Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ear Training Pro Giveaway at Notable Music Studio

Ear training seems to be one of the elements of piano study that is often overlooked or neglected during traditional lessons. Unfortunately it wasn't until my high school AP Music classes that I was really required to sharpen my "ear skills" but I wish I had been given an earlier start on this important skill. Don't miss out on the chance to win a great tool to help incorporate this aspect into your studio. Sheryl Welles at Notable Music Studio is offering a giveaway to 2 lucky winners of Ear Training Pro. It looks like a great program to incorporate during piano lab time to sharpen your student's listening skills.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Musical Inspirations at Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas time is listening to the inspiring music that reminds me of the true reason for the season - the Savior. I love the power that music adds to each of these messages. Several of my friends and family shared them on their blogs and it was like getting a little "Christmas Present" from them so I thought I'd pass that "present" along.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Encouraging Improv.. with Jingle Bells Variations

Jerald Simon at Music Motivation.com is having a great cd/piano book giveaway every day until December 18th. I enjoyed checking out all of the recordings of his "giveaways" and was especially excited about the "Cool Songs for Cool Kids" (which I'll be posting a review of soon) and "Variations on Mary Had a Little Lamb."
After being inspired by Wendy Stevens post about Creativity at Christmas Time with a great video of her students in action, I decided to encourage my students to compose their own Jingle Bells variations this Christmas.
To help my students learn a little more about music styles and launch them off to a good start on their variations, I had them listen to these fun variations on the Music Motivation site while completing a little listening worksheet describing the elements of each style (dynamics, articulation, tempo, mode (major/minor), range (high or low), rhythm, texture/chord style (thick/thin, broken/blocked). I love the variety of styles Jerald Simon included in this book of variations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Preparing a Child for Piano

I could probably write a hundred pages on this topic:)...... but at my sister's recent request I'll just start with a few pointers. The task of playing the piano involves so many different elements it may seem a daunting task to know where to begin when teaching a young child. Yet there are so many things that a parent can do to prepare their child for success at the piano before beginning to pay for formal lessons.
I enjoyed Natalie Wickham's recent interview about fun music activities for children on Music Matters Blog on this subject. She includes some great ideas for instilling rhythm, music appreciation and understanding basic piano topography.
During the first few sessions of piano preschool I did several activities that could easily be done at home to help parents introduce their little ones to the piano. Following are just a few... but if you go to the oldest posts on my blog and read "backwards" you can find more ideas in the general order that I introduce them.

Feel the beat: Steady Beat Elephants or Head Shoulder's Knees & Toes (you can listen to and print this song here if you aren't familiar with it).
Right & Left Hands & High and Low on Piano: "Piano Pokey"
Finger #s : "Where is One"
Find and play the groups of 2 & 3 black keys on the piano.

If you have some basic piano training yourself including knowledge of proper piano technique, it might be fun to "jumpstart" your child's learning by actually purchasing a beginning method book and teaching your child their first piano lessons.
My FAVORITE piano book for young beginners is "My First Piano Adventures" by Nancy & Randall Faber. It costs about $10 and has a fun CD to go with it. It introduces the concepts very slowly for young beginners. I think I would pay $10 just for the CD because I like it so much :) There are also some really cute "pre-reading" songs you can print off from Susan Paradis's site that my children have enjoyed to help them to learn finger #s, left & right hand.
Try... What the Robin Said to the Worm, It's October & Wiggly Worm -
For the first week I also encourage them to "play around" on the black keys with fingers 2&3 or 23&4 and make up their songs for fun.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free Resource for Christmas piano/choral music

As I've been going through Christmas music for my students I remembered this excellent site with free printable songs arranged by Sally Deford.
She has a large amount of beautiful arrangements of traditional Christmas (and other sacred) songs as well as a few of her own compositions -including both church choral music and many piano solos. Just click on the "sheet music" tab on her site.
Following are a few of my favorites:
Guard Him Joseph - I think part of why I love this original Christmas composition of hers so much is that it is based on the harmonic progressions in Pachebel's Canon in D . I loved playing Canon in D in the middle school orchestra! This Christmas composition is so soothing that I like playing & singing it throughout the year. I also like how the lyrics focus on the role of the Savior's earthly father in his life.

Silent Night/Still Still Still - This piano solo combines 2 of my favorite soothing Christmas songs into one & I love how it makes me feel contemplative.

How Can I Keep From Singing I appreciate how Sally Deford has kept the accompaniment on this arrangement simple so it doesn't detract from the beautiful message in the words. I absolutely LOVE the moving lyrics to this song (attributed to Pauline T.)

"No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?"

Don't miss out on the recording of this song by James Loynes on her site. Just hearing it makes me think of Thanksgiving and how much I have to be grateful for in my life.
I'd love to highlight more of my favorites like:
My Heavenly Father Loves Me
I Stand All Amazed
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I Need Thee Every Hour............... and so much more...............
but Iguess this will have to do because my sweet little one is letting me know she's ready for her dinner :0) !

