Category - Composing

Our next webinar will save you time and give you NEW resources!

Why make a point of joining us Monday morning (September 25th)  for our next 88 Creative Keys Webinar Workshop? How can this be worth your time when there’s a million other things to do?

I’ll save you time by getting right to the point. You’ll gain:

Insight into the journey of a classically trained pianist crossing over to the world of playing by ear and how you can do the same.

Tools for integrating contemporary styles into classical and traditional tunes. Ex: how can inspiration from John Mayer spruce up an old hymn?

A brand NEW resource to develop sight-reading chords and chord symbols made for group or private lessons.

An innovative method for employing the most popular chord progressions tabulated by the developers of Hooktheory.

A small but powerful gift for your students packed with essentials for learning theory and composition.

Hot apps that tantalize AND teach.

A top-notch, in-depth  review of triads, 7th chords and their symbols.

Permission to teach by rote before reading, the tricks to teaching by rote and suggestions for rote pieces.

Steps to building ear skills when the eyes want to take over.

A frame of mind to help you play and teach with a well-balanced approach.

It takes time and energy to gear up for creative-based teaching and playing. It takes more than just pushing a POWER button to get those gears turning efficiently.

The good news? Bradley Sowash and I believe your time can be cut in half by the productive study of chords and putting them to work! 

We promise to charge up your teaching and your playing for the year to come.

Register NOW so you can plug in and join us Monday, September 25, 2017.


Solemnity: A new and appropriate piano solo arrangement for the times

Hurricane Harvey etched a devastating path of destruction throughout the southern United States. Our son who lives in Jupiter, Florida, is now anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Irma. He’s on staff at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center which rescues and rehabilitate sea turtles.

A biologist cares for a 200-pound turtle injured by a boat.

The center is shuttering doors and filling and stacking sand bags. At the same time, our son Carter, is packing up his own things and plans to evacuate his 2nd story apartment today.

With 3/4 of a tank of gas, it looks like he’ll make his way to a friend’s house in Tampa on the west side of Florida. We are not sure if that will be much better than Jupiter (on the East coast) as Irma is twice the width of Florida. From all appearances, it doesn’t look good for any one in the path of Irma.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. On sobering days like these something more solemn is appropriate and strangely comforting.

Contrary to what you may think, my latest contemporary setting of Beethoven’s symphony movement was inspired long before these unnerving days. I was reminded of this pensive movement a while back when watching the movie, The King’s Speech. The music powerfully sets the scene when King George VI, played by Collin Firth, awaits the delivery of his speech announcing that Great Britain would be joining World War II. The repetitive melody and soulful counter melody made such an impact on me that I wanted to play it myself. After months of doodling with it, my abridged interpretation has been completed.

Over a year ago, I knew I wanted a cover image to fit the pensive mood of the piece, and decided upon a photo of a window painted with raindrops taken by my mom, Joanne Alberda.  It reminds me of one of those days filled with resolve to get through whatever the tasks and trials that lie ahead. Sometimes words just can’t express the determination and dedication of resolution. Music and images speak when words can’t.

Solemnity is an arrangement “owed” to Beethoven and dedicated to all those resolved to get through a day, a month, a year,—a storm—that is anything but sunny.

ALL the proceeds generated from the sales of Solemnity during the month of September 2017 will be donated to the MTNA benevolence fund which supports musicians and teachers devastated by disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

Because of this, I’m offering only a studio license priced at $10.

When a “feel-good” tune just doesn’t seem right, Solemnity will. Listen to Solemnity here.


Purchase it here and your $10 will be donated

In case you’d like to hear the full symphony, I’ve included a video of it below.

Have a ball at group lessons!

Starting a composition and naming it can be tough. To charge up the creative juices, we played a game called “Would You Rather” with the help of a groove and a beach ball at this week’s group lessons.

When I rang the bell, they had to stop and whoever was holding the ball had to answer the question under his/her right hand.

“Would you rather eat dinner in a castle or breakfast in a hot air balloon?”

“Would you rather eat three live worms or a tunafish and peanut butter sandwich?”

They didn’t want to quit…

The video explains it best. Click here if you can’t see it.

