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!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Middle C, I See Give-Away!

So excited! Middle C, I See has been updated! In an effort to save paper, there are now 6 circular cards per page. The images are also crisper (thanks to Curtis Woods).

In celebration, this game is currently on sale in our Teachers Pay Teachers Store! Click here to grab your own copy!



Comment with your favorite composer to be entered to win a PDF of Middle C, I See from Woods Piano Studio​! 

Winner will be announced at 9:00am on 01/29/2017 EST! :)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How to Encourage Your Preschooler's Musicality, Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of this series, take a moment to check it out here! 

Create music with your child.
Musical Benefit: In these free play activities, your child learns the names and how to play a variety of instruments, begins to feel the beat or rhythm of music, learns the letters of the music alphabet, and is introduced to composing music.

Even if you've never played a musical instrument before, you can still create music with your child! Gather up a variety of instruments--shakers, drums, triangles, rhythm sticks, bells, xylophones, tambourines, harmonicas, guiro, castanets--and then turn on some music and improvise! Children appreciate the chance to pick and choose different instruments to play along with upbeat music.  

You and your child can even make instruments together! On Facebook, Learning By Step recently shared this useful link on DIY instruments. Learning By Step specializes in musical activities for children, so be sure to follow them on Facebook and/or subscribe to their site for even more ideas!

Another fun way to create music with your child is with this bell carousel available at Target:

  • Write the individual letters of the music alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) on small slips of paper. 
  • Fold the pieces of paper and put them in a cup. 
  • Draw circles on a piece of paper and prepare watercolor supplies. 
  • Have your child randomly select a letter from the cup and find that letter on the bell carousel. Then, paint a circle in a color that matches that bell. 
  • Continue until all the circles are painted and then play the song on the bell carousel. 
Listen to music with your child.
Musical Benefits: Your child will begin to learn what genres of music he/she likes or dislikes.

Listening to music with your child is one of the easiest ways to encourage his/her musicality. Play something quiet and relaxing right before nap time. Have something fun and upbeat on during playtime. Turn on the radio while you are in your car running errands.
On rainy days, set up a little tent in your living room. Turn on a Baby Einstein DVD (Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven are especially nice) and cozy up with blankets and snacks!

When your preschooler needs to get the wiggles out, turn on some energetic music and use scarves, a parachute, or bounce balls to the music! Or, try a "freeze dance"--dance to the music and stop when the music is paused. 

Hopefully, these ideas will provide you with a start as you encourage your preschooler's musicality at home! 

How to Encourage Your Preschooler's Musicality, Part 1

Preschoolers love music! From language development to learning healthy self-expression, music provides many benefits for preschoolers. Many excellent articles, such as this one, have been written about the benefits of music for preschoolers

Of course, there are a myriad of wonderful music/piano classes available specifically for this age group (KiddyKeysMusic TogetherLet's Play Music) but there are also many ways to encourage your preschooler's musicality in your own home!

Read music-themed books with your preschooler. 
Musical Benefits: Through story and song, a child learns to sing, is introduced to rhyme and meter, and is inspired to be creative.

There are many fabulous music-themed books to read with your preschooler. The following books have been requested over and over again, by my preschool aged (and sometimes older) students and by my own children. 

Click here for Part 2!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

5 Fun Winter Activities for Your Piano Studio

Beat the winter blues in your piano studio with these five (and mostly free) winter-themed activities and games!

Created by Piano with a Twist , this game is a perfect way to reinforce keyboard geography. I especially appreciate that it is simple, comes with everything that is needed to play, and requires minimal set up! 

If you have a moment, check out all of the other fantastic resources that this store offers.  Crazy PumpkinsSilly Apples, and Dragon Scales , and several others have been hugely popular in my studio! There are also other winter themed games that I will be purchasing soon and using in my own studio over the next two months.

Don't Break the Ice

Read more about this entertaining spin on the classic game and find the free PDF on Ms. Mangusso's site, I'll be putting one of these together over the weekend! 

Snowmen Flashcards (Picture from

Snowmen Flashcards

Wendy Stevens created these adorable snowmen flashcards. Sara Campbell, a fantastic blogger that I follow, recently shared a post explaining how she uses these cards in her studio. Her post inspired me to print out these cards, order some sand timers, and give these a try in my studio! Be sure to follow Wendy and Sara on Facebook for more brilliant ideas and resources!


A game that uses mini marshmallows as game markers from Teach Piano Today!  Follow this link to grab your own copy and learn how to play--it's super easy and sure to be a hit in your studio!

Music Lesson for Wintertime: Using The Piano Guys "Frozen" and Vivaldi's "Winter"

I'm a major advocate for incorporating listening activities into piano lessons and giving students the opportunity to hear piano repertoire that they may not have ever heard before. I also believe it's essential to listen to/watch other pianists perform to hear various interpretations of the same repertoire, to become inspired, to grow more aware of the elements of music, and much more. 

Gena Mayo generously shared her complete lesson plan on her site, This could easily be adapted as a brief activity in a piano lesson!

I would love to hear what winter-themed activities, resources, and games you like to use! Please share in the comments!