The Seventh Annual Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition Winners

If you’re looking for some viewing and listening pleasure this summer, you might enjoy checking out these videos of the finalists and winners from the Seventh Annual Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition.

The first prize winner, audience award winner, and press award winner was 38-year old Thomas Yu, a periodontist from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s not hard to see why! Here’s his final round performance of the third movement of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, op .103 (“Egyptian”):

New Custom Files Added to Jungle Expedition Studio Practice Incentive Theme

Thanks to some wonderful suggestions from a Music Matters Blog customer who has previously used a Music Matters Blog studio practice incentive theme, I’ve created and added a few files to the Jungle Expedition theme to make it more easily customizable for use in your studio.

The customizable files include:

  • A new Jungle Huts page with blank areas to customize your hut titles.
  • Separate pages with enlarged blank huts so that huts may be placed in separate locations around the studio (for extra fun and adventure!)
  • A new wall poster without huts so that the huts may be placed around the studio (this also allows more room for studios with a larger number of students that can’t all fit on one wall poster).

If you previously purchased the Jungle Expedition practice incentive theme, you can download this additional .zip package using this link: https://app.ecwid.com/download/5643098/9b249b7f4f3f5bb8800085548ad899f1/JE_Custom.zip. If you haven’t yet purchased the theme, the new customizable files will automatically be included in the downloadable package. Please feel free to email me with any questions!

Using Pennies to Teach 16th Note Rhythms

Years ago I first tried the idea of using pennies as a tactile way to teach the subdivision of 16th note rhythms. It’s been a while since I used it in my teaching, but now that all of my students are reaching a higher level of playing, it was time to break out the penny jar again!

At our final group class of the year I let each student select a rhythm instrument and pick 16 pennies from my penny jar. We started by stacking them in four groups of four and beating a steady quarter note beat. Then I had them separate them into eight stacks of two and beating the eighth note rhythms. Finally, we placed all of the pennies individually and played them as sixteenth notes with a slight emphasis on the first one of each beat to help maintain a sense of pulse.

We used these fabulous sixteenth note rhythm flashcards from D’Net Layton and I showed them what the rhythm patterns looked like, then we arranged the pennies to match the pattern, then practiced playing it on our instruments. The students really enjoyed this approach, and it seemed to help them understand both the mathematical subdivision of the beats and also how to play them fluidly within a beat structure.

Review and Giveaway of Fireworks in the Night

As if writing a book isn’t hard enough, author Sherry Miller has gone above and beyond by producing a full-blown audio track and lesson plan to accompany Fireworks in the Night, her first book in a series called Randy the Raccoon & His Musical Friends.

The book is full color and beautifully illustrated – sure to capture the attention of a young animal-loving audience! As a long-time music educator in both private and classroom settings, this book is an innovative addition to the other materials she has created to inspire a love of music in budding musicians.

The story is a creative weaving of Randy Raccoon’s nighttime escapades with a glimpse into the life of one of history’s greatest composers: George Frideric Handel. I was surprised that more of Handel’s story wasn’t included, but there is a list of “Fun Facts About George Frideric Handel” at the back of the book and the accompanying lesson plans (available as a free download upon providing your name and email address) cover some additional interesting information. Also, it’s helpful to note that the book assumes that the reader is listening to the correlating audio file (included in the free download) and references the music that they are hearing. If you have a device handy for little ones to play and follow along, I can envision them experiencing hours of enjoyment listening to the lively audio drama. This is a fun introduction to the world of Classical music, and hopefully will whet young appetites to explore and learn more!

Sherry has kindly offered to give away one free copy of Fireworks in the Night to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Summer Coupon – Save $5!

To celebrate the arrival of June/summer, we’re offering a special coupon for $5 off of anything in the Music Matters Blog store! Whether you are looking for some fun games to incorporate throughout the summer, a complete piano camp curriculum, or are exploring possibilities for a motivating practice incentive theme you can launch next year, find the perfect fit for you and your students to infuse your teaching with something new and exciting! The coupon is good through this Saturday, June 5, so have fun shopping! Just use this code when checking out to receive $5 off: SUMMER

Why Apps Motivate Students – A Guest Post by flowkey

“How can I motivate my students to practice piano at home?” This is a question parents and piano teachers have long reckoned with. Today, this challenge is even greater thanks to technological developments. Let’s face it – smartphones, tablets, and computer games are more exciting than the average practice book. But distracting devices needn’t be your enemy.

On the contrary, new digital tools can liven up your students’ practice routines in new and exciting ways. After all, electronic devices have revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives. We buy plane tickets on our smartphone, boost our fitness with the aid of an app, and carry enormous libraries of films, books, and music in our pocket everywhere we go. Why not explore the benefits of innovative technologies for teaching piano, too?

It’s hard to find a child who isn’t fascinated by smartphones and tablets these days. Having noticed this, some resourceful piano teachers have already begun to make use of this enthusiasm for technology. The simple inclusion of a tablet PC in piano lessons lends an inexplicable “coolness factor” that makes learning a little more thrilling. Ear training and other music theory exercises become fun games to play on the go in the form of an app.