Sometimes it’s just hard to get to know your students when they’re sitting on the bench next to you. They may feel a little shy about sharing their thoughts, their likes, their dislikes, etc. In a group setting and with an icebreaker like “Would You Rather,” all those inhibitions get tossed aside–yes, pun intended!

How will this contribute to an upcoming composition project?

After a student answered the question, most everyone else chimed in with their answer and we discussed why they chose what they did. They were eager to start making connections with what they like to what they will be creating at the keys.

Bonus: did you notice that this is a great activity to get them moving to the beat?

WARNING: Stock up on beach balls…more ideas to come. Here’s a screamin’ deal on them if you can’t find beach balls in your local stores right now. Remember to look for them on sale at the end of summer!

What questions to include on your “Would You Rather” beach ball?

Here’s a start. Begin each statement with the words Would you rather

  • Run a mile or swim a mile?
  • Go to a movie theatre or watch Netflix?
  • Stay up late or wake up early?
  • Have a robot or a monkey in the house?
  • Sleep on a hard pillow or a soft pillow?
  • Eat pepperoni pizza or sausage pizza?
  • Eat breakfast in a hot air balloon or dinner in a castle?
  • Eat a hamburger or a hotdog?
  • Paint a picture or take a picture?
  • Do word finds or crossword puzzles?
  • Do math homework or science homework?
  • Have ten brothers or ten sisters?
  • Go to school on Saturdays or go to the dentist every week?
  • Ride a bike or a skateboard?
  • Color a picture or draw a portrait?
  • Drive a self-driving car or a spaceship?
  • Become a famous singer or a famous actor?
  • Shop at the mall or play at the park?
  • Snowboard or ice skate?
  • Have a fish or a bird?
  • Eat mac ‘n cheese or spaghetti?
  • Play at the beach or in the snow?
  • Live on the beach or on a mountain top?
  • Have a cat or a dog?
  • Live without music or without TV and movies?
  • Talk on the phone or go out for ice cream?
  • Be a super hero or a villain in a movie?
  • Wear running shoes or flip flops?
  • Eat a bug or get stung by a bee?
  • Cook dinner or clean up?
  • Take a walk or a bike ride?
  • Go out for Mexican or Italian?leila3d
  • Read the book or watch the movie?
  • Eat 3 live worms or a peanut butter and tuna sandwich?
  • Take a vacation or $1,000 in cash?
  • Eat chocolate chips or gummy bears?
  • Take a road trip or a stay-cation?
  • Ride in a plane or a train?

For more “Would You Rather” questions, checkout my Pinterest board.

Need a fresh way to determine who performs first at the group class?

To review the sound and look of intervals, students were asked to read my e-book Understanding Intervals last week during Off-Bench Time. During the group lesson, everyone spun to see who would play first. I created three wheels in the Decide Now app, with level-appropriate intervals.img_3645

  • Wheel #1: Intervals Repeat-5
  • Wheel #2: Intervals Prime-8
  • Wheel #3: Major 2nd, 3rd, Perfect 4th, 5th, Major 6th, 7th, Perfect 8va.

After the student spun, he/she was asked to play the interval on the piano and try to recall the tune that is associated with that interval in Understanding Intervals. For example, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” begins with a 2nd. The student was then asked to sound out more of the tune. Naturally, everyone sang along!

The student who landed on the smallest interval performed first and others followed according to the size of their interval.

Need to build up knowledge of key signatures?img_6027

In preparation for upcoming theory tests at the local Federation Festival, students identified specific key signatures within the Challenge Mode of the app called Tenuto. They took turns naming the key as the key signatures flashed before them. After each drill was completed, they were challenged to reach a new high score. Music Money awarded to the whole group for beating the prior score. I’m never above bribery!

Note: you don’t need to hook your iPad to an HDTV in order to play this game. I like to reflect my iPad during groups lessons to show videos or to explain theory concepts with an app called Octavian.

Need one more winner for your next group lesson?

Make sure to get Rhythm on a Roll.

This game was developed for my group lesson week last December. I brought it out for group lessons this week and everyone was excited to play it again.copy-of-rhythm-on-a-roll-3 That was good news to me because you know how some can moan about doing anything more than once.

My students also enjoyed the new score cards with the rests and playing the variations I mention in the resource.

