Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I took off this week of teaching and am looking forward to spending time with my family and enjoying the Thanksgiving season. I am so thankful for the privilege of running an independent studio and for the wonderful families and students that are a part of it. God’s blessings are abundant and it’s always good for me to take time to reflect on them. May you all likewise be blessed this week as you enjoy a time of reflection and Thanksgiving!

Student Christmas Gift Ideas?

Is everyone else trying to figure out what to give their students for Christmas this year? Anyone come up with any great ideas yet? I usually like to give something creative that will last longer than the time it takes for a piece of candy to make the journey from their mouth to their stomach. 🙂 Still trying to come up with the perfect idea for this year…

One of my students’ favorite gifts was this Music Manuscript book I made for them a couple of years ago. Many of them still use their books for theory assignments or composition projects. I’ve made the complete file for this book available in the Music Matters Blog store in case any other teachers are interested in giving these to their students as a special gift. Just click the button below to download the file, save it to your computer, and then use it as often as you like to print books for your students. You can even e-mail the whole file to a print shop and have them run however many copies you need and bind them. The book is set up with margin spacing to allow for double-sided printing. Enjoy!

Music Manuscript Book | $5

This Week in Photos

Continuing with the theme of devising games utilizing flashcards, I had Naomi try a sight-reading/composition game. I held the set of flashcards upside down and had her randomly draw four cards. Then I allowed her to arrange them in any order she chose and play the pattern of notes under either the second or third section on the card. After playing it once, she could rearrange the cards to form a different melody and keep trying various patterns until she came up with one that she liked the best.

Brittany has had a long-time goal of learning a piano arrangement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. A couple of years ago she found a great free arrangement of it on-line and brought it to her lesson. It was still a little bit beyond her, so we set it to the side. After lots of hard work, we finally decided she was ready and she had a blast learning it! Just for fun we decided to layer a piano and string sound on the Clavinova and record it during her lesson this week.
Find three free arrangements of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at the gmajor music theory free piano music website. Just look under the right side bar labeled, “Most Popular.” (Brittany learned the Level 3 arrangement.)
Click here to read step-by-step instructions on how to easily set up recording capabilities in your studio.

We had our second Private Eye Workshop of the year this week and our topic was Great Pianists. In addition to the student performances and judging, we enjoyed “visits” from three special guest pianists. Since I completely forgot to take any pictures during our class, I thought I would post this captivating performance we watched of Lang Lang and his father playing, “Horse.” We were all duly mesmerized!

The Mutopia Project

For those who love to explore new music or just like having ready (and free!) access to download and print your favorite classics, you’ll want to head over to The Mutopia Project right away! I pulled this from their website:

The Mutopia Project offers sheet music editions of classical music for free download. These are based on editions in the public domain, and include works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Handel, Mozart, and many others. A team of volunteers are involved in typesetting the music by computer using the LilyPond software. Why not join them?! See the page on how to contribute for more information.

We also host a growing number of modern editions, arrangements and new music. The respective editors, arrangers and composers have chosen to make these works freely available.

I’ve heard about the LilyPond music typesetting program and even considered taking the plunge into learning it a while back, but chickened out. 🙂 From what I’ve seen, the scores produced using LilyPond are beautiful, so I look forward to spending more time perusing and downloading sheet music from The Mutopia Project. I sure appreciate the people out there who are willing to invest their time and energy in a project for the benefit of so many of us musicians!

Review of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, Vol. 4

Go to Review of: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

This latest volume of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora that I’ve just finished reviewing definitely fits the Advanced designation it is given! Like each of the three previous volumes, this one begins with a short biographical sketch of each composer represented in the volume. The composers are: Margaret Bonds, Bongani Ndodana-Breen, Halim El-Dabh, Gyimah Labi, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Joshua Uzoigwe, and George Walker.

Each of the pieces in this fourth volume are quite long and are certainly not for the faint of heart! If you love new, out-of-the-box, culturally diverse, difficult music, then this is the book for you. Here are my notes on each of the pieces:

1. Prelude and Caprice – The Prelude is B-Major piece is full of rich harmonies. A thick texture gives way to inner voices and requires a good handle on voicing. In some respects it is not unlike Brahms. The Caprice is more complex and difficult to understand musically. It’s fast and furious. A challenge to be sure!

2. Ukom (from Talking Drums)
– As one might guess, a percussive rhythmic structure drives this piece. It is monotonous at times, but gives way to a fun LH melodic section with lots of accents!

3. Flowers in the Sand, Part 1: After the First Rain – I’m pretty sure every rhythmic combination possible is used in this piece! Eights, Sixteenths, Dotted and Tied notes, triplet variations of each – a nightmare for anyone rhythmically challenged! 🙂 There is a sotto voce feel throughout this piece – the pianississimo at the beginning followed by a pianissississimo at the end probably explains that. Part II: Colours in the Dunes is, in a word, colorful. Not always pretty, per se, but definitely colorful.

