Upcoming East Coast Excursion: Will I See You?


A pedagogy class playing a round of Note Squish

This Midwest gal is going East next week.

Thanks to a lovely invitation extended by the Delaware Music Teachers Association and the support of JoyTunes, Ltd, I’ll be their convention clinician for the entire day (gulp) which means I need to keep things interesting.

First I’ll be chatting about my favorite subject: the iPad and THE top apps. This growing app list is simply too long so I’ll set a timer and talk apps until the alarm sounds or peeps begin to plug their ears because they’ve heard enough. If you are curious to know what is on my list, you can check out all my favorites of 2014, here.

The Delaware teachers are a brave bunch as they are also allowing me to talk about my next favorite subject: group improvisation. If any of you attended this session at MTNA 2014,  you know what’s in store for them. Continue reading

My Online Lessons: An Update

Yes, a classically trained pianist CAN learn new tricks!

Yes, a classically trained pianist CAN learn new tricks!

If you’ve been following 88pianokeys.me for a while you might recall that I began taking online lessons with Bradley Sowash over a year ago.

Although it is extremely hard to find time to practice for these creativity lessons between teaching, blogging, having a life and practicing for my regular church position, I’ve found time to make progress. Perhaps not as much as I would like but progress none the lesson.

Here’s my latest “show and tell.” In case you are wondering, this is NOT EASY! As a classically trained pianist, learning patterns and playing by ear instead of the eye is one of the most challenging and yet satisfying quests I could ever imagine.

I know, you’d rather not read my words. You want to see me in action. Before you watch the video, all dedicated students have an obligation to credit an amazing teacher. A HUGE thank you is in order to the patient and wise Bradley Sowash. Continue reading

Piano Maestro and Supersonics Piano: A Winning Combination

Recently, I learned that Piano Maestro (today’s hottest app for piano teachers) functions as a sheet music shopping mall!?  Unbeknownst to me, two of mye2e7b299-8bbc-45a3-a4d5-c084ec77e4c6 young maestros eagerly used the app to browse and select new music. Once they downloaded the app on their iPad at home, they immediately visited each “department,” discovered their favorite pieces and returned to lessons with urgent requests to learn them.

Only a beginner, one of the family members named Grant was determined to play “Going Undercover” by Daniel McFarlane. As he is in Alfred’s Premier Piano Course Book 1A, this piece is obviously out of his league according to my sound pedagogical upbringing. However, being a realist, I knew that allowing Grant to begin this piece would ignite those practice jets. Using the practice features of Piano Maestro in tandem with my lesson instruction would offer unquestionable support for progress. I couldn’t resist and immediately allowed him permission to begin “Going Undercover” found in McFarlane’s Supersonics Piano Digital A book. I placed my digital sheet music order at Supersonicspiano.com, and printed the score for Grant. (Someday paper will be a thing of the past thanks to the iPad and my favorite score-reading app forScore. Stay tuned for more info about that below.)

Make it Simple

When broken down, the piece is really quite manageable. The descending pattern is similar to a C-5-finger pattern with the flat 3rd creating the sound that immediately appealed to Grant. As Grant and I have encountered 8th notes in previous project pieces, it took just a second for him to recognize that there were two groups of four 8th notes in each bar.


Write Lyrics

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An Ancient Tune Stands the Test of Time

This past week I received a request from a congregation member to play “Be Thou My Vision” as communion music since he was dedicatingbethoumyvision his meditation on that particular celtic hymn.

Here’s a portion of what he read before I began playing this favorite hymn beautifully crafted into an arrangement by James Koerts.

“This is the story of the song:  It was the night before Easter in the year 433.  St. Patrick defied an edict by High King Leary that no candles were to be lit until the lighting of the blaze on Slane Hill that would usher in the Spring Equinox.  Patrick chose to honor God in spite of the threat of death, and the first flame was lit by him to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  Instead of executing him, the King was so impressed with St. Patrick’s brave devotion that he allowed him to continue with his missionary work.

Inspired by these events, a 6th Century Monk penned the words to “Be Thou My Vision” as a tribute of St. Patrick’s loyalty to God.  The poem was not translated into English until 1905 and then coupled with an old Irish folk melody.  The inspiration found within the words of this hymn is a reminder of the sovereignty, the strength and the joy of Jesus.” -Bob Cox

I’ve included the historic setting of this old hymn because I’m fascinated with how words and tunes unite to create timeless hymns. In addition, I’m amazed at music’s powerful thread that continues to bond and inspire generations of believers.