Tip: we played this as students were performing for each other. It works well as the audience is quiet, listening and thinking at the same time. This keeps them from getting restless.

It’s still on sale until March 11th. Get it now and your activities for group lessons will be set!


Waay: A hip music app for teens and songwriters

What app is a good fit for those who grow out of Piano Maestro, Flashnote Derby, Rhythm Swing…? If you have groomed pianists beyond the first couple of years of piano or any other instrument (hooray and congrats!), you are probably asking that question. I’ve got an answer.

Take a look at Ten Kettles’ app called Waay.

In fact, you can literally take a look by watching the video interview I held with Alex Andrews, the developer of Waay.  In the video you’ll learn that Alex is a bio engineer-turned-full-time-musician and app developer. He explains how he saw a need for an app that explains the fundamentals of melody and chords in a user-friendly, relatable format for those interested in songwriting. I’ve found that the app crosses over well to anyone –songwriter, pianist, guitarist….anyone wanting to know more about scales and chords and how they combine to create songs. I particularly like how the ultimate focus of Waay is to generate creativity!

Read More

Register NOW for the 88 Creative Keys 2017 Workshop

Take a moment to check out the video below –you’ll learn what we’re cooking up this summer at 88 Creative Keys and get a chuckle, too.

Here we go!

The 88 Creative Keys 2017 Workshop Registration is open. If you’ve been thinking about attending, this is the year to commit. 

The first ten registrants get an extra discount–they are going fast (I mean SUPER fast) so press that blue button below.


Need more info before you commit? Here are some answers to the questions you may have. Read More

Celebrate the Season with Winter Window Frost, a Piano Solo


Around a Late Intermediate Level

Growing up in Iowa made me extremely thankful for the promise of Spring. While we waited for a hint of green grass, my family hunkered down on winter break afternoons in down vests and heavy sweaters to stay warm in the house. My dad made every effort to keep the heating bill to a minimum by setting the thermometer to a balmy (?) 65 degrees.

Since the wind chill usually made it too cold to go anywhere, Mom would set out a 1,000-piece puzzle on a card table. After mixing some hot cocoa and marshmallows (of course!), we’d slowly sort and fit the pieces. There was never a rush to complete it as we enjoyed the company and the Vivaldi album blasting from the console.


Digital Download with Single or Studio License

I can’t recall the first time I heard the Winter movements but I’ve always felt they carry an energetic resolve to power through the bleak, gray sky, icy floor and frigid landscape of the season. The melody of the second movement —Largo—offers a glimmer of hope with its enchanting beauty. I immediately thought of this short movement when I saw my mom’s photos of frost she captured on her winter windows. The beauty that the unforgiving combination of cold and moisture can bring to a window pane is breath-taking. With a contemporary twist, my setting weaves the warmth of the hot cocoa and the puzzle table with snippets of cold winter winds on the other side of the frosted window pane.

A good portion of my inspiration to create is thanks to my mother,  Joanne Alberda. She was a dynamic professor of art and art education for over 30 years at Dordt College in my home town of Sioux Center, Iowa. Since her retirement, she continues to explore her favorite mediums: textiles and photography. Before she secured her college position, she was a pianist, an organist, a 5th grade classroom teacher and a piano teacher. I did not fall far from the tree!

Borrowing from her vast collection of work for the “cover” of this digital download seems logical and suits my style. In my setting and in her photo you’ll see and hear that we both like to experiment with colors, magnify the wonders of nature, and discover an unexpected angle. Follow this link if you can’t see the video below of my performance.

Speaking of borrowing, you’ll notice that Vivaldi is quoted throughout this piano solo. 

Mom says this:

“It’s not true that we are better if we are totally original.  Standing on the shoulders of great artists is totally valid.  They did the same thing! -Joanne Alberda

Winter Window Frost is on sale and available for purchase with a single user or studio license. Get your copy by clicking on the frosted window below.


Have you listened to Infant Holy, Infant Lowly? It’ a markedly different arrangement of this sacred lullaby for flute and piano that could work for violin as well. It’s on sale, too! While your there, check out my growing library of sheet music.

Merry Christmas and blessings to you and yours in 2017!


