Send a Musical E-Card and Invest in the Musical Education of a Student at the Same Time!

Check out these awesome e-cards that include music provided by some of the most prominent orchestras! But even better, for every one of these e-cards you send, Fidelity Investments will donate $1 to buy new musical instruments for local area students. I’m usually not a fan of e-cards, but I love this (and just sent off a whole stack of them 🙂 )!

HT: Ed Flynn – thanks for passing this on to me, Ed!

Recital Pictures

Since I didn’t get my official This Week in Photos post up last week, I thought I would at least share some of the pictures from my Christmas Recital last Thursday evening. Our title was Christmas: God’s Mystery Revealed. In between the piano pieces, I read little bits of narration while the students took turns holding various objects to represent the historic events about which I narrated. The objective was to give the audience members snippets of history that served as clues ultimately leading to the revelation of God’s “Mystery.” It worked out really well, and the students did a marvelous job performing their pieces and participating in the mystery! I had a friend film the whole recital, so I’m hoping to post videos of some of the performances later this week. But for now, hope you enjoy these pictures!



Do you recognize Emily? 🙂


A group shot of all of us. I love my students!

We gathered afterward for a reception of scrumptious goodies provided by all the families.

With three of my most-loved students (a.k.a my three youngest siblings!) after we were all done cleaning up, and ready to go home and crash!

Christmas Music in the Spotlight

In honor of our Christmas Recital tonight, I thought I would post a video of one of the selections that will be on the program. Brittany did a “practice performance” of What Child is This? last week at her lesson. A “practice performance” means that we turn off all the lights except for the one on the piano (which simulates a spotlight!), and do the whole approach to the piano, bow at the end, etc. The goal, of course, is to try to make the student feel at least slightly nervous so that we can identify weak spots, and learn to work through the nerves. 🙂

Practicing to Perform at the Piano

Years ago I made up this set of Performance Signs that I frequently use during group classes with my students. (I’m a little embarrassed about the quality of the design now, but I’ve been using them for years and my students are very attached to them!)

There are six signs, with the following titles: Approach to Piano, Arrival at the Piano, Performance, Completion, Bow, and Return to Seat. On the back of each card is a list of things to remember in conjunction with that portion of the performance. I printed each of these signs on a sheet of colored paper and laminated it. Once I introduce the performance principles to students (or review them prior to a performance), I distribute the cards randomly. Each student takes a turn performing, and once they are back at their seat, the students with the cards hold them up if they followed the steps listed on that particular card. If the performer doesn’t get a raised card in a particular area, the “judge” of that area explains what they should have done differently to get that card raised.

You can download your own set of these Performance Signs for free and print them out for use in your studio. The combination of the visual representation and the constant use these get in my studio has entrenched these performance principles on my students’ minds. That’s not to say that they always remember them in the “heat of the moment,” but we’re getting there!

Videos with New Favorite Repertoire

James has had to work really hard to develop his rhythm skills. He especially loved this piece, so he was motivated to count consistently through the whole thing to make it sound right.

Here is a link to the printed music for the Bitterroot Mountains piece that James is playing:

Look inside this title
Stories in Sound - Book 2 - sheet music at
Stories in Sound – Book 2 By Valerie Roth Roubos. For Piano. FJH Composers in Focus. Performance. Level: Late Elementary. Collection. Published by The FJH Music Company Inc. (FF1687)
See more info…

Initially Ryan thought that Sun Chaser was still too hard to learn, but once I showed him the patterns, he took off with it. This was a great piece for rote teaching!

