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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tips on How to Begin Arranging Music: Notes from Jason Lyle Black Workshop

Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. - Edward de Bono
Inspiring my students with some Jason Lyle Black videos is just one of the many tools I have used to encourage my students to break away from the written page from time to time and try something different.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Teaching Piano with Chord Colors

I've been associating chords with colors since my childhood, but now chord colors are taking on some new off the page creative roles after inspiration from the Creative Keys Conference.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Ways to Play with Staff Fish Cards

Fish Flashcards Games  Teaching Piano

I love finding music games that are adaptable for multiple levels!  These Fish Music Flashcards from Susan Paradis have long been in my stash of Piano Games to use at lessons to increase note reading fluency,

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ear Training Group Lesson Piano Games

Do you include ear training exercises in every lesson?  This definitely wasn't a huge part of the traditional lessons I had as a child.  Fortunately ear training has evolved quite a bit from the "Now Hear This" cassette tapes and workbook that my teacher sent me home with years ago. Group lessons are the kick-off event for my monthly themes in our studio, and we kicked off November with some Ear Training Games. There is definitely a lot more excitement and motivation that comes with ear training in a group setting!

Speedy Scale Stops 
I find that sometimes as experienced musicians we assume students already possess some building block skills like audiation that we take for granted as seasoned musicians.  Tim Topham's blog has several great step by step ideas for practicing ear training in private lessons.  I tweaked the Scale Stops game from his blog to create a group lesson version.  This game gives students the initial foundation necessary for interval identification by ear.

Concept: Hearing Scale Degrees (Prep for identifying ascending intervals).
Preparation: Give each student 8 cups
How to Play: Teacher starts on the tonic note and plays up the major scale stopping on a certain degree (note) as students internally count or sing to determine what note they stopped on.  Students race simultaneously to stack their cups one at a time up to the scale degree number and throw their hands in the air when they think they have the correct answer.
Toss Variation: Partners stand across from each other with a bucket of bean bags at their feet and alternate rounds tossing the correct number of bags equaling the scale degree stopped on.
Boost the Learning :  Instead of the teacher playing samples, students take turns drawing a flashcard note within the Middle C Scale and then play the C scale stopping on that note.

Intervals in Motion
Concept: Identify intervals by ear
Preparation: Create interval posters with familiar songs that match each interval
How to Play: Teacher plays an interval on the piano, students make motions that match the associated interval song. See more details on this post.

Candy Listening Bingo
Concept: Interval Ear Training
Students won't complain about being drilled on intervals with this fun game available at  To boost the learning I have the students take turns playing interval cards for the others to identify. These are available free from this Over the Edge game and I just pull out the ascending Major/perfect intervals neede for this game.

Directional Bingo 
Concept: Melodic Direction ear training with steps skips and repeats
Visit 4dPiano Teaching to get the free download of this beginner bingo style game.

Pianimation Listening Bingo - Opposites
Concept: Pitch/Dynamics/Articulation
Visit for a free download of this bingo style game that addresses several ear training concepts.

Technique Pattern Bingo HPN
Concept: Identifying common music patterns like chords, scales and arpeggios by ear.
See this post for details.

Major Minor Dash
Concept: Identifying chords by ear as Major or minor
Students can get a lot of energy out in this game as they run to the poster that matches the quality of the chord played.
see details at

Major Minor Line Up
Concept: Identify a sequence of chords by ear as Major or minor
Prepare cards with a happy face (Major) on one side and sad face (minor) on the other or buy some m&ms.
How to Play:   Play a sequence of 3 or 4 Major and minor chords.  Students flip their cards to match the pattern that you played (M,m,m,M or m,m,m,M, etc.). With m&ms the printed side of the candy represents minor and the blank side Major.  If they get the pattern correct they can eat an m&m (or add it to their cup if you are tallying points).

Rhythm Bug Games
"What's Missing?" and "Rhythm Tag" "Rhythm Telephone Race".
Concept: Rhythmic Dictation
See this post for details on these fun rhythm games that use Let's Play Music Rhythm Bugs.

Related Group Lesson Posts:
Music Theory Carnival Games
Musical Minute to Win It Games
Music Mash-up
Summer Piano Synergy
Halloween Group Activities
Piano Technique Group Lesson
Valentine's/Composing Group Lesson
Practice Themed Group Lesson

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Free "Count Your Blessings" Piano Teaching Resource

With Thanksgiving around the corner I like to include a few seasonal songs in my student's piano assignments.
This year I'm using this free version of  Count Your Blessings (p. 64) and adapting it for multiple levels in my studio.  Following are instructions on how I introduce this piece to varying levels of students.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Intervals in Motion Ear Training Group Game

Identifying intervals by ear can be a tricky skill for some students to master, but this group piano lesson game gets students in action as they sharpen their interval ear training skills as a group!
Ear Training, Teaching Music

