Monday, January 25, 2016

Prepping Students for Recitals

It's that time of year when I'm preparing my students for our big Spring solo recital.  This is the biggest recital of the year for my students and a lot of preparation goes into getting ready.  I was excited to see an idea from an amazing piano teacher, Karen Hunter, who gave me a lot of great ideas for my violin students as well and I've asked her to write today's post:

The week my students choose their spring recital pieces is (by my students’ own admission) a highlight in my piano studio.  I teach 70 students in three teaching venues, so I begin the music “vetting” process in summer.  Two of my three recitals have themes, so the selection process is slightly easier for those recitals.  Students spend much of their first lesson of the new year listening to me play recital piece options and, ultimately, they select one.

The Saturday morning before lessons resumed in 2016, I spent some time perusing piano teaching ideas on Pinterest.  Something I read triggered the thought that if students are to spend 12 l-o-n-g weeks working on a single song to perform at the spring recital, perhaps it would be beneficial to have the students get familiar with the song and its composer before learning to play it.

That thought morphed into the creation of the “Recital Piece Hunt” worksheet which students were to complete for the second lesson of the new year.  Reviewing students’ responses with them provided many teachable moments.  For example:
  • Younger students discovered that songs have a “form”—a kind of map of a piece.
  • Many students were reminded that a song without sharps or flats may not necessarily be in the Key of C Major.  This resulted in a review of relative major and minor scales.
  •  Students became acquainted with the various “articulations” used in their pieces.  What exactly is tenuto?
  • Students googled “rubato” and other unfamiliar performance instructions.
  • We discussed metronome markings and googled the definition of circa (as in ♪=ca.60).
  •  Younger students were skeptical that a quarter note could receive two beats (in 3/8 or 6/8 time). 
  • One student couldn’t wait to tell me that her composer (Robert Vandall) had a wife whose name was Karen!  Same as you, Mrs. Hunter!

Download here

As my students proceed with learning their pieces, I’m confident that they have adequate background into their pieces and their composers.

To provide students with a “visual” of their progress in learning their pieces, I created “Scoops to a Great Performance” contest cards.  As students move from hands apart to hands together, from slow to performance tempo, to adding pedal and dynamics, I mark another scoop on their 7-scoop cone.  When the piece is performance-ready and (hopefully) memorized, the student receives a token for a free scoop of custard from our local custard stand.  Prepping a piece for performance is a step-by-step process.  I hope this contest encourages my students every step of the way!

Download Here

Monday, January 18, 2016

Another Way to do Repetitions

This is a great idea that is perfect for smaller repetitions, like playing a whole piece or large sections of a piece....

Today when we were practicing I felt like my daughter needed to break down her piece into three main parts and practice them 5 times each.  I oversee her practice and help her when she needs it, but she is responsible for doing the bulk of the practicing on her own so this is how we decided to keep track of her repetitions each day.  We put 5 post-it flags on her music and she just moves them for each repetition.  Easy as that.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Practice Ideas

Sometimes you just need to add some spice to practicing.  Here are what some of my teacher friends did with their practicing this week:

Katie Mattox from Mattix Music Studio:Having trouble getting back into practice? Make work into a game! Here's our "train station game" from today with small tasks written on each station. Once you complete the practice goal or task, drive your train to the next station. We had to have a chocolate at the end, of course!

Asheley Watabe with The Gifted Music School, Sotto Voce Strings and Rocky Mountain Strings: It's a super hero matching game-- every time Jack does a task he gets to turn over one cup to see if he finds a match.... There are 20 cups! It's awesome!

Kelly Stewart with The Gifted Music School: A few years back Koen Rens gave a silent masterclass. I loved how he used his violin to speak to the kids and communicate what he wanted them to do. We tried it at home. Genius! Suddenly she couldn't sass, and more importantly, I couldn't YELL.

Stacy Smith with the Gifted Music School and President-Elect of the Suzuki Association of Utah: Today's practice game: Uno cards. Grab a bunch of uno cards. Get a bunch of different numbers, limit the word cards. Line them up on the stand. The kid picks the card, you pick what they do. For example: 5. "Ok, now you're going to play 5 A major scales." 3: "3 review pieces with a perfect wrist." Big numbers are great for now exercises. Word cards are something you do- I usually demonstrated something but have awful posture. They always fix it! I forgot about this game until today, it worked wonders with my 5 year old. We got 45 min in without complaint.

Do you have a fun and easy practice game you'd like to share?  Send a brief description and a quick photo to

Monday, January 4, 2016

I'm a Little Monkey Chart

I was going through some old pictures and found this one of my student, Gavin.  It reminded me of my favorite pre-twinkle chart.  I posted about it a while back, but I wanted to rehash it because it's such a great idea!

First of all, I give my students LOTS of these charts - like 10 or 20.  They cut it up into strips and mark off a monkey every time they play I'm a Little Monkey.  When they are done with a strip they tape it to another strip to make a really long ladder.  I love this because it gives the student a visual goal of what to work on and a fun visual reward when it's done.  Here is my daughter after she finished her chart:
Find this and lots of other printable charts and ideas at  Always free to download!