Saturday, November 29, 2014

Next Week's Preview

It is hard to believe that we are already approaching Week 4 of music classes at Lewis Music Studio. Here is a brief look at some of the highlights that I have planned for next week's classes:


After a very short review of last week's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, this class will learn finger numbers and high and low sounds on the piano. 

Keyboard Capers author Rebecca Doyle Lennon created an excellent game for learning finger numbers. In this game, the teacher demonstrates the finger numbers to the students and then instructs them to put specific finger numbers on their noses, knees, shoulders, heads, etc. As a challenge, the teacher asks the students to place specific fingers on various body parts with either the left hand or right hand only. Students often have difficulty with individual hands, so this will be a fun way to practice this concept apart from the piano. Rebecca also suggests encouraging the student to lead this exercise. 

In addition to the activities in My First Piano Adventures Writing Book A and Lesson Book A, we will read The Three Bears and make high, low, and middle sounds on the piano to represent the characters. I plan to use cutouts as cues throughout the story. They can be found here.

If time permits, we will work on our aural skill development with a simple recording and scarf activity.


The focus of this week's class is loud/soft. Class will kick-off with Rockabye Bear by the Wiggles. We will also sing a modified version of If You're Happy and You Know It that will work with the loud/soft theme. The students will attempt to lead this activity by holding up "volume" cards to tell the class how loud/soft to sing. These cards will have images instead of words to represent volume, since none of the students are able to read yet. 

To encourage maximum engagement, it works well with this age group to incorporate familiar tunes, rhymes, and activities into the session. For this reason, we will try Two Little Black Birds as a fingerplay:

Two little blackbirds (hold up both thumbs)
Sitting on a cloud.
One named Quiet (whisper)
And the other named Loud! (shout)
Fly away Quiet! (hide first thumb behind back)
Fly away Loud! (hide second thumb behind back)
Come back Quiet! (bring thumb front)
And come back Loud! (bring other thumb front)

The instruments were a huge hit last week, so I plan to incorporate more instrumental activities in this lesson. We will try Here Comes a Bear with shakers, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt with drums played loudly on the "da da da da da da da da" section, and drum experiments where we will place a small object on a drum and observe how far it bounces when we hit the drums loudly and softly.

For aural skill development, we will play a game that I call Chicks and Tigers with Haydn's Surprise Symphony. I will place a picture of quiet chicks on one side of the room and a picture of a loud tiger on the other side of the room. While listening to the symphony, the children will move to the picture that matches the volume of the music. 

Another highlight of this week's class will be a Hide & Seek Game. I will hide an object and give the students musical "clues" on a drum; loud clues will mean they are close to the object. Quiet clues will mean they are moving away from the object. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top Five Fun Songs & Activities for Preschool Music Class

If You're Happy and You Know It

This traditional children's song that originated in 1916 is a favorite with preschoolers. This song is perfect for introducing body percussion. Students can easily improvise with clicking tongues, patting cheeks, rubbing hands, tapping toes, and so on. 

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap, clap)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap, clap)
If you're happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap, clap)

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

This is a traditional nursery rhyme, thought to have originated in 1852. It is a gentle, relaxed song that introduces the basic idea of a round to preschoolers and can be accompanied with movement. Ask the children to sit "criss-cross applesauce" facing each other and have them hold hands and "row" in time with the music.

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Little Birdies

This is a fun rhyme for preschoolers. The "tweeting" action at the end is one of their favorite parts!

Way up in the sky (jump high)
The little birds fly (flap arms)
While down in the nest (form nest with arms)
The little birds rest (hands next to head like napping)
Shhh! They're sleeping. (stage whisper shh! say quietly they're sleeping)

With a wing on the left (flap left elbow)
And a wing on the right (flap right elbow)
The little birds sleep (hands next to head like napping)
All through the night.
Shh! They're sleeping. (stage whisper shh! say quietly they're sleeping)

The BRIGHT SUN COMES UP! (Yell it out and jump high with arms above head)
The dew goes away 
"Good morning! Good morning!" the little birds say (make hands into bird beaks and tweet)

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

I have already written about little rhyme here. Scarves can be used as a prop for this rhyme.

Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going to the moon.
Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going very soon.
(wave scarf back and forth rapidly)

If you want to take a trip,
Climb aboard my rocket ship.
Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going to the moon.
(continue to wave scarf back and forth; at the end of the 
second stanza, put the scarf on the floor in front of you)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1
(hold fingers up and count down)
(toss scarf into the air)

This video offers other great ideas for motions to accompany the rhyme:

See the Pony Galloping

This is a great song to teach the concept of fast and slow. The repetitious lyrics make it perfect for preschoolers to engage and to sing along. 

