Friday, December 29, 2017

A Game that Gets Your Piano Students Begging to Review Note Names

I love to "hook" my piano students attention at the beginning of every lesson with a fun off the bench activity that teaches music concepts, so I'm always on the lookout for good games at the thrift store that I can adapt for my musical purposes.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Piano Pivot - What can piano lessons do for you?

Each year I have a tradition of setting social, physical, intellectual and spiritual new year's resolutions based on the scripture (Luke 2:52). This year taking part in the piano pivot webinar by Nicola Cantan and Tim Topham got me thinking about goals a little earlier than normal. After filling out "My Dream Student in 5-10 years" worksheet identified 8 key elements I hope my students will develop and then mapped out how I plan to incorporate these into my lessons this upcoming year. I already do a lot of activities in my studio to incorporate the foundational skills of note reading, rhythm and chords and artistic playing but would like to incorporate more of the fun extras that I didn't get much exposure to in my traditional lessons as a child. Here are some of the key elements I hope my students will acquire in their music study.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Five Fabulous Finds To Tune up Your Piano Teaching and Your Body

When the weather outside gets frightful... and it often does in Rexburg, I love having resources I can easily access at home to improve my piano teaching.
After taking part in Piano Pivot I've been getting a jump start on my piano teaching goals for the new year and have jumped full swing into finding resources that will help me better lead my piano students to become the long-term "dream student" I have envisioned.  This includes both a passion for making music they love and acquiring the foundational skills necessary to achieve that.
In my quest to find more resources to achieve my goals of
Teaching more Improvisation and Chord Understanding and Encouraging Effective Practice next year

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Music to "Light the World"

This Christmas I revisited this Christmas Canon Chords Improv activity with some of my students. I love seeing the beautiful music they can create when they have a solid understanding of the chord framework behind so much of the familiar music. Canon in D just "speaks" the feelings of Christmas to me, even though it is not a traditional Christmas piece.  This Christmas as I listened to this Light the World video I loved the background music and the meaning of the 25-day challenge as well.  When I went to the piano to pick out the melody and chords by ear, I discovered that it begins with the same chords as my favorite soothing "Canon".
Light the World

This video clip for Day 12 featuring Jon Schmidt from the Piano Guys was especially meaningful.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Piano Group Lesson Plans for Beginners

One of my favorite parts of being a piano teacher is having my students come together for group lessons to play games and have the chance to perform regularly for each other.  Rather than reinventing the wheel each month I have found a galore of fun free activities online and usually add a few of my own to the mix.  This month's main focus was on rhythm and note reading with some key signatures for more advanced students.
Intro Activity: Note naming worksheets & rhythmic dictation

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Delight your Piano Students with a Reindeer Rhythm Track Game Mashup

Piano Teaching Game, Reindeer Rhythm Mashup

I decided to do a mashup of 3 fun free games with my piano students this Christmas season to start out their lessons with a multi-concept review game. This game combines notereading, rhythm and intervals into one quick activity. First I printed Susan Paradis' Reindeer Tracks Gameboard and then grabbed a die and the set of her Pot of Gold Game cards that I had on hand.  These include multiple concepts such as note naming, intervals, key signatures and theory terms/signs.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Free Christmas Themed Piano Teaching Resource Roundup

Piano Teaching Christmas

While rounding up free Christmas themed resources and ideas that I have gathered over the years for my upcoming Christmas Piano Group Lesson and found some gems that I have used in the past but had forgotten about. I hope you enjoy using some of these fun activities with your students this Christmas season! The game links are organized by concept with links to free Christmas music and improv activities listed at the bottom. Update: Unfortunately some of the resources are no longer free since this post was created years ago, but I come back to them year after year for Christmas piano fun.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Easy Piano Festival Refreshments

Fudge Mint Brownies and Cherry Almond Sheet Cake
Almond Sheet Cake and Fudge Mint Brownies
Today I was in charge of preparing a lunch for all of our music club festival judges at Fall festival.  Since I had a conflicting event, I needed something easy to prepare and transport that could feed a crowd without needing refrigeration.  I chose prepared items from the store for the lunch, but I love the taste of homemade desserts so much more than store-bought treats. I made 2 different desserts to top off the meal. Since they both are a bit denser than traditional cake the cleanup was a snap with minimal crumbs although with a crowd of children that might be a different story. :)
I chose two of my favorite desserts from my sister Kara's cooking blog-  Her pictures definitely look more decadent than mine!
Since both of these recipes are usually made in a larger sheet cake pan that is harder to transport, I picked up some 9x13 cake pans with lids from the Dollar Tree and split the batter between them and it worked just fine.

