Free Holiday Sheet Music!

The organ is known as the king of instruments. Unfortunately, it’s reign has significantly dwindled in today’s worship services.

When I meet people, they frequently say one of three things to me:

My grandma’s name was Leila.

My grandma played the organ.


My grandma’s name was Leila and she played the organ!

At times, I feel like I’m in a time warp and should be sent back to the 1930s!

With the decline of the organ in church services and a shortage of those who play the instrument, it makes me even more passionate about playing the instrument and more importantly, finding music that’s fun to play with crowd appeal.

That’s how this arrangement of “Tidings of Joy” came about back in 2008. Mercy Me is a Christian worship band that regularly creates arrangements of holiday tunes that rock! Their setting of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was just TOO FUN and I was compelled to bring it to the organ.

This year, I dug it out of the archives, updated the score and am sharing it with you! Read More

It is Healthy to Talk about Stage Fright!

Stage fright. It’s a topic that often gets pushed aside at weekly lessons. As teachers, we tend to focus on how to play, how to memorize, how to read, how to create, and even how to perform but, we can overlook how to prevent or deal with performance anxiety.

I believe preparing students properly and in advance of a performance can curb anxiety (see The Five P’s of Performing) but, what if students have anxiety about performing regardless of their adequate preparation? When self-doubt and the fear of what others think creeps into our students’ psyche, what are we to do? How can we coach pianists to find the right balance of adrenalin, mental and emotional health to develop successful performance skills?

Answers to all of these questions are addressed in Julie Jaffee Nagel’s new book called Managing Stage Fright: A Guide for Musicians and Music Teachers. The well-organized, easy-to-read book is packed with sensible advice, insightful tips, and well-researched strategies. It’s a must-have for any music teacher’s library. That’s what sets this book apart–it’s not only for performers, it’s also for teachers of performers!

Each of the 13 chapters opens with a list of “Questions for Thought.” Sprinkled throughout each chapter are summary boxes called “Implications for Teachers.” These two features, along with Julie’s expertise and conversational writing style make it easy to glean the information and help you are looking for.

I just ordered my Kindle edition of Managing Stage Fright. As I read through it, Julie’s careful research has validated a good portion of what I do in my studio (whew!) and has offered significant information on how we as teachers can best approach the unique students AND parents who walk in the studio door. One chapter title that immediately intrigued me: Performance Anxiety Begins in the Nursery!

Check out Julie’s blog post below to get a sense of her writing style.

Personally, I’ve had to overcome significant performance anxiety over the years on my own. I’m so grateful that now there’s research, expertise and open discussion on the topic so teachers can help students who struggle with it. Thank you, Julie for the blog post and the timely book on such an important and often overlooked topic!


Once upon a time, many years ago, when I was a piano teacher, I was working with a young student, Maria, who had come to my studio from another teacher in town.  Her mother explained to me that it was felt that  a different approach would be helpful for her daughter.  It was clear that her daughter loved music, and was quite accomplished at the piano, but her interest was waning.  When this was discussed with her music teacher, my name was given to her as a reference.

At one lesson, not long after we began to work together, Maria was having a very difficult time  playing a passage.  As she tried harder and harder, I could sense her frustration.  So I did what I thought was the best thing at that moment, and I asked Maria to stop playing so that we could  talk.  Maria started to cry, but also seemed relieved.  As we spoke about some things that had upset her at school earlier in the day,  Maria calmed down.  We didn’t really solve anything about school, but Maria felt  heard, respected, and understood.

Later that week, I ran into her previous teacher when I was downtown.  She inquired about her former student.  When I replied that when Maria had gotten upset,  had put a great deal of pressure upon herself to get everything “right”,  and that we had spoken about what she was feeling, the former teacher asked incredulously, “why did you let her talk?”

I was taken aback!  How could you not talk with someone in distress? Read More

Have a Blast with these MUST-HAVE Apps

JUST in time for your holiday lessons and group activities! Here’s a list of must-have apps.

