Theory Strips – An Ingenious Idea!

At the MTNA Conference I had the privilege of meeting Bonnie Slaughter, the creator of this ingenious approach to theory. I like to think of it as the text messaging approach to music theory. 🙂


Theory Strips are a 10-level program that organize music theory concepts into strips that can easily be completed one day at a time. I love this approach, especially for students who might be overwhelmed at the prospect of working through several pages at a time.

You can order these directly from Bonnie on her studio website. Or look for them soon at the Music Educators Marketplace, Music Teacher Store, or Riverton Music!

Great Composers and Their Music: Lapbook and Biography Sets

Have you seen the collection of composer lapbook and biography sets that Joy Morin, of the Color in My Piano blog, has created and made available in her store? What a fabulous and memorable way to teach music history to students and/or children! Growing up, I loved to create my own lapbooks to document and share the things I had learned in various subject areas, so the prospect of using this approach to teach about composers and their music is very appealing to me.

Joy uses these as the curriculum for her homeschool music appreciation class – a fabulous approach that I think any homeschool family would love! I can also see using them for a summer piano/music camp or even as an ongoing group class theme throughout the year. There are lots of possibilities!

Review and Giveaway of NoteBusters!

It seems fitting to launch the New Year with a wonderful giveaway!

Have you ever had one of those moments working with a supposedly late elementary student when you pointed to a note on the staff and watched them look quizzically at it before taking the next several minutes to try to figure out what it is? I know I can’t be the only one who has students who manage to make it through years of lessons only to discover that they are still sort of sketchy on their note identification. Well, today’s giveaway is for just such students. Or, if you want to be a proactive teacher, for beginning students so that they won’t stand a chance of not learning their notes!

Note Busters by Karen Spurney and Steven Gross is a collection of hundreds of note identification exercises, neatly organized to allow for lots and lots of reinforcement. It reminds me of the math drill sheets I did ad nauseum growing up. However, there was a certain enjoyment in being able to work as quickly as possible through each set of simple equations, and to this day I can calculate mathematical problems very quickly in my head. So I’m excited to have a resource like Note Busters available and plan to order several copies to try them out with some of my students.

The publishers of Note Busters have some fabulous deals for teachers: Get 30% off all workbooks, or get 40% off any order of 3 or more workbooks. Just complete the teacher discount request to receive your discount code. Use the code when purchasing books through the Note Busters CreateSpace Store. Amazingly, the authors have even offered to create custom-designed exercises by request from teachers and make them available as PDFs!

Now, for the best part…the authors are giving away one copy of Note Busters to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be selected using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, January 17, 2013.

[Thanks to the authors of Note Busters for sending me a complimentary copy of their book for this review!]

Free Music Curriculum Galore!

I know I’ve been to Jennifer Fink’s fabulous Pianimation website dozens of times, but for some reason I either never realized or forgot about the amazing collection of free music curriculum sets she has available to download. Whether you want to help a student understand how to improvise using the Blues scale, need some extra sight-reading material, or are looking for well-organized rhythm reinforcements, you will find it here. These are about to get printed out and added to my go-to teaching resources!

174 Pages of Free Printable Music Theory Pages!

Looking for a quick pentascale sheet you can print off for a student? Or perhaps a handy reference of 7th chords with all their inversions? Or maybe some chord progressions to help a student visualize the chord voicing better? Well, guess what? You will get all that and more in the hot-off-the-press Music Motivation Checklist created by Jerald Simon. The best part? He’s offering the entire book for free!

I can’t even imagine the number of hours it took to put all this together, so I’m grateful to Jerald for creating it and making it available to all of us. Visit his Music Motivation website to download your own copy today!

Free Music Staff Paper with Keyboard and Circle of 5ths

In preparation for teaching this fall, I’ve been working on some new resources to put in our custom assignment books and just to have available to use with my students. I decided to put music staff paper on the back of each week’s assignment page, but I also wanted to have a picture of a keyboard and a circle of 5ths for handy reference. So I ended up designing my own paper for this purpose and thought I would share it:

Just click here or on the image above to download and print your own free music staff paper with a keyboard and circle of 5ths. Feel free to use as much as you want in your studio!

Create Your Own Music Worksheets Using Music Fonts

Have you ever wished you could just whip up a quick worksheet to use with one of your students that would address a particular concept? Joy, of the Color in My Piano blog, has put together a wonderful guide to using music fonts to create your own music worksheets! Like Joy, I use Finale to create and export graphics into worksheets, but I have rarely used music fonts for this purpose. I am thrilled to have this handy step-by-step guide and will definitely be referring back to it often!

Rhythm Ensemble Activity – Free Download

One of the other activities at our Travel Tour last Thursday night was a Rhythm Ensemble. This was our first activity of the evening, so as students arrived I let them look through the stack of seven parts and select the one that they felt most confident being able to accurately play. Each of the parts progresses in difficulty, and the rhythmic elements of each part correlate with the requirements of our state Music Progressions curriculum.

Once all the students had arrived, I distributed a selection of rhythm instruments and we all had fun playing the various parts together. Those who didn’t get an instrument snapped the pulse with me while the others played. We traded around instruments so that everyone got a chance to be a part of the rhythm ensemble. It was a simple, fun, musical way to start the class! Feel free to download and print the Rhythm Ensemble parts for use in your studio!

Monday Mailbag – Making Custom Student Worksheets

What program do you use to create your worksheets and publications?

It may shock (or horrify!) some of you better designer-types to know this, but I create almost all of my worksheets and practice incentive materials in Microsoft Word. I’ve discovered that with the use of tables, you can accomplish just about anything in Word. That said, I do use a few other programs for other related purposes.

For more graphic intensive design work I use either Fireworks or Print Shop. There are probably some much better options out there, but I started using Print Shop when I was ten years old and am so familiar with it that it has remained my go-to software for design work. It’s a low-end program, inexpensive to purchase, and very intuitive. I started using Fireworks when I got into web design and have gotten comfortable enough with it that I often use it for print design work as well.

Whenever I’m creating worksheets that use portions of a musical staff/musical examples, I create the excerpts in Finale (when I bought Finale several years ago, I did a ton of research and the best price I found for it was the academic version at – I definitely recommend getting it there!) and then export them over to Microsoft Word. It’s amazing the things you can accomplish with most programs if you spend enough time scouring the help menus, searching the forums, and learning how to trick it into doing what you want. 🙂

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!