History of American Music Education – A Guest Post by Campbellsville University

In most public schools across the country, music education is an important part of the educational experience. The history of music education in the United States began before the American Revolution and progressed to the prevalence of music education today.

Music Education in the Colonies

When the Pilgrims and Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, they brought a tradition of singing psalms. According to A Concise History of American Music Education by Michael Mark, the first book printed in America that contained music was a 1698 psalm book.

Meanwhile, secular music was allowed and celebrated in the South. Experienced musicians traveled across plantations to teach children and perform for private audiences and churches. Music education was limited to the wealthy.

As the northern colonies grew, so did the importance of music literacy in the church. The Rev. John Tufts founded the first American “singing school” and published An Introduction to The Singing of Psalm-Tunes in 1721 to cure the ills of music illiteracy. Singing masters taught people in the community to sing by note as part of the singing school movement.

>>Read more about the History of Music Education>>


Campbellsville University 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.

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.

Appreciating the Old Welcoming the New – A Guest Post by the University of Florida

Those that were born before the iPod may remember the decline of cassette and record players, the latter of which is currently experiencing a resurgence as more people turn to vinyl for a revival of sound quality. This infographic illustrates the evolution of music technology and how it has allowed us to enjoy and create music socially as well as individually.

Items like the 4-track tape machine were used to record and play tracks reel-to-reel. Now people can share audio and video on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and other streaming platforms. They can even record their own music on affordable programs like GarageBand.

In a rapidly-changing musical world, it can be helpful to treasure the inventions of the past while looking forward to future developments. Check out the infographic below for some inspiration, or use it as a visual when teaching your students about the history of music innovation.


Interested in learning more about applying new methods to music education? Discover the online master’s degree in music education from the University of Florida.

Deciding on a Musical Instrument – What to Choose? – A Guest Post by The Tutor Pages

Most parents will consider these questions at some point: Is my child musical? Can we afford music lessons? Which instrument should we choose?

Many parents are eager for their child to begin music lessons at a young age. However, some instruments are a better choice than others for young beginners. For example, the piano or a string instrument can be learned very young – even 3 year olds can experience success. On the other hand, vocal teachers will often recommend that a child start later, perhaps after puberty. Woodwind and brass teachers normally recommend that a child wait until their adult teeth have come in before learning their instruments.

Every instrument has advantages and disadvantages. Piano lessons are an obvious choice: the child can immediately make a reasonable sound on this instrument and there is a huge repertoire – truly a lifetime of discovery. On the other hand, pianos can be an expensive investment and you may have to worry about disturbing the neighbours. Digital pianos are worth considering for both of these reasons.

Some instruments provide more social interaction. Guitar lessons, for example, give students a great opportunity to play in groups. Beginner guitars are reasonably priced, portable, and are great for singing along and playing with friends in many genres.

Other string instruments like the cello and violin also provide social opportunities – you can join orchestras and other ensembles. They have a vast body of repertoire available, especially in the chamber music realm. The same is true for woodwind instruments like the clarinet and brass instruments like the trumpet. It is worth remembering that some instruments have better crossover for other genres such as jazz: for example, the trumpet or double bass.

Whatever instrument you choose, you can find advice on choosing the right musical instrument, tips on how to learn, and help finding a music teacher on the UK’s premier website for private tuition: The Tutor Pages.


The Tutor Pages 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.

Top 5 Songs to Learn on Piano in 2016 – A Guest Post by MusicNotes.com

Many music lovers resolved to learn or practice an instrument in 2016, and one of the most popular instruments to pick up is the piano. Once you learn to read sheet music, you can see the tiny intricacies of each song right there on paper, and really feel inspired by the instrument. MusicNotes.com is a great resource for popular and classic sheet music, where there are multiple versions of these piano favorites: 

1. Space Oddity: The somber beauty of this classic by the late David Bowie is sure to engage even the most frustrated player. Its use of simple chords is impressive, yet not too hard to master.