I think the Almond Sheet Cake is even better with some topping although it tastes great alone too.  I just bought some cherry pie filling for ease but Kara uses homemade raspberry sauce.  The frosting on these is very forgiving and I love how it is perfectly smooth after you pour it on.  Doesn't this look divine?

Unfortunately, I learned this month the hard way (with kidney stones) that having a daily dose of chocolate may not be the best choice for me, but I still crave it! I skipped the chocolate topping on these Best Ever Mint Brownies but they were still delicious.  I love how both of these desserts require much less prep work than cookies and easily feed a crowd.  The "crowd" of 8 in my home can easily devour a pan in just one night!
It is my sister who I can thank for inspiring me to join the blogging world and take up the piano lessons in the first place!  After she decided that piano was not her thing and she begged to quit, I volunteered to go in her place and loved it from the start. She later discovered her niche in cooking and crafting and definitely tops me in the world of successful blogging!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Theory Headbandz Group Music Game

Music Teaching Theory Group Game
If you are looking for a fun interactive way to reinforce music terms and symbols Hedbanz is a great place to start! I used this musical twist on Hedbanz as the opening game for my Spooktacular Halloween Monster Mash group lessons this month and again for the UVMTA workshop I taught on maximizing learning through creative activities in music lessons.  
My kids love the traditional version of Hedbanz where you try and guess the word or picture on your card while others act it out for you... kind of a group twist on charades.   I have also attended several parties where you get a name of a well-known person stuck to your back and then must ask yes or no questions to figure out your identity.  The Hedbanz just make it a lot easier for everyone to see who you are.  So I melded these two games by adding a flashcard (hidden from the student's view) to the top of their hedbanz as they entered. They had to ask questions to other students to try and figure out their identity.  Am I a rhythm? Do I tell you how fast to play?  I love how this activity really engaged all of the students at once because they not only had to think of effective questions to narrow down the possibilities of their term, but they also had to answer questions to help others identify who they were.  Since I just used traditional flashcards, even beginning students who may not have known all of the terms could peek at the answers on backs of others cards if needed to be able to know the name and meaning of their terms.

Monday, October 16, 2017

There once was an Ant Named Andante...

ANdANTe = Walking Speed
There once was an ANT named ANdANTe.  He was a very cautious ANT, he never liked to run because he was afraid he might fall and get hurt.  So ANdANTe WALKED everywhere.  One day when he was out with his friends it started to rain and the other ants ran for cover, but not ANdANTe.

ANdANTe marched down to the ground to get out of the rain. (Tap walking speed on your lap as you sing to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching”)  So if you spy ANdANTe remember to walk and not run!
Check out these tempo posters on Colourful Keys including one to remember Andante!

Friday, October 13, 2017

How to Maximize Learning in Music Lessons

The time at music lessons just seems to fly by each week because time flies when you are having fun!   Following are some ideas and links to resources I shared at the UVMTA Workshop: Spicing up Music Lessons-Using Creative Activities to Maximize Learning  At the end of the post is a youtube video recording of the entire workshop.

Piano teaching tips

Making the Most of Music Lesson Minutes: Lessons I learned from a stick figure spotlight

Several years ago I marveled as I watched my son's exceptional kindergarten teacher spotlight a child in the class while simultaneously power packing the moment with teaching concepts. The wheels started churning in my own mind as I tried to think of how I could apply this same strategy to piano instruction.

