One App At a Time: Practice+

Frankly, sophisticated apps like Practice+ can intimidate me. I prefer those that only have a few features that also seem extremely screen568x568-1intuitive. Although this enhanced metronome app was quite easy to explore, the multiple features had me wondering if this would be worth my consideration for most of my students.

However…after I experimented with the recording option, it dawned on me that this could be the PERFECT app for an adult student of mine who continues to struggle with finding and sticking with a steady beat.

As I played through a piece using the “Clave” metronome set to 8th note subdivisions–there are SO many options from which to choose–I recorded my practice with the metronome and saved it with an appropriate title and then listened to the recording, all within the same app. I was close to being right on with a tendency to be slightly in front of the pulse–typical of yours truly.

Since my student struggles to know if she is on the beat, this practice metronome with a recording feature could be a dynamite tool to help her finally secure a steady, strict pulse. By listening to herself practice with the metronome she could possibly (hopefully!) self correct her wobbly adherence to the beat.

There’s an option to email recordings which could offer my student a chance to send me a sample of her practice for feedback and encouragement from me between lessons. Continue reading

88 Creative Keys in Denver: Should We Do It Again?

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My son is on the left, and nephew playing the bass line. They were lucky enough to be jamming with the lovely Wendy KA!

Since I’ve already offered plenty of posts about the 88 Creative Keys Camp at, I’ll limit this to two points:

First, I can’t resist listing at least 8 (88-80) highlights at the Denver 2014 camp

1) Seeing a kiddo’s eyes light up when he became privy to the secret of the pentatonic scale. While some of the other topics we covered were tricky for him, this 10-year-old was “all in” once he realized that a nickels-worth of notes were worth their weight in gold.

2) Meeting and befriending the campers of all three tracks. Everyone had such interesting backgrounds and diverse reasons for attending our camp. I made so many friends for life and look forward to reconnecting.

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A Piano Camp that Grooves and Glows?

A good friend of mine has called me a synthesizer. Not a keyboard with buttons, bells and whistles but a person who gathers information and ideas and10612646_616341838479660_7457876672964454483_n blends them into a new concoction that suits the flavor or need of the day. That happened last week while holding my annual Piano Olympics camp as I was in search of some activities to create three 2-hour days that coupled fun with learning.

My biggest concern was my level of motivation this late in the summer as the past two months were jam-packed. I was part of the planing team and a presenter at Southern Methodist Institute for Piano Teachers Conference (SMU-IPT) and held 88 Creative Keys camps (88CKC) in Ohio and Denver with Bradley Sowash. What I discovered was that all of these events provided more than enough material for a camp and things fell into place easily. While shopping for the mandatory camp snacks, I stumbled across shelves full of summer items deeply discounted which made for some extra special parting gifts for the campers. Note to self: always check the seasonal aisles at the end of the season!

A group of five charming girls were enrolled in the camp and knowing their current level of study and interest I knew I needed to include the following: Continue reading

How to Track App Assignments

It’s taken me a while to come up with this “how-to” post. In fact, it took me two “tries.”  What you’ll find below is a pair of IMG_2639articles I wrote for JoyTunes–the developers of THE hottest app, Piano Maestro. The first article discusses when and how to incorporate apps and the next article describes how to keep track of all your APPlied plans.

Since there were requests for me to generate a generic lesson assignment/app tracking sheet, I’ve included that below.

Before you check it out and leave this post, I highly suggest reading both articles to help you grasp the idea of integrating apps into your teaching.

#1 When and How to Use Apps

Unfortunately, just accumulating cool music apps will NOT set your studio apart.

Utilizing apps to their full capacity and tracking how they enhance your students’ progress 2 (13)

Most would agree that this integration process is THE most tricky part of using today’s technology. Each of your students is on an individual musical path, advancing at various speeds.
This requires customized assignments and with a studio of 20+ students, this can be a tedious task.

There are various solutions to this dilemma. Power tool apps that provide individual accounts,  feedback and progress like Piano Maestro are extremely helpful—hooray!

However, sometimes other apps must be employed and it’s helpful to keep a record of their use. Before I dive into how I keep track of assignments, it may be helpful to review WHEN I use apps and HOW I design app assignments for each student.

In general, there are three ways to incorporate apps into your savvy instruction:

To read more, click here.

#2 What to Assign and How to Track Apps Assignments

Continue reading

A Life-Changing Conference


New-found friends at SMU-IPT

New-found friends at SMU-IPT

“I knew there was something missing from my approach, but I didn’t know how to fix it. Now I do. I, my studio, and most importantly, my students, will never be the same... I feel absolutely privileged to have been at this event. Other teachers: Nobody is more “page dependent” than I am, but thanks to the inherent elasticity of pianist brains, I know that from what I learned at the IPT, I can develop enough off-the-page skill to launch my students into becoming more balanced, more free, musicians.” -Kristi

Couldn't decide it I liked sharing off-the-bench activities or iPad apps. They both were SO fun!

