Showing posts with label lessons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lessons. Show all posts


πŸ…Top 5 Prizes for Young Piano Students (and Young at Heart)

October 27, 2022 0 Comments

As a middle schooler, I remember being so excited when my piano teacher, Billie, pulled out her sticker collection. She had made a scale chart with magic marker and as I learned my scales and increased the octaves, I got to pick a sticker to add to the grid. As I learned pieces, I would also put a sticker on the page to show completion. 

When I was watching an episode of Franklin, the titular character and Beaver's piano teacher, Ms. Panda, motivated students with stickers.  As they practiced, the star stickers would add up on the studio chart.  

An anecdote I heard was a student who slumped after completing a piece for her teacher. When the teacher asked why, the student replied that her friend had a huge sticker collection from her piano teacher and that was the reason she started taking lessons in the first place!

Below I have compiled my top 5 prizes for young piano students that have motivated my students over the years. I hope you find inspiration in this post! 

1. Stickers

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #1 Stickers

When I started teaching piano lessons, I traveled to churches, homes, and schools.  My sticker collection would slide around in my backpack and the sheets would bend and ruin the stickers. Since the sticker sheets measured 4"x6", I had the idea to buy a photo brag book!  This small photo album was not glamorous. It was green with a blue border and completely plastic.  

My system was a hit, but I am on my third brag book because the pages are pretty fragile. 

Stickers are rewarded for

  • Six days of practice during the week OR completion of the assignment, whichever comes first. 
  • Satisfactory completion of a song from the method book
  • Completion of a piece or song for the repertoire list
  • Memorizing a piece
  • Extra credit: any assignment I didn't get to assign during the lesson gets double stickers

2. Toys

Now that I teach from home, I have also added a prize box.  The prize box is for large achievements and events. These achievements include 
  • joining my studio
  • completion of a book
  • showing above and beyond knowledge of a subject during a pop quiz (scales, theory, etc.)
  • birthdays
  • "Joining my Studio" anniversary
  • Completion of bingo boards, tic tac toe boards, and other challenges assigned during breaks
When I purchase the prizes, I try to have each toy cost about 30 cents or less. 

Examples of prizes are 
    Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #2 Toys
  • Small containers of Play-Doh
  • Keychain Plushies
  • Iwako Erasers
  • Clearance Holiday items from the drug store (erasers, stamps, pens)
  • Entire Sticker Sheets

3. Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets 

At the end of each method book, a certificate on the last page is signed and dated for completion. But what about when the students finish the method series or decide to move on from them? 
Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #3 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
I learned about Recorder Karate from students I taught general music to one summer.  I had asked the older elementary students to bring their recorders and I noticed that they had colored strings on the ends in the colors of karate levels.  Their elementary school music teacher gave them a "belt" when they fulfilled a level of proficiency on the recorder. 

I have since rewarded "white belts" to a couple of students for completing the Preparatory level as described by the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) Piano Syllabus.  I particularly use the repertoire, ear training, music theory, and sight playing requirements as benchmarks. I have decided that one octave scales are sufficient for elementary level students, so I pace technique very differently than RCM.  

I try to follow this syllabus very loosely as I don't want to prevent a student from learning harder pieces than the syllabus lists.  However, it is a comprehensive guideline for benchmarks. It is also helpful for having an ordered curriculum that builds on itself, leaving no skills behind. 

It's also very fun to see their eyes light up when they receive the bracelet. My newest idea is to tie the bracelets around a plushie keychain prize.  

I may provide my benchmarks in a future post, but I have decided the belt colors in order, once again loosely based on RCM levels Preparatory (A and B combined) through 10.  I also take into account the repertoire difficulty opinions of Jane Magrath in Pianists Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature, Faber Developing Artist series, and Jennifer Linn's Journey through the Classics series.

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #3 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
Preparatory - White Belt
Elementary Levels - Yellow Belt, Orange Belt, Green Belt
Intermediate Levels - Blue Belt, Purple Belt, Brown Belt, Red Belt
Advanced Levels - 1st Degree Black Belt, 2nd Degree Black Belt, 3rd Degree Black Belt

4. Skeleton Key Cards for Scales

I use the ideas on Joy Morin's Music Keys Matching Worksheets & More post on her blog (this is my favorite piano teaching blog and I have used many of her worksheets and resources in my studio for over 8 years). 

Her skeleton keys and padlock printable gives you an opportunity to reward each scale that a student learns.  

5. Roses

Top 5 Prizes for Piano Students: #5 Piano Karate Friendship Bracelets
At the end of recitals, I like to break up a bouquet of roses and hand one to each student for our group picture.  

Incentives are a huge part of encouraging children to practice and participate in piano lessons.

What did your piano teacher use to motivate you?  What are incentives you use in your own studio? What are your top 5 prizes for your piano students?



πŸ“š 8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons πŸ‘©‍🏫

April 07, 2022 0 Comments
8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons

Beginner piano lessons are foundational for music reading skills, healthy technique, and audiating music. While there are many great resources for teaching beginner piano, the following have been effective and engaging for my students. Listed below are my beginner piano curriculum must-haves. 

1. Piano Adventures Method

8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons: Piano Adventures Method
The Piano Adventures Basic Method is comprised of 8 levels (Primer, Level 1, Level 2A, Level 2B, Level 3A, Level 3B, Level 4, and Level 5). There are 4 core books per level; I typically assign two. Recently, I have chosen the Technique & Artistry books. The exercises provided are fun and give detailed instructions and fun illustrations for executing many different articulations in a healthy way. 

