My Piano Teacher Introduced Me To A Legend: Joe Sample 1939-2014

We were introduced when I was a teen. My piano teacher at the time gave me a tape of his music. Yes, it was on a tape because I met Joe Sample before the CD was born. At that time I knew little about any music other than Gospel. My teacher often gave me tapes of various artists to listen to, but I usually didn’t listen to them because, well I was a teen. Before he gave me the Joe Sample tape, he played it for me in my lesson. I was hooked. The only problem was that the CD had not been born and with tapes you had to guess where the song you liked was. This usually meant rewinding and fast forwarding for what seemed an eternity until you gave up and decided to listen from beginning to end – which could be up to 120 minutes depending on the length of your tape. Unfortunately my new friend Joe Sample and I lost touch due to the limitations of the tape.


I never forgot how I felt when I heard that first Joe Sample song. It was a feeling of awe and wonder. I wondered who this person was and how his fingers could make music sound like that. Thankfully the CD came on the scene a few years later. One of my first CDs was of course a Joe Sample CD. By this time my piano teacher had passed away but I was so glad that he got the chance to introduce me to Joe Sample. Now, I never met Joe Sample in person, but music is powerful like that. It allows you to feel like you know the artist on a level that is different, deeper even, than how you could know someone in person.

Yesterday when I learned of Joe Sample’s passing, I was saddened. My “friend” was gone and I needed to grieve. I had long forgotten about that CD that I purchased so many years ago until last night when  I was looking through my CD collection in search of music for this year’s Big Dreams concert. Guess what I found? Yep, that Joe Sample CD.

Joe Sample CD


I smiled and said a quick thank you to my piano teacher and Joe Sample.

Now, don’t you want to know more about Joe Sample? Watch this interview with him by Zach Tate.

3 Non-Piano Teaching Music Blogs To Add To Your BlogRoll Now!

I get inspiration for my piano lessons from a variety of resources on the internet. Of course I read a TON of piano teaching blogs, but I also like to peruse blogs of elementary music classroom teachers. They have a wealth of ideas that are excellent for teaching music theory concepts and for performance. Here are some of my newest favorites:
Mrs. Q's Music Blog








What I LOVE about this blog:

Mrs. Q. shares a lot of great ideas that she uses in her school music classroom. Many of these ideas can also be used in private and group piano lessons. She also has cool color by note pages that can be printed for FREE here.


Technology Rocks Serioussly





What I LOVE about this blog:

This blog is not about music at all, but it is FULL of inspiration for teachers and music bloggers. Check it out to get some astonishing FREE printable posters for decor and inspiration! Did I say FREE? Yep!



Make Moments Matter

What I Love About This Blog:

Finally a male elementary music teacher with a blog! Aside from sharing his great ideas for the classroom (which can sometimes be used for piano lessons as well) David has a MASSIVE resource list sorted by various topics of interest to music teachers. Let me warn you, you will need LOTS of time to go through the whole list!

Quick Lesson Plans for Teaching “G” on the Grand Staff and Keyboard


Go ahead, accuse me of seeing EVERYTHING through piano eyes. I can’t help it. I just do! Really I just look for ways to use things I love in my piano teaching. What’s the latest thing I love to be incorporated into lessons? The giraffe!

The giraffe is my absolute favorite animal because it’s long neck allows it to see everything. The other thing I like about giraffes is that they are pretty quiet. I like to think that it is because they are so busy watching all the things that their long neck makes it possible for them to see! Here are two ways to use this information for piano lessons:

Keyboard Topography: This works well with very young students age 5-6 and under. Using a toy giraffe that fits on the piano keys (I bought a finger giraffe from Oriental Trading Co.), place the giraffe on the G key. Help your student find all the G’s on the piano. Then read the story “Giraffes Can’t Dance”,  and every time you get to the phrase “Giraffes Can’t Dance” have the student play the G key. You can even add in an extra “Giraffes Can’t Dance” after each page so that the student gets a lot of practice at finding the note.

Grand Staff Notation: This works well with students of any age. Show the student a visual of a giraffe. (I bought mine at T J Maxx and it sits on my piano). Draw a high G on the Grand Staff or Treble Clef Staff. Point out that just as the giraffe is tall enough to look down on all the other animals, the high G sits up high enough on the staff to look down on all the other notes. Then whenever your student has trouble remembering that high G note, just point to your giraffe to remind them!

That’s it! 2 lesson plans from 1 simple prop.

Presenting Songs As “Gifts”

Joy Gift

What are most piano teachers thinking about in October? Christmas! Yes, we have to think about Christmas now so that our students have a chance at sounding great when they play Christmas Carols for friends and family during the holidays. Of course it is never to early to help children understand that nothing just happens and that getting good at something takes time. That is why this week in my studio, students are receiving their “Christmas Presents” from me. These are not your ordinary Christmas Presents! They are literally the gift of music. Each child has a wrapped present with their name on it and inside is a label (available on Susan Paradis’ website) with the title of their Christmas piece. At first  the children are a little bit confused because they are used to getting toys and other items when they unwrap gifts – never just song titles! That’s when I begin to explain to them that this is their very own solo that no one else in the studio will be allowed to play!

Happy song gift

The next thing is that they get to keep the box with their song title and put it on their piano at home. I tell them that they should practice this song every day at home and then check inside their box afterwards to see if mom or dad has left anything special inside for them. Of course I give the parents a warning beforehand. Parents can choose whatever incentive they want to give their child. It can even be something as simple as an “I’m so proud of your playing” note.

