piano teaching Q&A: Early Explorers

Hi Jenny, I've recently been searching the internet for ideas for preschool music classes. While I've enjoyed getting familiar with all the different methods out there, I have often thought about putting in the time/ effort to just create my own curriculum. And then I came across Early Explorers.
Holy Moly. This is fantastic! The thing I love most? I wouldn't have to charge parents a materials fee (which I feel is a big factor!) I have a couple of questions for you about how you do your preschool classes.

1. Are they weekly? Bi-monthly? Monthly? Or do you just do preschool music camps as they fit into your schedule?

2. How many children have you found to be ideal in a group setting like this?

I feel like I have more questions, but don't even know what to ask. I look forward to spending more time checking out your lesson plans before my own little one wakes from his nap! Thanks!

Thanks for the great questions! Early Explorers has turned into such a fun and wonderful way to bring that preschool-aged group of kids into my teaching schedule. The kids always have a blast and so do the teachers!

There are several ways you could format this class.

We have done several weekly Early Explorers classes during regular fall or spring semesters. We have also taught week-long 5-day "camps" during the summer or during spring break.

Both formats work great and have their advantages - some parents like the weekly format as it gives their preschoolers something fun to do each week. As they come each week they know what to expect as each class has a similar routine and schedule. Many parents like to go over the take-home materials with their children during the week, and so the kiddos retain more and learn better in this format. Other parents LOVE our week-long camps, as it is sometimes easier for scheduling - they only have to come for one week and not be available on the same day each week for the length of the class. The week-long camps are an awesome opportunity for the kids to jump in and get a great introduction to the joy of music! They are a TON of fun.

As far as number of children per class, it all depends! My friend and colleague Nichole (who wrote this curriculum with me) and I co-teach our Early Explorers classes, but you could easily do it on your own if you don't have too many little ones to handle. We have had as few as 3 and up to 8 or 9 children in a class with both of us teaching and it has worked great in that range. We could probably handle at least a couple more with both of us teaching. If you do not have another teacher helping, I would probably recommend 5 or 6 at the most, but it entirely depends upon the kids in your class. Some at that age will be more mature and will sit and listen better, and some may be all over the place! Our lesson plans are designed to have a variety of short activities scheduled to keep little attention spans engaged.

Another idea is that you could have one of your more advanced teenage students help as a co-teacher for a larger class, or you could always invite parents to come and stay for the class. You should also consider the ages of the children signed up for your class. I would feel more confident in handling a larger group of 4-year-olds than a larger group of 3-year-olds! Use your judgement and think about the ages and maturity level of your students.

Each hour-long lesson focuses on a basic music concept (such as high/low, fast/slow, loud/soft, the musical alphabet, etc.). The lesson plans are not in any particular order, so you can "mix and match" them as you wish and put them in any order! Some of the concepts overlap from lesson to lesson to help reinforce what the children are learning.

One of the great things about this curriculum is that each plan comes with a printable take-home book to print out and staple together to send home with each child. These are also great for coloring if you have extra time! You will need a few materials for crafts, some studio supplies/equipment (like a piano of course, and some lesson plans use some rhythm instruments, etc.), and there will be a little prep work for some of the printable teaching aids and such, but once you teach the class once you will have all of those teaching aids ready for next time, and then it will just be a matter of printing out and assembling the books for each child!

We usually do charge a very minimal materials fee (which is also a deposit that secures the students' spot in the class - we have found this is important because it helps to ensure against "no-shows") at the beginning of the class to help cover the cost of the paper/printing, and sometimes we do make t-shirts for the kids to wear on the last day, so that is also included in that fee. But, you can set up the fees in any way you'd like! The great thing is that it's all printable - once you buy the lesson plan, you can print as many copies as needed for your own studio.

There are several more plans that will be available to purchase in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Come visit The Teaching Studio Store to learn more about and to purchase our fun preschool music class lesson plans! And don't forget to also check out our "Mighty Musicians" curriculum, which is similar to "Early Explorers" but geared toward 5- and 6-year-olds.


Now Available: Muscle Builder Pack 1 with Extras!

