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.