Upside-Down Compositions

Sometimes my best (and most successful) teaching ideas are the spur-of-the-moment ones that I just sort of think up at the last second. Today I had a student arrive without her books (and she had not practiced much this week), so I grabbed my staff flannel board and some black felt notes.

I first had her review the notes in a C Major five-finger scale (a great note-reading review as well as a review of her scales!) by building the scale on the flannel board. I then had her build a C Major chord as well (my students surprisingly mix up chords and arpeggios all the time - I tell them to sing "ar - pe - ggio!" while playing the three notes of the arpeggio, and to sing "chord" when playing a chord - it seems to help a bit!).

I then allowed her to make up her own short song with any notes in the bass clef. She LOVED this (I have found that most young children LOVE making up their own music....let's take that and run with it, shall we??) and came up with this song:

I then had her play it on the piano (an EXCELLENT note-reading exercise - and she did very well considering she is in level 2 of Faber's My First Piano Adventures...barely into note reading!).  I told her afterwards that we were going to do something super cool with her song. I added an upside-down treble clef at the end of her song...

...and then flipped the whole thing over!

She was excited to see that this had created an entirely new song in the treble clef! We had fun playing it and seeing what it sounded like (naming all the notes as we went...great review!).

I decided to send her home with some blank staff paper and I assigned her to write a short song (using the notes of a predetermined five-finger scale, to keep it simple and easy to play in one hand position), and then to flip it over and play the upside-down version!

Here is one we did in the C Major five-finger position:

You flip it over and you're in a nice F position - easy for small hands.

Voila - a fun and simple note-reading/five-finger scale/composition exercise! Goodnight all!


Little Musicians

Yesterday was the last day of our current session of our Early Explorers music class and it was such a blast that I just had to share!

Our theme was "All About Me." We taught the children about all of the different parts of our bodies we use to make music and learned how we are each musicians!

We had this cute little musician on our flannel board that we put together one piece at a time, doing a fun song or activity to go with each of its features. Children got to take turns coming up to choose which body part we would learn about next.

For example, when the smile was chosen we talked about how music can sound happy or sad, and how it can make us feel happy or sad! We introduced our friend Major/Minor Frog (a last-minute idea that the kids loved). We listened to a piece by Mozart with alternating major/minor sections and the children enjoyed hopping around happily and catching flies during the major sections, and then being sad, grumpy frogs (who couldn't find any flies to eat) during the minor sections. We saw some awesome frowny faces during the minor sections. They loved it!

By the end of the hour we had our little musician all put together! The children then got to color their own picture of themselves - they each got a blank outline to fill in/color (just like our little musician) and it said "I Am a Musician!"

What a fun class it was! The kids really enjoyed it. Preschool music classes are such a joy!


Giant Floor Staff!

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you're all having a lovely day and have a fun weekend planned. As for me, I am sitting here in my pajamas enjoying the beginning of my weekend and a day off from teaching piano.

Those of you who have purchased my graphic to make a Giant Floor Keyboard will be excited to hear that I now have a Giant Floor Staff graphic available! My vinyl floor staff turned out great and I am so excited to use it in my music classes and camps! I have already gotten some good use out of it in my private lessons. It is so great to have a super fun and different way to help my students learn the notes on the staff, which allows them to get off of the bench and move around.

I debated about putting a clef on there or not...and ended up not. I wanted to be able to use it for bass clef or treble clef notes. I think I may try to make some big clefs that I can put on there when needed, but for now it has worked fine without.

It is nice and big (about 90 inches long 28 inches tall, not including the white border) and is perfect for children to walk, stand, jump, and run on (I know this because my four-year-old son got some great use out of it this morning....also, it is nice and sturdy!!)

Just like my Giant Floor Keyboard, I had it made on www.bannersonthecheap.com. They have excellent prices, high-quality products and super fast delivery time. Totally an awesome deal, and the ease and quality is worth the money, in my opinion!

