11.26.2022

๐ŸƒLesson Hacks: Label Your Flashcards for Quick Sorting

November 26, 2022 0 Comments
Alfred's Complete Color Coded Flash Cards for All Beginning Music Students
Labeled flashcard
When you have a solid block of students, sorting the correct flashcards can be difficult and time-consuming. To avoid using up precious lesson time sorting flashcards, I color-coded and numbered them! 

Below is a complete list of the Alfred's Complete Color Coded Flash Cards for All Beginning Music Students with the matching color-coded Piano Adventures Basic Method level and unit numbers. I wrote the numbers on the bottom right corner on the numbered side of each card. 

If you use a different piano method, I hope that this idea can still be helpful for you. 


Alfred's Complete Color Coded Flash Cards and Piano Adventures Correlation Chart


Link to PDF version


Key

Primer 

Level 1

Level 2A

Level 2B

Level 3A

Level 3B

Level 4

Level 5


Symbol

Card

Faber

Canary

Treble Clef Sign

1

4

Bass Clef Sign

2

4

Bass Clef:

Low C

3

1

Low D

4

5

Low E

5

5

Low F

6

5

Low G

7

10

A

8

10

B

9

10

C

10

8

D

11

8

E

12

8

F

13

5

G

14

6

A

15

6

B

16

6

Middle C

17

4

D

18

6

E

19

6

Treble Clef:

A

20

6

B

21

1

Middle C

22

4

D

23

5

E

24

5

F

25

5

G

26

4

A

27

1

B

28

1

C

29

2

D

30

3

E

31

2

High F

32

3

High G

33

3

High A

34

5

High B

35

5

High C

36

1

Pink

Single Eighth Note

37

3

Eighth Notes

38

1

Quarter Note

39

2

Dotted Quarter Note

40

8

Half Note

41

2

Dotted Half Note

42

3

Whole Note

43

2

Eighth Rest

44

7

Quarter Rest

45

10

Half Rest

46

5

Whole Rest

47

5

2/4 Time Signature

48

2

3/4 Time Signature

49

6

4/4 Time Signature

50

5

White

Adagio

51

7

Andante

52

7

Moderato

53

7

Allegro

54

7

Ritardando

55

9

A tempo

56

2

Pianissimo

57

9

Piano

58

2

Mezzo Piano

59

2

Mezzo Forte

60

3

Forte

61

2

Fortissimo

62

3

Crescendo

63

2

Diminuendo

64

2

Accent

65

10

Green

Sharp Sign

66

6

Flat Sign

67

6

Natural Sign

68

1

Fermata

69

4

Pedal Sign

70

1

8va

71

4

Staccato Note

72

1

Slur

73

1

Tied Notes

74

9

Repeat Sign

75

2

Repeat Signs

76

5

D.C. al Fine

77

4

Blue

Melodic & Harmonic Intervals:

2nd

78

5

3rd

79

7

4th

80

4

5th

81

4

6th

82

3

7th

83

3

Octave

84

8

Key Signature:

C Major or A Minor

85

4

G Major or E Minor

86

5

D Major or B Minor

87

5

F Major or D Minor

88

10

B-flat major or G Minor

89

Level 5


How did this resource help you? If you found this resource helpful, please share with a friend!

What are your lesson hacks? Let me know in the comments! 

Until next time,

-Jenny

11.22.2022

๐Ÿ˜ Free Printable: Harmony Street

November 22, 2022 0 Comments

What is Harmony Street?

Harmony Street is a fun visual and introduction in the form of an analogy for explaining scale degrees, chords in solfรจge, quality, cadences, and chord functions in a diatonic major scale to young students. 

My goal is to provide an early understanding of chord relationships to preparatory level piano students. I believe that the earlier a student has an understanding of chord functions, the earlier they can improvise and compose. This is also helpful with analyzing music, giving a framework for understanding a piece and supporting solid memorization. 

This is a free printable for use in your studio and may be distributed freely to your students. Please do not alter this printable in any way. Please do not repost as your own work. If you repost on your website, please link back to my blog. Always keep the copyright notification at the bottom of the pages.

If you have feedback or typo corrections, please email me at jennifermeltonpiano@gmail.com. I would love to read your comments and any suggestions for modifications.

11.18.2022

๐Ÿ“‘ Free: Piano Lesson Notes Email Template

November 18, 2022 0 Comments

This is my typical email template for weekly piano lesson notes. I add and subtract categories as needed. For kids, I really enjoy finding matching emojis for each song.