Friday, October 22, 2010

Learning Skips with "Skip Frog"

While teaching my daughter this fun song from Susan Paradis's site I came up with a creative way of reviewing the concept of skips on the keys. We played "skip-frog" (a spin-off of leap frog) with our fingers on the keys. I had her place her finger on any key on the piano. Then I put my finger a step up or down from hers and she practiced "skipping" her frog (finger) over my frog (finger). Maybe I will add a little felt frog finger puppet to my bag of piano things for her to slip over her finger the next time we encounter skips.
Then she identified the skips in her song and colored a little "skip-frog" above them.
Isn't piano fun!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clever Piano Music Storage Idea

I stumbled upon this totally creative idea for piano music storage while perusing my sister's craft and cooking blog.
April at Home Hinges transformed an old TV into a functional and beautiful piano music storage shelf.
I love how it is both functional and beautiful- and best of all... it was free!
Click on her blog link above to see the step by step transformation. Isn't it amazing to see how some people have a knack at visualizing the potential in things that others may view as junk.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't Miss out on this Suzuki CD Giveaway

Natalie at Music Matters Blog is hosting another great giveaway this week. By commenting on this link on her blog you can be entered into the drawing to receive a series of Suzuki violin CDs.
I enjoyed playing many of these tasteful pieces on my violin as a youth even though I didn't learn the "Suzuki way." They would make a great addition to any listening library!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Piano Lessons from a Pilot

As I listened to this inspirational message this weekend by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a former pilot and current apostle in the church I belong to, I found some interesting analogies that related perfectly to piano practice.
Elder Uchtdorf explained that when inexperienced airplane pilots encounter turbulence, they often think that the best solution would be to increase their speed to quickly get past the storm. Sometimes I think my students are thinking the same thing when they run into a trouble spot in their pieces- despite my best efforts to explain the benefits of slow practice :)
Instead, experienced pilots understand that in order to make it through the turbulence with little problems, the pilot will, "Slow down a little, steady the course and focus on the essentials when facing adverse conditions."
I plan to explain this analogy to all of my students to help remind them of the benefits of SLOW Practice!
A few more quotes from his talk that I found very applicable to my life at this time...
"When stress levels rise... [we often think] the more rushed our pace, the better off we'll be."
"Focus on the things that matter most."
"We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best."
"You only become great by mastering the fundamentals."
"Diligently doing the things that matter most will lead us to the Savior of the world."
Sometimes I need little reminders like this to help me remember to take time to rejuvenate, ponder and relax so I can be the happy and encouraging piano teacher, mother and wife I want to be.
To hear this message in full, click on the link above.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Slalom Note Spelling Bee

This week for our group lesson I tried a new game that was a big hit for my students. Inspired by Sheryl's fabulous idea of Slalom Terminology, I had the students race "slalom" style across my unfinished basement to retrieve note flashcards to spell words using the music alphabet (BEAD, BADGE, EGG, etc.). I divided the students into 2 teams, called out the word and watched team members take turns to race across the obstacles to retrieve the correct notes to spell the word. The first team to collect all the letters to spell the word won that round. It was fun to hear them cheering each other on and scanning the notes frantically to find the correct one.

I printed off a set of Note Flashcards for each team. I was planning to play the game outside w/ a setup like we had at my sons' birthday, so I attached them all to a whiteboard with magnets in case of wind.

But the high pollen count was just too much for my poor allergies :( ... so we settled for the almost finished basement as our playing field.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Teaching Piano Pedaling Creatively

Teaching Piano Pedaling Creatively, Piano Teaching Tips, heidispianonotes.blogspot.com

A few weeks ago one of my students was having a really tough time getting the feel of syncopated pedaling. She was so frustrated I had her "shelf" the pedaling for a week. 

Off the Bench Piano Pedaling

To reintroduce the concept we did an off-the-bench "experiment" that she'll probably never forget.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sonatina and Little Sonatas CD Giveaway

I love order - although you wouldn't be able to see that if you checked out the current condition of my piano cabinet :) As a young pianist my teacher encouraged me to participate in the local sonatina festival for several years. The Clementi & Kuhlau Sonatinas became some of my favorite pieces - perhaps because of their predictable form, harmonies and singable melodies. Unfortunately I don't find the time to play them as much as I would like to.
Natalie at Music Matters Blog is offering a chance to win a cd including a sampling of Sonatinas and Little Sonatas compiled by Allen Reiser. I would love to have this music playing in the background while I'm doing the dishes and laundry and getting my house in order - wouldn't you? Just click on the link above to leave a comment on her blog and enter this cool giveaway!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Feeling Rhythm

I attended my local music club's mtg. today and I was inspired by this experience one of the teacher's shared.
She had a transfer student come to his first lesson and proclaim " I can't count." She could have said "We'll have to work on that" but instead she asked him "Who says you can't count rhythm? - You have it in you, feel your heart." Then she had him place his hand on his heart and count as his heart was beating. He left the lesson with new found confidence in his ability to feel rhythm & count.
I know this isn't earth shattering news, I just appreciated the role of a positive teacher in encouraging her student to discover his potential in a simple yet effective way.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Music Ace Maestro Giveaway & Review

