Thursday, December 22, 2011

Classical Themes Lab Assignment

Using your "In Recital with Classical Themes-Volume 1" by Helen Marlais book, complete the following activities. (affiliate link)

After listening to the first few minutes of the following video clips choose a Rating for each piece from the list.
1- I have no interest in learning to play this.
2- This piece is okay.
3- Nice but not one of my favorites.
4- I would like to play this piece.
5- I would love to learn to play this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Piano Lab 101: Scheduling, Structure, Assignments and Progress

There are several different elements to consider when setting up a piano lab.

When I incorporated piano lab into my private lessons, I had just relocated to a new area so I advertised the piano lab as one of the benefits of regular lessons and included lab fees with tuition. I charged a bit more than I would have without the lab to cover the additional expenses and planning time involved. Because of the lab feature in my piano instruction, I only accept students who are of age or maturity to be able to focus and work independently for 30 minutes (generally age 8 and above) unless the parents are willing to accompany them during the entire hour of lessons.

Initially I staggered lesson times (ex:4:00, 4:30, 5:00, etc.) so that each student first had private instruction with me and their piano lab activities reinforced the concepts introduced during their lesson.

But when I started having several students from the same family, I switched to having 2 students come on the hour (2 at 4:00, 2 at 5:00, etc.) They take turns either doing their lab first or having their private lesson first. I actually prefer this setup because I can do both preparatory listening/analysis assignments that apply directly to the music the student will be working on (when lab is first), or I can assign reinforcement activities to gauge how well the student grasped the concept introduced in private instruction.

Ideally, I would love to have an enclosed piano lab room with a large window adjacent to my piano so I could occasionally glance at the screen to monitor the lab student's progress without hearing any noise interference. But for now, my computer is fairly close to my piano - but not in the same room. The piano is at the top of the stairs and the computer at the bottom, so my students in the lab can quickly access me if they have a question (and I can faintly hear the lessons they are doing). I considered putting them in the same room as the piano with headphones, but my daughter went to a teacher with this setup and it was very hard for her to hear and focus on the computer lab games even with the volume turned up while another student was playing the piano for the teacher in the same room.

Organizing lab content and progress can pose an enormous task initially. I hope to make a separate post detailing the specific resources I use for lab time including:
  • Software (Music Ace, Midisaurus, PBJ, Alfred Music Games, Ear Training Expedition, Happy Note)
  • Online Games/Sites (Staff Wars, Theta, Music Learning Community, Tonic Tutor, Theoria, Big Ears, Music Tech Teacher, Classics for Kids, Pedaplus, DSO & SFS Orchestra)
  • Leveled Binders with Online Printable worksheets in sheet protectors (Susan Paradis, Pianimation, ComposeCreate, Making Music Fun, ColorinMyPiano)
  • Theory Books (w/ movable contact paper page protectors and dry erase markers)
  • CD w/ Lesson Book Analysis/Rhythm Assignments (specific to each song in the book)
  • Misc. (YouTube Video assignments, composition, Doodle Pad, etc.)
Individualized Approach
  • Each student has a progress spreadsheet in their lab folder outlining all of the concepts & activities correlating with their lesson book level arranged in the order they are introduced in the lesson book. Following is a small sample from Level 1 (Hal Leonard) including columns for Concept, Activity, Date(s), Score(s), and Done
  • Concept






    Theory Book page 5

    Finger Numbers

    SP Colorful Fingers worksheet

    Honey Pot Listen and Tapworksheet


    Midisaurus Sounds Around Us

    Midisaurus High and Low

    Ear Training Exped.P1 Level 1-Unit 1

    Music Ace Lesson 2 Intro to Keyboard

    Music Ace Game 2

    Same/Diff. Melodies

    MLC Smiley & Friends play 2x

  • I mark student's weekly assignments with colored opaque post-it tabs and check them off when completed. With this approach I can cater the assignments to the pace of the learner. If a student masters a concept quickly, I have them skip some of the activities and move to the next concept. The spreadsheet also allows me the flexibility of using different method books and changing up the order of assignments to more closely match the order they are introduced for that particular method.
  • Occasionally I create listening, composition, music history or artistry assignments to correlate with seasonal or group lesson topics like the Playing with Feeling Lab Assignment, Festival Music Lab Assignment or Piano Theory Posters
  • I introduce concepts of form and analysis very early during private instruction and "Hand over the Pencil" often to have students color patterns, chords, intervals, etc. By the time they reach late elementary music, I incorporate analysis and listening prep activities during lab time that are specific to the upcoming songs in their lesson book with tasks that apply to that piece. A few sample tasks follow:

Listen to the CD and tap the rhythm while counting aloud.

Listen to the CD again while practicing the pedal motions with your foot. Be sure to change the pedal immediately after the first beat in each measure.

Which measure has a different rhythm then the rest?______________

Mark the Intervals of a 7th in your music (Hint: they should go from a line to a line or from a space to a space)

Define a tempo______________________

Define loco _________________________________

Listen to the Cd. Where does the melody switch to the left hand?_______________

Write the beats in the first line.