I appreciate the progressive difficultly of reading skills, the colorful pictures, and the amusing lyrics in this series. It also has backing tracks for each piece for free on the Piano Adventures Digital Cloud.  Many duets are written in the books for the teacher and student to play together. I love the duets because I believe providing ensemble experience is a cornerstone of music education.  

In addition to the Basic Method for elementary-aged children, Piano Adventures has additional methods specially designed for preschoolers, teenagers, and adults. They are adapted to the learning styles of each age group and enter into the Basic Method at various points. For example, the adult method prepares beginner pianists for Lesson Book 3B in the basic method. 

Click here for a PDF showing all of the Piano Adventures publications and how they relate. Stay tuned for reviews of the various method series from Faber Piano Adventures

2. Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards
Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards

This set has 89 cards. This deck has all the concepts a beginner student will learn in the method books. They reinforce note reading on the treble and bass clefs, common musical terms, rhythms symbols, and articulations. 

To use the Alfred Complete Color-Coded Flashcards, I mark the answer side with a color-coded number. The colors match the Piano Adventures book in which the concept is first introduced and the number matches the unit.  This way during a lesson, I can quickly pull the current flashcards.

3. Note Rush app 

Note Rush App Icon
Note Rush is a cool app for quizzing notes on any instrument. Using various themes, such as bugs, outer space, and holidays, Note Rush shows you notes on the grand staff one by one and hears you play the note. You do not need a MIDI cable to use this app, but it does have that feature if you would like it.  You are able to turn the timed test feature on and off and build your own quizzes that can be shared with your student to practice at home via a link or QR code. 

4. Board Games

Ice Cream Intervals by Joy Morin Example
My favorite resource for music games is Joy Morin's Color In My Piano blog. My favorite games are Grand Staff Pass, Ice Cream Intervals, and The Amazing Keyboard Race. Another resource I have is The Big Book of Music Games that has games to copy, color, and assemble on file folders. While it is more geared toward general music class, it has many games suitable for 2 players as well. 

5. Elective Book

Faber Supplementary Library
I firmly believe in providing students with additional piano literature outside of the method books. The more the better and I do count working on extra music as practice time. The reason is that self-guided learning in conjunction with enthusiasm for the music quickly builds neural passageways and takes away the drudgery that can often accompany the thought of an upcoming practice session.

As I think back to learning how to play piano, I loved having a library of piano books at my level and beyond. I pushed myself to learn "My Heart Will Go On" from a book of popular piano songs.  I worked on the Faber ShowTime to BigTime Library series books spanning pop, jazz, classical arrangements, ragtime, hymns and Christmas music.  The experience I gained from regularly playing for enjoyment allowed me to progress through intermediate piano literature very quickly. I love to lend my books to my students and I also encourage them to build a music library at home comprised of exciting music books.

6. Theory Worksheets

The Staff, Clefs, and Ledger Lines Worksheet
There are many theory books available for students, but personally, I enjoy making my own curriculum or finding free worksheets from other piano teachers. The most helpful resource for creating my own curriculum has been Joy Morin's Music Symbols Pack. You can drag and drop the symbols from the file into a word processor and create very professional and polished worksheets for your students. I have assigned theory lessons from and created an accompanying worksheet to have the student apply the information learned practically. I love because it also allows you to build your own theory quizzes and share the link with your students to use on their computers at home. 

7. Music Learning Theory 

Have you ever experienced a piano student adding an extra beat to the last note of each measure in 3/4 time?  What about a student who is unable to distinguish D major from D minor, missing the F# each time and not even noticing? If so, I believe understanding and implementing the concepts of Music Learning Theory by Dr. Edwin E. Gordon will be very helpful to your students. 

I was introduced to Music Learning Theory by my elementary school general music teacher.  We would sing major and minor patterns and chant rhythms.  When I was older, I read a post on the Color in my Piano blog (if you haven't noticed, I adore this blog), about Music Learning Theory and immediately recalled my elementary music classes. I firmly believe in the importance of teaching piano students to sing because it prevents simply decoding the notes to press the correct "buttons".  I have had transfer students unable to tell if they missed a note and unable to feel the difference between duple and triple meters.

The resources on The Improving Musician website are very helpful tools for learning to audiate various tonalities. Check out this resource explaining the process. 

8. Exploring Improvisation and Composition

I have not yet created a printed curriculum for improvisation and composition, but I am brainstorming.  Typically, for the first lesson, I play chords on the black keys and ask the student to play any black keys. For later lessons, I play a white key-based chord progression (I, V, vi, IV or I7, vi7, ii7, V7) and ask my student to play white keys in any order.  The main issue for my students has been confidence and not being willing to make mistakes, even though with the black key improvising, you really can't make a mistake. 

This is one of the main reasons why Music Learning Theory has become so important to me. It helps students to have musical ideas (audiation) and the ability to recreate them on their instrument and with their voice. As another plug for Music Learning Theory: my brothers and I are all improvisers and composers on our respective instruments, and while some people would say we're genetically all musical, I say it's because we all had the same general music teacher growing up. 

For me, improvisation and composition are staples to my musical life. I post my compositions and arrangements to SoundCloud and Sheet Music Plus for fun.  None of those compositions would exist without my initial improvisation to create those ideas.  The composition aspect develops those ideas and creates a coherent piece that becomes a score.  I work hard to impart this skill to all of my students. I hope to teach them music notation software such as MuseScore and the free Apple DAW, GarageBand, so that they also can become composers. 

In Conclusion

I use many resources to build my beginner piano curriculum.  It is not simply piano, it is also games, singing, moving, creating, and collaborating. 

Stay tuned for my intermediate and advanced piano curriculum must-haves!

What are materials are essential to your piano curriculum? Let me know in the comments!