Win a $25 iTunes Gift Card from Sight Reader App!

A Guest Post by Michael Lerner of Sight Reader App

We’re really excited to announce the latest version of our innovative iPad app that helps musicians of all levels read music! It’s called Sight Reader and n honor of the New Year and to commence our resolution to become better sight readers, we’re giving away a $25 iTunes gift card to one lucky (sight) reader.

While there are a number of mobile and tablet apps that teach and allow you to practice your reading, the end result is that you become very good at touching a screen. That’s because touching a screen is how you interact with these apps and not by playing your instrument.

What makes Sight Reader different is that you practice reading music by reading on your instrument and Sight Reader has many ways in which you interact with your music. For the very beginner there are animated lessons introducing the basic notes on one of 12 supported instruments. There are then simple exercises to read and play followed by challenges that offer newly generated music with each use to prevent memorization. In addition, students can use flashcards to test how quickly they can identify then play a random note shown on screen.

For the more serious reader, there are Rhythm Only exercises that are a single pitch with infinite rhythm combinations, Note Only exercises which are steady streams of notes at particular rhythms to increase speed and dexterity, Intervals which allow you to practice recognizing intervals more quickly, and Scales so you can practice your scales in all 12 keys.

What’s also important is that everything you play is graded objectively and students can monitor their results. This makes it great for practicing without a teacher present.

Tell us what’s most important in your sight reading practice routine in the comments below. The $25 iTunes gift card winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Happy reading!

Piano Teaching Tips

One of the most helpful aspects of the Alfred Ledger Lines blog is the Piano Teaching Tips that they post periodically featuring one of their composers giving a little “masterclass” of sorts on how to play one of their pieces. The most recent one is a post by E.L. Lancaster highlighting Midnight Adventure, an etude in the Premier Piano Course Technique book. It’s really cool to read the composer’s own thoughts about the piece, and gain a deeper understanding of how they want it to be played. Plus, you can download a pdf file of the piece with comments from the composer jotted into the score to aid with your understanding. This is such a beneficial resource, especially for new teachers who need practical direction on how to teach students to play excellently and musically.

Evernote: A Fabulous Free App for Lesson Planning

Ever since I started teaching almost 15 years ago I feel like I’ve been searching for ways to organize and streamline lesson planning. From endless lists, to spreadsheets, to binders, to paper files, I’ve tried dozens of different ideas. None of them have accomplished what I really want in the way of planning repertoire and collecting ideas specific to each student. Nothing, that is, until I spent some time over Christmas break exploring the fabulous (and free!) Evernote app!

This is one more reason why I can’t imagine teaching without my iPod Touch at my fingertips. Evernote is optimal for lesson planning purposes because you can create a folder for each student and then create notes within the folder. Notes can include text, photos, links, audio clips, etc. This is a super cool way to record different repertoire excerpts for students that you can play back for them when they’re at the lesson. You can also e-mail the notes, so you could easily use this to record lesson assignments and then send it to the student. There is also a version that you can use on a desktop/laptop computer and sync with your mobile version.

Another cool feature is the ability to create tags. For example, I can create a tag called “music to buy.” Then, whenever I create a note that includes a book or resource that I need to buy for a particular student, I just assign it that tag. On the home screen of Evernote I can select the “Tag” area and all the tags will be sorted alphabetically, quickly allowing me to access the “music to buy” category and see an overview of all the notes containing purchases I need to make. Isn’t that cool? I’m sure there are even more capabilities that I haven’t discovered yet. There are so many possibilities! Is anyone else using the Evernote app for lesson planning? I’d love to hear your ideas on how you’ve used it!

Bring the Sounds of Africa to Your Music Lessons: Guest Post by Alan Grainger

As a music teacher, you’re always looking for ways to brighten up the music room and bring something new to your lessons.

We think we’ve found the perfect instrument.

African drums much like the djembe are the perfect way to spice up your music lessons, and really engage with your students. Not only are they highly unusual and alternative, but they can teach pupils more than just the basic notes.

Here, we take a look at just how you can bring the sounds of Africa to your music lessons:

The benefits of African drums

African instruments can bring a whole host of benefits to education.

Djembe drums are unique instruments that are sure to brighten up your lessons. The goblet-shaped drum – constructed from Mahogany with a goatskin head – is available in a variety of shapes for players of all ages.

The handheld drum is played in a seated position, so is perfect for all children. You don’t need any additional sticks as the drum is played by hand. This all adds to the ease of playing, and increases their appeal to distraction-prone children.

As well as learning a brand new instrument, you can help educate kids in areas other than music.

The djembe is steeped in cultural history; it has been played in religious ceremonies for years. As you teach the instrument, you can also spark pupils’ interest in history, geography, and culture by discussing the origin of the drum, the culturally representative carvings on the body, and the times it would be played.

How to teach them

Before you can teach this drum, you need to be able to play it yourself.

The djembe has five basic notes:

  • Bass
  • Tone
  • Slap
  • Ping
  • Muffled tone

Each of these notes is played by striking the head of the drum in a different way, but each is easy to grasp. To see exactly how to play these notes, check out this great YouTube tutorial.

