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!

End of Year Studio Recap

2017-18 was a terrific year in the piano studio. I feel that both the students and I, their teacher made a lot of progress. We enjoyed the learning process, reached goals, and connected in our community. This post describes a few things that helped to make this year successful.

Online presence

I have always enjoyed Facebook and Instagram personally, but I haven’t done much with it for the studio. While I have had a studio Facebook account for many years, this year I created a studio Instagram account and have been blown away with the connection it allowed me to have with teachers around the world. I’m not sure why Instagram allows this connection more than Facebook (probably just me), but it has been so inspiring to see what other teachers are doing and what we have in common. It also allowed me to connect with my studio families in a new way, to show what happens in lessons on a weekly basis. You can find me on instagram at icepianostudio. This is one of my favorite recent posts:

Maintaining and writing this blog also helps me as a teacher. I have a place to record events and explain ideas that help me to think through my own teaching philosophy. The process helps me to make intentional choices in my teaching.


I truly believe that the biggest factor of this successful teaching year has been the use of Evernote. This past fall I came across this post by Amy Chaplin, and decided to give Evernote a try. In the past I had tried paper records, Excel records and (ahem) no records. Using Evernote helps me to organize students and teaching materials and to cross-reference in a way that helps me see similarities in students. Grouping students and materials helps me to see more clearly what I can be using with all my students and also gives me more ideas for individual students.


One-minute flashcard challenge – many teachers run this challenge each year. This is how it works in our studio. 

Sightreading challenge – a new challenge this year. We used the sightreading cards from Piano Safari and had lots of fun. Read about it here. 

Making sticker badges – I gave out sticker badges for both the flashcard and sightreading challenges. The students proudly display them on their studio binders!

Power of the prize – keeping a fully-stocked prize bin is key!

Studio materials

New bookshelves helped me to see and access materials more easily

Wunderkeys games and printables – these resources have been so good for younger students. I can easily access games and worksheets to get students off the bench and to work on specific concepts.

Dozen a Day – more than a year ago I wrote this post about why I love the “Dozen a Day” series. My thoughts in that post still ring true today. Most of my students use these books for their technique work. I love that young students have success with the “Mini Book”, working on technique and solidifying reading skills, and older students learn new concepts and develop strong technique with the higher level books. I definitely encourage every teacher to give them a try!

Magnetic music staff – the clef signs and whole notes are magnetic, so it’s easy to quickly manipulate the board to teach. I used this set from the wonderful Susan Paradis, which also contains sharps and flats. 

Photo props from Teach Piano Today – these are so fun! Students love to have their picture taken with these fun props. I often use them to highlight student accomplishments on my Instagram page and also print a hard copy to hang in the studio.

The business

Zelle – I started accepting Zelle and similar banking payments this year. It has been nice to offer another way for families to make payments, and this system has been very good so far!


I have a category in this blog titled “Happies”, where I post monthly studio happenings that made me smile. This has been a boost to me personally because I am constantly on the lookout for happy moments. These are usually the simple, everyday things that occur – maybe a student says something funny, or we appreciate the longer daylight hours. But to me, these are the moments of my life, and I want to acknowledge and embrace the happiness that comes everyday.

I would love to hear your success stories! Feel free to leave a comment!

Sightreading Challenge

This spring I tried a new sightreading challenge in the studio. I used the sightreading cards from Piano Safari and designed a simple punch card using Word.

The sightreading cards are a wonderful resource. I considered making my own sightreading pages but was pleased to find these. There are three main levels in the Piano Safari sightreading cards (labeled 1-3), each containing multiple levels within (labeled A-R), Each alphabetical label contains 14-16 cards. The level sequencing is developmentally sound, gradually increasing from off-staff reading to hand separate playing to hands together playing in different keys. I also love the dedicated rhythm reading at the bottom of each card.

I set up the sightreading challenge in this way: I made a chart in Excel with each student’s name and sixteen squares to be colored in upon the completion of each card. Most students were able to finish two cards per lesson. I didn’t want to do many more than that per lesson so as not to take up too much lesson time.

