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.

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!

Monday Mailbag – Favorite Christmas Arrangements

I have so appreciated your ideas and was wondering, if you find any great Christmas arrangements that you just love, will you let us know?

With our Christmas Recital coming up later this week, Christmas music is definitely on my mind! Here are some of the favorites on our program this year:

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear by Melody Bober – a gorgeous intermediate level arrangement!

Christmas Traditions by Phillip Keveren – this whole book is a gem! This is a great collection of musical arrangements at an elementary level, and many of them are perfect rote teaching pieces. One of my favorites for this is the Go, Tell it On the Mountain arrangement.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Andy Fling – a fun, simple arrangement of this favorite Christmas classic.

In Christ Alone by Natalie Wickham – :-) A couple of my students requested a duet for the recital, and after considerable searching I thought it would be fun to see if they could pull together this duet that I arranged several years ago for another student.

Several of my students have written their own arrangements this year, and they are absolutely amazing! I’m so excited to share them with you all sometime after Thursday. :-) I won’t be able to live stream the Christmas recital this year, but I’m hoping to get it posted to YouTube like we did with last year’s.

If you have any favorite Christmas selections in your studio, please share! It’s always fun to find out about other great arrangements to add to the list of possibilities.

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!

I Passed the Good Teacher Test…

Last year some of you may remember that I reviewed a piece by Wendy Stevens called Tangy Tango and royally bombed as a teacher in preparing my student to play it well. Ever since then, I’ve been determined to try again with a another student to see if I could pass my own self-imposed good-teacher-or-bad-teacher test. Well, I’m happy to say that I finally succeeded! The occasion presented itself when I needed to select a piece of repertoire for Makayla and me to play as a duet for our local associations Marshmallows and Music festival. We needed something fun, but easy to learn.

When I presented it to her, I was quick to inform her that this was an experiment because so far I hadn’t had a student learn and play it successfully (I confess, I tried it one other time between Caitlyn and her…). This was sufficient enough motivation to propel her to a week of intense practice and religious counting so that she was sure to master the crazy tango rhythms. And she did! We had a ton of fun playing together, and can now sleep better at night knowing I’m not such a bad teacher after all. :-)

Spotify – The Best New Online Teaching Resource Since YouTube!

What do you get when you merge the instant accessibility of YouTube with the interface of iTunes with the music library of the whole internet? Spotify!

I had heard rumblings about Spotify for a while, but recently decided to check it out. I kid you not when I say this has now become my personal and teaching go-to resource for music listening. You can instantly search through millions of tracks; listen to specific albums, artists, or pieces; create custom playlists; and even check out what your friends are listening to! And you get all this for free – and without having to download the music to your own hard drive. Plus, the mobile app lets you listen to streaming radio on the go, and a Premium account gives you full access to the complete library.

If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out this incredible new resource! And for a fun, new recommendation, try checking out the Nostalgias Argentinas album by pianist Mirian Conti, featuring “works that are undeniably rich but rarely heard outside Argentina. Interweaving the influences of folk traditions, classical music, popular songs and, of course, the tango, these deeply evocative, often bittersweet pieces…”

Two Years of Masterclasses at Your Fingertips!

Thanks to Music Matters Blog reader Brooke for alerting me to a fabulous resource! Visit the Sonatina Enterprises website for archives of two years’ worth of masterclass videos taken at their summer music programs. Just click on the 2011 Masterclass Archives or 2012 Masterclass Archives buttons on the home page to view a list of repertoire and select videos to watch. I’m already enjoying watching these great video recordings and picking up helpful teaching tips!

Free Educational Arrangements of Christian Sheet Music

One of my students showed up a couple weeks ago with a simple arrangement of the contemporary Christian praise song, Mighty to Save. Her Grandma had found it as a free sheet music download on-line, and it’s the perfect level for her. She kindly sent me the link and it’s a treasure trove! If you have early level students who would love to play simple arrangements of hymns or contemporary Christian praise songs, you have got to check out Jeanie’s Online Music Studio!

You’ll find a wonderful collection of arrangements for piano, violin, and ensembles with various instruments. As an extra perk, the piano arrangements are leveled to correlate with the Piano Adventures levels so you can easily find appropriate songs for your students. I am so thrilled to know about this site and will be back often!

Review and Giveaway of 5 Piano Books from Red Leaf Piano Works! by Martha Duncan

Thanks to Martha Duncan for submitting the following guest post highlighting Red Leaf Piano Works:

Don’t miss your chance to win one of these exciting new piano books!