Apps have become seamlessly integrated into every lesson plan. So much so, that I hardly set them apart from other teaching tools. It’s been a while since I shared my go-to apps for group or private lessons. Here are a few (only a few!) that are rising to the top of the list as of November 2017. Next week, this list could change. 🙂

Introduce patterns


Music is all about patterns and as youngsters explore the world of music, they must be ready to detect patterns. Before I introduce Loopimal to students, I ask them to look for patterns on their clothing. Once it’s established that they can recognize patterns, I share Loopimal with them. We sit in a circle on the floor and I let each student create their own pattern on the app. Everyone is mesmerized by the dancing animals and catchy loops. Reserve more time than you think when using this app and be ready for students to ask to play with this again and again!

Make your own flashcards


Usually, I use Quizlet during Off Bench time during private/partner lessons but, it could work well in a group setting as well.

When designing a studio theme around the Baroque period, my students read various resources to learn more about 17th century music, art and culture.  Every student generated three flash cards based on facts they gathered from the resources in Quizlet using my iPad. Next, students reviewed the content of everyone’s cards in Quizlet’s Cards and Match study modes. The app offers the option for the cards to be read aloud so even those who struggle with reading could participate in this activity.

The app offers various study modes:

  • Cards features a standard flash card design with the term on one side and the definition on the other.
  • Learn requires players to read a definition and type in the correct term.
  • Match displays six term cards and six definition cards. Players must tap to find matching cards while being timed.
  • Test offers three testing options: written, multiple choice or true and false. Scores and a list of missed questions are provided.

When the student taps on the screen, the card flips over to reveal the answer

The ability to customize cards is convenient when preparing students for theory examines. With the option to create Quizlet classes, you can share study material with your students and they can access the cards on their own devices and you can still track their progress.

If you’re in a hurry and need pre-made cards, the app allows you to search for and download sets based on your topic that have already been generated by other students and teachers.

Here are the cards I created to help students prepare for their National Federation of Music Clubs theory tests: Level 1-7 cards

Read More

27 ideas to make your recitals rock

Do you ever wonder how those teachers do it? Those that seem to hold recitals that look out-of-the-ball-park amazing? Me, too.

Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a big, extravagant change in what you normally do at your recitals to make them rock. Sometimes adding one fresh or clever touch can make all the difference.

So, here’s a post featuring 27 ideas (big and small.) I hope at least one grabs you and that you can implement it at your next recital–yes, even that one coming up next month!

TWO EXTRA SPECIAL contributors, Wendi Stunzi (Back Porch) and Benny Wollin (Backing Tracks) wrote wonderful articles with specific details on how they make recitals stand out. Thank you for generously sharing.

Do you have an outstanding ideas (big OR small) that rocked your recital that should be added to this list? We’d all like to hear about it!

Change up the venue

1. Back porch

By Wendi Stunzi

“Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!” It is that time of year and my studio students just recently performed in our annual Halloween Recitals! And as always, it was a huge success!

It is one of my most favorite times of year for excitement, creativity, expressive music, and just plain fun! And the students simply love it!
Each year, I begin with a fun piano incentive that promotes learning throughout the year, but then comes Halloween! And my students just “Eat it up!” And I truly mean that. They select music that has numerous elements to work on from expression, counting, and to rewriting their pieces to reflect even more creative moods. It is a great time for all of the students to work on composing and really exaggerating their dynamics to hopefully, have the audience sitting on the edge their chairs as well as being surprised with what happens next.

Every year, my entire family gets involved with each aspect. From our own Halloween costumes to all the little details that make this a very special event. When I first began Halloween recitals, it started off as simple group lessons and has evolved into wonderful performances with little stress for my students. They learn their pieces, some memorized and some not, they plan their dynamics and any other creative things like adding other instruments to their pieces or movements and simply have a great time!

This year, we decided to turn the front porch of our home into a Haunted Porch with plenty of lights, tons of Pumpkins, and other decorations. My porch happens to be extremely large and has a gazebo so I placed a piano in the middle of the gazebo and had chairs for parents and friends. The students only complaint was that I didn’t move my baby grand or concert grand into the gazebo. A good experience that you can play on any type of piano and still enjoy!

After everyone’s performance, it was “date night” for my parents and a party for the students. We set up a large movie screen for our “Movie Night,” on the lawn and had lots of good food to eat. It’s a great time for the students to just enjoy being with their piano friends and make new friends too. We served pizza, fresh popcorn, all kinds of cookies, and even had hot chocolate. I set things up in stations so the children could easily get to everything. Students brought their own chairs and blankets for afterwards to watch the movie with and of course, I had extra’s for those that forgot.