I prepare my notes ahead of time based on my lesson plan to save time after the lesson. If the lesson goes differently than I planned, I will make a note of it in my notebook. 

Feel free to copy and paste this for your piano lesson notes emails!


To: parent@somewhere.com
Subject: Lesson Notes MM/DD/YYYY

Dear Student, 

In today's lesson, we learned about tempo and beat. Practice clapping the beat along with songs at home. I am so proud of your progress so far. Continue practicing 6 days a week or until your assignment is completed. 

Assignments
Technique: Learn the C 5-Finger Scale.

Lesson Book #, p. 1-2
๐Ÿ‘ Mary Had A Little Lamb - Transpose to the key of G.
๐ŸŒŸTwinkle, Twinkle Little Star - remember to stretch 4th finger to G, 5th finger will play A. 

๐Ÿฐ Disney Book
⛄ Do You Want to Build a Snowman? - learn the first line for the next lesson. 

Listening: Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Flashcards to Add
Middle C 
Treble G 
Bass F
Treble Clef
Bass Clef

Worksheet: Print and complete the attached notespeller for the next lesson. 

App: Rhythm Cat Lite, Stage 1, Levels 1 and 2. Aim for 3 stars! ☆☆☆

Resource: Check out MusicTheory.net

Have a great week!
--
Jane Doe
Piano Teacher, Jane Doe Piano Studio
janedoepianostudio.co


I hope you like using this template for your piano lesson notes. Do you use email for piano lesson notes? Why or why not? What are some categories you include in your notes?

11.15.2022

๐Ÿ“‹ How to Get a Chicago Home-Based Business License

November 15, 2022 0 Comments
๐Ÿ“‹ How an Independent Piano Teacher Got a Chicago Business License

When I applied for my Chicago business license, I had no idea what I was doing. Zoning laws differ in every locale and vary in restrictiveness, and Chicago is very strict. The city says that everyone conducting business in the city must have a business license, so that means independent music teachers teaching out of their homes. 


I wanted to start my home-based piano studio in my apartment legally and with as little cost as possible. I couldn't imagine the heartbreak of being closed down and unable to serve the students that I love encouraging. My purpose for this post is to help guide Chicago-based piano teachers pursue a business license in Chicago. 


Important Note: This blog post is not legal advice. After writing this, I found this excellent checklist from a local accounting firm. Please use this! It's very straightforward and detailed. 


You will work through the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP).

 

Step 1: Check your zoning designation. 

  1. Check this website: Chicago Zoning Website. RS followed by a number is residential. Mine was RS-3.
  2. Apply for a Home-Based Business License and select the Musician category. 

Step 2: Determine your organization.

I decided to be a sole proprietorship with a DBA. Other possible ways to organize include partnership, LLC, Corporation, or S-Corp.


Pick either 3a or 3b:

Step 3a: Apply for a DBA.

If you are operating solely under your legal name as a sole proprietor, you do not need an Assumed Business Name from Cook County. But if you have named your piano studio like I did you need to apply for an assumed business name (aka DBA - "Doing Business As..."). LLCs register their names with the state, so they do not need a DBA from Cook County. 


Here is the example on the website:

"For example, a business called "John Jones, P.C." (i.e. owner's full name and title) does not have to file an assumed name, but "Jones Wrecking" does." 

 

If you decide this applies to you, apply here: Assumed Business Name Registration.


Here are the steps:

  1. Apply online and print a paper application. 
  2. Take this application to a Notary Public at a bank and sign it in front of them. 
  3. Send this application to the Clerk's office with a $50 application fee. 
  4. Receive a Copy of Legal Notice that you must publish in a local newspaper within 15 calendar days. It must be published for three consecutive weeks. I ran my legal notice with the Chicago Sun-Times and it cost $165. 
  5. The newspaper will send you a Certificate of Publication with the clipping to you as proof and you must return that the the Clerk's office. 
  6. The certificate will be sent to you in the mail.
Total cost for a Cook County DBA: $215 one time 


Step 3b: Apply for an LLC. 

If you decide to apply for an LLC with the Illinois Secretary of State, you will need to make an Articles of Organization. The name of your company must end with LLC. You also must appoint a Registered Agent (that can be you, but most advice suggests you appoint someone else) to submit Annual Reports. The fee is $150 when you submit your Articles of Organization one time and then $75 each year when you file your required Annual Reports. You must file the Annual Reports or else your LLC will be dissolved. 