2. Fur Elise: The opening notes of one of Beethoven’s most popular songs command attention and make listeners tune in. The song is also famous for exciting changes, twists, and turns that will challenge you as you learn.

3. All of Me: Learn this romantic smash hit by John Legend on the piano and you’ll have a hard time not singing along. The sheet music is easy to follow and the song is easy to learn (maybe even in time for Valentine’s day)!

4. Hello: Adele’s songs are sure to stir emotion and inspire learners to keep trying. You’ll love playing this song once you learn it.

5. Piano Man: Once people know you are a piano enthusiast, chances are, they’ll ask you about “Piano Man,” by Billy Joel. Luckily, it’s a crowd pleaser that’s easy to learn.

Learning music by actually reading it on the page allows you to engage with the song and take ownership of your own style. Those little black dots and lines on the page are laden with meaning, and you’ll have a visual reference point for the way the song moves up and down the scales.

Of course, the most important thing about learning piano or another instrument is to stay dedicated to learning and practice, practice, practice. Try setting up a daily time slot in your schedule that is dedicated to playing and listening to piano music. It’s also helpful to watch others play the songs you’re trying to learn. If you compare what you’re seeing to sheet music, you might be amazed at how quickly you pick it up.

Bonus: For first-timers or people who need a refresher, MusicNotes.com has a nice little cheat sheet that you can download and print for free and prop up on the piano as you get your fingers used to the keys.


Musicnotes.com 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.

How to Get the Most Out of Online Music Resources – Guest Post by Christopher Sutton

[Note from Natalie: Be sure to enter the giveaway for a free Musical U membership!]


No matter what stage you’re at in your music education, there are countless online resources to help you grow as a musician and expand your knowledge and training. From video tutorials to user forums, and from how-to articles to training modules, there are all types of online learning tools to help you take your musical abilities to the next level.

But how do you find the tools and resources that will work for you, at your level of musical training? And how do you know if you’re really getting the most bang for your buck when you make use of those online resources?

Make a Plan

The key to getting the most from online music resources is to make a plan for how you’re going to use them. In order for online tools to benefit you once you discover them, you’ll need to stay involved and use them regularly. Decide how much time you’ll be able to dedicate to your online music training on a daily and weekly basis, and then stick to it. You don’t need huge amounts of time, you just need to ensure that you’re checking and using your resources consistently.

Maybe that means watching a YouTube tutorial every night after dinner, or catching up on recent blog posts every Sunday. Just as with regular music practice sessions, a small amount of time dedicated to learning each and every day will make a huge difference in how quickly you improve.

Ask Questions

Struggling with a particular concept or lesson? Having a hard time nailing that one song? Don’t wait passively for the answers to fall into your lap; seek them out yourself! Actively asking questions is a crucial part of making the most of online music resources. If something written in a blog post or article doesn’t make sense to you, leave a comment and ask for clarification. If there’s a particular video tutorial you’re interested in seeing but can’t seem to find anywhere online, submit a request.

Online communities for musicians are all about learning via dialogue; it’s up to you and your peers to make that dialogue happen. Teachers, moderators, and managers of online resources are there to help you and provide the content that you want, but it’s hard for them to know what you’re looking for and what you’d like to learn about if you stay silent.

Connect with Others

Musicians who learn to play instruments solely via online resources may at times feel isolated from the music community. When you’re spending all of your time learning to make music from your own home, you’re missing out on the experience of connecting with and learning from other musicians. Don’t make that mistake!

Guide to Finding an Online Community

If you’re just starting your search for an online musicians community, use these tips to help you get started:

Know How to Search

Spend some time browsing various online communities for musicians and try to find one that will adequately meet your needs at your level. You may find one that works for you by doing a quick Google search (for instance, “online communities for bass players”) or by checking with online resources you already use to see if they offer any forums or other methods of communication between users.