A new thing that we added this year, were Pumpkin Lanterns that were a great success. They were like hot air balloons and as large as some of the students. We divided the students into small groups and carefully unfolded the pumpkins, in order to light them. As the flame increased, the pumpkins took flight and you should have heard the “ Ooh La Las, and Oh Mys!” as they flew away.

To say the least, it was indeed a huge success and so much fun! And when parents returned for pick up, it was please can we stay longer!! So here’s to another year of Halloween recitals and what can I do to top this next year?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. Retirement home

For a number of years, I’ve enjoyed holding recitals at a local retirement home. Instead of giving Christmas gifts to my students, I now give them supplies for a craft to be completed during group lessons that generates a lovely gift to the residents of the retirement home. The residents ADORE them.

Read more about it here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. Whole Foods

There’s a large flagship Whole Foods close to our house and years ago, I asked if I could place a piano in the balcony area so that students could share their favorite holiday pieces in a casual environment. Fast forward…now our local MTA association holds a Halloween recital there every October. Of course the students wear costumes!

4. Clubhouse

When my church did not let me hold a spring recital in the sanctuary, it forced me to think outside the box. Our neighborhood has a lovely, recently remodeled clubhouse. It even had a large screen HDTV where I showed slides of students’ original compositions!

Read all about it here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. Virtual world

One way to avoid the hassle of finding a venue is to create videos instead. Amber Danielson did just that but made the videos hot hot hot with the magic of a green screen.  It requires a bit of know-how in order to pull off her dynamic videos. Good news! Amber tells us how in a past post.

Read all about it here.

6. Living room

One year, two of siblings could not attend my Christmas recital so they held their own “private” recital inviting friends and neighbors to their home. I was invited, too. It was such a warm, cozy environment!


 Integrate technology

7. Use exciting backing tracks

By Benny Wollin

Piano Plus Playback is a series of pedagogical piano pieces made by me, Benny Wollin (Voh-LEEN). I’m a teacher, composer, and father in Appleton, Wisconsin. These pieces are composed expressly for being played together with a playback (or backing track). Using them is as simple as playing the playback from any device, and joining in at the piano’s entrance.

The pieces were originally written in 2016 for my own students, each piece being customized to their technical level and their personality. Not only were these pieces intended to motivate the students, but they were a way to work on various essential musical skills, particularly relating to ensemble playing and recording:

  • listening to the playback and matching it expressively
  • staying in time with the playback (playback tracks, much like a recording session in a studio, are merciless in this regard)
  • exposing students to a broad spectrum of musical styles, from Electronic to Renaissance

Additionally, writing my own music allowed me to film and distribute students’ performances. This serves as a record and a memory for them, but also as a type of performance. Grandparents who couldn’t come to recitals because of health or location could now see their grandkids performing. I give explicit permission with each work downloaded from my store to record, film, and distribute it without any of the usual legal hurdles.

Several pieces on my website are completely free. They can be found here.

In addition, here’s a coupon that is valid through the end of November. Use the code 50FOR88 to get 50% off any purchase (that comes out to $3 a piece!).

You can see all the pieces performed in this YouTube playlist (each piece links to the corresponding page on the website here

Or you can browse the store directly (note that you can sort pieces by level and style using the product filters) here. 

How does it work?

It’s quite simple. You learn the piece from the sheet music just like you would learn any other piece. Except that once you’ve learned it, you can turn on the playback to accompany you – and you’ll sound that much more amazing. The playback comes as an .mp3 file, so all you need is something to play it on (like your phone) and a loudspeaker. Instant awesome.

What are the advantages to compared to regular piano pieces?

Aside from the fact that it’s incredibly fun and satisfying to play with the playback – the biggest advantage is that you get to work on your ensemble playing: your ability to play together with other musicians. Of course, a playback will never be responsive the way playing with other people live would be, but it includes instruments and sounds that you wouldn’t normally get to play with otherwise (unless you can afford a backing orchestra). It also makes for a great recital piece. Can you imagine how much this piece would stand out at a student recital?

What’s included?

