Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Joy to the World Scale + Harmony Experiment

Practicing Scales & Chord Progressions.... What's the point????

I came up with this little seasonal exercise to help my students practice applying their scale & chord progression knowledge (I, IV, V7) to a familiar Christmas tune.  I like how it helps them to see the practical application of technical exercises in everyday music.
1.  Starting on C play the opening melody to Joy to the World with your Right Hand (Descending C Major scale). "Joy to the World, the Lord is Come"

2. Play again adding a C Major root chord in the left on each note of the melody. Does that sound good to you?

3.Experiment changing the C Major root chords to IV (F) or V7 (G) chords until the left hand chords harmonize well with the melody line.  Hint: To sound like traditional Joy to the World, choose chords that include at least one note from the melody line.  For example if you are playing C in the right hand a C chord (CEG) or F chord  2nd inversion (CFA) will sound better than G7 (BFG).

Additional Challenges:
4. Add your chord choices to the Music Ace Doodle Pad.
5. Once you've finalized your chord choices, try omitting a few of the left hand chords for a more legato sound.
6.  Transpose the opening theme of Joy to the World to the keys of G, D, A, E & F Major.
7.  Improvise the left hand chords.  Try playing open fifths, broken or arpeggiated chords.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Teaching Basic Fingering Rules

What finger do I start on?

My students who are used to method books where fingering is typically spelled out for them sometimes draw a blank when they try some supplemental music with no fingering guidelines.
Transitioning from method books where the fingering is suggested for students, to simplified hymns or supplemental piano music with no fingering guidelines can be a bit of a challenge. 

Rather than giving them fish (prescribing the best fingering), I want to be better at teaching them to fish (show them how to choose the best fingering for them for each situation.)
I like to start with Martha Beth Lewis's basic fingering Rules.
1.Thou shalt not hop.
2. In any finger crossing, thou shalt use a thumb.
Although my teachers spent a lot of time teaching proper scale, arpeggio & chord fingering, I don't remember a lot of emphasis being placed on how to apply fingering rules into my music.

Following are my step by step instructions to help my student choose appropriate fingering for a simplified version of one of my favorite Thanksgiving Hymns - "We Gather Together" .
 Steps for selecting appropriate fingering.
1. Goal: Play phrases Legato.  First identify and mark the phrases in the song.  Use the words and punctuation as your clues.
2. "Block" the Left Hand notes one phrase at a time
3. Identify phrases including notes larger than a 5 finger span.
4. Write in the fingering at the beginning of each phrase. "Floating off" (a delicate hop) to a new position between phrases is okay.
5. Remember, "Thou shalt not finger hop" (within the phrase).  Decide which fingering technique works the best - Expansion, Contraction, Finger Crossing or Finger Substitution.  Listen carefully as you play with your selected fingering to make sure it doesn't have create awkward accented notes.
Write in the fingering you have chosen and which strategy you used.

 For more helpful fingering guidelines visit the following link at
7 Rules of Piano Fingering

P.S. It's hard to believe those little fingers in the picture are now big enough for my little girl to "color" all over my music now & play on the keys.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lyric Composition Contest GMajor Music

While browsing to find one of my student's favorite Halloween pieces, "Big Bad Goblin Blues" (available at gmajormusic), I spotted this fun  "write your own lyrics" contest opportunity that has a monetary reward.  I think it will be the perfect thing for some of my students to fulfill their Creative Project on this year's "This is Your Brain on Music" incentive.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fun Way to Review Music Concepts Online - Quizlet

I stumbled on Quizlet this morning while searching for an easy way to help students remember the order and definition of tempo terms.  My favorite element is the "Space Race" game where you can improve both your typing skills and music knowledge as you race to "kill" the term by typing in its name or definition before it slides off the screen.
In Piano there are over 600 flashcard sets, or you can create your own customized set.  Following are just a few of the concepts quizlet could be useful for:

Key Signatures
Theory Terms
Note Names

Certificate of Merit
Piano Composers and their Historical Periods

I have created several quizlet sets to review theory terms and also have links to others organized by level on my Piano Lab page.
Quizlet Music Theory Terms & Signs  Level 2 (Hal Leonard)
Quizlet Music Theory Terms & Signs Level 3
Quizlet Music Theory Terms  & Signs Level 4
Quizlet Music Theory Terms  & Signs Level 5

I would have loved this in grade school!  It's definitely more fun than ordinary 3x5 cards I used to study in school. Something about having the message pop up at the end that says "Good Start... now beat that score, " just makes me want to play again :).

