Summer Lesson Ideas

Yay for summer! Summer lessons are a great time to try something new. I know I like a change from the normal lesson and I’m sure my students enjoy it too.
A lot of teachers offer awesome group lessons and camps in summer, but I usually stick to individual lessons (sometimes partner lessons) for a myriad of reasons. Here are a few things I’m doing this summer with my students:
Young Students
Teach Piano Today has a wealth of great material to be used throughout the year, not just in summer. Here are a few things I’m using:
Summertime Composing (I’m also using this with older students as well)
Elementary and Later Elementary Students
Composer Lapbook on Beethoven from Joy Morin at Color in My Piano – the students who are working on this project will also play pieces by Beethoven at their level
Group Projects
The Magical Forest by Nancy Lau – the students working on this project are learning their pieces individually, then we will have one group project day to practice the suite, draw posters and have fun together. We are going to present the suite to the students’ parents and have a pool party to celebrate!
Over the Rainbow – I have two siblings working together on this – one will play the piano, one will play the ukelele
Several students are starting to work on their parts for our annual Multiple Piano Festival.
I’m expecting these projects will be lots of fun and yet provide for some good learning experiences too!

Colorado State MTA Conference

This past weekend I attended the annual conference of the Colorado State Music Teachers Association on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I haven’t been able to attend a state conference in seven years, so I really enjoyed this opportunity.

The featured artists were Timothy Fallon, tenor and Ammiel Bushakevitz, piano. They gave a collaborative concert and both taught masterclasses. I really enjoyed the piano masterclass with Mr. Bushakevitz. I was struck with the way he talked about the composers (in this case, Chopin, Debussy and Haydn), their personalities and influences and how you can see that in the music they wrote. The student performers were able to assimilate this information into their pieces immediately (e.g. Chopin’s timidity and moodiness, Debussy’s love of symbolism, Haydn’s jocularity).

One of my favorite workshops from the weekend was given by Dr. Jessica Johnson, professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison titled “All Hands on Keys: Strategies for Teaching Students with Small Hands”. Her video demonstrations of small-handed pianists straining and forcing their hands to reach large intervals was enlightening. She presented excellent resources and tips for negotiating pieces with large hand spans. As a small-handed pianist, I was very interested in these tips and also more than a little jealous of her ergonomically-sized piano keyboard (7/8 size).

The CSMTA board and general meetings were very interesting to see how the organization is run. The luncheon was terrific, as it honored the outgoing board, the incoming board and several members who had earned distinctions. One member from our local association was honored for having been a CSMTA member for fifty years. What an accomplishment!

It was great chatting with old friends and making new friends from around the state. As a private piano teacher, I seldom get to work alongside colleagues in the field, so the opportunity to “talk shop” was wonderful and inspiring.

Recital Recap

The studio piano recitals this past weekend were so wonderful! I was so pleased with how each student performed. They were a very professional bunch, playing with musicianship and confidence. It was great to see all the families and cheering sections there to support their pianist(s).

The program cover was the piano zentangle design a student had given me at the beginning of the year, which we used as this year’s binder cover.

I teach about forty students, so the past several years I have split the students into two recitals to shorten the length of recitals. I let families request their recital time, but I find that most families are happy to play in either recital. Families are invited to attend both. This year the first recital had 19 performers and was about an hour long; the second recital featured 18 performers and lasted about 45 minutes.
After each recital we enjoyed these cute cupcakes which were graciously made by a piano teacher friend.

One of the highlights was the song “Havana” by Camilla Cabello, played on the piano by a student and accompanied on the cajon (drum) by my son. It was a great experience for both – for my student, who had the added pressure of playing with a steady beat – and for my son, who was provided with another performance opportunity through this event. Everyone loved it, and I could see heads nodding in time as people felt the groove.

I handed out these cute treble clef pins as gifts for all the performers. It was cute to watch kids pinning them onto their clothes immediately. 🙂

A new idea I tried this year was putting together a slide show of pictures I had taken throughout the year. The pictures featured students seated at the piano, or playing music games, or moving their magnet on the practice chart, or playing a duet, or holding a photo prop. The slide show ran on the screen above the piano before the recitals began. It was nice for students and parents to have something to do while we waited to begin and also gave a nice little glimpse into the studio. Here are a few examples:

As well as the slide show, I also had music playing before the recital began. I used a playlist on Amazon music called “Classics for Studying”. It was very soothing, but it might have been a touch too solemn! I might try to jazz it up a little more next year.

And that’s it! Another recital in the books!