Draw rainbows where your right hand “glides” over your left hand

Listen to the CD and think of another name for this piece. ____________________
Identify the chord in each measure by letter name, tonality (Major or minor), and inversion (6/3=1st inversion, 6/4= 2nd inversion). Hint: The note above the gap’s the root, it just has rearranged. Example: In measure two, notes d-f-a = d minor 6/4 chord

  • When I discover or acquire new resources I just add them to the list under the appropriate concept so my lab activities are constantly evolving.

Pro: Students assignments are catered to their learning pace and style.

Con: Selecting specific lesson tasks each week can be a bit time consuming for teachers with large studios.

Leveled/Topical Approach
For teachers with a large number of students, making an individualized lab lesson plan each week can be a bit time consuming. One helpful suggestion I heard at a local music club mtg was to have all students focus on a different element each week of the month and make up a master plan for concepts covered in each level. For example:
Week 1: Theory/Analysis
Week 2: Ear Training
Week 3: Music History
Week 4: Composition/Artistry
Students who are near the same level all receive the same assignment outline. They work on the weekly assignment in their level and move on to the next assignment the following week regardless of their scores/completion/attendance at lessons. The master lesson plans include spiraling/repetition of concepts to avoid gaps in the learning process.
Pro: Less time planning involved, easier lab setup and transition between students
Con: Students typically work at different paces and may need more review on certain concepts than their peers.

I would love to hear any suggestions or comments from other teachers regarding piano lab.
How do you structure lab time?
What are some of your favorite activities or resources to use in piano lab?
How do you track your students progress?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making Musical Memories

Some of my favorite family traditions at Christmas time involve music.
  • This year our 4 oldest children are fluent enough readers that we can all gather around the piano and sing multiple verses of Christmas carols - so we'll actually be able to contribute some volume as we around the neighborhood in a trailer filled with hay bales:)
  • To start out each December we watch the annual Christmas Devotional including music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and messages centering on the true meaning of Christmas -the birth of Jesus Christ. My favorite message this year was "Of Curtains, Contentment and Christmas" by Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Our children were pretty intrigued by his story of a memorable Christmas as a boy when he was a little too fascinated with the combination of curtains and flickering candles on the tree. I appreciated his reminder to not allow our seeking of the picture perfect Christmas events to drown out our efforts to seek Christ at Christmas and throughout the year.
  • This year we watched some new free video clips depicting the events surrounding the Savior's birth. I love how most of them include beautiful soothing background music with a brief narration straight from the Bible (KJV). We'll definitely be adding this new tradition to our list!
  • And of course.... I love overhearing all of the piano practice of Christmas songs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Free Resources for Simple Christmas piano arrangements

Today while searching for an easy piano version of one of my favorite Christmas songs - "Still, Still, Still," I discovered this site - that contains numerous arrangements of Christmas songs and other music in the public domain arranged by William Wallace. The arrangements are in pdf format and many include electric keyboard midi samples.
A few other sites with elementary level Christmas music that I have found include: - simplified primary songs

In my studio, I print these off, put them in sheet protectors in a folder arranged according to level of difficulty and allow my students to check them out from my music library during the holidays. Its been fun to see how the boost in confidence for students who check out the same songs the following year and can easily sightread the pieces that seemed like such a challenge for them the year before.
If you know of any other piano Christmas music sites please leave a comment and I'll add them to the list.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Canon Chords Improv Assignment

I absolutely LOVE Pachebel's Canon in D; in fact its on the CD I listen to each night at bedtime. The soothing repetitive chord progression is so calming. It also happens to provide the harmonic framework for some of my favorite peaceful Christmas songs:
"The First Noel"
"Guard Him Joseph" by Sally Deford
"The Christmas Spirit" by Lindy Kerby
and of course the well known more jovial song
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas."

So this Christmas season I've given a few of my students the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge of chord symbols and experiment with some improv accompaniment using the following chord progression:


(Its a lot easier to follow if you draw the chord symbols in relation to their pitch direction with arrows connecting them - but since my technical skills are limited on blogger... you'll just have to imagine)

I (down to )V(up to) vi( down to)iii(up to)IV(down to)I(up to)IV (up to)V

After identifying the letter names that match the chord symbols in the key they are assigned, they begin with a few of the following basic bass patterns:

Low Bass Note (LH) + Blocked Chord (RH)

Low Bass Note (LH) + Broken Chord (RH)

1 8va arpeggio (LH only)

Open 5th + octave (ex: if I is C Major = Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C)

Rolling Open 5th + octave (in C Major + Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C, back to G)

For those up to the challenge, they then vary the rhythm, come up with their own patterns, try transposing it to another key add a familiar melody in the RH or compose their own melody to match the harmony.

For those inexperienced with this type of transposition it is helpful to point out the pattern of the interval changes between chord roots:

Tonic - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 4th - Up a 2nd

No wonder I love this brain loves order!

It was so invigorating to watch a couple of my students who are sisters play a lively little Jolly Old St. Nicolas duet together after just a few minutes of practice at their last lesson.

The pre-reading and elementary versions of Jolly Old St. Nicholas on Susan Paradis's website work great for the upper duet part for this assignment.