See the pony galloping, galloping, down the country lane. 
(children gallop)
See the pony galloping, galloping, down the country lane. 
(children gallop)
See the pony galloping, galloping, down the country lane. 
(children gallop)
See the pony coming home, all tired out, all tired out. 
(children slow down, and sit on the floor on the last "all tired out")

This video demonstrates how to sing this rhyme with a baby.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Sneak Peek at Next Week's Classes

This weekend has been a busy one. On top of normal day-to-day life, there was an extra rehearsal to attend and a lot of lesson planning! Here is a sneak peek of what I've planned for next week's classes at Lewis Music Studio:


As mentioned in this post, this class is going through My First Piano Adventures (MFPA). Last week, the students learned the Stone on the Mountain chant and worked on maintaining correct piano hand posture. Large pom-poms were used as imaginary "stones". After each student successfully learned and correctly played through The Name Game, they held their "stones" while they played through it again to develop a sense of what correct piano hand posture should feel like while playing. The students will review this concept in the next session with a simple game where they will play the piano while balancing erasers on the backs of their hands.

This week, the students will recognize and identify the black key patterns on the piano and use cards to recreate a keyboard. The cards came from's excellent printables list. (Joy creates wonderful resources for piano teachers; I highly recommend a visit to her site!) Since this class is new to piano, they will use the black key sorting cards without the letter names. 

Black key identification is the perfect segue into MFPA's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. To re-familiarize the students with the tune, we will sing it as a class in sol-fege first and then with the lyrics. Movement is a great way to engage the students in the lesson, and I really liked the suggestions for teaching this piece that I found on

After we sing the piece, we will attempt to play it on the piano. I will sing and play the piece for the students, and then the students will play it using the "donut" hand position and these star charts that I created for this class and private students learning this piece: 

The charts will be propped on the piano as a guide for the first few weeks and colors will slowly be removed until the students no longer need them. 

The MFPA notation of this piece is simple to look at, effectively demonstrates the contour of the melody, and is color-coded to make it more accessible to younger students; but, it is not notated music.

Although these students are young, it is very important that they become accustomed to seeing musical notation from the beginning of their training. I notated the piece using the same color code in the MFPA lesson book and added the stars to further assist the student in sight reading. I have used this successfully with other young students. The tune is a familiar one to young students and their confidence grows stronger when they are finally able to play a "real" song on the piano. 

I created a pdf of this notation that I can easily print out; each student will have a copy to take home to practice.

On an unrelated note (no pun intended), I like to begin my classes and private lessons with this Pre-Flight Checklist for Piano Students. Laura Lowe created this fun and effective tool for preparing and engaging students to play the piano, and has several insights on her site. Please follow the link for further reading!


The focus of this week's lesson is tempo. Andante and allegro; slow and fast. Since the class is comprised of 1-3 year old students, I like to keep the activities upbeat and short and reinforce the concepts by verbally using the musical terms. This week, we will begin with some songs that feature fast and slow by Margie La Bella and Jack Hartmann. We will also sing and move to Dr. Jean's Banana Dance. 

To further explore body percussion and rhythm, we are going to listen to The Hare and the Tortoise and follow visual body percussion cues in time with the music. This will be followed by an adaptation of this fun game that I found on Pinterest! Instead of having the students independently create their own rhythms, I will introduce a rhythm and have them echo it. (I do plan to use this game in its original form with older students, too, and perhaps even the with the church choir that I direct! Sssh! Don't tell them!) The body percussion and rhythm segment will conclude with Der Glumph Went the Little Green Frog, using these adorable frog stick puppets to rhythmically "glumph"!

(I may have gone a little overboard with stick puppets this week!)

I have already emphasized the importance of fingerplay with young children in this post; it is something that I incorporate into every preschool music class. Here are the ones I plan to use this week:

Two little black bears
Digging in the snow,
One named Fast (say lines with Fast quickly)
And one named Slow (say lines with Slow slowly).
Run away, Fast!
Run away, Slow!
Come back, Fast!
Come back, Slow!

Little, Bigger, Biggest
A little ball, (Make a ball with finger and thumb.)
A bigger ball, (Make a ball with two hands.)
And a great, big ball. (Make a ball with arms.)
Now, help me count them.
One, two, three! (Repeat gestures for each size.)

Wiggle Your Toes (Tune: Row, Row, Row Your Boat)
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle your toes,
Wiggle them up and down.
Wiggle them fast and wiggle them slow,
Wiggle them all around!
(Repeat with: fingers, clap your hands, stomp your feet, nod, or pat your head, wave or shake your hands)

The concepts of fast and slow will be further stressed in various instrumental, movement, and game activitie and in a story time reading of Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. I found a beautiful rendition of this classic tale by Stephen Simon, performed by the London Philharmonic Symphony, that the students will listen to while completing topic-related coloring pages.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

WPS on Yelp!

