Friday, January 14, 2022

Motivate and Track Piano Student Progress with Free Printable Piano Challenge Sheets

With so many different elements to teach in music lessons, it can be challenging to fit it all in.  This year I've invited my piano students to complete a challenge each month that goes along with our monthly group lesson focus. 

Although these concepts are woven into lessons throughout the year, having a focus theme and deadline makes it more likely for them to boost their skills.  And it makes lesson planning simpler as the teacher! 

If they successfully complete at least 10 challenges a year from this Piano Challenge Chart they are eligible for an invite to our Spring Piano Challenge Party.

Monthly Piano Challenge Focus Topics

Notenaming/Interval ID

  • Pass off a new level for the One Minute Club Challenge by naming and playing notes quickly.
    • Bronze: Bass F-Treble G
    • Silver: Bass C- Treble C
    • Gold: Bass G- Treble F
    • Master: Grand Staff + Ledger Lines
  • Susan Paradis Notes in the Fast Lane Sheets are gradually leveled and easier than flipping flashcards for this activity.

Seasonal Composing/Improvisation

Accompanist Skills 

  • Prepare to accompany a hymn or Christmas song at the group lesson sing a long.

The "Teaching Basic Accompanist Skills" post and Accompanist Tips Free Printable include helpful tips for beginners.


  • Can you play arpeggios in 12 keys?  

This Arpeggio Challenge Free Printable  includes fingering visuals for multiple levels.

Ear Training - Choose 1 challenge to complete

  • Earn 90% or Higher on Listening Test
  • Complete 30 levels on the bubble tones app
  • Finish 10 Aural Games on free play mode.

The Expert Ears Challenge Free Printable includes links to activities students can try at home or during piano lab to prepare for their listening tests.


  • Earn 90% or Higher on Theory Test

Use online practice links like Web Rewards,, Tonic, Heidispiano Quizlet to practice/prepare.

Terms and Signs

  • Earn 90% or Higher on Terms and Signs Test

This Free Printable Terms and Signs Study Sheets includes terms and signs definitions and symbols for various levels.

Scales/Chords and  Chord Progressions

I love to use the scale level charts from Colourful Keys that help students track their progress of playing chord progressions and scales in various keys throughout the year.



Demonstrate the technique wizard skills on your level at piano lessons.

What other skills would you add to challenge your students?

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Easy Piano Improvisation inspiration from YouTube

When I discovered this energetic new music video from the Truman Brothers this morning I had the itch to play along on the piano.  While I don't have the music, I found it perfect as a "backing track" for a little A-flat improvisation.  It could even be used for scale practice although I find improvising much more exciting!

Steps for Pop Song Style Piano Improvisation

Identify the Key.  

This often can be done by matching the first or last pitch of the song on the piano.  "Higher"is in A-flat. To improvise, start simply by creating melodies using the notes from the Aflat pentascale (A flat, Bflat, C, Dflat, Eflat).  Later expand to include any note from the 1 octave scale.

Listen for repetitive elements in the song that you can incorporate in your own music.  

I love the frequent bass  IV-I Pattern from this song played in the intro.  The simplicity of primary chords (I, IV, and V) with an occasional vi chord is common for pop style songs. You could simply play a Db followed by Ab in the bass or play octaves for a richer sound. Add in a few V chords or octaves for variety. To create a pop or rock feel, play repetitive measure quarter notes in the left hand.

For example. Ab-Ab-Ab-Ab then Db Db Db Db or Eb Eb Eb Eb.

Match the mood.  

This pop style song has a steady drumming pulse that can be imitated by repetitive I, IV or V notes in the bass line with syncopated rhythms in the melody line. Choose a few of your favorite rhythm patterns in the song and imitate them as you improvise. 

In the key of A flat the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of scale are all you need in the bass line.