Now available in the Teaching Studio store is the Muscle Builder Pack 1 with Extras! This pack includes My Muscle Builder Books 1 through 4 (at a discounted rate when you buy them together), as well as some extras to go along with each level. One thing that readers have been wanting to go with the Muscle Builder books are some scale reference sheets that students can keep in their binders for a quick reminder of the notes in each scale. I have created reference sheets for each level, as well as some "At a Glance" sheets listing each exercise in each level - great for keeping track of each of your students' progress through the Muscle Builder books! Here is what the Muscle Builder Pack 1 includes:


Book 1
My Muscle Builder Book 1
Book 1 Extras: Book 1 at a Glance; Major 5-Finger Scales Reference Sheet

Book 2
My Muscle Builder Book 2
Book 2 Extras: Book 2 at a Glance; Major & Minor 5-Finger Scales Reference Sheet; Chord Inversion Reference Sheet

Book 3
My Muscle Builder Book 3
Book 3 Extras: Book 3 at a Glance, includes Tonic & Dominant Chords Reference Sheet

Book 4
My Muscle Builder Book 4
Book 4 Extras: Book 4 at a Glance; Black Key 5-Finger Scales

If you have already purchased the books and are interested in downloading the extras, they will be available for individual download shortly! (Like, once my children are napping - ha!)

For those of you who are new to the Muscle Builder books, here is a little description of these fun technique books!

My Muscle Builder Books are illustrated, step-by-step piano technique booklets designed to help even your youngest students learn correct piano techniques and become fluent in playing chords and scales all over the keyboard. Emphasis is placed on playing the exercises with a musical purpose, and many articulations and techniques are introduced. Each scale or exercise is clearly illustrated using colorful circles on a keyboard, making it possible for young students to use the books beginning at their very first lesson! The booklets are attractive and colorful and include spaces to pass off each exercise with a sticker. These booklets will give students a sound foundation in their piano technique and their understanding of keyboard fundamentals.  
Print out the books in booklet form and staple or spiral-bind and distribute to the students in your own private studio for a fun way to learn, practice, and pass off piano technique exercises. Students and parents will appreciate the simple, step-by-step instructions included on each page that will ensure your students are practicing correctly at home. Also included in this pack are some extras to go along with each level. You may want to print out the “At a Glance” sheets to keep in your teaching binder to keep track of each individual student’s progress, and the scale reference sheets are great for your students’ binders as quick reminders of the notes in each scale.

Purchase the Muscle Builder Pack 1 here, or on the Muscle Builder page. Happy scale-playing, y'all!

My Muscle Builders - Pack 1 (Books 1 through 4 plus extras)
Price: $27

*Post Edit: Extras are now available for Books 1 through 4!

Book 1 Extras 
(Includes Book 1 At a Glance and 5-Finger Scale Reference Sheet. 3 Pages.)
Price: FREE
Download here

Book 2 Extras
(Includes Major/Minor 5-Finger Scale Reference Sheet, a Chord Inversion Reference Sheet, and Book 2 At a Glance. 5 Pages.)
Price: $1.99

Book 3 Extras
(Includes Book 3 At a Glance and a Tonic & Dominant Chords Reference Sheet. 1 Page.)
Price: $1.99

Book 4 Extras
(Includes Major Black-Key 5-Finger Scale Reference Sheet and Book 4 At a Glance. 2 Pages.)
Price: $1.99


Classical Christmas Piano Music

'Tis the season for Christmas music!

Piano students in studios all over are getting out their favorite seasonal carols and songs to play. Over the next several weeks, piano teachers will hear rendition after rendition of "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (with all 12 verses!). I love this time of year, I love playing Christmas music, and I love that added excitement and motivation that comes to many students when they play these wonderful songs that are familiar to them and that they love.

I've been thinking though. As pianists we have such a rich and wonderful collection of great literature to play and perform. I love the traditional Christmas carols just as much as the next person (if not more!). But how cool would it be to hold a Christmas recital (with your more advanced students in your studio) consisting not of arrangement after arrangement of our favorite popular carols and Christmas songs of today, but of challenging, beautiful and virtuosic classical pieces that reference the Christmas season! I have been on the hunt for classical Christmas pieces lately and am so excited about all of the amazing pieces I have discovered! I hope you can use some of these in your studio or even just in your own playing this Christmas season. Merry Christmas! Now get practicing!

Busoni - Elegy No. 4 - Turandots Frauengemach, Intermezzo
This neat piece is based on Greensleeves. I am in love with it! It combines a traditional Christmas tune with some great virtuosic techniques to make for an awesome classical Christmas recital piece for an advanced pianist.