One of my favorite bloggers, Natalie at Music Matters Blog is doing a giveaway for the Music Ace Maestro software. The Music Ace Deluxe Program which I currently use in my studio has been such a great resource during studio lab time. I would love the Maestro version which includes additional lessons and allows you to track the progress of even more students then the I/II or Deluxe versions.
One thing I have found very useful about the Music Ace software is that it doesn't just test students on their preexisting knowledge of musical skills, it includes lessons that introduce new concepts w/ games to reinforce their knowledge along the way. I also like how each unit is subdivided into smaller segments so that if a student doesn't complete the entire unit in one sitting, they can easily start where they left off on their next lesson. My 5 year old son is especially motivated by the thousands of points he sees displayed while playing the games and has found it very rewarding to try and beat his previous scores:)
The lessons on Music Ace cover a broad spectrum of concepts including rhythm, notereading, ear training, melody/harmony, tempo, time signatures, scales and more. Sometimes I "prep" the students by having them complete the music ace lesson about a concept coming up in their lesson book. Other times I have "review" concepts by assigning them a lesson that corresponds with something I've recently taught them during their time with me.
The "Doodle Pad" feature provides a fun way for students to try their hand at composition. I generally allow them to 'play around' on the doodle pad once they've completed their assignments because they love it so much.
Age Level
Most of my students ages 8 and up have been able to complete most of the Music Ace lessons with very little assistance from me. Yet the content is not too "child-like" to make it unsuitable for teens and adults. My 3 & 5 year old have even enjoyed some of the beginning lessons on pitch, notation and feeling the beat with a little bit of coaching :)
Exposure to Music
I love how the lessons incorporate a variety of styles of familiar music as part of the instruction. Each lesson begins with a brief musical excerpt - folk songs, boogie-woogie, Chopin, Mozart, etc. and often include samples throughout that help students become familiar with the melodies of many great works. In fact today, while my daughter was perusing this site about Mozart's life she asked me to come and listen to this cool song she found (Rondo Alla Turca). She said, "It sounds familiar... oh yeah, I heard it on Music Ace!"

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Using Songs To Teach

I love the power of songs to aid in memorization. Lately around our house I've been singing a little song I made up to the cub scout law to help one of my sons who was having trouble learning it. I was thankful when earlier this year my daughter's school teacher sent home a book of songs to go with her multiplication facts. It so much easier to remember things when you put them in a song.
So I was delighted when I discovered a few new "piano" songs this week.
Thanks to Wendy at Compose Create for her post on some fantastic new games, my preschoolers are excited about piano practice this week because of the fun Piano Discoveries videos on You Tube that we watched together. I love how it teaches students how to identify & draw the clefs and landmark notes through song. For some reinforcement of the Landmark Notes, we used my magnetic dry erase board and magnet notes with this clever "Barnyard Board" staff from the Piano Discoveries site. Don't you love the cute drawing of the Middle C Cat that my son came up with spontaneously?
My students also enjoyed this catchy FACE song to help them learn the treble space notes. After watching this video my son was excited to beat his score on the Treble Clef Notes on Music Ace.

Another one of my favorite "teaching" songs is the GBDFA song from Susan Paradis's site.
Do you have any favorite songs for teaching piano concepts?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Teaching More Than Piano

"A good teacher realizes that his most important purpose in teaching is-
First, to inspire the student to love study; awaken within him a desire to rise above himself.
Second, to teach the student how to study; train him to think. Or, in other words, inspire the student to love truth, and then teach him how to find it."

"The objective of education is to develop resources in the student that will contribute to his well-being as long as life endures; to develop power of self-mastery that he may never be a slave to indulgence or other weaknesses;"

I find these quotes from Secrets of a Happy Life by David O. McKay (p. 46-47) so applicable to the study of music. There are so many benefits of music study beyond the satisfaction of playing the piano well. Through the process of learning to play the piano, a student also learns to work persistently at difficult tasks, overcome challenges with patience, appreciate beauty and develop self-mastery. In the end I hope that through teaching piano I can teach help my students develop some of the character traits essential to living a happy life as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Future Piano Hands

My hands have been a bit busy for piano practice, teaching and blogging lately since the newest addition to our family arrived. I love to watch her discovering her hands and hope that someday she'll discover the joy of playing the piano with them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Monkey Says...On the Staff

After reading Natalie's excellent summary of the Faber's presentation on Fostering a Love of Music, I decided to play some spontaneous staff games with my daughter who is beginning to learn note names on the staff.
First she chose some colored lines of curling ribbon to help build our staff and treble clef on the carpet.