4. Coma Dance
– This piece continues the pattern of rhythmically complex elements. It would have been most helpful to hear a recording of this piece, because I never fully wrapped my ear around how I’m sure it was supposed to sound.

5.Troubled Water
– This familiar tune was very expressive, with two playful e-minor sections sandwiching the softer E-Major section. A very nice arrangement with lots of personality!

6. Toccata – The furioso marking aptly portrays this driving and dissonant piece. With frequently changing meters (12/8 to 15/8 to 18/8 to 9/8, etc.), there is constant movement from beginning to end that will have you racing to keep up!

7. The Lotus (from Six Dialects in African Pianism) – It is not surprising to see parallel fourths characterizing this piece. Hints of syncopation come out in the hemiola figures throughout.

Teaching Piano Pieces by Rote

Doesn’t everyone teach a few of those students whose technical facility and musical talent far exceeds their music reading ability? I have found that such students love learning really cool sounding pieces that are quite a bit harder than what they could actually read from the printed music. One of my favorite pieces to teach by rote is the expressive Poet’s Lament by Jon George.

Here’s an example of my student Graham (who is just starting the Faber Level 1 books) playing this piece. We still have a ways to go with fluidity and musical phrasing, but can you tell he loves this piece?!

I’m always looking for great pieces to teach by rote that will capture the students’ imagination. Anyone have any favorite rote pieces that they like to teach? Do tell!

This Week in Photos

Joey has made huge strides in his understanding and execution of scales this year, so I thought I would put him to the test with this fun Scale Scramble game. I placed all the scale blocks that corresponded to a particular scale on the fall board and then timed him to see how fast he could arrange them into the correct scale. It was a bit of a challenge at first, but we did several and he got pretty fast at it!

Luke is the acclaimed comedian in the studio. He has been known to give a gut-busting performance routine and I never quite know what to expect from him… 🙂 I had seen him the night before his lesson at an event and we were discussing possible character descriptions for him in a drama role with another organization I work with. He said he would like to play a nervous, fidgety, quirky, sort of character and I asked him what that would look like. So, the next day he showed up for his lesson as “Herman” and I got a very good visual representation of such a character. He was hilarious and of course I had to take a picture!

I’ve been brainstorming different game ideas using flashcards and told Caleb I wanted to try one out on him. I started by giving him the treble clef C, D, and E. Then I played various patterns using those three notes and he had to arrange them in the correct order. He aced those, so we quickly moved on to 5-note patterns. The 5-note patterns usually took a couple of play-throughs, but he eventually got all but one of them correct. It turned out to be pretty fun and a great way to work on melodic dictation.

True to our agreement last week, I got to choose the game this week at the end of James’ lesson. I chose a variation of Whack-it!. I placed all the treble clef notes from middle C to high F on the floor and set the timer for one minute. As I called out note names, James had to whack the corresponding card. If he was correct, I took the card away and called out a new note name. If he was wrong, I placed a previously-removed card back in front of him. The goal was to collect as many cards as possible before the time ran out. Once we finished the treble clef, I took my turn with him calling the notes and then we repeated the game with bass clef notes from middle C down to low G. I pretty much creamed him – even with him implementing various stalling tactics when he was calling the note names. So he insisted that next week he gets to choose the game again. 🙂


Check out one of the biggest things to hit the internet this month – Behemoth.com. 🙂 “Behemoth.com’s vision is as big as its name: to provide a large-scale, cost-effective download venue for customers of all ages, featuring trustworthy, downloadable audio and video content for the Christian family.

There is some amazing music available to be downloaded in the Music Section of the website. I love finding new music groups and recordings and the short audio clips of each track on the albums are the perfect way to decide if I like it enough to download it. You can download single tracks or an entire album – just like iTunes. I am loving exploring Behemoth.com and have already created my account!

Plus, every day they offer different products for free – just look for the link on the home page. You can also sign up for their e-newsletter that includes special offers and featured product reviews.

And, for those creative types who are interested in marketing their music to a broader audience through a website like Behemoth.com, be sure to check out the information about submitting your own media for consideration.

What a great all-around resource for musicians!

Maybe my ear is not so bad after all…

My musical strength has always been sight-reading and it’s been a long process to develop any ability to play by ear. After reading this funny little anecdote my Dad sent me today, though, I’m feeling pretty good about myself… 🙂

The symphony musicians had little confidence in the person brought in to be their new conductor. Their fears were realized at the very first rehearsal. The cymbalist, realizing that the conductor did not know what he was doing, angrily clashed his instruments together during a delicate, soft passage. The music stopped. The conductor, highly agitated, looked angrily around the orchestra,
demanding, “Who did that? Who did that?”