To teach your students the djembe, start by teaching them these basic tones. As they grasp the notes, encourage them to play more notes in quicker succession. You should then continue to encourage pupils to start playing their own rhythms as well as teaching well known ones.

The beauty of the djembe is that it is playing in a drumming circle. The leader starts off playing one beat, with everyone else joining in and playing their own tunes. If you have a number of students, this is a great way to teach the drum the way it should be played.

Top ways to include the djembe in your lessons

With such an exciting instrument to play with, there are a whole host of ways you can include djembe’s in your music lessons.

As previously mentioned, getting a group of students together to play in a drum circle is a great idea for getting a real feel of the drum. Using djembes, as well as additional hand-held percussion instruments, get pupils to sit in a circle.

Nominate one person to start by tapping out their own rhythm on the djembe. Then, when students feel ready, they can join in. The idea is not to play the same rhythm. Pupils play a complimentary polyrhythm that really enhances the drum circle.

You can also include African drums as part of a generic drum or percussion lesson.

If you’re teaching about different kinds of percussion or drums, including the djembe drum is a great way to spice things up. Include them by teaching children about the different kinds of drums and percussion instrument available. Bring in this new and exciting drum, and encourage students to try out as many as possible.

Bringing the sounds of Africa to your music lessons is one of the best ways to really engage with students. Not only do they learn to love music, they can get a real insight into exactly what makes the djembe so magical.

Djembe Drum Shop is an online retailer that sells a great range of musical instruments for children, including djembe drums, percussion instruments, and school percussion packs. Visit their website to find out more.

Theta Music Winter Competition 2013 Starts Today

Theta Music, one of the best sites for on-line music theory games is commencing their 3rd Annual Ear Training and Music Theory Competition today! This is a great way for teachers and students to have some fun while building their skills. It’s a one-day competition, so sign up and start playing now for your chance to win up to a $30 Amazon gift certificate!

How to Explain and Teach Cross Rhythms

I have several students working on more complex rhythms this year, including a variety of cross rhythms. This requires such an incredible amount of hand independence, and is often very difficult for students to grasp, so I was doing some research to find more resources on the topic. I came across a fabulous blog post with a downloadable PDF called “Cross Rhythms Without Tears” by Christine Brown. The 3-page overview gives some very helpful (and mathematical) explanations, plus a number of excerpts from repertoire where cross-rhythms are encountered, along with suggestions for practicing them. What a great tool that I can pass on to my students!

Beethoven’s Birthday Giveaway and Promotion: Guest Post by Marcia Washburn

One week only! In honor of Beethoven’s 242nd birthday anniversary on December 16, your family can enjoy learning about music together in Marcia Washburn’s all-inclusive e-course, Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music. No expensive CDs to buy! No prior musical knowledge required!

A $29.99 value but order today for half-price–just $14.99. Special price ends Dec. 16, so don’t put it off. A great gift or something fresh to start your new year in January.

That’s not all! She’s throwing in a free bonus e-book for all who order this week: Teach Your Family to Play the Soprano Recorder. Marcia teaches you how to play the recorder, even if you can’t read a note!

To order, or for more information, go to

Remember: this half-price offer ends Dec. 16. Order Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music now so you won’t miss out on half-price plus the free recorder book.

Marcia is graciously giving away one copy of Beethoven Who? to a Music Matters Blog reader. Just leave a comment below to be entered to win the drawing. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) this Thursday, December 13.

Tips for Buying a Piano – Guest Post by Coach House Pianos

Buying a piano is not as dissimilar as we think to buying a car. Before we want to hand over a large amount of money to a car dealer, we would want to fully inspect the goods, test it out and make sure it is as described. This is the mindset we should have with any large purchase. A piano is a very personal thing. It is a significant investment and you, and your piano shall likely be together a long time. As such, you must be absolutely sure of your decision before you commit.

To help you have a clear idea what it is you need, Coach House Pianos has put together a few things to consider when you are ready to make this investment:

  1. Cost – do you want a good quality second hand piano? This can cost anywhere up to £18,000 ($29,000), whilst a brand new Steinway could cost in excess of £130,000 ($209,000).
  2. Type of Piano – A Grand Piano or an Upright Piano? You will need to consider carefully its use. For home use, teaching, at a venue and many others.
  3. Quality – This applies when inspecting prospective instruments. We would suggest checking for rust on the iron frame, cracks in the wood (particularly the soundboard) and the condition of the strings.

These are to name just a few of the important features to consider. Your piano is one of the bigger investments you will make and like a car, you will intend for it to last and be with you for a long time. There is benefit to buying your piano from people with experience in these beautiful creations. Speak to someone who understands how important this instrument is going to be and who appreciates that it is going to be your personal creative outlet.

Coach House Pianos 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.

