The Difference A U-Turn Can Make In Playing Scales


Some piano students can’t help but play the top note of the scale twice before descending. No matter how many times you tell them not to repeat that note they still repeat it. This happened with one student this week and out of nowhere I said, “Hey make a U-turn once you get to the top.” Now this student definitely does not have a driver’s license – she’s only 6 – but she definitely understood the concept and she did not repeat that top note! You just never know what word or illustration will make it click for a piano student…


2012 In Review and Many Thanks!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 16,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

7 Ways To Make Piano Recitals More Interesting

Piano Concert moment

Unfortunately, many people have negative memories centered around piano recitals. This can make it difficult to persuade Uncle Joe to come to hear little Susie play her piano piece at the annual recital. It can also make it hard to persuade little Susie’s mom and dad to stay for the entire recital. Even the fear of future negative memories centered around piano recitals can make it almost impossible to get little Susie to agree to play in the piano recital. So, what’s a piano teacher to do?

Here are 7 ways to make sure Uncle Joe, Susie, her mom, and her dad not only attend the recital, but thoroughly enjoy it as well!

1. Give your recital a “cool” upgrade and call it a CONCERT instead.

Let’s face it – most people associate the word recital with boredom. How many people do you know who are telling their friends they can’t wait for the next recital? On the other hand, how many people are proud to announce that they have tickets to see their favorite artist in concert? I’m just saying…

2. Allow students to play more than one song and put one song at the beginning of the concert and the other later in the program.

This will work especially well if the pieces your students play are short. Be sure to keep concerts no longer than about 90 minutes at the most.

3. Highlight other talents your students have.

If you have a student who loves to sing, have her sing while playing.

4. Encourage students to collaborate.

Have one student play the piano while another student sings.

5. Promote interaction with the audience.

In the picture above, a student and I get the audience to chant the main phrase of the song we had just performed as a duet.

6. Invite other artists to be special guests at your concert.

Dancers, singers, poets, and instrumentalists who play something other than the piano are good choices. It gives the audience a break from piano music, gives you time to get kids ready for whatever comes next, and exposes your students to the other performing arts.

7. Consider having parents and students collaborate.

You may have parents who sing, act, dance, etc. Ask them to accompany one of your students as they play the piano. This works really well when you pair parents up with kids other than their own.

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Lyric Writing Contest!

Just in time for the holidays, is hosting a lyric writing contest where students write words to a new song on their site. The winner receives $75. Entries are due by Nov. 15th. This week I’ve been presenting the idea of entering the contest to my students. Initially a lot of them get that look in their eyes of “Oh no! More work”, however once I start asking them what they will do with the $75 suddenly their creative juices start flowing! Who couldn’t use $75 just before Christmas?

Introducing The Quarter Rest

Rests on printed scores are often ignored – especially by beginning piano students. I have my own ideas about the reasons why. At the top of this list is the fact that in today’s fast paced society silence is so rare that it has become a foreign concept to many. For others it is something to be feared and avoided at all costs! Musicians, however, know the value of a well placed rest. The well placed rest can convey a range of emotions and create magical moments in the music.

Here’s a quick way I introduced the quarter rest with my beginners last week.

Starting from a familiar place – quarter notes drawn on foam flash cards. (You can purchase foam paper at the dollar store or a local craft store.) The student can play or stomp the rhythm. Younger kids may even like to do the Dinosaur Stomp!

Here comes the quarter rest silencing the last beat!

What happens to the sound if the quarter rest moves to a different spot?

Finally, what happens if we get rid of the quarter rest?

What To Do After The Lesson: A Checklist For Parents

Parents want to HELP their kids do well in piano but often don’t know how and are pressed for time. As a piano parent myself, I totally get it. So in the spirit of multitasking, here are 4 simple things parents can do in the car on the way home (or headed to the next destination) after lessons.

Just remember the word


Highlights – Ask your child questions about the lesson

Encouragement – Make a positive statement about their piano learning

Let it go – Laugh about something. Anything.

Play – for the first 5 minutes at home have your child play something they started learning at the lesson.

You can print a copy of the checklist here to keep in your car!