How do you teach improvisation in your studio?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Introducing Cadences with a Country Twist :)

Here's a fun little V7 chord song I stumbled upon while surfing YouTube

The V7 chord often "brings us home to I" and is heard a lot at the end of a song. Moving from a V7 chord to a I chord is known as an authentic cadence.
And just in case your curious....When a V chord does not resolve up by fourth to a I chord, but instead resolves up by second to a vi, it is called a deceptive cadence.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musical Ornament Gift Idea

Imagine this ornament..... with some old music paper instead of book paper. Isn't it lovely? It might just make the perfect gift this Christmas for some music lovers I know.
My sister Kara has posted a tutorial on how to make it on here crafty/cooking blog
My daughter and I put some together last night for the "recycling themed" Festival of Trees ornaments she's making for school. They are pretty simple to make for an "uncrafty" person like myself.
If you stop by her site, you may also want to check out her recipe index. Some of my favorite prepare ahead dishes for piano teaching days are Really Good Crock Pot Roast, Cafe Rio Pork, Bajio Style Chicken and Dutch Oven Chicken. But watch out... you'll have to scroll past all of the mouth-watering desserts first and might get stopped before you reach your destination:)!

I actually have my older sister Kara to thank for my obsession with piano. She started lessons first but was not very interested, so one day I eagerly volunteered to go in her place which sparked the fire for me. When we were younger she thought she was lacking in talent since music, art & dance were not her "thing" but its obvious when you see the # of followers on her blog - she was wrong, her talents just lie in other areas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Benefits of Piano Lab with Private Lessons

One of the best tips I received from a friend after relocating and starting up my piano studio was to incorporate a lab in conjunction with private instruction each week. I am so glad I followed her advice. Following are a few of the benefits I've seen from utilizing this approach.
  • Students receive extra reinforcement of theory, ear training, note reading, sight reading, music history and analysis to solidify concepts introduced by the teacher.
  • Learning music concepts in game format is more fun and engaging for children than the "study your flashcards at home" approach that I received as a child.
  • The teacher receives continuous feedback about how well the student has mastered concepts being taught during private instruction. Its easier to catch "gaps" in the students understanding quickly when you can assess them through multiple modalities.
  • Students have more time for technical and artistry instruction with the teacher. Often I find it a challenge to squeeze in all of the elements of piano playing (like ear training, theory and music history) in just a 30 minute weekly instruction setting. Having a lab provides students with the structured time to solidify their knowledge of previously covered material while freeing up more time during private instruction for elements best learned through imitation/feedback.
  • Overlapping instruction time provides opportunity for ensemble/collaborative work with students. Students scheduled during the same time block can practice duets or play interactive games during the first few minutes of lesson from time to time.
  • Including a lab is an extra benefit that sets my studio apart from many of the other teachers in the area. For now, I only take a very limited # of students so I can focus on raising my family so "filling" my studio has never been a problem - but for teachers seeking more students, this could be one more "selling" point for your studio.
  • My 30 minute lab/30 minute private instruction approach provides for flexibility in scheduling for me as a teacher when needed. Balancing my roles of mother of 5 (soon to be 6) children and piano instructor can be a bit tricky - especially with the unpredictable needs of infants. When a new baby comes to our family, rather than taking a long break from teaching for the adjustment(which could create some regression in student skills), I stagger my piano teaching schedule for a time. When necessary the student can do their lab activities first or last depending on the unexpected diaper blowouts/feeding needs of my newborn. I can still fulfill both of the roles that I love of mother and piano teacher without feeling like my children or students are being short-handed.

Look for more posts in the future on how to structure a lab, planning lab time lessons and links to my favorite online piano lab resources.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Staff Notes Game - "Don't Eat the Poison Pumpkin"

For my piano group lesson today I'm adapting one of our family's favorite games "Don't Eat Pete" to review note names on the staff.

What you'll need:
Susan Paradis "Pumpkin Notes" Worksheet in a sheet protector
Bag of pumpkin candies (or candy corns, m&ms, skittles, pumpkin seeds, etc.)

How to play:
1. Put one piece of candy on each pumpkin note.
2. Send one person out of the room.
3. Pick a letter of the music alphabet to be “the poison pumpkins”
4. Call the person back in the room but don’t tell him/her where “the poison pumpkin” is.
5. The “it” person picks up candy one piece at a time and identifies the letter name of the note. If the candy is not “poison” the person is allowed to eat it. If the candy is “the poison pumpkin,” everyone yells “DON’T EAT THE POISON PUMPKIN!” and that person’s turn is over.

The whole point is to put off finding the poison pumpkin as long as possible so you get to eat more candy. You could even play this as a "lesson starter game" and write down the secret poison pumpkin letter on a hidden whiteboard instead of sending your student out the room.

For a shorter or "non-seasonal" variation, the Note Bingo(letter names on the staff) or Cover the Keys (letter names on the keys) Gameboards on Susan's site would also work fabulously.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Playing with Feeling Lab Assignment - Modern Examples

1. Watch the following performers and observe & write down the different ways they move their body to express the mood of the piece. (Arms, wrist, head, torso, elbows, etc.)
2. Write down 1 or 2 words to describe the mood of each piece.
3. Draw a picture or describe how you feel when you hear each piece or what images come to your mind.

"Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables

This "Dumb Song" by Jon Schmidt is definitely not for wimpy fingers. Keep up your Hanon practice if you want to play like this someday:0)

"Waterfall" by Jon Schmidt

Emily Bear 5 1/2 yrs old playing her own composition

"Pirates of the Caribbean" Jarrod Radnich

Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Online Music Game Resource - Tonic Tutor

Don't miss out on the opportunity this month to check out Tonic Tutor's September full free access. My students are loving the fun games on tonic tutor. For the month of September they are running a promotion where you can access all the features of the site for free. Some of the elements of this site that I really appreciate are:
  • The games are short... great for younger students with shorter attention spans who need a lot of variety during labtime.
  • The game rewards provide a lot of consistent positive reinforcement. Students earn "achievements" for things like time efficiency, 5 answers in a row correct, limiting listens, etc. Currently there is some friendly sibling rivalry going on at our house to get the most time in so they can win our Fall Fiesta Contest :) I never thought my kids would be fighting to play piano games! I appreciate that you can even customize the contests to motivate your students in different areas and give different students the chance to shine.
  • There is a short tutorial for each game so most students can figure out how to play them on their own.
  • Along with preset levels, teachers can change settings specific to their student's particular needs.
  • Students can access the site from home for extra practice in addition to games I assign them during studio labtime.
  • The games cover a variety of elements including auditory, visual, keyboard, notereading and rhythm skills.
  • The game difficulty ranges from early elementary skills to advanced skills.
Initially it took a while to set up all of my student's accounts and familiarize myself with all of the games to give appropriately leveled assignments, but I think the effort was well worth it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cool Songs for Cool Kids 2 Review

The "cool" songs in this intermediate level book by Gerald Simon have a sort of "Jon Schmidt style", but are a little more accessible to earlier piano grade students for those students who want to impress their friends with "hard-sounding" songs and have some fun in the process.
The first few pages of the book include a helpful theory overview of intervals (including augmented and diminished), swing style 8ths, the blues pentascale & L.H. barrelhouse blues, polka and rocking 5th patterns. Although the explanations might be a bit wordy for younger students, I like the framework provided that could act as a great springboard for further improv and composition for creative students.
As a teacher one of the things I find appealing are the relatively short length of the songs. The songs are just 1 or 2 pages with repetitive themes in different octaves and many repeating rhythm patterns. Most songs could easily be mastered in just 1 week. They would make a great "energizer" for busy teens if interspersed between regular lesson assignments.
The rhythm patterns are easily understood and the counts are written in for the first few measures of each song. Most songs include syncopated eighth note rhythms.
The book includes a good variety of pop moods/styles, from energized boogie, pop rock and polka songs like"Gigabyte Guru" and "Chillaxing" to relaxing new age, dreamy songs like "Wishful Thinking" and "Sweet Serenity." The music motivation site includes a full recording of nearly every song which is useful for both previewing to determine students level of interest in the book or listening prep activities to enable more successful mastery of the songs.

I mainly use this as a supplementary book, because the songs are fun to play and and can make great motivators, especially for the teenage students and boys. The songs in Book 2 are just a bit more challenging than Book 1 and require a comfortable octave hand stretch. Several include bass 1 8va ostinato patterns, walking bass, key signatures up to 2 sharps and 4 flats, triplets, syncopated accents, grace notes and glissandos.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Free Resource for Teaching Skips and More

One of my favorite pieces for reinforcing the concept of skips is a simplified version of “Scripture Power” (by Clive Romney) on the Layton Primary site. This energetic song is a familiar favorite for most of the children in our church congregation to sing during Primary singing time, so they get pretty excited when they get the chance to play this version fairly early on in their piano studies.

As a piano teacher I appreciate several elements of this piece.

-The first page is full of a catchy repetitive stepping pattern that gives students extra reinforcement reading “across the staff” (Bass, G, A,B – Treble CDE) and switching hands with fluency. I usually assign students just the first page for starters.

-The chorus on the second page which I assign them the following week has a great repeating theme including plenty of line to line skips.

- The rhythm is fairly simple, yet catchy and motivating to play.

- The lyrics are personally my favorite element of the song. As a piano teacher and parent my motivation for teaching is more than training great pianists. I’m hoping the skills and qualities involved in learning piano will be the means of character building for my own children and my other students. So I love the reminder of these words…

“Because I want to be like the Savior and I can,

I’m reading his instructions, I’m following his plan.

Because I want the power his words will give to me,

I’m changing how I live I’m changing what I’ll be.

Scripture power, Keeps me safe from sin.

Scripture power is the power is the power to win.

Scripture power, everyday I need the power that I get each time I read.”

Click here to hear a recording of this song.

The 2 most influential sources of inspiration in daily living for me have been inspirational music and daily scripture study/prayer. I feel indebted to both those who compose inspirational music and heroes like William Tyndale who paved the way for me to have daily access to God’s word. As I read about Tyndale in the following excerpt from an article by Boyd K. Packer my hope is that my children will come to appreciate both the power of inspiring music and inspiring scripture in daily living and pattern their lives after the heroes in the scriptures.

