Piano Football

Here in Colorado we have had gorgeous weather the last few months. We’d get some snow, then be back into the 50’s and 60’s and it would feel like spring (my favorite season!) But just this past week we have been hit hard with snow. Personally I don’t mind much because I get to work from home! But sometimes the students need a little extra incentive to get to the piano and do some quality practicing. In fact, some of my students were asking to have something along the lines of the Piano Olympics from last year. Um, sure! I will do almost anything that will add extra excitement to lessons – especially this time of year!

The Piano Football idea was really borne from the fact that the student who was asking for something like the Piano Olympics really loves football. So here’s what I came up with:

20150226_092225I used a plain old manila folder to make up a playbook. The inside contains the guidelines and football field.


Here’s my pitch:

“You have been drafted to the piano football league! As a member of the team, you have certain responsibilities. First of all, you need to prepare in advance for the game. You need to learn the building blocks: the notes in treble clef and bass clef and music symbols. Secondly, you will need to attend practices (these are what you do at home). You will need to become an expert at using your fingers to produce the sound you want and use rhythms to organize those sounds. Lastly, when the practice session is finished, you need to review what happened during the practice. Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish? What needs extra work?”

The student then thinks of a name they want for their football team – each student does this individually – they don’t form teams with other students (although that could be an interesting variation…)
20150226_092250 The goal is to to gain yards to move from the blue end zone to the red end zone. The prize is a free cone at the local Dairy Queen.20150226_092255The first section entitled “Know Your Plays” are all tested during the lesson. I use the Flashnote Derby iPad app to quiz on treble and bass clefs. I use the SightReader iPad app to test sight reading. The music symbols are printed on flashcards and sent home with the student a week in advance of the testing. 

The section titled “Workouts” are completed during home practice sessions.

The section titled “Gametime” refers to the practice session as well. I am most excited about this section because it contains “Review the Play”. During the lesson the student and I discuss goals for each particular piece to be practiced during the week. On a post-it note we write specific items to think about while practicing: notes, rhythm, dynamics, legato, staccato, pedal, etc. During the week, the student must write their own reflections on the post-it notes in any format they wish. Some students write phrases like “good”, “needs work”, “getting better”, etc. Other students using a letter grading system to assess their practice, others using +, ++, check marks, etc. I encourage each student to develop a system that will work for them.

I am loving the “Review the Play” category so much because it has forced the students to listen and evaluate their own playing, which is a foundational goal of teaching. I believe this to be one of the most important skills to teach (and learn) at any level. “Review the Play” puts a fun spin on this essential skill.

The entire incentive takes a few months to complete, depending on the student’s individual level of motivation. Obviously I could have chosen countless other skills to work on with this incentive, but I chose a) the things that fit in with the idea of preparing for a game, and b) the things I think my students need to focus on at the moment. There are lots of ways to vary this fun game, and if you do, please let me know!

This is a glimpse into how the playbook is used in the lesson:



Multiple Piano Festival 2014


The Boulder Area Music Teachers Association did not disappoint with this year’s Multiple Piano Festival. As before, the pieces were well-chosen, musically-varied and audience-pleasing. It was an upbeat, fun concert. You can read my observations on last year’s concert here.

I entered fourteen students in the auditions, and happily, fourteen were accepted. Here are a few highlights of the event:

My daughter Chloe and her best friend Rebecca had a blast. Those little cuties had to stand to see the director give the downbeat to begin their piece.20141122_192034
20141122_192936 20141122_192940The teacher piece was fantastic – Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. Lots of changing meters and beautiful interplay between the secondo and primo parts. 
20141122_204043 20141122_204537 My students, minus a few who had to leave early. Such a sweet and happy group.20141122_205414My beautiful daughters. I love being able to play on the same concerts with my own children!

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