Happy Teaching Moment

MusicThis past week I received a digital recording via email of a student playing a piano piece we had been working on in her lessons. In her most recent lesson, we had discussed trying the piece on her keyboard with different sounds. The piece is titled “Evening Guitars” (found in Faber’s Advanced Beginner Lesson Book 2), so we talked about trying to find a guitar/string/harpsichord sound on the keyboard to see how that would sound.

A few days after the lesson, I discovered a digital recording in my email inbox. The student had played the piece with a harpsichord sound, recorded it on her mother’s iPhone, and sent it to me via email.

It made my day! The performance was not perfect, but it was something. The student had thought outside the box, listened to the sounds, and made a choice based on her preferences. I love when students practice intentionally, and this is what had happened.

Made my piano teaching day.

It was a happy teaching moment. 🙂


Keyboard Practice Journal

Practice JournalMy kiddos attend an awesome elementary school where they are motivated and encouraged at every level and in every grade to be creative and do their best. (I am so, so thankful for our school!) They are continually coming home with cute little incentive programs for reading or math or band, etc.

I have discovered that I don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel every time I want to run an incentive for practicing or technique or learning new repertoire, etc. So a lot of the time when looking through my children’s schoolwork, my mind wanders to piano lessons and how I can incorporate the latest, cutest school incentive into the piano studio.

My youngest, who is in second grade, is in the midst of a year-long incentive for reading. Every time she reads 15 minutes, she gets to color a star on her star chart, which contains 26 stars. She can complete a star chart in about a month, then she turns it in to the teacher, gets a planet for her planet book, and another star chart to fill out. At the end of the year, she will hopefully have earned all the planets in her planet book.

She loves to color in a star at the end of her 15 minutes of reading each night. I like to see the stars being filled in, representing time we have spent well in listening to her reading. (Cute stories and cute little voice – who wouldn’t love it?!)

So I created a practice journal for my younger piano students. They color in a key on the keyboard at the completion of 15 minutes of practice. I used this journal at the beginning of this teaching year, and have found a few things I especially like about this journal:

1. There is an end – it is good for students to experience the fulfillment that comes from completing a project

2. It reinforces keyboard topography – especially good for beginners learning the key names

3. It is not too long – there are 24 keys to be colored, which can be completed pretty quickly, even for the students who are a little less motivated in practice

In the future I may create a longer incentive to be used with the practice journal. I’m thinking of making it into something that builds upon itself and continues throughout the year. But this was a great way to start the year with an emphasis on practicing.

Feel free to download a copy for yourself!

Practice Journal – keyboard

Finger Twisters

Raise your hand if you grew up playing Hanon exercises on the piano. I was the nerd that actually liked playing Hanon. It felt good to let my fingers fly, and I geeked out on the musical patterns. I guess I just like that kind of thing.

Hanon can be a little tricky to introduce to piano students because of how it looks. Take a look (Hey! I got a gold star for this one!):


It is so dense with all those note heads packed so tightly together. Also, the sixteenths can be a little intimidating if you haven’t played them yet.

However, I have found that my piano students – even the young beginning students – love to play Hanon. I found this out by accident. I was at the end of a piano lesson with a student, trying to think of a fun little finger exercise to teach by rote. Boom. Hanon pops into my head. (Thanks Mrs. Isaacs for teaching me Hanon!)

So I teach the student the ascending right hand pattern of the first Hanon exercise. Seriously, you would have thought I had taught that student the latest, greatest pop song. Her eyes lit up when she “got” the pattern, and soon she was playing that pattern all the way up the keyboard.

I tested it out on a few other students, teaching just the ascending right hand pattern of the first exercise once again. Instant success again. What?!?! This is crazy! A few of my students attend the same church I attend, and soon I was hearing them play – you guessed it – the ascending right hand pattern of Hanon 1 at church to show off to their friends!

Since I think it is important for students to be able to read music also, I wanted to supplement the rote learning with reading the score as well. At the very least I wanted the students to know what the pattern looks like so they can recognize it by sight as well as sound when it comes up again in other pieces. But I wasn’t crazy about presenting a young student with a page of tightly-packed note heads. Might be a little intimidating.

The simplification process when like this: changing the sixteenth note rhythms to eighth notes, shrinking the range to only one octave, and only presenting the ascending pattern (for now – I did write the descending portion of the pattern as well and will put it on the blog in a future post). The fingering for right hand is located below treble clef, while the left hand fingering is located beneath bass clef.

Finger Twister 1

The students have been able to decipher this page of Hanon a lot more easily – probably partly because they already learned it by rote. There is nothing new I added to the music itself, just made the page look more appealing to younger students. Given the limitations we as teachers struggle with when teaching music from a page when music is auditory and understood with the ear, I think it’s okay to tweak a piece to make it usable.

Feel free to download a copy for yourself:

Finger Twister 1

Let me know how it goes for you and your students!