The Beauty of Having a Digital Station in Your Studio – A Guest Post by Susan Nicholes

Do you want to have students who sight read well?  Students who get excited when they are given new and challenging assignments?  Students who are able to utilize the new technology available only on a digital piano?  If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions then you will definitely need to add a digital station within your studio.

Why have a digital piano station?

As you read about my digital piano station keep in mind that I have three stations in my piano studio configuration.  I have a digital piano station, a computer station and an acoustic station where I teach my students one-on-one as in a traditional lesson.  My students stay at each station for 25 minutes and then switch to the other two stations. They attend piano lessons for a total of 75 minutes.  Understanding my studio configuration will be helpful as you read the following reasons for having a digital station.   At one time I had two stations, a digital piano station and an acoustic piano station and my students attended their lessons for one hour total and spent 30 minutes at each station.  If you are interested in further information about having stations within your studio I detail how to do this in a series of seminars which I have titled Susan’s Seminars for Piano Teachers* which can be found at www.musicteacherstore.com.

1)    Students have time to prepare for their lessons at the bench with their teacher.  This time spent at the digital station is very useful in preparation for their lesson time as it provides a run through and a warm-up of their songs.  As a result, their private lesson goes more smoothly with less errors and problem measures or passages in their music .  Who doesn’t like a run-through before performing in front of any audience?

2)    Use of the digital station allows students time to become comfortable on the digital piano and allows more proficiency in using various settings and instrumentations on this instrument.

3)    Our students are millennials and they are very comfortable with using any type of computer-based equipment—and this describes a digital piano!

How to set up a digital piano station

1)     It is ideal if the digital piano faces away from any distracting scenery.  Place your digital piano carefully so that your students can focus on the assignments that you would like them to complete while at the digital piano.

2)    Make sure that your students have adequate lighting in this work space.

3)    If you choose to have a Music Library in your studio, it is convenient to place it nearby the digital piano so that students have access to the music as they spend time at this station.

4)    You can place an assignment board in front of the digital piano.  This can be very helpful in helping students see their expected tasks to be completed while they are at this station.

What are some possible student assignments at the digital station?

1)      Students can play at least 2 lines of sight reading.   I use “What’s That Note” Books 1 and 2** for my beginning through Level 2 students as sight reading curriculum.  I love these books written by my mother, Jane Calder, because they contain both rhythm exercises and gradual note reinforcement  through the grand staff.  For my more advanced students, Levels 3 – 5,  I use “A Line a Day”  books 1 – 4 for general sight reading assignments.  I have made midi recordings of the exercises in “What’s That Note” and also “A Line a Day” which students use as they play along with these recordings.  If the students are playing correct notes and rhythm they do not hear the recording which they are matching.  If they play incorrect notes or rhythm they will hear the correct teacher recorded part which will sound different from the notes or rhythm that they are playing.  Using these recordings as students play these sight reading assignments makes these exercises self-correcting.

2)    After completing their 2 or more lines of sight reading my students record their progress on a personal log sheet which they keep in their assignment binder.

3)    I am preparing my digital piano station at this time for my students to use the interactive Piano Marvel*** program to enhance their sight reading skills.  I currently have several students in my studio who have subscribed to Piano Marvel and use Piano Marvel in their homes each day as part of their assigned daily practice time.   My students who have used Piano Marvel in their homes have really enjoyed progressing through the various levels in Piano Marvel and have enjoyed being awarded trophies as they have improved their sight reading skills on various songs.  In studio I will provide each student with a log sheet where they will record their personal achievement using Piano Marvel each week during their digital station time in my studio.

Good luck with setting up your new digital piano station or enhancing your current digital piano station.   Your students will enjoy every moment that they spend at the digital station.   The musical experience at lesson time is enhanced with the technology of a digital piano and all of its capabilities.

*Susan’s Seminars for Piano Teachers can be located at www.musicteacherstore.com under Teaching Aids (main category) Teacher Improvement (sub category). Many topics are covered and include the following three topics  Maximizing one-on-one time with your students, Piano Camp is great for Teachers and Students, and Group lessons are fun and informative for both students and teachers.  Seminars are downloadable and available in 8 different topics.