Events, opinions and resources definitely worth your consideration


If you are part of Tim Topham’s Inner Circle, take advantage of your membership and join the Youve-Found-Your-Tribenext Mastermind event.  I’ll be there and am looking forward to chatting about creativity and apps. It’s scheduled for this Saturday at 8-9am Melbourne time which makes it Friday at 4pm my time (Mountain Time.) Here’s a link to figure out what time it will be for you!

If you want more details on Tim’s Inner Circle, here’s my past post that includes my Google Hangout with Tim. It also features information on the benefits of the Inner Circle and how to sign up. Or, just sign up here, right now, and you’ll be set for Friday afternoon.

Reminder: Bring your iPad to the Mastermind and come with questions. Will I see you there?


Speaking of the iPads and apps, I can’t wait to release a new product in my Piano Teacher Planning Center called Rhythm: Make it Count. Here are the details…

Why this resource, now?

So, you’ve dipped your studio toe into technology? Perhaps you’ve even added Off Bench time knowing that having extra time to reinforce your instruction is worth the effort. But you’re still Rhythm Make it Count Facebook (1)wondering: “Now what?”

Here’s my first attempt to bring you an official, organized and I believe efficient answer to that nagging question.

What is it?

The downloadable PDF, Rhythm: Make it Count, is a compilation of iPad app assignments and off bench activities and games exclusively related to rhythm. I chose and isolated rhythm first (yes, there will be more of these theme-related resources to come!) because if rhythm is understood, then improvisation, reading, ensemble playing and all things related to music falls into place IN time and at the RIGHT time!

The easy-to-use resource includes:

  • Reproducible Level 1 weekly student assignment sheet (quarter – whole notes, 3/4 and 4/4 time.)
  • Reproducible Level 2 weekly assignment sheet (dotted quarter, 16ths and syncopation.)
  • A Get Inspired! Episode dedicated to performances highlighting rhythm in unique ways with a reproducible list of guided questions.
  • Additional innovative ideas for Off Bench activities and suggested games to use in private lessons, Off Bench time or group lessons.
  • Printable large icons of apps to hang in your studio to ease the assigning process.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to easily implement the plan in your studio.

How is it of value to you?

It will save you oodles of time and anxiety. A plan will be in place for your students on and off the bench that will offer reinforcement and engaging student activities. I know this because Amy Watt, friend and rookie Off-Bench teacher is helping me design this.

Stay tuned, it will be released soon…


Still not sure about adding technology or how to incorporate creativity into your teaching? Then consider working with me. Now’s the time for last minute advice and strategies! Learn more here. Here’s what Kelly Koch (her studio is featured in the photo above) stated after our FaceTime consultation:

Leila offers a Studio Consultation, but really it’s so much more!  We received a online-730x730consultation for our Lab/Lesson format, which was a little outdated.  Our students were stale on our lab and we asked Leila for ways to improve it.  Not only did she give us SO many ideas, she helped us after the consult (many times) on our purchase of iPads, apps and accessories.  She is my silent partner in the studio!  It was an excellent investment for Minds On Music and we know it will pay dividends for us this fall!


Looking for some fresh teaching repertoire and tips on how to introduce new music to your students? You can get both by joining the Composer Community Discussion Group. Recently, they added a Thursday’s Teaching Tip to their conversation threads. Here’s fellow blogger and co-author of Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers Heather Nanney’s teaching tip video that she produced to go along with her “flashy solo” for beginners. She packs the video full of excellent suggestions!


Bradley Sowash held a free online group class. Yes, you heard me right, a group class online. He guided us through creating a gospel style improvisation of “Amazing Grace.” A number of us were involved in the class and were called upon to play (if we wanted to!) Other viewers could just sit back and listen and learn.

I can’t tell you how much fun I had after the lesson. I’ll I wanted to do was practice but work got in the way. Below is my creative effort following Bradley’s tips. If you can’t view the video click here.

If you are interested in developing your improvisation skills, if you’ve always wanted to but didn’t think you could, then I can’t recommend Bradley’s instruction enough. Yes, I do work with the guy so I might be partial but, this online group lesson venture is his thing. I’ll be there learning right along with you all. Sign up here.


