Music Piece Description Worksheet

Inspired by my “aha!” moment a few weeks ago and by the need for my students to be well-prepared for our Music Progressions (a curriculum for independent music teachers that was written by teachers in our state music teachers association) evaluation program, I created a Piece Description Worksheet. I separated the description areas according to the level requirements of Music Progressions, but it could easily be adapted to any course of study. I tried it out for the first time tonight on a 9-year old student. I showed him which sections were required and then said that if he wanted to fill in the more advanced levels as well I would give him extra points at his next lesson. He replied, “Wow! Cool! Can I use Google to help find the information? And can I have my Mom and Dad help me?” I answered in the affirmative, inwardly quite pleased at how well my plan had worked. Of course we’ll know at his next lesson whether it really worked or not!

More Things You Love to Hear…

Six-year old Hayley played her piece for me with excellent implementation of the various dynamic markings. I was astounded, particularly because I knew that her parents had recently given away her piano in order to move and so she’s been practicing on a low-end keyboard until they get another piano. I asked her how she managed to play with such wonderful dynamics even though she couldn’t practice them during the week. She replied, “Well, when I’m practicing I just think about them so that I play them right when I come here.” I think I was speechless. Can some of my highschool students with perfectly functioning pianos please take a lesson from this amazing 6-year old? 🙂

Key Signature Chart

While trying to think of a way to help my students learn key signatures better, I thought of my elementary school days when our entire class daily chanted our phonics charts and multiplication table charts. Those sounds and facts were drilled into me and I will never forget them! It occurred to me that perhaps a Key Signature Chart could serve the same purpose. So I decided to create one so that I can give it a try.

Key Signature Chart

The chart is designed so that one side has all the sharp keys and the other side has all the flat keys. My plan is to have my students say, “This is the key signature of C Major and a minor. It has no sharps and no flats.” Another example would be, “This is the key signature of B Major and g-sharp minor. It has five sharps – F#,C#,G#,D#,A#.” I thought it might also be helpful to have a blank chart to test students on their knowledge once they’ve learned all the key signatures. Here are the various key signature files I created that are available to download and print for free (the larger size can be used as a wall poster; the smaller size can be placed in the front of a student assignment book):

Key Signature Chart – 11×17″
Key Signature Chart – 8.5×11″
Key Signature Chart-Blank – 11×17″
Key Signature Chart-Blank – 8.5×11″

Review: Legends and Lore

Composer Library Series: Legends & Lore - sheet music at

Composer Library Series: …

This collection of Elementary-Early Intermediate Piano Solos is lots of fun! Composer Christine Donkin does an excellent job capturing the imagery her titles inspire. Here are my comments on each of the pieces:

Royal Fanfare – A piece composed entirely of parallel 5ths, once the fingering is solidified this piece should be easy for almost any student to learn. A combination of staccato and legato touches and forte and piano dynamic levels make a great study in contrasts. The piano parts are always played a 5th lower as an imitation of the theme, which creates a nice echo effect.

The Enchanted Palace – This delicate piece in a minor has a pretty little melody in the right hand with scattered bits of harmony in the left. A great piece to work on phrasing concepts!

A Secret Letter – Although written in e minor, this interesting piece employs A#s throughout. The staccato vs. legato touch between the hands alternates, requiring good attention to detail.

Heroes of the Galaxy – Open 5ths throughout this piece convey the valiant sound you would expect from the title. Triplets and some unexpected chords will require good keyboard facility.

Witches and Wizards – In spite of the title (I’m not a fan of witchery and such), this piece is one of my favorites in the book. Written in 6/8, it definitely has to be felt in 2s. Accents on the 1st and 4th beat of the continuous triplet figure moving between the hands will help the student achieve that. In the B section the left hand crosses over the right several times. This lively and engaging piece is one that I might even opt to teach a student by rote.

Soaring – A beautiful piece with lovely harmonies that give it a rich sound. It’s very patterned, making it accessible to most elementary students.

