Best Composer Research Resources for Piano Students

Our Vanishing Voices studio practice incentive theme has been a huge hit so far this year! The students are enjoying collecting composers for their portfolios, and I’m enjoying learning tidbits of new information from the research that they do for each composer. In fact, I can see how my whole understanding of the timeline of history has been heavily influenced by my own study of music history over the years, so I’m excited to provide an opportunity for the students to increase their knowledge of history as well!

In light of that, I’ve been compiling some of my favorite composer research resources:


Informusic, the regularly updated and wonderfully handy app that has a world of information at your fingertips! Click here to read the full review.

By far, my all-time favorite book on music history, Bigwigs of Classical Music, was written and illustrated by cartoonist Ben Lansing. In fact, he even generously granted me permission to use his composer portraits as part of our theme! Witty and engaging, Ben’s writing style brings these musical masters to life in a way that even students find entertaining and enjoyable.

Classics for KidsClassics for Kids houses a large compendium of biographies, activity sheets, podcasts, and musical excerpts to introduce students to notable composers. I love that you can search alphabetically by composers last name, by country, by time period, or by utilizing the interactive timeline!

Do you have any other favorite composer resources? I’d love to know about them!

Review and Giveaway of Fireworks in the Night

As if writing a book isn’t hard enough, author Sherry Miller has gone above and beyond by producing a full-blown audio track and lesson plan to accompany Fireworks in the Night, her first book in a series called Randy the Raccoon & His Musical Friends.

The book is full color and beautifully illustrated – sure to capture the attention of a young animal-loving audience! As a long-time music educator in both private and classroom settings, this book is an innovative addition to the other materials she has created to inspire a love of music in budding musicians.

The story is a creative weaving of Randy Raccoon’s nighttime escapades with a glimpse into the life of one of history’s greatest composers: George Frideric Handel. I was surprised that more of Handel’s story wasn’t included, but there is a list of “Fun Facts About George Frideric Handel” at the back of the book and the accompanying lesson plans (available as a free download upon providing your name and email address) cover some additional interesting information. Also, it’s helpful to note that the book assumes that the reader is listening to the correlating audio file (included in the free download) and references the music that they are hearing. If you have a device handy for little ones to play and follow along, I can envision them experiencing hours of enjoyment listening to the lively audio drama. This is a fun introduction to the world of Classical music, and hopefully will whet young appetites to explore and learn more!

Sherry has kindly offered to give away one free copy of Fireworks in the Night to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 10, 2016.

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.

10 Non-Musical Skills that Children Can Learn from Piano Lessons

Lisa Phillips has an excellent article on the ARTSblog identifying The Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts:

  1. Creativity
  2. Confidence
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Perseverance
  5. Focus
  6. Non-Verbal Communication
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback
  8. Collaboration
  9. Dedication
  10. Accountability

Be sure to read the post for specific insights on each of these areas and how they are developed through music lessons.

40 Interview Questions for Prospective Piano Students

Years ago I started conducting and interview and evaluation/assessment with every prospective piano student and their parents. This is so helpful in getting to know the families, the individual student, and their musical expectations and aptitude. I’ve recently been coming up with some new questions that I’d like to add to the forms I use, and just came across a list of 40 questions from Yellow Cat Music Education that has some possibilities I’ve never even thought of! These are very thought-provoking and so helpful in establishing clear expectations regarding practice right off the bat. This would actually be a great list to send to parents even before the initial interview so that they have a chance to look over it and think through their level of commitment to their child’s musical studies.

Wee Sing Resources

Did anyone else grow up with the Wee Sing series of songbooks? I still have a collection of these childhood favorites sitting on my shelves (I think I need to pull them off and start using them in my teaching!). I just recently discovered that there is actually a Wee Sing Website with more info, resources, and activity sheets to go along with the Wee Sing books. And even though these have been around for 30+ years, the authors are keeping up with the times and have created a new Wee Sing and Learn ABC app to help children learn the alphabet. The Wee Sing series would be a fabulous teaching resource for planning themed preschool or elementary music education classes!

