Learning Scales and Understanding Songs

Here’s a quick way to help students understand where scales end and how LOTS (most?) of the songs they are learning move:

You wake up in the morning at home and you go to various places throughout the day, but you don’t move in with somebody else at the end of the day – you go back home!

Musical translation #1- when playing your scales you will end on the same note you started with.

Musical translation #2 – Songs often end on their key note. For example if a song is in the key of G Major its last note is typically G.

Student Grammy Acceptance Speeches!

It’s almost time for music’s biggest night – The Grammy Awards. Wouldn’t it be fun to introduce your students to the business side of music by having them imagine themselves winning the music industry’s biggest honor? This week we’ll be “practicing” the Grammy acceptance speeches that they just might get to do for real in a few years! Why not carve out a minute during your lessons this week and make some videos that will help kids reach for the stars!

Visual Motivation For Learning Scales

Scales Links

Do you remember learning scales as a piano student? Well I do, and there was nothing exciting about it. As a student I couldn’t see how learning scales would improve my playing or what in the world they had to do with playing songs. Of course that way of thinking is exactly why it is so important to have a piano teacher! Piano teachers know that learning scales improves technical facility at the keyboard and understanding of how music works, how songs are built, and provides us with a wealth of tools for improvisation.

What piano teachers sometimes don’t know is how to make the process fun and interesting for students. So today I’m sharing a tool from my piano teacher bag of magic – Scale Links. Each time a student masters a particular scale, he or she gets to write out the notes of that scale on a colored strip of paper. Then the student glues the ends of the paper together to form a loop. As more scales are learned more loops are added and linked together. The scale links are hung up in the studio so that students get a visual picture of their progress. They also get to see how quickly other students are progressing which of course leads to more practice!


2012 In Review and Many Thanks!

The WordPress.com 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.

Picture Book Recital Preparation:The Maestro Plays

The Maestro Plays

Performance season is here – is anybody feeling the pressure yet? I’ve certainly written a lot about performance season lately and here I am doing it again! I can’t help it! Today while shopping at a second-hand store I found this 1970 edition of a charming little picture book by Bill Martin, Jr. Although the story is not about a pianist, I’m going to share it with my students after the Thanksgiving break to help them prepare for their upcoming performances.

In The Maestro Plays,  we get to experience a full concert performance by a presumably super – talented violinist. With each page we are given new adverbs to describe how he plays  – wingingly, tingingly, drippingly. These are just a sampling of the buffet of picturesque words the author uses to arouse our imaginations. His words along with the colorful artwork in the book simulate a powerful, moving, and engaging concert performance.

I plan to read the book with each student and challenge them to apply the language used in the book to their own playing to help them experiment with different ways to convey their musical messages.

The book is recommended for ages 4-8, but I think there is still a bit of a kid in some of our older students as well. I have not been able to find many copies of the edition I purchased, however there is a newer edition with a different illustrator available as well.

I’d love to hear about things you do to get your students ready for performances! So, if you enjoyed this post and/or have performance prep tips to share please leave a comment below.

Teaching Song Patterns With Jenga Blocks

Song Patterns With Jenga Blocks

When it comes to learning songs, sometimes words can help and sometimes words just hurt. Kids don’t always easily hear repeated musical patterns when the words change and that’s when words begin to slow down the learning process. Yesterday one of my students was struggling with a mental block while playing “Tucker’s Secret Life” from My First Piano Adventures Book B by Faber. She enjoys singing this fun song and knows how to read the music, but she just kept forgetting where the song was headed. Frustration began to set in. We sang through the song without using the words. I tried to point out the places where we hear the same sounds. We drew shape symbols for the different sections on her music. Nothing seemed to work until…I remembered the can of colorful Jenga blocks! (Actually they are called Rainbow Jumbling Towers – the game is played just like Jenga)

Jenga pattern

The song basically only has 2 parts and an ending that is a variation of one of these. So, I assigned a color to each section then laid the blocks out to reflect the sound pattern. Now my student was able to see that the she should play the first pattern 2 times, then the 2nd pattern 2 times, back to the first pattern 2 times, the second pattern 1 time and end with the variation. Suddenly she was able to play the whole song from memory with no problem! After playing through a few times, I removed the blocks to see if she could still play the song. She and I both were so proud when she was able to play the song without using her book or the blocks.

Moments like this make me know that I will never let go of my music toys!

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?

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!

Music Notation Made Easy

I recently found this
visual of the grand staff on wikihow.com which is great for quickly showing kids how the Treble Clef
and Bass Clefs are related.
After looking at the picture the phrase “Ace In The
Hole” came to my mind as a way to help kids connect the two staffs.
I often find that students have a hard time learning to look at both clefs at the same time.
They also tend to forget
the name of the note on the top line of the Bass Clef. “The Ace In The Hole” phrase can also
reenforce the concept of middle C being in the middle of the two staffs, which seems to
also be a surprisingly difficult concept for students to grasp.

Source: wikihow.com via Dana on Pinterest

A Staff Made Of Noodles!

I was inspired to create a 3-D life-sized musical staff after watching an episode of Quaver’s Marvelous World. I’m not crafty at all, but this is the result.

To make it I used:

5 swimming noodles purchased at Wal-Mart

4 plastic mini-basketballs purchased at Dollar Tree

2 Wooden Dowels purchased at Home Depot

Craft Paper


Now, all I have to do is figure out a way to make it free-standing!