“It has been 400 years since the publication of the King James Bible, with significant contributions from William Tyndale, a great hero in my eyes.

The clergy did not want the Bible published in common English. They hounded Tyndale from place to place. He said to them, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou.”

Tyndale was betrayed and confined to a dark, freezing prison in Brussels for over a year. His clothing was in rags. He begged his captors for his coat and cap and candle, saying, “It is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark.” These were denied him. Eventually he was taken from prison and before a large crowd was strangled and burned at the stake. But William Tyndale’s work and martyr’s death were not in vain.

I am thankful for the privilege to live in an era of freedom and knowledge where I have daily access to God's word and music inspired by those who strive to follow him.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Piano Teaching 101- Thirteen Tips on How to Begin

Piano Teaching 101 - Thirteen Tips on how to begin teaching piano lessons

Piano Teaching 101: 13 Tips on How to Begin

In response to a recent query from a friend of mine who is interested in becoming a piano teacher, I compiled this quick "to do" list of elements that have proven valuable in my own piano teaching adventures.

1. Purchase some beginning method books and become familiar with them

My favorite beginner-level piano books are Piano Adventures by Nancy & Randall Faber. The wealth of online support ideas makes this a great book to start with for teachers who are just starting out, and their songs are appealing to students as well. I have my students purchase the Lesson and Technique books. I teach them theory with online activities and games during lessons and lab time and supplement with other books from my music library instead of using the Performance book.
Another favorite method of mine is Piano Pronto. The familiar songs with backing tracks are especially motivating and engaging for the beginning levels and provide a fun support system for home practice to spice up the "simple-sounding songs" at the start of music lessons. The presentation of concepts in both of these methods follows a similar order so I often interchange them to suit the tastes and needs of my students.

(Disclosure: I don't receive any monetary compensation for promoting any of the resources on this post-- they just happen to be some of my personal favorites:)! )

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hearing Half Steps Lab Assignment

1. Watch this video listening for the entrance of the "spooky sounding" character.
2. Create your own story composition that includes a "spooky" character and use half steps on the piano when he enters the story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Composition as a Reinforcement Tool

"Can I compose a Sonatina???"
That was the question posed to me by one of my students today after I introduced her to this simplified version of Clementi's Sonatina . She has demonstrated amazing composing/improv ability and "WOW's" my other students with the compositions that she performs at group lessons.

Last week I decided to capitalize on this interest of hers - She'd much rather compose her own songs than play the ones in the lesson book. She hadn't quite mastered the a harmonic minor scale from the week before, so I asked her to compose a song including an a harmonic scale rather than giving her the same assignment again. This ended up being the perfect solution and I was pleased to hear plenty of broken primary chords in her song as well.

So in my efforts to apply the ideas I've gleaned from recently reading "Play it Again, Sam - What Why and When to Repeat" (by Marienne Uszler), I decided to let her give it a try. Uszler mentions that effective teachers can present the same concept in a myriad of different ways and thus appeal to the various senses and learning styles of each student and aid in reinforcement of concepts.

Sometimes it takes a little courage for me to think outside the box of tools that my teachers passed on to me... composition was definitely not one of them. But based on last weeks lesson assignment results, I discarded my previous lesson plan ideas. My student seemed pretty intrigued with the Sonatina which I introduced to her go along with our focus this month on the Classical Era, so I taught a mini lesson on Sonatina form and briefly reviewed identifying relative keys. I asked her to come back next week with the beginnings of her composition including the following components:

Exposition (major),
Development (relative minor)
Recapitulation (reintroduce the major theme)
Contrasting Legato & Staccato elements
at least 1 scale

After she listened to Clementi's original composition on CD, I let her loose on the Doodle Pad for lab time. After hearing her "beginning stage of composition" on the Music Ace Doodle Pad that I had her create during lab time, I'm excited for next weeks lesson!

For more ideas about encouraging Composition check out Wendy's blog at Compose Create. Her posts have given me the inspiration and motivation to utilize composition as a tool in my studio more often.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Piano Pencil Storage Solution

Inspired by this cute gift can tutorial on "Our Best Bites" blog, I decided to create my own unique decorative piano pencil storage can. Now that my little one has figured out how to open my piano cabinets drawer and doors.... I've had to become a little more clever at hiding my piano tools from her inquisitive fingers (and mouth).
I bought several small pop top fruit cans to fill with mother's day treats... but someone opened up one can the wrong way before I could transform it, so I enjoyed the chocolate that was supposed to fill it and came up with this new use for it instead. I use colored pencils a lot in my teaching when I "Hand over the Pencil", so now I can store them all beautifully within my reach....
and out of hers.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Piano Mom

By the time I was 10 years old I was pretty certain about what I wanted to be when I grew up....
a piano teacher and a mom. I feel fortunate to now be "living my dream" although I never realized what a challenge it would be to balance the 2 roles. Thankfully I have an amazing husband who is totally supportive of my "piano dreams" and puts his Saturday morning chores aside to watch our children so I can have fun teaching my students.