Total cost for an Illinois LLC: $150 + ($75 x the number of years you operate your business)


Step 4: Apply for tax numbers.

Next is tax registration with Illinois. I attempted the IDOR ID application online multiple times and I determined that because I do not sell goods, I do not need an IDOR because I do not collect sales tax and I will not be hiring employees. (Source: New Business Checklist | Smith & Cull, Ltd.) If you are selling merchandise, you will need to get a tax number from IDOR and collect sales tax. 


Finally, apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. Please read this Starting a Business (IRS) for information about the different ways to organize your business and how to handle accounting. 


You will need to create a system of keeping track of income and expenses. I simply keep spreadsheets called Income (Year) and Expenses (Year). Make sure you understand if you need to file quarterly Estimated Taxes and how to calculate that amount based on your accounting. When you file, you will use your EIN. Do not lose the paper document sent in the mail with the EIN number. The bottom of the letter says they will only correspond with you if you use the tear off at the bottom of the page.


Total Cost for EIN: Free


Step 5: Apply for a Chicago Business License.

I applied online before the following was posted on the online portal. 

Home Based Businesses

Posted May 25, 2022

Applications for home occupation licenses (home based businesses) must be made in person at the Small Business Center. Such applications will not be accepted online. The Center is located at 121 N LaSalle Street, Suite 800 and is open from 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM daily Monday through Friday.

I'm sorry to say you have to go in-person now. 


Fill out this Chicago Business Information Sheet. This is a pre-application that you will use at the Small Business Center


If you are a Sole Proprietor, you will still put your full name as the Legal Name of Business. Then your DBA will go on the second line. Fill out the rest of the form to the best of your ability and take it to the Small Business Center at 121 N LaSalle St


Total Cost of a City of Chicago Home-Based Business License: $250 biannually


Total Licensing Startup Cost: $215 + $250 = $465 (+$250 every other year)


I wish you well in your endeavor to become a licensed piano teaching business in Chicago. Please leave a comment and let me know if this helped you obtain a business license. Once again, this is not legal advice; this is simply how I, an Independent Piano Teacher, got a Chicago business license.


-Jenny

11.11.2022

๐Ÿ“• Why I Stopped Teaching Music for Little Mozarts to Preschool Students: A Detailed Review of Level 1

November 11, 2022 0 Comments

According to the Foreword of the music lesson book, Music for Little Mozarts "was designed to provide a balance between the discipline necessary for playing the [piano] and the enjoyment one gets from the process of music-making" (p. 2). 

The FAQ on Alfred.com says, "When a student completes Level 4 of Music for Little Mozarts, they should continue in Alfred's Premier Piano Course, Level 1B. Note that it may require some extra work by the teacher on naming notes and moving around the keyboard." The authors expect that completion of Music for Little Mozarts will take about 2-years.

This review is for Level 1 of the Music For Little Mozarts series. 

Music for Little Mozarts: Music Lesson Book 1

Rating: ⭐⭐ (out of 5)

Pros

  • Adorable concept complete with original characters and a narrative on each lesson book page
  • Uses stuffed animals as a teaching tool for young students
  • Easy for parents to help their student practice; detailed instructions and steps are included for each song
  • Appealing for 3-year-olds as well
  • Holistic music approach incorporating movement, singing in solfรจge, and coloring activities in the supplementary books

Cons

  • Overall expected cost will exceed $100 if you buy the lesson book and two core books for levels 1-4
  • Long and boring
  • Might not appeal to older 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds

General Overview

Grand Staff Reading: No songs use the Grand Staff. 

Approach to Note Reading: Pre-staff notation only, directional by step. Notes move higher and lower on the page to show melody contour.  The contour is more subtle than in the Faber pre-staff notation volumes. It's harder to distinguish that the note is moving. 

Method of counting: Unit counting

Hand Position: Each page has a picture of the piano keyboard with finger numbers and later note names. Thumbs Share C is the only hand position that is introduced. 

Technique: Posture and hand shape are introduced in the first lesson. These concepts are not reinforced throughout the method. 

Complete range of piano: Only in activities at the beginning comparing the high and low sides of the piano and playing glissandos up and down the keyboard. 

Fingering: All notes have finger numbers even if they are repeated until piano key letter names are introduced.

Adequate reinforcement of concepts: Yes.