Monday Mailbag – How Can Parents Help Motivate Their Children?

I am a new piano mom. I’ve been wanting to put my children in lessons for many years, but we’re just finally able to put it in our budget. My two daughters both started lessons a few weeks ago at ages 9 and almost 7. Their teacher doesn’t use an incentive program or anything, so I’m wondering what I can do to help encourage them to practice at home. One of them is already getting a bit bored with lessons; I can see how it would be a little discouraging when it takes a few months to start seeing a lot of progress. Thanks for any insights!

Like a lot of things in life, I’m realizing more and more that there will be seasons of great enjoyment in working on piano assignments and there will be times where you just have to be disciplined and do it when you don’t feel like it. A piano teacher can only do so much in a short weekly lesson; the rest is up to the parents to make it a priority and the student to take responsibility. In the end, it has to be a combination of everyone working together to make learning any instrument a successful endeavor. That’s the only way to progress.

That said, probably the two biggest motivators in general are:

  1. Learning music that the student loves – pieces that sound cool, are fun to play, and give the musician the opportunity to play musically.
  2. Having an outlet to play for others – recitals, group classes, festivals, and church specials are wonderful, but even if it’s a family gathering every month where each child is given the opportunity to perform a piece that they’ve worked up to a polished level, that does wonders for giving a child a reason to practice and learn a piece well.

Any parent can help influence and motivate their child by expressing enjoyment in their music, asking the teacher if he/she has additional suggestions for fun music their child could learn, and providing opportunities for them to play in a variety of settings. If you have other suggestions, either as a parent or a teacher, feel free to share! What can parents do to help motivate their children when it comes to learning and practicing an instrument?

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!

Ever Thought About Adopting a Piano?

Yes, that’s right. Thanks to PianoAdoption.com you can now find a good home for your used piano or search for just the right match for yourself. There is a listing for every state, so you can look for pianos close to you. Obviously it would still be wise to have the piano checked over by a good piano technician (for about $25 my piano technician will give a piano a good look and see how much work and money it will need to get it in good working condition) before hauling it to your house, but this looks like a great resource for families who really need a piano but may not be in a financial position to afford it.

Review and Giveaway of Beethoven Who – Family Fun with Music!

From the colorful, eye-catching artwork on the cover to the extensive index at the back, Marcia Washburn has put together a fun and practical resource that is great for parents and teachers alike – Beethoven Who?! This 334 page ebook covers everything from why children should learn music, to an overview of different styles of music, to handy hyperlinks that take you directly to the corresponding terms in the glossary, and lots more.

Coming from a Christian perspective, Marcia includes a multitude of Scripture verses, inspirational quotes, listening suggestions, and full-color pictures. The book would be a great resource for music teachers wanting to plan a music camp, gather ideas for group classes, or just build their own knowledge of the history and elements of music to incorporate it more into their teaching. It is also ideal for a homeschool family looking for a fun, easy-to-use music appreciation curriculum.

Now, for the best part…Marcia has graciously offered to giveaway one copy of the Beethoven Who? curriculum (a $29.99 value) to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be chosen using a random number generator on Thursday, September 20 at noon (CST). [Also, if you want to go ahead and purchase a copy, Marcia said that she would be happy to refund the winner for the purchase price if they’ve already ordered it.]

Inspiration and Practical Tips for Parents and Teachers Working with Young Children at the Piano

I “saved” this post on my browser as soon as I saw the title, but just finally got around to watching Mario Ajero’s video clip on How to Start Piano Lessons for Pre-School Aged Children. If you are a parent or teacher of young children and need a little inspiration and practical advice, you have to check this out! It’s so neat to watch Mario work with his daughter and see the excitement in her face as she learns to play simple songs on the piano. I really love his suggestion of making time at the piano a part of your daily routine so that it becomes a normal and expected part of life.

These are great ideas that could also easily be incorporated into a Pre-Piano Camp for young students who are considering starting formal piano lessons.