Song of the Pirates – If you have any students “chomping at the bit” to play Pirates of the Caribbean music who aren’t quite ready for the difficulty level yet, this could be a great alternative! A parallel melody between the hands at the opening gives it a bold start and then the hands take turns playing the melody while the opposite hand accompanies with an easy open 5th harmony.

Dream Journey – The ethereal quality of this piece captures the imagination and will help students get past the sometimes dissonant harmonies because of the overall effect they are creating. Plus, they’ll love the glissando at the end!

Clock Talk – One of the more rhythmically challenging pieces in the book, this piece will require a precise sense of pulse. The left hand staccatos followed by short legato phrases in the right hand will also present a challenge…but it’s worth it!

The Dragon’s Story – Student’s could have a blast elaborating on the story behind this musical picture. There’s lots of room for creativity and expression in order to make it really come alive!

Happy Ending – Just as you’d guess, this G Major piece has a cheery quality with a short melodic theme alternating between the hands. Both hands are written mostly in the treble clef and the eighth note rhythms are usually followed with a staccato quarter note that helps capture the mood.

Conclusion: A wonderful book that is destined to become a favorite in my studio!

FREE TICKETS to a TV Taping of From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall for PBS

I just received this e-mail today and sure wish I was going to be in the Manhattan area so that I could request one of these free tickets! Maybe someone can go on my behalf and send me some pictures! 🙂

We would like to invite you and up to three guests to be part of the live audience in Carnegie Hall’s intimate Zankel Hall for a taping of the critically acclaimed television series From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall, hosted by Christopher O’Riley.

The popular national radio program From the Top celebrates the passion, dedication, and personal stories of the nation’s outstanding young classical musicians. Heard in New York each Saturday at 7 PM on WQXR, the program is now a PBS television series produced by From the Top, WGBH Boston, and Don Mischer Productions, in partnership with Carnegie Hall.

The television series features the inspirational musical performances, interviews, and light-hearted humor of some of America’s best young musicians. Among the guest artists at this group of tapings will be Gil Shaham.

Confirmed guests may bring as many as three additional guests with them, ages seven and up: children or grandchildren, parents or grandparents, brothers or sisters—anyone you’d like!

Please plan on attending a taping only if:
* you are available in Manhattan on the date for which you request tickets. Available dates are:
-Sun, Feb 24; Tues, Feb 26; Wed, Feb 27
-Tues, Mar 18; Thurs, Mar 20; Fri, Mar 21
* you can be with us from 6:30 PM to 9:45 PM.
* you definitely plan to attend the show if there is space available.

Please respond to this invitation at If space is available, we will reply to your request and confirm that you and your guests are on the guest list. We will include detailed instructions on how to pick up your tickets, along with additional information about the taping.

To view video clips and learn more about From the Top, please click here. Good luck and enjoy the show!

Group Class Music Listening Games are a Blast!

Last night we had a group class in the studio. Our focus for the evening was on “listening,” to correspond with the previous five-week session of our incentive program this year. In between performances we played listening-related games – Team Rhythmic Dictation, Team Melodic Dictation and Interval BINGO in pairs.

GAME #1: Team Rhythmic Dictation

Here’s part of the group that attended the class. I forgot to take pictures of the team rhythmic dictation, but it’s pretty easy to figure out. Here’s a basic run-down of the rules:
1. Split the students into two teams.
2. Give each team a set of note and rest value cards (just print these and cut them out; for better durability, I recommend laminating them and then cutting them out).
3. Specify the time signature and number of measures (we just used pencils as bar lines).
4. Give a count-in and then play a rhythm pattern on the piano.
5. Each team places the note and rest value cards in front of them to accurately reflect the rhythm pattern that you played.
6. Play three times to give them time to check their pattern for accuracy.
7. Correct any inaccuracies and then have everyone clap and count the pattern together.