"As we age, we begin to realize the value of a mother's love and the enormous depth of her commitment to us." (Anonymous)

I think the older I get, the more this truth is confirmed to me. As I try to balance my role as a mother of 5 and a piano teaching enthusiast, I reflect on the many sacrifices my mom made for me - driving across town to take me to piano lessons, putting off her own educational interests to help encourage me in mine. She continues to be mentor and an inspiration to me.

So sometimes when I think of my long list of "potential piano blog posts" and my motherly duties that I struggle to squeeze into my schedule, I think of the cross stitched quote that my mom had hanging on our wall growing up.

"Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow
For babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow
So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep
I'm rocking my babies and babies don't keep"

Only for me I replace the "cleaning and scrubbing" part with "blogging and browsing"---- because that's way more tempting for me than housework! :)

So when my posts are bit sparse, its because my "other job" has taken precedence. But my favorite thing is doing both of my "jobs" at the same time!

So this mother's day I reflect on the great blessing it is for me to have an "angel mother" and to have learned so much from her. Last Mother's day she gave me a beautiful book full of quotes and artwork about Mothers entitled "Errand of Angels - In Honor and Praise of Mothers." Following is one of my favorite quotes from it that I find applicable to both piano teaching and motherhood.

"As I come to understand the many talents and characteristics of women, I realize how needed their strengths are in this dispensation. We must remember that we are daughters of God here to provide nurturing care for one another, family and friends- loving care to soften the changes of life felt by all.

What a great opportunity we have to fill our God-given role. He has given us the privilege to shape the lives of those entrusted to our care. Even those of us who have not been blessed to have children of our own can still be influential as trainers and nurturers. It does not matter where we live, whether we are rich or poor, whether our family is large or small. Each of us can share that Christ-like love in our "motherly ministry."
Barbara Winder, former General Relief Society President

I feel so thankful to have 2 fun jobs where I can hopefully influence others lives for good just as my life has been blessed by my mother and countless other teachers.

Happy Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sweet Variation on an Edible Piano Theme

After seeing this fun edible sandwich piano on For Love of Piano my creative juices started to flow and I came up with this simpler, sweeter version made of snack size Kit Kat's (cut in half) and wafer cookies for treats at my Baroque group lesson today. We'll be taking a little "field trip" to explore the organ at the church
And just for fun... I made this pink version for my little "think pink" preschooler.

How about a lesson on skips on the keys?
Maybe next time I'll add in a healthier version with celery sticks for the white keys and baby carrots or red pepper strips for black keys.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

I love the peaceful music in this video and hope all of you enjoy a peaceful Easter today. I have enjoyed singing in our church choir the past few months with my husband. It brightens my day to have the words and music we sing flow through my thoughts at random times (like while doing dishes). I feel so happy to get to share new music with my piano students each week and add the the repertoire of music in their minds which will hopefully bring them joyful moments for years to come.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Piano Theory Posters

To help my students review have a little fun reviewing for their theory exams, I had them create a poster to present various musical concepts during their "lab time" and then they each had the opportunity to teach about their poster at group lessons. I love the different variations they came up with just a little clipart and markers.
(Jewel Notes worksheet from Susan Paradis - just a little "fancied up")

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rhythm Blocks Giveaway

I just added another fun piano teaching blog to my list - For Love of Piano. Leah is hosting a giveaway of some fun rhythm block manipulatives that would be very helpful for introducing compound meters. And while your visiting there... check out the inspiring quote on the top of her blog by William Ward - I love it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Egg Rhythm Hunt Hop

I find that "off the bench activities" are an essential ingredient for success in lessons for some of my younger students. To help some of my beginning students review basic note names and rhythms, I pulled out these cute "Easter Egg Find the Note Cards" available on Susan Paradis's website and added a new twist to the game.
1. Hide the rhythm cards in visible spots throughout the studio before the lesson.
2. Turn on your metronome to a walking speed.
2. Have the student glance around and call out a type of note to collect (quarter, half, whole, etc.).
3.Teacher and student hop (or step) around the studio to the rhythm of the note they are searching for.
4. When you spot a correct notecard, "race" back to set it on the bench - "hopping" the rhythm of the note to the beat of the metronome. The first one to the bench gets a point.
5. Have student choose a new type of note and repeat.
My students quickly learned that having the job of choosing the type of note is a definite advantage for them - they always picked the ones closest to them in the studio.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Let's Play Music

Doesn't that title just sound fun???
I was introduced to the "Let's Play Music" program by another teacher at one of our local music club meetings and I recently attended one of their "Connections" seminars to learn a little bit more about the program.

Theory Songs

The element that piqued my interest the most was the frequent use of songs as teaching tools for basic elements of music theory. I liked the catchy melody of "Every chord has got to have a root..." on their online video. Listening to it makes the words "The Note above the Gap's the Root, it just has rearranged" start jiving around in my brain. The program includes several other clever songs for teaching the concepts of intervals, inversions, scales and rhythm patterns.

Bubblehand Technique

I've been introducing my younger students to finger numbers with a variation of "Where is Thumbkin" for a while, but I really like this additional verse they add in "Let's Play Music" because it adds one more reminder of correct hand position - a concept that seems to need constant reinforcement with young beginners.

