Coming December 1 – A Week of Giveaways!

Merry Christmas to…You!

Despite my best intentions, activity here on Music Matters Blog continues to be sporadic and infrequent. I am still hopeful that I’ll figure out a way to begin posting more regularly again, but in the meantime I thought it would be fun to put together a special selection of giveaways just in time for you to treat yourself to something fun for Christmas this year!

Starting on December 1, I’ll be posting a new giveaway each morning for 5 days. Check in each day to find our more about these exciting new resources, and leave a comment for a chance to win one for yourself!


Notes from Making Sense Out of Digital Scores

As I mentioned, I just attended the live webinar presented by George Litterst in collaboration with MTNA: Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.

Early in his presentation, George reminds us that “The best way you learn something for yourself is by teaching it to others.” I also tend to focus and learn a lot when I write about it, so I thought I would jot down some notes from the presentation to share with those of you who are interested in learning more about the current state and future of digital scores.

Why Electronic Scores?

We’ve all suffered from the OPBS (Overflowing Piano Bench Syndrome), right? Even my carefully planned system of organization eventually overflowed the file cabinets and I finally had to take drastic measures to reduce my collection of printed music. All of this becomes a non-issue with the use of digital scores, which are all contained in the form of bits (binary integers) on a single mobile device. Along those same lines, an iPad – or similarly-sized device – is easy to transport, and you don’t have to worry about printed scores getting damaged, stained, or yellowed over time.

Mr. Litterst also spent some time discussing various wireless page turning devices and demonstrating how they work via foot pedals. Some move the score up one stave at a time; others flip the top half, then the bottom half of the page; others function more like a full page being manually turned.

He makes a point to let us know that the buttons that supply functionality in many electronic scores are often hidden from view. It’s often necessary to tap or hold your finger on the screen to display additional features and functions. Using the app ForScore Mr. Litterst demonstrates selecting and using an annotation feature to jot down notes directly onto the score.

Drawbacks teachers might experience include unfamiliarity, inability to place stickers on the page, absence of that new book scent, and a smaller size page.

Types and Availability of Electronic Scores

Mr. Litterst continued his webinar with an overview of the types and of electronic scores and where to find them. You can scan them in yourself, converting printed scores to PDF files. You can download them for free from the Internet ( is a fabulous repository of public domain music available for free download!). You can print to PDF from a notation software. You can also purchase and download electronic scores either in PDF or using a proprietary program. He briefly discusses the challenge of organizing electronic scores once downloaded and mentions the app NextPage which allows you to drag and drop files using a computer window (using either iTunes or iMazing for your interface). One of the webinar attendees also recommends the app iMazing for iPad organization.

What to Look for in Electronic Scores

After a discussion of important considerations when acquiring electronic scores, Mr. Litterst goes into the more technical side of things, discussing the advent of Music XML. Music XML is a code designed to be both human-readable and machine-readable. A quick glimpse of the code behind an electronic file reveals lots of familiar terms indicating placement of clefs, symbols, and more. For practical use, a teacher could export an XML file of a composition in Finale, then import it onto an iPad via an app designed to read XML files and allow interaction on the user end. He reminds us that there is no substitute for exploring the options on your own, building familiarity, and determining what works best for you.

It’s truly fascinating to hear about the technology being developed in the music world and consider the possibilities for the future! Thanks to George Litterst for all the time he has spent not only learning and developing these possibilities, but also sharing them with the rest of us!

Mr. Litterst will also be presenting at the 2016 MTNA Conference in San Antonio, TX, so be sure to catch his session there if you want to learn more about this technology!

Making Sense Out of Digital Scores

Even though I love technology and am always up for trying out new things, the iPad mini that I acquired earlier this year has spent much of its time relegated to the top drawer of my night stand. (Doesn’t it look sad and neglected?) I know some of th neglect has been so to my shifting educational philosophies, but some of it is also because I haven’t taken the time to educate myself on the best and most efficient ways to utilize the latest technology. So, I’m excited to be signed up for a live webinar in less than an hour with George Litterst, a pioneer in music education technology, on “Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.” I’ll try to report back on what I learn and let you know if my iPad will be receiving a little more attention in the days ahead!

Jungle Huts are a Hit!

Mercy excitedly displays the Odwalla smoothie she earned by making it to the Jungle Juice Hut as part of our Jungle Expedition practice incentive theme this year! I am impressed at the incredible effort students have been putting in this year to earn tickets and gain admission to various jungle huts. The number one most-visited hut? The Snack Shack. Of course. :-)

Got Wolfie?

If you haven’t heard about the Wolfie App yet, you might be living under a piano bench… :-) This interactive app for both teachers and students is taking the piano teaching world by storm! If you have students preparing for a recital or competition, the next webinar they are offering is for you. Wolfie’s Digital Education Expert, Nathan Smith, will be walking attendees through the process of using the app to help students observe and fine tune performances. The webinar will be this Thursday, November 12, from 11:00-12:00 CST.

Even though I’ve become somewhat averse to emphasizing technological use in the studio (thanks to all that I’m learning as we shift to a Classical model of education as we homeschool our children), I am intrigued about the possibility of using apps that truly help students improve their piano playing skills. I have Wolfie downloaded on my iPad, and I’m hoping to take a closer look at it over our Thanksgiving break so I can see if and how I should best utilize it in our studio. I’m also excited that Nathan will be offering a regular Wolfie Hour each (non-holiday) week via the GoToWebinar platform so that teachers can drop in, ask questions, and discuss teaching-related issues with one another.

