About jillice

I am a classically trained pianist with an interest in a wide variety of music, which I explore through listening, playing, and teaching. I love to find and implement fresh approaches to teaching next-generation musicians.

How to Host a Christmas Piano Party

20171208_194308Last night I hosted my fifth annual Christmas piano party. At the end of the evening one parent remarked “Of all the Christmas parties we attend each year, this one is Noah’s favorite.” Another parent standing nearby heard the remark and nodded her assent. I was very touched! What a sweet comment.

Five years ago I was looking for a way to host a holiday recital without it feeling like a recital. I wanted a casual performance environment for all the students, but especially for those students who had just begun lessons in August or September. I also wanted an evening to socialize with piano families and encourage them to socialize with each other.

The first piano party was held in our own home and it was packed. I only had about ten students performing that year, but our home was filled to the gills with families. It was fun! But the next year we used the lobby of a local church for our event. The past three years the party has been held in our neighborhood clubhouse, which is awesome because it has a cozy fireplace, lots of seating and a kitchen area. We bring our own keyboard to the event.ย 20171208_174752

I send out a sign up genius a couple weeks prior to the event asking families to bring one of the following: something sweet, something savory or something healthy.

When everyone arrives, I give a little speech explaining that musicians need to be multi-talented. Sometimes we play solo concerts, sometimes we accompany for others, and sometimes we provide background music for receptions or special events. Of course the students like me to emphasize that the evening is about background music, which to them means “Don’t stare at me while I’m playing!” and “Pleaseย talk loudly while I’m playing!”ย ๐Ÿ™‚

Instead of providing a program, we play a fun game of “Name That Tune” Bingo. I make bingo cards for free, and those playing the game cross off the song title once it is played. The students announce the name of their piece after they play it so that people can have the fun of trying to name the tune, but can still play along if they don’t know the song title.20171209_111748

Players earn a small prize for their first Bingo of five-in-a-row in any direction, then they keep playing for a second prize when their Bingo sheet is completely blacked out. Of course I rig the order of performers so that the Bingo cards are not completed until the last performer plays. Here are the prizes I handed out this year:

Not expensive at all, but just a little prize feels like a huge win to the kids (and the parents and grandparents too!)

By the way, since there are no programs, I use a Powerpoint from my computer connected to the TV monitor to display the order of student performers. The students can see the screen from anywhere in the room and go to the keyboard when it is their turn to play. It all runs very smoothly.

I also have a little craft ready for all the kids attending the party. This year I ordered unfinished wooden eighth notes (2 inches), and attached a ribbon to make an ornament. Kids colored their music notes with Sharpies. (I never used glitter for crafts!!!)20171209_185736

This is fun because it provides something hands-on for the kids to do.

So the party includes food, a craft, a game of Bingo and making connections. I hang around the keyboard while some of the younger/beginner students are playing so that I can help them if they need it. Otherwise I walk around the room, talking with parents and students. It’s an excellent way to interact with families in a more personal setting. I don’t often get to talk to parents and students about normal everyday life, so I cherish the opportunity to do it at the piano party.

I think my piano families and students love this format for a few reasons. The casual performance environment is so much less-stress for students than the usual quiet recital. The parents love to be able to walk around during the evening, talk to each other and eat. The kids are kept occupied by the craft and food. The Bingo game has been a surprise hit for years. Every year students try to choose Christmas pieces they think no one will be able to guess.

The Christmas Piano Party format has been such a fun and rewarding experience for our studio! Feel free to comment on your fun recital/party ideas!20171208_1859432566225658


Six Happy Teaching Moments (November 2017) and Another Book Recommendation

November was a bit of a whirlwind with our major event, the Multiple Piano Festival and a family trip to NYC for Thanksgiving break. The students were excited to learn new Christmas and holiday music, and I loved teaching it to them!

  1. Student playing “River Flows In You” for her grandmother’s memorial service – the grandmother had that song as the ringtone on her phone
  2. High school students adding terms to white board with new terms coined from their names – “drisando” coined from “Drisana” ๐Ÿ™‚20171101_093721
  3. After pulling out music from my music cabinet, student remarks: “I didn’t know you actually used those books. I thought they were for show.”
  4. Fourteen students passing auditions to participate in local Multiple Piano Festival28559
  5. Participating for the fifth year in the Multiple Piano Festival, a concert sponsored by our local teacher’s association20171118_203410
  6. Transcribing Christmas music for young students20171108_103637


And the book recommendation:

Language of the Spirit

Usually I read through books pretty quickly. However, this is a book to savor. I have loved every part of this book, and I feel that my interest in classical music has been reawakened. Swafford’s description of composers temperaments and their lives help us remember that composers were people. His analysis of their works is just deep enough to have real substance, but not too deep to get mired down in technical matters. His wider research into world events helps us remember that composers and music are shaped by the world and culture. One of the best parts of the book is Swafford’s recommendations for listening.

