Category - Creative Corner

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.


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

How to Boost Creativity with the Power of Chords

Perhaps you had a startling revelation like I did? Watch the video and see if your story is like mine. Click here if you can’t see it.

Take the challenge and take charge

My shortcomings were made apparent and a challenge came my way shortly after grad school. Ever since, I’ve plugged into chords and taken charge. Now I enjoy reading chord charts and I treat myself to improvising at the keys when all my “chores” are done.

If you want to feel more confident and yes, charged up about improvising, then you need to take the challenge yourself and learn your chords. The best place to do that is with me and Bradley Sowash (co-founders of 88 Creative Key Keyboard Improvisation Workshop and Webinars) at our next webinar called Chord Boot Camp. Click on the plug below to sign up.


What you’ll learn about chords

  • Why the four-chord pattern“Heart and Soul” is a shoe-in for improvisation.
  • How to boost your own improvisation skills using that pattern. If I did it, you can too!
  • How to teach your students to improvise with it.
  • How to explain chord spelling, quality, inversions and function with something that relates to musicians of all ages: ice cream.
  • What apps are best suited to reinforce chord mastery.
  • What off-bench activities to use to lock in understanding of chords.

Learn from one who’s paved the way

It’s too hard to measure the influence Bradley Sowash has had in my creative journey. His significant mastery of improvisation, his books, his music, his presentations continue to mold me into the creative musician I am today.

Bradley and I constantly brainstorm on how to connect those who own a similar story to mine with the wonders of improvisation. We both conclude it comes down to knowing chords.

Watch his video to learn what chords have in common with power cords and what Bradley will include in his portion of the webinar. Click here if you can’t see it.

What you will learn about chords

  • Understanding Chord Symbols – principles, common practices and variations in pop/jazz chord nomenclature.
  • Pencil Practice – how to practice chords “off bench” with just a pencil and paper.
  • Chord Drills – practical exercises for daily chord practice.
  • Roots and Birds in Chordland – three easy rules to keep in mind when playing 7th chords.
  • Scaling the Chords – strategies to send reluctant improvisers happily down the path toward more creative music making.

Look what happens when you plug in

Need some evidence of the impact of knowing chords? Below is a video of  me–a past read-only, recovering, classically trained pianist–playing my original setting of a favorite hymn tune. Click here if you can’t see the video.

The arrangement was completed soon after Bradley and I decided to hold our first 88 Creative Keys workshops in Denver in 2013. I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve finally written it down so I can share it with others.

Register for Chord Boot Camp and get something at NO CHARGE!

My setting of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is brand new and for sale at $9.99 (studio license) but I’m offering it for FREE to all those who sign up and pay for Chord Boot Camp by Sunday, November 13th, 11:59pm.

Once you register, email me at and I’ll email your complimentary score.

Register by clicking on the boot below. We look forward to seeing you there!


Rhythm Produce Winner, A Sale and Teaching Tips

Thank you for entering to win Rhythm Produce.

AUDREY, you won!

As I only have a first name and if your name is Audrey, you won’t know it’s you until I email you with your free copy of Rhythm Produce.

Good news: If your name is not Audrey (or it is and you didn’t win) it’s on sale for $6! Using a systematic approach to teaching rhythm with fruits and veggies is working in my studio and I believe it will in yours as well.

Click on the BEET to buy it now as the deal won’t stay fresh for long.


In case you missed, it don’t forget to download Black Cat Strut. I’m so pleased to see how popular this improvisation jumpstart is.

If you play it alone or with your students, I’d love to hear about your experience. It’s not easy to move players off page–it takes determination!

Black Cat Teaching Tips

If you have apprehensive students who shy away from creating at the keys here are some tips:

Play a pattern on white keys (CDE GA) and ask students to learn and copy it by ear.

Allow students to use that pattern in the right hand while you play the left hand part.

Next, invite students to add a Black Key Slide of their choice to the pattern.

Suddenly, they’ve created something new!

Or, if students are rambling, encourage them to choose one pattern they created and stick with it. Ask them to play it over and over and then add a new Black Key Slide or change one note. This will help to bring a more cohesive sound to improvisation that seems to wander.

Model for your students ALL the time which means you need to practice, too!

Click on the BLACK CAT to learn more about this CATchy improvisation jumpstart that’s purrfect for October or really any time.


FullSizeRender 3


Reactions to 88 Creative Keys Workshop and What’s Next

Bradley Sowash and I just finished our fourth 88 Creative Keys Denver Keyboard Improvisation Workshop. It’s one of the most gratifying yet equally exhausting events of my life. I believe Bradley would agree. After taking a breather, we’ve begun to think about what’s next.  Before I share what’s on the horizon for 88 Creative Keys, it’s time to express our gratitude for those who attended and for the honest feedback offered in the completed surveys after the workshop.


The groups we hosted at both tracks and the record turn out for our very first ever Saturday Pedagogy created a dynamic bunch. Bradley and I were thrilled and exhausted and then recharged by everyone’s energy and enthusiasm!