One more thing makes this activity so fun – they get to see the unopened presents of other students and begin to wonder out loud what’s inside and why their box is bigger or smaller than the others! Sometimes they even want to know what they can do to get a bigger box next time!

Song Gifts


Return To Music Day

The dynamic duo at is doing it again – bringing us an amazing opportunity to get out and do some good with music. Trevor and Andrea Dow are the ones who brought us Piano Geek Week, Shh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice, and a host of other resources. Their latest venture is Return To Music Day. Return To Music Day is set for Oct. 19, 2013 and is designed to get all those people who gave up lessons for whatever reason to come back! Maybe it’s the adult who regrets not having stuck with lessons as a kid or maybe it’s the kid who has been begging for lessons and parents said they couldn’t afford it. They are out there and you know them!

Thanks to Return To Music Day you can be their hero by offering them a piano lesson for just $5.   Yes, just $5. But wait – there’s more! Not only are you only going to charge $5 for this lesson, you are going to donate that entire $5 to a worthy organization – Musicians On Call. Musicians On Call provides musicians to play for patients in hospitals. But wait – there’s even more! By participating in Return To Music Day you will not only get that warm fuzzy feeling of having done something good for others, but you will also get to grow your studio!!!

I am participating in Return To Music Day and I hope you will be too! Get more details and sign up at


Don’t Let School Holidays Sabotage Piano Lessons

Yesterday was Labor Day here in the United States and that means we did not have piano lessons. Knowing that the holiday was coming I gave my students more than enough material to work on for two weeks. Experience has taught me, though, that they probably won’t work diligently for the whole two weeks. In fact, they may even come back with a list of reasons why they did not have time to do it. I’m hoping that this won’t be the case this year because within the next day or so these students will be receiving a special piano challenge from me in the mail!

The most important aspect of this challenge is that it is coming through the postal service. Kids LOVE getting mail! Why? Because they never get any! Unlike the piano notebook, they WILL read mail that is delivered to their home. Their parents will probably read it too!

Now to the challenge – Using free printable Major Minor match cards from Anne Crosby Gaudet at, I created an assignment and attached it to the back of one of the cards.

Scale Patternchallenge


Next, I wrote a short note to my student explaining the challenge and stating how much I’m looking forward to the next lesson:

challenge letter

This final step is important – Address the envelope to the student, not the parent!

Now, I get to wait and see what happens…

If you are interested in an idea to get students to look inside their piano notebook every night, check out my previous post on Mystery Assignments.


Musicians, Athletes and Practice

“Musicians are small-muscle athletes, so the same principles of physical conditioning which apply to athletes also apply to musicians.”   – Barry Green in The Mastery Of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry

Getting Parents Ready for Piano Season

When your piano parents think about the upcoming piano season will they be seeing themselves dragging their kid to and from lessons and battling at home over practice OR will they be laughing out loud as they recall the fun THEY had at your

Piano Parent Social?

Hosting a Piano Parent Social can breathe new energy into your studio and it is as simple as adding a little fun to your informational meeting.

Here are 6 ingredients for a great

Piano Parent Social:

1. Sneak Peak Video – Using an app like iMovie, create a short movie trailer showing what will be happening in your studio this year.

2. Info Packets – Prepare a folder for each family that includes studio policies, studio calendar, media release forms,  and rate/payment info. Also include any other info you would like parents to know.  At the start of the social, briefly cover the main points and answer any questions.

3. Sign Up Sheet – Have a printed copy of your teaching schedule ready for parents to reserve their child’s lesson time.  As they reserve their times have them pay lesson fees.

4. Fun Group Game – A game like Taboo provides lots of interaction and fun. You can also pre-select cards with a music theme.

5. Prizes – Have prizes for each member of the winning team.

6. Pictures – Be sure to take pictures and share them with parents in a follow-up email afterwards or display in your studio

Now you and your piano parents will be ready for the upcoming piano season!


A Piano Project Kids Love!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might already know that I love doing recording projects with my piano students every year. For the past several years we have done CD’s. The first year we did a studio wide compilation CD then we moved to making individual CD’s for each child. The CD’s were a hit with parents and kids, but this year I decided to try something a little different. This year we recorded and placed the recordings inside stuffed animals at Build A Bear Workshop! Every time they squeeze their stuffed animal they get to hear themselves playing the piano!

Build A Bear Piano

How cool is that? Way cool! Even the staff at Build A Bear was impressed with these kids!


Grammy Awards for Private Teachers

If  you watched the Grammy Awards a few days ago you know that this year they made a huge announcement. For the very first time they are creating a GRAMMY for music teachers! Hooray! The GRAMMY Foundation and The Recording Academy  are recognizing the efforts of the people who teach artists the skills they use to make Grammy worthy music. That is something every music educator can celebrate.

Then came the slap in the face – only classroom teachers in a private or public school are eligible for the award.

Say what?

Regular readers of this blog know how I support the work that classroom music teachers do. So, please know that I agree that they deserve the opportunity to win a GRAMMY. The last time I checked, though, to get really good at playing music most people need a private teacher in addition to their school music teacher. That’s why school music teachers often give parents a list of private instructors when kids join orchestra and band.

So, I believe that it’s up to us as music teachers to say this to the GRAMMY Foundation and ask them to consider making the award open to private music teachers. If you’re willing to join me in this, leave a comment below. Tell us about the private teachers that have influenced you and how their contribution has impacted your musical skills. Share this post with your students, parents, and social networks. Let your voice be heard!