Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kicking Off the School Year: Piano Studio Edition

Summer has flown by and it's hard to believe that students will be headed back to school in just a few short weeks. Although lessons have continued as usual throughout the summer, this time of year is a great time to start new projects within the studio!


During the summer, we welcomed several new private and KiddyKeys students to the studio. Joy Morin of Color In My Piano recently released an "About Me" printable that is the perfect solution to helping my students become acquainted with one another.


The 30 Piece Challenge has been on my radar for over two years now, and this year is the perfect time to launch it in the studio. The goal of this challenge is to improve sight-reading and broaden musicianship. Wendy Stevens has some fantastic charts that I plan to use in the studio this year. 


Heidi Scott, a colleague on Facebook, recently shared her brilliant take on brag tags for the piano studio. These are a great way to develop and encourage intrinsic motivation while simultaneously tracking all the progress each student makes throughout the year.

I'm really looking forward to introducing these fresh ideas into the studio this year! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On

Late spring is an especially busy time for piano teachers; spring recitals, policy updates, and examinations are at the forefront of their lives. Amidst all this activity, it is easy to feel stressed and perhaps a bit overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help you thrive during this busy time of year.

Do. Drop. Delegate.

Last year, I received some invaluable advice on prioritizing from a local entrepreneur, Ryan Wade. He said, 
"Do. Drop. Delegate. Do--Look at the list and see what can be done in less than two minutes. Just do them and check them off to feel accomplished and revved to go. Then, tackle the important tasks with deadlines or time constraints. Finally, tackle the less important tasks. If you aren't able to get to everything on your list, then figure out what you can delegate or change."

Ryan went on to explain that when a entrepreneur does EVERYTHING, they are actually hindering their business' growth because they are wasting time and energy on areas that are not their expertise. For example, an amateur attempting to create a website can waste a lot of time on research and potentially make costly mistakes that could be avoided by hiring an experienced web designer that can achieve beautiful, cost-effective results in less time. 

Look into ways to delegate and use your time efficiently; this may mean hiring a cleaning service, contracting a graphic designer for your recital visuals, or ordering from a meal delivery service. 

My bullet journal
Use your planner (digital or analog) to help you keep track of everything and prioritize important tasks. This year, I've been using a bullet journal to help me stay on task in a simple and effective way. I have noticed a drastic change in focus and accomplishments.

Respect your health.

Include time in your schedule to eat regularly; bonus points if your meals are healthy! Remember to exercise, stay hydrated, and turn off your phone and think of something other than your studio/business. Better health -- better performance!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reblog: Montessori Piano Teacher

Today's post comes from Montessori Piano Teacher. I've been following Laura on Instagram for a while now, and was thrilled when she started her blog at the beginning of the year. The following post is one of my favorites!

What Parents need to Know about Piano Practice

I know I said I would introduce you to some of my activities I use in lessons, but first since it is the start of the school year, I think this topic is an important one.
Your Child will need help
  • Up until about age 11 your child will need hands-on help with their practice.
  • Your help with practice will make a difference to your child’s progress.
  • Go through practice notes with your child and assist them where they need help.
  • Ask your child what their favourite piece is and to play it first (it is important to start the practice session off with something they can play on their own).
  • If you think your child is ready to practice with not as much supervision, stay close by and listen, even if you are in another room. If something doesn’t sound right go and ask your child to play that part again (while you sit and listen).
Organise a Practice Routine
  • Help your child organise their practice time. Practice needs to be part of your everyday routine (it is like brushing your teeth!). It needs to be done!
  • Set a practice time each day. It might be before school or after school after they have had their afternoon tea.
  • Shorter practice sessions to start with and gradually increase them until they are practicing around 30mins a day.
  • Practice directly after a lesson. Your child will remember what is expected from their lesson if they practice after their lesson.
Encourage your child
  • Encourage your child to practice. Give them a choice would you like to dry the dishes or practice the piano.
  • Attend your child’s piano concerts.
  • Invite friends and family over to listen to your child play.
  • Put aside some time to sit down and listen to them practice, giving them your full attention.
Your child needs a piano that is enjoyable to play
  • Buy your child a quality instrument that gives your child the ability to make beautiful sounds (not a toy piano from the toy department). Go to your local music store.
  • If you are unsure with what to buy, ask your child’s teacher (there will be some great affordable options).
  • Your child will progress a lot more if they are practicing on a quality instrument.
Provide a positive practice environment with no distractions 
  • Avoid practicing the day before or on the day of their lesson.
  • Stick to the practice routine.
  • Place the piano in a room that is central without distractions (turn off the tv, occupy younger siblings).
  • Try to avoid tucking the piano away in its own room. You and your child are most likely to forget about practicing if the piano is not seen everyday.
  • Help your child to decorate the piano area. They might like to play their favourite toy on top of the piano or display a picture they have drawn on the wall next to the piano (It is important to help your child make the piano area their own space, so it draws them to practice).
Communicate with the teacher
  • If you are unsure about what the teacher has written for practice, ask!
  • In order for your child to progress there needs to be a teacher, parent, student communication triangle.
  • Check in how lessons are going with your child’s teacher.
  • Ask for help if your child is finding something difficult at home.
  • Let the teacher know when practice weeks have gone extremely well (or not so well).