GAME #2: Team Melodic Dictation

1. Split the students into two teams.
2. Give each team 5 bean bags and a giant-sized grand staff (this is one that I got from a retiring teacher several years ago that is drawn onto a large piece of vinyl – you can also purchase a giant-sized grand staff floor mat)
3. Specify the starting note for the melodic pattern and have them place the first bean bag in place (I used the smiley face ball for that purpose!)
4. Play a melodic 5-note pattern and have the students place the remaining bean bags in the correct places on the staff. I started out only playing only 2nds for the first couple of patterns, then I incorporated 3rds as well.
5. Switch teams and repeat the process for the second team. Alternate back and forth, with each team accumulating one point for correctly notating the pattern.

GAME #3: Interval BINGO

1. Group the students into pairs.
2. Give each pair a magnetic dry erase board, marker and handful of magnets.
3. Have them section the board as shown in the picture above.
4. Instruct each pair to randomly place intervals in each of the squares as follows: 2-2nds, 2-3rds, 2-4ths, 2-5ths, 2-6ths, 1-7th and 1-8ve.
5. Play an interval on the piano for the students to identify by ear.
6. Instruct students to place a magnet (or magnets) on the interval that you played. Once they have 4-in-a-row down, 3-in-a-row across or 3-in-a-row diagonally they should yell, “Interval!”
7. Check to see if the intervals marked on their board with the magnets match the intervals that you played. If so, that teams wins!

All of these games seemed to be a hit with the students and I was able to adapt the dictation ones on the spot to match the levels of the students. I’ve been trying to work with my students more on listening to their playing as well. It was exciting to hear several of them actually hold out the last note of their pieces for the full value (even with fermatas!) and not hop off the bench and run back to their seat as soon as they hit the last note. Ah, the little signs of progress that thrill a teacher’s heart! 🙂

Things You Love to Hear…

Not once, but twice this week I heard things that brought a smile to my face…

1. Sunday morning after the church service I was talking to a lady about starting her 5-year old daughter in piano lessons next fall. She asked if it was okay for her to start on a keyboard. I told her that I actually require families to have a piano and explained why. After listening and understanding my points, she braced herself and asked how much she should expect to spend for a decent piano. I told her that to get a good lower-end used piano she should expect to spend between $1,000-$2,000. She let out an exclamation and said, “Oh my goodness! I was expecting $5,000 or $6,000! That’s no problem at all.

2. Monday morning I got a call from a student. The message she left was, “Hello, Miss Natalie. This is Katei. I’m having some trouble working out my fingering on the Beethoven Sonata in F and was wondering if you could help me. Please give me a call. Thanks.

Now if only those kinds of conversations happened more often!

Music Flashcards Galore!

Check out these digital flashcards! You can find note names, key signatures, intervals, triads, piano note names, reading piano notes, guitar note names and reading guitar notes – all at the click of a mouse! You can even set specific parameters in most of the categories so that it is appropriate for the level of the student using it. Doesn’t this seem more fun than traditional paper flashcards? I can envision using it during a lesson with a student or giving it to them as an at-home assignment. And I’ll definitely be including it in my list of websites that have games or activities students can complete to earn extra points.

Listing Musical Terms

This is kind of a “duh!” idea, but when I attended our local music teachers association Mid-Winter Retreat two weekends ago, the guest speaker was sharing about how she introduces new pieces to her students. She said, “Of course I always start out by having them make a list of all the terms in their piece and what they mean…” Of course. As in, this is something that every good music teacher already does, right? I shifted my eyes around to see if everyone else was nodding their heads as if to say, “old news.” But inwardly I wondered, “why haven’t I ever done that? What a good idea!” Sure, I’m forever pointing out symbols or terms and asking students what they mean. Invariably I get a blank look as if to say, “how should I know…you’ve never told me.” And invariably, I never am quite sure whether I discussed that particular term with that particular student.

Having the student list all the terms and definitions as a matter of habit at the onset of every new piece seems like a systematic way of precluding such situations. Of course, then the student will lose the paper or it will get chewed up by the dog or colored on by the little sister and then the student will be required to make a new list (at which point the student will look at me imploringly and ask if they really have to write a whole new list and I will remind them that their parents pay me good money to devise such torturous tactics and this is my newest one…). And maybe, just maybe, by writing down these terms and definitions over and over and being drilled on them at their lesson each week they will eventually know them by heart. It’s definitely worth a try!