If you want to know the details of our workshop, we made every effort to stick to this IMG_0586schedule allowing ourselves the freedom to improvise when necessary.

We were extremely honored to hold this year’s 88 Creative Keys workshop at Colorado Christian University thanks to Steven Taylor, Dean of the Music Department.

In addition, our attendees were privileged to learn from group improvisation expert, Debra Perez–a world-class teacher and wow, does she know her Clavinova!

What follows is an unexpected and unsolicited “bonus” from Marie Lee . She carefully compiled comments made by some of  this year’s 88 Creative Keys attendees.

Disclaimer: Marie Lee–friend colleague, extraordinary group teacher and one who is always thirsty to learn more–collected these comments and wrote some of her own without even a nudge from yours truly.  I do hope you will take the time to read her “coast to coast” collection.

The comments reveal what’s on the hearts and minds of the population of teachers we reach at 88 Creative Keys–from California to Connecticut . It could match your heart and mind as well and nudge you into joining us next time and look into what we offer between workshops. Read More

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

Is it Time to Beat Some Rhythm Into Your Students?

Guess what happens when three teachers discover that they are all looking to add some bucket drumming into their curriculum? They team up and compile a resource designed specifically the way they want it and decide to share it with you!

This substantial and exceptionally organized bucket drumming resource requires a price tag and so I’ve set up shop atpiano teacherplanning center I’ve held off on this endeavor for quite some time but it feels like a good time to dive in and offer exciting products that are worthy of your investment in a store called Piano Teacher Planning Center.
I don’t take this addition to the blog lightly and because of that, the first resource to be officially for sale is Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers.
Yes, you heard me. I said drumming with buckets and sticks and for that matter, any other junkyard items you might find that create an interesting sound or “timbre.”
Why would three piano teachers–Marie Lee and Heather Nanney and I–feel so compelled to compile such a resource? Because we see a need. A need for students to experience rhythm in which they can

Groovin’ with his junkyard drum set

Move away from the piano.

Solidify a pulse.

Explore their creativity.

Build ensemble skills.

Share in a fun opportunity with peers and friends.

Bring what they learn back to the piano.

If that doesn’t sell you on the idea think about these three MAJOR reasons to integrate bucket drumming into your studio curriculum. You’ll…

Retain students with your “off beat” approach.

Attract new students with summer camps that set your studio apart.

Brighten up private or group lessons with loads of versatile fun anytime during the year.

The video featured at the top gives you a preview of the fun in store for you and your students–I mean drummers.
With Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers, you’ll be equipped to do all of the above because you are given 80+ recipes for success. I couldn’t be more grateful to Heather and Marie. They have SUCH innovative and fun ideas. With this customizable and thorough resource you’ll
Screenshot 2016-05-18 10.00.57

Sample of 4 recipe cards

Learn why bucket drumming is THE perfect solution for your summer camps, group and private lessons.

Have access to buckets full of resources so that you can learn how to teach bucket drumming in style.

Be ready to integrate bucket drumming into any of your current plans with pedagogically sound and guaranteed-to-rock activities.

C’mon, if I haven’t sold you already, I’ll throw in a pun:
Happy students stick around.

Let’s Drum This!

Purchase your copy of

Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers


Want to see bucket drumming in action and learn how to use this resource first hand? Then join Bradley Sowash and me (Leila) at 88 Creative Workshop this summer in Denver. Marie Lee will also be there to share how she uses bucket drumming in her group classes.

It’s not too late to sign up but hurry, there’s only a few benches (and buckets) left.



Try to Beat these Eggceptional Games!

Thank you (really, I mean it!) for reading my ideas here at and for signing up for my newsletter that usually comes once or twice a month featuring ideas and resources not always found on the blog. Some of you have expressed concerned about not getting the newsletter so make sure you sign up below and then look for the next newsletter next week Tuesday, March 22nd. Double check: it might have slipped into your spam folder! No worries about signing up more than once, you will only receive the newsletter once. BTW, after you read this post, I think you’ll want to read the newsletter. -Leila

Eggs are an ordinary but primary ingredient in most recipes, why not make them an EGGceptional and primary ingredient in your lessons?

Although the Easter season is a fitting time to use the activities below, I believe you could pull these out any time your private or group lessons or summer camps need a unique opener, closer or anything in between. The Egg Shell Matching Game is perfect for Off Bench time.

Steps to making an eggceptional Egg Shell Matching Game

1) Purchase at least a couple of dozen plastic eggs. Trust me, you’ll want more than a dozen so look for sales after Easter.

2) Divide them into colors.

3) Designate a color for each subject you wish to cover.


Repurposed favorite containers to store eggs according to color and subject

My color code system:

  • Pink = Music Terms
  • Green = Flat Tetrachords (scales)
  • Purple = Rhythms
  • Yellow = Sharp Tetrachords (scales)
  • Blue = 7th chords
  • Turquoise = Triad chords

4) Write desired terms, symbols, signs, scales, etc. on the eggs.

