Why Apps Motivate Students – A Guest Post by flowkey

“How can I motivate my students to practice piano at home?” This is a question parents and piano teachers have long reckoned with. Today, this challenge is even greater thanks to technological developments. Let’s face it – smartphones, tablets, and computer games are more exciting than the average practice book. But distracting devices needn’t be your enemy.

On the contrary, new digital tools can liven up your students’ practice routines in new and exciting ways. After all, electronic devices have revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives. We buy plane tickets on our smartphone, boost our fitness with the aid of an app, and carry enormous libraries of films, books, and music in our pocket everywhere we go. Why not explore the benefits of innovative technologies for teaching piano, too?

It’s hard to find a child who isn’t fascinated by smartphones and tablets these days. Having noticed this, some resourceful piano teachers have already begun to make use of this enthusiasm for technology. The simple inclusion of a tablet PC in piano lessons lends an inexplicable “coolness factor” that makes learning a little more thrilling. Ear training and other music theory exercises become fun games to play on the go in the form of an app.

If you’re keen to give your teaching a technological edge but aren’t sure where to start, check out Christopher Sutton’s great guest post on making the most of online resources. Online communities are a great way to learn from other teachers’ experiences, ask questions, and find inspiration. Research and start experimenting with a range of tools. Soon enough you’ll find the ones that suit your students’ needs.

The kids of today have grown up with a love of digital devices, and a few innovative tools are often enough to make even the most frustrating practice sessions fun again. This goes for older students, too. Most piano students who learn to play piano as an adult often have two things in common: they want to improve fast, and they don’t have much spare time on their hands. The solution? Make practice efficient and fun with the help of an app.

One such app even provides an entirely interactive learning environment. With flowkey students can engage with a friendly and intuitive app that gives them immediate feedback on their progress. Apps like these show that new technology isn’t just a distraction for piano students. Far from it! By making the most of devices, apps, and online resources, students are able to create a practice routine that truly suits them.


flowkey is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog, and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

Review and Giveaway of Piano Safari Level 3

Even though I believe that a good teacher can effectively utilize any method or curriculum to help a student achieve success, there is something invigorating about having well-designed resources that capture a teacher’s philosophy and vision for their teaching. That’s how I’ve felt about Piano Safari ever since it’s debut a couple of years ago. It has been the perfect complement to my desire to help students develop creative freedom, technical ability, and musical artistry at the piano while also building a solid foundation of reading and rhythm skills.

I don’t know who has been awaiting the release of Level 3 with more anticipation – me or my students – but it’s finally here! The pack includes a Technique Book, a Repertoire Book, and a set of Sight Reading Cards. I’ve had a blast looking through the materials and preparing to teach it. It’s also exciting to see some of the same Classical Education principles that I’m discovering are essential for true learning applied in this method. Namely, repetition, both of content and of processes, is necessary in order for students to attain mastery. I love how this is emphasized in the Technique Book through the use of cool images that the students are instructed to color one small section at a time for every accurate playing of a scale.

For this reason, I see the Technique Book being used not so much sequentially, but more in a spiral learning approach where a student continues to revisit the previously learned scales and exercises to develop increased speed, fluency, and familiarity. The Technique Book also references the animal techniques to instruct the students how to play each scale. The visuals are attractive and helpful while maintaining a clean, uncluttered page layout. I also appreciate the various practice strategies emphasized throughout the book. Another great feature is the way that each introduction of a new scale/key includes the same process as previously learned, while also incorporating a new accompaniment style, demonstrating to the student how the chords and chord progressions can be used in a musical way. All of this is then woven together into the Technique Extravaganza at the end of the book that gives the student an opportunity to showcase all that they have learned in a fun, energetic duet!

The Level 3 Repertoire Book is a fabulous compilation of original compositions, duets, and Classical pieces in their original form. The pieces are in major and minor keys (C,G,F, and a,e,d), and there are helpful bits of information and questions for the student to consider, along with brief biographical sketches about the various composers. This thoughtfully designed book will leave students well-prepared to continue their exploration of every musical style!