If you’re keen to give your teaching a technological edge but aren’t sure where to start, check out Christopher Sutton’s great guest post on making the most of online resources. Online communities are a great way to learn from other teachers’ experiences, ask questions, and find inspiration. Research and start experimenting with a range of tools. Soon enough you’ll find the ones that suit your students’ needs.

The kids of today have grown up with a love of digital devices, and a few innovative tools are often enough to make even the most frustrating practice sessions fun again. This goes for older students, too. Most piano students who learn to play piano as an adult often have two things in common: they want to improve fast, and they don’t have much spare time on their hands. The solution? Make practice efficient and fun with the help of an app.

One such app even provides an entirely interactive learning environment. With flowkey students can engage with a friendly and intuitive app that gives them immediate feedback on their progress. Apps like these show that new technology isn’t just a distraction for piano students. Far from it! By making the most of devices, apps, and online resources, students are able to create a practice routine that truly suits them.


flowkey is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog, and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

Review and Giveaway of Piano Safari Level 3

Even though I believe that a good teacher can effectively utilize any method or curriculum to help a student achieve success, there is something invigorating about having well-designed resources that capture a teacher’s philosophy and vision for their teaching. That’s how I’ve felt about Piano Safari ever since it’s debut a couple of years ago. It has been the perfect complement to my desire to help students develop creative freedom, technical ability, and musical artistry at the piano while also building a solid foundation of reading and rhythm skills.

I don’t know who has been awaiting the release of Level 3 with more anticipation – me or my students – but it’s finally here! The pack includes a Technique Book, a Repertoire Book, and a set of Sight Reading Cards. I’ve had a blast looking through the materials and preparing to teach it. It’s also exciting to see some of the same Classical Education principles that I’m discovering are essential for true learning applied in this method. Namely, repetition, both of content and of processes, is necessary in order for students to attain mastery. I love how this is emphasized in the Technique Book through the use of cool images that the students are instructed to color one small section at a time for every accurate playing of a scale.

For this reason, I see the Technique Book being used not so much sequentially, but more in a spiral learning approach where a student continues to revisit the previously learned scales and exercises to develop increased speed, fluency, and familiarity. The Technique Book also references the animal techniques to instruct the students how to play each scale. The visuals are attractive and helpful while maintaining a clean, uncluttered page layout. I also appreciate the various practice strategies emphasized throughout the book. Another great feature is the way that each introduction of a new scale/key includes the same process as previously learned, while also incorporating a new accompaniment style, demonstrating to the student how the chords and chord progressions can be used in a musical way. All of this is then woven together into the Technique Extravaganza at the end of the book that gives the student an opportunity to showcase all that they have learned in a fun, energetic duet!

The Level 3 Repertoire Book is a fabulous compilation of original compositions, duets, and Classical pieces in their original form. The pieces are in major and minor keys (C,G,F, and a,e,d), and there are helpful bits of information and questions for the student to consider, along with brief biographical sketches about the various composers. This thoughtfully designed book will leave students well-prepared to continue their exploration of every musical style!

Last, but not least, perhaps the most versatile element of the Piano Safari method – the Sight Reading Cards. Whether or not you use the method in its entirety, these cards are a must-have for any piano teacher! We use them in a variety of ways in our studio, and they have done wonders to help my students improve their rhythm and sight reading skills in a sequential and manageable way. Each card includes a 4-measure musical excerpt for the student to play hands together that incorporates dynamics, articulations, and the rhythms they have learned. There is also a single line of rhythm only that can be tapped, played on single notes, or used for a musical improvisation.

Now, for the best part! If you’d like a chance to check out Piano Safari Level 3 for yourself, Julie and Katie have graciously offered to give away a free Level 3 pack to one Music Matters Blog reader (a $45.50 value!). Just leave a comment below to be entered. One winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 3, 2016. This could be just the thing to re-energize your teaching this summer or in preparation for next fall!

The Interval Dice Game

Last week Claire made it to the Game Hut for her final stop in Jungle Expedition (our practice incentive theme this year). She had such a fun time that on her Year-End Evaluation today she suggested that we include a game at the end of each lesson to review a concept learned. This prompted me to pull out the interval dice game that has been a favorite in my studio for years (but for some reason I neglected all year long!). It’s such a simple game, but everyone loves it, and it’s a great way to reinforce any kind of intervallic movement on the piano keys (half steps, whole steps, interval distances, interval qualities, etc.).

We each selected a marker and placed it on the same starting key on the piano, then used a game spinner to signify the finish line two octaves up on the keyboard. Each turn consisted of rolling two dice (one with either “up” or “down” on each side, the other with interval distances from 2nd-7th). We moved our marker accordingly and the first one to the finish line was the winner. Claire was thrilled that she won! It’s so rewarding to watch students have a good time at the piano (and often not even realize the learning that is taking place in the process!).

One of the things I’m planning to do this summer is get back into incorporating more of the games from the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson in each lesson again as a way of introducing or reinforcing concepts and providing some light-hearted fun in the process!