Split End Arpeggios at the Piano

One of the approaches that I encourage my students to use to help them become fluent in piano arpeggios is a hands together pattern that one of my teachers showed me years ago. I could never remember the name of them, so I finally tasked one of my creative students with determining a name and then demonstrating it via a short video presentation that I could share with other students in the future. Stephanie came up with the perfect name: Split End Arpeggios. Here’s her one-minute video explaining how to play them. Thanks, Stephanie!

Free Downloadable Sheet Music from Sovereign Grace Music

I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I just discovered that on the Sovereign Grace Music website, you can search through all of their available songs and access lyrics (in multiple languages!) downloadable guitar charts, lead sheets, and piano scores – all for free! Each song’s page also contains an embedded video with a recording of the song. This is a tremendous resource for students who are learning to read and play lead sheets and looking to gain experience so that they can play with church worship teams. I am so excited to use this with my students!

Three Fun Rhythm-Related Stations for Piano Group Class

In keeping with our Beat the Pirates! practice incentive theme this year, we are incorporating rhythm activities into each of our monthly group piano classes. This week’s group class turned out to be quite the hit! I set up three stations and placed the students in pairs, then they rotated through each station. Here’s a snapshot of each station:

The first station included a laptop and the educational game, Compose Yourself. The students could input and then listen to a playback of each card with various rhythmic and melodic patterns. Here’s a link to the “Speghetti Song” that Stephanie and Violet created. When we all gathered back in the studio, each pair played back their composition on the laptop for the rest of our listening pleasure.

The second station was a “Familiar Tunes” challenge. An envelope was filled with slips of paper containing the names of familiar tunes. Together, the students were to see how many tunes they could pick out by ear in the allotted time. When we gathered in between the rounds, they selected and shared one that they had learned with the other groups.

The third station included a basket of rhythm instruments and the game, “Tapping Telephones.” Using the Directory cards, the students started at Level A and worked through the cards to see how many levels they could get through playing the instruments together. They shared their rhythmic accomplishment with the rest of us when we reconvened in the studio!

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Tutorful’s Ultimate List for Learning to Play the Piano

The acclaimed UK website for connecting students with tutors in various subjects, Tutorful, has compiled a huge list of resources for those interested in learning to play the piano. From apps to YouTube videos to websites to books and ebooks (including our Daily Practice Guide!), you could spend hours perusing these suggested resources. Thankfully, post author, Rachael S, gives a brief synopsis of each recommendation to help lead interested pianists and students down the most relevant path. It’s nice to have a collection of resources like this in one place as a starting point for discovering new or helpful ideas to use with my students!

I see the pattern!

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is leading students to a discovery of knowledge. Renowned pedagogue Frances Clark reminded us, “Teaching is not telling.” As easy, and seemingly efficient, as it is to fall into the rut of telling students what I want them to know, the reality is that they will almost assuredly remember what they discover and experience for themselves far longer than they will retain the words that I speak. That is one of the primary reasons that I incorporate games into our piano lessons. Games are an opportunity to both evaluate a student’s knowledge and understanding of a particular concept and to lead them to new and exciting discoveries.

At Claire’s lesson, when she struggled to correctly identify the key signature flashcards while playing her favorite “Whack-It!” game (a selection from the book “5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson“), I knew we needed to do something to help her better understand key signatures. I pulled out a set of key signature flashcards and our jar of scale blocks and had her start by lining up the notes of a C-Major scale under the key signature flashcard for C-Major. Next, we set down the flashcard with 1 sharp (G-Major) and I slightly moved the last four blocks of the C-Major scale down under that flashcard, then asked her to finish lining up scale blocks for the notes of the G-Major scale. I did the same thing with the flashcard and scale blocks for the D-Major scale and then her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “I see the pattern!” She was able to effortlessly complete the [not so circular!] Circle of 5ths and see how every key related to the next and moved progressively. Like everything, this will require repetition, but it’s sure fun to see the proverbial light bulb going off in students’ minds, isn’t it?

A Lovely Night

Due to a number of unexpected circumstances last year, I made the difficult decision not to host any kind of Christmas recital for my students (after 20 years of that annual tradition!). Instead, my husband suggested that we do something for Valentine’s Day. I decided to give his idea a try, and we had an awesome concert last Friday night that several of my students and their families commented they preferred over the traditional Christmas recital.