Last, but not least, perhaps the most versatile element of the Piano Safari method – the Sight Reading Cards. Whether or not you use the method in its entirety, these cards are a must-have for any piano teacher! We use them in a variety of ways in our studio, and they have done wonders to help my students improve their rhythm and sight reading skills in a sequential and manageable way. Each card includes a 4-measure musical excerpt for the student to play hands together that incorporates dynamics, articulations, and the rhythms they have learned. There is also a single line of rhythm only that can be tapped, played on single notes, or used for a musical improvisation.

Now, for the best part! If you’d like a chance to check out Piano Safari Level 3 for yourself, Julie and Katie have graciously offered to give away a free Level 3 pack to one Music Matters Blog reader (a $45.50 value!). Just leave a comment below to be entered. One winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 3, 2016. This could be just the thing to re-energize your teaching this summer or in preparation for next fall!

The Interval Dice Game

Last week Claire made it to the Game Hut for her final stop in Jungle Expedition (our practice incentive theme this year). She had such a fun time that on her Year-End Evaluation today she suggested that we include a game at the end of each lesson to review a concept learned. This prompted me to pull out the interval dice game that has been a favorite in my studio for years (but for some reason I neglected all year long!). It’s such a simple game, but everyone loves it, and it’s a great way to reinforce any kind of intervallic movement on the piano keys (half steps, whole steps, interval distances, interval qualities, etc.).

We each selected a marker and placed it on the same starting key on the piano, then used a game spinner to signify the finish line two octaves up on the keyboard. Each turn consisted of rolling two dice (one with either “up” or “down” on each side, the other with interval distances from 2nd-7th). We moved our marker accordingly and the first one to the finish line was the winner. Claire was thrilled that she won! It’s so rewarding to watch students have a good time at the piano (and often not even realize the learning that is taking place in the process!).

One of the things I’m planning to do this summer is get back into incorporating more of the games from the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson in each lesson again as a way of introducing or reinforcing concepts and providing some light-hearted fun in the process!

Using Animals to Teach Piano Technique

Sometimes I feel a bit like the odd one out as a piano teacher who isn’t equal parts animal lover. But it’s true. I’d probably rather practice scales than pet your cute little kitten, no matter how soft it is, or how adorable it sounds when it purrs. That said, there’s something different about a wild animal. Maybe it’s that it’s okay to observe and appreciate it from a distance without getting fur or drool all over my clothing or having to clean out a litter box. Whatever the reason, the use of animals in Piano Safari has resonated with me, and I really enjoy the animals they have selected to represent various technique concepts.

When I was recently exploring their new website, I was excited to come across this video clip that gives a brief overview of each of the concepts and how to apply them:

I even watched it with a student who has just completed Level 2 as a way of quickly reviewing all of the techniques and then discussing which ones would apply in her new repertoire piece. Even if you’re not using the Piano Safari method, this is a great resource for helping students visualize and practice essential techniques at the piano!

And the Winner of Little Gems for Piano Is…

#21 – Lisa Smith
#32 – Alondra McEldowney
Congratulations, Lisa and Alondra! You both should have received an email from me with instructions on how to claim your copy of “Little Gems for Piano” by Paula Dreyer.

But, thanks to Paula’s generosity, everyone has a chance to get their own copy of one or both of her books. For the next 30 days she is running a promotional on her website and at Amazon (Volume 1 and Volume 2) so you can receive 25% off of her books! Thanks, Paula!

AMT Inspiration – Work Ethic

This observation by Bruce Berr in the February/March 2016 issue of the American Music Teacher magazine resonated with me:

The work ethic that was typically championed by parents, “Whatever you do, do your best” has been replaced in more families with “just have a good time.” Since music study requires a steadfast focused commitment of time and energy, that’s clearly a problem. Learning an instrument is increasingly view on a par with other leisure activities, some of which require little or no skill development, perseverance, and other qualities that help people grow into more mature selves. More so than before, music teachers have to educate children and their parents about the need for a work ethic.

What a great opportunity we have as music teachers to help students and parents grow in their understanding of what it means to have a strong work ethic!