Every Piano Plus Playback piece includes the following files:

  • Sheet Music: A score of the piano part.
  • Fullspeed Playback: You would use this for your performances.
  • 90% Playback: A slightly slower version, mainly for practicing purposes. Not recommended for performing with.
  • Metronome Version: Just the piano part plus a metronome, so you can hear your part and check your progress.
  • Background Images: Two different background images that match the theme and mood of the piece. You can use these if you want to use a projector to add a visual element to your performance. (The official music video, as seen above, uses these background images).
  • Original Manuscript: A scan of the original handwritten score and notes of the composer. (not all Piano Plus Playback pieces contain this)

Again, you can use the code 50FOR88 to get 50% off any purchase, and that’s besides the pieces that are totally free!

Check out Benny’s store here.

8. Feature student original compositions

For a number of years, I’ve asked students to create original compositions

Two composers holding their original cover art and recital trophies

and cover art. They notate their work in an online program called Noteflight. When the final scores are completed, we make a video and then link the video to a QR code. The code is printed on stickers which are then added to their composition cover. It makes for quite a wonderful recital and a life-long gift to the students and parents to treasure for years and years.

Read all about it here.

9. Give student-specific awards

Every spring recital, my students get a trophy. They don’t earn it for practicing more than any one else. They get one for making it through another year of piano. I like to highlight something special about the student when I present the trophy so that the audience gets to know a little more about the pianists.

10. Include an original pop medley

Four seniors created a pop music medley for their Senior Showcase (see below.) They each drafted their own lead sheet and gave instructions to the others on what to play and how to play it. You’ll notice the projected slides feature pictures of the pop artists as they play their melody.

Read more about it here.

11. Arrange an original Christmas medley

These three sisters wanted to play a duet together but their skills did not match up with the repertoire I had on hand. Therefore, we created a trio out of a simple piano arrangement of the “Sugar Plum Fairy”. Once you hear it, you’ll know why the trio had to be renamed to “Sugar Plump Fairy.

Choose a Theme

12. Beach party

One year, I had students vote on a theme for the spring recital. It was pretty unanimous–everyone wanted to go to the beach. They were allowed to wear beach clothing (modest of course) and I rounded up some ferns and other tropical items to create a beach mood.

This was the first year I tried something BRAND new at my recitals. All students were slated to play two pieces in the recital–both titles were included in the program. However, since many wanted to play more pieces, I asked them to sign their name on a white board off to the side of the stage. Anyone who signed up could play another piece after the recital was finished and before the next one started (I usually hold two with a break in between.)

SO many students signed up TWICE to play again–isn’t that what you want?

13. Celebrate seniors

Not every year do we piano teachers get to celebrate the graduation of seniors in our studio. You know it takes a good deal of nurturing and patience to grow our students into advancing pianists. Students who stick around and drive themselves to lessons, take the ACT test, apply for college, etc., deserve some special recognition on their last year of piano lessons. I did that a couple of years ago when I had four graduating. It was definitely a bittersweet evening!

Read all about it here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you aren’t sure how to plan a recital to celebrate your seniors, Heather Nanney has created just what you are looking for.

Get your Senior Recital Planning kit here.

14. Cheer on superheroes

Good friend and fellow piano teacher Marie Lee always has a million ideas for keeping her students excited about lessons and performances. Her superhero recital looked out-of-this world fantastic. Check out her studio Facebook page to see all her innovative ideas.

15. Go to the movies

Check out the movie-themed post featured at Heather Nanney’s site. It’s a brilliant!

Read about it here.

16. Hold a fundraiser

Friend and fellow teacher Renee Holliman empowered her students to organize their own fundraiser recital at a local piano store.

Read all about it here.

17. Plan a practice-a-thon

Another teacher, Laura Roberts, held a practice-a-thon in her studio and showcased their practicing efforts in a benefit concert.

Read more about it here.

18. Explore what music means with students

Marie Lee used this theme and asked all her students to complete this sentence: “Music makes me…”

She used their words in a word cloud generator and created t-shirts for a recital. The students also drew a picture depicted their words. The student pictures were projected behind the student as they played in the recital.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another idea with the same theme: one year I asked my students to create Christmas cards for their parents. They wrote what music means to them in the card. The card also featured a QR code that when scanned, shows the young pianist playing her Christmas recital solo.

Read more about it here.