I got this book from the library, but I have already put it on my Christmas wish list. This will become a reference book in my studio.

Feel free to leave a note about happy moments in your teaching life!

Music Bookshelf

Piano teachers have lots of stuff. Music scores, books on music, magazines, games, office supplies, prizes, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to keep it all near at hand without letting it take over the space.

Last year I bought this storage shelf for my music scores and pretty much filled it up completely with just the music I had in boxes in the basement. But now all that music is close at hand and easy to access!


Top shelf contains classical literature in alphabetical order by composer’s last name and classical collections. Bottom shelf contains duet literature, technique, church music and Christmas music.


Last week I opened the cabinet to pull out some one-hand music for a student who had broken her arm. She said “I didn’t know you actually used that music. I thought it was just for show.” ๐Ÿ™‚

How do you organize your store of music?

Multiple Piano Festival 2017

The Multiple Piano Festival is an annual local concert sponsored by the Boulder Area Music Teachers Association. This year was the 32nd year the concert has been given. I completely love this concert for a number of reasons:

  1. About twenty local teachers work together on this event
  2. Piano students are given the opportunity to play in ensemble with a large group, which is very rare for pianists
  3. Students make music together, not playing solo in competition with each other, but working together
  4. The duet music is so well-chosen – music from all time periods; varied genres; some well-known, some new; some trios or even quartet music at one piano
  5. The concert is a real show – students announce the pieces in a fun and engaging way, sometimes props are used, sometimes the conductors will direct with different types of batons (wands for Harry Potter pieces, light saber for Star Wars pieces)
  6. Students learn to play with a conductor and listen to the group
  7. Students must audition – a good skill for musicians to develop

Here are some happy and excited young musicians ready for the concert to begin:

The stage was so beautiful – the back lights changed colors with each piece:

Each group ended their piece with a bow:


Participating students may submit original artwork for the cover and back cover. My student won runner-up and was featured on the back cover!

The program:


I had fourteen students participate this year:


Me and my daughters!


What a fun and exciting concert to kick off the holiday season! You can read my posts about previous years in the Multiple Piano Festival here:




Favorite Christmas Repertoire 2017

What? It’s been four years since I’ve posted about my favorite Christmas repertoire to teach. Time for an update! I was happy to see that some of my favorites from 2013 have stood the test of time and are still beloved by students in 2017 (only four years, I know).

For beginning students I usually stick to the method Christmas books. I find that beginners like to play as many Christmas songs as possible since it is the first time they have been able to play Christmas songs. It’s like a kid in a candy shop! I give them all the candy they want. ๐Ÿ™‚

For students who have been playing awhile, this is my Christmas favorites list:

Celebrated Christmas Solos by Robert Vandall

Celebrated Christmas Solos

Robert Vandall’s Celebrated Christmas Solos series contains five books and are vintage Vandall. He is the master at taking well-known tunes and making them sound highly stylized no matter the level. Between all my students, almost every song in books 1-3 are played each year. Some of our favorites include: Deck the Halls (Book 1), almost every song in Book 2, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Book 3), Jingle Bell Rock (Book 3), Let It Snow! (Book 4), and Joy to the World (Book 5).

Christmas Memories by Melody Bober

Christmas Memories

Melody Bober has written two collections of Christmas music: Christmas Memories and Popular Christmas Memories, and both are simply lovely. There are three books ranging from early intermediate to late intermediate in each collection. Student favorites include traditional pieces such as: “What Child Is This”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Jingle Bells”(great jazzy version), and from the popular books: “Believe” from Polar Express, and “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”. These pieces feel like they have been lovingly crafted by a master composer.

