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!

Repertoire Reviews of Intermediate Level Piano Music

Have you ever wished you could listen to beautiful performances of intermediate level repertoire so that you could discover new and appealing pieces for your students? Well then, you can thank Luke Bartolomeo, of the Repertoire Review website, for being your wish-granting genie in a magic lamp because that is what his weekly podcast is all about!

I just listened to his podcast highlighting Student Favorites, Book 1 by Carolyn Miller, and it was fabulous. So well done and inspirational! Every piano teacher should treat himself or herself to this delightful weekly review that is guaranteed to introduce you to new music that your students will love. I think even our intermediate and advanced students would gain a lot by listening to these podcasts and keeping track of which pieces they want to learn. What a tremendous resource for pianists and piano teachers!

Giveaway of Red by Dror Perl

If you’ve already got the Blue and Purple books by Dror Perl and have been looking for the chance to complete the collection, here’s your opportunity! Dror has offered to give one copy of his book, Red, to a Music Matters Blog reader. True to form, the Red book is a mix of contemporary pieces in Jazz, Blues, and Funk styles, and all the interior printing matches the rich red of the cover.

Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win a copy for yourself or a student. The winner will be drawn using a random number generator on Thursday, March 15, at noon (CST).

A Fabulous Way to Introduce Students to Classical Themes

I’ve been playing catch-up on blog posts for the last couple of weeks and ran across this wonderful post by Heidi that’s a Classical Themes Lab Assignment for her students. In her assignment she creates a list of all the pieces in the In Recital, with Classical Themes by Helen Marlais and pairs it with a YouTube video recording of that piece. A brief couple of sentences describe each piece or its historical style, and students are instructed to rate each piece according to their level of interest in learning it.

I’ve used similar approaches with my students when they are learning a transcription of a famous symphony or opera, but I LOVE the idea of having a page like this laid out so that students can easily go through the entire contents of a book and select their favorites. Since Heidi’s already done the work for this book, I’ll probably just use her post with my students. Now…who wants to do the work for the other books in this series? :-)

Monday Mailbag – 6 Steps for Teaching Students to Practice Well

These two questions are very similar:

How do you encourage your student to practice correctly when they are at home, especially when their parents have no music background and cannot hear the mistakes to correct their piece?

I have a three piano students from one family (girls aged 10-12) who practice at least an hour a day…I find sometimes that so much practice means that they play certain mistakes REALLY well! Do you have any thoughts on this?

One thing that occurred to me a while back is that since students don’t automatically come to lessons with an understanding of how to practice effectively, the way we introduce and go through pieces at the lesson will tend to be their model for how to practice at home. Yikes! This meant that my former method of sticking a new piece on the music rack in front of the student and saying, “Alright, why don’t you just sight-read through this once and see what you think” had to go. This may be moderately helpful for developing sight-reading skills, but it’s about the worst possible way for a student to jump into learning a new piece of repertoire.

Perhaps the best way to explain an effective approach for introducing a new piece of music to a student and giving them tools for practicing it well at home is to use a real piece of music. I did this three years ago with the piece, Twister, by Wendy Stevens, and decided to copy those steps here for those interested in a systematic approach to teaching a student a new piece of music. This is obviously more time-consuming than handing them the repertoire and wishing them well with it :-), but wow is it worth the time invested in the long run!

For starters, I would make sure that the student who is going to learn this piece already has experience playing cross-hand arpeggios and staccato vs. legato between hands. So, without further ado, here are the steps I would use to help a student successfully learn Twister:

1. Play the piece for the student up to tempo. I know there are different schools of thought on this, but I almost always play new repertoire for my students. They can develop their reading skills from their method books; with these supplemental repertoire pieces, I want them to have a vision for what they can accomplish. It’s hearing cool-sounding music like this that inspires them to aspire to new heights.

2. Ask the student to make at least 5 observations about the piece. This helps me see what they are most aware of, whether their perception is that it’s too hard, whether they like the piece, etc. Then we develop and discuss those observations. In a piece like Twister, I would expect them to notice things like: there are staccatos and accents on some of the notes, the time signature is 3/4, the dynamics go from piano to forte, you use the pedal at the end, your right hand moves into higher octaves, there are a few sharps and flats, etc.

3. Identify what key the piece is written in. For younger students, identifying the key of a piece means figuring out the scale upon which the piece is built. Twister is in c-minor. I have them play the c-minor pentascale and chord, and in this case would have them demonstrate a c-minor cross-hand arpeggio (this is setting the stage for a future step!).

4. Label the form of the piece. I’m definitely not a form and analysis expert, but together we look for how long the phrases are (8-measures mostly), whether subsequent phrases are the same or different than the first one, and any patterns within the phrases. For example, in the B-section of Twister, I would briefly highlight the concept of a sequence and show them how three of the 2-measure patterns follow the same interval pattern with each one moving a note higher than the one before. We would likewise look at the places where the right hand moves up in octaves repeating the same pattern. All of this gives the student an overall picture of the piece and makes it easier to learn.

5. Tap the rhythm hands together with the respective hands tapping each part. We do this together at a slow tempo, with me keeping a steady pulse throughout the piece, thus forcing the student to keep going even as they make mistakes (which they almost inevitably will!). As I’m tapping, I incorporate dynamics and articulation elements, but I don’t expect the student to do so at this stage. After we’ve gone through the whole piece like this, we choose one section to focus on first. For Twister, I would teach the last 8-measures first for several reasons: it sounds cool!; they’ve already played the first four measures without even realizing it when they played their cross-hand arpeggios for number 3 above; and it encompasses most of the elements that will be encountered in the rest of the piece.

6. Successfully learn the selected section. I would have the student tap and count the last 8-measure section again, this time moving their hands up or down on the fallboard to portray the octave changes. Sometimes, depending on time constraints, I also have them finger it out by “playing” on the fallboard the fingers that they will use when they actually play it. Once they determine that this feels easy, I let them try it on the piano. I make sure that they incorporate the dramatic crescendo at the end and finish with a brilliant accented staccato. And of course, the rhythm and notes must be correct! With this section “under their belt,” they are ready to go home and apply the same practice strategies to each additional section of the piece. I let them learn the sections in whatever order they choose – forward, backward, or random.

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!