Five Happy Teaching Moments (October 2017) And a Book Recommendation

My life is filled with music and my job gives me the opportunity to interact with great students and families on a near-daily basis. I am so thankful to be able to teach piano. Here are some things this month that made me happy:

  1. Inspector McEye – a cute teaching aid from Teach Piano Today20171002_174830
  2. Board of terms – see my blog post on this here20171024_124805
  3. Students auditioning for and being accepted into jazz bands at local schools. On a related note: attending their jazz band concerts is a happy moment too!
  4. 12 year old beginning student asking to learn “Linus and Lucy” for Christmas. I have been teaching it to him by rote and he is so excited as he learns each new section that he jumps off the bench! 🙂
  5. Young student excited to earn Mozart composer card20171025_102309


I love how our music teaching community comes together at conferences and through social media, podcasts and blogs. I have been listening to the new podcast, The Musicality Podcast (also recommended!) and enjoyed episode two featuring Natalie Weber, blogger at Music Matters. She mentioned a book entitled “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank” which intrigued me enough to request it from our local library. I loved it. Not only was it a sweet story of a man returning to his love of the piano after many years, but it was incredibly informative on different types of pianos, piano tuning, and even Parisian culture. I highly recommend it!

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

What have you been reading lately? And what has made you smile this month? Feel free to share!


On a Quest for Terms


This fall I had the privilege of starting a few beginning piano students. With one of my older beginners, I was struck with the realization of how many terms the student was learning in the first few weeks. We have been working through Faber’s Older Beginner Book 1, which is pretty heavy with terms in the first few lessons.

So I started making a list of terms for this student to keep in his studio binder and to review in practice sessions and lessons. Of course, the simple act of making a list made me think how valuable a list of terms is for all students. So out came the white board and the quest for terms began. I wrote down quite a few of the foundational terms and students have been adding to the board when we run across a term that is not yet on the board.


(Do you see the piano dog? The students insisted on having our dog Sadie listed on the board. 🙂 )

Other students have the benefit of seeing these terms when they come for their lessons. Usually I will ask a student to find and identify three terms they already know, then I will ask them to point out a term they do not know the meaning of. We will discuss the meaning and write the term on that week’s assignment page.


Then at the next lesson, I will see the term written on the assignment page (a reminder to me of what terms we discussed last week) and ask the student for a definition or a demonstration of the meaning of the term.

My plan is to categorize the terms by dynamics, touches, tempos, notation, moods, etc. in the next few weeks. We will likely do this by erasing the board and placing the terms into color-coded columns.

A side benefit: I am always looking for ways to create community in the studio – for the Monday student to see what the Thursday student is doing. The white board is an easy visual for students to see what other students are finding and discussing in their music.

Strategically Planning Practice Habits


I recently ran across this article about a Stanford researcher who studied ways to help B+ students raise their grades to As. The overall goal was to teach students to think strategically about how they would study:

“Our key insight in this research is the importance of being goal-directed and thoughtful about how one chooses and uses resources for learning—or to achieve any other goal for that matter,” Chen said.

Not surprisingly, the students who set goals and made a plan to achieve those goals were able to raise their test scores. Those students, when questioned, also said they had less stress taking the exam after they had strategically planned how they would study for the exam.

The article also stresses the importance of self-evaluation:

“In one experiment, 12- and 13-year-olds significantly improved their writing skills by learning to better evaluate the quality of their own work…Kids were taught what makes a good piece of writing and how to critique their own work. ‘Instead of relying on the teacher, they are taught strategies to improve their own writing—that’s the self-regulation,’ said Emily Yeomans, senior program manager at the EEF.”

Self-evaluation is a skill piano teachers have historically stressed. I remember in a college piano pedagogy class being told that my job was to work myself out of a job. That is, if I’m teaching well, my students should learn how to evaluate their own playing and make corrections as needed.

The article suggested the teacher use questions such as these to direct self-evaluation:

“What you are doing doesn’t seem to be working very well. Is there something else you can use that would help you do it better?” or “Look at the way they are doing things. Do you think they could have gone about it in a better way?”

As piano teachers we have an important job and opportunity to help our students learn how to approach piano practice.

  1. We do this first by presenting a quality representation of what the end result of the practice will be – either by playing the piece well yourself or by providing quality recordings on CD or YouTube. (What will the piece sound like when I have played it correctly?)
  2. Then we teach the student the technical and musical components he needs to think about while practicing (What do I need to work on?),
  3. how to practice to accomplish the goal using repetitive, mindful, goal-oriented practice (How will I work on these things?),
  4. and how to evaluate the quality of the practice. (How will I know when I have played this piece correctly?)

All of these aspects need to be discussed at each lesson so that the student has a concrete plan of how to achieve their goals for the week.

Sometimes we make a working list on the musical score of items the student will be working on/listening for during practice. As pictured below, often I will layer concepts to be practiced: here the student worked first on the components listed above the line, then later practiced the components listed below the line.


Personally, I think this job is both thrilling and humbling. The way we help shape our student’s practice habits may potentially shape the student’s study and work skills and help them succeed throughout life in many different paths.


Binder Cover 2017/18


Last week I put two and two together:

  1. A thirteen year old student who is really into zentangle
  2. My need for a new studio binder cover

I asked the student to design a new binder cover and her response blew me away. It took her only a week to design the zentangled piano shown above. Can you believe it? The hard copy is even better because you can see all the intricate shading she used.

A few of my favorite things in the piano:

  1. the flower design on the piano lid is taken from a rug in the studio with the same flower design
  2. on the front leg is written “ICEICEICE” etc. for Ice Piano Studio
  3. there is a treble clef woven into the design near the back of the piano

The student was thrilled to be asked to design the cover, and I was stunned and touched by the time and quality of work she put into the project.



Happies, September 2017

Our September has been mainly warm and summer-y, but these last few days have definitely turned into fall. Inside the studio my students and I have returned to weekly lessons with enthusiasm and joy. Here are some things that made me smile this month:

  1. Young student who had been away returning to studio with enthusiasm
  2. New resources and ideas for the new school year
  3. New curtains!20170919_124841
  4. Eleven year old student transposing music just for the fun of it
  5. Nine year old student improvising on jazz scale
  6. Six year old student’s invitation to come stay at his house if our house ever burned down. 🙂 “You can teach us on our piano!”
  7. New binder cover designed by student20170926_124309
  8. After complimenting a student on her fine performance, she replies: “I learned a lot from my teacher.” 🙂

What made you smile this month?