I created my own custom-designed 3' x 8' banner by first clicking here and then uploading my staff image. Stretch the image to fill the banner area (leaving a small white margin around the outside, if desired) and select the box to center it horizontally. Click "Save and Continue" and you are all set to order your Giant Floor Staff. Easy peasy.

You can use fun letter name beanbags...

...colorful craft foam notes (hmmm, makes me want to play Twister)...

...or simply allow children to walk right on there and be the notes themselves!

Students of all ages and levels (even preschoolers) will get so much use out of this giant staff!

The graphic is available for purchase here as well as on the "Printables & Downloads" page.

Giant Floor Staff Graphic


Giveaway Winners! & Lesson Plan Available for Purchase

Thanks to ALL who entered our giveaway!! We have randomly selected two winners, who will each receive a free download of our Spectacular Spring! Lesson Plan. The two lucky winners are:

Congratulations, Mitmer & Dani! Mitmer, please send me your email address so I can send you your free lesson plan!

As for the rest of you, I am excited to announce that our Spectacular Spring! Lesson Plan is now available for purchase!

The lesson plan is $8.00 and may be purchased here:

or on the Printables & Downloads page.

Enjoy! I'd love to know if any of you use our lesson plan and how it goes. Stay tuned for more fun lesson plans made available (we are thinking the next one will be our Forte/Piano lesson plan, all about Transportation.....), and possible other giveaways!


Last day to enter giveaway!!

Hi Friends! I hope you had an excellent weekend. We are so excited about how many people have entered our giveaway so far! Just a reminder that to enter the giveaway you need to leave an actual comment on the original post for each of your entries. You can have up to five entries.

Our Spectacular Spring! lesson plan will be up and ready to purchase tomorrow! We are working on getting the next one ready as well (so excited!). If you have not entered our giveaway, then enter enter enter! Today is the LAST day. Our two lucky winners will be announced tomorrow morning!

Here is a sneak preview of the contents of the our Spectacular Spring! lesson plan.
Well I am off to teach an Early Explorers music class! Today's theme is "Down on the Farm" and we are going to learn all about keyboard topography.

Have a great day!


Piano Teaching Q&A: Teaching Eighth Notes

I recently got this question from a good friend:

I have an adult beginner student who is having some difficulty with reading eighth notes and dotted quarters. If it's a song she already knows, like hymns, of course she can play it, but if I give her an unfamiliar piece with those rhythms she has no idea.
She already got through Alfred for adults level 1 with her other teacher, but she is very frustrated because she can play those songs by memory but not because she can read the notes. I've been doing a lot of sight reading with her (very basic), which helps, but counting songs with eighth notes is frustrating. I've tried using colored papers of different shapes as a visual demonstration: squares for quarters, rectangles half as long for eighths, etc. Part of the problem is that she says math was always her worst subject...My counting method is one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and, but if you have a better method I'd love to know.
What ideas do you have for teaching how to count rhythms with eighth notes and dotted quarters so that she can sight read them?

I think this is a fabulous question! I have had the same problem with students, particularly when they are transfer students, and it can be tricky to figure out what to do. Here are a few quick suggestions (and I hope to hear lots of input in the comments section as well!)

Feeling the Beat

In a situation such as this, it may be wise to go back to the basics...as in, the very basics. I have sometimes been amazed to discover that a student who is struggling with rhythm and counting has an underlying problem understanding and feeling the beat. So while math can be a big huge part of counting, rhythm is also quite related to physical movement.

It is good to find out if your student is able to feel the underlying beat of a song. Can they tap their foot, clap their hands, march or otherwise move to the beat of a song? I was recently teaching a teenage student when I surprisingly realized she was struggling to feel the beat. I immediately asked her what kind of music she listens to, went to my computer and opened up iTunes. We spent the rest of the lesson listening to all sorts of songs (rock, country, whatever) and trying to feel and clap the main beats. It was surprisingly challenging for her, but after some practice it got much easier. 