Below is an informal video of me playing Koerts’ fresh arrangement of this ancient tune that continues to withstand the test of time. If you haven’t done so, make sure to take advantage of this promo code, good through October 15th, and share James Koerts’ timeless music with your friends and congregation.

Special Offer for 88 Piano Keys readers! Be-Still-COVER-115x150

Receive 30% off virtually everything in the store (except for the $50 bundle package) using this code:

Code: 88pianokeys

The code must be entered at checkout. Reminder: enter the code BEFORE you check out.

Offer is good through October 22, 2014

Click HERE to purchase your copy of this arrangement found in the book Be Still

Terrific Promo for the Savvy Church Musician from James Koerts


James Koerts, composer, arranger, church musician, father and….

With a regular church keyboardist position, it’s an ongoing task to find fresh, appealing and accessible sacred arrangements for services. I stumbled across one of James Koerts’ books published by Alfred Music a couple of years ago and found myself drawn to his work because of his fresh, idiomatic writing. A while ago I discovered Koerts on Facebook and visited his site featuring even more arrangements, and now I faithfully buy everything he pumps out which means I purchase frequently as he is a prolific composer!

In 2013, Koerts expanded his library to include sheet music in digital download format (PDF) through his website. It’s his goal to maintain a high level of musical quality in addition to providing a fast (nearly instant) method of delivery in a modern, flexible format. Perfect for scrambling church musicians–don’t we all have a few of those moments where we need something NOW?

Koerts’ digital sheet music mecca has resulted in a rather large folder of his works stored in the forScore app on my iPad. Interested in learning more about how to use THE top app for viewing your digital sheet music? Click here for complete instructions. If you are a visual learner, here’s a video on how I use my favorite forScore features with Koerts’ digital sheet music. Continue reading

Mourning the Loss of a Dear Piano Student and Friend

Last evening when my husband said “I have really bad news” while reading our neighborhood newsletter, my stomach 793649dropped.

Let me step back a minute…

An adult student of mine from the neighborhood named Pat had taken a sabbatical from lessons to fight Lymphoma. She had sustained a bone marrow transplant and had come out on the other side seemingly well. We ran into each other at Whole Foods this summer and she was the same gregarious, fun-loving and genuinely caring person that she was before the life-threatening procedure. Granted, she did sport a new look having lost 15 pounds and a new hair style that seemed close to hers–I couldn’t tell it was a wig.

At the end of the summer, August 18th, I sent out an email to all my adult students welcoming them back to the studio and prompting them to set up lessons for the fall. Pat responded quite soon after the email and reported that she was hoping to return to lessons but was experiencing a set back. The docs were trying to get her back on a steady course to health.

Let me step back further…

Pat came to me for lessons about two years ago via a small ad I had placed in our Knolls Neighborhood Newsletter years before. She had dug out the ad, called me up and said she wanted piano lessons. I had no idea scheduling lessons with this dynamic 60-something-year-old Pat that I would establish a fast friend who would make me laugh and energize ME at every lesson. We began with her wish list and started work on her favorites from  “The King’s Speech” soundtrack. As we dug into some of these demanding pieces she enjoyed playing them on “Bella,” my Yamaha C6. Pat marveled at the sound and touch of an acoustic instrument when she would return for lessons after practicing on a relatively small digital keyboard at her home.

While on an African safari (she loved to travel), it became clear to her–not sure how the connection was made– that she should buy herself a grand piano. She returned home, bought a Kawai grand and gave it a name assuming that Patall piano owners name their beloved pianos. She called her piano “Phinley” after her safari guide who she adored and whose skin was deep ebony. I even visited Phinley as Pat graciously invited me and my husband for a delicious gourmet meal where we met her husband, Don.

One more step back…

With this new piano came a fresh zeal for playing in styles of Jim Brickman and other new-age type composers. We also began using That’s Jazz of Bradley Sowash and Pattern Play of Forrest Kinney.  Eventually, Pat brought few books to her lessons. She did not want to read music anymore as much as she wanted to create it. Ahhhh…a DREAM student! Her stunning arrangement of “Silent Night” captivated the adult workshop attendees last Christmas.