  • Top shell = Term
  • Bottom Shell = Definition (see chart below)

5) Determine a place to store your eggs. Save old egg cartons or begin saving recyclable containers. I’m using plastic jars that hold our family’s favorite treats from Costco. OR, buy Easter baskets for half price after the holiday. Read More

How to Teach Technique, Timing and Theory All at Once

The pressure

As teachers, we feel pressure to successfully teach our students to

  • play with a steady pulse
  • learn a scale with proper fingering and hand position
  • comprehend theory by showing proficiency in tests and exams.

And, all of this within a short 30-minute lesson!

The solution

There is a way to alleviate the time crunch by creating activities that combine these tasks– timing, technique and theory–into exercises at the keys. It’s called grooving your theory.

When studying jazz piano with Bradley Sowash, he assigns scales. These are not the typical scale assignments. His systematic routine called Squared Scales, requires the pianist to play scales in various rhythms, tapping the left toe on beats 2 and 4 while playing with a backing track. Whoa–talk about multi-tasking!

Ever since I began this routine in all the keys around the circle, my scale playing has improved immensely. I confess, I hadn’t played scales in years so there was plenty of room for improvement, but I also excelled because I enjoyed the challenge of aligning my technical and theory skills to a beat.

The results

Although just the idea of bundling technique, theory and timing into one lesson assignment may be valuable enough, there’s a specific reason why Bradley advocates this method. With all these skills locked into a beat, it provides the foundation for improvisation.

The idea

It got me thinking that this lesson curriculum bundle which ignites freedom at the keys should be anuse iReal Proaround the circle of keys essential part of lessons for my own students from day one. Not just for those at the age of Ms Leila!

This thought is what prompted my recent post Use iReal Pro to Circle the Keys.  While writing the article, it dawned on me that the connect between teaching and grooving theory to improvisation cannot be clearly communicated through mere words. It really calls for a presentation or even better, a webinar.

Therefore–you knew it was coming–Bradley Sowash and I will be holding our second webinar called Groove Your Theory for just $49.

The sales pitch

Bradley and I make a unique combination: one died-in-the-wool improviser and one by-the-book typical studio piano teacher. Together we team up as

  • One who systematically outlines what he’s discovered from years of improvisation. (Bradley)
  • One who simplifies and clarifies his findings. (Leila)

We’re a team that seems to work given that our first webinar was successful beyond our wildest dreams (Top Pop Tips) and that we are holding our 4th annual 88 Creative Keys workshop this summer in Denver.

Good News! If you are joining us this summer, register for the work shop here and the Groove Your Theory webinar is free. In addition, the $49 webinar is free for all 88 Creative Keys alumni.

The details

When you groove your theory it means combining it with technique and timing. These skills develop a sturdy canvas on which to create.

Bradley Sowash and I will show you how backing tracks can turn typical theory lessons and technical drills into dynamic activities that instill a steady pulse AND trigger creativity beyond the page.

You’ll learn how to use apps and software to create backing tracks for interactive lesson plans, innovative group activities and guaranteed home practice.

The webinar will include

  • The BEST way to create your own lead sheets in iReal Pro.
  • A bunch more ideas of how to use iReal Pro to teach and build theory, timing and technique simultaneously.
  • Grand staff notation of the drills included in the webinar.
  • Numerous resources and additional apps and software that help you reinforce theory and create backing tracks.
  • Specific exercises designed by Bradley Sowash that he uses at every lesson to enhance technical skills. Then he’ll go the next step and demonstrate how these fundamentals are the foundation for developing red-hot improvisational skills for you and that of your students.
  • Ways to motivate students to excel.
  • Tips for those who teach group lessons. You’ll learn how to incorporate ideas into your plans AND summer camps! (To learn more about how to set up group lessons and summer camps, follow this link.)
  • A jam-packed, well-organized handout.
  •  iReal Pro charts designed by Leila and Bradley.
  • Time for your questions.

 The registration

Get your groove on by registering below. Just push the play button to sign up now. Can’t wait to see you there!

play button small



Use iReal Pro to Circle the Keys in Fives

As a pianist, there’s no way around technical exercises if you want to train fingers in the way they should go. Building patterns in the hands will build a strong player, reader and improviser. There’s no better way to work around these technical challenges than by circling the circle of keys. The theory-packed ring breathes life into and logically connects to just about every aspect of music theory.

Start with Five-Finger Patterns

This post is specifically dedicated to how I boost student knowledge and playing of five-finger patterns traveling around the circle of keys. It makes sense to begin with five-finger patterns as they easily fit under the hand. From beginners to advanced, I believe it is essential for all levels of students to know these pentascales as they are the building blocks for understanding chords, scales, modes, and more. I use the phrase “five-finger pattern” because it relates to students’ five fingers faster than the term “penta scale.”Also it is SO similar to another term I use a great deal—pentatonic—and I don’t want students to get confused.

Circle of Keys Drills (1) copy

Find a Groove with iReal Pro

Read More