The Talking Piano Bench That Teaches Sight-Reading

Piano Bench Student

Piano Bench Student

Sadly, the piano bench is an often overlooked treasure chest in the piano room. On the day my first piano was delivered when I was just a little girl, I can remember being as enamored with the piano bench as I was with the piano itself. The piano had 88 keys for me to tickle, but the bench held books full of songs that could be played on those 88 keys. Looking into that piano bench was like being in a gold mine full of sheet music! The piano bench was where I could find even more songs besides the ones that my teacher had given me to learn. I could actually look in there and discover new sounds that my fingers could produce. I have found though that my kids don’t think to look in the piano bench for music books. (This fact baffles me). I have also found in my years of working with piano students that a lot of them don’t seek out new music on their own.  (Again, this baffles me).

Thinking about my piano bench and all the musical treasure it holds gave me an idea! As piano teachers and musicians, we know the importance of being able to sight-read. We also know that the best way for a student to improve at sight-reading is to SIGHT READ. So, why not use the piano bench’s treasure chest quality to get kids excited about sight-reading?

To transform the piano bench into The Talking Piano Bench That Teaches Sight Reading, I used 3 sticky notes, the panic button, a prize, and a carefully selected piece of music for sight-reading practice according to the student’s skill level. Then the student was told to lift the bench and follow the instructions on the sticky notes.

Open Piano Bench

 

Piano Bench Panic Button

Click to see post about Panic Button

Piano Bench Sight Reader

Piano Bench Prize

The instant gratification associated with this activity made it very successful with the students. Now, they look forward to the chance to see what’s in the bench. They enjoy that and I enjoy seeing their sight-reading skills grow!

 

Mystery Practice Assignments

This post is about the never ending practice war. You carefully write out assignments in your student’s notebook, slowly explain what you wrote, and you wait 7 days. Then you find out your student didn’t even look at the assignment sheet. You give your student a look of shock or disappointment and explain again why practice is so important. Repeat the steps from the previous week. The cycle continues.

I’m sure most piano teachers are familiar with the practice war and some may even have come to accept it as just a normal part of lessons. Well, the rebel in me is standing up today and saying NO! This has got to stop!

So, I have a proposal for any teacher who is ready to accept the challenge to end the war.

This will take a little advanced planning, but I’m betting it will be worth it. This week I’m giving students a different practice task for each of the 7 days in between lessons. My goal is for them to complete at least 5 of these tasks. If they complete all 7, they get to choose something from my treasure box at the end of the lesson. Here is where it gets interesting  – I will assign and explain a really cool practice activity for the first day like one of the ones in Shhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice by Andrea and Trevor Dow. The other 6 assignments will be given to the student in sealed envelopes with the message – “Do NOT Open Until _________ “! The day of the week will be written on the line. Before giving the student the assignments, I will be making a list of them in my teacher notes so that I can use that in the following lesson.

I can’t wait to see how many of my students will take the mystery challenge!

Will you join me in this quest to end the practice war? Like and / or leave a comment if you’re on board!

Book Review: Making Music by Susan Bonners

Here is a great book to add to your library of fiction books about piano lessons. Susan Bonners tells an engaging story of a young girl, Annie, who moves to a new neighborhood with her mom and little brother. The trouble is that they are moving far away from her Uncle who was teaching her how to play the piano. In the new neighborhood Annie is surprised to hear piano music coming from a neighbor’s house. As the story progresses we watch Annie and her neighbor  – who happens to be a retired piano teacher –  form an unbreakable bond because of the music.

Young readers who have an interest in playing the piano will easily relate to Annie as they read about how Annie struggles to remember the music her Uncle taught her before she moved away and how she eventually does remember HOW to remember! As a piano teacher, I constantly encourage young students to read fiction books about kids who play the piano or who want to learn to play. I believe that these stories are very valuable in validating children who take lessons by giving them characters who have similar desires and interests as their own. This is especially important because of the fact that piano learning is in so many ways a lonely pursuit.

The piano teacher in me enjoys reading these books because of the “knowing about the process” that is often depicted in them. For example, there is one line that jumped off the page as I was reading Making Music – “Teaching is tiring” the neighbor tells Annie when Annie asks her to teach her to play the piano. Simple relatable comments like that can be very refreshing because they are reminders that other piano teachers sometimes experience the same emotions that I do when it comes to teaching piano.

The story is a quick read that can be helpful for parents as well. Parents who read the book will get a glimpse into the mind of a young child who desires to play the piano and gain an even better understanding of lessons as it relates to their own child.

I found this book at my local library, but after reading it decided that I wanted to have my own copy. It is available through several sellers including Amazon.com.

What books are in your piano fiction library?

Music Alphabet Manipulatives

   Yet another use for Play Doh!

I wrote out all the music alphabet (including sharps and flats) on the tops from empty Play Doh containers. I can think of so many ways to use these in music teaching.

   A colorful representation of keyboard topography

Sometimes it’s hard for students to grasp that there are 12 individual tones in music. This way they can see it in full color!

 

  Younger ones can have races to see how fast they can put the music notes in order

-This can be done starting on ANY note so students get fluent at stepping up and down on the staff.

-Notes can be left out also so that students can name the missing note to complete the pattern.

-Students can stack the notes to build colorful chords

– If you are using a color code for piano notes/keys such as with Yellow Cat Music Education (great for students with dyslexia or who have trouble reading music notation), you can also use it when putting your own letters on the play doh caps. What fun!

Linking Piano With School

Young students learning to play the piano enjoy making connections between what they are doing at school and what they are doing with piano. When my daughter was in Kindergarten her teacher chose a different student to be Student of the Week every Friday. That student got the opportunity to bring home the class teddy bear for the weekend. They were supposed to take care of the bear all weekend and involve the bear in all their activities, take pictures, and show the class on Monday. She saw this as a wonderful chance for her to teach the bear how to play the piano. “Teaching” the bear to play her current song gave her lots of fun practice time that she didn’t even know she was getting!