Monday, February 27, 2017

Inspiring Piano Repertoire for Beginners

There are currently around 40 students enrolled for lessons in my studio, and of that number, 90% of them are beginners! The first year of piano is so very important because that is when the foundation of a student's musical education is laid. When students celebrate their first pianoversary in my studio, they typically have been introduced to or have learned the following:

  • How to Practice
  • Piano Posture
  • Hand Position
  • Healthy Technique
  • Keyboard Topography
  • Note Reading
  • Rhythms and Feeling a Beat
  • Music History
  • Major and Minor Pentascales
  • Transposing Simple Melodies
  • Music Theory
  • Ear Training
  • Introduction to Composing and Improvising
  • Memorization and Performance Etiquette

While all of this is being taught at lessons and practiced at home, I believe it is also essential to include supplementary repertoire that is inspiring and motivating. Many of my adult beginners enroll for lessons with specific goals in mind, and can name their favorite musical genres without hesitation. Their personal goals and tastes strongly influence the music that is selected for their lessons.

Children, on the other hand, are still exploring and learning what they personally like and dislike! As time permits, I try to assign supplementary repertoire in a variety of styles as a way to introduce musical genres to my students and emphasize the concepts taught in lessons. 

These particular pieces and books are ones that I've taught over and over again because they are so popular with my students, inspire creativity, and boost enthusiasm for weekly lessons. If you don't already own these, I highly recommend adding these fabulous pieces and collection to your students' repertoire lists and to your studio library! They are well worth the investment.

Black Cat by James L King III


When my students finish this piece, they feel accomplished! It is an excellent piece for building articulation awareness, demonstrating dynamics, and reading and playing flats.

Smooth Sailing by Jennifer Eklund


This piece is perfect for reiterating concepts such as melody in the left hand, keeping a steady beat, legato playing, and overall musicality. My students describe this piece as beautiful, lovely, and soothing.

My Piano Trip to London by Elena Cobb

My Piano Trip to London is not just a single piece of music; it is a delightful collection of duets that are perfect for developing beautiful hand position, strengthening the fundamentals of piano pedagogy, and introducing students to blues. These duets are so much fun, that they motivate consistent practice at home.

Floating Snowflakes by Julie Knerr


This lovely piece is a favorite during this time of year. I typically teach this piece by rote. Many of my students become inspired to create their own music on the black keys after learning this piece.

Beginning Piano Repertoire by Keith Snell

This book offers a solid collection of repertoire designed to strengthen note reading, technique, and introduce students to the wonderful world of classical repertoire. 

I'd love to hear from you about repertoire that inspires your beginning students! Please feel free to comment below or leave links to resources that have motivated your students. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Great Chocolate Box Competition Game

Every month, several of my students read Piano Explorer. I create an assignment to accompany each issue to help my students become well-rounded musicians as they:

  • learn more about the featured composer(s) and their role in music history
  • become familiar with different styles and characteristics of music
  • reinforce/review concepts taught in lessons
  • listen to professional pianists performing and modeling musicianship

This month, I was inspired by another teacher to hold a little challenge; I changed the alarm on my phone to play Carnaval, Op. 9, by Schumann, the composer featured in this month's issue of Piano Explorer. The alarm was set to go off at some point during each student's lesson. If they were able to name the piece, they could have a Hershey's chocolate kiss from my candy dish. 

Most of my students love chocolate, and this, combined with the need to review note reading and recognizing piano finger numbers, inspired a new game! 



The Great Chocolate Box Competition is a musical game for 2 players/teams, designed to strengthen note reading and finger number recognition. Players take turns drawing cards, playing the notes on the piano with the correct finger numbers, and then placing those cards inside their own chocolate box game board. The player that fills their chocolate box first wins the game!



 Be sure to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to grab your own copy of The Great Chocolate Box Competition Game!


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Life Changing Magic of...an Organized Piano Studio



Ever since I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up last summer, I've been on a mission to determine what sparks joy for my students and me in the studio. I recently asked other teachers about their KonMari journeys in their classrooms, and received an especially perceptive response from the spouse of a teacher:

"I come to this with a different point of view. My wife was a teacher who never got rid of anything. Over her 16 year career, she taught several grades in several school districts and amassed a ton of stuff. She stopped teaching and had me put her 50+ file boxes of teacher stuff in the attic for her to use when she returned to teaching. Sadly, she died before she could return to teaching. When I tried to sell, give away, or donate her stuff, I could only unload two boxes of stuff...and this was good stuff. The rest wound up in the dumpster. Do yourself a favor...you will never use that stuff and the stuff you use everyday is sparking joy. Imagine how your principal will love your beautiful KM'd (KonMari) classroom. You will be surrounded by the stuff that will spark joy for you and your students and when beginning of the year and end of the year comes, you can spend your time doing the important stuff rather than taking care of the stuff that doesn't bring anyone any joy. Especially your spouse who has to lug the stuff around."

An uncluttered and organized studio has a positive impact on both the teacher and his/her students. Ekanem Ebinne of Mother in Tune emphasized the importance of a tranquil and organized studio setting and the impact it has on student behavior and learning in her book, Pre-K Piano Progress (another book that I read last summer).

Over the past few months, I was attentive to what I was/wasn't using on a regular basis and easily eliminated a lot of excess. When I finally asked myself of each item if it sparked joy, I was left with my piano, a very simple filing system to keep student materials close by, an office chair, a cup of pencils for students to use, my laptop (My Music Staff is my admin!), printer, and a bin of rhythm instruments. THAT'S IT!



As I talked with each student about what they enjoy the most about their piano lessons, I found that there were three facets that repeatedly came up: repertoire, games, and the prize box. Because of their input, I kept all of the games and replenished the prize box. I still need to sort through the filing cabinet of music that is in storage, but I know which music inspires and sparks joy and can simply let the others go.




How is this "life changing magic"? I've discovered at least three benefits that come with an organized studio! 


Cleaning is Easier

 At the beginning of every week, I clean the studio. It is much easier to clean when there is less clutter to move around in the room! 


Time Saver

I've developed the habit of placing any new books or sheet music that have arrived for specific students in the appropriate lesson day file, which means less time is wasted searching for it later. I also choose one or two games to use in lessons for the week, and store it vertically (as recommended by KonMari) and it has been wonderful to not have to search for it under a pile a desk!


Less Distraction

Clutter and excessive amounts of objects are subconsciously/ consciously distracting! Having only the essentials and joy sparking objects in the studio has allowed us to focus on the joy of learning and creating music.