Rate of progression: Very slow

Logical Sequence: Yes

Pieces: In the lesson book, short original songs and one folksong fragment with lyrics. The compact disk sold separately narrates the written story in the book and provides a backing track for the songs. If you subscribe to the Piano Maestro app, the songs are also included. Sometimes the students play along with the entire track, sometimes they play a fragment, such as just the E-I-E-Os in Old MacDonald. The Discovery Book includes full songs intended to be movement or rhythm activities. 

Familiar Folksongs in the Music Discovery Book 1:

  • If You're Happy and You Know It
  • Finger Play Song
  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
  • Mexican Hat Dance
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Composers and Compositions Introduced in the Music Discovery Book 1:
  • Beethoven - Rage over the Lost Penny
  • Mozart - Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Sousa - Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Mozart - Minuet in F Major
  • Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C minor

Varied styles: No

Harmonically interesting: No

Concepts:
  • Dynamics: Clear explanation; forte and piano only. Beethoven Bear represents loud sounds and Mozart Mouse represents soft sounds. Forte and piano are interspersed throughout the book, but pieces are either one or the other.  
  • Tempo: No
  • Phrasing: No
  • Articulations: No
  • Pedal: No
  • Harmony: No
  • Form: No

Theory: Music Workbook, Notespeller & Sight-play Book, and Rhythm Speller are separate purchases. The Lesson Book has keyboards printed for coloring in the introduced piano keys, but no other written activities.

Composition: No. 

Improvisation: No.

Ear Training: Yes, in Music Workbook.

Sight-reading: Yes, in Notespeller & Sight-Play book. 

Duets: Yes, high quality. 25 of 25 songs have duets.

Private or Group Lessons: Group or private.

In-person or Virtual: Either

Levels in Series: The Music for Little Mozarts Core Levels are 1, 2, 3, and 4. The student will be ready for Level 1 of Piano Adventures upon completion of Level C. 

Supplementary Materials: A plethora of accompanying books per level, coloring books, flash cards, 7 cheaply made plush toys and probably more. 

Visual Appeal: Low to Medium. Pastel, watercolor illustrations. The character designs are cute. Printing size is very small. The keyboard depicting hand position is three-dimensional on most pages and a bit hard to decipher sometimes.  The hands are drawn next to the music line.

Daunting: No

Audience: Young students, ages 4-6

Audio: On CD, on Piano Maestro (subscription based), or Apple Music (subscription based).

Publisher Preview: Music For Little Mozarts (Alfred.com)

Additional Support for Teachers from the Publisher: Teacher's Handbook for Levels 1&2

My experience: I came across this method at the sheet music store at which I worked about 8 years ago. A local piano teacher came often to pick up cute stuffed animals every few weeks. I thought it was adorable. 

Previously, I would try to teach preschool students with the typical piano method recommended by my lesson coordinator, Bastien. It was not designed for preschoolers. I found it particularly effective to use her stuffed bunny to teach her. She would listen to me if I used the stuffed animal as a puppet to instruct her. 

At a later job, my coordinator pushed me to take on two 3-year-old boys who were brothers. I picked this method for them hoping that the Mozart Mouse and small bear stuffed animals would keep them engaged. However, I do believe that 3-year-olds are bit too young to begin independent piano lessons because of short attention spans and beginner verbal and written language skills. Eventually I was able to progress my students through level 1 and 2 of this series.

Closing Thoughts:

For very, very young students, Music for Little Mozarts is a non-threatening introduction to the keyboard. It is intended for group lessons and much of the supplementary activities are similar to early childhood group classes. 

The songs are only 4 measures long (8 if you include the repeats) from the beginning to the end of the book and the introduction of new concepts is very slow. For very young students and students on the older side of the age range who may have learning struggles, this is a good series. 

But from the perspective of me as the teacher and my young daughter when I began trying preschool methods with her, I've found this method to be pretty boring and frustrating because of the cost to give the full intended experience of the method. 

The books mention the stuffed animal characters frequently, and not just as characters, but as learning tools. The instructions on many of the songs in this book, for example, start with "Place Mozart Mouse..." or "Place Beethoven Bear...". The stuffed animals are typically very small and they cost $7.99 each. The lesson book and supplementary books are approximately $8.99 each. I think that this is unfortunately a money grab. This series has three different authors, so I understand the need to charge enough to cover paying for their content, but the expectation for each child to have multiple books and collect the stuffed animals is saddening to me at such a high price point. 

Have you used Music For Little Mozarts? If so, what was your experience? What are other options of preschool methods you have tried? 

Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

-Jenny

Music for Little Mozarts: A Piano Course to Bring Out the Music in Every Young Child 

© 1999 Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. (Distributor: Alfred)

  • Music Lesson Book 1

11.07.2022

๐Ÿ“• The Best Preschool Piano Method to Engage Young Students: My First Piano Adventure Level A

November 07, 2022 0 Comments

When I first showed my daughter the My First Piano Adventure series, her eyes lit up. Illustrated with vivid colors and original characters, this method journeys to take the Piano Adventures curriculum to a younger audience. 

To intentionally enter into a child's imagination, the Fabers adopted the ACE instructional theory:

  • Analysis →Understanding
  • Creativity →Self-Discovery
  • Expression →Personal Artistry

ACE is practically applied in the Writing Book with many activities, the Lesson Book which contains engaging songs with vibrant pictures in between the notes, and accompanying audio tracks  with great audio mixing and mastering, funny lyrics, and great voices. 

The goal is to have students playing musically through listening, singing, tapping, and moving. 

This review is for Level A of the My First Piano Adventures Method. My opinion is that this is the best preschool piano method for engaging young students. 

My First Piano Adventure Lesson Book A Cover

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)

Pros

  • Engaging for young children and piano teachers
  • Easy for young children to practice on their own; illustrations provide directions
  • Easy for parents to aid children at home; practice instructions are printed on each page

Cons

  • Overall Cost of all three levels ($47.70) as compared to the Primer core books of the Basic Method ($29.95).

General Overview

Grand Staff Reading: No songs use the Grand Staff. Games introducing the Grand Staff are at the end of the book. In the middle of the book, the treble and bass clefs are introduced and a note at the bottom of the page says that the games may be started. 

Approach to Note Reading: Pre-staff notation only, directional by step. Notes move higher and lower on the page to show melody contour. 

Method of counting: Unit counting and word associations

Hand Position: Each page has a picture of the piano keyboard with finger numbers and later note names. C 5-finger scale is introduced in the second to last unit. 

Technique: Posture, hand shape, and firm fingertips are introduced and reinforced throughout the method.

Complete range of piano: Yes

Fingering: All notes have finger numbers unless they are repeated

Adequate reinforcement of concepts: Yes, especially when using the Writing Book.

Rate of progression: Slow and steady

Logical Sequence: Yes

Pieces: Original songs and folksongs with witty lyrics and interesting backtracks and teacher duets

    Folksongs include:

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Buckle My Shoe (backtrack or teacher duet game)
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb (renamed Mary's Rockin' Pets with new lyrics)
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm (renamed Old Pig-Donald with new lyrics)
  • If You're Happy (backtrack or teacher duet game)
  • Eensie Weensie Spider (new lyrics)
Varied styles: Yes

Harmonically interesting: Yes, but teacher duets or backtrack are needed for full effect. Major, minor,  whole tone, tritone. 

Concepts:
  • Dynamics: Clear explanation; forte and piano only. Often the first play through is forte and then the repeat is piano
  • Tempo: No
  • Phrasing: No
  • Articulations: Short and Long sounds are introduced and experimented with in the first unit activities
  • Pedal: No
  • Harmony: Yes, harmonic intervals are used sparingly
  • Form: No

Theory: Writing Book reinforces rhythms and piano key names. Writing book involves circling, drawing lines, coloring, and some writing with ample space for large letters, numbers, and drawing pictures.  

Composition: Yes, in Writing Book. Creative presentation with boxes for letters. 

Improvisation: Yes with teacher duets or backtrack.

Ear Training: Yes, in Writing Book.

Sight-reading: Yes, in Writing Book.

Duets: Yes, high quality. 35 out of 48 songs have duets. 

Private or Group Lessons: Private, however Group Lessons are possible according to Faber's FAQ

In-person or Virtual: In-person and virtual. Virtual is aided by a subscription to Teacher's Atlas by Faber to enable screen share. 

Levels in Series: The Young Beginner Core Levels are A, B, C. The student will be ready for Level 1 of Piano Adventures upon completion of Level C. 

Supplementary Materials: Christmas Book (best to begin around p. 66; contains an Advent calendar), CD (Free Cloud Audio only more recently). 

Visual Appeal: High. Vivid, bright colors. Cute character designs. Printing size is large and often pictures are in the music. Easy to see the notes going up and down on the page.

Daunting: No

Audience: Young students, ages 4-6

Audio: Free Cloud Audio (I highly suggest listening here).

