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.

Using Animals to Teach Piano Technique

Sometimes I feel a bit like the odd one out as a piano teacher who isn’t equal parts animal lover. But it’s true. I’d probably rather practice scales than pet your cute little kitten, no matter how soft it is, or how adorable it sounds when it purrs. That said, there’s something different about a wild animal. Maybe it’s that it’s okay to observe and appreciate it from a distance without getting fur or drool all over my clothing or having to clean out a litter box. Whatever the reason, the use of animals in Piano Safari has resonated with me, and I really enjoy the animals they have selected to represent various technique concepts.

When I was recently exploring their new website, I was excited to come across this video clip that gives a brief overview of each of the concepts and how to apply them:

I even watched it with a student who has just completed Level 2 as a way of quickly reviewing all of the techniques and then discussing which ones would apply in her new repertoire piece. Even if you’re not using the Piano Safari method, this is a great resource for helping students visualize and practice essential techniques at the piano!

Music is in [and on!] the Air!

We’ve had another fun week in the studio polishing up some cool piano pieces…

[“Cool Walkin'” by Melody Bober from Grand Solos for Piano, Book 3]

…recording important information (in our Mini Music Manuals, of course!)…

[It’s exciting to see the new level of ownership students are taking to really know all of their musical terms and symbols!]

…trying out our new Nessie Recording Mic

[I love utilizing technology to enhance the students’ musical experience and inspire them to greater heights in their piano playing!]

… and creating cool percussion tracks to accompany favorite repertoire.


[“Sneaky Ape” by Wendy Lynn Stevens from Piano Safari, Level 2]

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.

Favorites On the Piano Rack

  
It’s our second week into the New Year and we are having a blast! It’s so exciting to watch students progressing and taking ownership for their own learning. I thought this picture of Stephanie at the piano was a great combination of some of our favorite materials here in the studio:

On Your Way to Succeeding with the Masters compiled and edited by Helen Marlais – This is a fabulous collection of music from every musical era with colorful introductions to give the students an overview of the various styles. I love that it even includes Medieval and Renaissance music! (Plus, this is a great supplement to Piano Safari Level 2.)

Piano Safari – This has quickly become my favorite piano method of all time! We love the music and techniques so much that Stephanie usually learns several new pieces on her own every week. We can hardly wait for Level 3 to be done!

Mini Music Manual – Of course I just had to mention this again. :-) It’s exciting to see the students continuing to turn to these manuals to take notes and refer to diagrams as they learn new music concepts, terms, symbols, etc.

It’s great to start the New Year with new ideas and renewed motivation! Hoping it continues for the rest of the year!

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.

Musical U – Giveaway #2!


With the whole world of music literally at your fingertips it’s never been easier to access all the resources you need to become the musician you’ve always wanted to be. Right? Easier, perhaps. Less overwhelming? Not by a long shot!

Recognizing the huge gap that many musicians (or wanna be musicians) face between who they are musically and who they want to be musically, Musical U has harnessed the effectiveness of their highly successful apps and website, plus a framework of guidance, structure, and support to help millions of people achieve their musical dreams! With an essential balance of expert training plus supportive community, Musical U provides an environment that is sure to help any dedicated learner succeed and reach new levels of musicality.

Musical U has generously offered to provide one free membership to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below for a chance to be entered in the drawing. One winner will be chosen at noon (CST) on Friday, December 11, 2015 using a random number generator. Enter now to experience this incredible resource for yourself!

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!

Q&A with Pierre from Flat

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 6.59.53 PM

Pierre is a co-founder of Flat, an online music score creator that allows you to compose with friends. Please welcome Pierre as he joins me for a Q&A session! *applause* :)

MMB: Could you give us a summary of what Flat is?

Pierre: Flat is a collaborative music score editor that offers the ability to collaborate in real time on the same composition with your friends. It’s like Google Documents. We focus on a new experience to create the simplest, easy to use music tool.

MMB: What inspired you to develop Flat?

Pierre: Basically, we’re 4 musicians. We all met during our computer sciences studies. Vincent my CTO & co–founder plays cello and I am a drummer. Back in those days, it was almost impossible for us to collaborate easily spur of the moment.

It was mainly due to two things:

-­ Existing software was too professional and the learning curve was so hard.

-­ None of software offered real time collaboration. Meaning, that to collaborate easily, you had to be in the same room, etc…

It clearly appeared that we could create a web application to change that. However web technologies weren’t mature enough at that point. Three years later, we had to submit a final study project to our school. We thought it was a great opportunity to try to develop Flat. We received distinction for our work and started over once we get graduated. We are now almost one year old and we’re proud to see that we managed to address the collaboration issue!

MMB: Could you take us through the steps of creating a score using Flat?

Pierre: Of course. It’s pretty easy, actually:

-­ Click on create score

-­ Enter your sheet music name

-­ Select your instruments

-­ Set the time and key signature

-­ Start to compose your masterpiece

Watch these steps in action!

MMB: Does Flat save all your music?

Pierre: Flat automatically saves your work. We called it the smart history! When you have made many changes or apply a major modification like changing instruments, a transposition, etc…
A version will be created. None of your work can be lost. You can go through all your version history and revert to an old one whenever you want!

MMB: The collaborative aspect of Flat sounds pretty cool, how exactly does that work?

Pierre: As I said previously, it’s just like a Google Documents. You invite a collaborator, grant him access, and you can start to collaborate. Based on a set of colors you’ll see what collaborators do. There is not a limit of the number of collaborators. Flat can be used directly within Google Hangouts video chat, as well. So users can collaborate in realtime and take advantage of the video. It happens often that we have 10 people inside the Google Hangouts session. It’s pretty stunning!

MMB: Can you create scores through a MIDI device and/or write in the music?

Pierre: As I am writing my answers, Corentin is going through the last checks of the first version of MIDI composition. It will be online by the beginning of the next week.

MMB: If you can use both methods, is it easy to switch back forth?

Pierre: You can use any kind of input to write in your sheet music. You can easily switch from your keyboard to midi and back to using your mouse. We’re spending most of our time thinking how to keep Flat as easy as possible. If something is inconvenient for us it will be worse for the user.

MMB: Can you create score through the microphone on your computer?

Pierre: We did some research on that topic. It’s a real challenge that we intend to implement within the beginning of 2016!

MMB: Is it mobile device friendly?

Pierre: We have maintained a mobile device version of Flat. However we have understood that usages are completely different on a computer and a mobile device. This is why, instead of developing a different experience dedicated to mobile on the same product, we have started to work on a mobile app of Flat. Crazy engineers have just joined the team to create it before the end of the year.

Check out Flat and start some real time composing with your friends!