Instead of just spouting off random facts about the child such as "Today we are spotlighting Sammy.  He likes___, _____, _____ and _______ and is the 3rd of 4 children...etc," she sandwiched into a simple spotlight some auditory, kinesthetic, visual activities which had all of the children's attention completely focussed on her and engaged in the learning activity.
As she drew a circle (head) on the whiteboard, each child traced an orange circle in the air with their finger and sang round orange circle. As she added each shape they traced, identified sides, sang and at the same time were trying to figure out the mystery child by looking for clues around them. The lessons continued as they used similar activities to sound out and spell his name in the air.
Following are some of the key ingredients that I think really made this moment effective.

Multi-Tasking to the Max- The minutes at weekly music lessons are limited. By packing in multiple concepts in a way that doesn't overwhelm students they will walk away learning and be retaining even more. Efficient use of time involves multi sensory activities ideally done simultaneously.
Use Appropriate Teaching Order (Hear, Feel, See, Name)-

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Teaching Scales with a Story

Would you rather hear "Once upon a time... " or "This is .... This is.... This is....?"

For me, concepts cleverly couched in a story line become much more memorable than a dry lecture.  To introduce the sounds of the scales I created this story activity.

Major and Minor Scale Story

"Once upon a time a happy couple named Mr. and Mrs. Scale were excited to welcome some new scales into their family.  In time their 4 Scale daughters were destined for popularity and were heard throughout Musiclandia.  As their children grew, their true personalities began to show and it wasn't always pleasant sounding around the Scale home.

Teaching Scales Sad Natural Minor Mad Harmonic Minor Bad Melodic Minor Glad Major

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

3 Stick Prop Tricks to Make Music Teaching Stick

The element of surprise or salience can be a key component determining whether or not students remember concepts that we demonstrate.  Rather than just telling or explaining, it is much more effective to demonstrate or engage students in memorable meaningful activities relating to the concept we are trying to convey.
Years ago when I introduced “Airplane Pilot” a simple piece with open fifths to my preschooler I noticed her playing with very little wrist rotation even though she was hitting the right notes.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Attitude is Everything: A Tale of Three Sisters

I was so inspired by "A Tale of 3 Sisters" that I heard in this inspiring message from Dieter F. Uchtdorf last weekend during the Worldwide Women's Conference.   I loved the overall theme of this message but it also sparked a fun idea in my mind for how to introduce scales through a memorable story.  Here's a sneak peak.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Piano Scale Thumb Tuck Challenge

Last week I introduced the "Can Can" to one of my piano students with a focus on playing even one-octave scales without a wrist bump.  I started with a daring challenge that really intrigued him.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fidget Spinner "I Spy": A Piano Piece Prep Game

Training piano students to look before they leap can be a challenge. If you are going cliff jumping into the ocean its a good idea to survey your surroundings before taking a plunge.  Are there sharks, sharp rocks, other swimmers or shallow water? Despite these dangers, some unfortunate jumpers find the blue water just too appealing to take the time to scan their surroundings before jumping in sometimes with disastrous results.

Some students find a new piece so irresistible they just can help themselves from diving straight into a piece from start to finish with a lot of errors before checking it out to see what they are up against.  But just like with cliff jumping, this usually isn't the best approach.
Taking an off the bench approach when introducing new pieces can help them to see the patterns, challenge spots and details in their music that they may overlook if they just do the dive in approach. This fun "I Spy" game can help cure this tendency.

How to turn a piece into an "I Spy" Challenge:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eighth Note lays down and stretches out for Eighth Rest

At our last group lesson I invited my students to create posters to illustrate music concepts, and later I was inspired to do a little designing myself.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Piano Safari and Teaching Rhythm: Sound before Symbol Makes Sense

I love using the Piano Safari rote pieces with my students! (affiliate link)  They enjoy being able to play cool sounding songs from the beginning, and it allows them to really focus in on proper technique from the start. This video posted by Julie Knerr, one of the authors of Piano Safari, is a perfect example of how engaging playful activities in lessons delight students as the time just whizzes by. The order she introduces concepts in is very intuitive.

Sounds before Symbols:
Introducing rote pieces first really encourages students

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Memorable Approach to Teaching Ties and Slurs

This week as one my students turned the page to unveil his next piece he said, "these lines are so confusing!"
His piece was filled with multiple ties and slurs on every line. So I handed over the pencil and had him color the ties one color and the slurs another after a brief explanation about the visual difference.