I hope you all enjoyed this post. Next time I think I will introduce some of my activities. Happy reading.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Upbeat Piano Teacher Webinars - Released TODAY!

I'm very pleased to announce that the new Upbeat Piano Teachers webinars, Engaging with Teens and Playing with Preschoolers are officially launching today, Monday, April 3rd! They are offering a fantastic special of $5 off as part of their launch special! Use code SAVE5 at checkout (coupon good through Monday, April 17th). 

BONUS: They're doing a random drawing giveaway for 5 free Waay app codes and 2 hard copies of the The Young Musician's Guide to Songwriting to the teachers who sign up during the first three days!

As part of Playing with Preschoolers, you'll get my interview about Creative Ideas for Preschoolers and Setting Your Preschool Lesson Rates, and I've included a freebie: Middle C I See! There are 6 hours of interviews, bonus resources, and lots of creative ideas for activities from the other guest experts. 

I've learned so much from Upbeat Piano Teachers previous webinars, and highly recommend these for professional development and growth as a teacher. Check it out here!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What to Expect at Your Child's First Preschool Piano Lesson?

You've just enrolled your preschooler into private piano lessons! You and your child's teacher were able to find a time that worked for both of you. The invoice is paid, and soon, you'll be attending the very first lesson. What should you expect? How can you best prepare for that important first lesson?


If you've enrolled your child in private piano lessons, you are probably already aware of the many benefits of studying music. Piano lessons and music study can, at the very least,

  • Increase your child's attention span
  • Improve your child's language abilities and introduce them other languages, such as Italian, French, and German
  • Boost his/her self-confidence
  • Develop the capacity for musical expression
  • Lay the foundation for learning and music appreciation


How can you prepare your child for the lesson?

  • Explore your piano/keyboard at home; point out that some keys are black and some are white. Help your child find the groups of 2 and 3 black keys
  • Sing and listen to a variety of songs and music at home, in the car, etc.
  • Visualize the upcoming piano lesson with your child and talk about what to expect.
  • Make sure that your child is well-rested, fed, and healthy for the first lesson.
  • Trim your child's fingernails and have them wash their hands before the lesson.
  • If your child's teacher allows it, sit in on the lesson and take notes/videos so that you can help your child at home between lessons.
  • Practice identifying and naming the letters of the music alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G)
  • Don't rush to the lesson! Rushing may make your child feel anxious. 


Preschoolers learn best through play. Because of this, excellent preschool piano lessons are centered around multi-sensory and educational activities. 

On average, a child's attention span matches their age in minutes, so an average 3 year old should be able to stay focused on one activity for 3 full minutes, a four year old for 4 minutes, and so on. When your 3 year old is enrolled into a 30 minute piano class, especially at the first lessons, there will be multiple activities to take part in that appeal to the child's individual learning style. 

When I teach a private preschool piano lesson, I follow a structured lesson routine (with some flexibility to fit each individual child's needs and learning style) to help children feel secure. I believe it is important to create an engaging, encouraging, and playful environment for this age group. Keeping children engaged is essential to maintaining their attention and creating an educational environment, so I plan a lot of activities.