Back to now…

These few but remarkable details will help you understand why I am completely devastated by the loss of Pat. We had little contact as of late because of her illness. Although she lived about a block away, she was often quarantined to eliminate contact with any germs because of her compromised immune system. I missed seeing her. When she emailed me around the 18th of August, I responded back saying she was in my prayers and I looked forward to her return back on my bench. It turns out that although we just found out about her passing in the latest neighborhood newsletter last evening, cancer took Pat back on August 22nd, days after we exchanged emails.

This post is written with eyes blurred with tears and a Kleenex box close by. I’m in shock that I won’t see Pat again on the bench with her huge “a-ha” moments after discovering a new chord or melodic pattern that satisfied her ears. Selfishly, I’ll miss the current of energy she shared with me at every lesson. I also mourn for her husband, son, daughter and three grandchildren who now having a gaping hole in their hearts.

This post is my way of honoring Pat. I hope it touches you in some way and that her zest-filled, creative spirit will live on.




Four Favorite Features of forScore



With the abundance of digital sheet music now available and the desire to save ink and paper, the combination of an iPad (or another preferred tablet) and forScore is a must. This popular and quite sophisticated, go-to app is ideal for viewing digital scores.  The developers continue to add new and extraordinary options. Instead of including ALL the features which would quickly overwhelm, I’ve made a list of four of my favorite features and how I use them.

#1 Score Reader

Collecting more and more digital sheet music means I need a place to store the documents as well as view them. Once you download a digital score (really a Pdf or portable document), you can store it in a virtual “closet” such as Dropbox or Google Drive, but these cloud-based filing cabinets are not ideal for viewing the scores. Opening a score in forScore will allow you to read the score, turn pages with a finger tip OR toe tap and utilize additional fabulous features–some of them listed below.

#2 Foot Pedal Page Turns

I’m not referring to one of the three pedals found on most pianos or the gas pedal in the car, the pedal you will definitely want as a “certified” digital score reader is a pedal that will turn pages on your tablet with a tap of your toe. With forScore, blue tooth technology and one of the pedals listed below, a page will automatically turn with a single toe tap so that both hands remain playing every precious note the composer intends. Continue reading

Anyone Else Having One of Those Days?

So far, September has not been my favorite month of 2014 for a number of reasons. Although there’s been nothing monumentally devastating, about 88 small things have snowballed to make for a less-than-perfect month. Anybody else feeling that way? I’d love to hear you say “yes” as you know, misery loves company.

I came across this video and quote on the same day. Some may think it a stretch, but both of them seem to capsulize how I’ve been feeling and what I needed to hear and see. I feel like the ballerina in glasses. It’s good to know I have company :-)


As things have been going against the flow recently, these words hold some timely wisdom.

A dead thing can go with the stream,

but only a living thing can go against it.”

– GK Chesterton

Wisdom For A Decade


Here’s a post that I needed to hear today from my dear friend, Laura. We shared a dorm wing in college, the year 1992 as it was the year we both had babies a month apart, Colorado as our home state until just recently when she moved to Florida, the same Lord and the same passion to write, blog, speak…we also share the same star fish necklaces and call ourselves “star sisters.” May these nuggets of wisdom last you for decades.

Originally posted on Crema:

The Wise Woman’s Stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.  The next day she met another traveler who was hungry and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.  The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.  She did so without hesitation.

The Traveler left rejoicing in his good fortune.  He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.  “I’ve been thinking,” he said.  “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.  Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”


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How to Use Yamaha’s NoteStar App in Your Studio

Wendi Kirby-Alexander, iPad Teacher Extraordinaire

Wendi Kirby-Alexander, iPad Teacher Extraordinaire

If you’ve purchased The iPad Piano Studio: Keys To Unlocking the Power of Apps, you own more than just a book. In your hands (or on your shelf) is a paperback hybrid experience. Because of the QR (Quick Response) codes sprinkled throughout the chapters, you have access to new blogs and videos geared towards making YOU the best iPad Piano teacher you can be.

Speaking of iPad piano teacher, check out what my new friend (we met at 88 Creative Keys!) Wendi Kirby-Alexander generously shared in her guest post. She has found incredibly creative ways to use Yamaha’s popular NoteStar app.

Here’s a portion of the post featuring Wendi’s ideas:

Wendi, is there one app that seems to be a studio favorite?

My favorite app is NoteStar!  I first started using NoteStar for my own enjoyment.  I wanted to learn to play more pop music.  I find that the written score for a lot of pop music often doesn’t sound much like the recorded version and I was looking for a way to make my playing sound more rhythmic and closer to the real thing.  NoteStar Continue reading