On My Wall

Hanging above my piano, I have framed pages from three pieces that have been meaningful to me in my piano education. I love how this turned out, and I love looking up and seeing these pieces on my wall - it's motivating, that's for sure!

Here are the three pieces I have framed:

1) La fille aux cheveux de lin, or The Girl with the Flaxen Hair by Debussy

This is the first "real" classical piece I learned. I studied for years with a wonderful teacher in my neighborhood, going through mainly just method books (finishing both the entire Eckstein and Schaum methods), never really learning any "real" classical pieces except for versions that were in my method books. My Dad has always loved classical music though, and was always so supportive of me and my music. He came to me one day and encouraged me to learn this Debussy prelude, one of his favorite pieces. So I learned it all on my own and loved it! I used it to audition with my next teacher, who really got me playing correctly, playing some wonderful literature, and who really encouraged and inspired me to become a piano teacher.

2) Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G minor, Op 25, 3rd movement

I played this concerto with my high school orchestra my senior year of high school. It's important to me because it is the piece that helped me get into the piano program at Brigham Young University, where I wanted to study piano performance. I had actually already auditioned and had not been accepted, when I performed this piece with the school orchestra. It went so well that my piano teacher got all determined and decided to send a letter, along with a video recording of me playing this piece, to the piano department of the school, asking them to reconsider. Pretty soon I received a phone call from the head of the piano department, telling me that they had watched the video and decided to move me to #1 on the waiting list. I was so excited and so grateful when I got another phone call letting me know I had gotten in! My 4 years in the piano program at BYU were so amazing and have been so important to me in my life. 

3) Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61 by Chopin

This is the piece that I concluded my senior recital in college with - sort of the peak of my college career I guess you could say. This piece is meaningful to me because it reminds me how much I learned and accomplished during those four years.

Which pieces have been meaningful to you as you have studied piano?


Piano Beanbags

Today I just wanted to share something fun I made for my daughter! I have been teaching my 3-year-old daughter piano lately, and she really loves it. Her almost-2-year-old brother likes to tag along as well; it's a fun part of our day!

Sometimes when I get awakened early in the morning by my *darling* children, the wheels in my mind start turning and I just can't shut it off and go back to sleep - this was one of those early morning ideas that came to me last week, and it turned out so fun!

Since my daughter is pretty little, right now we are doing a combination of piano basics (keyboard topography, black key patterns, high/low, etc.), pre-staff notation/rote songs, music & movement, games on my giant floor keyboard, etc. I wanted a fun way to get her to start recognizing the different white keys without necessarily quizzing her on the letter names (she is still learning her alphabet anyway, and doesn't know them all yet). So I made these fun beanbags for her! Each beanbag has either 2 black keys or 3 black keys with their coordinating white keys; each also has a colorful circle on one of the white keys.

When I sewed these my daughter was thrilled! We have put them to good use already. Here are a few of the ways we have used them in her lessons:

*matching them up with the black key groups on the giant floor keyboard (she puts them on either a 2-black-key group or a 3-black-key group)

*matching them up on the giant floor keyboard with the specific white key shown with the colorful circle - she got the hang of this so quick and did a great job! A good first step to learning the letter names on the keyboard.

*putting them all together in a row in the correct pattern (2 black keys, 3 black keys, 2 black keys, 3 black keys) to make a beanbag keyboard

*pretending to play some of her little songs on the beanbags once they are put together in a row!

The backs of the beanbags are just fun colorful patterns.

I'm having lots of fun teaching my daughter and focusing on coming up with ideas for one-on-one lessons for preschoolers. They are such a fun age group, and are so excited about music and learning things that it is a perfect age to start if you do it right (LOTS and lots of off-the-bench learning, music and movement, listening games, and just teaching with excitement and joy). 

What things have you found that work with teaching little ones? Or with teaching your own children?


Free Download: Piano Muscle Builders for Older Beginners

I have been wanting for a long time to make a "muscle builder" technique booklet for older beginners - something similar to the My Muscle Builder Books but less cutesy and more concise, something that could be used by beginners who are teenagers or even adults. I finally have taken one that I made a couple of years ago and revamped it a bit, and I'm excited to offer it to you today as a free download!

Piano Muscle Builders, Level 1: White-Key 5-Finger Patterns covers all of the same material that is in My Muscle Builder Book 1, and much of the same material in My Muscle Builder Book 2. Concepts/exercises in this book include five-finger scales, simple arpeggios, "fancy" arpeggios, and block chords in the fourteen white-key major and minor keys.

As older beginners use this book, my goal is that they accomplish three main objectives: understand what they are playing, learn to play with good technique, and play with a musical purpose. To achieve these goals, this book contains more theory and terminology explanations than the My Muscle Builder Books; each page contains reminders of good technical practices; and exercises include articulation suggestions to make them musical.