Here is an example of a private preschool piano lesson in my studio:

Technical Activities

Piano Repertoire and Exploration

I love to teach motivating and fun music as much as possible! Here are books/collections that I frequently order for preschoolers: 


Creative Activities 


Even though the lessons may look like play time, your child is actually learning a lot! They are:

  • Developing a sense of rhythm, and once they are comfortable hearing and recognizing long and short sounds, learning to notate and read musical notation.
  • Expanding their language and communication skills
  • Learning how to improvise and create music
  • Developing the ability to recognize patterns
  • Reinforcing fine and gross motor skills
  • Ear training and echo singing
  • Learning to play the piano!


Review the lesson at home and dedicate some time to practice with your child every day. Try to keep your time spent at the piano together happy, playful, and as low-stress as possible to encourage your child to continue to love music. 


If you teach preschool piano and are looking for more ideas and inspiration, be sure to check out Upbeat Piano Teachers Playing with Preschoolers Webinar!

Friday, March 31, 2017

TpT April Fools Day Sale

 Middle C, I See! and The Great Chocolate Box Competition will be marked down to just $1.04 on April 1st-April 2nd.

Be sure to search Teachers Pay Teachers for the hashtag #fooledyou for other resources marked down to only $1.04!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Preschool Piano Palooza

You're invited to come to our Preschool Piano Palooza! Watch your 3-5 year old play a real song on the piano, enjoy spring themed games, make a rhythm instrument, and explore music through singing, apps, and more in this FREE 30 minute class. This is a fun kickoff to our KiddyKeys program!

Date: Monday, May 8th at 10:00am or 6:00pm (your choice)
Location: Woods Piano Studio

Space is limited! Register online here (put "Palooza" in the skill level slot) by April 24th to reserve your spot! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Are Recitals Important?

A pipe organ that I played in 2015

You should play with real musicians; the best music comes from real people interacting with each other.
– John Fogerty

Learning to play a musical instrument is traditionally a solitary pursuit. Students attend weekly one-on-one lessons with their teacher, and then return home to practice alone or with a limited audience of family and close friends. Public recitals are a great way to expand the musical vision of students and can greatly benefit both the student and the teacher.

Recitals are a vital part of authentic training towards musicianship. Any type of performance, no matter how large or small, and no matter how advanced or new the performer, is an emotional and raw experience for everyone involved. Professional musicians share their art; they play with others and for others, and there is no better training for this than live performance.

Playing in front of others takes great courage. A student participating in such an event has a chance to shine and may experience a boost of confidence when they perform a piece in front of their peers, friends, and family. They learn how to successfully set and achieve tangible performance goals. They develop important aspects of their character—discipline, commitment, and kindness as they support one another.

As students become adept performers, they also grow to appreciate and recognize this skill in others. This is a very important (and often overlooked) element to the continued support of music education and professional musicians.

By now, the benefits of recitals for students have been established; what are the benefits for teachers? Private music teachers that offer recitals build their studio community; students are given the opportunity to support and motivate one another. This facet of cooperative learning leads to increased studio retention, motivation, and growth. It has also been proven that students tend to retain more information in group settings. In Tools forTeaching, Barbara Gross Davis writes, “Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats.”

Recitals are also great for business. When recitals become a regular part of a studio’s curriculum, it becomes a place where music happens, and students and their families will be so excited to spread the word about it.

These are big events, and can be a bit daunting at first. In the upcoming posts, I’ll provide some how-to tips to help you plan and host a successful recital that your students will talk about for years to come!

Monday, March 13, 2017

5 Free Activities and Games for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is a huge celebration of Irish culture here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In a brief travel article, Chloe Pantazi wrote, 
With 13.5% of the population identifying as Irish, bars everywhere, and a parade that dates back to 1869, the Steel City is as close to Dublin anyone's gonna get in the US.
I kept this in mind as I searched for some activities/games to use with my younger students in my studio this week. After we've completed theory assignments, learning and reviewing pieces, and technical exercises in the lesson, only a few minutes are left for a game. 

Every teacher has their own philosophy on the use of games during a piano lesson. I personally believe that young children learn best through play and that finishing each lesson with a lighthearted and fun activity makes all the difference in how they feel about their piano lessons each week.