**What’s That Note Books 1 and 2 are available in both book and downloadable format at www.musicteacherstore.com.

***Piano Marvel can be viewed at www.pianomarvel.com.  There is a discounted monthly subscription rate if you subscribe through www.musicteacherstore.com.


MusicTeacherStore.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 me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

Friday Film Find

Beth Tadeson, of Grimsby, Ontario, has created a couple of studio trailers that are really fun to watch! (She got the idea from Anne Crosby’s recital trailer.) Here’s one:

So…this really makes me want to create a studio trailer, too. Has anyone else created a trailer for their studio? If so, I would love to see it! If you send me a link to it, I think it would be cool to create a compilation of studio trailers!

The Piano Studio as a Small Business

Did you know that May is National Small Business Month? And did you know that if you own a piano studio, you are a small business owner? This can be one of the most rewarding, but also the most challenging, aspects of running a piano studio. Not only are we responsible for the teaching side of our practice, we are responsible for every facet of the business side of the operation. This brief article, “Do you have what it takes to start a business?” that I came across recently has some helpful considerations for those looking to start or improve their business. The article highlights these four tips:

  • Do Your Research
  • Build a Brand
  • Communicate
  • Optimize

Check out the full article for more detail on each point.

Finale – Essential Piano Studio Software

One of the first new software programs I ordered when I got my new computer system was Finale 2012. I had been using an older version on my last computer and knew I couldn’t live without it! We use Finale all the time in the studio for compositions, but especially this time of year when students are working on their Psalms Projects.

One of the great benefits of Finale is that students can download the free Finale Notepad to use at home to input their compositions, then send the files to the studio for final tweaking. Most of the time students prefer to work on their notation input here at the studio, but for those who want to familiarize themselves with the software and work on their own, this is a great option!

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.

Sample Lesson Note Template

Leila Veiss has written a wonderful post about the “Apps I Use at Every Lesson” that relate to the business side of studio operations. One of the listed apps is Evernote, but she also includes with it a Sample Lesson Note Template that is fabulous!

I love the Glossary of Terms section, especially the brief explanation of what “Learn” and “Master” mean (I guess my students aren’t the only ones that seem confused by what I really meant when I told them to learn a particular piece or portion thereof… :-)). I also really like her Progress Score numbers and explanations. What a great tool for maintaining consistency and providing tangible instruction and feedback for each lesson!

Creativity on the Cutting Edge

Last Friday I presented a session to two of our local music teachers associations. It was titled “Creativity on the Cutting Edge” and dealt with the philosophy and use of mobile technology in the studio. I had a lot of fun putting ideas together for the presentation, and gleaned a lot of inspiration from a book I’ve been reading: Color Outside the Lines by Howard Hendricks.

I’m hoping to share more in detail about the content of the sessions, but I thought I would post some of my favorite quotes from the book thus far…

“Creative behavior begins in the brain of a thinking individual with a desire to cause constructive change.”

“The ability to discover alternatives to a given idea is another capability of the right side of our creative brains.” [Howard Hendricks refers to this as divergent thinking - a fascinating concept!]

“Most people want a guarantee of success. But truly creative individuals will tolerate temporary disorder for the eventual satisfaction of an uncommon result. So be willing to risk and make mistakes. Start on a journey without any control or knowledge of the possible outcome.”

“Never did [Jesus] approach any two evangelistic or educational situations in quite the same way. Creativity was His hallmark.”

Howard Hendricks references Silvano Arieti’s book, The Magic Synthesis, in which he identifies nine socio-cultural ingredients in the “creativogenic” society. One of these is described as “Stress on becoming, not just on being.”

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.

Take Note of this New Blog

Sheet Music Plus has recently launched a new blog called, Take Note. I’m always interested in finding out about new music blogs, but their special Music in Community series especially caught my attention. The first one highlights music teacher Candace Love and the free music school that she runs in San Jose, CA. A fascinating concept!

Take Note is looking for stories about other teachers who are helping the communities around them, and offers a $75 gift certificate to those who are featured in a post. I know there are tons of amazing stories out there, so thought I would pass this on for those interested in submitting a story!