Sheet music is found in this book of Busoni piano works , or online in the Petrucci Music Library. Here is John Ogdon performing the piece.

Percy Grainger - Sussex Mummer's Carol for solo piano
I was unfamiliar with this song before finding this arrangement, but what a gorgeous piece! The harmonies are lovely. This would be a unique and gorgeous piece for a student to perform at Christmastime.

Sheet music found here or in this book of classical piano Christmas music. Take a listen!

Max Reger - Silent Night
A nice classical arrangement of the traditional Christmas carol. Find the sheet music here or in this book of classical piano Christmas music .

Busoni - Nuit de Noel (Christmas Night), BV 251
This fascinating piano sketch includes some quite modern harmonies, evoking a darker holiday mood. The darkness is broken with the sounds of Christmas bells throughout and the familiar Christmas carol O Sanctissima

Sheet music may be found on jwpepper.com or in the Petrucci Music Library. Listen to this great piece!

Busoni - Sonatina In diem nativitatis Christi MCMXVII BV 274
Like his Nuit de Noel, Busoni's 4th Sonatina is also quite modern in harmony and also evokes bells. Composed right before Christmas in 1917, it is a gorgeous work - but definitely not your typical holiday piece! This would be a unique and different choice for an advanced pianist's holiday recital :)

Sheet music can be found in the same book as the Elegy listed above , or online here.

Franck - Christmas Carol from Anjou
Simple and lovely and light, this little piece is beautiful. 

Sheet music found here.

Liszt - Weihenachtsbaum (Christmas Tree)
Who knew that Liszt wrote a twelve-movement piece entitled "Christmas Tree?" Not I! This is a fun little discovery. Movement 3, The Shepherds at the Manger, is a light and beautiful transcription of In dulce jubilo.

Movement 4 is a gorgeous and rousing version of Adeste Fidelis (O Come, All Ye Faithful). I am loving this!

Sheet music can be found here.

Rebikov - The Christmas Tree, Op. 21
A simple, gorgeous minor waltz.

Sheet music can be found here.

Schubert-Liszt - Ave Maria
Liszt's transcription of Schubert's Ave Maria is gorgeous and looks very challenging! This would be so amazing at a Christmas recital.

In searching for the sheet music, I did find it in this Dover collection of Schubert-Liszt transcriptions, however it does not look like the best edition. Anyone know a better edition?

This is so beautiful! Take a listen.

Bach/Myra Hess - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
This transcription of Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Myra Hess is beyond beautiful. I remember hearing Leon Fleisher play this at a recital and it was absolutely breathtaking.

This piece is so fitting for this wonderful holiday season when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. It sets an amazing tone for a Christmas recital or worship service, or just for playing to bring the spirit of this holiday into your home! I think I could listen to this piece all day long. I think I need to buy this music ASAP. :)

Bach/Egon Petri - Sheep May Safely Graze
At the same recital mentioned above, Leon Fleisher also played this transcription of Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze and I was in love. I played this piece at my senior recital in college. While not as synonymous with the Christmas season as Jesu, this piece to me is wonderful for the holidays. Like Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring it sets a warm and peaceful tone for the season.

Purchase sheet music on Amazon.com

Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker
What is Christmastime without Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker? This music, traditional to the Christmas season, is fun to play (as a solo or a fun and challenging piano duet) and audiences at your Christmas recitals will love it!

The Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a (which includes 8 selections from the Nutcracker ballet), arranged for solo piano by Tchaikovsky, is available on Amazon.com , as is the Langer arrangement for piano duet . You can also get the complete ballet for solo piano arranged by Sergey Taneyev and revised by the composer himself.

Several different arrangements of The Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a as well as the complete ballet are all available online here and here.

Classical Piano Music for the Christmas Season
Alfred has available a neat collection of classical Christmas piano music, edited by Maurice Hinson. It includes several selections, including pieces by Liszt, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and more. A few of the pieces that I have mentioned in this post are included in this collection! I am excited to add this book to my own music library! There are several places you can purchase this book online:
Purchase on Amazon.com
Purchase on jwpepper.com
Purchase on sheetmusicplus.com

Looking for more classical piano pieces for a Christmas or winter recital? Why not try some of these winter-related pieces!