We distributed invitations to all of the neighbors in our court and received a great response! It is so valuable for students to have the opportunity to share their music with others in a welcoming environment. Here are a few shots from the evening:

I’m so grateful to have a Clavinova in my studio that I can easily move upstairs for these concerts. Once we rearrange all of our furniture and bring in folding chairs, we can accommodate an audience of around 25 people.

My ever-willing-to-help husband agreed to be our reader for the evening, and shared several selections that included a poem, a Shakespeare sonnet, and some Bible passages about the love of God.

In addition to our piano solo and duet selections, we also had a guitar and vocal performance from one of my sons, and my brother graciously joined me for a cello-piano duo arrangement of the theme from the classic love story, Beauty and the Beast. It’s always a hit to have a variety of instruments and/or guest artists in our studio events! For those who are curious, here’s a copy of our program from the concert:

We concluded the evening with some simple refreshments, hot drinks, and a great time of fellowship among our studio families and neighbors. It was a delightful experience, and we’re all looking forward to the next Concerts in the Court event. 🙂

An Interview with Murray Perahia

Some of my favorite CDs growing up were those of pianist Murray Perahia, so a recent interview with him in Listen magazine published by Steinway & Sons grabbed my attention.

It was so refreshing to read Perahia’s comments relating to contemporary music and his preference for tonality, in particular the ingenious work of J.S. Bach. His explorations into the harpsichord and subsequent decisions about the use of pedaling in Bach’s music are also fascinating! His interview prompted a search for his Goldberg Variations recording and it truly is exquisite:

In an approachable and humble manner, Perahia shares about his editing work, his views on symphonic music, teachers who have influenced him, and more. I especially appreciated his closing remarks on how having a decided “point of view…inform[s] a lot of my musical decisions.” Whether in music or life, it’s good to be reminded that there is value in having a “tonal center” to ground us even when popular opinion presumes that all that is new must be embraced with equal fervor. I’m grateful for artists like Murray Perahia who continue to value and preserve and share the timeless beauty of yesteryear.

New Free Piano and Music Worksheets Every Week!

If you haven’t checked out the Music Matters Blog store in a while, you may be pleased to know that there is now a Free Resources section and every week I’m working on adding new free music theory and piano worksheets to the collection. Many of these have been posted over the years, but have been lost in the archives and are difficult to find. I’m hoping that this will keep them better organized and easier to find (for me, too!).

Those of you who have been here for a while know that I don’t typically use theory books with my students, so it’s essential for me to be able to pull out just the right worksheet to help my students learn or reinforce a musical concept in a given week. All of these worksheets are PDFs, so they can be downloaded and printed for use with your students or downloaded and used on an iPad or other tablet. If you have any suggestions for other worksheets you’d like to have, feel free to send me an email and let me know!

Best Easy and Effective Note Identification App

Alyssa and I have been focusing a lot the last several months on her note identification speed. We’ve been doing a modified version of our NoteStars Challenge and she has made great progress, so when I came across this NoteRush app recently I immediately thought of Alyssa.

The app is simple and intuitive, so in no time at all we set it up with the same “levels” as NoteStars and gave it a try. She loved it! The app calibrates to middle C on your instrument and then listens as you play in response to the notes shown on the staff. If you get it correct a new note quickly appears. If you are incorrect, the note remains and you can opt in the settings to have it offer you a prompt. A student could easily manage NoteRush on their own in a technology lab setting, or it’s a quick, hassle-free game to reinforce and evaluate a student’s note identification skills in a couple of minutes at the beginning of a piano lesson.

Questions to Ask Students

At our local music teachers association meeting this morning we watched a webinar by Dr. Barbara Fast and Dr. Andrea McAlister on Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias: Empowering Students Through Positive Engaging Language. From Dr. Fast’s segment, I especially appreciated the specific questions she suggested using during a piano lesson (some she gleaned from a masterclass with Leon Fleisher):

  • What did you focus on this week?
  • What did you practice the most?
  • Can you tell me how you succeeded in what you were trying to achieve?
  • To what extent did you achieve what you wanted?
  • What questions remain for you?
  • Any places that you wish were easier to play?

I love these open-ended questions and hope to employ some of them with my students this week!

Dr. McAlister shared many helpful definitions as she discussed the importance of language. These are the top three memorable points she made that I hope to keep in mind as I teach:

  • Listen with the intent to praise, not criticize.
  • View those sitting on our piano benches not just as students, but as musicians.
  • Encourage curiosity (“the desire to know”).

I’m so grateful for the inspiration and fellowship of our local association meetings and teachers. If you’re not part of such a group, I encourage you to check out the MTNA website and get plugged in with an association in your area!