Fun Times in the Studio!

The New Year is off to a great start, and we’re having fun playing a variety of quick 5-minute games in the studio! Here are a couple of recent pictures:

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Ellie has a blast playing this simple note direction game by moving her magnetic “note” up or down depending on what she rolls on the up and down die. As she moves, she says “up a step to D”, “down a step to C”, etc. Once setting a designated “finish line”, she and I take turns rolling and moving our notes to see who can get there first!

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After learning about the difference between Major and minor chords, Kaily draws a scale block to determine the chord root, then rolls the Major-minor die to see what type of chord she is supposed to build and play on the piano keys.

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Shaylah is one of several students who loved playing this musical memory game where each player takes a turn flipping two cards to try to form matches between specified keys in a pictured piano keyboard and notes on a staff. This is a perfect game for siblings or back-to-back students to play together as well!

There are lots more game ideas in our studio favorite 5 For Fun! book! My students love flipping through it and selecting their own game when they’ve earned that privilege in this year’s practice incentive!

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A Picture and a Video and a Quote (or Two)

After our fabulous weekend in Kansas City, my students and I thoroughly enjoyed our first experience participating in the Multi-Piano Concert! We got back late Sunday evening, so I’ve been scrambling to get everything done this week and thus the blog has been a bit quiet. However, I thought I would share with you a picture from the weekend and a couple of quotes I came across in a TED video I watched last night.


Aren’t they a great-looking bunch of students?!

One of the organizations that I follow is Character First.They send out a monthly e-newsletter that always has great articles and insights into how to address character in your own life and in your work with others. One of their leaders, Dr. Nathan Mellor, recently spoke at TEDxOU in a presentation called, Listen Up, Corporate America: Less Rules, More Character.

One of my aims as a piano teacher is to provide an environment where good character is promoted and praised. I’ve mentioned this before, particularly in the post, “Teaching Students to Play Beautifully,” but it’s a constant challenge to determine the best way to teach students with this in mind. Videos like the following one provide lots of thought-provoking insights and illustrations:

Here are a couple of the quotes that I really like:

“Your job should not define you, but the way you do your job reveals who you are.”

“Actions reveal beliefs. If you desire to change actions, you must challenge beliefs.”

In particular, a realization of the first quote was the impetus behind the character evaluation that students are required to complete at the beginning of each lesson as part of our Project 28 studio practice incentive theme this year. This has been a very helpful tool, but I still want to do a better job of encouraging students to view their piano practicing and lessons as an opportunity to develop good character that will transfer into every area of their lives!

Marshmallows and Music Festival!

Last Saturday, one of our local associations held a fall festival dubbed, Marshmallows and Music. I’ve always wanted to put on an outdoor recital, so I was thrilled to be a part of this group effort! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day for our inaugural effort of what may become a yearly favorite!


One of our members graciously invited us to use her home/tree farm for the festive occasion. Isn’t it gorgeous?!


Each of the students donned their brightly colored festival t-shirt for the occasion! Several rows of chairs provided seating for the students just in front of the deck so that we could quickly work through each of the performances. Family members and friends brought chairs and blankets to place on the lawn where they could listen and enjoy the performances.


Here’s a snapshot of all of my students who participated in the event (except for one who disappeared right before we took the picture!).


Ben, Joey, and Jed did a great job working together to prepare a captivating performance of, Secrets, by OneRepublic for the event.


Noelle, Naomi, and Amanda did a lovely job with their rendition of, Impromptu, by Gurlitt.

I am so proud of each of my students and their musical performances! And I’m so grateful for the dedication of other teachers in the area that enables us to collaborate and put on events like this for the benefit of our students, their families, and the broader community.

Are any of you involved in festivals with your students this fall?

And this Year’s Practice Incentive Theme Is…

An Italian Intrigue: Musical Adventures in Heart, Mind, and Strength

Last month I had the amazing experience of spending three weeks in Italy! I decided to do double duty and use the trip to do reconnaissance work for this year’s theme. It was a ton of fun and now I’m excited to take my students along with me for a journey through the country! Along the way they’ll be racking up Complication Coins, trying to identify the hideout of the Mystery Musician, traveling covertly at times to get double earnings, completing Italian language lessons, and  learning to play the piano beautifully, excellently, and naturally.