Then we"skipped" our monkey and cow up and down the spaces on the staff.
Next we added magnet letters to the staff gradually to label the spaces the monkey and cow were playing on. This evolved into a game of "Monkey Says" (like Simon Says). I let my daughter take the lead and tell me which space to skip or leap to. I was surprised at how much fun she was having calling out commands for me to follow like "Monkey says - skip to the A-space....Monkey says leap to the E space." Once she was pretty familiar with the space names, I had her choose one letter to remove at a time until she could remember all the space names easily.
When she spotted my jingle bells and kazoo in the piano preschool bench she decided it was time for the animals to have a party. We ended up playing "house" with the magnet letters that live on the treble staff. The mommy and daddy letters (uppercase) lined up in their "space" houses joined by their baby letters (lowercase) and then their animal friends came to join the party. My daughter enjoys counting things so I had her add up the toys in each space and she figured out that the "A-space" had the biggest party:)

I'm convinced that engaging in this activity "in the spirit of play" will be much more memorable for her than if I had just identified the space names for her.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Studio Organization with Stickers

I have grand ambitions of getting my piano studio totally organized over the summer. To start I purchased a few inexpensive tools to organize my piano studio - colored sticker circles and address labels.
Whenever I purchase music to add to my library, I stick one of my address labels on the back bottom corner.
I also use a color coding system based on the colors of the method books I use most often (Level 1 Blue, 2-Purple, 3-Yellow, 4-Green etc.). I fold a colored circle sticker over the spine of the books with the stickers placed lower on the spine for lower levels and higher on the spine for more advanced levels. This had made it so much easier for me to locate supplementary materials during lessons to check out to my students.
The next project I'd love to tackle is organizing my piles of flashcards and games. I plan to sew some clear vinyl pocketsto hang on the inside of my piano cabinet -that way I can easily access and see what is stored in each pouch but keep things out of sight when lessons are done. What are some methods you use to keep things organized in your studio?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monster Candy Jar Practice Incentive

I have my good friend Angela to thank for this great idea to help motivate students in a fun way.
I usually do a "monster candy jar" incentive around Halloween - but it could work easily during any time of the year. I fill up a couple of jars with candy. During the month (or 2) students get a chance to guess how many candies are in the jar at their lesson each time they complete an item on their task list (see the ice cream party checklist). For some years I've done the contest based on how much they practiced that week (4 days=1 guess, 5 days=2 guesses, 6 days = 3 guesses), so the more they practice the more likely they are to win because they get more guesses. At the group lesson, students dress up in costumes, play songs for each other and then I announce the winners of the candy jars. The hardest part for me is resisting the temptation to "snitch" candy from the jar when its hanging around my house for a few months. I just make sure not to fill it with Snickers!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Music Therapy

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Last night I felt so thankful for the "refreshment of the soul" I felt as I played the piano to wind down after a stressful day. For me, playing the piano is the best kind of therapy to help me feel peace, optimism and gratitude after a hard days work of meeting the constant needs of my 4 (soon to be 5) children. I find the "best medicine" for a hard day is to play joyful, energetic songs to lift my spirits... like an Ecossaise from Schubert's or Clementi Sonatina and then ease into some calming hymns like "How Firm a Foundation" and "How Great Thou Art."
As I played last night I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for my mom who taxied me to & from lessons, sewed my orchestra "concert dress" and provided calming hymns for me to listen to every night as I fell asleep. My dad filled our home growing up with the sounds of a variety of classical music from his record collection and helped me gain an appreciation for music from Baroque to Jazz. Although neither of them played an instrument, I am forever grateful for the opportunities they gave me to discover the power of music. I hope to pass on to my children and my students the "medicine of music" for it truly is healing to the soul.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lego Rhythms Worked Fabulously

Check out this great idea for using legos on Jen's Piano Studio Blog . I tried it today while introducing dotted quarter notes to one of my boy students who loves legos. He built the right hand rhythms for each of the measures in the "London Bridges" song in his lesson book. After counting and "running his fingers over the bumps" as Jen suggested he said, "This is fun! Can I do the left hand too?" I think I might incorporate this idea into a game at my next group lesson by having teams race to build the measures of a song. It could even make a fun rhythm dictation activity.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Piano Preschool Snackmats

For piano preschool this year, my students favorite activities centered around working on their "snackmats." I used a variety of snacks including goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, cheerios, marshmallows, fruit loops, etc. to reinforce the concepts I introduced that day. My snackmats were simply white cardstock inside a sheet protector with a staff printed on one side and a piano keyboard on the other side. Next time I might jazz them up a bit more by mounting them on colored paper, letting the students decorate the border and covering them with clear contact paper. Following are a few ideas for using them:
On the Keyboard side-
Call out note names for students to place snacks on. If they place it correctly, they can eat it.
  • Cover the groups of 2 black keys (or 3 black keys)
  • "Hey Diddle Diddle the D's in the Middle"
  • Cover all the white keys stepping up the keyboard
  • Cover all the white keys skipping up the keyboard
  • Cover all of the keys that are in the C 5 finger scale
  • Cover all of the G's with a green fruit snack
Make fruit loop necklace "trains" by stringing fruit loops onto yarn. Then have students make tunnels with their hands on the keyboard while you drag their trains under their tunnels.

