Music Apps for Building Ear Skills

Doesn’t look like a music app post? Please bear with me…

If I could, I would head to our local Lifetime Fitness Center everyday. A habit or a hobby–not sure which–I try to squeeze in a workout as much as possible. One of the main reasons is because I like to build muscle and keep the metabolism up so I can eat my husband’s scrumptious cooking. The other reason I workout? Because I’m addicted to step class (among other classes) thanks to an outstanding instructor named Heidi.

This is a resort-like fitness center one-stop-light-away from our house!

This is a resort-like fitness center one-stop-light-away from our house!

She can “holler” at us with her New Orleans’ drawl and yet everyone remains extremely loyal to her group instruction because she works us hard and we see results. In addition, Heidi cues and designs steps and combos like no one else which makes for an exceptionally good workout for the body as well as the brain. Yep, step class, the trend started by Jane Fonda years ago-gulp–many more years than I’d care to admit.

I stepped right along with this video before my young boys popped out of bed.

Years ago, I stepped right along with this video before my young boys popped out of bed.

Why am I talking about my exercise regimen in a piano-related blog? Because I’m amazed at how a Heidi-cue will prompt me to move my feet to the beat for 8 to 16 counts. When Heidi says “V around the world” or “ham-string-straddle-knee hop” I know which foot to use, which way to go on which beat. Of course, this was after enduring the first class or two adjusting to Heidi’s lingo and that 12-inch step in front of me. I, along with my husband, as he is now a huge fan of the class as well–have become imprinted with Heidi’s cues and combos and are forever faithful to following her every command.


If I didn’t like her so much I’d hate her ‘cuz she looks adorable even after a grueling work out. My husband thinks the world of her, can you blame him?

So, if my body responds to verbal cues accompanied by just a few visual aids from Heidi on the stage, it seems my ears could also train my fingers in a similar fashion. Why don’t I seem as committed to building my ears and fingers on the bench like I am to strengthening my biceps and quads at the gym? If my ears can train my body, why can’t they train my fingers?

I believe there is one simple reason for weak ears: because I’m lazy. My eyes have dictated every move to my 10 fingers for so long, that my ears sit back with their feet up and moan whenever they are called into action. Unfortunately, my well-trained eyes have made my ears dull, insecure and withdrawn.

This means a call to action, a crash course for those flaps on the side of my head. Thankfully they have begun to see the daylight thanks to my online lessons with Bradley Sowash. They are getting a full workout and thus shaping up, but of course, there’s still room for improvement.

To provide a guaranteed play-by-ear program in this small post would be presumptuous. But here are just a few thoughts and tech-savvy tips to build ear power.

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Winners of Practice+ App

Congratulations to the following app lovers!screen568x568-1 You have won a free code for the Practice+ app.

  • Sheila
  • Mycgrimsby
  • Roxanne

I’ll be notifying you with instructions on how to redeem your code shortly.


-From Leila and the developers at Dynamic App Design.



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

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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.

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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