I made the official announcement at the September Surprise! last Thursday. To start off the event I gave each student a strip of paper with several measures from a familiar tune. They had to try to find all the other students who had excerpts from the same tune. Once they all found each other they laid out the measures in order and then did something to get my attention. After all the groups were formed each one took a turn humming, whistling, or otherwise vocalizing their tune for the rest of us and then telling us what the name of it was.


After a round of students played their prepared “surprise” selections, I had the groups from the introductory activity re-form and spend time working together to come up with a musical way of playing their pieces. Every member of the group had to be involved in some musical capacity in the performance. I had a box of rhythm instruments and a xylophone available for them to use in addition to the piano. This group did a lovely job with their rendition of “Ode to Joy.”


“Jesus Loves Me” was the perfect selection for this group that included quite a few young and/or beginning students. I was really impressed at how well they all kept the beat together on their instruments!

Whistling, playing piano, and a few rhythm instruments made “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons sound great!


This group ended up being all girls. They had the tune “Greensleeves” and did a beautiful job playing and singing it together – harmony and all!

The evening was a great reunion after our month off and we’re all super excited about the year ahead!

Scale Labels

One of my favorite new tools to use with students are these fabulous keyboard labels that Susan Paradis, of the Piano Teacher Resources blog, created. I’ve started sticking one or more of these labels in the student’s assignment book and having them say the whole-step half-step pattern and place X’s on the corresponding keys. In light of some of our recent discussions on scale fingerings, it occurred to me that you could also use these to have the student write the finger number that plays each key instead of just marking the key with an X. It seems like that could be particularly effective; I’ll have to try it!

Here’s another fun activity that I did last week to reinforce scales. Hayley chose memorizing the Major sharp key signatures for her Cosmic Challenge last week and did a fabulous job, so I decided to reward her with this game:

1. Hayley randomly chose a flashcard with a Major sharp key signature from my hand.
2. When I said go, I started a timer and she could look at the card. Then she had to select and arrange the scale blocks to form the corresponding Major scale. (I encouraged her to line up all the notes diatonically first and then go back through and rotate them to indicate the appropriate sharps.)
3. After she was done, she would say “stop” and I would stop the timer. (I had told her that she would earn 10 points if she arranged the blocks correctly without any input from me. She asked if she could earn bonus points for doing it faster, so that’s when we added the timer element!)

Hayley loved playing this game and was quite pleased with all the points she racked up in the process! I really love all the great discussion and ideas that have been shared in regard to scales lately – it’s re-motivating me to emphasize scale theory and playing with all my students. I’d love to hear any other great ideas for helping students work on scale theory and/or playing!

Piano Camp – A Game and Final Performances!

For our final day of Piano Camp, I decided to switch things up just a little and play a game to start off the lesson.

Since we were focusing on relative keys today, I printed off a copy of my Major Minor Scale Matchup Worksheet on cardstock and then cut it into rectangles with one scale per piece. I distributed the pieces to the students and had them write the scale names, using the patterns from the previous two days to determine if a scale was Major or minor.

Once all the scale names were written, we mixed up the cards and then layed them out for a fun (and long!) game of memory.

Also, today I had each of the ensemble groups perform their piece for the rest of us. For one week’s worth of practice, I think they all did a pretty good job. And I think each of the groups are planning to keep polishing up their pieces so that they can play them at our September Surprise kickoff event. Here are video clips so you can watch each of the performances:


Noelle and Luke play Important Questions, from Simply Silly Duets by Kevin and Julia Olson. Even though Luke still has trouble with music notation, he loved this piece and really got into the feel of it!


Naomi and Isabella play Smile, Op. 280, No. 1 by Ernesto Becucci, from Easy Classical Piano Duets for Teacher and Student, Book 3.


Joey, Graham, and Ryan did a super job working together on Camptown Races, Arr, by Carrie Kraft. But I think they had the most fun planning and rehearsing their special surprise ending! :-)

Next up, I’m planning to post a Piano Camp 2009 Resource list with quick links to all the resources I used to plan this year’s camp…

Piano Camp – Composer Spotlight!

We just finished our third morning of Piano Camp. Hard to believe we only have one day left! One of our daily activities is a Composer Spotlight. I wanted to highlight some of the lesser known composers, and also incorporate aspects of how they used their music to glorify God. I already had on my shelves the perfect book to accomplish this dual purpose: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Cavanaugh. So, for about 15-20 minutes at the end of our time, I read the story of one of the composers while the students color the picture of that composer in their workbooks.