I was grateful to be sidetracked, although I didn't find the answer to my original search.  Does anyone have a great acronym, story, etc. to help students remember the order of tempo terms?

The best I can come up with involves a
Grandfather (Grave)
L (Largo)
L (Larghetto)
L (Lento)
A (Adagio)
A (Andante)

A (Andantino)
M (Moderato)
A (Allegretto)
A (Allegro)
 aspiring to be the
Vice (Vivace)
President (Presto)
P (Prestissimo)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Favorite Piano Teaching Tips from Helen Marlais Workshop

I love picking up fresh ideas and important reminders from any piano teaching workshop I have the privilege of attending.  Following are a few ideas from my notes at Dr. Marlais seminar:

  • Remember to focus on the entire playing mechanism (fingers, wrists, forearm, shoulders).  Just as a runner uses more than just their feet to run, a pianist plays with more than just their fingers. Continually reiterate the importance of arm weight (relaxed shoulders) weight transfer (flexible wrists).
  • Prescription for fixing 'finger dents' - Tap rhythms with a curved hand instead of clapping or do finger pushups against the wall for warmups.
  • For  appropriate balance  in pieces with Left Hand melody stand behind the student and ghost-play on their shoulders with exaggerated arm weight in the left hand so they can FEEL the weight emphasis as they play.
  • To teach 2-note slurs wrist motion analogy- pull a tissue from a tissue box.
  • To help students focus on wrist motion at phrase endings (2 note slurs or "rainbows" across several octaves) add a pony tail holder with a ball on top & have them watch the bunny tail hop up at the end of each phrase.  I thought some of my girl students would like this better than my airplane wings wrist movement tool
  • To focus on arm leading while playing ascending scales imagine a string attached to your right elbow pulling it slightly ahead of your hand.
  • Variations of Staccato - For a crisper sound use  a "kick-off" wrist where arm and wrist stay as one unit.  Rebound staccato is more like a bouncing a basketball with a flexible "push-off" wrist.
  • Tonic (I) is Home where "I" live, Dominant (V) is a "V" for vacation, Leading Tone (visualize a road) leading back to Home (I)
  • Intervallic Reading + Rhythmic Awareness - Line up interval flashcards and have students name them to the beat of the metromone (Up- 2nd, Down-4th, Down-3rd, Up-5th, etc.)
  • When introducing 6/8 time have student sway on the strong beats while chanting the words to the song (1,2,3,   4,5,6,)
Performance Anxiety
  • To reduce perfectionistic tendencies, don't focus too closely or get anxious over small imperfections.  Even a garden that looks great from afar may have small holes in the leaves from bugs but it still leaves a beautiful impression :)
Dr. Marlais showcased her new method series "Succeeding at the Piano." Following are a few of my favorite aspects of this new series.
  • Emphasis on intervallic reading & guide notes
  • Technique concepts introduced through multiple analogies
  • Books come with accompanying CD's including practice tips, performance speeds and orchestration 
A few of her other publications that I enjoy are:

In Recital with Jazz, Blues & Rags  - The pieces in the early level books are so fun for students and make a great introduction to jazz styles.  I also love the accompanying CDs.
Succeeding with the Masters Series  (BaroqueClassical, Romantic affiliate links). I find the Practice Strategies & Historical & stylistic information accompanying each piece to be very helpful which sets them apart from some other collections of classical repertoire I was instructed with.  The supporting CD helps to clarify concepts so the student can hear examples of the skills applying to each piece. It's like bringing your piano teacher home with you to demonstrate appropriate practice :)
Currently one of the most viewed post on my blog is the Lab Assignment I created to go with In Recital with Classical Themes Volume 1, so obviously some other teachers are a fan of this series as well.