A Dozen a Day Christmas

Dozen Christmas

I love using the Dozen a Day series in everyday teaching so much that I wrote a separate blog post about it. So it is natural that I would use the corresponding Christmas repertoire. I have used the Preparatory and Mini Christmas books. Both of these books are designed for beginners and are especially great for students who have had some experience using Dozen a Day. A lot of the technical exercises in the books are incorporated into the solo Christmas pieces. This means that these pieces are easy to teach and to learn since the concepts are familiar.

In Recital with Christmas Favorites

In Recital

This series and the companion series “In Recital with Popular Christmas Music” each contain six books from early elementary to late intermediate levels. The pieces are stylistically arranged by leading composers and edited by Helen Marlais. I like these books because there is so much information for the teacher including leveling, musical concepts covered in each book, and technical skills required for each level. The pieces can be used for a sing along or a solo performance, they sometimes contain teacher duets, and most books have at least one or two same-level duet parts. You can also download free recordings of these pieces.

Piano Pronto Publishing


You can order these Christmas pieces from the Piano Pronto website in book format delivered through the mail or you can download them to print on your own printer. The Christmas Classics Volumes 1 and 2 are a good value for the money – there are fourteen pieces in volume one and twelve in volume two. Pieces in these collections are lyrical and lovely. The left hand accompaniment usually follow a note-fifth-octave pattern, which is especially useful for students who may be a little weak in reading bass clef.

Jazzy Jingles Volumes 1 and 2 are also a good value for the money. Some of the arrangements are definitely written in a strong jazz style, some are a mix of traditional styling plus jazz nuances. We especially love “Noel Nouvelet” in volume 1 and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in volume 2.

Susan Paradis


I think we should all stand up and cheer for Susan Paradis. Her selection of pre-reading and primer music is outstanding. Her “Jingle Bells” pre-reading song is used by every student of mine who begins lessons in September. Their faces light up and they can’t wait to play the song for parents and family because they love it so much.

Linus and Lucy

Charlie Brown Christmas

Definitely a perennial favorite. One of the best arrangements of this piece is found in Piano Adventures Popular Repertoire 2B. Although this is not technically a Christmas piece, my students enjoy hearing it and performing it at our annual Christmas party. I have a student playing the more advanced version this year and she’s loving it.

Chord Town Christmas by Anne Crosby Gaudet

Chord Town Christmas

Music by Anne Crosby Gaudet has long been a staple in my studio. Her pieces are engaging and fun for students. Chord Town Christmas is great because – lead sheets! Some of my late beginner/early intermediate students would rather learn to play the melody and make up their own left hand accompaniment. They love the creativity that lead sheets allow. This books provides a nice collection of Christmas melodies and a systematic approach to adding accompaniment. Gaudet also includes ideas for adding an introduction and an ending.

Rote pieces

Some beginning students have specific ideas of what they want to play for Christmas. Generally, I try to find music for them if I can. However, sometimes it’s hard to find specific Christmas music for students who are still pre-reading or have just started learning to read on-staff. When this occurs, if at all possible I will try to teach their requested piece by rote. Some of the pieces requested this year have been Linus and Lucy, Silent Night and O Holy Night. Usually I will write a little map of how to play the piece so that they won’t draw a blank at home. I use my handy-dandy keyboard stamp to show hand positions. We will usually work through the piece little by little, and I will write down what we are doing as we do it. This makes the piece far less intimidating as we work through it together.


All the links included above are for the purpose of identification. I do not receive any financial gain if you buy these books through the links. Just wanted to make it easier for you!

What is your favorite Christmas repertoire?

Most Popular Blog Post (Karate Pentascales!) and Updated Free Material

Hi all,

I began writing this blog way back in February of 2011. Our family had moved to Colorado the previous year and I was in the midst of rebuilding my piano studio. Our kids were enrolled in an awesome school and were making new friends and exploring new options.

The music teacher at their new school used a reward incentive when the kids were in fourth grade learning recorders – he would tie a colored ribbon to the end of their recorder when they learned each new piece. I borrowed the idea for the piano studio and it has become my most popular blog post by far. As of today, the post has generated almost 1,100 hits and has been saved over a hundred times on Pinterest since the day it was published in 2011.

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This week I updated the post by expanding the free resources. You are now able to download all the materials needed to teach all twelve major pentascales and all twelve minor pentascales. You can download both the keyboard view:

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and the staff view:

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The post contains instructions of how to use these materials.

I hope you enjoy these free materials and that your students love your fun and rewarding way to teach pentascales!

Let me know how it goes for you!

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! ๐Ÿ™‚
  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!