19. Step back to the Baroque

Either hold your own Baroque recital or do like a number of local associations have done and hold a Baroque Achievement Day/Festival and immerse your students in the legendary style period. Don’t like Baroque? Choose another music style!

Read more about how to Go Baroque here.

21. Set up a photo booth

Since I always forget to take group shots after the recital, last year I set up a photo booth, asked parents to take pics of their kiddos and text their pics to me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

22. Invite audience participation

On a number of recital programs, I’ve included questions to guide listeners in the audience. I’ve required fellow students to choose and star their favorite piece–the one they want to play next year–and bring it to the next lesson. I’ve also included a coloring page on the back of the program. FYI: Studies show that doodling increases listening skills.

Get your color pages here.

23. Play a favorite studio game

A friend and fellow piano teacher just down the road from me holds small intimate Christmas recitals in her living room. At the end, parents and students play a favorite studio game. She claims (unsolicited by me!) that Rhythm on a Roll was a huge hit with all!

Get Rhythm on a Roll here.

24. Hold a drum circle

I kicked off my fall session with a piano party for student families in my garage. Many of my students enjoy bucket drumming in group lessons so I decided it would be fun to have parents join in the fun and experience it for themselves. They learned and saw first hand why I use bucket drumming in my curriculum. Nothing helps to build rhythm skills better than drumming!

Learn more about bucket drumming here.

25. Perform a piece yourself

Mannheim Steamroller revolutionized the way we enjoy the music of the holidays. I was so inspired by them and an organ with 242 MIDI voices that I created an arrangement of their “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” for the and played it at a recital. Since most of my students do not hear (or see) an organ on a regular basis, they were fascinated by it. (Sorry, kind of an old video–it still is one of my favorites to play on the organ!)

26. Give studio t-shirts

A fellow teacher and friend, Debbie Moore, purchased a graphic from the Piano Teacher Planning Center and had the design ironed to t-shirts in all kinds of bright colors. She gave them to students prior to the recital and they wore them as they performed in the recital.

Read more about it here.

Add style and class

27. Choose cool graphic designs

First appearances make all the difference in the world so make sure all your recital materials: from the program to Facebook announcements look spiffy. Andrea West takes care of that for you with her original and colorful graphic designs for any occasion.

Get your graphic designs here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please leave YOUR ideas below and best wishes on your upcoming recital!


NEW! “Now Thank We All Our God” Piano Solo Arrangement

Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

A minister named Martin Rinckart wrote the words to this hymn in 1636. He and his family lived during the horrors of the Thirty Years War and suffered from famine and disease as refugees. With the tragic events that have occurred over this past year, the words from someone of the past afflicted with the same pain many are experiencing now, connect us to the past and give us hope for the future.

As a child, I attended church with my mom and dad and sister every Thanksgiving morning. Mom would pop a stuffed turkey in the oven and off we’d go. Along with We Gather Together and Come, Ye Thankful People Come, Now Thank We All Our God was sure to be sung—all three verses. The organist would pull out all the stops on the last verse. As a church organist myself, I now enjoy “adding the kitchen sink” on the last verse to power up this magnificent hymn of thankfulness and hope.

The “Norman Rockwell” memories of a joyful Thanksgiving morning service with a pipe organ and a roasting turkey awaiting our family’s arrival back home are precious. As shocking world events continue to rock the security we hold so dear, it’s when Rinckart’s profound poetry (translated by Catherine Winkworth) and Johann Cruger’s majestic hymn tune, Nun Dunket, become even more profound.

With these thoughts and memories in mind, I was inspired to move this favorite hymn tune from the organ to the piano and create my own version with a 21st-century twist.

The syncopated rhythms, fresh chords and returning interlude make it a prime prelude choice for welcoming worshippers as well as a possible postlude for ushering congregants out the door with grateful hearts.

Both the single use and studio license are ON SALE. Get them just in time so you can play it at your Thanksgiving service or ANY time it’s appropriate to give thanks.


Single Use License

Studio License

Don’t forget to register for Monday’s 88 Creative Keys webinar!

Among many other things, learn how to inspire your students to create their own 21st-century twist on Baroque Classics.

Follow THIS link.


