord spelling requirement for students who haven't learned sharps or flats yet. For a more challenging game, intermediate students could also build other chord styles (minor, diminished, augmented or 7th chords)
  • Multi-level- Because of the chance element of the die, an experienced teacher vs. a novice student can play without the teacher having an obvious advantage. The teacher may even be at a slight disadvantage because it's harder to blast off a " mature" body off the floor to race to the piano:).
  • Multi-Sensory- This game appeals to multiple learning styles.


    • Visual - See the pattern on the keys
    • Auditory- Hear both the chord spelling and sound of major chords
    • Kinesthetic - Use of block manipulatives and feeling the chord under the fingers as you play it.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Fun Ways to Get Piano Students Practicing Smarter, Not Harder


To kick off the new year in my piano studio our January group lesson will be centered around effective practice. I've planned some fun activities centered around goal-oriented practice including this adaptation of the Sorry Sliders Game that I've also been using for notereading review.