After learning how to count the half steps to construct major chords, I called out the name of a chord, Claire lined up the scale blocks beginning at that note, placed the magnets on the correct keys on the piano diagram worksheet, eliminated every other block following the first one so that she knew which three blocks it had to be, then rotated them accordingly to display the correct sharps or flats.
She loved doing this activity, and using both the visual and tactile teaching materials makes it much more memorable!
I initially created this worksheet to help students at a group class gain a better understanding of scales, but it’s great for a variety of activities including this one that teaches students how to construct chords. Click on the image below to download your free copy of the Scale Discovery Worksheet:
One of my favorite resources to help students develop their rhythm and sight reading skills is the Rhythm and Sight Reading cards from Piano Safari. These are great to use as a supplement even if you don’t use the method books. Levi agreed to demonstrate how we utilize these cards:
After tapping the rhythm pattern, they move to the piano keyboard and select one key for each hand, then for the final run-through they improvise using the rhythm pattern for each hand.
Levi has struggled for quite a while with his sight reading skills, so we tried something a few weeks ago that has worked wonders for him! Before playing through the line of music on the piano, he audiates (hums or vocalizes) the pattern while “ghost” playing the fingers on his lap that he will use to play the line on the piano.
He demonstrates the same approach for the bass clef pattern. It has been amazing to watch his skill (and even his enjoyment!) of sight reading develop just from this simple exercise!
Every spring (for 12 years now!) we launch The Psalms Project in our piano studio. This has proved to be an anticipated and approachable opportunity for students to learn valuable skills related to composition. After selecting a verse (or several) from the book of Psalms in the Bible, we work through a series of steps to consider what they want the overall mood to be, what key it should be in, and what melodic and rhythmic motives to use. I encourage them to work away from the piano at first to focus on the natural rhythmic flow of the text, then to experiment with melodic and/or harmonic ideas. You can click the image below to download a free composition worksheet if you or any of your piano students want to try doing The Psalms Project.
Claire exclaimed, “This is actually fun!” while learning to notate her composition after taking some time to tap and write out on a white board just the rhythms for her melody. Once the composition is entirely notated by hand (a great way to reinforce theory concepts in a meaningful way!), the students get to learn how to use the Finale notation software to input their work.
Now that we have our new Nessie mic, we might try making vocal and piano recordings of our songs this year to go along with our published music book!
It’s our second week into the New Year and we are having a blast! It’s so exciting to watch students progressing and taking ownership for their own learning. I thought this picture of Stephanie at the piano was a great combination of some of our favorite materials here in the studio:
On Your Way to Succeeding with the Masters compiled and edited by Helen Marlais – This is a fabulous collection of music from every musical era with colorful introductions to give the students an overview of the various styles. I love that it even includes Medieval and Renaissance music! (Plus, this is a great supplement to Piano Safari Level 2.)
Piano Safari – This has quickly become my favorite piano method of all time! We love the music and techniques so much that Stephanie usually learns several new pieces on her own every week. We can hardly wait for Level 3 to be done!
Mini Music Manual – Of course I just had to mention this again. It’s exciting to see the students continuing to turn to these manuals to take notes and refer to diagrams as they learn new music concepts, terms, symbols, etc.
It’s great to start the New Year with new ideas and renewed motivation! Hoping it continues for the rest of the year!
In addition to starting the New Year with the introduction of the Mini Music Manual, I also wanted to provide some clear structure for students and a way to them to work systematically on their musical progress. Instead of “reinventing the wheel” I pulled out my tried and true Music Progressions Curriculum Guide and decided that it was just what we needed!
I compiled and printed off a modified chart outlining the first five level requirements for piano students in performance, music understanding and vocabulary, functional skills (rhythm and pulse, sight-playing), keyboard skills (scales, chords, arpeggios, intervals), written theory, and listening.
We spent time at each lesson today evaluating where the student was at, recording new information in the definitions and diagrams sections of their Mini Music Manual, and going over what was required for each level. I am starting each student at a specific level, but then letting them decide what level they want to work toward for this year’s Music Progressions evaluation event. It was exciting to see their enthusiasm ignited as they saw the potential for progress by learning systematic skills. And I was even more thrilled at how quickly they took ownership of writing things down in the Mini Music Manuals so that they could refer to it during the week. Here’s hoping that lasts through the rest of the year (and beyond!)!
One of my favorite things about taking breaks from a regular teaching schedule is the opportunity it gives me to evaluate how I’m doing as a teacher and how my students are doing learning and retaining new concepts and skills. I love pondering possibilities to help me be more organized and intentional as a teacher. And I love dreaming up creative ideas to inspire my students in their ongoing musical pursuits. From these musings the past several weeks was borne our latest musical resource: The Mini Music Manual!
Next, repetition is the means by which the memorized information is solidified for application. If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years of homeschooling it’s that just because I said or taught something it doesn’t mean that the student learned it. Again, it’s easy to assume that if I know something and have communicated it to the student that they now possess that information as well. That couldn’t be further from the truth! The real test of whether or not a student has learned something is how well they can communicate that knowledge to someone else. If it can’t be effectively communicated then it has not truly been learned.
Third, ownership. So much education today is a spoon-feeding approach whereby the teacher feeds information to the student and the student is expected to receive, digest, and systematically regurgitate it (usually for the sake of scoring well on a test). I want my children and students to learn to learn. To think for themselves. To search out, process, and evaluate information. To derive well-informed conclusions and then use what they’ve gleaned to grow as individuals and then help others grow.
These three underlying philosophies are what led to the development of the Mini Music Manual: The Ultimate Reference Guide that You Create! I’m excited to begin using this manual with my piano students this semester to help them learn and memorize new information and take ownership for their music education. They’ll be writing their own definitions of musical terms and symbols, memorizing scale patterns and diagramming them with correct fingering, keeping track of their favorite repertoire, and more. I’m excited to see how it goes and will try to post updates along the way!
At the beginning of September I mentioned a cool piano book I had come across called 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano. After much sweat and many hours of counting I am happy to report that we were able to pull together the lively Linstead Market arrangement. I think everyone is beginning to grasp the necessity of learning how to count rhythms precisely while also listening to how all the parts work together to create the whole. Mission accomplished!
Hopefully there will be many more ensembles to come in the days ahead!