  • I-Aflat
  • IV=Dflat 
  • V= Eflat

Here's my brief unrehearsed piano improv in A flat Major... still in my pjs! Improvisation doesn't have to be perfect, but it can definitely be fun!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Valentine's Day Piano Teaching Resource Roundup


Love one Another Valentines Piano Teaching Resource Roundup

Valentine's Piano Teaching Games/Activities

Susan Paradis Steal-a-Heart- I downloaded this game years ago and keep coming back to it every Valentine's Season because its a student favorite at piano group lessons. They love the "steal-a-heart" cards!  It's a great game to review notes on the staff.  I add colored stars to the back of my cards so I can easily separate them into levels.  That way students of varying levels can play together and review the notes they need.  To speed things up a bit I have everyone pick a card at the same time, flip it, name it to a partner for fast paced fun.

Love Somebody Chords, Dictation and Ear Training  Anytime piano students can find the fun in playing chords through practical application is a win for me!  The lyric sheet with chord symbols and solfa versions facilitates easier transposition.  The ear training activities are ideal for either group or private piano teaching settings.

Love Somebody  Solfa Ear Training Tutorial  This piano teaching video tutorial includes solfa, dictation and would make a great take home or lab activity for students to try independently.

TPT No Rest for Cupid  This beginner level Free Printable Rest Value Game from Teach Piano Today is a simple lesson starter to review quarter and half rests. I love how their various version of coin uncover games provide a quick and effective no review that takes the pressure off because it's disguised in a game.

Pianimation Heart Beat Dictation  I actually use these heart beat boards all through the year for rhythm activities.  Since Valentine's season is full of hearts, this year I thought a focus on beat and tempo would pair perfectly for February group lessons.

Love One Another Simplified Primary Songs page 20 (Layton Music)- This simple melody involves mainly steps and is simplified for Thumbs Share Middle C position.

Love One Another Hymns Made Easy - This version of Love One Another in the Key of G in 6/8 Time requires some finger substitution, expansion and contraction, but the slow pace and relatively easy left hand

Perfect by Ed Sheeran Chords- For the teen or student choosing a pop song and having them play the chords using Ultimate Guitar Tabs can really solidify their keyboard skills.  So many pop songs have a love theme, but this is one of my favorites and the repetitive I-vi- IV-V chord progressions makes it easy to play.  For a challenge transpose it to the key of the original song (A-flat Major) and play along with youtube using variations of the chords.  It works great with 1 octave arpeggios!

Strive for Five Piano Practice Free Printable - This adaptable piano practice incentive includes a free printable poster and post-it note heart practice trackers and could really be used any time of year, because who doesn't love to see their students practice?

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Free Printable Music Theory Poster and Games: Teaching Chord Qualities

Chord Qualities Major minor augmented diminished

Seeing Chord Shapes 

A picture is worth a thousand words... at least if you are a visual learner like me!  This poster for teaching chord qualities in my music studio makes the differences between chords stand out a bit more.  
We've been playing several games this past month to review the half step patterns in chords.  At first glance when students see 3 skipping notes on the piano, it may look like the notes are the same distance apart, but counting the half steps between the keys helps them determine the chord quality. 
  • Major (4+3), 
  • Minor (3+4), 
  • Diminished (3+3) 
  • Augmented (4+4).

Hearing Chord Qualities

Chords have a distinct sound or mood. 
  • Major sounds Happy
  • Minor sounds Sad or Spooky
  • Diminished sounds Creepy because of the "devil's interval" or tritone
  • Augmented sounds Tense or Suspenseful

Ear Training Activity: Snowman Interval

Listen to the root chord played by your teacher (or on teoria) and strike a pose for the chord you heard.
  • Major=Stand Up Happily
  • Minor-Crouch Down with a Sad Face
  • Diminished - Melt to the Ground
  • Augmented - Stand on Your Tippy Toes with a Crazy Face

More Online Chord ID Practice

For more practice hearing and identifying chords choose from the following activities on

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Free Resources for Teaching 7th Chord Inversions

V7 chords can be a bit tricky for students because they are often introduced in many different ways.  Most method books start with an easier first inversion of  V7 chords that omits a few chord tones for easier playing. 