If you’re already a member of one online learning site and would like to join another, find out if your community has any partners or affiliates. Chances are, they have plenty of connections or recommendations and can point you in the right direction.

Know What you Need

Carefully consider which specific needs you want your online music community to meet. Do you want a group that will challenge and push you to grow as a musician, or just an outlet for staying connected to the music world? Are you looking for a site like Musical U which provides both training resources and a friendly supportive community? Would you prefer a community that is focused on your current stage of musical training (beginner, advanced, etc.) or one that will be suitable throughout your musical development?

Know Your Involvement Level

You’ll also need to consider what level of involvement you’d like to achieve within your community. Are you content with monthly emails, or do you want a space where you can chat with other users and members regularly? Check out your online community’s blog to see how often they post, and their discussion forum to see how active other users are. Subscribe to emails to find out how frequently you’ll receive updates. These should all give you an idea of how involved your community is and what level of commitment you’ll need to stay in the loop.

Don’t wait—start looking for your perfect online musicians community today, and start taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and resources they have to offer to transform and accelerate your music learning.

If you’re ready to get involved and start making the most of online music resources, two great places to start are the Musical U community and of course the community right here on the Music Matters Blog!


Christopher Sutton is the founder of Easy Ear Training and Musical U, where musicians can discover and develop their natural musicality. Born and raised in London, England he lives with his wife and far too many instruments.

Learning to Play the Piano Benefits You in Numerous Ways – Guest Post by Dustin Williams

Learning to play the piano provides numerous health benefits. Individuals find they experience less stress upon learning to play this instrument and their cognitive development and eye-hand coordination improve. Thanks to home study courses, anyone can now be playing this instrument in a short period of time.

The Benefits of Learning to Play the Piano

A study published in Cognitive Systems Research showed eye-hand coordination improves when one learns to play the piano, and regular practice on a daily basis instills discipline in the child. Neuropsychology reported in a 2011 study which found that musical training protects mental sharpness during the aging process, while the British Journal of Psychiatry found that music therapy successfully helps to treat depression.

Barry Bittman, a Pennsylvania physician, and Loma Linda University School of Medicine researchers found learning to play an instrument helps individuals to relax and stimulate their immune system. Furthermore, E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, found that children who undergo music training witness a rise in their IQ. These are only a few of the numerous benefits of learning to play the piano.

Playground Sessions

Individuals wanting to learn to play the piano may find Quincy Jones’ Playground Sessions to be of great help. The program features innovative technology to teach users how to play the piano using video lessons. The program makes use of popular songs, so the user already knows the rhythm, and this makes learning come more quickly and naturally. The beats and rhythms of these songs are used to demonstrate musical concepts in the various lessons, and users learn to play by ear, make their way around the keyboard and more. Students may choose from the rookie, intermediate or advanced tour options.

Interactive Video Lessons

With the help of interactive video lessons, students quickly learn to play the piano. Each song is broken down in simple steps, making the music theory concepts easy to grasp. The student first views how to play the song, and then he or she plays along with the instructor. Constructive feedback is offered along with helpful tips.

Engaging Instruction

David Sides, known for his “Apologize” rendition on the piano, provides the lessons, ensuring users stay engaged. Sides makes use of progress visualizations to help students stay on track, such as charts, and students find the charts allow them to see where they are excelling and where more practice is needed. Seeing improvement in various areas helps to keep students motivated.

The Gaming Element

Real time scores and feedback allow the user to make adjustments immediately. This prevents bad habits from being formed and encourages the user to try harder to beat his or her last score. When a note is played correctly, it turns green. When the student is close, the note changes to a pink color. Miss the note completely and it turns red. The gaming element makes learning to play piano fun and something children will look forward to doing.

Individuals wishing to learn to play piano need to consider this program in their search for lessons, as many find it to be helpful. Playground Sessions offers the tools needed to succeed in mastering this instrument.