Publisher Preview: Click here for an extensive look from the publisher's website

Additional Support for Teachers from the Publisher: 20 Questions and Answers for My First Book A, Lesson Plan for the First Lesson

My experience: I use Piano Adventures as my main method for all of my students. I have had success particularly with the Basic Method, especially levels Primer-2B with my students ages 7+. Initially when I learned about My First Piano Adventure, I actually wasn't sure about the visual appeal for young children. But when I showed my 5-year-old daughter and saw her eyes light up, especially after we had been trying Music for Little Mozarts with little interest, I knew this book would be something special. 

It is fantastic. I love that it stretches out the concepts presented in the Primer Lesson Book of the Basic Method. More time is spent reinforcing new piano keys and rhythm concepts. If you are familiar with the Basic Method, you will recognize some of the original tunes. They are often paired with new lyrics. The lesson book has pages dedicated to technique and there is accompanying written work, ear training, and rhythm exercises in the Workbook. My daughter has been going to practice the piano unprompted and has been succeeding in accomplishing the work at a high level. She is currently 6 and we are close to starting Level B. 

The art is similar to the look of construction paper cut-outs. On most pages, the child is supposed to find Tap, a little firefly hidden on some of the pages. A unique approach is the images that show up in between notes. Rainbows, kangaroos, and whales are used to show hand position changes as the student moves up and down the piano. 

Closing Thoughts:

For young students, this method is a wonderfully engaging introduction to piano. 

The songs increase in length as the book progresses. The activities are inventive and the audio is free online which gives an additional depth to the songs.  For example, Monster Bus Driver has a very funny voice making beeping sounds with which the student plays rhythms on the 2 black keys and 3 black keys. 

From the perspective of the teacher, I'm excited to teach this method. It has made me laugh on more than one occasion because the humor is very well-written and incorporated. 

While the overall cost of the core books will cost more than just the Primer level with core books, I believe it is an excellent investment and bang for your buck.  Capturing the attention of a young child is more than half the battle of teaching them piano, that is why I believe that this is the best preschool piano method for engaging young students.

Have you used My First Piano Adventure? If so, what was your experience? What are other options of preschool methods you have tried? 

Let me know in the comments!

My daughter and I will be starting Level B of this series very soon. Stay tuned for another review! 

Until next time,

-Jenny

My First Piano Adventure for the Young Beginner by Nancy and Randall Faber
© 2006 Dovetree Productions, Inc. (Distributor: Hal Leonard)

  • Lesson Book A and Writing Book A (Pre-Reading)

10.27.2022

๐Ÿ…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 ColorInMyPiano.com 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?

-Jenny

8.27.2022

๐Ÿ’กAha Moments - What is talent?

August 27, 2022 0 Comments
Bob Ross painting a mountain

“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you're willing to practice, you can do.” - Bob Ross

Lately, I've been thinking about what is talent? I've heard from family members, teachers, and peers that I'm talented at the piano. Sometimes this is followed by a self-deprecating comment; that they could never play like me.

From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

talent noun
tal·​ent | \ หˆta-lษ™nt \
1a: a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude

aptitude noun
ap·​ti·​tude | \ หˆap-tษ™-หŒtรผd , -หŒtyรผd \
b: a natural ability : TALENT

This is what people mean when they say that one is talented. However, did I have a natural ability at the piano? Did I sit down at age 5 and immediately play the complete Chopin Nocturnes with my raw talent?

I think this cartoon by Sarah Andersen is the best description of how I feel about talent. 



Could my innate interest in the piano be a gift from God? Absolutely.  I believe that unique way I was created by God to be interested in music is what gave me the aptitude for countless hours of piano practice. The product of perpetual practice is perceived as talent. 

I agree wholeheartedly with Bob Ross. 

My belief is this:

"Anyone can take piano lessons and have success. It takes participation and consistent practice." - Jenny Melton

Let's do away with our limiting beliefs and work hard towards our goals and interests, whether that be our relationships, careers, or hobbies. Everyone starts somewhere.  For an introduction to how I started playing piano, please check out my first blog post in my series of memoirs about my piano journey

What are your opinions about talent? 

-Jenny


Works Cited

"aptitude." Merriam-Webster.com. 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com (27 Aug.2022).

"Bob Ross - Meadow Lake (Season 2 Episode 1)." Youtube, uploaded by Bob Ross, 27 Aug. 2022, https://youtu.be/GARWowi0QXI?t=783.

Sarah Andersen [@SarahCAndersen]. Cartoon about practice. Twitter, 20 Dec. 2017, 9:31 AM, https://twitter.com/sarahcandersen/status/943504157960421377.