Some of the products linked in my posts may be affiliate links, earning me a small commission on any products purchased via that link.

Good Things:

Adding new teaching tricks to my bag
Browsing through new music
My Amazing Husband who took the day off and took our 6 kids to the zoo I could attend this!
Sunny Summer Days

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Piano Lab Free Online Resources- Level 1

 In addition to the music software programs I've purchased for my lab (Music Ace, Midisaurus, Ear Training Expedition,  PBJ, etc.) the following free online resources add a fun variety of activities for my elementary music students to do independently during piano lab time.
SP-Susan Paradis
CC-Compose Create (Teaching Resources & Students Web Rewards Tabs)
CIMP- Color in My Piano
MLC- Music Learning Community (Free Games)
Piano Discoveries
MMB- Music Matters Blog
Tonic Tutor
Happy Note
Classics for Kids (I typically have students listen to "This Week's Show")

Following is a list organized by concept. Do you have any other favorites to add to the list for this level?

LH/RH  & Finger Numbers
SP Colorful Fingers printable

Same/Diff. Melodies
MLC Smiley & Friends
Going Up/Down
MLC Storm Chasers

Tonic Tutor Stick People
Note Names QH
MLC Meteor Match
Note Names QHW
Happy Note Space
Rhythm QHWqr
CC Note Value printable

SP Drawing Notes printable
Ear Training Rhythm
Tonic Tutor Dancing Jelly Beans
White Key Names
Tonic Tutor Piano Keys

MLC Letter Fly CDE

MLC Letter Fly FGAB

SP Hide the Pumpkin printable

CC White Key Notes printable Piano Keys Quiz
Up/Down on Staff
WPS Moving Up and Down worksheet

SP ABC;s on Staff Worksheet
Bass Clef F &G
Happy Note Bass Clef F & G

Candy Corn Note Puzzle Bass FGAB

CIMP Bass Clef Dot to Dot printable
Bass & Treble Clefs
CC Drawing Clefs printable

Piano Discoveries Barnyard Video/Wkst/Online Games

CIMP Treble Clef Dot to Dot printable

SP Guide Notes Worksheet in order

SP Guide Notes Worksheet random
Staff Treble CDEFG
Happy Note Treble Clef CDEFG
MLC Page Turner Treb CDEFG play 2x
Treble Staff
MLC Page Turner Treble FACE play 2x Treblebeg
Tonic Tutor Lasers

CC Landmark Notes Crossword printable
Notes on Staff
Tonic Tutor Note Bird
Steps and Skips
Tonic Tutor Jungle Journey

CC Steps and Skips Worksheet

Theta Chord Spells Level 1 (40)
E.T Melody
Tonic Tutor Robot
Rhythm Recognition
Tonic Tutor Piggybank
Theory Terms
Tonic Tutor Boxing Glove
Hearing Steps/Skips
Big ears Intervals-:P1(repeat), M2(st), M3(sk)

Theta Paddle Pitch Level 1 (40)
Hearing W H Qt easy whole,quarter,half

Theta Flash Rhythms Level 1 (40)
Half Steps Whole Steps
CC Half Steps/Whole Steps Printable

MMB Half/Whole Step/Skip Printable
Level 1 Practice Test (for purchase on Compose Create)

CIMP Review Test A

CIMP Review Test B

CC Web Rewards Level 1

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Organizing Piano Games

Piano Studio organization is a work in progress. 
I've tried several different methods to organize my games & this is the best I've come up with for now.
I store my gamecards in these small plastic totes, inside of a larger plastic tub with a lid.

Labels on the top of each box help me remember the contents of each box.

Thanks to a helpful tip from another blogger, I purchased these expandable files to store my flat gameboards  in.  I originally tried to add the gamecards too so they could all be in one place, but I didn't like the bulkiness it created.

I printed  tiny images of the contents on one sheet of paper so I can see at a glance which games are stored inside.

The games fit snugly inside this old tv cabinet beside my piano for easy access during lessons.  
 I also keep my teaching binders, most often used piano books for checkout inside.  I love having it close by but behind closed doors.
My own children's piano bags are stored right next to the piano.

