Monday, November 16, 2020

All About Adjustable Benches

This week's 'splainer video is intended for older students, piano parents, and piano teachers. If you have a child studying piano, or if you have people of varying heights all using the same piano bench, you need an adjustable model! Even adults of roughly the same height can need to sit at differing levels due to their arm and torso length. I consider an adjustable bench to be necessary equipment for piano teachers, and I don't know why piano manufacturers don't include adjustable benches with every piano purchase. The bench that came with my own piano is actually useless to me. It's higher than where I'm comfortable sitting and oddly, about an inch and a half higher than other non-adjustable benches. I currently have only 2 piano students it's perfect for. So, I use my adjustable bench for teaching and my own playing, and my non-adjustable one holds plants in front of a window. Works just great for that!

In this video, I'm going to show you why you need an adjustable bench and all of the styles I know about, as well as my favorite model. Be sure to read all of the reviews of the various benches before you make a decision.

My next video is about foot rests for students. Hope you'll subscribe to my channel!

Monday, November 9, 2020

New Video: How To Have A Great Hand Position At The Piano


My next 'splainer video is up! This one shows all of my tricks for having a good hand position at the piano, and includes clips of me demonstrating them with students. These videos are intended to be resources for my students and yours between their lessons. You can assign them to your students to watch if you like. For this one, I've started a new thing. I included a secret word. If my students watch the video and report back the secret word, they'll get an extra punch on their punch card. I wrote about the punch cards in this post a few weeks ago. You might like to do something similar. I'll be including a secret word in all videos going forward. The next video will be for teachers and parents, and will be all about adjustable benches.

One of my favorite tools for encouraging a good hand position is my warm fuzzy critter. His name is, cleverly enough, Fuzzy! I try to make one of these for each of my beginning students to take home. The preferred habitat for a warm fuzzy critter is the warm cave created by a human hand on the piano! He's just the right size for even little-bitty students. If you're crafty, you can make one with craft foam for the feet, a pom pom for the body, and some googly eyes. You'll need something like hot glue to stick it all together. Or, you can search at Etsy - try search words like pom pom critter or quiet critters. Elementary school teachers often use these as classroom incentives, and several crafters on Etsy sell them in bulk.

I'm still new to this YouTube business, having only created a few now. But, I'm excited by the new stuff I'm learning! Unfortunately, what I learned this time is that the video editor I've been using is not going to be sufficient, now that I've begun to get the hang of it. It won't do voice-overs, and I'm going to need that. Also, even though it I saved the video in a format for YouTube, the aspect ratio is wrong. Sigh. Back to the search for a good video editor. I will eventually fix the aspect ratio thing when I figure out how. Not going to delay getting the content out before then. I'm learning and improving as I go, and just as we all get better at piano with practice, I'll get better at this! I hope you'll subscribe to my channel and join me on that journey!

Monday, October 26, 2020

New Video and a Free Halloween Piece

There's a new video up on my YouTube channel! This one is an explainer on how to read intervals quickly. I'm big on intervallic reading with my students, and in this video, you'll hear how I teach them to move past the stage of counting lines and spaces when identifying intervals by number, and how I apply what they learn from flashcards (or apps) to actually reading the intervals quickly in their pieces. I share these videos with my students as resources for extra help during their practice time at home between lessons. I hope you'll want to share them as well! 

I'm still new to this whole YouTube business, and these videos are learning experiences for me. I discovered in this one how to use Zoom as a screen recorder! Very helpful! I also learned that my laptop camera results in the aspect ratio being off on YouTube, so I look slightly too tall in this video, and I need to angle my lighting better. I'm not as tired as I look! I'm not going to bother re-doing it right now. I literally finished editing this one while in a hotel room waiting on my high school senior daughter to take the ACT at a location 2 hours away from home. Covid reality. I have many other explainer videos planned and want to move on. I'll get better as I go! 

I hope you'll consider subscribing to my channel. If you have suggestions for topics, let me know in the comments.

If you like using apps for drilling intervals, I'm enjoying using Note Quest. This appears to be available for iphone/ipad only. Please correct me if I'm wrong. It's hard to find an app for interval recognition that's kid-friendly and isn't primarily for ear-training, and this one is good. But, as I explain in my video, using flashcards and apps is a starter point - you've got to translate your good work on flashcards/apps to recognizing intervals quickly in the score. 

I'm almost too late sharing this with you, but here's a freebie Halloween piece for your students. I had intended to write several and upload them as a collection to SMP Press where I have a few other pieces for sale, but didn't get it done this year. (Click here to view my collection.) In my studio, I've moved from having a yearly Christmas recital to a yearly Fall recital where we play Halloween and Autumn pieces. Students can choose to wear costumes, and it saves me from trying to find a date amid all the other festivities for a Christmas recital. Keep this one in your files for next year! You can use it to focus on legato vs. staccato, shifting to a new LH position, playing flats, identifying half steps vs whole steps, creating dynamic contrast, and of course, reading intervals! Scroll down for the link to download a free copy of Halloween Night.