Off-the-bench interview with Thomas Hoops: Music Learning Theory Specialist

Last summer I signed up to hear Thomas Hoops speak at Rockley’s Music in Lakewood, Colorado. He was so fascinating that I took notes (which is unusual for me!) and I immediately introduced myself after his presentation because I wanted to learn more from him.

Thomas was happy to set up a Google Hangout so I could easily share with you what he so eagerly likes to share BUT, technology issues got in the way. That didn’t stop us as he does not live far from me so we met up in my studio and recorded the video below. 

In the post, you’ll find minute marks of where Thomas discusses specific elements of the highly esteemed Music Learning Theory. Like all good conversations, we had an agenda but, we got off on tangents occasionally so I pinpointed highlights.

I recommend that you take the time to watch the interview as his ideas and purpose for off-bench activities are GOLDEN!


0:00 Thomas’ opening remarks include some great quotes.

When we are born, we are a fresh hard drive.

We are pliable up to age nine.

Focus on aptitude first rather than achievement.

Music Learning Theory is a sequence, not a method.

2:30 Steps of acquiring a language like music should be similar to learning a language.

  1. Listening
  2. Imitating
  3. Speaking
  4. Reading
  5. Writing

3:53 Music Learning Theory (MLT) of Edwin Gordon is based on sequence and audiation–thinking musically.

4:50 First step in the sequence of MLT: Oral/Aural = We say something and we repeat it to build a familiar vocabulary.

5:21 Talking parents into music learning theory can take time but they eventually get it.

6:00 Begin with using neutral syllables.

6:40 Second step: Verbal association.

Put it in your body and never forget. – Piaget

MLT uses a moveable Do.

7:30 What if I don’t use solfege?

[I started using solfege in my teaching in a way that feels natural to me and I look forward to sharing how I’m doing it with you soon!]

8:30 Another step of MLT: Partial Synthesis

9:00 Discrimination learning is crucial! It’s knowing what something is and what something isn’t.

9:50 Start every lesson from scratch. A must-read is Robert Duke’s book entitled Intelligent Music Making.

[Full disclosure: All links to the manipulatives listed below are provided with an affiliate code.]

11:00 Concepts like steady beat and balance are action nouns.

11:50 Next step: Symbolic Association: assigning signs and symbols

12:40 Get kids to sing by using puppets and the magic of play.

Everything I do is purposeful.

We learn through play.

14:30 What is a concept vs skill?

A concept is a steady beat, playing rhythms is a skill.

16:30 Here’s an excellent activity to move rhythm onto the keys combined with a singing exercise.

18:00 How can an exercise ball be useful in piano lessons?

19:45 Sing this song while bouncing on the ball: “Fish Alive.”

22:40 Many don’t want to sing but, once you do, it will force you to listen.

23: 50 Introduce tunes only on white keys which leads to the language of tonality.

25:00 The MLT approach is key to improvisation.

26:00 Can this approach still be used even if we are not MLT specialists?

26:40 Learn clever ways to use bean bags to develop body awareness and balance.

29:00 Sing an ostinato while moving arm with a bean bag.

30:00 Check out this cool ear training idea as it provides a chance to audiate without having to perform.

31:00 Here’s another neat trick to get kiddos to repeat activities.

32:00 Bungee cords-these are cool! Ideal for experiencing bound vs flow.

35:00 Scarves – Ideal for experiencing continuous fluid movement and free flow. Good for doing something and engaging the brain at the same time.

39:20 Use a Mystery Bottle to heighten listening skills.

40:45  Learn how play dough can test finger skills.

41:00 Get a Zippety Do Dolly to teach finger skills.

42:00 Wrapping up

Learn more about Edwin Gordon and the Music Learning Theory here.

Learn about how I incorporated MLT with the help of some BEETS here.




Thomas Hoops has over 25 years’ experience in the piano studio and has refined a method to keep the drive alive and the work fun. Hoops holds a B.A. in Music and M.M. in Music Education. He has won many awards and scholarships and is certified by the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML) in Elementary Music level I. Thomas is a member of Music Teacher’s National Association (MTNA) along with state (CSMTA) and local (AMTA) affiliations. Thomas is in demand as a presenter and speaker on his unique approach to music learning. He also has experience with solo performance, rock/blues band, studio recording and sound engineering, and composition. An accomplished pianist, Thomas plays and teaches in all musical styles.