What do you get when a group of piano teachers who also double as award-­winning composers get together? The answer is Red Leaf Pianoworks -­an online composers’ collective designed to showcase an outrageous collection of over 300 titles from beginner to advanced covering all genres from solos to quartets. All of their music is available from their easy-­to-­use website http://redleafpianoworks.com where you can sort by level, genre and composer as well as see first pages of scores and listen to sound samples. Readers may remember another Red Leafer – Rebekah Maxner, composer of the timely Titanic piano books for elementary and late intermediate piano. A sampling of other Red Leaf elementary collections is highlighted below:

Creatures Great and Small – by Joanne Bender. Fresh and fun, silly and sweet, these pieces are dedicated to the early pianist with an imagination and a sense of adventure. Fairies and Gnomes, Spooky Spider and Wiggly Worms, Dancing Donkey and Crazy Monkeys are some of the attractive works playable by Introductory to Elementary students. Chromatic and octatonic scales along with swing rhythms are introduced to make this  tonal music interesting and appealing -­ and the front cover artwork is delightful!




Dances, Daydreams & Dinosaurs – by Janet Gieck. Seventeen piano solos to capture the imagination with a variety of styles from jazzy rhythms in Sixty Four Beats and Gameboy to gentle 7th chords in the lovely Outdoor Skating Rink. Find contemporary techniques such as cluster chords in Spring Day, foot stomps in T. S. T-Rex, and aleatoric choices in Tricky Tracks. Boys will be particularly drawn to the dinosaur pieces that allow them to bring out their high energy dramatizations of prehistoric times. This book will lead students to dance, dream and



If Dogs Could Talk – by Martha Hill Duncan. If you have 5 – 9 year olds who like lyrics and coloring with their music, this set of little dramatic solos will be perfect for them. The composer’s favorites include a talking dog, a cat lurking behind the couch and a little bird who’s fallen from its nest. Great recital gems for the beginning or early reader who’s exploring legato/staccato touches and contrasting dynamics. The companion book Flying Horses, Talking Fish is only slightly more advanced in its keys and features touches of pedal, tapping and clapping effects.




Imagination – by Teresa Richert. Take a ride on a unicorn or meet a frog prince as he charms a fairy princess in this fully illustrated collection of ten solos composed especially for young students. Set sail with fierce pirates aboard a ghost ship in search of sunken treasure or march in a parade of pixies and meet a jolly elf. Imagine yourself as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, taking control of a magic wand or being really adventurous and waltz with terrible, clumsy ogres. These pieces explore a wide variety of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic resources and include dynamics, articulations, and damper pedal appropriate for students at this level.



Little Hands, Big Pieces – by Susan Griesdale. Fun and imaginative music for little ones to sound big!  Fifteen pieces constructed of major triads that cover a wide variety of style and mood. Discover the delicate Faerie Dust, or the pounding drums of Tribal Dance.  Join the fun with Hero’s March and Space Adventure, or the playful Sneaky and Three Cornered Hats. Cast your own spell with the eerie Magic Spell, or enjoy the sweet harmonies of Tea & Sweets and Cotton Candy.  This collection works well for all ages at the elementary level – easy to learn, easy to teach, but sounds difficult.  What more could a teacher ask for!!




Rags to Riches – by Beverly Porter. Bev Porter’s most famous piece Chromatic Rag (move over Fur Elise) is in this collection. One young fan writes: “Dear Ms. Porter I like your music because of the starting of Chromatic  Rag. I also like the 2nd lines ending because it gets more louder in a fun place. Thats why it’s awsome.” Other  infectious solos featured in this elementary collection are the jazzy Jazzmatazz and Get a Move On along with the  lyrical Rainy Day Song and impressionistic Silently Falls the Snow. Great recital fare!



Each of the above five composers has generously offered to giveaway a copy of one of her books. That means there will be five books total given away! If you’d like to enter to win one of them, just leave a comment below. The drawing will be held using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, May 10.

Join the Connecticut State Music Teachers Association Live This Morning!

The Connecticut State Music Teachers Association has just launched a USTREAM channel and is hosting a piano ensemble music session live this morning from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET. What fun! I’m loving watching the archived video from their live session on Tuesday morning:

Video streaming by UstreamIf you’re looking for some wonderful piano ensemble repertoire, don’t miss watching these presentations!