Have your students complete this at home, perhaps using their assigned scale to establish a key, and be prepared to play it for you at their next lesson.

Do your students need to review keyboard topography, scales, intervals, and chord progressions? You're in luck! This game is an excellent, hands-on resource to help you review important concepts with your students this week and end the lesson in a positive way.

This coloring page subtlety encourages your students to practice their note reading skills. Hand this out to siblings to work on while they wait for their lesson! Greenside Music also has other St. Patrick's Day games available for sale!

This music math page ties in nicely with Piano Pronto method books. Use it this week in lieu of or in conjunction with your students' regular theory assignments.

Improvising is the ultimate way to help students feel a steady beat, expand their imagination and individual style, and utilize the concepts that they have learned over time. A Foot-Tappin’ St. Patrick’s Day Improv Activity For Your Piano Students makes it easy to improvise with your students!

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.

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 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.

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 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 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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

3 Ways to Use a Kalimba in a Piano Lesson

Practice incentives can be so motivating and fun! We haven't had one yet this year, and I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about and searching for a great new practice incentive. 

Another piano teacher named Janie Fowler Downing recently shared a post on Facebook about the practice incentive that she is currently using with her students. The idea originally came from Natasha Vanderlinden. Students have the opportunity to earn hearts with their names on them, and those hearts are then placed in special Valentine themed boxes for each student. The student with the most amount of hearts in their box wins the prize--a heart shaped kalimba! I just had to try this practice incentive with my own spin on it in my studio!

I found an adorable kalimba (Bantu word meaning "little music") here. I bought three; one will be the grand prize and the other two will be added to the collection of rhythm instruments that are played during weekly lessons.

Here are three ways that I plan to include the kalimba in piano lessons:

#1) Improvising 

I believe that creativity is important to include in every lesson (composing, improvising, accompanying stories with music, and so on). Sometimes students feel nervous about improvising on the piano without written music in front of them. The kalimba sounds beautiful no matter what keys are played together, and gives students the freedom to just play and feel the music. 

We will start with two notes and make different musical patterns with those two notes, and then try it with three until we're finally using every key. 

We will also create soundscapes to accompany stories. I plan to read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in February, and we will create music that sets an emotional tone and create sounds for snow, walking slowly in the snow, smiling snowman, angels, sliding down the hill, and so on. 

Some other books that I plan to use in the future are The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (we will create a motif for "and the tree was happy" and play it every time that phrase is read) and Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (to accompany the monkeys' "tsz tsz tsz" and create sounds of the caps piled high on the peddler's head and then falling from the tree).

Call and response is another wonderful improvisational activity that is perfect for the kalimba. I will play a motif and the student will respond with either by repeating or by playing a variation of that motif.  

#2) Rhythm Exercises 

Rhythm gives music movement, predictable patterns, and even directs where accents are placed in melody and harmony to make it pleasing to our ears. Rhythm is essential to creating and performing music. 

When I was student teaching in an elementary school, students were taught how to read rhythms and clapped and counted them aloud. I'm so grateful that this fundamental to music is taught in schools; because of this, several of my beginning students come to their first lesson already knowing how to feel a beat and count rhythms. 

I love to practice reading and feeling rhythms with percussion instruments in weekly piano lessons. Using percussion instruments allows us to step away from pitch and piano keys and just feel the pulse of the music. Typically, we tap out the music from the method book or other repertoire, and sometimes I use rhythm cards. The kalimba is perfect for this!

#3) Ice Breaker

Instruments help new students feel comfortable and excited to learn about music. It can be very intimidating for a 3 year old to be in a new environment, with a teacher that they do not yet know, while seated at a large instrument with 88 keys!

The kalimba creates soothing and beautiful sounds and can easily fit in a child's lap. Sounds like oceans, waterfalls, or birds singing could be played in the background while we have free play with the kalimba and/or other instruments. It also offers a low-stress way to assess the child's ability to hear and feel rhythm as we introduce ourselves, "My name is Susie" (sol-mi-sol-fa-mi). 

If you use a kalimba in your studio, I would love to hear your ideas! Please comment below!