It may be that a student may need to practice listening and moving to music for awhile before they really get good at finding the beat. I have no qualms assigning a student to listen to music and walk, jog, clap or march to the beat for their practicing. If they can't feel the beat and are struggling to fit eighth notes into each beat, this is an essential step. 


Once they are able to feel the main beats, you can then venture back into the actual rhythms within the framework of even, steady beats. It may be helpful to have them walk or march or tap their foot to the main beat, and then practice subdividing into eighth notes by clapping their hands. Or have them play a steady beat in the left hand while counting out loud, subdividing into eighth notes ("one-and-two-and...").

I also wonder if you could help teach this visually by using a highlighter or colored pencil to draw vertical lines through the notes, highlighting each main beat in the measure? That way the student can see exactly how the main, steady beat (which they are now PRO at feeling) fits underneath the rhythm of the measure.

Hear - See - Do

I grabbed my copy of Practical Piano Pedagogy off of the shelf to see if Dr. Martha Baker-Jordan had any tips on this subject. Just a couple of brief ideas - she mentions the "Hear - See - Do" idea. In order to learn a concept, students should hear it (so you could play and count the rhythms aloud for them), see it (see how the rhythm fits within the steady beats - maybe by highlighting the main beats), and do it (play it and count aloud by themselves).

Dotted Quarters & Eighths

Baker-Jordan likes to count aloud on a dotted quarter-eighth rhythm and she says the count on the dot VERY loud. So if the rhythm is dotted quarter, eighth, dotted quarter, she would count: "one-and-TWO-and-three-and-FOUR-and." This helps the student hold out the dotted quarter for its e n t i r e length (since it is often shortchanged) and I imagine it would really help the student to feel the beat well.

Count Out LOUD!

I have to also add the counting loudly with CONFIDENCE is an excellent idea! Too many people count very quietly and timidly, and it is very easy to fudge on the steady beat if you are talking very, very softly. Speak up and say the counting as steady and as confidently as possible!

I hope this helps anyone who may be experiencing this speed bump in your student's progress. I would love to hear YOUR excellent ideas as well!

Don't forget to enter our giveaway!


Giveaway Sneak Peek & Free Printable!

Today I wanted to give you a little sneak peek into our Spectacular Spring! lesson plan...and give you a little portion of it for free! As part of our class, we have often used these fun Snack Mats to reinforce musical concepts...and to give the kids a chance to have a little snack and get a change of pace from other activities. We put these two pages back to back and slip them into sheet protectors. The children sit around the table with small snacks (fruit snacks, cereal, goldfish crackers, raisins, etc.) and we do ear training and other activities. The children can listen for high or low notes, for example, and place a snack on the high or low end of the piano or the grand staff. Our snack mat has a grand staff on one side, and a piano keyboard on the other. There is also a section for listening for fast/slow, soft/loud and short/long notes.

This is just one of the fun activities included in our Spectacular Spring! lesson plan. If you haven't entered our giveaway yet, don't forget to enter! Giveaway ends Monday, April 16.

Also available on the "Printables & Downloads" page!


Teaching Tip Tuesday: Visualize the Music

Teaching Tip #8: Visualize the Music

All of my beginning students do five-finger scales/arpeggios/chords each week. Sometimes it's fun to give them a new way to visualize these scales! I had a lot of success with my youngest student (4 years old) learning her C Major five-finger scale using these colorful fuzzies as a reminder of which notes to play! I sent the fuzzies home with her in a little baggie and she got to put them on her piano to find the right notes so she could "tip-toe up the keys."

Another great way for young students to visualize scales (and to experience them in a whole new way using their whole body!) is to use a giant floor piano and colorful beanbags. Students can actually "tip-toe up the keys" and even "play" the scale in different ways - short or long (hopping or slowly stepping), soft or loud (saying the letter names soft or loud and stomping or tip-toeing), etc.

What are some ways you help your students to visualize the music?

p.s. don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free copy of my new Spectacular Spring! lesson plan!