Set a snack on each white key. Practice picking up the snacks with different finger numbers. For example "Pick up a 'C' with fingers 1 and 3."

On the Grand Staff Side
Call out locations on the grand staff for students to place snacks on. If they place it correctly, they can eat it. You could make the "game" more competitive or challenging for older students by playing Simon Says. Here are a few ideas.
  • Cover all the of line notes (or space notes) with snacks.
  • Put a snack on middle C.
  • Put a snack on the Treble Clef (or bass clef)
  • Make a quarter note (w/ a chocolate chip and pretzel stick) and put it on the Bass Staff.
  • Make a half note (w/ a marshmallow and pretzel stick) and put it on the Treble Staff.
  • Cover the 2 dots on the bass clef (f clef), then put a "note" on the f line.
  • Make a Bar Line with Pretzels to divide your staff into 2 measures
  • Cover up the brace with snacks.
  • "Copy" one measure in your music by placing snack notes on the staff to match the rhythm and note names in your song.
Build Rhythm Patterns or measures on the staff w/ chocolate chips marshmallows and pretzels and practice clapping and then eating them.
Play "Snacks Between the Bar Lines" or "M&M's Stepping on the Staff".

Food for Major Triads

When introducing the major triads I like to use some food analogies to help my students remember what they look like on the keys.
For example:
"The Vanillas" are C, G & F - all white keys, like a triple decker vanilla cone
"The Hamburgers" are D, A & E - white on the outside and black in the middle, like a hamburger
"The Oreos" are E-flat, A-flat & D-flat - black on the outside and white in the middle, like an oreo
"The Oddballs" B, B-flat & F# are just odd, they don't fit in with any of the other triads
For a group lesson I had my students cut & paste small pictures of ice cream cones, hamburgers, oreos and draw their own oddballs on a Circle of 5ths chart. They especially enjoyed designing their own oddballs:). I find this activity especially helpful for students who are visual learners. A few times I've even rewarded the students at the end of their lesson with an oreo when they can play all of their "oreo triads."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tips on Practicing with a CD

Today I indulged myself and found a babysitter for the little ones so I could attend a 3 hour workshop by Dennis Alexander who was visiting as the adjudicator for the Musician's West Competition.
I love how so many of the new method books coming out include CDs - including Alfred's Premier Piano Course, which Mr. Alexander highlighted for us. I agree with his point that hearing a piece first helps students play more expressively. He emphasized the importance of demonstrating how to practice with the CD rather than just sending the students home with the instruction to listen to it because it will help them learn the song more easily. For example students could:
  • Listen to the cd as they point to the score and follow along in their music
  • Listen and clap the rhythm of the right hand (or left hand)
  • Listen and sightread the right hand part(or left hand) silently on the keys
  • COUNT ALOUD as they listen to the music
I've found the CD's that come along with the Hal Leonard method books and Faber My First Piano Adventures very useful in my studio during lab time. The Faber Gold Star Performance Books also have some excellent CD's. Following are a few "CD activities" for students to do .
  • Allow student to listen to 2 pieces and choose which one they would like to learn the most. Students are more likely to practice a song that they've "chosen."
  • Tap the rhythm of a piece on various instruments as they listen to the CD. I like to have 2 different instruments - one for the L.H. and one for the R.H. (Maraccas, castanets, tambourine, drum, etc.)
  • Fill out a music listening worksheet as they listen to the CD and describe the tempo, dynamics, style, etc. of a new piece.
  • Have the student listen and draw a picture of what the song makes them think of.
I like how both the Alfred Premier Piano Course CD's and the Hal Leonard CD's include both a practice and performance tempo for each song. I especially like how the "performance" versions on the Hal Leonard CD's are more like an orchestral or piano duet part. This provides students with a "duet" experience at home on a consistent basis. For beginners, piano practice becomes much more motivating and enjoyable when they can "invite the orchestra" (or other instruments) into their home to play along with their otherwise simple sounding songs.
I also like to supplement with other books that don't include CD's and do plenty of notereading lab activities so that students don't just learn to play all of their songs by ear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Piano Cranium

A few years ago I made up my own version of piano cranium for my students to play at a group lesson using my Cranium Cadoo board. It has been a fun game to pull out for group lessons periodically. To keep everyone involved I made most of the cards "all-plays" so that both teams race to guess the answer. I included the following categories for the cards:
Music Meanie-Think of a word that means... (play short and separated, the speed of the music, gradually play louder, etc.).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Motivation and Piano Parties

I like to choose a different "incentive" program every few months to help keep my students motivated and accomplishing in various areas of piano. This month I gave each student an ice cream party checklist with a list of toppings and ice cream flavors on the left and various tasks to complete on the right. Following are the instructions and a sample list of tasks. I vary the tasks each year and focus on different elements of piano playing.
Select a few piano goals from the list to work on each week. When you complete a task have your teacher or parent initial it and then draw a line to the menu item you would like.
The more goals you complete, the more toppings you can choose!