Playground Sessions 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 me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Piano Technique – A Guest Post by Doug Hanvey

A Word from Natalie: Perhaps the most impactful thing I have learned in my years of playing and teaching piano is the importance of understanding and properly using the body to achieve artistic playing with the greatest ease. The three greatest catalysts of this in my own education were: my teacher and mentor, Sylvia Coats, attending a one-week Suzuki teacher training led by Doris Koppelman, and the fabulous workshops of Beth Grace on Beyond Scales and Hanon. I have experienced first-hand the immeasurable value of using proper technique when playing piano, and I have seen students (both my own, transfer students, and students I have taught in masterclass settings) suddenly accomplish musically or technically what they didn’t think was possible when I help them understand the basic principles of Gravity, Strength, and Conduction. So I am excited to host Doug Hanvey as a guest today because he touches on some of these issues that have been “game-changing” for me. I hope his points pique your interest and propel you to either begin or continue your journey to understanding the amazing design of the human body and how it can be maximally employed by you and your students to become excellent pianists!


1. Anatomy Is the Foundation of Technique

Seems like anatomy should be part of piano pedagogy, but did your musical mentors teach you much about it? Maybe you think of your body like a car – as long as it’s running, and a mechanic is only a phone call away, there’s no pressing need to understand how it works. While we “use” the body to play piano like we use a car to drive over to Aunt Edna’s, the body is not the same as a car. You are in command of your body’s movements to an infinitely greater degree than the mostly automated, mechanical motions of a car. And these movements are infinitely more complex than a car’s will ever be. A correct and thorough understanding of how your body works to play piano can only be to your advantage.

2. Your Body Does Not Control How You Play

Every piano player has a “body map,” an internal representation of the body that is used to determine how you move to play. Strictly speaking, it is your body map, not your body, that determines your movements. Unfortunately, a body map may be inaccurate or even outdated. But just as the explorers who followed Columbus made ever more accurate maps of the New World, we can make a more accurate body map based on our understanding of anatomy suffused with an inclusive awareness of the body.

3. Concentration Can Impede Healthy Technique

The concentration demanded of pianists can contribute to unhealthy technique. Concentration is one-pointed attention. When we are concentrated – for example, on the music in front of us – we may be less than fully aware (or not aware at all) of our body, breathing, and movements. This doesn’t mean you should stop concentrating, but consider the value of bringing more awareness of the body and its movements into each moment of playing.

4. You Should “Map” the Whole Body

You should understand, feel, and “map” your whole body, not just the arms and hands. For example, the arms and hands aren’t separate from the spine, which bears so much of the body’s weight and is directly relevant to technique. (Interestingly, it is the front part of the spine, closest to the center of the body, that is the weight-bearing part, not the bony structure running down the back that we usually think of as the spine.) By becoming aware of the support provided by the spine we can enhance the efficient movement of the arms and hands.

5. Balance Is More Important Than Posture

If you feel like it takes a lot of effort to sit up straight, you may not be in balance. When you are balanced your skeleton supports your posture with minimal effort required. If you are out of balance, you are probably using muscular effort to maintain your posture, which can lead to chronic tension and contaminate efficient movement in other parts of the body.

6. Resolving Neck Tension Is Vital

Most people these days carry unnecessary neck tension. (As I type this I’m well aware that I’m one of them.) Neck tension can be particularly detrimental for pianists. It can hinder arm movement and even inhibit healthy nerve impulses to the arms. A relaxed neck helps us play with a freer motion and supports optimal balance (see above). If you carry habitual neck tension, do what you can to resolve it so it doesn’t affect your playing in the long term.

7. Bench Height Is More Important Than You Thought

An optimal bench height keeps your elbows on about the same level as the tops of the white keys, giving you the best mechanical advantage for playing. Many, if not most, benches are too low for most people.

