Sunday, June 12, 2016

5 Helpful Resources for Improving Note-Reading

Over the past year, I've been a part of a few online piano teacher forums. These forums have been a great source of encouragement, inspiration, and networking. Sometimes, advice is sought out, and I've noticed that some questions are consistently asked over and over again. One of these questions is: "How can I help my student become better at reading notes?" While nothing can beat daily focused practice, I've found five resources that have been incredibly helpful (click on the titles for information about each resource).

Students can race to the finish line as they correctly identify flashcards. The custom settings make this app useful and engaging for students at all ages and levels.

I highly recommend using this instructional series with your students. Each book is full of worksheets that introduce musical concepts in a clear, concise way, and regularly repeats and reviews that information until it becomes a part of each student's musical core.

Some students are kinesthetic learners, meaning that they excel when they are able to engage in a lesson physically, rather than aurally or visually. The physical act of placing these letters on the correct lines or spaces seems to really help my students remember note names.

Most children learn best through play! I believe that games are an essential part of every piano lesson. Right now, I've been using  Greenside Music's Music Olympics games during our studio challenge . These games are very popular with my young students!

TeachersPayTeachers is a helpful resource for note-reading games. I recently uploaded a interval identification game called Franz & Clara Frog Step and Skip that includes frog flashcards that can be used to practice note reading. Here are some others that I've successfully tried and recommend:

I use hand drums, rhythm sticks, or egg shakers at every lesson. When a student begins a new piece, we always tap through the rhythms together with percussion instruments. Then, we'll tap through the rhythms a second time, and read the note names aloud. This process helps the student master difficult rhythms and ensures that they've read through the music before attempting to play the notes on the piano.

What resources do you use to teach and review note-reading? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Franz & Clara Frog Step and Skip Game

A little less than a week ago, I started putting together a game as a fun way to review steps and skips.

I began by drawing the game board.

After I drew all the other components (frogs, keyboards, treble clef staff, bass clef staff), my husband helped me put it all together. I was very impressed by how organized he was and how quickly he worked!

Of course, once everything was finished, I had to try it with some of my own students! They really enjoyed it!

This game PDF is available on TpT! Here are the directions and variations of this game:

Franz and Clara Frog Step & Skip Directions

Print the game board, cards, and the green and pink frogs onto cardstock. Cut pieces out and laminate them for long-term use. This PDF includes enough pieces for 2 players, but there is an extra frog that may be copied/colored in order to include additional players.

To play, each player chooses a frog and places it on the start lily pad. Shuffle and pile the Clara (ascending) and Franz (descending) frog Keyboard and Staff cards face down near the game board.

Each player takes turns drawing cards. On the cards, the frog is always the starting point, and the lily pad is its destination. If an ascending step is drawn, the player may move their frog onto the very next lily pad. If an ascending skip is drawn, that player may move their frog ahead by skipping a lily pad on the game board.

If a descending step or skip is drawn, the player must move their frog back by a step or a skip. Continue playing until a player reaches the finish lily pad; the first player to reach the finish lily pad wins the game.

Variation #1: Young Beginners

For young beginners, play as directed above but omit the Franz (descending) cards. Pile the Clara (ascending) Frog Keyboard cards face down near the game board. Each player takes turns drawing cards. If an ascending skip is drawn, that player may move their frog ahead by skipping a lily pad on the game board. If an ascending step is drawn, that player may move their frog ahead to the very next lily pad. Whoever reaches the finish line first wins the game.

Variation #2: Ear-Training

Play the game as directed above, but instead of having students draw the cards, develop ear-training and play the intervals, ascending and descending, and have the students move the frog game pieces accordingly.

Variation #3: Flashcards

Use the Staff Cards as flashcards to help students quickly read notes and intervals.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Starting in July! 
Classes are available in 4 week sessions. 
Space is limited, so register now!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Studio Olympic Challenge

We began our third 8 week long practice incentive of the year just two weeks ago! This one involves a race for a gold medal!

To set up this challenge, I compiled a checklist of skills that my students need to know. Students are able to earn points as they complete each assignment from each category. The gold medal winner must earn all 24 points by the end of the 8 weeks; the silver, 23; the bronze, 22; anyone who earns less than 22 points will receive a special certificate of achievement with the points that they have earned recorded on it. I posted a race track and mini racers above the piano to help students track their progress!

Here's what I came up with:

Technique (1/2 point)

I chose to assign the C, G, F, D major and minor pentascales; they are easy enough to allow the student to focus on keeping their shoulders, arms, and wrists relaxed and their fingers properly curved. I put together two separate worksheets, and printed them on yellow (for the major scales) and blue (for the minor scales) paper for my students to keep in their folders. Both worksheets are available for free at my TpT store! 

Theory (1/2 point)

In addition to continued work through Theory Time, I found these fantastic Olympic-themed games at Greenside Music. After I cut everything out and laminated the pieces and added any other game pieces necessary, I stored them in these 10"x13" clear mesh bags from Joann Fabric and Craft Stores. I love that everything we need to play the game is in one spot, and it only takes seconds to set it up to play. With only 30 minutes with each student, every second is important! 

Creativity (1 point)

In this category, I included a variety of activities to develop note-reading, aural skills, and encourage students to compose. One activity is assigned as part of the lesson each week:
  1. Aurally identify major and minor pentascales, ascending and descending.
  2. Echo rhythmic pattern (clap/play) using quarter, half, and dotted-half notes.
  3. Transpose a piece at your lesson.
  4. Compose a new piece that you can play (write it down).
  5. Learn a piece on your own.
  6. Sight read a piece for your teacher.
  7. Note Relay: Name 10 notes in 30 seconds
  8. Bring a friend or family member to your lesson and teach them a piece!
Pieces (1 point)

Pieces include anything assigned from each student's individual method books and extra sheet music. When they successfully complete whatever they were supposed to practice for the week, they earn a point.

Piano Teacher Summer Reading

I am--and always have been-- an avid reader and I especially enjoy books that apply to my life and profession on a practical level. Here are some of the books I've been reading this month:

This book has been listed as #1 on the New York Times Best-Selling list. This book delves deeper than simply throwing or donating excess clutter; Marie instructs her readers to ask themselves, "Does this spark joy?" This post is a great introduction to this book and the KonMari methodology.

Tracy Selle recommended this book to me personally and in her blog post, Money Woes Part 4 - Try Something New - And an Assignment!. I'm approximately three-quarters of the way through this book, and have been inspired by Carrie's encouragement to be fearless and confident in operating a business and pursuing my passion. 

This quick-read offers practical tips on teaching piano to preschool aged children. As I read through this book, I realized that these approaches to learning could be applied outside of the music classroom. I highly recommend this book to any teacher AND parent that works with this fun age-group.

Another New York Times best-seller, this book just arrived in the mail yesterday, so I haven't started it yet. My husband and I have been applying his principles for financial peace found in another book that he has written called, The Total Money Makeover to our personal budgeting system. I'm really impressed with how well it works, and I'm looking forward to reading his insight into business and leadership. (Both books are on sale right now, by the way, if you want to check them out!)

What are you reading this summer? I'd love to hear about (and read) what you recommend!