10 reasons why to teach Baroque music AND attend our next 88 Creative Keys webinar

#10 Baroque music sets the foundation for centuries of music to follow.

Webinar: Connect your students to the great composers of this legendary style with engaging activities and repertoire.

#9 Baroque music is energetic and action-packed.

Webinar: Gather a wide selection of appealing, dramatic, student-saver pieces.

#8 Baroque music easily crosses over to different keyboards.

Webinar: Experiment with different voices on your digital piano that will immediately engage students.

#7 Baroque music can be intimidating.

Webinar: Learn a comprehensive approach that simplifies the complex by simultaneously combining analysis, playing by ear, rote learning and reading.

#6 Baroque music can be demanding and requires top-notch practice strategies.

Webinar: Add brilliant, time-saving ideas to your curriculum that guarantee progress between lessons.

#5 Baroque sheet music is available in so many resources that it can be hard to find the ideal repertoire and up-to-date editions.

Webinar: Receive recommendations for the TOP, carefully-sequenced editions.

[Click here to watch the video below.]

#4 Baroque music is full of patterns that challenge and yet, feel good beneath the fingers.

Webinar: Learn how to identify and extract patterns to build memorization skills and inspire creativity.

#3 Baroque music can be lengthy.

Webinar: See how to break up literature into sections to save precious lesson time, ease students’ practice load and maximize memory capacity.

#2 Baroque music is based on improvisation.

Webinar: Integrate more creativity in your studio with expert tips on creating within the repertoire and beyond the page.

# 1 Baroque music includes THE most popular chord progression of all time: Pachelbel’s Canon.

Webinar: Put all the chord knowledge you learned from our last webinar (Chords at Work and Play) and immerse your students in this progression. In THIS webinar see exactly how to easily teach improvisation with Pachelbel’s canon.

SO many teachers find it hard to “fit it all in!”

This webinar shows you how to combine the essential lesson elements into one, comprehensive approach.


Sign up NOW and join Bradley Sowash and me

on Monday, November 13, 9:00am EST.

If you are wondering…

Is it worth attending the webinar if I already purchased Go Baroque?

Yes! This webinar directly supports the activities and repertoire in the Go Baroque resource.

Do I need to purchase Go Baroque to benefit from the webinar?

No! Both are independent of each other and one will amplify the other. Learn more here.


How can a Practice-A-Thon make the world a better place?

What’s a Practice-A-Thon? Can it really make the world a better place? This idea recently captured the attention of many piano teachers in the Piano Teacher Central Facebook group thanks to Laura Roberts. 

How did fellow teacher Laura Roberts end up sharing her fund-raiser idea at

Instead of explaining the connection now, please keep reading to learn why and to download Melody Payne’s editable instructions so you can run your own Practice-A-Thon.

Thank you, Laura, for such an inspirational post!


Change the World Through Music

That’s this year’s theme for Kathy’s Music, the music school I teach for in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As teachers, we were challenged to think about what that meant to us, and to do one thing with our students this year, that would make the world a better place.

This theme really resonated with me, since I have a background in Music Therapy. I believe in the power of music to heal and bring joy to others, and this desire sparked the idea of a Practice-A-Thon. I wanted to show my students they can use their music to help others, just through practicing and performing! I also knew that if they actually packed relief kits with the money they helped raise, it would be a tangible way for them to understand how they were helping.

When the devastating hurricanes occurred, I really wanted to do something to help, but didn’t know what one person could really do to make an impact. But, I realized I have musical gifts, some wonderful piano students with supportive families, and my church. Read More

Become a WHIZ at the Grand Staff with ONE game and TEN Ways to Play

The grand staff is a vast and scary landscape to those who first encounter it’s lines, spaces and ancient signs.

Getting to know and memorizing pitch names on this complex grid is like learning the names of 88 new best friends! In addition, musicians need to know the “homes” of all those “88 friends” on the piano keyboard.

How does an early learner become a “whiz” at memorizing the names and locations of 88 pitches? It starts by making REPETITION their best friend. As like to say in my studio:

Repetition is your best friend.

Mind you, it’s not mindless repetition! It must be strategic repetition which will help learners not only memorize but, understand that the grand staff is a map pointing the way to pitch locations on the keyboard.

