Category - Group Lessons

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

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)



Group Piano: What it IS and What it ISN’T

On the fence about whether group instruction is right for you? Not sure what format you should use? Good friend and colleague, Marie Lee has some strong opinions on this topic as she should. I consider her an expert in group piano instruction–check out the programs at her Musicality Schools. You can learn more about her experience here or just keep reading and hear what is and what isn’t group piano class.


As piano teachers realize that YES, they can make a good living teaching piano, the subject of group classes comes up as a way of increasing studio size and income. But what exactly IS a group class? And what is it NOT? Read More

Feeling the BEET with Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory

Edwin Gordon’s highly recognized and esteemed research leading to the Music Learning Theory (MLT) is defined as

“An explanation and description of appropriate ways students learn one or more styles of music.” p5 of Quick and Easy Introductions by Edwin Gordon

It is not a teaching method that you purchase and follow exclusively. YOU can apply and integrate MLT into your current teaching method, NOW. This is great news! You don’t need to reinvent your approach to enhance it with the MLT philosophy. Keep reading and I’ll explain how. Read More

Paul Myatt: One more reason to attend 88 Creative Keys Workshop

Launching an independent, tech-savvy, creative-based piano studio has been a dream come true for me.

Some dream bigger.

Over the last ten years, I’ve had the itch to move out, rent space, teach more group lessons and hire fellow teachers but I haven’t followed through for multiple reasons. Those who do are such an inspiration to me.

Some dream even bigger!

Paul Myatt not only co-founded and directs a successful, multi-teacher school, he’s franchised it! His Forte Music Schools which feature innovative group teaching, are located throughout Australia, New Zealand and have spread to the United Kingdom. I first saw Paul in action at Tim Topham’s blog. Follow this link to learn Paul’s Five Secret Ingredients to Successful Group Teaching.

Listen to all or part of this video to see and hear Paul in action. Read More

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!


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

Essentials for the Worship Team Pianist

Equipping a student with reading and memorizing skills may develop a capable pianist but, nowadays those limited skills aren’t going to cut it. Most pianists are or will be called upon to play beyond the score and read chord charts and play with bands or worship teams. Preparing for this position requires good ears, knowledge of chords and a willingness to collaborate.


Drew Collins

In our next 88 Creative Keys Webinar, we (Bradley Sowash and me, Leila Viss) are excited to have Drew Collins join us. He’s spent over twenty years leading worship and training worship leaders and musicians. This past summer, I invited Drew to a worship team workshop for my students and found Drew’s ideas so worthwhile that we decided to feature him in our next webinar: “Essentials for the Worship Team Pianist.”


Drew sharing words of wisdom at my summer studio workshop.

Drew Collins has spent twenty years leading worship and training worship leaders and musicians. He earned his B.A. in Music from the University of Northern Colorado and his M.A. in Ministry Leadership from Crown College. A singer, songwriter, and liturgist, he lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, CO. I have the pleasure of being on staff  with Drew at South Suburban Christian Church, in Littleton, Colorado.

In the first portion of the webinar, Drew and I will discuss:

  • The three roles of a worship team pianist.
  • The latest tech tools used by most worship teams.
  • Tips on how to build required skills.
  • What worship leaders expect of a pianist.
  • Common mistakes pianists make when playing with a band.
  • Characteristics of a strong worship team pianist.
  • Some tricks of the trade.

Bradley Sowash

In the next portion, Bradley will cover:

  • What to play when unrehearsed background music is needed.
  • Heighten your awareness of thinking and playing in musical layers.
  • Tips for pianists about feeling the groove in a band.
  • Improvising and/or arranging a traditional hymn for contemporary worship.

Don’t miss this workshop! Even if your students don’t play in a worship band, with this webinar you’ll be able to coach those who may wish to play in a “garage band.” You’ll find all the ideas we feature in the webinar will crossover to any band experience. Your students will thank you. Bonus: it may give you the skills you need to play in a band yourself!




Drumming Cards 9-12 and Three Reasons to Stick Around

We fast forwarded the 12 days of drumming into 7 and now the final round of holiday bucket drumming cards are included below. Thanks for your patience as we drummed up ideas for your holiday fun! Pun intended.

Another thank you to SO many of you who purchased Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers. Remember, it’s still on sale through December so share the news with your friends! Order it here.

And the credit goes to…

This flurry of upbeat ideas for the holidays could not have happened without thefunkeylogo-web-e1412370119928 efforts of my good friends and colleagues Marie Lee and Heather Nanney. Marie and Heather are to be credited as the imagineers for most of the cards. As they came up with the ideas, I produced the cards and delivered them to you. I could have never done this series of posts without their creative minds!

FYI: Heather is extremely creative and offers fabulous teaching ideas at her blog with the best name ever: FunKey Music! She posted a must-have freebie called The Ultimate Chord Bundle to help categorize, color code and spell chords. Follow this link to get yours now–the bundle is brilliant.13528831_263815857314918_5066482634924078563_n

FYI: Marie has forged into a new, exciting studio expansion and never seems to run out of ideas or energy. Check out her Musicality Schools website here and be inspired by its attractive organization and content. If you recall, Marie was featured in an article at around a year ago. Her studio and business has skyrocketed since then! Look for the article here and learn why she never wanted to be a piano teacher. Really?