"Where is Bubblehand... Here I am... Fingers Flat are Trouble, Try to Use a Bubble..."

Musical Form Puppetshows
Another aspect of "Let's Play Music" that I am impressed with is that the students experience most musical concepts through movement, auditory or physical motions before learning the "labels." I think this approach especially helps young learns to internalize concepts better. The video on their site demonstrates how this is done with the use of puppets to help students learn about form while listening to classical music.

I am always eager to pick up new tidbits of piano teaching tips and was happy to walk away with several after attending this seminar.

Kit Kat Black Key Groups

The chocoholic in me was tempted with the idea to use Kit Kat's broken in groups of 2's and 3's as an introduction to black keys on the piano with this fun little rhyme-
"Find a group of 2, Down 1 is C
Find a group of 3, it's F yippee!".
Maybe I'll incorporate that idea in making my piano-loving-daughter's next birthday cake, because a stash of Kit Kat's in my piano things wouldn't last very long at our house :)

"Paint Ball" Staccatos and Slurs
When teaching staccato vs. legato I like the analogy they used of a ball dipped in paint. When you roll it smoothly across a blank page it leaves a line (slur), but when you bounce it, it leaves a dot (staccato mark). I don't think I'll be teaching this "experientially" - although I'm sure children would love it if I did!

If any of you have had experiences with "Let's Play Music" either as a teacher or teacher of former students, feel free to share a comment, or to learn more straight from the source visit the Let's Play Music Site.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review of "Cool Songs for Cool Kids"

“PLAY IT AGAIN!” That was my daughter’s first reaction after hearing me play some of the songs from" Cool Songs for Cool Kids " by Jerald Simon. This fun spiral bound book contains 21 original piano solos that are very appealing because of their use of syncopation, engaging rhythms and repeating patterns. Many of the songs sound a lot more challenging than they are to play and would make nice showy recital selections. The book includes a nice variety of upbeat styles including jazzy, bluesy, rock, “New-ageish” with a few mellow songs added in as well.

What level is this book suitable for?

Although a motivated “beginner” may be able to play some of the songs after some dedicated practice I think this book is more suitable for early intermediate/ intermediate students. The syncopated rhythms and frequent hand shifts in many of the songs may pose a challenge for the typical beginner student.

Do the songs have kid appeal?

Go listen and you be the judge! (Cool Songs for Cool Kids) As a teacher I found it especially helpful that the music motivation website includes a full recording of all of the songs in this book on his website as well an excerpt of the sheet music from the first lines of each song. When I first listened to the song samples I knew this would be an especially great book for the boys and teens in my studio but the girls like it too.

What about pedagogical elements?


The beginning of the book includes a 5 page overview of theoretical concepts contained in the book including a basic introduction/ review of rhythm, pentascales, melodic and harmonic intervals, triads, swing 8ths, blues pentascale. I think the explanations are oriented more towards a teen or adult student as a child might find them a bit wordy and need extra clarification from their teacher.


I like using the first song “Five, Four, Three, Two,One… BLAST OFF!” as a transposition exercise. It’s definitely more exciting to play than Hanon or scales and is a great aid to helping students get the “feel” all of the different 5 finger patterns in a fun way.

Feeling the Beat

Even my preschooler loves the way the songs sound in this book. When she heard me previewing the book, she was begging me to play some of them again so she could dance to the steady beat. I decided to have her join me on the bench for some steady beat “duets.” “Beat-cha to it” and “Deep Sea Diving” with repeating C’s in the bass throughout were the perfect avenue for her to practice playing a steady beat while I played the melody.


“Lefty” which is written entirely for the left hand, provides a nice springboard for a lesson on jazz improvisation where the student can add their own right hand part.

Rhythm Skills

Often I find that after my students have been introduced to a new rhythm concept they could benefit from more practice than just passing off the lesson/technique book songs. The songs in Cool Songs for Cool Kids are full of interesting and challenging rhythm patterns including dotted notes, eighth rests, accents to help students better refine their rhythm skills.

Free Scales and Drills pdfs
The free downloadable pdf files available on the music motivation site are an extra bonus. They include "Knee Slappers" (Rhythm Drills), Pentascales, Barrel House Blues Patterns, Chord Progressions, etc.

I definitely feel lucky to have been chosen as a winner of the giveaway for this book a few months ago. It's been a great addition in my studio!
Next on my wish list from the music motivation site is "Variations on Mary Had a Little Lamb." It sounds like an entertaining way to teach about music styles!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jewelry Giveaway with the Music Lover in Mind

My sister Kara is doing a great giveaway on her blog for some beautiful jewlery at Charmingly Chic Boutique. The music themed art on some of these pieces is just beautiful! Even if your not a big jewelry fan, some of these pieces would make great incentives for the girls in your studio.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Tool for Teaching Wrist Movements