Many have asked if I will continue using Piano Maestro and if so, which payment plan will I choose? Last evening I signed up for the Studio + Home option. You can learn more about all the options here.

The app is no longer free for verified teachers and their students. It came as a surprise to mepm and to many other teachers who were spoiled with the free access. I paid for the annual plan for this year and then will determine if my students use it enough to justify the cost for next year.

For so many reasons, I find this app extremely valuable to my Off Bench time as do my students. I don’t believe the students take advantage of it at home as I would have liked. This year I’ll push more home use of PM and see if it’s worth the price tag.

The lesson for all of us: FREE is not always best. In hindsight, JoyTunes should have charged us a long time ago for their extremely valuable tool. The announcement of the new fee structure was poorly timed. Us teachers became addicted to it and now that it’s not free, the adjustment is that much harder.

It’s a reminder, though, that good things are worth paying for.


Some good things are also free! Check out my freebies at the Piano Teacher Planning Center. The newest is a letter to parents about using the iPad in piano lessons.


A letter to parents about using the iPad in piano lessons.

Wynn-Anne Rossi’s Timeless Tips on Composition

Wynn-Anne Rossi and I first met at an MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) conference years ago. I attended one of her Alfred showcases and was so impressed with her poised yet lively presentation of her latest pieces. She even danced the tango for us!

Wynn-Anne and I connected during the conference and enjoyed comparing notes about technology and creativity and the importance they both hold in our studios.

It was wonderful to see Wynn-Anne and her success as an Alfred composer featured in a recent blog at JW Pepper.  My students have been head-over-heels about her Musica Latina series of books. I’m so thankful Wynn-Anne pointed me to this post as JW Pepper also includes videos of Wynn-Anne and her experience as a composer and teacher of composition.

In the blog post (read the full article here) it states:

Wynn-Anne Rossi is particularly passionate about teaching composition to young musicians. She feels that one of her greatest talents is the ability to simplify complex ideas to a single “grain,” thus allowing any level learner to understand them. This was the inspiration behind the “Counterpoints” in her Creative Composition Toolbox series. Rossi believes that anyone can learn to write music if given the freedom to find their own voice.

Read More

Play, Teach and Compose Pop Music: Why you need to make this webinar a priority

Is this you?

Are you an incredibly successful teacher who teaches Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and maybe some Gershwin. Are your students dynamite practicers and do they regularly win competitions? Do students flock to you because of your stellar track record at local and state festivals?  Is this you? Is this who you want to be?

Or, is this you?

Have you determined you just don’t/can’t match the description of the teacher above? Have you recognized that there is another pool of potential clients in your area looking for a teacher that enjoys teaching current styles, how to write songs and composition? Do you believe that some student families are looking for a balanced approach with a mix of the classics, some pop and creativity?  Is this you? Is this who you want to be?

Can you relate?

I faced this delineation of teaching styles when I finished grad school. After setting up my own private studio, I joined a local teacher’s association and it was immediately apparent who the top teachers were and their students were amazing. I knew I couldn’t compete with them but I needed students. So, I embraced the philosophy that I’ll teach anyone who’s interested and customize my curriculum to suit their preferences. It meant I needed to reinvent my approach–I had been taught to only read and interpret the classics. Boy, was I in for a ride. It’s been bumpy AND lonely YET fun along the way.

What is the market telling you?

Defining who you are as a piano teacher in your local area helps you determine the direction of your studio.  The trick is knowing your potential customer base as well as your competition –other teachers in your area. If your current style of teaching is similar to all the other teachers AND doesn’t match the interests of potential and eager clients in your neighborhood, you may need to make adjustments.

Being adequately equipped to serve your customers’ ambitions will help them achieve their goals and ultimately keep them on your bench and remain loyal to your studio. That means more referrals, more students and more income!

Speaking from my personal experience, this means you need to offer something more or in addition to traditional repertoire and competition registrations. Understand, I teach Mozart, I participate in a few festivals and contests. I’m not bashing the “traditional approach” but I am encouraging you to think beyond it.

David Cutler, author of The Savvy Music Teacher, discovered from his extensive research that music teachers who generated substantial (successful) incomes were more likely to integrate three elements into their instruction compared to other teachers who did not. They include: improvisation, technology and multiple musical genres.