Frank Bridge - Winter Pastoral (listen) (sheet music)
Chopin - Etude Op. 25 No. 11 (Winter Wind Etude) (Sheet music)
Debussy - Des pas sur la neige (Footprints in the Snow) from Preludes, Book 1
Debussy - Children's Corner No. 4 The Snow is Dancing (listen) (Sheet music)
Dohnanyi - Winterreigen (Winter Round Dances) Op. 13 (listen to No. 10) (Sheet music)
Charles Griffes - A Winter Landscape
Liszt Transcendental Etude No. 12 Chasse-Neige (or "Snow Storm") (listen) (sheet music)
Prokofiev - Winter Fairy from Cinderella

What are some of your favorite classical piano pieces related to the Christmas season?


What are your favorite Christmas pieces?

It's mid-October, and do you know what that means? I am pulling out my Christmas music, as I'm sure many of you are as well! Hooray!! It's my favorite time of the year. As musicians we are lucky because since we need to practice, we get to start getting excited for Christmas sooner than other people! ;) I love it.

So, I have some friends on Facebook discussing Christmas repertoire, and so I thought, why don't we all collaborate and share some of our favorite Christmas pieces, and then I will compile a big old list for everyone to enjoy. I always love finding new Christmas pieces, so I'm excited! Here we go!

If you have a holiday favorite, fill out this quick form. Be sure to let us know what style it is in, and if it is more advanced (for all of us teachers or advanced students to enjoy playing) or more for younger students.


Free Printable: Piano Lesson Contract

As a piano teacher/business owner, it is imperative to have some sort of a studio policy and contract to help lay out and enforce your studio rules and practices. I have had one for years and am constantly updating it. (It definitely does evolve as you get more and more experience!)

I had a little “a-ha!” moment though at my son’s meet the teacher night at his elementary school. One of the forms they had us fill out was a little teacher-student-parent contract, outlining the responsibilities of each in helping the child make the most of the school year. It included things such as parents making sure their children get enough sleep so they are well-rested for school, students reading for 20 minutes each day, and so on. I realized that a similar contract would be so helpful for piano lessons.

Yes, a studio contract from a business standpoint is great and wonderful (we all do want to be paid and have a well-run business, after all); but how about a contract that is purely aimed to helping our students get the most out of piano lessons? This type of contract would help make the teacher stay accountable to do their best in helping each student; it would allow the parents to realize what kind of a commitment music lessons really are, and that they are needed and responsible for so much more than just paying the tuition; it would also allow students to see what being a good student entails, and it would be a great opportunity to sit down with a parent and the teacher and commit to doing their best.

I particularly think this type of contract is so needed in many studios because I have come to learn just how important parental involvement is in piano lessons. Educating parents of this fact is imperative! About a year ago I had a couple of students who were perfect reminders to me of just how important parental involvement is. Both students came to me as beginners:

Student A enjoyed piano lessons, but for whatever reason (the parents both had busy careers, that may have been a factor) she was left to practice on her own most of the time. The mom even commented to me once that she was so frustrated that Student A just would not practice on her own and wouldn’t unless mom would help. (The student was about six years old.) I wished that she would have been more supportive in her daughter’s daily practicing, because she had a strong piano background herself. Despite my efforts to make piano lessons a positive experience, Student A became disinterested and, sadly, discontinued lessons.

Student B (about the same age as Student A) did not have a piano in his home. His mom took him to his grandparents’ home every single day to practice. She sat down with him and practiced with him every day. They were always sure to read the assignment book together and practice each assignment very thoroughly and effectively. When Student B would struggle with a concept, the mom would always communicate to me what/where the problem was, and we were able to address it in the piano lesson and fix it. Student B progressed very quickly. He always had extended family around who would encourage him and listen to him play. At studio recitals he always had the most family in attendance who were all genuinely interested in and proud of his progress. Student B is still playing the piano and doing remarkably well (although sadly I am no longer his teacher!).

Parental involvement is key! We need to educate our students’ parents of this fact and encourage them to be a bigger part of their child’s musical education.

Now added to my Free Printables page is a Teacher-Student-Parent piano lesson contract. My hope is that this will be a helpful thing to go over with new students to help explain expectations, and a nice catalyst for some good discussions with parents about their responsibilities in conjunction with their child's piano lessons. I have included three different versions with different clipart at the top. I hope you enjoy!

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