Here is a link to the printed music for the Sun Chaser piece that Ryan is playing:

Look inside this title
Sun Chaser - sheet music at
Sun Chaser By Timothy Brown. For Piano. FJH Written For You Piano Solos. Animals and Nature. Level: Early Intermediate. Solo Sheet. Published by The FJH Music Company Inc. (W9111)
See more info…

Composition Idea

About a month ago, our music teachers association had a workshop on teaching composition to students. Wendy Stevens was our presenter, and gave us lots of practical tips. Plus, as part of the workshop she played portions of her newly published Christmas book, All is Calm! (BTW, if you haven’t seen Wendy’s website, you must check it out! It is loaded with all sorts of great resources!) One of the tips Wendy shared that has already gotten a lot of mileage in my studio is to have the student pick out a favorite part in a piece that they are playing. Then identify what it is about that part that makes it their favorite and have them incorporate those elements into an original composition. She emphasized the importance, above all, of having a good melody.

This process has looked different for different students, but the picture above represents the chord structure for a portion of the piece Solfeggietto by C.P.E. Bach. After selecting this piece as her favorite, my student identified the section she liked the best. We discussed it and determined that it was the chord progression that really captured her ear. So we analyzed the chords and then I assigned her to use that progression as the harmonic basis for an original melody. She’s still working on it, but it’s proving to be a great way to provide organization while also allowing for plenty of her own creativity.

I still have a long ways to go in learning how to effectively teach composition, but this idea from Wendy has been a great launching pad!

This Week in Photos

Okay, I admit this is actually last week in photos, but at this point I’m just proud of myself for actually getting these posted… 🙂

On Monday morning, shortly before my first lesson of the day, I decided to try a new game for the week – Chord Spelling Bee Challenge. I grabbed several plain wood blocks, painted them orange, and then used a black marker to write different types of chords on the sides of the blocks. I did one with just Major/Minor, one with Major/Minor/Augmented/Diminished, and one with Major 7th/Minor 7th/Diminished 7th/Dominant 7th.

I chose the chord block based on the student’s level and had them roll it to determine what type of chord they were required to build and spell. Then they closed their eyes and drew a scale block from the jar to determine the identity of the chord. They had to play the correct keys on the piano and spell them out loud as they went. I kept track on a white board of how many they got correct and how many they got incorrect. Just like a spelling bee, if they played one incorrectly, it was counted wrong (even if they corrected it).

At the end of the lesson, the student got to write his or her name on the door, along with their score. This proved to be a fun way to reinforce an understanding of how to build different types of chords. Plus, it was funny to watch their reactions when they were spelling chords and I would tell them that what they were playing was not a G, but an A-double-flat. 🙂  (By the way, is there such a thing as a triplet flat? For example…how would you spell a C-flat Diminished 7th chord? C-flat, E-double-flat, G-double-flat, B-triplet-flat? That one stumped me! Theory geeks, please chime in and help me out on this…)

In other studio pictures…Melodie and Grant are playing a duet version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas for the recital next week and they have done a superb job learning it!

Finally, I just had to take a picture of Gus when he came in and asked if he could play Old McDonald for me. He is Grant and Melodie’s younger brother, and Grant taught him how to play this song. I told Grant he better not be trying to put me out of business by taking my upcoming students and teaching them himself – that’s my job security right there, you know! 🙂

And the winner is…

Can you tell I’m a bit behind with things this month? I didn’t get my “This Week in Photos” post up last week, and it’s taken me several days just to post the winner of the last Mystery Challenge. Is everyone else equally busy getting ready for Christmas recitals and such? My studio Christmas recital is next Thursday and the rehearsal is this Thursday. The purpose of the rehearsal is to scare all the students into practicing like crazy the week leading up to the recital. 🙂

Anyway…the winner of the Great Pianists Mystery was Ruth! Congratulations, Ruth! I’ve already contacted her and sent her the prize of her choice. The mystery pianist was Van Cliburn. The false clue was #2 – which actually pointed to Vladmir Horowitz, not Van Cliburn. For anyone interested in decoding the mystery word, it is comprised of the first letter of each sentence in the clue. All the mystery words throughout the year will eventually be unscrambled and form a sentence to reveal The Mystery of Music.  So far my students are doing a great job cracking the codes and keeping up with their Mastery Challenges. Hopefully that will continue through the end of the school year!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Great Pianists Mystery!