Giveaway of 3 Piano Solo Collections!

Don’t you just love having a new book of beautiful piano solos to play?! One of my favorite things to do is sit down with a new collection of lyrical piano pieces and just lose myself in the music. Thanks to composer James Stevens, there are three more such collections available to pianists everywhere (Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade). In honor of his latest releases, James is generously giving away one copy of each collection to three special Music Matters Blog readers! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, August 1, 2013.

In the meantime, check out James’ music at the following links:

Website Info: New Piano Music by James Stevens

Sheet Music: Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade

And the Winner Is…

#60 – Walter! And Everyone! (see below)

Congratulations, Walter! You should receive an e-mail with the complete set of 44 Birthday Variations by Forrest Kinney. I know you’ll enjoy them.

And as a special thank you to everyone for participating, Forrest has generously offered to give all Music Matters Blog readers 50% off the entire set of Birthday Variations! That means you can get the complete set for less than $10. Just type “musicmatters50″ in the coupon code box at checkout and get 50% off the Birthday Variations.

Free Giveaway of 44 Birthday Variations by Forrest Kinney!

Those of you who have been around here for a while know that my teaching philosophy and approach has been largely influenced by Forrest Kinney and his Pattern Play books and teacher workshops. I am excited to share that he has a new website and has been working on lots of projects to share with fellow pianists and teachers!

And, even better, he has graciously offered to giveaway a complete set of his new 44 Birthday Variations to one Music Matters Blog reader! You can listen to sample recordings of them on the individual variation pages (e.g. here’s the New Age one). Just leave your name in the comment section below, and a winner will be selected using a random number generator on Friday, July 11, at 12:00 noon (CST). I know you and/or your students will love these!

e.p.i.c. is Here!

I’m sure everyone has been waiting with bated breath for this moment, right? Well, at least I have been!

My studio saw quite a shift this past year, with many of my older ones graduating and moving on, and 9 new piano students just starting out! With that in mind, I knew I needed a practice incentive theme this year that would be conducive to a younger and less experienced studio, but that would still engage the students I already had.

When I was journaling last summer about the forthcoming theme, I stated, “I want it to be easy to understand, simple to implement, highly motivational, and primarily music-focused.” I also wanted there to be an emphasis on establishing consistent and quality practice habits and encouraging the students to develop the character to succeed in their musical endeavors. With that criteria and some inspiration from my backpacking trip through The Grand Canyon last August, the theme was borne:

e.p.i.c. – an unforgettable musical journey

This proved to be a very easy practice incentive theme to maintain throughout the year (which is good considering my year took quite an unexpected turn!), was a great fit especially for the younger beginning students, and was appreciated by parents because of its emphasis on character, learning to practice with enthusiasm ( a good attitude), perseverance (work hard), initiative (practice without being told), and creativity (try something new). The students loved choosing e.pi.c. experiences along the way and selecting a poster of their choice when they reached designated milestones. In summary, it was a ton of fun!

I know a lot of you are looking ahead toward next fall and planning practice incentives and themes, so for the remainder of the month of June, you can receive $5 off your purchase of the e.p.i.c. practice incentive theme when you use this discount code: 835M024P

Hope you all enjoy it as much as we did!

Get $5 Off Through the Month of May!

Summer is just around the corner, and most teachers are starting to plan ahead for summer piano camps and theme ideas for next fall (except for the over-achieving ones who already have it all figured out… :-))! In light of this, I’ve decided to offer a special $5 off discount for anything in the Music Matters Blog store.

Whether you’re looking for piano camp plans, fun music games to change things up a bit, or a fully developed practice incentive theme to launch in your studio, you’ll find a variety of tried-and-true possibilities in our store. And if you have a website or blog with ideas or materials for summer, feel free to share a link in the comments section!

Just enter this discount code when you checkout to receive your $5 off: 101W2RP0

Review of Fiddlewax Blue

Fiddlewax Blue is an interactive iPad or iPhone app developed by Alex Kumpf that allows the user to experiment with different chords and keys without a piano. The app has a variety of settings that you can change such as what instrument you use (preset or custom), what key you want to mess around in (CM, bm, e harmonic, etc), which of the 8 functions you want displayed, and even more I didn’t delve into much.

Before I tried out the app, I watched this tutorial (below) by Alex Kumpf to get an idea of what its features were and that really helped me see and understand what it was capable of doing. It was really hard for me to grasp what the Fiddlewax Blue app was by just reading the description, so it was nice having a visual aid.

And then here is a video of him giving viewers a sample of what it looks like to actually “use” the app:

Fiddlewax Blue also has a feature where you can record compositions you create within the app and either email it to yourself or access the recording through your computer later.

I like the idea of this app and the potential it has to give users a greater understanding of musical keys and chords, but after dabbling in it for a while, I felt like it could have been a bit more user friendly and the sound quality could’ve been better. However, I’m sure these are things that will be updated the longer the app is available.

Free Piano Interval Worksheet

The final e.p.i.c. Encounter (a.k.a. group class) of our e.p.i.c. practice incentive theme was last week, and our topic for the evening was intervals.

We started the class with an overview of what an interval is, then each of the students received a set of these interval worksheets to fill out and keep for their reference.