"talent." Merriam-Webster.com. 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com (27 Aug. 2022).

8.17.2022

๐Ÿงญ My Piano Journey: How I Started Playing Piano - Part 1

August 17, 2022 0 Comments
Part 1 (You Are Here) - Part 2
How I Started Playing Piano

This is my personal story of how I started playing the piano. Part 1 starts when I was 9 years old and ends when I was 14 years old. I hope you enjoy! 

Embarking

I hopped in my mom’s van after swimming lessons, tired and wet, wrapped in my beach towel. 

“I did it!” she said. “I bought a piano!”

My tired eyes lit up. While I was in swim class, she drove to an estate sale and immediately bought a spinet upright piano for $700. That evening, a warm night in June, the breeze wafting through the sheer curtains of the living room, a small walnut Acrosonic sat in our living room by the stairs. I was told that it wasn’t just my piano; my brothers would learn too, but over the next 7 years, I was the one who played it the most.

My approach to learning piano was unorthodox. Using knowledge from general music class, choir, and teaching myself flute, I taught myself to play the piano. I remember first learning Liebestraum by Franz Liszt from the Faber Classics 2A book. With hesitations, I deciphered the music while holding down the pedal, missing many notes and creating a murky, dissonant noise. I was learning piano, albeit alone.

I briefly took lessons at the local music store beginning that summer. I remember learning simple classical pieces from The Developing Artist Preparatory Piano Literature book. The music was pedestrian, but I still fondly remember Little March by Tรผrk and Melody by Beyer.

At my first recital, I proudly and confidently played Send In the Clouds from Faber Popular 3 (they have since revised this book and it is now in the Adult Piano Adventures Book 2). I remember my former classmate, Lauren, being present and she complimented me. That performance was my first experience with the flow state while performing. I was in the zone and so calm and focused, loving every sound coming out of that baby grand. I felt elated when I left the stage.

Stumbling Block

One day during recess, my friends and I were playing leap frog over serpentine-shaped bike racks. After jumping over one hump, my foot caught a crack in the sidewalk and my right hand slammed into the pavement. I sustained black bruises at the base of each finger of my right hand and I had to cease piano lessons at that point. I got a custom brace from the doctor and I recall asking the nurse if I would be able to play piano after my hand was healed.

“No!” she said, annoyed, and left the room. As a sensitive 10-year-old girl, I began tearing up. My mom told me that it was an old joke. 

“Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after the operation.
“Yes, of course."
“Great! I never could before.” 

I did play piano again after it healed, but, much to my dismay, I was without a teacher for about a year following that incident. There were piano teachers in my city, but they were in high demand with long wait lists. 

My Tour Guide

“Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you…” 

I delicately played the notes to My Heart Will Go On from my easy piano songbook. Channeling Cรฉline Dion, I would play with marked intensity at the key change. 

“YOU’RE HERE, there’s NO-O-THING I FEAR…” 

I remember dramatically pausing at the climax of the song because of the new key signature. With no framework for understanding keys other than C Major, it overwhelmed me to keep track of the additional sharps. 

Soon after learning this piece, my mom found a college student named Billie to teach me piano. I played My Heart Will Go On for her to show her what I could already do. She created a sticker chart to help me learn my one-octave major scales. With her help, I tackled Level 3 and 4 of the Faber Supplemental Library and early elementary classical piano literature. My favorites were Song of the Dark Woods by Elie Siegmeister, Carol of the Bells from Faber Christmas Level 4, and a fairly difficult piano arrangement of Awesome God by Rich Mullins.

A Bump in the Road

For my middle school talent show, I played Maple Leaf Rag from Faber Ragtime and Blues 3. I remember the band teacher who auditioned me saying he was impressed that I could play ragtime. That boosted my confidence.

I played the piece on a brown upright piano in the middle of the gymnasium, perfect for that saloon-style, honky tonk feel of the rag. The first show for the 7th graders went really well and I received a loud applause and cheers from the bleachers. I didn't really know how to bow, so I just stood in front of the crowd with a wide smile. But I suffered a memory slip in the second performance for the 8th graders, my grade. My fingers twisted up, like being tongue-tied, and I kept repeating the same cadence trying to get to resolve to the final chord. I was embarrassed and I left the gym quickly without acknowledging the audience.