Couldn’t decide if I liked sharing off-the-bench activities more or iPad apps…the verdict is still out.

“Southern Methodist University Institute for Piano Teachers was a major game-changer for me. I will be teaching differently. Already other teachers have asked me to share about what I learned at our Independent Music Teachers Forum in September. I attended, I was engaged, I learned, I grew, I was enriched and my creative juices were revived!”  -Allen

What a wonderful 4 days! I was reminded of many things I already do and teach, but challenged to take them to the next level.-Marti

I feel like those present were witnessing a paradigm shift that can have huge ramifications to not only ourselves, but our students as well. I also appreciate the practical nuts and bolts activities. These are really helping in my practicing.” -Kay

Even though I missed the first day, the remaining days were “jam” packed with inspiration to take every day forward into my own music and into my the lives of my students.” -Alice

If you’re a regular at, you’ll know that I helped promote and plan the Southern Methodist University Institute for Piano Teachers. Forrest Kinney and Bradley Sowash were the conference headliners. Kristin Yost and I (check out also provided sessions. A HUGE thanks also goes to Kristin for handling many of the logistics of the conference.

Always held at Southern Methodist University and steeped in years of outstanding topics, presenters and loyal attendees, Sam Holland, interim Dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, envisioned this year’s SMU-IPT to be unique.  He dedicated the entire conference to the creative piano teacher. In my opinion, there has never been such a dynamic, interactive event with a fresh format quite like this one. The comments listed above seem to agree. These were left from readers in reaction to Bradley Sowash’s post about SMU-IPT at

Being so closely tied to every detail, I thought it might be best to share Bradley’s perhaps only-slightly- less-biased insight on his SMU-IPT experience. -Leila 


The Creative Piano Teacher

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A Self-Publisher’s Dream Come True

It was a cold Thursday evening in November of 2013. I remember because I was driving to choir rehearsal–always held on Thursday evenings.  While AlfredMusictrying to concentrate on the road, my mind was racing after reading and rereading this email from Philip Johnston:

“Having read some of your articles at, here’s what I can’t get out of my head, and what should be circling in yours:

You really—in a don’t even stop to think about it, just do it, because you’ll regret it one day if you don’t and you’re good at this—should turn your writing into a book.

Your thoughts on iPads springs to mind as an example of exactly the sort of information that music teachers everywhere should be reading.”

As Johnston has been a respected source of inspiration for me for years in his books The Practice Revolution and The Dynamic Studio: How to keep students, dazzle parents, and build the music studio everyone wants to get into, I was completely stunned by his unsolicited encouragement and was immediately convinced that yes, I had to write a book. OK, I’m a pushover I admit, but this kick in the pants was the needed boost that catapulted me into the world of writing “for real.” Continue reading

Savvy Business Sense at a Bargain

Are you tired of


  • Not making a consistent income?
  • Giving make-up lessons?
  • Parents asking for refunds?
  • Students sitting for 20 minutes after their lesson because Mom’s running one more errand?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then you need–no, you MUST–attend Wendy Steven’s webinar

Best Stress-Free Business Practices for the Piano Studio

Watch this video (click here) to see what the webinar will offer.

Continue reading

88 Creative Keys Travels to Ohio

You know you’ve got a good thing when the dog jumps in the back of the car. Marlow was gently coaxed out of the hatch to make room for the drums, guitar, notebooks, Toebourines,™ a couple of computers and of course some iPads all for the first day of our 88 Creative Keys Camp in Ohio.

Marlo was quite sure 88 Creative Keys would be more fun than staying home

Marlow was quite sure 88 Creative Keys would be more fun than staying home

(FYI: 88 Creative Keys is a camp founded by Bradley Sowash and me to encourage creativity beyond the page. There are tracks for teachers and students. Click 88 Creative Keys to register.)

For a number of years, Bradley Sowash has worked with Suzuki Music Columbus for Strings and it was suggested (somewhat at the last-minute) that this year we hold our camp in collaboration with theirs held every year at Otterbein University. As it’s hard to say “no” to such an offer and as we were both willing to improvise on short notice, we agreed and made plans to stake our claim and set up camp in Ohio.

Teaching Creativity Track: For Teachers

There were some unfortunate glitches along the way due to various events held at the same time so our teacher track was few in numbers but mighty in energy and pizzazz. The fun-loving group dug into every tip, strategy, technique and app suggested. Continue reading

Five Tips for Boosting Summer Practice

Summer can mean fewer lessons and less time at the keys. JoyTunes, the developers of Piano Maestro, are keenly aware of this and figured parents might like some suggestions to keep those fingers wiggling at the ivories. I’ve posted the article, originally written for JoyTunes, at as teachers may find these tips helpful during lessons and assign as home practice as well. A HUGE thank you to the JoyTunes’ graphics team who designed such adorable and fitting pics!