We claimed Woods' Piano Studio on Yelp today! In celebration of this expansion, there is a $20 for $40 deal available only on Yelp. This means that lessons are 50% off with the voucher; you will get a one hour long lesson OR two thirty minute lessons for just $20.

First lessons with the studio are always free. This voucher can be used on any lesson after registration.

Practice Tips for the Piano

Practicing the piano is a skill. It takes a lot of focus, discipline, and planning ahead. Here are some helpful tips on effectively practicing the piano that I've learned from my teachers over the years:
  1. Always warm up first! Warm-ups are usually simple exercises with the purpose of warming up your muscles and developing your technique.
  2. Practice with full concentration every day. Even 10 minutes can go a long way when you are completely focused.
  3.  Count aloud as you play.
  4. Practice slowly and precisely.
  5. Schedule your practice sessions. Try to choose a time when your mind is fresh. When you know that you ALWAYS practice after you arrive home from school, you will be more likely to practice consistently.
  6. Immediately fix your mistakes. If you make a mistake, practice the section with the mistake slowly. Gradually play faster until you are up to tempo without making mistakes.
  7. Make a recording of yourself practicing and listen to it carefully.
  8. Mark your music as needed!

 Following these tips will help you to become a better pianist and musician J Happy practicing!    

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!

Baby sign language advocates explain that babies have a strong desire to communicate their needs and wants. During the early years of a child's life, speech development often lags behind cognitive ability, making communication frustrating at times for him or her. Sign language can be a great form of communication that a baby can easily learn.

Like sign language, action rhymes and songs are another excellent form of communicating with babies. Language progression, introduction to new sounds and noises, counting skills, and development of fine motor and cognitive skills are just some of the many benefits of music and rhymes for babies. In a class setting, there is also the added benefit of socialization.

My 8 month old son goes with me to my music classes and thoroughly enjoys them. Even though he is too young to understand every concept or actively participate with the fingerplays or dances, he observes the class closely and I am confident that he is completely engaged. 

Signs of his engagement might not show up until much later. For example, since he was two months old, I have sung The Itsy, Bitsy Spider during diaper changes to help him stay calm. I always use the well-known accompanying fingerplay when I sing it to him. Recently, he has attempted to imitate my motions and will even "ask" for The Itsy, Bitsy Spider when we are doing other things together throughout the day. 

I decided to take him to a baby story time session at a local library. He absolutely loved it! There were other babies to watch, exciting new rhymes and songs to listen to, and props and stories to explore. While we were there, we learned a new-to-me rhyme that my son really liked. The instructor there used scarves as props to accompany it. Here's how it goes:

Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going to the moon.
Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going very soon.
(wave scarf back and forth rapidly)

If you want to take a trip,
Climb aboard my rocket ship.
Zoom, zoom, zoom!
We're going to the moon.
(continue to wave scarf back and forth; at the end of the second stanza, put the scarf on the floor in front of you)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1
(hold 5 fingers up and count down)
Blast off!
(toss scarf into the air)

I also found a slightly different version of it here. The "blast off" part at the end was a hit with all the babies in the group. 

I decided to try this rhyme as an activity in my one year old class today. They also enjoyed it as much as my son did, and asked me to repeat it over and over again. Their smiles and "More, more!"s were so adorable! This rhyme is definitely a keeper and made it into my top ten list!

Monday, November 10, 2014

My First Week of Classes at Lewis Music Studio

Today marked the beginning of my 10 week Intro to Piano and Preschool Music classes at Lewis Music Studio. I thoroughly enjoyed planning the lessons--and may have been a little overzealous. I had so many learning activities planned that we weren't able to get to a few of them!

Here are some of the activities and props that I used for today's classes. I want to hear from other piano teachers--what are some ways that you teach intro to piano to kindergarten students? Or preschool music classes? What are some effective ways that you've taught high and low sounds? Please share your insights and ideas in the comments below!


For the Intro to Piano class, we are using My First Piano Adventures (MFPA) Book A. I started the class with instruction on proper posture at the piano, as taught in the beginning pages of the MFPA lesson book. Then, they took turns being the "teacher" and chose pictures of children sitting correctly at the piano in the MFPA writing book. They tested their posture with beanbags balanced on their heads.

Their favorite part came next: making sounds on the piano! Again, we followed the MFPA lesson book for this segment of the class. I followed it with supplementary activities and games. 

I found the inspiration for the first supplemental game here. I created separate pictures of a tiger (MFPA symbol for forte), chicks (MFPA symbol for piano), mice jumping on a piano (MFPA symbol for staccato), and a snake (MFPA symbol for legato). I placed these pictures around the room. As I played short clips of music on the piano, demonstrating these sounds, the students walked to the corresponding picture. They soon found that these sounds can be combined (e.g. forte & staccato, piano & legato)!