The three of us were on fire to get these cards out to you ASAP so we do hope you will include them AND enjoy them in your holiday lesson plans. We’d love to hear how it goes for you.

What does bucket drumming look like?

Below is a sneak peek at bucket drumming to the Tchaikovsky’s Russian Dance. I had drummed with the students through this piece and guided them in a “choreography” to go with the soundtrack. Then I asked if they would do it again so I could take a video.

If you notice, the 4th grade young man took charge and led the others in the “dance.” The gal in the pink was wondering why we were drumming in piano lessons. You may ask the same thing.

What I see in this video: active listening skills, large muscle and memorable responses to the music, ensemble work, conducting and smiles. All with some buckets, sticks and a few giggles. If you can’t see the video below, follow this link.

We wish you a merry and musical December!

Some reasons to stick around…

#1 If you signed up for any of the drumming cards or any of the products in The Piano Teacher Planning Center, you will automatically receive my newsletter. I send it out about twice a month and catch you up on things going on at the blog and usually announce or offer something new.

In next week’s newsletter, I’ll include a link to all 12 cards–4 per sheet–that you can easily print off or better yet, access on your iPad via iBooks or Notability.

#2 Speaking of the Piano Teacher Planning Center, you do not want to miss the latest addition provided by Andrea West. Andrea is a graphic designer and a piano teacher who has created images that are ideal for your upcoming holiday recital program covers, party invitations and/or camp binders.

Click on the image below to order Andrea’s covers and get them on sale for $4.97! It’s a bargain and you’ll have images for many years to come! Free bonus: she includes instructions on how to create your program in Word and offers images for Facebook props to congratulate your students. Get ’em here.


#3 I can’t wait to share a new rhythm game called Rhythm on a Roll that helps students of all levels understand adding and dividing note values. It’s something that works well in groups or during Off-Bench Time and correlates nicely with my off-bench resource called Rhythm Make it Count. It’s been tested all week long in my group lessons and has been met with strong approval. They didn’t want to stop playing! Stay tuned for a free printable coming your way soon.

Get your last four Holiday Bucket Drumming cards by clicking here or on the image below and thanks again for your support!


Remember, happy students STICK around!


12 Days of Drumming: Cards 5-8: Make Rhythms Relevant


How is rhythm connected to these cute holiday books? Read on…

As promised, we are putting a rush on the 12 Days of Drumming cards so you can make your plans for your upcoming holiday parties, groups lessons and camps.

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, Heather Nanney and Marie Lee and I are creating 12 supplemental cards to coincide with our resource we created called Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers.

Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers is on sale for $29 and it is definitely worth every penny as you’ll be able to use the ideas for your summer camps and now with these new cards, tailor bucket drumming activities to suit your holiday studio plans.

The buckets and creative activities make playing and reading rhythms fun! That was our collective goal as understanding rhythms is complex and difficult for most young musicians. We’ve come up with 80+ engaging ideas that boost strong rhythm skills.

Be honest, how many kids do you know, jump up and down with glee when asked to count out loud? Our plans connect with kids and will get them counting because they UNDERSTAND WHY they need to count!

Before you download Cards 5-8 (available below) I want to share why I believe these activities featured on the holiday cards and those in our resource are so important to the process of learning rhythm.

With drums, common words and phrases and other off bench activities, we are making rhythm notation relevant by matching note values and rhythms with familiar patterns. Let me explain with an example outside of the music field.

Last evening I was enjoying the company of a 2-1/2-year-old girl and her younger 1-1/2-year-old brother. We were celebrating the arrival of their younger sister (yes this is a BUSY household) and so I brought the Chunky Pack: Christmas  by Roger Priddy as a gift for them.

They could not get enough of the books. They loved holding the small but chunky books and gazing at the brightly colored pictures inside.

The idea of each perfectly-sized-for-little-hands book is simple: while one page shows a colorful graphic of a holiday image like a Christmas tree, the other side identifies the image with letters forming the words: CHRISTMAS TREE.

Since the 1 -1/2 year old didn’t own very many words yet and was quite content with his pacifier, he happily pointed at the objects while sitting on my lap. But, I guided his older sister to say the words on the page. Of course, she said “Christmas tree” because she quickly identified the object from the picture.  Soon, I covered up the image and she recognized the words without needing the picture.

Was she recognizing the letters, putting them together and reading the words? Maybe, maybe not, but she was making a connection that letters hooked together make symbols for Christmas stuff like Christmas trees and reindeer.

In a way, this is what the cards in our 12 Days of Drumming Cards feature. They encourage drummers to relate the names of favorite holiday items, toys and the phrases of well-known carols to note values and rhythm patterns.

Examples of matching words with rhythm notation:
please don't make me count out loud!

  • Elf = quarter note
  • Santa = two eighth notes
  • Jingle bells, jingle bells = two 8ths quarter, two 8ths quarter.

By relating familiar words and phrases to rhythm notation, drummers begin to make connections and lock in the vocabulary of what we call rhythm.

With the help of the tissue rhythm boxes as seen in the picture above, drummers notice that groups of smaller note values will share one beat AND that each beat still lasts for one box–the same amount of time.

One supplemental card in this next bunch includes a great idea for teaching tempi and dynamic contrasts.

ALL the activities require physical action, dictation, listening, notation and/or team work which guarantee solid comprehension.

Click on the drumming reindeer below to get your next 4 cards.

Still need the first four cards? Follow this link.