This was a helpful visual tool that launched us into an evening of fun interval activities and challenges. The hit game of the night was the “Flashcard Drop.” This ingenious idea (compliments of my creative husband!) involved us dropping note flashcards (we used this wonderful set from TCW Resources) through the slats in our deck to the patio below where the students were gathered in teams of two. As they collected cards, the objective was to identify the interval between any two notes, then run the pair of flashcards up to us on the deck and correctly identify the interval. Every correct answer earned the team a point. Whichever team accumulated 10 points first was the winner! This proved to be a bit of a challenge for the students, but a ton of fun!

We also enjoyed playing The Mystery Note game and the Spelling Challenge from the 5 for Fun! book of music games and activities. I just modified them so that the students could continue working in pairs as we played each game. These Wipe Off: Keyboards and Staffs by Bastien are a wonderful resource for group class games and activities!

Review of Black Key Blast by Wendy Stevens

Black Key Blast By Wendy Stevens

Wendy Stevens has produced many music resources over the years, spanning from theory tests (which I personally benefited from), to piano music, rhythm books, and now one of her most recent products: Black Key Blast-a beginner pre-staff songbook. In this book you’ll find 6 upbeat and energetic pieces with accompanying teacher parts, and lyrics to boot! Just to give you an idea of what you’d be in for, check out the title for each song…

- Movin’ and Groovin’

- Click Clock Click

- Round and Round

- My Imaginary Friend

- I Am the Princess

- Ninja Power

Natalie and I decided to play through Black Key Blast together to get the full effect, and I’m really glad we did because it helped a lot! When she and I finished the book, I really liked, “I Am A Princess” because I thought the student and teacher part complemented each other very nicely. I can’t say I felt the same way with the other songs after we had played through all of them. It took Natalie and I a couple times of playing through each song to really start getting an idea of what the duets should sound like. Even still, with some of the duets, Natalie commented, “They just don’t seem to fit.” Each part was actually quite fun, but, but it was just a bit challenging to get the duets to flow rhythmically and melodically.

I watched Wendy’s YouTube video for her Black Key Blast book and it definitely helped with understanding how the songs should sound. The songs in Black Key Blast seem like they’ll be really fun and exciting for beginner students to play as a solo or duet, but once those teacher parts come in, I can definitely see the students finding it a lot more challenging rhythmically. Even though this wasn’t my favorite elementary book, I do think your little students will enjoy learning these songs and even the challenge that may come with playing the duets!

To purchase your own copy click here>> Black Key Blast

To check out Wendy Stevens’ site click here>> ComposeCreate

Review of Learning Strategies for Musical Success by Michael Griffin

Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Michael Griffin has become quite a familiar name for Music Matters Blog readers. Just from the little I’ve been exposed to his work and the little I know about him, Mr. Griffin is a thoroughly impressive music educator and has definitely earned the recognition and promotion he’s received on the blog. Author of Music and Keyboard in the Classroom and developer of Music Education World, Michael Griffin has produced yet another excellent resource for the music community!

I might’ve not agreed with everything in the book, but very rarely do I come away from reviewing a product feeling INSPIRED! While reading the book, I discovered that Natalie uses some of the very same methods that are encouraged for greater musical success-methods that were used to teach me and help me excel in my musical endeavors, particularly the “student-teacher” method Griffin discusses.

“We learn…
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear 
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what is discussed with others
80% of what is experienced personally
95% of what we teach to someone else.”
-William Glasser, American Psychiatrist (found in the book)

Developing this fact-based, informative, well-researched, and personal-perspective book was clearly no walk in the park. I can only imagine the hours that were poured into getting this work published! By the time I finished the book, I was inspired to keep learning and challenging myself; I was inspired to strive more for excellence and be willing to work hard to achieve that. I felt like Mr. Griffin clearly communicated his message-and with a passion: “With a growth-mindset, and repeated and sustained effort, we can substantially improve in our endeavors.” He definitely holds to a similar theory in musical excellence and success as Einstein did in genius: “Genius is 1 % talent and 99% hard work…” I appreciate Mr. Griffin’s desire to re-instill this in people because the mindset to work hard and not take your talents for granted is deteriorating quite rapidly in our society-especially in younger generations.

If you’re a music educator-or maybe even hold another occupation-I believe you will find this book incredibly beneficial and inspiring! Plus, the book is nicely laid out into six chapters with thoughtfully divided sections and includes numerous illustrations, making it very “reference-friendly.” Take a peek inside!:


(Pg. 74, Figure 19: Higher-Order Thinking Skills)

“The self-directed action of doing something for its inherent value, for the sake of self-growth, is characteristically exhilarating, gratifying, uplifting, and enjoyable.”  -David Elliott (This is a quote used on pg. 77, section “Enjoyment”)

“Successful people overcome obstacles and even turn them to their advantage.” (pg. 81, section “Attitude of Mind”)


(Pg. 120, Figure 26: Multiple Intelligences Model)


(Pg. 121, section “Multiple Intelligences Theory”)


(Pg. 124, section “Music and the Brain”)

I loved portions of chapter 3 (“The Soft Skills of Achievement”) and chapter 6 (“Music and Intelligence), and found chapter 6’s, “Music and the Brain” section particularly fascinating!

To find out more about the book and/or get your own copy, click here! And if you’re interested in staying up-to-date on Griffin’s latest musical strategies, hop on over to his blog: Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Enjoy!