First Week of Lessons!

Some of you may remember my embarrassing confession earlier this year and my resolve to ensure that every one of my students becomes a fluent reader of music at the piano. I am happy to report that all of our hard work in the spring paid off! When I used our NoteStars game to evaluate where they were at this week, every student was still able to quickly and accurately identify and locate every note on the staff. They are also exhibiting a much greater level of independence in learning new music, which is exciting for all of us!

In our continuing quest toward playing the piano well, this year I am honing in on rhythm skills. Since note identification and rhythm are arguably the two most fundamental pieces of knowledge necessary to read music fluently, I want to equip each student to precisely execute any rhythm they come across in their music. Toward this end I have assigned each of them one part in an ensemble from the 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano book that I mentioned last week. (Note that you can download for free 4 of the parts from each song on the publisher’s website!) I introduced each piece by having the students look over it and tell me everything they could about the printed music. Then we discussed the time signature and used a rhythm instrument to play and count through the rhythm of the piece. At the end, I asked students which measure of rhythm was the hardest, then we worked specifically on that rhythm to make sure the student understood how to count it. I also had them count to see how many times that exact same rhythm was used in the piece, which led to the observation that musical pieces are usually comprised of repeating rhythm patterns. (Sometimes it’s amazing the things that I take for granted that students know or have somehow figured out on their own even though I haven’t made it a point to teach it to them!)

Part of my new resolve as a teacher is to take full responsibility for ensuring that my students have truly learned what I’m teaching them. Inspired by the following quote, my aim is to cause them to know the material and to essentially make it impossible for them to study piano with me and leave a lesson not having learned what I set out to teach them. It is such a wonderful responsibility and privilege to be a teacher!

“Teachers have redefined teaching as ‘the coherent speaking of an adult located at the head of the class to a passive gathering of students.’ They believe their primary responsibility is to cover the material in an organized manner.

They think about teaching as what they do–their focus is upon themselves. Many teachers cover their material and leave the room thinking they have taught. But if you gave their students a pop quiz, you would find out they hardly learned a thing. The divorce between teaching and learning is tragic and the root of many of our educational woes.

Obviously, the students are responsible to learn the material–but the teacher is responsible to cause them to know the material.”

~Bruce Wilkinson

September Surprise!

Despite my best intentions to continue teaching at least my own children this summer, we ended up with a studio-wide summer break. I have to admit, it’s nice to take some time off, gather new ideas, and get re-energized for another year of teaching. My favorite way to launch the new year of piano lessons is with a September Surprise! Students prepare any piece of their choice to surprise me, I plan a few games, and we officially launch the new studio practice incentive theme for the year.

Here are a few snapshots from our evening:

Look at all these beautiful faces eager for another year of piano lessons!

After a fun round of Music This or That (I highly recommend this active and insightful game that Wendy put together!) we moved right into the surprise performances.

One of the favorite performances of the evening was this creative improvisation by Levi.

After all the performances and an energetic drum circle, I introduced our Jungle Expedition practice incentive theme and let students select the wall figure of their choice to represent them on their expedition throughout the year as they travel from hut to hut.


The evening ended with a time of munching on goodies and visiting with one another. So excited to see how each of these students progress as individuals and musicians this year!

Highlights from Day 5 of Carnival of the Animals Music Camp


Day 5 of our Carnival of the Animals music camp has arrived! We played the ever-popular Guess-It! game as a way of reviewing all that we’ve learned so far this week.

The Science of Sound today explores two remarkable instruments – the piano and the glass armonica.


Students use their music vocabulary knowledge to attempt to translate the meaning of Cristofori’s original name for his musical instrument invention: the gravicembalo col piano e forte.

Next everyone gets to take a turn trying to produce a tone similar to one on a glass armonica by rubbing their finger around the rim of a wine glass containing water.

Wrapping up a fun week for a crazy bunch!

Reviewing proper performance procedures before the parents arrive. These admittedly cheesy performance signs still seem to do the trick of helping students visualize and remember each aspect of their performance!

Let’s practice bowing!

The parents are here and we are ready to entertain them with our own original Carnival of the Animals! Each student has written a brief narration to introduce their composition (ala Ogden Nash) – love the clever creativity!


Levi plays The Shark


Elise plays Dancing Turtles


Daniel plays Spy Cheetah


Stephanie plays An Elephant’s Life


Claire plays Swan Lake

Highlights from Day 4 of Carnival of the Animals Music Camp


A fun review game of hangman to start off Day 4 of our Carnival of the Animals music camp!

Learning all about the Science of Sound and how the ear works.

For the math whizzes of the bunch – compute these 32nd notes!

Practicing technique concepts on each other!

Interval Intuition – Can they feel the right interval in their fingers even when they’re not looking?

Highlights from Day 3 of Carnival of the Animals Music Camp


Students get comfy as we start Day 3 of our Carnival of the Animals music camp.


Having fun with our string art projects!


Loving using my new iPad mini and iHome bluetooth speaker for listening to each work while we color the corresponding pages.


The students work on one of today’s technique challenges – wrist rotation.


A lovely collection of our completed string art projects!

Highlights from Day 2 of the Carnival of the Animals Music Camp

We began Day 2 of our Carnival of the Animals Music Camp by discussing our theme verse (Revelation 4:11) and reading a psalm of praise (Psalm 100).

Next up was a challenging activity to review yesterday’s vocabulary words. Students had to select the right definitions from a list of 15 possibilities!


Coloring while listening to each movement is still a favorite!


Levi shares his research on sharks and what rhythmic motive he plans to use for his shark composition!


Everyone’s string art projects are coming together very nicely!


A close-up of one of the string art projects – can you tell what it is yet?

Highlights from Day 1 of Carnival of the Animals Music Camp

Today was the first day of our much-anticipated Carnival of the Animals Music Camp, and we had a blast!

Snacks are ready! One bottle of water and a cup of Whales for each student.

Student Workbooks ready for the unleashing of each student’s creative juices!

String art supplies collected!

Laptop, Bible, and Bluetooth speaker ready and waiting!

And the students have arrived!

They enjoy coloring the corresponding picture while listening to each movement of the Carnival of the Animals!

String art projects are in progress…

It’s fun watching all of the personalities come through in each of our various activities. What a great start to the week!

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?