Halloween Night - Click here to download

Friday, October 16, 2020

Using Sight Reading Pattern Cards and Updates

I think I've posted before about how much I enjoy using the Sight Reading Pattern Cards at Jennifer Fink's Pianimation site. (They're free!) I use them with every beginner starting at about the 4th lesson while they're still in pre-reading notation as an introduction to how notes move on the staff, and I continue to use them throughout the first and second year. I pulled them out for a 2nd year student yesterday. She came up with a great variation for using them all by herself, and I thought you would all enjoy seeing it!

She wanted to make a composition with them. So, I let her choose 2 at random (pick a card, any card), and then she assigned a rhythm to the notes. We considered  rhythms in 3/4 and 4/4, and she chose this one. My cards are laminated, so we can write on them with dry erase markers. As a follow-up step, we could notate this on a full staff. 

Here she is, with her 2-measure composition. 

On other fronts, I thought I'd update you on how our covid policies are working out. So far, everything is going well. I did resort to online lessons for a couple of days while one of my family members had a cold and waited for the results of a test. Thankfully, it was negative. One of my students had the same situation, and returned to in-person lessons after her negative test. I'm lucky to have a great group of families, and we all benefit from the mutual trust that everyone will do the right thing.

I tried out this barrier tape on my piano as a way to cover the finish so that I could wipe it with a clorox wipe. Meh. It did work, but it looks messy because you can't pull out one long strip. It's perforated, and too flimsy to cut the width to the right size. While it didn't hurt the finish doing it one time, I felt that prolonged use might. So, I'm sticking with my original plans as described in this post

The masks I sewed for students turned out really cute! You can find the link to the pattern in this post. Several of my students wear them to every lesson. This is the child size on one of my first graders. It's slightly big, but she'll grow!!

I hope you are all faring well during this crazy corona year. My tech skills have improved exponentially, so I guess if I look hard enough, I can find a silver lining! 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Punchcards For Motivation


I always have a yearly theme in my studio. Over the years, it's been space, dogs, detectives, and all sorts of things, but this year, it's emojis! I was inspired by a sticker collection. My students consistently asked for one of the emoji stickers when they earned stickers in their books. Everybody loves emojis - well, everybody except my high-school-aged daughter who rolled her eyes. "They're not for you," I told her, "and I like them!"

Last year was the dog year, and I tried a new thing. We used pawprint punchcards. Each time students finished a piece, they got to punch out a pawprint on their card. A completed card earned a prize. I liked it because the punch itself was a reward for effort. I also found it to be a great tool to get them to work harder. Sometimes, the dialogue went like this:

Me:  I don't think that piece is QUITE ready for a punch. It still has some weak places, but you've worked very hard on it for these last 3 weeks, and I don't want you to get too bored. (Teachers, you're reading between the lines here, right? Smile.) I'll let this choice be yours. Would you like to give it a good effort for one more week for a punch, or move on to something else? We'll only spend one more week on this one.

Student: I want to get the punch! 

Friends, only rarely did a student opt to give up on a piece. Winning! 

The youngest students working on short pieces go through cards much more quickly than older students, but that's okay with me. It's the youngest ones who get the most excited about it anyway. The students aren't comparing themselves to anyone else. They're just working on their own progress. I like this punchcard system so much, I think I'm going to stick with it from year to year. It's simple, theme-able, private to each individual, and fun.


I found this year's emoji cards at Teachers Pay Teachers. They're editable, so you can customize them with your students' names. If you like this idea, but don't want to use emojis, just search TPT for "punch cards" or make your own. Think carefully about how many punches you want your card to have. Last year's cards had about 26 pawprints to punch, and that might have been too many. I'd like most of my elem - middle school students to be able to punch their way through 2-3 cards. This year's card has 18 punches. My beginners are zooming through them (which is fine with me), but it's a more achievable goal for my older students to finish 2 or more cards. I decided to let last year's punches on their unfinished cards apply to this year's card - that was a great decision. They felt their effort from last year was treated with respect. 

The first prize available to students are emoji stressballs that I found on Amazon. These are inexpensive and great rewards because they 1) help with stress, 2) exercise fingers, and 3) help you create a nice, rounded hand shape. Plus, they're fun! If they finish a second card, they'll earn a pack of emoji stickers, also found at Amazon. 