8. Your Fingers are Not Attached to Your Hands

If I asked you where your fingers begin, you would probably point to your knuckles. But the fingers are actually attached to the wrist! Try moving your fingers right now and see if you can feel this for yourself. (This is an example of what is involved in developing an accurate body map.)

To learn more about anatomy and body mapping, check out Thomas Mark’s What Every Pianist Needs To Know About the Body. Mark’s book contains valuable information for piano teachers, pianists who want to develop the best possible technique, pianists who have been injured, and pianists who want to avoid injury – meaning just about everyone that plays the piano.


Doug Hanvey offers piano lessons in Portland, OR. He writes educational articles for piano students and piano teachers on his studio website’s blog, which can be found at the above link.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

3. Apply it
What is the one thing you could do that would best give kids the internal drive to master music theory? Teach them the application.

When kids realize that music theory empowers them to create their own fun songs they’ll want to learn everything they can from you.

Far too often kids study the piano for years and years, but then can’t play a thing if they don’t have a piece of sheet music in front of them. What happens if they get asked to “play something” when they don’t have a piece worked up? They’re embarrassed and find themselves feeling that their lessons have failed them to some degree.

If a student really understands his instrument, he should be able to make music—even if he doesn’t have a sheet in front of him.

Music theory teaches us how music works, and if you can help your students realize that applying their theory will open a whole new world of enjoyment at the piano, they will thank you forever.

Kids can start applying their theory even as young beginners. When you introduce a new concept, ask kids to go home and create a song that uses this new principle. You’ll find that kids learn the concept faster, are thrilled to play their song for you and their confidence at the piano skyrockets.

For some fun exercises that get kids creating impressive songs using their theory knowledge, you can check out these piano improv activities. You definitely want to teach the “Snowflake Technique” to your students—it’s super easy and sounds awesome:

When your students know their theory well they’ll make faster progress in their lessons, learn new songs with less frustration and spend hours at the piano having fun creating their own music. Remember these three tips for getting kids excited about learning theory: make it fun, make it social and teach the application. Before you know it, your students will become music theory rockstars!

A huge thanks to Kristen Jensen for sharing her wonderful tips and resources with us in this series, 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

2. Make it social

Studying piano can be kind of lonely. Kids practice by themselves. Then they sit in a small room with an “old” teacher who for 30 minutes tells them everything they’re doing wrong. Then they go home and repeat.

One reason why so many kids end up choosing sports over piano is that their friends are there with them. And when friends are together, there’s laughter, camaraderie and the desire to succeed together.

There is a way to make piano a more social experience, and that is to offer group theory lessons. You could do a group theory class once a month, or maybe offer a special theory master class anytime there is a 5th Monday in a month. Maybe you could get even more creative with your scheduling. I provide a group theory class almost every week–my students love coming, have developed strong friendships and are learning a ton.

Plus some friendly competition goes a long way in motivating kids to nail down new concepts! When kids are playing a game with their friends they have much more incentive to master the principles because they want to be included in the fun and they want to do well in the game.

Here’s a favorite group activity that is as old as the hills and has a million variations, but is really effective. Knowing note names is a foundational skill that kids will build upon for virtually everything else we do in music theory, so it’s always my goal to help students learn the names of the notes on the staff as quickly as possible. We do this activity a lot! To play, place a printout of the grand staff in a page protector and give a copy to each student. Then give each student a mini marshmallow and call out a note name. All students who place their marshmallow on the correct line or space get to eat it. You’ll be able to play many rounds of this “note name drill” because your students will want more treats!

Ear training is also great in a group. Ear training is something can easily be neglected, but it makes a world of difference in students’ musicianship. When your students are just getting started, use simple ear training games like playing two notes and asking students to call out if the notes are the same pitch or two different pitches. Gradually work your way into more advanced exercises (using fun activities, of course), and before long, your students will have a well-trained ear that helps them quickly learn their favorite songs.

Come back tomorrow for Part Four in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.