This game was followed by a matching activity. I borrowed this idea from Keyboard Capers by Rebecca Doyle Stout. I made two "dynamic" ducks named Piano and Forte, and glued pictures depicting loud and soft sounds onto construction paper eggs. I distributed the eggs evenly between the students, and they took turns placing the eggs into the correct duck's nest. I believe this helped the students understand the connection between the sounds they make on the piano to the sounds they hear every day--a method that composers regularly utilize. 

For aural skill development, I incorporated an exercise focused on forte and piano into today's lesson plan. Using "dynamic" ducks, the students held up the correct duck as we listened to a short excerpt of Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony. They loved the forte "surprises"!

We concluded the class with the MFPA Piano Sounds duet and a quiet fingerplay that went like this: 

Here's a quiet little mouse (hand in fist)
Living in a quiet little house (tuck in thumb)
When all was quiet as could be (finger to lips)
Out popped he (thumb pops out)
(Source: Mel's Desk)

This neat, little rhyme reinforced the idea of musical sounds and was a nice, quiet way to end our class time. 

Bonus: Here is a worksheet that I found on this wonderful site. It tied in perfectly with today's theme. I printed it on card stock and slipped it into a sheet protector so that I can reuse it multiple times. I'll have to use it with another class, though--we ran out of time today. 


The focus of today's preschool music class was high and low sounds. I opened the class with the familiar Open and Shut Them. I chose three action songs (Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; Bop til you drop; 5 Little Monkeys) to follow our class opening with the purpose of revving the students up for music class. 

I chose three songs to sing that demonstrated high and low sounds. We sang and moved to the Itsy, Bitsy Spider, The Grand Old Duke of York (began low and moved up; marched), and Swing High, Swing Low (moved scarves to the song). The Grand Old Duke of York was definitely a hit with the students!

To further reinforce the concept of high and low sounds, I read The Three Bears and had the students make the Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear sounds on xylophones. I used three bears as cues to indicate when and how the students needed to play the bear sounds during the story. 

For an aural skill activity, we listened to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and moved scarves high and low, reflecting the sounds we heard. We practiced our critical thinking skills in a matching game. I borrowed this idea from this amazing teacher. I created my own cards with high and low objects, and as we identified each object, we played the correct sound on xylophones. At first, I had my xylophone facing me, but I soon learned that the students were mirroring me, so I turned it around and played it backwards. 

Class concluded with a high and low rhyme called Pussy Willow. Beginning on the lowest note on the xylophone, we sang the first line on a repeated pitch, and moved up by one bar on each line. By the time we reached the top of the xylophone, we were ready to move back down on the "meows" and said "SCAT!" at the end. The students especially liked that part! 

I know a little pussy
Her coat is silver gray
She lives down in the meadow
Not very far away
She'll always be a pussy
She'll never be a cat
For she's a pussy willow
Now what do you think of that?
Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sample Music Classes at Lewis Music Studio

As I mentioned in this post, I am an Independent Music Teacher at Lewis Music Studio. In addition to my usual activities, I helped teach free sample music classes for infants to kindergartners at the studio. (Follow the link here to learn more about the music classes that Lewis Music Studio offers.)

The sample classes were definitely a positive experience, not only for me, but for all of the students involved. Here is one of the lesson plans that I wrote and used:
Certain activities were really popular with the students, such as See the Pony Galloping (I had them pretend to be the ponies), Going on a Bear Hunt (I had them act out the story as we listened), The Hands on the Drums Go Up & Down (the students rhythmically played small drums while we sang to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus"), and Bop til You Drop! Each activity successfully met Pennsylvania and National ECE music education standards.

These classes were just a small taste of the fun we'll have in the upcoming classes starting on Monday! I can't wait to start!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Focus on Repertoire: Debussy's Clair de lune

I performed this recording of  Debussy's Clair de Lune as part of my senior recital at Geneva College in 2012. This beautiful, impressionistic piece has been requested multiple times at my church and at the weddings I've accompanied, and is one of my favorite late romantic pieces. The tone colors never fail to move me.

The notes from my recital program:

Claude Debussy was a French composer, author, conductor, and performer. His music was primarily impressionistic. Clair de lune is the third movement from Debussy's work Suite bergamasque, composed around 1890. This movement's title means "moonlight". It is inspired by Paul Verlaine's poem, Clair de lune:

Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
Of being sad in their fantastic trim.
The while they celebrate in minor strain
Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,
And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,
The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone.
That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white rock
The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.

I never played this piece without thinking about this poem.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Coloring Page Assignment

When I was student teaching a general music class, I could not find a color by musical note coloring page to accompany a first grade listening assignment of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals: Tortoise, so I made my own! I shared this on Pinterest a while ago, and it was quite popular, so I will share it here. Enjoy!