A Treasure Trove of Tabs OR Random Links Galore

I am notorious for accumulating a bazillion open tabs in my browser of interesting articles, products I want to check out, things I’m researching, or ideas I want to revisit. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but as of this moment I have 72 active tabs. So I decided it’s time to clean house and share some of these treasures – even if it is in an eclectic haphazard sort of way. :-)

Reaching the Preparation Threshold by Chad Twedt – a very interesting article on getting pieces to a high level of readiness to reduce performance anxiety. I am trying to do a better job of applying these ideas to both my own playing and to my students’ preparation for recitals. My natural tendency is to move as quickly as possible to new pieces – I think I have a very short attention span, and I tend to project that on my students as well. Instead, I need to work on perseverance and endurance – sticking with pieces for much longer to make sure that they can be played and performed at a high level.

What Makes a Musician? by John Sloboda – A look at why so few music students ever reach a high level of musical performance, and what contributes to those who do.

Music Flash Class – a customizable music flashcard app that looks like a great resource for music teachers and students!

Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer – a fascinating-looking app that allows the user to tap rhythms and then evaluates their accuracy.

Piano Teaching Tips from Tom Gerou – a free download of the piece, “Willows” by Tom Gerou, along with a point-by-point list of teaching tips from him that should be applied to this piece.

The 4 Deadliest Practice Mistakes Ever – I’ve never before thought a practice mistake could kill me, but these great practice insights from Grace certainly reveal how such mistakes can kill a pianist’s musical aspirations.

Play Piano by Chords (improvising) – a video tutorial of using a single rhythm pattern to create continuity in a piano improvisation.

Chord Progression Generator – a fun site where you can enter a mood and key, and a chord progression is generator that can be used to improvise accordingly.

Children’s Character Posters – a fun collection of colorful character-building posters that would be a great addition to a lively studio environment!

America’s Dream Chamber Artists – a site worth visiting just to see the cool group photo on the home page!

Portland Cello Project – the name of this group intrigued me because my brother is a cellist and I love listening to cello music. The most amazing thing to me about this group? They have a repertoire of over 800 pieces!

SoundCloud – one of my newer resources, SoundCloud has a great free app that you can use to record music, make comments, and share through a variety of options.

How the Brain Responds to Music by Emily Singer – for starters, there’s a colorful graphic illustrating the different areas of the brain, then the article briefly explores some of the research related to the use of music in helping patients overcome illnesses and diseases.

New Hymns for Worship – a collection of musical scores and recordings of hymns written or rewritten mostly by Davide Marney within the last 10 years.

Classical Music and the Loss of Meaningfulness in the Post-Christian West by Francis Schaeffer – a free audio download that I am very curious to listen to since Dr. Schaeffer and his wife Edith are some of my all-time favorite authors.

30 Mobile Apps Reinventing Music Education – more possibilities to add to the ever-growing list of mobile apps that you can use in your studio.

Brain ‘Closes Eyes’ to Hear Music – another interesting article related to research involving the brain and music, this one exploring the relationship of the eyes and ears to each other and their subsequent ability to focus or not based on the activity of the other sense.

A Note of Hope – a film project by City Gate Films that I came across recently that explores the intersection of music and social justice in Africa.

Piano Safari – I almost hate to give this one away in just a brief little link, but if you’ve gotten this far in the list I think you deserve to know about this amazing new piano method that is hot off the press. I’m using it with a student right now and will be writing a review soon – can hardly wait to share this gem with everyone!

The 7 Laws of the Teacher – a video by Howard Hendricks, a highly inspirational and practical educator and author (I recently read and loved his book, Color Outside the Lines). Obviously dated, but entertaining nonetheless!

Well, do you think that will keep you busy for a while? :-)

Thinking of Teaching Via Skype or Facetime or Other Long Distance Avenues?

It’s been over two years now since I taught my first Skype lesson, and I absolutely LOVE having technology that allows for such incredible flexibility and opportunity for teachers and students alike. I have some full-time long-distance students, and multiple times every semester I use Skype or Facetime to teach students on vacation or who have some emergency situation that prevents them from making it to the studio for a lesson.

The technology today makes it very simple to offer long-distance lessons, but I know that it’s still pretty unnerving to jump into a situation like this when all you’ve ever known is in person lessons. I recently came across a couple of posts that are very insightful in presenting some of the benefits and drawbacks of long-distance teaching:

One Student, One Teacher, 1500 Miles by Steve Betts – I could echo word for word the three points that Steve Betts shares that he has learned from his long-distance teaching experience!

The Pros and Cons of Music Lessons Via Skype or Google+ by Chad Twedt – A very extensive list of pros and cons, along with the addition of why Chad eventually stopped doing long-distance lessons with several students.

I really appreciate the time and thought put into both of these posts and think they are very helpful for teachers considering offering long-distance lessons. It definitely pays to know what you’re getting into ahead of time! That said, I encourage anyone whose interested to give it a try and just see what you think for yourself. Just see it as a learning experience, an opportunity to contribute new ideas for improvement to the music education community, and something that you can do on a trial basis so that you and the student can constantly evaluate what’s working and what’s not.

If you have experience with long-distance teaching and/or a post you’ve written on the topic, please feel free to share!