I have also included a review at the end of the book to test students' knowledge of the exercises learned. This review includes spelling all of the major and minor chords, playing the scales and chords all in a row, and notating the major and minor chords on the staff.

This resource is available as a free digital download and is 12 pages long. It may be downloaded in this post, or on the Muscle Builders page of The Teaching Studio Store, or on the Freebies page. I hope you enjoy it!

Piano Muscle Builders, Level 1: White-Key 5-Finger Patterns
12 pages


Now Available: Muscle Builder Book 6

Now available to purchase is the 6th book in the My Muscle Builder Book series! This book is a lot of fun and continues to build on the techniques learned in previous books. 

In Book 6 we continue working on hands-alone two-octave major white key scales, this time adding in some interesting rhythms and articulations to help make our scales more even and musical. We begin working on hands-alone two-octave black key major scales as well, using our Sneaky Thumb and Finger Crossover exercises to achieve a nice, even scale.

Students will review chord inversions, playing some inversion exercises in all of the white key minor keys - these exercises include "walking up" the chords one note at a time as well as playing them in block chords.

Next, students will do some simple transposing into the keys of D-flat, E-flat, G-flat, A-flat and B-flat. 

And who doesn't love playing a good, fast chromatic scale?? In Book 6 we learn the right hand and left hand fingerings of the chromatic scale, and then practice each one several different ways - gradually speeding it up with a metronome, playing it in different rhythms - until we get to try and play it at lightning speed

And finally, students will work on listening and identifying a few different intervals - minor 2nds, major 2nds, and perfect 4ths, 5ths and 8ths. Each exercise is accompanied by colorful diagrams of the notes in each scale and the correct fingerings, so students of any age will be able to become fluent in playing all over the piano.

As always, this product is in the format of a digital download. I recommend printing the Muscle Builder Book in booklet form, with 2 pages per sheet, then folding and stapling together. Each exercise has a little circle that students/teachers can check off or place a sticker on when the exercise is mastered.

Also available is the companion Muscle Builder Extras - Book 6, which includes 2 reference sheets: black key major scales (right hand fingering and left hand fingering) and chromatic scales (right hand fingering and left hand fingering). It also includes a 2-page "Book 6 At a Glance" sheet, a handy sheet where you can check off and keep track of your students' progress.

Both resources may be purchased in this post, or in the Teaching Studio Store on the Muscle Builders page.

My Muscle Builder Book 6
42 pages, digital download
Price: $10.00

My Muscle Builder Extras - Book 6
4 pages, digital download
Price: $1.99


Piano Anno: A New Resource for Fingering and Interpretation

Today I'm excited to share another guest post written by pianist and teacher Christie Sowby. I love Christie's insights into using technology in our teaching, and today she is going to introduce us to an amazing new website for pianists and teachers!

I would like to share an excellent new resource I have found for piano teachers and students. It’s called Piano Anno (www.pianoanno.com) and is an online platform for sharing annotated music in the public domain. The “Annos” contain fingering, markings, interpretation, and performance tips from professional pianists. Annos sell for $3 each in the form of a downloadable PDF.

For teachers, this is a welcome relief. How many times have I written in fingering for the same piece of music for my students? Or how many times have I wondered if there is a better fingering out there to approach something technically? Piano Anno is a real timesaver in this way with its reliable fingerings and other interpretive markings. I can affordably purchase as many copies as I need for my students. (Annos are licensed for a single user.) Sometimes I have found its fingering suggestions better than my own, as they have been stage-tested by other pianists.

For students, Piano Anno jumpstarts the often time-consuming process of annotating one’s own copy of the same music. The print-ready Annos are handy and inexpensive. Even if you don’t use the public-domain edition (perhaps you prefer your own), the Anno is still a good reference and you can hand-copy as many fingerings to your preferred edition as you need to.

Piano Anno invites qualified contributors to submit their own Annos and earn a commission on each sale. They are always looking for new pieces, or even new Annos of a piece already offered. Since only public-domain works are shared on Piano Anno, many 20th-century composers like Bartók, Scriabin, and Cage are off limits. Nevertheless, there is a growing selection of other favorites to which you might add your own. If you have great fingerings or ideas and want to share them with the world, this is a good opportunity. (And maybe even to get paid while you sleep!)

I’m thrilled to see innovative efforts like this, where pianists can harness digital technology to share their ideas and advance their musicianship. Think of it. A digital library of classical piano scores, with annotations by real performers. It’s like downloading some of that performer’s experience into your own learning, and it also gives you a way to pass on yours.

Visit Piano Anno to see what Annos are currently available, to suggest Annos you want to see there, or to become a contributor yourself. This is an excellent resource for all pianists, so please share this website with your students, colleagues, and the music community.
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