 A tie connects 2 notes that are the same pitch (same line or same space). To identify ties pretend you are walking on the noteheads in your music.  Imagine a runner staying in the same track lane (line or space) on the staff and touching the "target notes" in his lane.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Piano Studio Tour

I am so thrilled to now have a specific room in my home dedicated to music teaching!  I was a little hesitant to move my piano out of our family room, because I always envisioned the piano being a gathering place for my large family ... but being able to shut the door while I teach and while children practice has definitely been worth switching it to a smaller space.

I'm a big fan of a bargain, so when I saw this bulletin board at the thrift store I was excited to snatch it up.  You can read more about how I plan to use it on this piano bulletin board post.

Once I secure something to the wall, its likely to stay there until I move (which will hopefully never happen again!)  So the DIY photo collage above has velcro backed frames that I can swap out for different photos when I want some change without a lot of hassle. You can view more details on how I made it  here.
 I paired this dollar store quote plaque with an old "sand tray that I spray painted white and covered with music wrapping paper.  I can easily swap out the picture in the middle when I'm ready for a change.

The glass insert on my desk is removable, so I slipped some music wrapping paper underneath it to go with the music theme.

My piano game card storage pouch hangs inside the closet along with music, string instruments, my children's personalized piano bags, and storage drawers containing rhythm instruments (maracas, castanets, etc.), piano group game supplies and white boards.
Since large box style tvs are a thing of the past, I found this tv armoire for a great deal on craigslist several years ago.  It is perfect for housing my most often used piano library music, piano teaching binders and teaching caddy.  I made book organizers using Costco cardboard milk carriers covered with decorative contact paper to separate books into different categories.  The colored dot stickers on the spines make it easier for me to quickly find supplementary music appropriate for the student's level.  The caddy keeps silly putty, game pieces, dice, dry erase boards/markers and colored pencils with in easy reach when a student needs some hands on fun to ramp up the learning.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Proper Hand Position with Nile the Crocodile

As a child I became a master at the learn-regurgitate-forget method of acing tests and earning perfect grades in public school.  But unfortunately, much of the knowledge I was exposed to did not truly sink in to stick with me much after the test was done. As I teach piano to children, I want the learning process to be memorable enough that the brief interaction we have each week will stick with them easily enough for them to recall it at home.

Music Studio Bulletin Board

I'm a big fan of a bargain, so when I saw this bulletin board at the thrift store I was excited to snatch it up to display on my piano studio wall to add even more memorable teaching moments at every lesson.  Following are a few of the things I plan to feature on it.

  • Theory Teaching Posters  - I have one student who now checks the board first thing each week because he got a good laugh after seeing my "You're under a rest" poster depicting a stick figure standing under a quarter rest.  Enjoy Piano has another fun free downloadable version with a half rest here. On the ColourfulKeys blog I love Nicola's tempo teaching posters  "A leg grow's quick" poster. Susan Paradis's Noteboys, Key Signature Chart and Inversions Posters are sure to take their turn on my board too.
  • Composer Posters-  The right side features a composer poster that D'net Layton at Layton Music has available as free printables on her website. I love how they list the music period associated with each composer.
  • Inspirational Quotes- The Quest for Monthly Virtues Quotes/Art go along with a practice incentive I did in the past and are available here.
  • Practice Incentive Tracking Chart- We just finished  "Mountains to Climb" over the Summer and I'm excited to be starting a Pirate Themed Incentive this fall.  I found my inspiration from the JoyTunes Piano Teacher Facebook Page where Lorie Burningham shared her Pirate Treasure Map Incentive as a free download in the files.
  • Student Achievement Recognition - Each week I post the name of student who practiced the most on piano maestro and the student who earned the most home challenge stars (another free file from the Joy Tunes Piano Teacher Facebook Page. I also like to recognize students when they reach certain milestones like completing a method book, becoming a rhythm master (all levels of Rhythm Swing complete), or finishing a scale level chart.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Playground CDE Improv