New Tool for Teaching Wrist Movements in Piano Lessons, Teaching wrist rotation in piano with a tongue depressorToday my daughter was struggling to catch on to the concept of wrist rotation in her "Airplane Pilot" song which involves a lot of rotating back and forth from C to G w/ fingers 1 &5. But when we added some "wings" to her airplane with this simple tongue depressor the improvement was dramatic . The "wings" made her subtle movements much more obvious so she could easily visualize the rotation. I'm happy to be adding one more whimsy tool to my bag of piano tricks!
Next up might be a mini "wrist skirt" for her to wear while she dances her fingers on the keys...............anything "princess" is sure to win her heart!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meaningful Musical Memories

Music is such a powerful medium. It evokes emotion, aids in recall and often brings to mind significant memories from the past. I often feel inspired by the often musical "Sabbath Day Inspirations" that my sister Kara shares on her craft/cooking blog so I thought I'd share a few of my own from time to time.
This weekend I was asked to fill in for our children's chorister at church and help teach a beautiful new song by Sally Deford. Our church is a bit atypical because the services last 3 hours, which can be a bit of a challenge for the children. As I listened to the song on repeat throughout the week I enjoyed hearing my little girl sing along and pondered how I could teach the song in an intriguing way and make the words from the following verse meaningful for the children.

"I feel the Holy Spirit as he teaches truth and right
He comforts me in times of need, he testifies of Christ
He speaks to me in quiet ways that fill my soul with peace
And when I listen with my heart, I hear the Savior's voice."

The lyrics brought to my mind an experience I had several years ago when I was pregnant with our 3rd child. I went in for the routine ultrasound mid-pregnancy and was informed by the ultrasound tech that our son had several cysts on his brain which are sometimes link to a serious chromosomal disorder. The tech was unable to get a clear picture of his heart so we scheduled another ultrasound the following week at the hospital where they had more high-tech equipment.
Throughout the week I thought about the many implications of the situation and felt a bit unsettled. Would our son even make it full-term? Would he ever walk or talk? How would this alter the lives of our little family? I reflected on the families I had known who had children or siblings with special needs and realized that despite the challenges we could be facing... it could also be an amazing blessing to have this special child enter our home and help all of us learn to be a bit more sensitive, kind and patient as I had witnessed in these other families. I said many prayers and felt much comfort and peace knowing that no matter what the results of the ultrasound were, the Lord would help us through it all.
Much to our relief, when we went in for the follow-up ultrasound it ended up that the cysts were completely gone and his heart was developing normally. He's now my healthy, energetic, happy, (sometimes stubborn) 6 year old who...

emphatically declared to me this week that he is done practicing the piano for good !
I guess my challenges aren't over yet :)

I am thankful for the chance that learning this song gave me to remember one of the many "tender mercies of the Lord" in my life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Time Signature Song

Do your students ever have trouble remembering the meaning of the numbers in the time signature for state theory tests? I came up with this little song to help my students be better prepared this year.

The Time Signature Song
(sung to the tune of London Bridges)

The Time Signature has
2 Numbers, 2 Numbers, 2 Numbers
The Time Signature has 2 Numbers
Now let's learn what they mean.

The top # tells us
How many beats, how many beats, how many beats
The top # tells us how many beats
Are in a measure.

The bottom # tells us
What kind of note, what kind of note, what kind of note
The bottom # tells us what kind of note
Gets one beat.

This bit of inspiration was sparked by the catchy quarter note song on this video from the Faber Piano Adventures Teacher's guide . I've been hearing my son sing "It's got a head and a stem and its all colored in... " around the house all week after I introduced it to him at his lesson.

Anne Crosby Gaudet has some other fun songs for teaching about the bass and treble clef on her Piano Discoveries site .

Do you know any other songs you use to help teach theory concepts?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Clever Music Game

Thanks to a tip from Jeana's blog I picked up this Jenga style game for $5 at the local Family Dollar over the holidays and transformed it into Music Jenga. My students (and family) have enjoyed playing this game to start out their lessons this week.
I chose different colors to represent the different levels of terms/rhythms, but since it was hard to tell the blue and purple apart I turned all of the purple dots on the ends into notes. I put terms or symbols on 2 of the sides and plan to write 2 measure rhythms on the other 2 sides to create a more versatile game that I can adapt depending on what the student needs to work on.
I tweek the rules a bit depending on the student. For students who have been taking lessons for a few years I require them to pick another block if they can't define the terms.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Organizing Piano Books in the Studio Library

Organizing piano music can be a challenge since the majority of the book spines are so small that the title/color of the book isn't obvious when they are stacked on a bookshelf. I use these handy circle dots to color code all of my music by levels that correspond with the colors of the Hal Leonard method books I began teaching with (Level 1 Blue, Level 2 Purple, etc.). The colored dots "move up" the spine of the book as the level of difficulty of the music increases. For books with various levels of pieces I add multiple stickers. This has come in handy not only when I'm trying to locate a specific book, but also when I need a quick sightreading piece that is a level below a student's current playing abilities.
I also add a sticky name/address label on the back of all the music in my studio library to distinguish it from my students books and help them remember to return it to me.
I have loved the sticker color coded system with piano books so much, I decided to organize our children's books with stickers too. I chose different colors for nonfiction books, Accelerated Reader Books, Board Books, Early Readers, etc.  It makes it a lot easier to find a particular book, and when my kids put them away they just have to look at the colored sticker on the spine to find where it goes on the shelf.