Strategic repetition with a good dose of gamification and socialization is the perfect combination.

When graphic designer, Andrea West, told me she had designed flash cards to review pitch names, I was moderately excited. I’ve got plenty of flash cards in my studio and my iPad is full of apps to review pitch names. However, when she informed me that these were playing-card size and that she plays all kinds of fun games with the deck in her studio, I was intrigued. None of my flashcards come in a deck and I was eager to hear about her games.

Go Fish and War are her student favorites along with Snip, Snap Snorem and Snap. I couldn’t wait to hear how she played these!

Reading through her thorough instructions inspired me as well, and so I created games geared to help beginners. The games require little knowledge about the grand staff and build discrimination skills.

The instructions from both Andrea and me included with your purchase of the playing cards feature ideas on how to set limitations and set stages so that students of any level have fun, learn and succeed.

With Inspector Whiz Cards, you’ve got games to suit every student!

The purchase of Andrea’s Inspector Whiz Cards includes:

  • Clever “wizard-like” magnifying glass “back” for each card
  • Sheets with cards of every pitch in the treble clef and bass clef with most ledger lines.

You’ll need to print 4 sheets that feature the pitches. Print the back side of each sheet with the “Back of Playing Card” sheet. This will give you a deck of cards with four of each note, plus additional accidentals that can be used as wild cards in any of your games. 

You may wish to laminate your cards so they last for while. Scotch laminators are top notch.

Even if you own flash cards, you’ll want to purchase Inspector Whiz Cards so you can learn about and play all the games featured in the instructions.

With your small investment, you’ll gain a deck of cards and at least 10 games of guaranteed fun. You’ll also enjoy seeing your students gain confidence as they dig deeper into the landscape of the grand staff and become friends with all 88 pitches!


Get your Inspector Whiz Cards

HERE or click on the image.

On sale for $4.99 (price goes up to $5.99, November 1, 2017)



Technique Fundamentals According to the Taubman Approach

Do you find your students suffering from an ongoing case of “knuckle buckle?” Do their wrists sag and creep into the “snake pit?” My students suffer from the same issues, too.

Playing the piano with a healthy technique is a prerequisite to becoming a capable (and of course, creative and tech-savvy!) pianist but, it’s not always an easy topic to explain to youngsters. I’m always looking for ways to communicate technical tips that will connect with and motivate students to play with ease and efficiency.

Today’s guest blogger, Doug Hanvey, has been immersed in Dorothy Taubman’s approach–a highly respected legend in the field of technique. In fact, The Golandsky Institute continues to share Taubman’s insight and brilliance with musicians from all over the world looking to improve their technique or heal from injuries resulting from poor technique.

Doug’s article explains what technique really is and the fundamentals for you to share with your students. Ms Taubman’s approach is golden so make sure to build the foundation of your technical approach around it.

Look for a followup article from me on how to model and explain these principles with concrete tips and tools very soon! You’ll gain ideas for implementing the fundamentals below and gather remedies for knuckle buckle, sagging wrists and ways to encourage the use of weight vs force.

Thank you, Doug, for your clear and thorough explanation of the fundamentals!


What is Piano Technique?

Many piano students, and some piano teachers, think of technique as a tedious, even grim, subject. We all want to focus on music-making. Yet to the extent that the mechanics of how we make music go unexplored and undiscussed, we risk allowing our students (and ourselves) to develop poor and potentially injurious habits.

Many teachers think that Hanon and similar exercises are “technique.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Hanon exercises are just that – exercises.

Technique is how we position ourselves and move to play, and it should be taught prior to exercises. (Of course there are other important aspects of technique such as breathing and listening.) Playing piano without understanding good technique is no different than playing golf without knowing how to grip and swing the club. Good luck!

Fortunately, unlike Hanon (sorry, Hanon), technique needn’t be tedious or grim. I’ve found that technique can be an absorbing subject, especially when you experience how it helps you to play better and with greater ease.

While as teachers we often have the opportunity to teach good technique from the beginning, sometimes we must also “fix” students’ technique. Whether we are starting or “fixing,” good technique begins with knowing how to optimally position your body at your instrument.

The rest of this article will explore this topic from the viewpoint of the famous pedagogue Dorothy Taubman. Read More