A few weeks ago one of my new beginning students was having difficulty mastering the concept of directional notereading so I pulled out my whiteboard and magnets and had her construct "magnet patterns" for different playground activities.
Jumping Rope - "Jump" on the same key over and over
Teeter Totter - Move High and Low alternately
Climb up the Slide - 3 stair steps up
Slide Back Down - 3 stair steps down

Then we tried an improv duet (in Hal Leonard Lesson Book 1) with her selecting any pattern to play on any group of CDE on the keyboard.  Eventually she was able to combine several patterns to make a fun pleasing melody on the spot.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DIY Piano Room Photo Collage

 I recently completed my dedicated piano studio room and have been searching for the perfect piano themed decor to adorn my bare walls.  I wanted a photo collage with something personal and inspiring, yet versatile enough to change up to fit my studio themes. 

I began my project with this scrap board which I painted white with spray paint I had on hand(FREE-YIPPEE!).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer Piano Group Synergy

Group lessons are one of my favorite aspects of piano teaching!  I love the synergy of gaming and the sense of accomplishment students exhibit as they perform for each other on a regular basis.

This month our group lesson included Caterpillar Crawl, Music Candyland, Music Jenga,  Toss Note and Technique Pattern Bingo.  Following are some at home activities that students can try to extend the learning of the concepts we introduced or reviewed at group lessons.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hear See and Feel the Fun- Music Games and Activities

I put together this handout full of fun game ideas for a Round Table presentation I did at a UVMTA event for the music teachers in my area.  With so many fun game and activity resources, it was difficult to choose which ones to highlight.  But fortunately, the links at the bottom can take you to my organized games list so you can pick your favorites for yourself or add a note in the comments to share your favorite off the bench activities!
Why Games and Activities?
·         Engage – Games appeal to visual, tactile auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.
·         Solidify – Repetition with appealing adaptations solidifies learning without boredom.
·         Assess Mastery – Games provide a non-threatening avenue to “test” skills without the fear of failure.
·         Isolate Concepts – Gradually introducing isolated ideas prepares for mastery without frustration and is a useful tool in tuning up trouble spots.

Sample Music Games & Activities

Rhythm Tag Group Game

Rhythm Bug Circle

The  Let's Play Music method of introducing rhythms with bugs my favorite. It makes learning the more difficult eighth and sixteenth patterns seem like a cinch because the bug analogy provides both a visual and auditory memory aid.
As a parent of a Let's Play Music student and as a Connections teacher I have been amazed at how very young students really get a firm grasp on rhythm relationships.
For this group lesson game I used the Let's Play Music rhythm cards and had students sit in a circle of five and each selected a rhythm bug card equivalent to 1 beat (no Slugs allowed!).  They clapped and chanted their rhythm 3x and then "tagged" another person's rhythm to clap and pass the beat to.  (Bug, Bug, Bug, Grasshopper - Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Beetle - etc.).  After they were comfortable with the sounds of the "bugs" we flipped the cards and reviewed the traditional rhythm symbols & their names.  I love how this combines the Sound-Feel-Sign-Name learning sequence all into one short activity.

At Halloween time I like to do a similar Rhythm Circle Game but instead I use some of the Candy Bar Rhythm Cards from Layton Music that have the same number of beats in a measure. With these longer patterns, students have to repeat their measure 3 times before clapping out another person's candy bar rhythm.

Collect A Chord Game

I came up with this Collect a Chord game to help my students to solidify their chord spelling, but its easy enough that even a young beginner just learning skips can figure it out.  I love its ease and adaptability. Its quick enough to make a perfect lesson starter with student vs. the teacher and it also makes a great group game. I use 3 sets of Music Alphabet cards, but for a larger group you would need more.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Teaching Piano Technique Motions Creatively: Caterpillar Crawl

Teaching Piano Technique Motions with the Caterpillar Crawl Video

Teaching Piano Technique with Caterpillar Crawl Music Listening and Movement Activity
I'm fortunate to have a houseful of children that I can try out my new piano teaching ideas on.  Although that can pose a challenge at times when I'm trying to provide motivation for 5 kids to  practice regularly or keep a quiet professional lesson environment, I love "playing" piano games with my children. I created this musical movement activity to practice wrist movements with my preschooler.  The video is a shortened version of Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Incredible Scales Boardgame

Years ago, somewhere in the vast sea of internet resources I found this simple scale review gameboard that I especially love to use with my students at lessons and during home practice as festival time approaches.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to find it again despite the wonders of google.