Giveaway!: High & Low Preschool Music Lesson Plan

Happy Monday, everyone! I am super excited today to announce a giveaway here on The Teaching Studio!

First of all, I'd like you all to meet my friend Nichole:

Nichole is a wonderful teacher and a dear friend. For the past year she and I have been collaborating on and teaching preschool piano camps and classes together. We've spent hours planning, brainstorming, writing curriculums, making up songs, creating all sorts of crafts and visual aids, cutting out lots and lots and lots of paper (our husbands see us get out the scissors and lovingly roll their eyes), and enjoying teaching the joy of music to preschoolers. We have just loved it! Our curriculum has changed and evolved over the past year, and we are getting really excited about how much fun this class is! 

The children who attend our class have such a great time. And they are really learning a lot! We love it when their parents tell us that their child has been singing the songs from class all day long! Or when we hear that they have told their parents all about what they have learned.

Well, we really want to share our class with YOU and make it possible for others to share our fun lessons with their own students. We have been working really hard getting our first lesson plan all ready so that others will be able to purchase it as a pdf download. 

Because we are so excited about it, this week we are going to give away TWO free copies of our Spectacular Spring!: High & Low lesson plan!

Now, this is not just a little ol' lesson plan. This includes a basic lesson plan, a teacher's guide with lots of teaching tips and suggestions to help you prepare to teach your class, and about fifty pages (yes, fifty) of great resources (songs, clipart, printables, teaching aids, templates, craft tutorials, take-home booklets, etc.) to make your class super fun and memorable.

This lesson plan  includes everything you'll need to teach an awesome one-hour class about High & Low in music. Everything is based on the theme of Spectacular Spring! We will share a little more about our fun lesson plan throughout the week. For now, these objectives of our lesson plan will give you an idea of what it's all about! It will be available for purchase next week.

To enter this giveaway, you can do one or more of the following (please leave a separate comment for each entry letting me know that you did it - thanks!):
  • Follow or subscribe to The Teaching Studio
  • "Like" The Teaching Studio on Facebook
  • Follow or subscribe to the Early Expressions Piano blog
  • "Like" Early Expressions Preschool Piano on Facebook
  • Post about this giveaway on your blog or Facebook timeline!
Giveaway ends next Monday, April 16 at 11:59 pm (CDT). We will announce our two winners on Tuesday, April 17. Ready....enter!


Happy Easter from The Teaching Studio

As music teachers, we know more than many others the amazing power of music. Music is so much more than a combination of sounds or frequencies. It is more than pitch, rhythm, and timbre. I remember one of my college music professors saying something that was so profound to me. He said, "someday we will figure out what music really is." Music really is so much more than a beautiful combination of notes and rhythms. Music is emotion. Music is testimony. Music conveys ideas. Music speaks when words cannot. Music crosses language barriers. Music speaks to the heart and to the soul.

At this Easter season, I am so grateful for beautiful music such as this, and so much more grateful for my Savior and Redeemer of whom it testifies. Happy Easter!


Teaching tip Tuesday: Give yourself a vacation!

Teaching Tip #7: Give yourself a vacation!

When I plan out my teaching calendar, I make sure to give myself needed and desired vacation time. As a self-employed private music teacher, you deserve a vacation just as much as any employee of a company! Tuition is always the same amount each month, even if some months have three lessons and some have five. You may need to get your students' parents used to this idea, but it makes so much more sense. If you plan it out in advance and let students know (I like to send out a calendar at the beginning of each semester), you will be able to enjoy those times (such as Christmas break, your summer vacation, etc.) without worrying about not being paid for a couple of weeks out of the month. When the semester's tuition is broken up into equal monthly payments, you are essentially getting paid vacation time.

In addition to the obvious holiday breaks (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.) I like to take days off such as my birthday, family birthdays (don't want to be teaching on my child's birthday, no sirree!), any holidays that land on a teaching day that my husband is not in school, etc. You work hard, give yourself a break!

Happy Tuesday!
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