Best Easy and Effective Note Identification App

Alyssa and I have been focusing a lot the last several months on her note identification speed. We’ve been doing a modified version of our NoteStars Challenge and she has made great progress, so when I came across this NoteRush app recently I immediately thought of Alyssa.

The app is simple and intuitive, so in no time at all we set it up with the same “levels” as NoteStars and gave it a try. She loved it! The app calibrates to middle C on your instrument and then listens as you play in response to the notes shown on the staff. If you get it correct a new note quickly appears. If you are incorrect, the note remains and you can opt in the settings to have it offer you a prompt. A student could easily manage NoteRush on their own in a technology lab setting, or it’s a quick, hassle-free game to reinforce and evaluate a student’s note identification skills in a couple of minutes at the beginning of a piano lesson.

Questions to Ask Students

At our local music teachers association meeting this morning we watched a webinar by Dr. Barbara Fast and Dr. Andrea McAlister on Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias: Empowering Students Through Positive Engaging Language. From Dr. Fast’s segment, I especially appreciated the specific questions she suggested using during a piano lesson (some she gleaned from a masterclass with Leon Fleisher):

  • What did you focus on this week?
  • What did you practice the most?
  • Can you tell me how you succeeded in what you were trying to achieve?
  • To what extent did you achieve what you wanted?
  • What questions remain for you?
  • Any places that you wish were easier to play?

I love these open-ended questions and hope to employ some of them with my students this week!

Dr. McAlister shared many helpful definitions as she discussed the importance of language. These are the top three memorable points she made that I hope to keep in mind as I teach:

  • Listen with the intent to praise, not criticize.
  • View those sitting on our piano benches not just as students, but as musicians.
  • Encourage curiosity (“the desire to know”).

I’m so grateful for the inspiration and fellowship of our local association meetings and teachers. If you’re not part of such a group, I encourage you to check out the MTNA website and get plugged in with an association in your area!

Free Downloadable Rhythm Cards and Game Idea

One of my studio go-to’s for an easy, educational game for group classes is Team Rhythm Dictation.

The students are split into two teams and are given a set of individual rhythmic note cards to use. (Click here to download a free set of individual note cards to use in your studio.) The barlines are made from some scraps of black foam board.

I indicate what the time signature is and then play a two-measure rhythm pattern on the piano. The students are encouraged to tap and count along, then see if they can place the correct note cards to replicate the rhythm that I played. Typically, I will play the rhythm 3-4 times, but after several patterns, the students were catching on quickly and often getting the dictation after only one or two plays!

A Fun Simple Rhythm Game for Piano Lessons

In keeping with our rhythmic focus for this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, I’m trying to come up with new ideas we can implement in the form of simple, fun activities incorporated into a few minutes at the beginning of each piano lesson. Our latest one proved to be a big hit!

(This is a variation on the “Tune Tappin'” game included in 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson)

  1. Ask the student to name her top 10 favorite Christmas songs and then list them on a dry erase board.
  2. Close the piano fallboard and place the board so we can both see it.
  3. Take turns selecting and tapping the rhythm of one of the listed songs and see if the other person can identify which song it is.
  4. And that’s it! Have fun with this super simple game to encourage good listening and work on rhythm skills!

Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock – A Fun Game for Piano Lessons!

A pair of super cool light-up rhythm sticks that my husband brought home from a work conference and a Rhythm Clock game idea from Janice Tuck, of the Fun Music Company, inspired this week’s rhythm activity: Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock!

I used the rhythm patterns emphasized in Piano Safari Level 1, notating a pattern to correspond with each number on the clock. After going over them with the student to make sure they felt comfortable with all the patterns, I turned on the perfect rhythm backing track provided by Janice and our challenge was to see if we could keep going around the clock for the duration of the track (just under 2 minutes). They loved it!

For a take-home worksheet, I put together a blank rhythm clock so that they can come up with their own rhythm patterns and then we can try them at next week’s lesson (feel free to download this free worksheet if you want to try it out with your students!):

We are having so much fun with our Beat the Pirates! practice incentive theme this year and I am already seeing huge progress in each student’s appreciation for and understanding of rhythm!