But a similar customized scale review could be easily put together to match the needs of your students. All you need is a blank gameboard, sheet protector, dry erase marker, die, timer or stopwatch and some pencil paper.
In each of the game board blanks write a specific technique skill to be played.  For example, D Major Both Hands, E Major Right Hand, C Major Chords, A Major Arpeggios.  I like how the game board I have focuses on scales for the first half and then adds in chords and arpeggios on the right side.
To play the game:
1. Set the timer (2, 5 10 minutes?)
2. Place your game markers at start.
3. Roll the dice and play the scale you land on.  If you play it correctly give yourself a point.  If you make a mistake play the scale (chord or arpeggio) 3 times before earning 1 point and moving on.
4. As soon as your timer beeps add up your score.
5. Repeat daily(at home practice)/ or weekly (at lessons) and try to get a better score (or finish the whole gameboard!)
The benefit of this game is that students are more eager to play their technique skills and they really focus in and slow down to play them correctly the first time instead of plodding over their mistakes quickly!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Celebrating Musical Milestones

Achievements are a big deal for children, and its fun to celebrate their successes along the way.  When students complete a lesson book level we celebrate with a "party" and mini-recital.  After finishing the last song in a book, they choose a few of their favorite previously learned songs review for their practice assignment and then do a mini performance for me at their lesson.  We spend the rest of the time playing games and top it off with a little treat.
And milestones like perfectly clapping and counting festival rhythms deserve recognition too!
I like how several of the apps and games used during piano lab also have built in reinforcement as they earn a new title by leveling up on Piano Maestro, become a "Rhythm Boss" on Rhythm Swing, or receive a standing ovation on Music Ace when they beat their own High score on a game.

Music Staff Monkeys

For young children, I find that concepts are more memorable when formulated into a fun game.  I incorporate games into nearly every lesson that relate specifically to concepts in their pieces.  For example  I improvised a quick game as a fun lesson starter for my 5 year old piano student who is using the My First Piano Adventures Books.  Since she's already adept at remembering the music alphabet and letter names, I upped the challenge by making a connection with the grand staff.  I had my giant staff set up on the floor when she arrived.  After she "found" the bass clef buttons that had popped off onto the wrong place on the staff and placed them above and below the Bass F line, I introduced the concept of letters on the staff by singing and pointing to the music alphabet lined up on the bottom of the bass clef starting with bass A.  The bottom line is the "Ground" (G) and then the letters step up in order (space-line-space-line-space-line, etc.).

Staff Monkey Game
1. Scramble 3 sets of monkey alphabet cards face down.
2. Take turns picking monkey card "ABCs" to place on the correct line or space by singing up the music alphabet as you point to space-line-space-line on the staff.
3.  The first player to get the all of their monkeys in a column on the staff wins.
Time flies when your having fun!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Powerful Playful Piano Practice Kits

Inspired by this Colourful keys blog post on practice kits I compiled practice kits with a few modifications as a gift for my piano students and it has definitely made practicing sessions with my own children more fun.  The mood cards were definitely a big hit and I love how some students are eager to repeat their songs multiple times in lessons so they can experiment with different moods.
Contents of Practice Pouch
Zootopia Cards (Dollar Tree)
Post-it Notes
Mood Cards
Candy Pieces
Dry Erase Marker/Eraser
Score Card

As this Ted-ed video suggests, the most effective practice begins with slow repetitions with focused precision to accuracy.  As students practice multiple repetitions while gradually increasing speed the music solidifies under their fingertips.  I was especially inspired by the results of mental practice experiment that suggests the power that practice away from the piano can have.

The various games suggested like "Beat the Dealer" and "Three in A Row" motivate students to really focus on the task at hand while encouraging slow precise practice rather than inefficiently just plodding sloppily over and over through a piece they are trying to learn.