OOPS! Never heard of Piano Maestro? If not, you are missing out on the TOP piano app according to teachers, parents and students. Get your free version here and see why.



Shopping Cart

Next time you are waiting in line to pay for groceries and your young shopper asks for candy or a new toy, say yes. Qualify the yes by offering rewards with success on Piano Maestro (PM). As your young musician works his way through the Alfred Premier Lesson books or Jennifer Eklund’s Piano Pronto, let him earn one quarter when a new piece is mastered and receives three gold stars on PM. Once enough quarters are earned, let him add his favorite treat to the shopping cart.

721f2ecd-9135-4d28-82e9-a0ce3d899b2eOn the Road Again

If a long road trip is planned for the summer, there’s no excuse to miss a day of practice when you pack the iPad and Piano Maestro. Since there’s plenty of familiar tunes in the library, choose one and invite a family sing-a-long as your pianist plays the tune on the app. Tips: pack headphones and load songs prior to your trip as PM requires Wi-Fi for songs one has not played before.

Maestro League Baseball 

When its rainy outside play baseball inside.  Once a “batter” earns three gold stars on a PM song, she advances to first base. Every time three stars are awarded, the batter runs to the next base until she reaches home plate. The sibling (or opposing team) with the most runs at the end of the week wins a box of Cracker Jacks, a game of catch with Dad or maybe a trip to the ball park!

Extreme Makeover 

Building a young musician’s independence at the piano is the desirable and the ultimate goal of both teachers and parents. Select a song from the PM that is available as sheet music or one from the method books featured in the library that seems equal to or slightly more difficult than what your child is currently playing. You can download PM sheet music hereWith little to no help, ask her to read through the piece as accurately as possible. With her permission, video this initial and perhaps somewhat rough first-time through the piece. Then open up PM, locate the same song and using PM’s Learn Mode have her gradually master the piece. Track success with a follow-up video of her breezing through the piece using PM at the intended tempo. Don’t forget to watch both videos together and marvel at the extreme makeover!

Continue reading

How to Teach Your Students to Improvise

Bradley Sowash was recently interviewed by Andrea Dow of TeachPianoToday.comBelow is a repost of his blog at EyeEarRevolution.comthe-teach-piano-today-podcast-200x200 that features a link to the podcast. The dynamic interview is definitely worth your time as Bradley gives away his “trade secrets” and shows that yes, he is an expert improviser and an expert teacher of improvisation. Many of his answers include lists, mantras and tips you won’t want to miss. One of his lists is featured in his latest blog post linked below.

Hearing Bradley talk and reading his posts at are helpful, but immersing yourself in his systematic teaching style is priceless–I should know as I’ve been his apprentice and business partner for the past year. In fact, there’s still time to register for the 88 Creative Keys Camp in Ohio and Denver to learn more. Bradley and I would love to see you there!

Bradley’s Post at


Inspiration and How To Tips


After hearing my presentations about improvisation at a couple of conferences, my friend and fellow piano teacher, Gilya, suggested I consider offering “less cheerleading and more content.”  Her wise comment helped me solidify advocacy into a two-pronged strategy for integrating improvisation into music lessons.

d7b39192fff3207c9937fdce14cf289aAs an advocate for musical creativity, half of my job is to encourage (okay, prod) the uninitiated to “dive in” by closing the music books now and then. The other half is offering teaching tips to those who have already taken the “off page” plunge. You’ll find plenty of both by digging deeper into this blog, my “That’s Jazz” books, and by attending my professional development events on this topic.  And now, thanks to Andrea and Trevor at Teach Piano Today, you have a new way to check out my ideas on this topic.



Grab some headphones and listen in for “hands-free” professional development while you drive or do dishes this Memorial Day weekend by clicking here.  Scroll to the bottom for the “play” button after reading Trevor’s delightful introduction.


Steps To Introducing A New Creative Concept


Lest I only “cheerlead” with this post (thanks again Gilya), here are some details on one of the points Andrea and I discuss in that podcast.  To get a student to try out a new improvisation idea, follow these steps.

  1. Be specific

Show your student how to play a level-appropriate left-hand accompaniment on a chord progression or ostinato bassline. If you need ideas, you can always use the bass clef part of a tune they have already learned. Next, ask your student to improvise a right-hand part within specifically limited parameters. For example, you could limit it to creatively using just one note, mixing up the melody, or playing around with the pentatonic scale.  Hold them to it. Initially, they mustn’t stray from the limitations.

  1. Compliment….to continue reading, click here.