Recital Tips – How to Help Your Students Shine By Playing with Professionalism

It’s that time of year again! Recital time – a time I approach with a mix of excitement and nerves. We have such high hopes and dreams for all of our students to play well, enjoy the experience and think back on their recital performance in years to come with huge smiles on their faces.

Along with preparing our students to play their pieces technically and musically well, we need to be preparing students to present themselves and their pieces well. In the weeks prior to the recital, I teach my students how to present themselves professionally in a recital.


During the lesson I have the student walk through their performance, complete with sitting in the (imaginary) audience, walking on stage, playing their piece, and walking back to their seats.

Prior to Playing – Checking Details

When the student walks on stage and prepares to play, I have found it helpful to provide a mental checklist:

  1. Is my music in the right spot? Make sure your music is up on the rack, not balancing on the fall board. Also make sure your page turns are ready – if you need to fold up the edges of your pages, do so now.
  2. Is the bench in the right place? Take your time to position it properly.
  3. Put your foot on the pedal and check to make sure it is on the correct pedal.
  4. Check your music once again –  can I see my music?
  5. Put your hand on the keys and double check you are in the right position – look to Middle C to be your guide.

During Your Performance

  1. Make sure your page turns are smooth and quiet -you may have to turn the page early or late and memorize a few measures to ensure a smooth turn. Try not to make the turn noisy – it should be seamless so that if we aren’t watching you we wouldn’t know you just turned a page.
  2. No silences! (Unless specifically indicated in the music). If you have to stop playing to find a hand position or figure out where you are, keep your pedal down to help mask the pause.
  3. If you make a mistake, keep going! Try not to go back to fix anything. If you do, you sacrifice forward momentum and often will make the mistake worse and more noticeable. Keep going and act like you meant to play that!
  4. Facial gestures – don’t give anything away with a sigh or facial gesture that may indicate you are unhappy with what just happened. If you act like everything is fine and you meant to play that – most people will believe you and not even know something was amiss.

How To End Your Performance

  1. When you are finished playing, keep your hands on the keys and your foot on the pedal until you want the sound to end.
  2. When finishing the song, lift your hands up out of the keys, then place them gently into your lap. This is a cue to the audience that you are finished and they may applaud you.

Practice Your Performance

During home practice the student should practice their performance, which means walking through the entire sequence listed above. The student should not stop to fix mistakes when they are practicing the performance. That is reserved for practice/drilling time. I spend a lot of time distinguishing between practice/drilling and practicing the performance. If the student spends too much time drilling they will create a habit to stop and fix mistakes whenever they pop up. We do not want to fix any mistakes during the performance – only forward motion.

Remember – we are on your team! 

Everyone is cheering for you!

A few things I do to help on recital day-

  1. I want every student to walk up on stage before the recital to find their correct starting position. It can be very disorienting to encounter a new piano for the first time when you are sitting down for a performance.
  2. I always go on stage with my young students to make sure their music is positioned correctly, the bench is in the right place, and they begin with their hands in the correct starting position.
  3. I only speak positive words before and after the recital. We can talk about mistakes or poor performances later in the following lesson.
  4. I smile through the entire recital – always showing pleasure in each performance.

A few thoughts post-recital-

My studio recitals were this past weekend, so the student performances are fresh in my mind. I couldn’t believe how well the students performed. Usually there are a few moments in each recital where the unexpected happens – awkward silences, pages falling off the piano, students who start in the wrong place and have to start again. None of this happened yesterday. All the performances put the audience at ease and were enjoyable to listen to, from beginning students on up to advanced students.

I am so grateful. I think the steps mentioned above that we took to prepare students really worked. The students appeared to be confident and well-prepared. I think parents and students alike will look back upon this performance with good memories.

For more thoughts on recital preparation, you may wish to read my post written last spring on Recital Prep. 

Master Class at Colorado University

One of my high school students recently had the opportunity to play for a master class at Colorado University in Boulder. The master class was being taught by several master’s and doctoral students in the program.

My student played the first four pages of Dohnanyi’s Rhapsody in CM, Opus 11, Number 3, which she has only been playing for a few weeks. She played musically and technically well and was quite poised during both the performance and instruction.

The instructor gave her several good tips, including how to jump accurately between the opening octaves and building in a crescendo on the first line.

I love that we live in a collaborating musical community. It is terrific that CU opens its doors to local students to have the opportunity to be coached by a talented teacher, and as a local teacher I feel strongly about supporting our local music college. It was also a great opportunity for my student to catch a small glimpse into the life of a music major and see firsthand what some of the requirements are. She is considering majoring in music, so I was thrilled for her to be on campus mingling with some music students and faculty.

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. 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 “Please talk loudly while I’m playing!” 🙂

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

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: