One-Minute Flashcard Challenge

In February we ran the one-minute flashcard challenge. I like to run this challenge periodically to do a little check-up on note-naming among my students. February is a good time to do this because it gives an opportunity for the students to earn an extra prize in those long weeks between Christmas and spring break when it seems not much is happening.

This year the flashcard challenge was divided into three levels:

  1. Level 1 – beginning students who have just started learning notes on the staff and do not know them all yet. They are required to name and play only the notes they know in one minute.
  2. Level 2 – students who can name all the notes on the staff, but are not proficient yet. These students are given a minute and a half to name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef.
  3. Level 3 – these are more advanced students who can name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef in one minute or less.

A little note about why I have my students both name and play the note…I have found that while lots of students can easily name the notes, it is quite another thing to be able to locate that note on the piano. And that’s actually the point of learning the notes – being able to play those notes that show up in our music in the right place on the keyboard.

Each student that completed the challenge (and they all did!) was rewarded a prize and signed their name on the white board. Everyone likes to see their own name displayed, and the board creates a sense of community within the studio as students check out who accomplished the challenge.

The record time was 23 seconds (24 cards in 23 seconds!) and was a tie between a competitive brother and sister. This ended up being a lot of fun as I shared with the other students how the brother and sister kept beating each other and asking to try again. A little competition can be a good thing!

Thanks to Susan Paradis for the flashcard download and for the One-Minute Club Cards! I made the cards into stickers using this printer paper and placed them on/in my students’ binders as a reminder of their accomplishment, kind of like a badge. 


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.

Favorite Beautiful Modern Piano Music for Teens

I’m always on the lookout for solid supplemental material to engage my teenage students. Whether it’s pop music, sound tracks or modern piano music, I want teens to be able to play music they connect with and want to play for others. Today I’m going to highlight some of our favorite beautiful and lyrical modern piano pieces for teenage students.

Sheet Music:

River Flows in You by Yiruma – this piece has enjoyed huge popularity lately, for good reason. This arrangement is very pianistic and fairly easy to learn.

100 Years by Five for Fighting – recognizable and lovely tune

A Thousand Years by Christina Perri -beautiful melody used in the Twilight movie series

Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills – a older piece with a sweet, music-box melody

Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar -throwing it back old school style. This piece is featured in the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War”. The melody is hauntingly beautiful and is terrific for teaching phrasing.

Hallelujah Cohen/Keveren – most teens recognize this tune and love to play this arrangement. Philip Keveren for the win.

Stars and Wind by Catherine Rollin – a newer addition to our studio. Very beautiful, pattern-based melody.

Over the Rainbow by Iz – the arrangement linked here on Noviscore features three different levels.



The Kingdom Series by Emily Elizabeth Black – music for the books of the same name. We especially like “The Dawn” and “Call to Courage”.

Dark Night of the Soul by Philip Wesley – new age style music. The book is available as a downloadable PDF file. Our favorites from the book are the title piece “Dark Night of the Soul” and “The Approaching Night”.

Favorite Solos Book 3 by Robert Vandall – contains some beautiful, lyrical pieces, most notably “Lydian Nocturne”, “Consolation” and “Dream Catcher”.


I feel strongly that all of my students should have at least one piece in their repertoire at all times that they can sit down and play for their own enjoyment. I frequently ask my students “What piece do you play for your own enjoyment?” Some of these pieces listed here have ended up on my students’ playlists.



Practice Challenge 2017/18

As we all know, one of our top challenges as music teachers is motivating our students to practice. Happily, some students are intrinsically motivated and will come to lessons well-practiced and well-prepared. When this happens I can hear the angels in heaven singing and can see the planets aligning in orbit. 🙂

But most of us need a little push. The best way to reinforce a behavior is to reward it. Fortunately, with a little planning, some excitement from the teacher and a prize basket stocked by Amazon, we can reinforce a healthy practice routine somewhat easily.20180116_170513

This year my practice challenge was modeled on last year’s challenge. As I evaluated last year’s challenge, I felt the students had responded well to the challenge and achieved a rhythm of weekly practice because of it. This point became a criteria I use in developing a practice challenge: “Can the student develop a weekly practice rhythm?” This means, does the practice challenge help students develop practice skills which can be consistently maintained. 20180116_085335

Other criteria I ask when developing the practice challenge:

  1. Will the reward be sufficient to encourage practice? How often will the student be rewarded?
  2. What happens if a student exceeds my expectations? Are there extra goals/prizes to work for?20180116_085353

20180116_104557The Plan

Since the challenge was based on last year’s challenge, the plan was very similar to what I had used last year. It went like this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second – eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a line or space on the staff for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prize in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded when the student reached the top of treble clef. This was 2300 minutes practiced, or 115 practice sessions for younger students.


Some students have already completed the board once and are starting over. They were awarded the DQ gift card and given a colored ribbon to designate the fact that they have completed the board and are on their second round.

Results so far

So far most students have been motivated to practice at least 100 minutes a week, or in the case of younger students, 5 practice sessions. The students seem to be enjoy earning a small prize, even if it’s just a cute little eraser or pencil. Having practice goals help to define their practice sessions, and we talk a lot in the lesson about what to do in practice. The best part about practicing is…you get better! In the end that is the best and most fulfilling reward of all.


The treble and bass clef cut outs are from Susan Paradis. The magnetic push pins are from Amazon. 

Other Practice Challenge Ideas

If you would like to read about other practice challenges from previous years, follow these links:

2013-14 The Wall of Wow and recap

2014-15 Bead Chains

2015-16 Brag Tags

2016-17 Practice Challenge

Piano Music for One Hand

We’ve all received this email or phone call: “My daughter broke her hand yesterday. Should we still come for piano lessons?”

My answer is always: “Of course!”

There are so many things we do in lessons, I always kind of find it funny that there is a question whether the student should still attend their lesson. Not only can we use the lesson time to work on naming/identifying notes, practicing rhythm, or having fun with theory or ear training games, there are lots of things to be done at the piano with the one good hand. Sometimes we will play through the student’s method book with me playing the part for their injured hand.  And it can be an excellent time to dig deeper into developing better technique for the healthy hand, since that hand is naturally isolated.

I have also used books especially designed to be used with students who are playing with just one hand or with one hand and possibly a finger or thumb on the injured hand/arm. Here is a look at my collection of music for one hand:

These books vary in their approaches. The piece shown below, Simple Gifts, I used just this fall with a student who had broken her left hand. We used the fingering written above the notes and modified some of the bass clef to accommodate the size of her hand. As you can see, you can also play the piece with the left hand and use the fingering written below the notes.This piece is from the book Hey, Look!…One Hand! by Elaine Lebar. Some pieces for one hand have a simple one-note melody written for the injured hand/arm, as shown below. This piece is from the book Just For Fun by Jeanine Yeager. There are also some amazingly difficult transcriptions of traditional classical repertoire, which I think would be interesting to try some day. The piece shown is from the book Piano Music for One Hand edited by Raymond Lewenthal. 

Sometimes hand/arm breaks can be just the thing to get your student thinking about practicing and playing the piano in a whole new way.

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

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.” 🙂

How do you organize your store of music?