  • Come prepared to your lesson to pass off 2 of your songs with a 3 star rating (*perfect rhythm, *notes and *technic)
  • Fill in a blank Circle of 5ths Chart
  • Memorize the Order of Sharps (Key Signatures)
  • Complete Eighth Note Rhythm Gym Challenges Counting Aloud (1-5, 6-11 www.practicespot.com)
  • Beat your own high score on a Music Ace Game at your lesson.
  • Practice 5 days in a row (20 minutes or more) w/ signed practice chart
  • 100 % on flashcards at lightning speed
  • Complete a listening sheet at home
  • Play 1 octave arpeggios in 3 keys
  • Pass off a “Notes in the Fast Lane” Sightreading Page
  • Pass off a level on Staff Wars (Note Names)
  • Name the 4 periods of music in order & name 2 composers from each period
  • Play 3 scales forte(LH) vs. piano(RH)
  • Play 3 scales staccato(LH) vs. legato(RH)
It is humorous to see how motivating a little bowl of ice cream can be for some of my students. Others prefer the competition of summer olympics, earning music money or the suspense of our monster candy jar guesses. We will celebrate their achievements at our next group lesson as they enjoy the ice cream and toppings they have earned at the end of the lesson. What are some of your methods for motivating?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Great Review/Giveaway on Music Matters Blog

Check out this great giveaway that Natalie at Music Matters Blog recently posted. Click this link to view her excellent review of "The Musician's Way - Guide to Practice Performance and Wellness"
Her blog also contains a wealth of information that I love including great ideas for practice incentives, games, links, printable worksheets etc.

Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

"The study of great composers' lives should be more than an academic exercise. Biography is to inspire, not merely inform" -Patrick Kavanaugh

After attending a performance of Brahm's Requiem by our local symphony last night, I was reminded of one of my favorite music history books- “Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, ” by Patrick Kavanaugh.

This book, offers a refreshing glimpse into the lives of 20 different composers including well known names such as Bach & Handel, and lesser known composers such as Elgar & Messiaen.
Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of each composer-their tempers, financial trouble and failures, he highlights the virtuous characteristics of each.

Each chapter begins with a brief story like narrative that introduces you to the composer in an engaging manner.Then follows a well-documented description of the "verifiable aspects of these mens' lives as they strove for good, sought to understand God, and found meaningful spiritual purpose in their lives." (p.13) My favorite part of each chapter is the conclusion in which the author highlights one particularly striking character trait that each composer exemplified. I found each chapter in this book both informative and inspiring. After reading it I felt inspired to be more like the great composers of the past... to have the humility of Haydn, the unselfishness of Ives, the determination of Beethoven and the optimism of Mendelssohn.
Some interesting facts I learned:
Who composed and performed while he was a prisoner of war during World War 2?
Who preferred to compose at his kitchen table while his children chased noisily about him?
Who was proclaimed by the public to be the “eighth wonder of the world?”]
Who said “when I sit at my old worm-eaten piano I envy no king in his happiness?”

ISBN 0-310-20806-8 approximate cost new $10.99 (I bought a nice used one on amazon.com for about $7)
"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Music History Websites for Kids

I recently discovered the Classics for Kids Website. It is a fun resource that I have used to introduce my elementary students to the periods of music history and expose them to the lives and works of composers from each era. Children are more likely to play expressively when they are exposed to great music, even if it is not keyboard repertoire. Each week during piano lab I assign them a different era to focus on. They select a few brief composer biographies to read while listening to the samples of their music. Then they write a couple of interesting facts about 2 or 3 composers on their Periods of Music History Worksheet by Joy Morin.

Another favorite site for my students is Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. This has been a great incentive for students to finish their lab assignments quickly. They love this site so much I reward them by allowing them to play it when their regular assignments are done. While journeying on a "safari," students are introduced to the various instruments of the orchestra. They play ear training games along the way and in the end learn about fugues. This is ideal for students who can read fluently, but even my 5 year old enjoys playing it with a little help.

Starfall.com is the biggest hit for my preschool children. Although it is primarily aimed at helping children learn to read, I love how classical music is incorporated throughout many of the pages and the "It's Fun to Read" section introduces young children to the composers Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Offenbach, Joplin and Tchaikovsky. It provides the perfect introduction for very young children to learn about music history.

What are some of your favorite sites for introducing music history to children?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hand Over the Pencil - Actively Engaging Music Students

I've enjoyed putting together the newsletter for our local music club this year. It has helped me to actually put into practice many of the ideas floating around in my brain. Following is one of the recent articles I wrote.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quarter Note Cookies

A few weeks ago I spotted my candy cane cookie cutter in the drawer and I realized if I flipped it over it could make a perfect "quarter note cookie." My students had a great time decorating them for piano preschool. I also used white frosting to put in the middle of a few to transform them into half notes.

Piano Preschool Lapbooks

Piano Preschool Lapbook Cover with music rhythms and notes
Teaching Piano to Children with Piano Preschool Lapbook including Music Alphabet, Finger Numbers, Rhythm
After reading the post about piano lapbooks on Laura Lowe's blog , I decided to create my own preschool piano version to send home with my piano preschoolers. I let them decorate the covers with various musical symbols. Inside are pockets for Music alphabet/finger # and symbol flashcards from www.laytonmusic.com (Faber primer flashcards). I also included a laminated mini rhythm pizza (see www.susanparadis.com) and colorful piano for them to play Susan's Snowflake and Shamrock Keys games on. The back cover had a laminated Grand Staff which they can use for "M&M's stepping on the staff" game.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Composer Fruit Basket Game

Lately I've been introducing my students to composers in various periods of classical music. I thought of this variation of "fruit basket" to help them become more familiar with composers and their musical eras.
Materials to make composer "necklaces":
Small Pictures of Composers (Two excellent places to find these are: D'net Layton's www.laytonmusicgames.com or Natalie Wickham's http://musicmatters.blog.com
Hole Punch
How to play:
Each student chooses a composer necklace to wear. Form chairs in a circle with one less chair than the number of people playing. The student w/o a chair stands in the middle of the circle and calls out a specific music period (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary)or "Music History." The student with composers in the specific period have to hurry & find a new chair while the person in the middle tries to "steal" someone's spot. The last person left standing calls out another musical era. If "Music History" is called, everyone must switch to a different chair. Students can switch necklaces after several rounds to help them become familiar with the periods all of the composers fit into.
Instead of using necklaces, you could post pictures of the composers on the chairs. Then students have to check their chairs to identify what music period they are in.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Snacks between the bar lines

To introduce the concept of bar lines, we played "Teacher May I" (see last previous blog post) again but instead used chocolate chip quarter notes (w/ pretzel stems), marshmallow half note (w/ pretzel stems) and Marshmallow whole notes (Big Marshmallows). The children "ordered" notes to add up to 4 beat measures and then also "ordered" bar lines (pretzel sticks) to divide up their measures into groups of 4 beats.

Adventures in Music Board Game

I just discovered this fun free printable music game in the "printables" at Joy Morin's site http://colorinmypiano.com/. I like it because it is relatively short but reviews both note names on the staff and music symbols. I adapted it for my preschoolers by replacing the cards with 2 sets of cards under the "games" tab on Susan Paradis's website - "Fish Rhythm Cards for Beginners" and "Flashcards for Flyswatter Games." Even my 3 year old loves this game when I use only the "fly" notes on the staff that she has been introduced to so far.

"Teacher May I" Build a Measure

Snack time activities are always my preschooler's favorite. To introduce the concept of 4 beat measures we played this fun game for snack time. I "tied" small teddy bear cookies together with chocolate frosting. Then we named the bear snacks - single bears=quarter notes, 2 bears stuck together=half notes, 3 bears=dotted half notes and 4 bears=whole notes. The children took turns ordering teddy bear snacks from me. They could only order snacks that would add up to 4 beats (one measure). For example they said "Teacher may I have 1 quarter note bear and 1 dotted half note bear(3 bears stuck together with frosting)." This had the added benefit of reviewing their knowledge of correct note names and the number of beats in each note.

Easter Egg Line and Space Notes

Often young children have a hard time distinguishing between line and space notes on the staff. Check out this fun Easter Egg Notes worksheet. Have your child write "L" on the "egg notes" that are sitting on lines and "S" for notes that are in the spaces between the lines. This can also be used to help them review note names on the staff later. For more seasonal worksheets like this follow the link to Susan Paradis's website on the right.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hangin on a Fence Post - Flexible Wrist

For more practice with playing with a flexible wrist, click on the Faber My First Piano Adventures Link on the right to watch a video demo of "Hangin on a Fence Post." Then play "F's" along with the CD on the first set of bounces. Then switch to "G's for the second set of bounces.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nursery Rhyme Movement Activities

I found these great ideas in a book I recently discovered at our college library - by Rhoda Rabin - "At the Beginning, Teaching Piano to the Very Young Child." I love how she incorporates nursery rhymes which are already familiar to many children, but adds actions that help them develop their rhythmic and fine motor skills. Here are just a few:
See Saw Margery Daw - "See saw Margery Daw, Jack shall have a new master; he shall have but a penny a day, because he can't work any faster." Move arms outstretched up to head and down to side (like a See-Saw - alternating on strong beats)

Baa Baa Black Sheep - "Baa Baa Black Sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, Yes sir 3 bags full..." Hold arms out in front of you with palms up. Cross thumbs over palms on beat 1, Move thumbs back to straight on beat 2. This could also be a great prep for older students learning 1 octave scales to help them properly sweep their thumbs under then palms when crossing finger 1 under finger 3.