A Simple Fun Rhythm Game

It’s working! You might remember that the big objective with this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, is to make rhythm “the cool part of the lesson.” I was thrilled when after today’s rhythm activity at the beginning of the lesson my daughter Claire exclaimed, “This is fun!” (This is especially encouraging since she was ready to quit taking piano lessons because of how much she hated rhythm. In fact, she wanted to switch over to violin lessons because she thought then she wouldn’t have to count. :-))

Here’s how it worked…Using the fabulous free downloadable rhythm flashcards from D’Net Layton, we laid eight of them out on the floor.

For the first round I gave the student a whacker while I assumed the drummer role. Setting a steady pulse, I counted in four beats, then played a pattern from one of the rhythm flashcards. At the completion of the pattern I gave four beats of rest during which the student had to see if they could whack the corresponding flashcard. If they got it correct, they kept the card. If they didn’t whack anything or whacked the incorrect one, it stayed there and I continued on to a new pattern while maintaining the beat. Once all the flashcards were claimed, we laid out a new set of rhythms. It was cool to see how even in a short time the students went from struggling to spot the rhythm patterns and keep up with the beat to being able to process and react more quickly!

For the second round, after having seen the process modeled, the student took on the drummer role. They found that it was difficult to maintain the pulse during the four beats of rest, but they loved watching me try to find the pattern they had played! This quick game only took a few minutes, but it was a great way for them to practice both listening to and identifying rhythm patterns and also playing various rhythm patterns themselves.

Pianissimo Courses Offers Teach Preschool Music Course!

One of the best things I ever did in my studio was implement monthly group classes that are open to all students in addition to their regular lesson for that week. These monthly gatherings have done wonders to build camaraderie in my studio and give students myriad experiences to help build their confidence as performers. Piano camps each summer have further contributed to these benefits, and I’ve tossed around the idea of offering more classes on a regular basis throughout the year. So I was thrilled when a former colleague contacted me to let me know about the launch of her Teach Preschool Music course!

Megan Desmarais has been teaching preschool music classes in her studio for many years and has done an awesome job putting together a comprehensive and professional course that walks other music teachers through the process of setting up a similar program in their own studios. She sent me a free course enrollment so that I could look over and review the course and I am SO impressed!

Seven modules plus a bonus material section include everything from helping you establish goals before you start the course, to how to handle logistics, to a whole year’s worth of lesson plans (wow!), to clear explanations of what the class should look like, to troubleshooting tips, to making a business plan, to many additional resources, and more. This course is well worth the regular $247 price tag, but from now until this Friday, October 6, you can sign up as a charter student for only $187! I am so excited to work my way through this course because I love teaching young beginning students anyway, and I can see how there would be so many benefits (both musically and financially) to being able to offer well-structured and planned preschool classes in addition to regular lessons. Thanks, Megan, for making this fabulous resource available to us!


See the Music Matters Blog Disclosure Policy here.

Loving Piano Lessons

After one week back to teaching in the studio, I am reminded of the value of trying new ideas and approaches to connect with each student and engage them in the learning process in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The end result is that I love teaching more and they love their piano lessons more. A win-win! Here are a couple of new ideas we’re trying in the studio this year:

In keeping with our rhythm theme for this year’s practice incentive theme, I downloaded The Most Addicting Sheep Game app and it has been a huge hit! What a fun way to practice finding and keeping the pulse in music. We spent about 5 minutes making rhythm the coolest part of the lesson and then moved on to other assignments (perhaps with a bit better beat in our music!).

Have you ever wondered what to do with those high school students who love music, but struggle to make the time to devote consistent practice to their instrument? Well, this year two such students happen to be my boys. So, after a bit of brainstorming I decided to try something new to keep them engaged in learning and playing, but without the pressure of daily practice and progress. I printed each of them a For the Love of Music workbook and we spend about an hour each week going through it together. They are enjoying watching the video clips featuring a couple of my former students and deepening their own understanding of music. The only stipulation in addition to attending our weekly session is that they have to have something prepared to play for the monthly group class. It can be something learned by ear or from printed music, as long as it’s on the piano and ready to perform. Less pressure on them and less expectation from me and we’re all loving piano lessons more than before!

Treble Maker – a Fun 5-Minute Piano Lesson Game!

Matt, of Music For Little Learners, recently shared a link to their Treble Maker game with me and it looks fabulous! They have several sets of colorful cards you can download and print, depending on what you want to review with your student – note names, key signatures, symbols, tempi. The directions are simple to understand, and the play is quick and perfect for a few minutes of fun review at the beginning or end of a piano lesson – or any instrument! I can’t wait to try this out with my students and see how it goes!