Practice Habits Launches Member Community

Chris Owenby, founder of PracticeHabits.co, has been cranking out oodles of resources for piano teachers – from sheet music to technical exercises to helpful practice guides. He has put together a membership site that contains all of these and more. He’s offering a 30% discount for anyone who joins between now and midnight on July 21, so if you’re interested in checking out some of his creative works now is the time to do it!

Piano Camp in Pictures, Part Two

As I continue my summer cleaning process here on Music Matters Blog, it’s been fun coming across these old post drafts. I have no idea why this one never got posted, but here are some [nostalgic for me!] pictures of one of our first summer piano camps! We used the simple Piano Camp Lesson Plans, but had a ton of fun learning and making music together!

View part 1 of the pictures from our summer piano camp here.







Playground Time!

Have you seen Kristin’s Piano Teacher’s Playground?

This is one of my favorite stops for fun, colorful, yet clean-looking free worksheets to use with my piano students. In fact, since our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme incorporated doing a theory worksheet every three weeks to earn Mental Miles, I used her Scale Detective, Identifying Half and Whole Steps, and Spot the Note worksheets with multiple students throughout the year. I am always so grateful for the creativity and generosity of the music education community and the devoted teachers who make resources like this available for everyone!

New Free Music Theory Worksheet Find!

If you haven’t been over to MusicTheoryLessons.net lately, check out this incredible collection of free worksheets that you can download and use with your students! Since I rarely use theory books with my students, I am always on the lookout for specific worksheets that I can use to reinforce various concepts. These are also a great tool for ascertaining a student’s actual understanding of a particular music theory concept.

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Dan Vrancic, the teacher behind the website, also has a blog with some helpful blog posts for teachers and students alike. I’m excited to have this resource available, and I know I’ll be back often looking for just the right free music theory worksheet to download!

 

Free Piano Scale Discovery Worksheet

It’s amazing how much more fun it is to learn about chords and scales on the piano when you’re using a magnetic board, some cool thumbtack-looking magnets, a set of scale blocks, and a piano scale worksheet!

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:

A Favorite Composition Project for Piano Students

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!

An Old Plan for a New 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!

Music Progressions Level Tracker

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!)!

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

3. Apply it
What is the one thing you could do that would best give kids the internal drive to master music theory? Teach them the application.

When kids realize that music theory empowers them to create their own fun songs they’ll want to learn everything they can from you.

Far too often kids study the piano for years and years, but then can’t play a thing if they don’t have a piece of sheet music in front of them. What happens if they get asked to “play something” when they don’t have a piece worked up? They’re embarrassed and find themselves feeling that their lessons have failed them to some degree.

If a student really understands his instrument, he should be able to make music—even if he doesn’t have a sheet in front of him.

Music theory teaches us how music works, and if you can help your students realize that applying their theory will open a whole new world of enjoyment at the piano, they will thank you forever.

Kids can start applying their theory even as young beginners. When you introduce a new concept, ask kids to go home and create a song that uses this new principle. You’ll find that kids learn the concept faster, are thrilled to play their song for you and their confidence at the piano skyrockets.

For some fun exercises that get kids creating impressive songs using their theory knowledge, you can check out these piano improv activities. You definitely want to teach the “Snowflake Technique” to your students—it’s super easy and sounds awesome:

When your students know their theory well they’ll make faster progress in their lessons, learn new songs with less frustration and spend hours at the piano having fun creating their own music. Remember these three tips for getting kids excited about learning theory: make it fun, make it social and teach the application. Before you know it, your students will become music theory rockstars!

A huge thanks to Kristen Jensen for sharing her wonderful tips and resources with us in this series, 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.