If you’re interested in checking it out or attending the live webinar, you can view all the event info here: And if you’ve used Wolfie in your studio I’d love to know what you think of it and what aspects you have found most helpful for your students!

Watch The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Live Stream from Dresden!

From the website: “The Dresden Music Festival celebrates the ten year anniversary of the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche with an exceptional concert featuring the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra from New York, alongside the cellist Jan Vogler and the violinist Mira Wang in the Dresden Frauenkirche.”


The performance will air at 2:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, October 24, in the United States. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (from NYC) will be performing the following program:





It’s so cool that we have the opportunity via technology to tune into great performances like this from anywhere in the world!

A Fun Memorization Game for Piano Students

Have you ever had students completely blow the performance of a piece that they’ve played numerous times without a glitch? Or have you ever been that performer? I raise my hand. Learning how to memorize cognitively has made all the difference for me, and I’ve used it over and over again to help students (even those who thought they didn’t need it!) prepare for an effective memorized performance. One way we approach this is by determining the form of the piece and creating little cards with labels for each section.

Here, Robert is in the final stages of preparation for a performance of “Lights in the Water” by Robert Vandall (this has become his all-time favorite piece!). We quickly created cards with labels for each section and began by placing them in order on the music rack. I had him play through it once by memory, taking mental note of each section as he got to it in his performance.

After one run-through, we scrambled the cards and placed them on the music rack for a second performance. He got lucky starting again with A-B! After that, though, the order was mixed up, so he had to see if he could recall how each section started and ended in order to play them in the arranged order.

This is a very helpful tool for creating a mental road map that can guide the student during a performance. Plus, even if they do get stuck in one section, they can easily move on to the next section without panicking! Anything that engages the brain to aid in a memorized performance is a step in the right direction toward cognitive memory and not solely muscle memory.

Diligence is Quite a Virtue…

…working hard will never hurt you; when you’re through there’s always a reward.” So go the lyrics of the “Work Song” from the record “Antshillvania” that I remember listening to over and over as a child. These words came to mind the other day as I was working with my kids on our Latin exercises. (So of course I had to pull this clip up on YouTube and make sure it was inescapably stuck in their heads along with mine. :-))

Not unlike the process of learning to read music, understanding and developing a working knowledge of Latin is complex and difficult. Often one read-through of the lesson is not enough to fully absorb the material. Rather it takes a considerable amount of repetition, meditation, and implementation. How very un-American!

Borrowing from the Character First! Education materials, I find myself often quoting the definition of diligence to my children/students when laziness is the preferred pastime.

“Diligence is investing all my energy to complete the tasks assigned to me.”

I was reminded again of the virtue of diligence when I read the recent article by Rebecca Grooms Johnson highlighting a research project conducted on “Work ethic, motivation, and parental influences in Chinese and North American children learning to play the piano” (published in the October/November 2015 issue of American Music Teacher). Of particular interest to me was the great divide in weekly practice time spent by Chinese students (295.26 minutes) versus their North American/Caucasian student counterparts (159.29 minutes). This is a reflection of “the broadly prevalent Asian cultural philosophy toward learning with a strong emphasis on hard work rather than an inborn talent or ability.”

Rebecca ends her report with a series of questions, among them, “Will our children’s apparently low levels of motivation and work ethic doom our culture to mediocrity?” Yes, indeed! That’s why we must make every effort to inspire, equip, and encourage our students to rise above such an indifferent approach to life and learning. We must push our students to work hard, to excel, to embody diligence in all their endeavors. We must refuse to accept half-hearted, lazy, excuse-riddled work, whether it comes to counting rhythms precisely, memorizing effectively, or even carefully reading and following specific practice instructions. If we truly want to see our students succeed, we must help them realize that it is not innate talent or ability that will propel them forward, but diligent and consistent hard work.

Sign up for the NoteRunner Online Piano Competition

You still have a little over one week to sign up for the NoteRunner Online Piano Competition. The contest is open to participants of all ages (including teachers!) and is designed to help promote the work of independent composers. Winners can receive cash prizes. Check out the list of songs to find a piece that grabs your interest. And you can read all the contest details here. I love that these online competitions are becoming more frequent and look forward to having some students participate one of these days!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas?

If I was going to be completely honest (and I do try to make a habit of it), I would have to say that I really don’t like much Christmas music. I know that’s practically blasphemy to many Christmas die hards, but it takes all of about one day for me to be done with Christmas carols. Less if it happens to be October or earlier. And I have three children in my house that are already breaking out the Christmas music!

Maybe it’s the bland, trite arrangements that make me groan, or maybe it’s just the pervasiveness of it the last couple months of the year. I don’t know for sure. But just as I will continue to teach Fur Elise for the sake of my students, I will continue to endure the familiar yuletide tunes to support these motivated aspiring pianists. That makes me a nice teacher, right? :-)

All that said, I was intrigued by the latest newsletter from Alfred Publishing on “A Creative Christmas.” Robert Vandall talks through his latest contribution to the Christmas repertoire – Christmas Extravaganza – and the various composition techniques he employed to “have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy.” I’m actually looking forward to playing through some of these selections and hopefully finding some new, fresh, inspiring music that I can enjoy listening to this Christmas season!