Congratulations on Brushing Your Teeth!

I had to smile when I read this opening excerpt in a recent column by Jane Magrath that a blog reader kindly e-mailed me:

Recently I saw a cartoon that showed two smiling parents watching their child as he brushed his teeth. A banner was posted over the top of the bathroom mirror that said, “Congratulations on brushing your teeth!” One parent was looking adoringly at the child, hands clasped, while the other stated, “I just feel like we’re setting him up to be disappointed in the real world.”

I could relate to this because sometimes I feel like that as a teacher. I hold my breath while a student carefully plods through a scale and let out an excited congratulations when they complete it with all the right notes and fingerings. Deep down I know that this is hardly a cause for celebration for most students; it’s just the weekly reality of poor practicing and failure to aim toward a high level of excellence and mastery. But at the same time I find myself grasping for anything praiseworthy that I can latch onto to hopefully spur the student on toward greater accomplishments in the future.

In the remainder of Jane Magrath’s excellent column, What matters more: talent or effort?, she goes on to discuss the importance of recognizing a student’s effort rather than the talent (or lack thereof) itself. Especially enlightening was the result of the research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck on students responses to different types of praise.

I’ve touched briefly on this topic in the past, including a discussion of praising character vs. achievement in this post on Teaching Students to Play Beautifully. It’s a distinction that is almost foreign to education in our culture, though, so it’s easy to forget and revert back to coddling students and trying to make them feel good for every little positive thing they do, regardless of whether it springs from hard work or minimal effort. I am inspired anew to develop a deeper perspective as a teacher and use words and teaching approaches that address a student’s character, not merely their achievement. In other words, no more congratulations for just brushing their teeth! 🙂

24 Piano Pieces Perfect for Rote Teaching

In light of Monday’s post about teaching visual spacial students, I thought it might be nice to post a list of tried and true piano pieces you can teach students by rote. Some of these are ones that I’ve taught; some are from another teacher who sent me her list of suggestions a while ago. Most of these pieces are available at If you have any other great suggestions of rote teaching pieces that you and your students like, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

  1. A Day in the Jungle by Jon George
  2. Bumblebee Toccata by Lynn Freeman Olson
  3. Buzzing Bee by Mark Nevin
  4. Castle Days by Kathleen Massoud
  5. Cross Current by Ted Cooper
  6. Devil’s Night Dance by Catherine Rollin
  7. Dragon Hunt by Nancy and Randall Faber
  8. Dream Echoes by Nancy and Randall Faber
  9. The Fly by Nancy and Randall Faber
  10. Wind Across the Badlands by Valerie Roth-Roubos
  11. Spanish Dance by Catherine Rollin
  12. Dreamscape by George Peter Tingley
  13. Guitars of Seville by Mauro Giuliani
  14. Hide and Seek by Linda Niamath
  15. Mist by Carolyn Miller
  16. Motion Machine by Carolyn Miller
  17. Nature Pieces by Katherine Beard
  18. Poet’s Lament by Jon George
  19. Prelude No. 7 in B minor by Robert Vandall
  20. Rainbow Fish by Catherine Rollin
  21. Solo Flight by Elvina Pearce
  22. The Rainstorm by Elizabeth Greenleaf
  23. The Storm and the Rainbow by Nancy Faber
  24. The Tempest by Faber

Free YouTube to mp3 Converter is my latest greatest find on the world wide web! 🙂 Tagged “The Best Music Tools,” you’ll find a treasure trove of helpful software programs for a variety of needs. I was impressed with their free m4a to mp3 converter, so I signed up for their newsletter to be alerted to new developments and additions.

They just released a free YouTube to mp3 Converter Studio that I’m super excited about! YouTube has become my go-to site for musical performances and I have often wished there was a good way to capture the audio for later listening. has made that wish come true! You can add multiple YouTube videos just by copying the links and then download them all simultaneously. By default, the downloads are saved to the My Music folder as an mp3, but you can change the output folder and also elect to download as a WAV file instead.

The program is intuitive and easy to navigate. And so far it works seamlessly!

Monday Mailbag – Teaching Visual Spatial Students

I have a student that is a highly “visual-spatial” learner. We are struggling.  He is at the late elementary level (says they are too easy but cannot play them well) but wants to play harder things.  He struggles with rhythm and counting, but his note reading is pretty good.  He does not like repetition and I struggle with what to do with him. Do you have any suggestions?

First off, I just have to say that this is what I love so much about teaching! Every student is different and presents unique challenges for us to deal with and find solutions for. It’s exciting to work with students to identify their weak spots and help them overcome. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as realizing that something that used to be hard is now quite easy. That said, here are some specific ideas for working with a student like this:

