Happy Teaching Moments (January 2018)

I always enjoy January lessons so much. After the busy-ness of December, January feels like a dream. We are all ready for fresh new music and are usually quite motivated to buckle down into a daily practice routine. I feel like students generally improve their skills in these winter months quite a bit.

Here are some January studio happenings which made me smile:

  1. Student sight-reading through quite a bit of his method books over Christmas break
  2. New blinds and seating area means bright light and fresh feel
  3. Students jumping off the front steps after lessons – does this ever happen to you? I have a few students who I have recently observed hopping off the front porch steps as they leave the studio. I feel as though this is a happy expression of an enjoyed lesson and my heart jumps for joy when I observe this happiness. 🙂
  4. Teaching old pop songs to young students – “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. So much fun!
  5. Three new students! One seven year old beginner, one sixteen year old advanced student, and…
  6. New adult student who is returning to piano and is excited to practice and play again. Her enthusiasm has motivated her entire family to play again. 🙂


My January soundtrack (some of the pieces/composers I taught this month):

  • Haydn, Sonata in E minor
  • Dohnanyi, Rhapsody in C Major
  • Pachelbel Canon
  • Joplin, The Entertainer
  • Satie, Gymnopedie No. 1
  • Clementi, Sonatina in C
  • Mozart, Minuet and Trio
  • Chopin, Prelude in Db Major “Raindrop Prelude”
  • Beethoven, Six Variations
  • Willy Wonka, Pure Imagination
  • Lord of the Rings, Concerning Hobbits
  • Coldplay, Clocks
  • Yiruma, River Flows in You
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Benjamin Calypso
  • Journey, Don’t Stop Believin’
  • Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline

Pieces I played this month:20180129_141110I picked up level ten of Essential Piano Repertoire and was reminded how a good layout makes such a difference when learning music. I have played both these pieces before but really enjoyed playing them from this edition. 20180129_141008

Hexentanz (Witches’ Dance) Op. 17, No. 2 by MacDowell

What a fantastic piece! Full of fast finger work (more for RH than LH), chromatic double thirds and scales, large dynamic changes, and a wide range of expressive elements. This is an ideal piece for competitions, festivals and recitals.



Sonata L.23 by Domenico Scarlatti

This well-known sonata is cheerful and so fun to play. This colorful piece includes horn calls, Baroque trills, good finger work on repeated notes, and extensive playing at the piano or pianissimo level. Also an excellent choice for public performance.

Books I read this month:


The Practice of Practice by Jonathan Harnum

Wow! This book was so good. I found myself underlining so many passages. I will be publishing a separate post on this book soon!


Prize Bin Ideas

Here is a peek into my prize bin:20180116_110528

Some of the things I like to keep stocked are:

Gel Pens and cute music pencils


Japanese Erasers and other cute erasers


Emoji Stamps


Musical clips/bookmarks


Bubbles, key chains, music bracelets, temporary tattoos


Slap bands


Other fun ideas:

  • Magnets
  • Deflated beach balls
  • Fun finds in the Target dollar spot

You can read about some of the challenges I run throughout the year in which students are able to earn prizes. Click on the “Reward Systems” tab on the right sidebar to find ideas!

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.

Happy Teaching Moments (December 2017)

Though December is a busy time for the piano studio, I am grateful to be part of the craziness. Here is what happened in my studio this month that made me smile:

  1. Christmas Piano Party – always a fun time! Get the details here.
  2. Sweet gifts and notes from students
  3. A teacher in our local teacher association retired and graciously sold her books and teaching supplies for a donation to her retirement fund. 🙂 I was able to pick up a piano footstool, several scores and a book. I have used all of these things many times already!20180129_095502
  4. Break time! Some down time and good novels hit the right note for rest and recovery.

This was the soundtrack of my life in the studio this month:

  • Deck the Halls
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Jolly Old St. Nicholas
  • Over the River
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Away in a Manger
  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • We Three Kings
  • Joy to the World
  • Silent Night
  • Let It Snow
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Feliz Navidad
  • Carol of the Bells
  • O Holy Night
  • Linus and Lucy
  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  • The First Noel
  • God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
  • We Are Santa’s Elves
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain
  • Silent Night
  • Jingle Bells
  • Jolly Old St. Nicholas
  • Jingle Bell Rock
  • There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • River Flows in You
  • What Child Is This
  • Rise Up, Shepherd

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

Six Happy Teaching Moments (November 2017) and Another Book Recommendation

November was a bit of a whirlwind with our major event, the Multiple Piano Festival and a family trip to NYC for Thanksgiving break. The students were excited to learn new Christmas and holiday music, and I loved teaching it to them!

  1. Student playing “River Flows In You” for her grandmother’s memorial service – the grandmother had that song as the ringtone on her phone
  2. High school students adding terms to white board with new terms coined from their names – “drisando” coined from “Drisana” 🙂20171101_093721
  3. After pulling out music from my music cabinet, student remarks: “I didn’t know you actually used those books. I thought they were for show.”
  4. Fourteen students passing auditions to participate in local Multiple Piano Festival28559
  5. Participating for the fifth year in the Multiple Piano Festival, a concert sponsored by our local teacher’s association20171118_203410
  6. Transcribing Christmas music for young students20171108_103637


And the book recommendation:

Language of the Spirit

Usually I read through books pretty quickly. However, this is a book to savor. I have loved every part of this book, and I feel that my interest in classical music has been reawakened. Swafford’s description of composers temperaments and their lives help us remember that composers were people. His analysis of their works is just deep enough to have real substance, but not too deep to get mired down in technical matters. His wider research into world events helps us remember that composers and music are shaped by the world and culture. One of the best parts of the book is Swafford’s recommendations for listening.

I got this book from the library, but I have already put it on my Christmas wish list. This will become a reference book in my studio.

Feel free to leave a note about happy moments in your teaching life!