The Piano Lesson…Unplugged

Just as I was about 5 minutes from completing the 45 minute trip to my first Saturday piano lesson this past weekend I made a terrifying discovery – I had left the cord to my keyboard at home! Of course my mind began to race as I only had about 30 minutes before my lesson was to begin. I knew there was a Radio Shack nearby so I went there in hopes that I could buy a plug. I was relieved to learn that they had several different sizes of plugs. While the salesperson and I searched for a plug that would fit, someone came into the store and asked me about taking piano lessons. Needless to say I did give them information about my lessons but was cringing on the inside that their first encounter with me involved me not being prepared for my next lesson! Before I could get too frustrated about this fact, the salesperson informed me that she had tried every plug they had in the store and  none of them fit my keyboard! Oh no! Where was my panic button when I needed it?

I thanked her and quickly made a plan to utilize my iPad during the lesson to teach/review theory concepts. When I arrived at the lesson, I got my music bag out of the car and noticed my full-sized keyboard there in the passenger seat staring at me as if to say, “You are going to take me in, right?”

That’s when it hit me! When students tell me they could not practice because they were away from their piano I tell them they don’t ALWAYS need a piano or keyboard to practice. I tell them to envision the keyboard, hear the song in their head, and practice the movements their fingers must make to play the song. Aha! Now was the time for me to “practice…” – pun intended – “what I’d preached”!

A completely silent piano lesson? I had never done that before. How would my student respond to 30 minutes of silence at the keyboard?

Well, I unloaded the keyboard and put on my jazz face – it was time to improvise! I greeted my student and informed her that we would be having a “Play Like Beethoven Day”.

To refresh her memory of who Beethoven was I hummed a couple of his familiar tunes – “Fur Elise”, and the opening of his 5th Symphony. When I told her that Beethoven was deaf when he composed some of his greatest pieces she was of course surprised. So, if Beethoven could do it surely she could do it for 30 minutes.

That day my student learned that “hearing” the music inside your head is extremely helpful and important for good music playing. She also learned that she could do it. One of the biggest advantages to playing silently was the isolation of the skills necessary to play the piano. Without the “distraction” of sound, she was able to concentrate on what she was doing with her fingers and hands more intently than she had ever done before.

To help determine if she was truly hearing the music, at times I hummed the tune she was playing as I carefully watched her fingers. My student was both surprised and impressed at her own accuracy. It was quite fulfilling to see her correcting her mistakes as she played. Most of the time students neglect proper fingering in order to get to the correct note by any means necessary even at the expense of musicality. This silent situation, however, left my student with nothing to fix except her fingering!

I have to say that this Unplugged Piano Lesson was one of the best musical experiences this student and I have had together so far in our music learning journey, and it was all because of a little IMPROVISATION. Just another life skill learned from piano lessons!

Morning Inspiration – Forever Playing

This morning my daughter informed me that she noticed I hadn’t been going to a particular student’s house anymore and she wanted to know what was going on with their lessons. (Who has these type of conversations with their 9-year-old?) She went on to ask me if they were still taking piano. I told her that they were not taking lessons right now and she was visibly upset to hear that news. In an attempt to put her at ease and reassure her that this was neither a tragedy nor an emergency, I explained to her that EVERYBODY eventually quits taking lessons just like everybody eventually stops going to school. My sweet daughter thought that was the craziest idea ever and she would not accept this as a fact!

I can tell that this is going to be a very good day!

Piano Photo Contest Entries: You Decide!

To celebrate completing the first month of piano lessons for this school year, I held a piano photo contest for students and families in the studio. Below you can see all the entries. Please vote for your favorite picture. The owner of the winning picture will receive a $10 Amazon gift card!

DIY Music Theory Manipulatives!

I found this bucket of dominoes on a recent trip to Tuesday Morning for around $5! If your local store doesn’t have it you can get it on for $14.99. The bucket comes with 250 blank dominoes in 5 different colors. I am using the dominoes to help piano students learn to spell scales and build chords.

Using a sharpie, I wrote the letters of the music alphabet on individual dominoes. Then I drew sharps and flats on the dominoes as well. You will notice that I chose to use orange for all the sharps and blue for all the flats. There are more than enough dominoes to make a complete set of each of the 12 major scales without even using all of them. I ended up having a whole set of red dominoes left over to use for something else. I might use one side for numbers 1-7 and the other side for Roman Numerals to help students learn the scale degrees.

It took me about an hour to draw all the letter names and symbols, so if you’ve got an hour to spare now for this project it could save you several hours in the future because you can surely use this for teaching lots of theory concepts. An added bonus is that it is self – containing. The bucket easily stores all the pieces in one place!