AMT Inspiration – Create A Feeling

Several times this past year in both my teaching and my performing I have recalled a comment by Time for Three from their interview in the December/January issue of the American Music Teacher magazine. When discussing the variety of genre the group performs, Ranaan Meyer includes this in his response:

“Ultimately the reason an audience wants to hear music is that they want to feel. To connect with the music they want an artist who is real and who is human. It shouldn’t sound like the most complicated thing in the world. You can ask audiences about this: ‘Do you care if this is complicated?’ Most of them will say, ‘No, I don’t care about that at all, I just want to be moved.”

This is the perfect perspective to have when going into a performance, and it’s especially helpful for students to consider when they feel like they are playing a piece that is “too easy.” Instead of focusing on the difficulty level of a piece, students should ask, “How do I want the listener to feel when they hear this piece?” Then the performance is about creating an atmosphere and eliciting a feeling, not about playing something difficult or hitting every note right. This also helps get the focus off of myself, as the performer, and onto the audience, where it should be!

Review and Giveaway of Little Gems for Piano

UPDATE: I was just alerted (Thanks, Amy!) that the comments were turned off on this post. Oops! Apparently a setting got changed so that in all new posts comments were not enabled. You should be able to leave comments now!

If you’ve been around Music Matters Blog for a while you know that I am a huge fan of rote teaching as a vehicle for teaching students technique and artistry. Piano Safari is my absolute favorite resource in this respect! But I was thrilled when I was recently contacted by Paula Dreyer, author and composer of a new collection of rote teaching pieces called, “Little Gems for Piano.” There are two volumes, the first one is for beginners and the second one is labeled Early Intermediate. Some of the early beginner ones didn’t appeal to me very much, but the further I got in the book the more I enjoyed the sound of the pieces.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorites in Volume 1: Carnival Celebration:

In addition to utilizing rote pieces for teaching artistry and technique in general, I’ve also found that rote pieces can be a great motivator for students who struggle with vision problems or the ability to read music fluently. Rote pieces can also be an effective tool to use with students who have trouble memorizing. Because they are so patterned, it helps the students learn to recognize melodic and rhythmic motives and commit them to memory very quickly. Don’t we all like to have cool sounding pieces that we can learn quickly and easily perform by memory at a moment’s notice?!

Now, for the exciting part…Paula has generously offered to giveaway a copy of each of her “Little Gems for Piano” books to Music Matters Blog readers! We’ll be giving away one copy of each volume, so just leave a comment below for your chance to win. Two winners will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, May 13!

AMT Inspiration – Be Meticulous

We have had a wonderful year of learning and growth in our studio, perhaps none more so than myself! I am continually challenged and inspired to improve my understanding of what it means to be an excellent teacher, and how to implement new ideas into my teaching. As usual, each issue of the American Music Teacher has little nuggets of wisdom and encouragement that provide fuel for that inspiration.

In the December/January issue there was an interview with the world renowned pianist, Emanuel Ax. In it he gives credit to his teacher, Mieczyslaw Munz, “for teaching him to practice well by being incredibly meticulous in the lessons. Ax comments that Munz absolutely, relentlessly, liked for things to be correct.”

Now I realize that we’re not all teaching concert pianists, but Ax’s comment reminded me that the way I work with students at each lesson is the model that they will be most inclined to follow in their own practice. If I let inaccurate rhythms, ignored dynamics, or unmusical phrasing slip during the lesson, certainly the student won’t feel compelled to do differently in their personal practice regimen. Too often, I am wont to jot a quick note in their assignment book while neglecting to spend the necessary time at the lesson helping them pay attention and play correctly. But when I do prioritize truly teaching students to play correctly, the rewards are always well worth it!

Jungle Expedition Practice Incentive Theme is Here!

We are wrapping up an exciting year of expeditioning at our studio, and we have had a blast! The students have loved traveling from hut to hut as part of Jungle Expedition: where mighty musicians survive, earning various privileges and treats. I’m impressed at how hard they’ve worked all year long to improve the consistency and quality of their practicing and to tackle Extra Endeavors (they’ve especially loved earning tickets for memorizing pieces and performing for friends!). It definitely makes the hard work of planning and conducting a practice incentive theme worth it when we can look back and see how far the students have come during the year!

We still have a few weeks of lessons left before we take a break or change things up for the summer, so most of the students are frantically collecting tickets and trying to get to one final hut before time runs out!