But soon all of my games and music library materials will be happily moving to a new home that is almost 3x larger! We have a large tv armoire (a great Craig's list find)  that I plan to put a few shelves in.  Then I can store all of my music in the large space for the tv and put all of the games and other tools underneath in the video storage area.
For more piano games organization tips check out this "Game Materials Organization"post by Joy ... (the inspiration for this post:)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Piano Lab Assignment Sheets

Creating and organizing my piano lab curriculum has been a long ongoing process. After going to a local piano teacher's seminar by Renee Lacey (creator of Ear Training Expedition), I decided to organize my own list Computer Lab Activities to directly correlate with the order of concepts introduced in the method books I typically use.
Renee has a booklet for sale with lab lesson plans utilizing various software programs and organized by rotating weekly themes (see more under Leveled/Topical Approach in this post). For my friend who has a large studio this has been a great asset. I chose to come up with my own curriculum instead so that I could more flexibly implement other online resources, avoid the cost of new software and cater to my students specific needs.
I have a durable plastic colored folder for each of my students that includes their Piano Lab Assignment Tracking Sheet. Following is a small sample of my Level 1 Activities. To the right of the activity there is a column for "Date Assigned," "Score,"(recorded by student) and "Done"(checked off by teacher). By color-coding the activities (Green-online, Black-lab binder w/ dry erase markers, Red-Music Ace, etc.) I can more easily prep for lessons. Before or after lessons it only takes me a minute or two to scan each students checklist, check progress & move the highlighter tape to the activities I'd like them to complete next. If they have mastered a concept (like white key names) before completing all the activities, I skip to the next concept. It is helpful for me to have them all listed for students who need the extra reinforcement



LH/RH & Finger Numbers

SP Colorful Fingers worksheet

Tonic Tutor Blue Finger Puppets


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

Going Up/Down

MLC Storm Chasers play 2x

Ear Training Exped P1 Level 1 Unit 2

Note Names QH

MLC Meteor Match play 2x

Note Names QHW

Happy Note Space

Rhythm QHWqr

WPS Note Value Worksheet

Draw qr 4/4 measure

Theory pg 10-14 (draw rests, measures)

Adagio Allegro

Midisaurus Fast and Slow

Rhythm Steady Beat

Music Ace Lesson 3 Beat and Tempo

Music Ace Game 3

White Key Names

Midisaurus Music Alphabet

MLC Letter Fly CDE

MLC Letter Fly FGAB

Tonic Tutor Piano Keys

Alfred Name That Key

SP Hide the Pumpkin Worksheet

WPS White Key Notes Worksheet Piano Keys Quiz

Music Ace Lesson 5 ABC’s of Keyboard

Music Ace Game 5

Music Ace Lesson 7 More Piano ABC’s

Music Ace Lesson 7


Midisaurus Loud and Soft

Theory pgs 22-25 f/p complete measure

I also typically have them start lab by listening to the weekly Classics for Kids program (about 5 min).

Sometimes if a student is making fast progress, I allow them to choose their own activities from the link list on my blog, beat their own high scores or just create their own songs on the Music Ace Doodle Pad.
After they are familiar with the analysis process I also assign them listening & analysis tasks specific to the song they are learning, but I don't track this on their assignment sheet.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Organizing My Teaching Tools: Piano Teaching Binders

After several years of finding a treasure trove of online piano teaching resources, I decided to compile my most often used on the bench teaching aids into a couple of binders with tabbed dividers w/ sheet protectors. It's so convenient to have my note naming, sightreading & rhythm drills all in one place as students work to compete in the Piano Summer Olympics Events.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Piano Keyboard ABC's Fun Learning Video

I just came across this fun short video on Youtube to teach about white key letter names.  I love the clever animation!