Jack & Jill - "Jack & Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after."
Hold arms outstretched in front of you. Slowly alternate raising arms as Jack and Jill go up the hill. Drop one arm when "Jack fell down," drop the other arm when "Jill came tumbling after."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Music Alphabet Song Movements

For a fun variation to the Music Alphabet song (Piano Adventures Lesson Book A , p. 60 - CD Track 33) try these actions instead while listening to the CD:
Alphabet Climb: Crouch down and touch the floor. As the music alphabet goes up climb your hands up higher as you go up the music alphabet. Then go back down as the music alphabet goes back down.

Alphabet Hop: Starting on the left side of the room hop to the right as you go up the music alphabet, then hop to the left as you go back down.

Floorslap Hop: Sit on the floor with legs crossed. Starting on the left side of your body, slap the floor then move hands to the right as you go up the music alphabet, then slap to the left as you move back down the alphabet.

Keyboard Hop: Using a 1-3 Donut start with your 3rd finger on a low A on the piano. Play each key with your 3rd finger moving up the alphabet and then to the left going down.

For a challenge: Use LH fingers 4(A), 3(B), 2(C), 1(D), and RH fingers 1(E),2(F), 3(G) and play the letter names on the piano as you listen to the CD.

Fun Activities for Teaching Music Alphabet on the Keys

2 Black Key Doghouse

I usually introduce the white keys CDE (below the 2 black key groups)first.
First you say "Hey Diddle Diddle the D's in the middle" and have them find all of the D's on the piano in the middle of the 2 black keys. Then have them sing the music alphabet to discover what comes before and after D (C & E).  
My teacher taught me to find the CDE keys by calling the 2 black keys the "doghouse." The "D" for dog is in the middle. The "C" cat and "E" elephant live on each side.

3 Black Key GArage

Next I teach "F & B outside the 3" (3 black key groups) and have them find all the F's and B's on the piano.
My teacher taught me to find the GA keys by calling the 3 black keys the "GArage." It has car G & car A parked inside the "GArage." This is only effective if your child is reading fluently and can associate GA with garage.

Music Alphabet Games

Dnet Layton's free Piano Candyland cards make learning the music alphabet fun and memorable.
I transformed my older version of Candyland and chose the following spots for the pink squares: 
Piano for Plumpy, 
Bass Clef for Mr. Mint (because the bass clef resembles a candy cane and its lower on the board), Mezzo Forte for Jolly, 
Forte for Gramma Nut,
Double Bar Line for Princess Lolly 
Treble Clef for Queen Frostine (because the Faber Piano Adventures books introduce say The Queen Treble Clef has a fine swirly dress and she plays High notes on the keys). 

 I love this game because my younger kids can play with the "Keyboard cards" while my older kids are challenged by using the "Staff cards."

All of these formerly free games are now available for purchase on Susan Paradis's amazing piano site. I love her creative resources!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fast Hands (Good Ears) Game

"Fast Hands" will help your child master the concept of stepping up/down, challenge their listening skills and help them become more familiar with the music alphabet order. To play "fast hands" have your child line up their Music Alphabet cards or magnet letters in order (ABCDEFGABCDEFG.) Then have them cover up the "A" in the middle with their hand. Call out several commands in succession to "step up" (to the right) or "step down" (to the left) in random order as they move their hand to cover the correct notes. Start out slowly and as they master the task, increase the speed & # of commands before rewarding them for ending on the correct letter.
For example if the child begins with their hand on "A" and you say "Step down, step down, step up," they should end on G. Once they have mastered this game,  increase the difficulty with skips.
Fast Hands
 I have the students place a picture of cow on the left as they "moo" with a low voice to reinforce the idea of low notes on the left.  On the right is the picture of a bird who "tweets" with a high voice and flies high in the sky.  For added learning you could play the corresponding notes on the piano so they can hear the directional changes as they move their hands.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Compose Create Website by Wendy Stevens

I love it when I stumble upon great ideas on the Internet that so many generous and talented contributors have been willing to share from their variety of experiences in music education. It rekindles my enthusiasm for teaching and listening to music, and I often wish I had discovered them years before.
One of my favorite music links is www.composecreate.com by Wendy Stevens.
One of her new compositions "Irish Celebration" is perfect for beginning level students. The rhythms are simple and the teacher duet makes the song even more engaging for beginning students. To view a sample as well as many other helpful resources visit her blog on www.composecreate.com and
A few of the other resources I enjoy on her site include:
♪ Free Printable Flashcards
♪ Leveled Rhythm Practice Sheets
♪ Inspiring Music-Related Quotes
♪ Free Manuscript Paper for Composing
♪ Leveled Sightreading Samples
♪ Engaging Music Compositions like “Irish Celebration,” “Twister,” and “Easy Hymn Solos”
♪ A Frequently Updated blog with ideas for composing, music education, etc.
♪ Music Game Ideas
♪ A variety of helpful music links on listening, composing, ear training and teaching

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Counting Up the Mountain & Whole Note Hunt

Play this fun game your child to help them review the note/rest values. You can find the instructions by clicking this link to Susan Paradis's blog.
Today we also played "Whole Note Hunt." If you have misplaced the cards from the quarter note hunt we did a few months ago, you can print off some more by following this link which is also on Susan Paradis's blog.