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

8 Great Ways to Teach Rhythm with Let's Play Music Bug Rhythm Flashcards

Using rhythm bugs is by far my favorite approach for teaching rhythm. The connection to natural language patterns makes difficult rhythm patterns accessible for even young children and the matching visual images on the bugs that correspond with the standard rhythm notation make a memorable association for visual learners.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Creative Keys Workshop with Leila Viss: On and Off the Bench

This session focussed on using technology during off bench time in your teaching studio and started with a rousing game of Kahoot!  is a free educational game platform where teams race to answer questions correctly using a pc, ipad or mobile device.  This would make a great activity for a group lesson or buddy lesson.  You can choose from a wide selection of games created by other teachers or create your own customized set.  By searching "leilaviss" in the Kahoot search bar I discovered the fun Kahoot games created by Leila about intervals, chord spelling, music styles and composers, etc.  A few other possible search topics include piano keys, key signatures, chord qualities, notes on the staff, rhythm.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Creative Keys Workshop with Leila Viss: Creativity

Creative Piano Teaching

“Creativity is recombining elements that already exist in a new way.” – Wendy Stevens
Piano lessons for me as a child followed the traditional format of playing from the printed page, receiving feedback, and practicing it again until I got it right. Although my teachers gave me a solid foundation of chord knowledge, creativity was not an integral part of weekly lessons, and I developed some fear of just playing around without a written score.  But, bloggers like Leila Viss, Bradley Sowash and Tim Topham and Wendy Stevens have transformed my teaching and playing into a medley of creativity and classics.  I gained so much insight and inspiration after her session on creativity it was hard for me to shut down the creative juices flowing in mind so I could sleep that night!  
Following are my notes and inspiration from the Leila's session on Creativity.

1- Borrow Freely from the Page

Example: Student playing his own version of “Piano Man.”  Great musicians borrow from other great musicians.
Lesson Book Bash (including a youtube video demo)
·         Choose a favorite lesson book piece and have student create a new version.
·         Demonstrate and give suggestions for student to try, then let the student decide if they want to take it or leave it.
·         Think like the eye doctor “Do you like this better or worse?” “1 or 2?”
Example: Teaching Variations on Pumpkin Boogie (Faber 2B) (or any Lesson book piece of your student’s choice)
·         Double octaves of the bass line or stagger
·         Double rhythms – Change some quarters to 2 eighths
·         Break up Harmonic intervals to melodic
·         Add R.H. copycat of L.H. bass line
·         Change to Major – Easter Bunny Boogie!
·         Give students a creativity punch/stamp card (free on  They earn punches every time they make a creative variation on a piece and earn a prize when it is filled.
·         Apply these and other variation ideas to any Lesson book piece of your student’s choice after they have learned to play it confidently as written.  This takes away the fear of just starting to compose from scratch!
·         For some additional ideas for variations see my previous post on Theme and Variation Cards.
Example: Twinkle with a Twist (available for purchase in Leila’s store)
·         C, Bb Ab G Repeating Bass
·         Make the Melody Minor
·         Adams Family Style (weave a familiar song/theme into the piece)
·         Rock Bass  (repeating octaves Low C High C, end with V7 chord walkup)
Example: Sugar Plump Fairy
Students took a solo and added new layers to create a trio for 3 sisters to play

2- Choose a Theme and Teach in Groups
·         Crazy Hair Day and Recycled Rhythm Instruments Themed Group Lesson
·         Glowsticks Cup Dancing in the Dark (Cups wrapped with a glowstick bracelet at the bottom performing Compose Create Rhythm Cups )

·         Blues Jam session with a group including percussionist (Toe Tambourine – Bradley Sowash), piano, keyboard saxophone
·         Birthday Bash Group Lesson (see Harmonize Happy B-day handout) Chord stack on worksheet
o   Start in private lesson then perform and record variations in group lessons
o   Student picks correct root chords by ear to harmonize the melody
o   Choose “chord slides” inversions
o   Add Intro V7 arpeggios + trill (more ideas on Bradley Sowash Easy Introductions)
o   Add Ending – glissando down (more on Bradley Sowash Improvising Outros)
o   Cowboy, Waltz, Tango variations
Additional group themed lessons in my previous posts include:
·         Technique and Artistry
·         Valentine’s Composing
·         Theme and Variations
·         Practice Smarter not Harder
·         Theory Carnival
·         May Mash Up (Note Reading, Chords and Intervals)

3- Plan Creativity into Every Lesson
5 Finger pattern Groove with I Real Pro around the Circle of 5ths
·         Steady Beat
·         Differ Articulation
·         Groove Theory – Mix up the note order like Scaling the Chords by Bradley Sowash
·         Change up the  Rhythms
·         Red cups with a clear solo cup cover to modify (add # or b)
Four Chord Special – The Heart and Soul of Pop Music
·         Back Pocket Patterns I vi IV V (Four Chord song)
·         Rote Teach Heart and Soul playing as many patterns as you can
·         Add Melody just on CDE CDE CDE changeup
When in Doubt Pent-Out (Pentatonic Scale Improv)
·         Nickels worth of Notes 1 2 3 5 6 (Pentatonic scale)