Free Staff Notes Game Online - Staff Wars

If you haven't played Staff Wars - watch out! You might get addicted :) Over the past few days I've discovered how engaging (and addictive) this free downloadable game can be for kids.  Its a great addition to my piano lab. One element of my studio summer piano incentive "Music Olympics" is for students to track their scores on Staff Wars (from The Music Interactive-Classroom Apps ).  My son is determined to stay in the lead in this particular event and is willing to clean his room, do his chores and practice piano so he can try and advance past level 8.    I'm loving his motivation and improved note reading skills!
In this game the notes slide across the staff and as the student clicks on the correct letter name the note explodes.  After each set of 10 correct answers you advance a level and the notes (and background music) increase in speed.  You can select Treble, Bass or Alto Clef.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Piano Lab: Listening & Analysis Activities Hal Leonard Book 4

In addition to the online music games, music software and (rarely used) theory books in my piano lab, for late elementary students, I put together a list of analysis tasks specific to the music in their lesson books.
I begin analysis activities with my students very early by having them color various elements of their music (see this post "Hand Over the Pencil - Actively Engaging Music Students").
As they become more familiar with this process, I assign them analysis/ear training tasks to work on independently during Piano Lab Time to go along with the specific pieces in their lesson book. With this approach, the theory, ear training and analysis activities are more meaningful because they are directly relevant to the music they are currently learning to play.
I store the printout of these lesson book lab assignments in a correlating color coded 3 ring binder with other related theory worksheets corresponding with the lesson book concepts.  Sheet protectors & dry erase markers save me a ton in printing costs!

For example, following are the Lab Activities I have outlined for Hal Leonard Lesson Book 4 (with  CD):
Rustic Dance (p. 5)
  1. Listen to CD and write in your music if each line sounds major or minor.
  2. Find and Label 5 C Major Scales
  3. Find and Label 1 a minor scale.
  4. Label each of the following measures in your music as either contrary or parallel motion.
Measure 13, 14, 15 & 17
  1. What does D.C. al Coda mean?______________________________________________

Carpet Ride (p. 6)
1.  Listen to the CD and think of a different title for this piece__________________________________
2.  Write the beats in the measures on the first line.
3.  Color the ties blue.
4.   Color the slurs green.
5.  Color the dynamics in your music.

Mister Banjo (p. 8)
1.  Listen to the CD and listen for major and minor sections.  Draw a blue line over the minor sections and a yellow line over the major sections.
2.  Write the beats in the first line of music.
3. Trace over all of the eighth rests using a colored pencil.
4.  Look at the sharps and flats in this song (accidentals).  Decide what key the piece is in and write the key signature at the beginning of each line.
5.  What does D.C. al Fine mean?______________________________________

Morning Bells (p. 9)
1.  Listen to the CD and decide which hand has the melody in each line.  Color the treble clef on the lines where the Right hand plays the melody.  Color the bass clef on the lines where the bass clef plays the melody.
2.  Listen to the CD again and pretend you are pedaling by moving your right foot up and down immediately after the first beat in each measure.
3.  Color all of the accents red.
4.  Color the dynamics.
Ribbons (p. 10)
1.  Listen to the CD and tap the rhythm while counting aloud.
2.  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.
3. Which measure has a different rhythm then the rest?______________
4.  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)
5.  Define a tempo______________________
6.  Define loco _________________________________
Calypso Cat (p. 13)
1.  Label all of the C scales
2.  Write beats in measures 1-8.
3.  Listen to CD and tap and count the rhythm.
4.  Color all the accents red
5.  What is the relative minor key to the key signature of this piece?____________________

Jig (p. 14)
1.  Listen to the Cd.  Where does the melody switch to the left hand?_______________
2.  Write the beats in the first line.
3.  Listen to the CD again clapping on the first beat of each measure and counting aloud (1,2,3, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,…etc.)
4.  Color the Intervals of a 6th in a left hand. (Hint: 6ths go from a line to a space or from a space to a line).
5.  Draw rainbows where your right hand “glides” over your left hand

Two-Four-Six-Eight (p. 16)
1.  Write beats on the first page. Write beats 1 & 4 larger or darker (1,2,3,4,5,6,) to show emphasis.
2.  Listen to the CD counting aloud and clapping on beats 1 & 4 (1,2,3,4,5,6   1,2,3,4,5,6,etc.)
3.  Draw a yellow line below the measures where the Tonic(I) is the bass note.  Draw a blue line below the measures where the Subdominant(IV) is the bass note and draw red line below the measures where the Dominant(V) is the bass note.
4.  Draw arrows in your music to show spots where the Left hand position shifts up or down (For example at the end of measure 4 you have to jump your 5th finger up from bass C to F to play the notes in measure 5)
5.  Find and color harmonic 5ths, 6ths and 7ths in the left hand. (Choose 3 different colors)
6.  Write how many measures in the song you can spot each of the sample rhythms in the blue box at the top of p. 16.

