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. 🙂 )

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.


Strategically Planning Practice Habits


I recently ran across this article about a Stanford researcher who studied ways to help B+ students raise their grades to As. The overall goal was to teach students to think strategically about how they would study:

“Our key insight in this research is the importance of being goal-directed and thoughtful about how one chooses and uses resources for learning—or to achieve any other goal for that matter,” Chen said.

Not surprisingly, the students who set goals and made a plan to achieve those goals were able to raise their test scores. Those students, when questioned, also said they had less stress taking the exam after they had strategically planned how they would study for the exam.

The article also stresses the importance of self-evaluation:

“In one experiment, 12- and 13-year-olds significantly improved their writing skills by learning to better evaluate the quality of their own work…Kids were taught what makes a good piece of writing and how to critique their own work. ‘Instead of relying on the teacher, they are taught strategies to improve their own writing—that’s the self-regulation,’ said Emily Yeomans, senior program manager at the EEF.”

Self-evaluation is a skill piano teachers have historically stressed. I remember in a college piano pedagogy class being told that my job was to work myself out of a job. That is, if I’m teaching well, my students should learn how to evaluate their own playing and make corrections as needed.

The article suggested the teacher use questions such as these to direct self-evaluation:

“What you are doing doesn’t seem to be working very well. Is there something else you can use that would help you do it better?” or “Look at the way they are doing things. Do you think they could have gone about it in a better way?”

As piano teachers we have an important job and opportunity to help our students learn how to approach piano practice.

  1. We do this first by presenting a quality representation of what the end result of the practice will be – either by playing the piece well yourself or by providing quality recordings on CD or YouTube. (What will the piece sound like when I have played it correctly?)
  2. Then we teach the student the technical and musical components he needs to think about while practicing (What do I need to work on?),
  3. how to practice to accomplish the goal using repetitive, mindful, goal-oriented practice (How will I work on these things?),
  4. and how to evaluate the quality of the practice. (How will I know when I have played this piece correctly?)

All of these aspects need to be discussed at each lesson so that the student has a concrete plan of how to achieve their goals for the week.

Sometimes we make a working list on the musical score of items the student will be working on/listening for during practice. As pictured below, often I will layer concepts to be practiced: here the student worked first on the components listed above the line, then later practiced the components listed below the line.


Personally, I think this job is both thrilling and humbling. The way we help shape our student’s practice habits may potentially shape the student’s study and work skills and help them succeed throughout life in many different paths.


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. 🙂 “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.” 🙂

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 Kickoff 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!

New Studio Resources

Magnetic staff board idea from Susan Paradis

I used Susan’s printouts to create a magnetic board with notes, clefs, flats, sharps, and naturals. This tool has already been so useful in many ways –

  1. Learning about space and line notes
  2. Treble and bass clef placement
  3. Placing specific notes on the staff (find all the C’s, etc.)
  4. Practicing intervals
  5. Building primary chords
  6. Learning how chord inversions work
  7. Building scales, then identifying tonic, dominant, leading tone, etc.
  8. Practicing key signatures

I’m looking forward to figuring out more uses as the year goes by!


Bulletin Board from Hobby Lobby

So fun for creating community, celebrating student successes and displaying art work!



Studio instagram account

A great way to create community in our studio. Feel free to follow!



Photo Props from Teach Piano Today

Super cute way to celebrate student success by displaying these pictures in the studio and on social media.


What I’m Playing / Chaminade


Cecile Chaminade, 1857-1944

Lately I have been playing and enjoying works by Cecile Chaminade. She was an accomplished musician and composer whose piano works enjoyed high acclaim, especially in England and America.  She lived a long and profitable life, writing in the late-Romantic French style.


Chaminade’s Toccata, Opus 39 is wonderful. Lots of sixteenth notes, dynamic variations,  harmonic clarity and features some chromatic movement. It’s keeping my fingers moving these days.


20170912_125419Her Theme and Variations, Opus 89 is also on the top of my list right now. It contains thicker textures, larger chord spans and a wider keyboard range than the Toccata, which I feel makes it a nice, contrasting companion to practice along with the Toccata.

Both are lovely! And both are available for free download on imslp Petrucci Music Library.