This 7th chord poster makes it easier to spot the roots and intervals to identify 7th chords and their inversions.

Quick Tips for Identifying V7 Chords

Look for the interval of the 2nd.  My teacher always called these the "bumps" because one note is bumped to the side. The top "bump"  is the letter name or root of the chord.

To identify the inversion, imagine the notes are running a race to the top of the staff. 
  • In first inversion the "root bump" is in 1st place. 
  • For 2nd inversion the "bump" falls to 2nd place.
  • For 3rd inversion the "bump" is in 3rd place.

V7 chords are often followed by a I chord in music. The interval of a 2nd in the V7 chord provides the tension and I chord feels like you are returning home to peace.

V7-Root Position 7th Chord

7th chords can also be identified by the intervals of the "bump notes."

7th chords in root position are easy to spot because they look like a tall snowman with four snowballs instead of the three you see stacked up in a triad.  The root is on the bottom and with the highest note a 7th above it.

V6/5-1st Inversion 7th Chord

 The root jumps up to the top of the chord in first inversion.

The resulting intervals are a 3rd, 5th and 6th.  

The abbreviated chord symbol is V6/5

V4/3-2nd Inversion 7th Chord

Intervals above the lowest note include a 3rd, 4th and 6th. 
The abbreviated chord symbol is V4/3

V2-3rd Inversion 7th Chord

Intervals above the lowest note include a 2nd, 4th and 6th
The abbreviated chord symbol is V2

Additional Resources for Learning About 7th chords

Music Inversion Images

7th Chord Inversion Video Tutorial Inversion ID game

Monday, November 1, 2021

Easy Free Printable Christmas Sheet Music from Piano Maestro

This month I'm challenging my piano students to learn a song to accompany their peers with at our December group lesson.  Accompanying takes piano playing to the next level because students must play with continuity (no starting and stopping).

Piano Maestro Christmas Songs for Accompanying

The Piano Maestro app is an excellent tool to promote accompanist skills.

  • It gives automatic feedback for note accuracy as incorrectly played notes turn red.
  • It gives feedback about rhythmic accuracy.
  • The scrolling music forces you to continually look ahead in the music.
  • Some music focuses on the harmony instead of melody so you can't just lean on your ear to pick out the music. This also promotes audiation for students.
  • The practice mode allows students to practice in smaller phrases and isolate left or right hand parts for more focused practice sessions.
  • The instrumental backing tracks make music more enjoyable to play.
While the scrolling music feature is great for continuity, faster pieces may be easier to learn at first with printable music.  Click this link to access free printable Christmas sheet music that you can also play on the Piano Maestro App. The tips below help you play with more expression instead of robotic feel.

Piano Practice Tips

  • Greensleeves (What Child is This) Elementary Harmony Only 
    • Can you sing the melody as you play the harmony?
  • Greensleeves (What Child is This) Intermediate Hands Together
    • Color the melody notes red and harmony notes yellow.  Notice the melody switches between the left and right hand frequently.
    • Play the melody as you ghost play (only touch the key surface) of the harmony notes. Watch this sample video of "ghost playing."

    • Play hands together with balanced singing melody louder than the soft harmony.
  • Jingle Bells
    • Play as written or choose I, IV or V chords for each measure in the left hand to change the harmony to blocked, marching or broken chords.
  • We Three Kings
    • Add slurs to mark each musical sentence.
    • Float off at the end of each phrase (measures 8,12, 19, 24, 28, 32, 36, 40, 44 and 51).
    • Shape the melody with small crescendos as the melody rises and decrescendos as it falls.
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
    • Measures 15 and 16 have a different rhythm than the traditional song.  Can you fix it to match the words "[We] wish you a Merry Christmas and a.."?
  • Joy to the World
    • Use scale fingering to create a legato melody line. 
    • Write finger 3 below the first "E" in measures 4,11, 13 and 19. 
More links to free Christmas Piano Music can be found on my Christmas Piano Resource Roundup Post.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Steps for Playing from a Lead Sheet- Christmas Piano Music

Playing music from a lead sheet opens up a new world of possibilities so that you can make familiar tunes have their own special flare.