Allegro (p. 20)
1.  Listen to the CD and tap the Left hand saying “sh” for each of the rests.
2.  Which 2 lines are the same?  _________________  Label the Form of this piece.
3.  Find and label the a minor and C major scales.

Etude (p. 21)
1.  Listen to the CD and think of another name for this piece.  ____________________
2.  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

Take it Easy (p. 22)
1.  Write Roman Numerals ( I, IV, or V) next to the chord letter names.
2.  Color the tonic chords yellow, subdominant chords blue and dominant chords red.

Close By (p. 23)
1.  Write Roman Numerals next to the chord letter names.
Jumping Beans (p.24)
1.  Label the left hand chords by letter name.
2.  Color the tonic chords yellow, subdominant chords blue and dominant chords red.
3.  Find and label 2 C pentascales.
4.  Color the octaves (intervals of an 8th).
Relay Race (p. 25)
1.  Find and label the I & V7 chords.
2.  Listen to the CD.  Does the left hand measures 9-16 play the same melody as the right hand measures 1-8?  ____________________________________

A Minor Tango (p. 26)
1.  Write in the beats for each measure.
2.  Listen to CD and tap the rhythm.
3.  Label chords with roman numerals.
4.  What is the relative Major of a minor?___________________

All the Pretty Little Horses (p. 27)
1.  Color and label Primary Chords ( I, IV & V7)
2.  Color dynamics

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho (p. 28-29)
1.  Write the beats in the first line of each variation.
2.  Listen to the CD and tap and count the rhythms
3.  Circle the variation that you like the best
Traditional                   Classical                             Swing

Spanish Dance (p. 31)
1.   Find and label 2 G scales
2.  Circle all of the F#s with a Red Pencil
3.  Listen to the CD and label the form of this song
4.  What beat does this song start on.
5.  Define loco_________________
6.  Define Vivace______________________

True Blues (p. 32-33)
1. Color the ties yellow.
2.  Listen to the CD and tap the Right and Left Hand rhythms.
3.  Find where the 1st line repeats and draw a colored line over both sections.
4.  Common Time (4/4) has the feeling of ___________ beats per measure; Cut time (2/2) changes the feeling to __________ beats per measure.

Blues For a Count (p. 34)
1.  Write beats in the first line
2.  Color triplets starting with D-yellow, G-Blue and A-Red
3.  Color R.H. intervals with the top note C-yellow, F-Blue and G-Red
4.  Listen to the CD and tap and count the rhythm.

Doo Wop Ditty (p. 35)
1.  Color all of the C chords in the left hand.
2.  How many times does the left hand pattern repeat?
3.  What key is this piece in?   __________
4.  Listen to the CD and tap and count the rhythm.

Wandering (p. 37)
1.  Define Adagio _________________
2.  Write the beats in the first 2 lines. 
3.  Listen to the CD and tap and count the rhythm
4.  Color the melody line.

Ready to Rock! (p. 38) 
1.  What key is this piece in?
2.  Find and circle all of the F#s in red.
3.  Add Roman Numerals (I,IV,V) beside the chord letter names

The Bass Singer (p. 39)
1.  What 2 lines are the same?________________
2.  Color and label the chords with the letter name above (G) and Roman Numeral below (I).
3.  Write in the beats for the first  2 lines.
4.  Listen to the Cd and tap the melody line with more arm weight than the harmony.

On the Prowl (p. 40)
1.  Add Roman #s under the chords and color the i-yellow, iv-blue and V-red.
2.  Listen to the CD and tap the melody line with more arm weight than the harmony.