In the lesson I would place the card on the piano. With younger students, I would work through the card with them. In the rhythm section, I would point to the rhythm and tap my hand simultaneously to assist the student. With older students, I would give them thirty seconds or so to place their hands in the correct position and practice silently on top of the keys. I would usually tap along with the student in the rhythm section.

After completing sixteen sightreading challenges, students earned a reward, completed their punch cards, earned a badge and finished coloring in their charts.

I made business card-sized sticker badges to hand out to students upon completion of the challenge. I created these in Word and printed them out on sticker paper. Students enjoyed placing them in various places on their studio binders.

I really do believe the sightreading challenge has helped the students improve their reading skills. A little reading challenge in each lesson helps solidify treble and bass clef notes for younger students; and for older students it give them short exercises in different keys.

Some of the benefits:

  1. Separating parts of music – I really thought the dedicated rhythm tapping at the bottom of each card was helpful.
  2. Quick deep dive on intervals – students were asked to identify different intervals, which was an excellent quick review.
  3. Short exercises – the students felt the cards were games, not drudgery at all
  4. Reward – always helpful in motivating students!
  5. Rhythm tapping – I could easily identify weaknesses pertaining to an individual student or to many students. (Some examples – an individual student had trouble tapping both hands together. A few students struggled with the dotted quarter note rhythm.) Having identified these weaknesses, it was easier to concentrate on these skills in the lesson.

Things to do differently next time – I would probably not do so many cards – maybe only ten total. Since we only played through two cards per week, this made the challenge pretty long – about eight weeks.

Student comments:

  • “I like doing those.”
  • “The rhythm tapping is so fun!”
  • “I’m getting better at tapping rhythms.”
  • “I really think I’m getting better at reading music.”
  • “Sightreading is always fun!”

One student asked to continue sightreading upon completing the challenge. This makes me happy!


A Look At My Studio

I always enjoy a peek into other studios to see how other teachers use their space. Here’s a peek into my studio and the things I use every day –

  • My Kawai grand piano (bought on craigslist!)
  • Computer
  • iPad – used for games and Moosic invoicing app
  • Notebook – used to jot down quick ideas, notes, reminders

Next to the bookshelf is:

  • Printer – Dell E525w
  • Hole puncher
  • Floor fan – used to block noise from the rest of the house (my family usually aren’t very noisy, but the fan helps to dampen some sound)
  • Printer paper
  • Paper cutter

  • Pencils
  • Highlighter
  • Clock
  • Footstool

This cute little shelf is next to my teaching space. It holds lots of things:

  • Office supplies such as 3M flags, paper clips, more pens, pencils and highlighters, stapler and staples, hole punch, Scotch tape
  • Personal items such as Carmex, ibuprofen, cough drops, tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Metronome
  • Flashcards
  • Magnetic staff
  • Stickers
  • Music stamps
  • My daughters’ music binders
  • Photo props

On the windowsill above the little shelf are my Japanese erasers and my all-important mug warmer. 🙂

The keyboard with headphones – students practice while siblings take lessons

Fun things to keep waiting siblings occupied:

  • Sketch book
  • Wipe-off puzzles
  • Extreme Dot to Dot
  • Zolocolor

I spy Beethoven! And Liszt!

Little chest with puzzles

Table and chairs with lots of colored pencils, pencils, pens and Twistables for those who are waiting.

Candy dish!

Closet filled with:

  • Practice chart
  • Professional magazines
  • Binders with music
  • Miscellaneous files (and items waiting to be organized!)
  • Office supplies such as scissors, dry erase fluid, wet wipes
  • Manipulatives such as blocks, dice, craft sticks, etc.
  • Extra flashcards, music dictionaries, business cards
  • Rolling cart
    • Top drawer contains prizes
    • Middle drawer contains music games
    • Bottom drawer contains more puzzles and supplies
  • CD player

Big whiteboard which is used for multiple things – terms board, flashcard challenge, sightreading challenge, etc.

Little table with:

  • Magnetic bass and treble clef
  • Dry erase markers
  • Bean bags

I use curtains to separate the studio space from the rest of the house. The curtains serve well to dampen sound both ways and to give privacy to both spaces.

And there it is! 🙂

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.