  • Communicate a vision for what they can do. Be completely upfront with the student about what you are observing in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. But don’t stop there! Help them understand their potential for success and then let them know that you will work with them step-by-step to help them achieve it. It doesn’t have to be grand; just full of hope and encouragement. For example, “Wow. You played almost every single note correctly. Great attention to detail! Now I’m noticing that your rhythm is pretty far off from what’s printed on the page, which is making the whole piece sound a lot less polished than it could. If we can get this counting ironed out, though, you’ll be able to sit down and play all kinds of pieces start to finish with great flow and a beautiful sound.”
  • Present a specific, measurable goal for the student to work toward. Obviously, students like this think that they are playing better than they really are. If all they are going off of is their own subjective perspective, it will be hard to convince them that there is anything to work on. I would try simple (but probably challenging) assignments like “play the entire piece counting every single beat out loud” or “play the piece while recording yourself and then we’ll listen to see if you can get through the whole thing without any pauses or hesitations.” These are concrete goals that a student will either achieve or not. That can be the basis for whether they are allowed to move on to a new piece the following week.
  • Let them try something harder. Amazingly enough, sometimes a student who can’t play a simple one-hand-at-a-time elementary piece will rise to the challenge and learn a much more advanced hands-together piece that grabs their interest. Intrinsic musical motivation does wonders for students who just can’t stomach the insipid sounds of what they deem a “baby piece.” Find a really cool sounding piece that you can use as a teaching tool to help them learn more effective practice strategies. Even if they don’t learn it perfectly, they will probably really appreciate that you believed in them enough to let them give it a try.
  • Give them freedom to learn pieces via a different approach. For students like this, I love teaching them pieces by rote because their keyboard facility and ability to quickly memorize patterns on the keys is much further developed than their reading skills. Try giving them an “Any Song” assignment and just see what they come back with the following week.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks on your students. Let them know that you’re not totally sure if it will work out, but you’re willing to work with them to try different solutions until you find something that works!

Do you have any other suggestions for working with students like this? Feel free to share things that have worked well in your studios!

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!

Two Great Sources for Free Sheet Music

When I was searching around for sheet music to use for the Piece Together Play Together activity at our September Surprise a couple weeks ago, I came across a couple of great sites: has done a complete overhaul of their site since the last time I visited (which was quite a while ago!). They have over 500 free piano pieces in their collection, and dozens more exclusively for members. Even if they don’t have the piece on their site, they have a nice list of links to external sites that can save you a lot of time searching on your own. This appears to be a member-driven site, so the quality of arrangements you will find varies, but it’s definitely a great go-to place for free sheet music!

Easy Sheet Music has a collection of over 70 pages of well-known Classical favorites. You can access up to three a day for free. Or you can subscribe for $15/year for unlimited access.

Check Out Alfred’s Piano Workshops Online

One of the things I love most about attending publisher workshops is finding out about the latest materials and getting a chance to hear new music. In a brilliant move, Alfred Music Publishing has posted a collection of piano workshops on-line for easy viewing. The video clips are less than five minutes each and are titled so that you can quickly find and watch ones that present materials in which you’re most interested. What a great way to familiarize yourself with a variety of repertoire and find just the right pieces for upcoming events!

Review and Giveaway of The Classical Melody Book

Have you ever had a tune stuck in your head and you wished there was a way you could figure out what it was? Imagine if there was a handy little app where you could just play in the first few notes and it would automatically search through a database of songs and find the one that matches that tune. Well, guess what? You don’t have to use your imagination because there is now an app that does just that! And more!

The Classical Melody Book app is ingenious! In addition to alleviating the mind of those nameless tunes, the Classical Melody Book also enables you to store hundreds of pieces of sheet music right at your fingertips for easy access. You can search through it by title, composer, instrument, or even the year it was written!

You can add personal notes to any piece of music, e-mail it, or print it. And any pdf file can be added to the collection by clicking on an e-mail attachment or importing it from a website. The app is designed for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. What a truly amazing app for any musician or music educator!

The best part? You can win your own free copy of The Classical Melody Book App! Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win one of three free copies of the app that the developers have set aside for Music Matters Blog readers. The drawing will take place on Thursday, September 29, at 12:00 noon (CST) using a random number generator.

Monday Mailbag – More About Pre-Piano Camps

My question is related to the pre-piano camps:  Do you have the parents attend with their child?  I have a lot of interest in my area and have been planning to start some classes soon but I’m a little nervous about the number of children, their age, and leaving mommy/daddy.  I also know that their attention span is going to be from 3 to 5 minutes per activity so they will need a lot of activities in a 60 minute time frame.

I offered a pre-piano camp for the first time last summer just to test out the idea. Since I only had the kiddos for one-hour each morning it seemed to work fine for them to leave their parents. The way I designed the program, we had a lot of available material so that I could quickly move from one thing to the next. But there was also flexibility so that if the students were really enjoying a particular activity, we could spend more time on it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the 60 minutes goes by!

One of the things that I emphasized with this pre-piano camp program was that the purpose wasn’t mastery, but an introduction to music and piano. My hope was that the students would love their time at the camp and gain an appreciation for music. That is exactly what happened! I only had two little girls and one of them learned much more quickly than the other, but they both really enjoyed their first “official” musical experiences. One of them is taking lessons now and the other one is on my waiting list!

Since there wasn’t any required homework, it worked just fine to have the students attend the pre-piano camp by themselves. If they wanted to, their parents could look at the workbook at home to see what they were learning and ask them questions.  However, when I start young ones in regular piano lessons, that’s a whole different story! In that case, I require a parent to attend with them so that they can ensure a daily practice routine and help them practice effectively at home.

A lot of my friends have little ones now that are the perfect age for a pre-piano camp, so I’m even thinking about offering a 6-week class during an upcoming semester for an hour on a weekday morning. It’s so fun working with this age group and such a great way to launch them into a lifetime enjoyment of music!

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!