I haven't gotten as far as figuring out what they'll earn for a 3rd card. I'll cross that bridge when I get there. It won't be something that I order in bulk because several won't earn a 3rd card. This is when I give up and opt for something like a giant candy bar. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on a second 'splainer video on intervals. If you didn't see my last post, I've started a YouTube channel! I plan to upload lots of explainer videos on musical concepts that my students might need a refresher on during the week between their lessons. Maybe your students can benefit as well. I hope you'll subscribe to my channel! Here's the first video on intervals

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

I'm Making Videos!

I'm a month into our fall term with now 4 online students and 11 in person, and thankfully, no students have gotten sick - at least not with Covid. If you've read my previous posts about my cleaning and masking protocols, I'm happy to say that's working out well. I'm thrilled to have 6 beginners this year, the most littles I've had in a while. They're all delightful!

Now that I've grown a little more comfortable seeing my face on a screen thanks to online teaching, I'm starting to branch out and make some videos! I hope to post videos on my youtube channel fairly regularly. I'm finding that with all of my students, but especially my online ones, it's helpful to have some easy resources for them to look at during the days between lessons to refresh their memory. 

So the first video is up! This is an explainer of major chords and the root, third, and fifth, plus a quick, visual method to find major chords on the piano keyboard. 

Some of my  students have been playing this game I found at Heidi's Piano Studio, and we'll branch out from here to play cross-hand arpeggios and learn about inversions. I hope you'll subscribe to my youtube channel and follow along! I'm scared to commit to uploading a video a week, but I'll do my best!

Here are more videos that I like and have shared with my students.

I use MuseScore for notating music, and some of my older students do, too. It's free, open-source software, and is relatively easy to use. I've been meaning to make a tutorial video, then I discovered that Nicola Cantan of Colourful Keys has already made a really good one. Check it out here.

My middle school students have gotten a big kick out of Mrs. Volk's Online Music Classroom. We particularly enjoy her videos on the elements of music!

Pitch, Melody, and Reading Music






Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Returning to In-Person Lessons: Part 2

In Part 1 of my returning to in-person teaching posts, I discussed my cleaning protocols for keeping students safe from germs in the studio. This post will discuss policies that I've created for students/families.

First of all, I continue to offer online lessons for anyone who wants them. It's not my preferred way to teach, but I'm happy that I have this as an option to offer. There are tons of articles/blogs available out there on virtual teaching. I'm not a techie expert, and my preference is to keep things simple, so I'm not your best source on that. Google for good ideas!

I feel that my best policy of all is to create trust. I want my families to know that I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure no germs are spread in my studio. So, I've sent them a policy sheet describing exactly what I'm going to do as well as what I'd like them to do. I've also created a handout for students describing our routine in the studio for keeping things sanitary. Our theme for the year is emojis, so I used them liberally on the student page! You're welcome to use these policies of mine as inspiration for creating your own. 

Click here to see my policy sheet regarding Covid.

Click here to see my student handout regarding Covid routines in the lesson.

Some of my colleagues are asking their families to sign a waiver asking them not to sue if a child gets covid. I'm opting not to do this. First, I don't think that these waivers are legally effective. Their purpose seems to me to be more of a deterrent. Second, it would be extremely difficult to assign legal liability unless the victim never left their own house except to go to piano lessons. Third, I think it undermines my best policy - that of creating trust. However, if you'd like to see an example of a waiver, go to the facebook group Piano and Instrumental Teachers With Coronavirus Concerns. If you join the group, within the files, you'll find a waiver that you can use as a resource. 

I am asking students to wear a mask while in the studio. I'm supremely uninterested in the argument about whether a mask is effective. It is incomprehensible to me that adults are actually arguing about whether a fabric barrier slows down the travel of water vapor when we speak, cough, laugh, etc. Because I love my students and their families, I'm more than willing to deal with the inconvenience of wearing a mask if it offers even a small degree of protection, and I don't mind asking that they do the same for me. I'm 55 with no co-morbidities other than severe allergies, but if I get sick, both my husband and my daughter would also have to quarantine, staying home from work and school. It's just the respectful thing to do.

To that end, I am sewing some cute masks for my students out of music fabric! After a bunch of experimentation with different patterns, I found one I liked, but I substituted ties made of t-shirt yarn for the ear loops. I like that ties are totally adjustable for different sized heads and ear-placement and the fact that they can hang around your neck when not on your face. This pattern makes a 3-D mask style, and the pattern includes child and teen sizes. If you decide to use the same template, be aware the edge of the pattern was cut off when I printed it. I had to add a little to the side for the 2 largest patterns. If you need a tutorial on creating T-shirt yarn, this one is good. I will also have a few disposable masks available in the studio in both child and adult sizes in case somebody forgets to bring theirs. I found these at W*lmart and T*rget. I'm starting the mask sewing project today, and I'll share pics later!