Did any of these phrases resonate with you?

  • another pool of potential clients
  • current styles
  • make adjustments
  • being adequately equipped
  • offer something more
  • improvisation, technology and multiple genres

If so, then consider the words of my favorite fitness instructor:

If you want results, you have to push yourself!

How do you push yourself?

First and foremost, you must open your mind to all styles of music and recognize that there is good and bad music in every genre. It’s your job to find the good and lead your students to it.

Next, ask your students what they want to play and listen to their choices with them.

If they choose something from the radio or their iTunes playlist, aka: pop music, you’ll need to be equipped to help them learn it and that’s why you will want to sign up for the 88 Creative Keys Winter Webinar Webshop. Boy, do I wish this would have been around YEARS ago!

This unique webinar is only $49 for three hours of fun and learning! If you are already sold, sign up HERE or read on to learn more. Read More

Make your own dashing arrangement of Jingle Bells

About 4 years ago, Wendy Stevens of asked her piano students to learn the chorus of “Jingle Bells” and create a variation. Each arranger was filmed debuting his/her arrangement and then made into a lovely video.

Wendy’s Jingle Bells project got me so pumped that I not only assigned all my students this unique task but I blogged about it at–where I began my blogging years ago. Here’s the post (and the video) from December 2011, with a few minor updates.

The Plot

When preparing for the upcoming holiday recital, lesson time can be zapped by ironing out the wrinkles in performance pieces or drilling the performance etiquette routine. Little time is left for covering new concepts or new pieces. This calls for an assignment that captures the students’ attention, challenges their creativity and that can be accomplished in a short amount of time.

 The Production

The following steps were taken to prepare students:

1) A lead sheet featuring the melody and chord symbols was reviewed.

2)  For inspiration, students were asked to listen to Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” and follow along with the score. Next they watched the youtube video of Wendy’s students. (As I offer 30-minute lessons with a 30-minute off bench time, this was assigned during the lab time and did not take away from lesson time.)

3) A checklist of composition devices, provided by Wendy, was given to charge up the creative juices. About 5 minutes of lesson time was taken to prod students’ idea bank. We looked over a list of various moods and styles that sparked the imagination engines. Most were inspired to borrow ideas from their current pieces which boosted their confidence as they were not starting with a blank slate.

Additional ideas included varying the melody with neighbor tones, repeated notes, rhythmic changes and using standard LH patterns they encounter on a regular basis in lesson books and repertoire. Students were encouraged to keep it simple. However, they know I am a huge fan of intros and outros (codas), so most added them to please the teacher.

4) Pianists (arrangers) were asked to return to the next lesson with a completed variation.


The following week was like Christmas as each student “unwrapped” his/her variation for me. Some were perfected and camera-ready, some even had more than one variation, while others needed last-minute tweaking to work out rhythm or harmony issues.

Recording each student usually took more than one “take” but they did seem relieved to know that only their hands would be filmed. They were all reminded to use their best hand position but some were quite surprised with what they saw while watching their own video. (Note to self: pull out this camera more often–a picture can say so much more than words!)


After accumulating the clips, they all headed to the editing table (iMovie). Every student who participated was included in the final cut, however there were so many that a ‘sequel’ was needed.

The Editor’s cut  (the video at the top of the post) features the “best” twelve variations (yes, it was hard to choose!).

The project offered an opportunity to cover theory topics like the theme and variation form, primary chords, secondary chords, modality, composition techniques…the list goes on. The students enjoyed the creativity and seeing their names and hands on the “big screen.”

Your Turn

With the few lessons left in the year, why not encourage your students AND yourself to make your own dashing arrangement?

Want More Ideas?

Still puzzled about the steps to encourage young arrangers and composers? Using a simple tune like “Jingle Bells” works. I’m also convinced that pop music really can help, too. Want to know why I believe that to be true? Then you’ll want to attend the 88 Creative Keys winter webinar featuring Bradley Sowash, yours truly and the king of teaching pop, Tim Topham. Follow this link to register for the webinar.

IMPORTANT! If you have attended an 88 Creative Keys Summer workshop in the past, you are invited to attend this winter webinar “webshop” for FREE!

top pop tips