My feelings were hurt when a close friend of mine later said another pianist put me to shame. But I know now that wasn’t true. He started playing when he was 3 years old and had nearly 10 years of experience. Meanwhile, I started when I was 10 and had 3 years of experience. It made sense that he was accomplished and playing a complex, high level classical piece. Still, her comment stung and I believed her at the time.

A Creative Path 

One day, I came home from school and composed a piano piece on a whim. I named it the Legend of Kanali, picturing an adventure fantasy story for which this could be the soundtrack. The D minor composition was a repetitive melody and used descending open chords.

My brother really enjoyed listening to it. I began creating more original tunes and my dad noticed my interest in writing music, so he purchased a composition software for me called Music Write. I recall using it on my Compaq PC, creating scores for my family to play. My dad was really excited for me and even told me he would pay for me to file my copyrights with the Library of Congress, but I never took him up on it because I feared I wasn’t good enough to be a real composer.

Scaling the Mountain

The notation software had Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 by Chopin as an example file. I printed it and began learning the hardest piece I had ever attempted to that date. In addition to three flats in the key signature, there were a plethora of accidentals. I remember writing in the notes one by one and pushing myself to learn this piece. I wanted so badly to play it like Maria Joรฃo Pires, the Portuguese performing artist who has the best recordings of Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes ever.

Billie was very impressed when I played the Nocturne for her and she soon decided that she would be my piano coach instead of my teacher because I was self-guided and surpassing her level. With her support and encouragement, I entered the Solo and Ensemble Festival in my state for solo piano. 

The adjudicator was writing notes from the previous performer and he asked me to warm up while I waited. I played much of the Nocturne exactly the way I had practiced. He interrupted me to say not to play too much before he was ready. He also told me this was his favorite piece. I smiled nervously and butterflies started flying in my stomach.

When I started playing, my hands began to shake and my performance sounded nothing like my warm up or my practice at home. The ending, however, was clear and calm. He told me that I needed to see the forest for the trees; that the ending was beautiful, but I didn’t seem to understand how the whole piece fit together. I left feeling dejected. Why didn't I sound like Maria? Billie told me that had she been in my shoes, knowing this was his favorite piece would have done the same thing to her. That's a huge order to live up to!

Becoming A Guide-In-Training

In eighth grade, I was assigned to do a job shadow project as part of my career development. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do as a career. I had narrowed the category down to music, but who would I shadow? My mom thought for a moment, "What about your music teacher from elementary school?" Bingo! Being a teacher had always been in the back of my mind. What about combining that interest with music? 

The job shadow went really well and I was so happy to reconnect with my music teacher. I believe to this day that my brothers and I can improvise and compose with our respective instruments because she taught us to sing, to recognize major and minor tonal patterns, and create and understand many rhythmic patterns in elementary school.

At the end of eighth grade, Billie graduated college and moved away. She was so encouraging about my progress thus far, that when she started teaching me, I was "all fingers." She said she was excited for my future with piano and that she believed I would be very successful; that when I grew up she'd be able to say, "I knew her when...".

On My Own Again

The following year, I entered Solo and Ensemble Festival with Rรชverie by Debussy. I was thrilled to be given a Superior medal and the ability to enter the State Festival. My dad was super excited for me as well. With the absence of a piano teacher, I spent the month in between learning the required scales and a required Bach Invention. I asked my orchestra teacher for help with the Invention and he loaned me his Bach study score. 

“It doesn’t have any fingerings,” Mr. K warned.

Even so, I plugged away at it until the two-voice contrapuntal piece was complete.

My dad drove me to the State Festival and was gushing about my accomplishment. At the State Festival, I played through both pieces sans mistakes. I was on a stage with bright lights in an auditorium playing on a baby grand. 

The feedback from the adjudicator was that it could be more dream-like. Rรชverie means daydream after all. While I was disappointed to get an Excellent rating instead of Superior, I felt good about what I had learned. After all, I had never played a two-part contrapuntal piece before. Even though the Bach Invention in F major is one of the easier inventions, it is difficult. 

Future Outlook  

My goal was to get a bachelor's degree in music. I was in high school and I needed a serious college-prep teacher as soon as possible. Once again, the studios in my area were full. It seemed that no one would be able to take me on. But then one day...

To be continued

What is your piano story? Let me know in the comments!

-Jenny

4.07.2022

๐Ÿ“š 8 Curriculum Must-Haves for Beginner Piano Lessons ๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍๐Ÿซ

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 MusicTheory.net and created an accompanying worksheet to have the student apply the information learned practically. I love MusicTheory.net 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!

-Jenny