Free Christmas Lead Sheets

These free Christmas lead sheets from Michael Kravchuk allow pianists to practice chords or prep to accompany a Christmas sing a long. Starting with the key of C is definitely easier for a beginner pianist, but playing in other keys can sometimes make it easier to sing along. Here are a few familiar favorites I like to star with but there are over 30 to choose from on with options to select from multiple keys for each song.

Jingle Bells - 5 finger melody (I, IV,V)
Silent Night - slower chord changes (I, IV,V)
O Christmas Tree-  slower chord changes (I, IV,V)
Away in a Manger-Mueller (I, IV,V, ii)
Jolly Old Saint Nicolas- (I, IV & V, vi, iii)  chord changes only at beginning of measures
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (I, IV & V, vi, iii, ii)
Angels We Have Heard on High - (I, IV & V, vi, iii)  frequent chord changes
Joy to the World - frequent chord changes and inversions
Carol of the Bells - (I, IV,V, ii) many inverted chords

 What is a Lead Sheet?

A lead sheet usually includes the lyrics to a song with some chord symbols written above. Instead of having to stick to a fully written out song, when you play from a lead sheet you can choose your own style of accompaniment while playing the melody or even just play the chords as you sing the melody. 

The letter names written above the melody indicate the chord root (bottom note).  For example "C" means play the notes of a C major chord. A lowercase "m" indicates the chord is minor. You you can choose the order and style and difficulty of the chords from the options below. 
Lead sheets with roman numeral chord symbols (I, IV, V, vi, etc.)  instead of chord letter names can be transposed into several keys.
You can play along with a YouTube video in the same key using these Easy Christmas Chord Lead Sheets.

Step by Step Lead Sheet Playing

Level 1 Play Only Left Hand Root Note

Sing the melody as you play just the root notes with your left hand. Choose the octave you prefer.  For example does High G or Low G sound better? Which is easiest to play?

Level 2- Left Hand Root Position Chord

Play the chords in root position (stacked up like a snowman) as you move your hand like a cookie cutter to the different chords.

Level 3- Left Hand Chord Inversion

Jumping around between root chords can be tricky! If you change the order of the notes (invert) it can make it easier to switch between chords.  CEG to GBD is a big leap, but if you play CEG and BDG instead you can feel the stretch down without having to look at your fingers.

Level 4-Left Hand Root Notes + Right Hand Melody 

Learn the right hand melody choosing fingering for legato phrases. Than add the left hand root notes.

Level 5-Left Hand Chord Inversions + RH Melody

Play the right hand melody along with left hand chord progressions.  You can substitute minor chords for major chords you are more familiar with playing.  
Experiment with chords that share some of the same chord tones.  For example in the key of C, the d minor (ii) chord D-F-A could be replaced with the more familiar F Major (IV) chord F-A-C because both include F and A.
  • Substitutes for Red (I) are Purple (vi) and Orange (iii)
  • Substitutes for Blue (IV) is (ii) Green and Purple (vi)
  • Substitute for Yellow (V) is Orange (iii) or (vii) or (V7)

Level 6 -Left Hand Chord Variations + RH Melody

Instead of playing just blocked chords, choose a different style that matches the mood of the song.
  • A lively song like Jingle Bells might sound good with marching style chords.
  • Playing broken or arpeggiated chords with calm songs like O Holy Night creates a more dance like, lullaby feel.
  • Rocking open 5ths or repeated bass notes create a more pop or rock mood with upbeat songs.

Level 7- Improvisation

Let your imagination transform the piece into your own variation. What if you....
Swap the melody and chords by playing melody in left hand and chords in right hand.
Change the octave to higher or lower for some parts of the song
Add an intro or outro
Create a medley by merging ideas from 2 different songs together.
Explore more ways to change up the piece with variation cards.