Key Signature Theme Progress

Has anyone else been emphasizing key signatures this month? Or have you tried another theme for the month? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has worked well, what hasn’t worked well, and any other ideas for improvement. Also, does anyone have ideas for future themes?

Also…just so you know, I scheduled my spring break for next week and I’ve decided to take the week off of blogging as well. Originally, I had hoped to attend the MTNA Conference in Atlanta, but that fell through. It’s probably a good thing, too, because I have so many things on my to-do list! I’m hoping to get a lot accomplished. We’ll see!

Earn Swagbucks Just By Searching the Web


Search & Win

I’ve been hearing about Swagbucks for a while now, and finally decided to check it out in more detail. (A friend of mine has been using this for several months now and loves it!) It was a piece of cake to sign up! Then all you have to do is download their search toolbar to your current browser and use it to search the internet. You earn Swagbucks as you search and can trade them in for prizes. Prizes range from gift cards to books to musical instruments, with new prizes being added frequently. Seems like a pretty effortless way to rack up some free money!

Group Music Class – Songs from Around the World and Key Signature Games

Tuesday evening, we held our fifth Private Eye Workshop of the year. Our theme for this one was Folk Songs from Around the World. Here are some picture highlights from the event:


In keeping with our Key Signature theme for the month, we started out with a game. One at a time, I had each student volunteer to be timed as they lined up the key signature flashcards in order from 0 sharps to 7 sharps, then arrange the corresponding key names below each card. I timed each student as they took their turn and kept track on a white board. The observing students watched with rapt attention as they awaited their turn. They all wanted to beat the fastest time! This was an easy concept even for the youngest students who don’t fully understand key signatures, because they just had to go by the number of sharps and then count the key names by fifths to know the correct order.


After the opening game, we began the performances. Each student shared a bit of information about the country upon which their piece was based. Here, Addi is dressed the part as well!


In addition to sharing about their country, each student also placed a magnet on our map of the world in their country so that we could get a picture of where we were “traveling” for the performance.

After the performances, we concluded the evening with a loud, fun key signature game. I divided the students into two teams, using their scores from earlier as a guide to determine who to place on each team. Then, on the team, I had them line up from the slowest time to the fastest time. You can’t see it in this picture, but there is a piano bench between the two teams. On the bench, I placed a little service bell. One member of each team would stand at the bench and face-off. I held up a key signature flashcard and whoever dinged the bell first got a chance to name the key. If correct, they earned one point. If incorrect, the other team was given a chance to confer and then submit an answer. The team that reached twenty points first won!

Everyone really got into the key signature games, and I’m confident that they know their key signatures much better now than they did one week ago. Still room for lots of reinforcement, though. (We didn’t even get to the flat key signatures!) Hope this gives you some fun ideas that you can use with your students!

Free Pre-Reading Arrangement of Come Christians, Join to Sing

If you’re not already a regular reader of Susan Paradis’ Teacher Resources blog, you really should be! She has all sorts of wonderful worksheets and game ideas. Check out this great little pre-reading arrangement she just posted of Come Christians, Join to Sing. I’m always looking for more good music options for those pre-reading students. It’s so fun for them to be able to play “big” sounding pieces right off the bat!

Key Signature Game with Mr. Whacker!

As I mentioned Friday, I’m doing a “Simon Says” game this week to reinforce our key signature theme of the month. I wasn’t quite sure how to adapt the idea to a private lesson, but after a bit of brainstorming, this is what I came up with.

I have the student spread out two sets of flashcards on the fallboard – one containing each of the key signatures on the staff, the other listing the name of each Major/minor key (I made a set for the sharp keys and a set for the flat keys, and we just use one set at a time). The student gets the whacker and I call out, “Simon Says…” and then either give the name of a key or say a specific number of sharps/flats. If I say, “Simon Says…key of D Major,” the student has to whack the corresponding key signature on the staff. If I say, “Simon Says…2 sharps,” the student has to whack the card that says D Major/b minor.

So far this is working really well and is helping the students think through the process of figuring out which key is which and how many sharps/flats it has. Plus, I also let them refer to the other cards in front of them if they want to. And of course, almost any game that involves the whacker is a winner! 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Teaching Pentascales

When do you introduce the five finger pentascale to a student? Any information regarding pentascales would be greatly appreciated.

I usually introduce pentascales as soon as the student has learned the names of all the white keys and understands half steps and whole steps. We start with the C-Major pentascale, and I teach them the pattern (Start-Whole-Whole-Half-Whole). I have them line up their fingers silently on the correct keys to show that they know which keys are in the scale, and then they play them. I also try to use this as an opportunity to discuss finger shape, arm weight, and the idea of dropping the weight through the finger into each key.

I even have them start playing what I call cross-hand-chord-shells as soon as possible. (Left hand plays C-G, then right hand plays C-G, then left hand crosses over and plays C; then back down the same way – hope that makes sense!) This is not only a great skill, but also sounds really cool, so the young students feel very grown up being able to play them!

As soon as they’ve mastered the C-pentascale, we work our way around the Circle of 5ths through all the sharp keys, then start back at C and go through the flat keys. Then it’s on to the minors. We use pentascales frequently for working on other skills as well – like staccato vs. legato between the hands, dynamic balance, etc.

I’m curious to know how other teachers approach this. When do you start teaching pentascales? In what order do you teach them?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Major Minor Scale Matchup Free Worksheet

Since my students have been doing well with the Key Signature – Scale Matchup worksheets, I thought it might be helpful to use a similar format to help them understand the relationship between relative keys. In the Major-Minor Scale Matchup worksheet, students are supposed to draw a line connecting each scale in the left hand column with the corresponding scale in the right hand column (according to the same sharps or flats), and then identify the name of each scale. The connected scales indicate which scales/keys are relatives of each other. Just click on the image below to download the worksheets (one with the sharp scales, and one with the flat scales) to use with your students!

Question for Discussion

I received an e-mail from a friend in another city asking if I know anything about the Simply Music method of teaching. They are looking for a new teacher for their daughter, and a teacher they are considering switching to uses this method. Are any of you familiar with this method? Or do any of you use it? Do you think it would be a good approach for a transfer student? What are the pros and cons? I would love to know your thoughts and opinions, since I am completely unfamiliar with it.