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


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?

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!

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ “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.” ๐Ÿ™‚

What made you smile this month?


New Studio Resources Part 2

This fall I have had a lot of luck in finding great new resources to use in teaching. It’s been so invigorating to incorporate new ideas and materials. This post is part two and deals more with repertoire, organization, and finds around the web. You can read part one of this post here, which deals primarily with celebrating successes, marketing and a terrific hands-on manipulative.



Wunderkeys is a piano program designed for one-on-one lessons with preschoolers. This is another great offering by Andrea and Trevor Dow at Teach Piano Today. In my studio I have started teaching children as young as four years of age and have bemoaned the fact that there aren’t many choices in piano teaching materials for younger children taking individual lessons. Wunderkeys is a great addition to the field in that it teaches math concepts right along with musical concepts. I wish I had this great resource years ago! You can buy the books on amazon (super convenient). The website (linked above) includes tons of free printables for games to practice note reading, sight reading, etc. My younger students are especially loving the games!


Piano Pronto Keyboard Kickoffย and Power Pages20170927_101747

The Keyboard Kickoff books from Piano Pronto are helpful when needing to review notes with younger beginners or teaching note-reading quickly to older beginners. The book moves students quickly through basic note-reading and rhythm skills. You can buy the digital download (which is what I did) or order the book to be sent through the mail.




A site for downloading piano (and other instruments) sheet music at multiple levels. The pieces are arranged pianistically and layed out beautifully. The website is very user-friendly, and they are constantly adding songs to the collection. I especially like the fact that you can purchase the arrangements at different skill levels. I just found this site, but I have a feeling I will be coming here often.


Tim Topham

Wow – so many great ideas. Looking forward to spending more time deep-diving into his blog. This is where I found out about Noviscore. I’m also very interested in his posts about pop music and group teaching.




I have been seeing Evernote everywhere lately – conversation, blogs, people using it during meetings. When something pops up in your life on a continual basis, you kind of feel like you should investigate a little. Then I read this blog at Piano Pantry. Amy clearly and effectively articulates how to use Evernote in the studio. Last week I thought I would give it a try and start organizing some student information on Evernote. While I am a lover of the hand-written, I have to say I am super excited about this system. I can already tell that my organization is much more clear and refined, and therefore my thinking has been more clear and refined as well. So far Evernote has helped me to organize repertoire more effectively, identify holes in a student’s repertoire or technical skills, collect and organize notes from various meetings and conferences, and clip ideas from around the web. I am excited to see where the possibilities will take me!