I selected Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, and Ives as our composers for the week. Several of the coloring pages came from this page of the Making Music Fun website. For the ones I couldn’t find, I used detailed portraits and then had my sister convert them into coloring pages using her design software.

Here, Luke and Graham display their colored pictures of Haydn. (I found out how much my students love coloring when I did a Carnival of the Animals Piano Camp two years ago.) After I finish reading the story, I play one of the corresponding radio broadcasts from the Classics for Kids show. I also included the correlating activity sheets produced by Classics for Kids in each of the workbooks. They can work on these if there is any extra time after they’ve finished coloring, or they can do them on their own after Piano Camp is over.

To be continued…

Piano Camp – Ensembles!

Continuing with the Piano Camp theme for the week, here are a few pictures from another one of our daily activities – ensemble playing! I played through a whole stack of ensemble repertoire last week looking for the perfect combinations for the group of students attending Piano Camp this week. We allocoate about 15-20 minutes each day to learn and rehearse their pieces. I make the rounds between each group, but for the most part just let them work on their own. This is always really motivating for them. They work hard to get their pieces down by the end of the week – an exciting accomplishment, to be sure!

Naomi and Isabella are loving this lively duet: Smile, Op. 280, No. 1 by Ernesto Becucci, from Easy Classical Piano Duets for Teacher and Student, Book 3.

These three boys are quite the trio! They all have strong personalities, so it’s definitely a challenge for them to work together, but they are doing a fantastic job! Their trio is part of the Keyboard Ensemble Series: Camptown Races, Arr, by Carrie Kraft.

I paired Noelle with Luke because I knew she’d be willing to help him figure out his notes and rhythms, and because she could easily learn and play the teacher accompaniment. They are playing the really cool-sounding Important Questions, from Simply Silly Duets by Kevin and Julia Olson.

To be continued…

Piano Camp – Improvising!

One of the other activities we are doing each day of Piano Camp is improvising. I start out by having all the students play the pentascale, chord progression, and arpeggio of a given key. We do this several times all together. Then, I play an accompaniment CD and they play along with the CD.


After one run-through, I let them choose what order they want to play the various elements in (scale, arpeggio, etc.) as long as they stay on beat and try to match the style and character of the accompaniment. I conduct while they play and give them a signal leading into the final measure so that we all end together.


I have a couple of students at the piano, a couple at one keyboard, one at another keyboard, one on the bells, and one on the xylophone. After a couple times through, they all switch to a different instrument, and those on the keyboards can select another orchestral instrument for their sound setting. (The ones on the xylophone and bells just play the chord root or the chord shell during the chord progressions.)

By Thursday and Friday, I should be able to let them do a full-fledged improvisation in the key, but for now it helps to give them some structure within which to play. Either way it’s a lot of fun and sounds pretty cool! :-)

To be continued…

Piano Camp in Pictures

Since I’m holding Piano Camp this week, I thought I’d give you a look into what we do each day. You can see the outline of my objectives for the week on the post Working on Piano Camp Lesson Plans. Not surprisingly, some of the activities took a little longer than I anticipated, so we didn’t get to everything that I had planned. We couldn’t believe how fast the time flew by! I’ll try to post pictures from several of our activities each day. Here are a few from today:

Here’s a snapshot of the workbooks I put together for each student. Once all the pages were printed, I three-hole punched them and then fastened them in these colorful folders. We’ll be working out of these each day, and then the students will be allowed to take them home at the end of the week to complete additional worksheets and activities that we have to skip or leave incomplete due to time constraints.

The first activity today was the assignment for each student to draw a diagram of the piano keyboard – as accurately as they could based on their memory/knowledge of how many keys, etc. This was a good intro into discussing what keyboard topography is and why it’s important. We also discussed the history and design of the piano in more detail.

Our next activity is what I called “The Blindfold Challenge.” Each student took his/her turn sitting at the piano with the blindfold and had to play groups of either two black keys or three black keys up and down the keyboard. The goal was to be as smooth and accurate as possible. This was a challenge, but they all did a great job coming up with various strategies to help with accuracy and fluidity!

To be continued…