Category - Improvise

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.

-Leila


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

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

-Leila

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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.

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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 lviss@me.com and I’ll email your complimentary score.

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

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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.

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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.

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Black Cat Strut: A Cool Improvisation for All Ages

Improvising can be a little scary.

It’s even scarier when both hands are required!

Here’s an accessible improvisation that offers tasks for both hands. While the left hand stays pretty simple it still sounds black-cat cool. With the suggested tips, the right hand will get the opportunity to strut its stuff.

By the way, inspiration for this pattern occurred when Bradley Sowash casually mentioned the opening two chords during an online group improv lesson. Check out his line up of courses here.

Improvising doesn’t always sound so good.silhouette-1314467_1280

Black Cat Strut is guaranteed to sound pleasing to anyone at any level because both hands play something appealing and it’s in minor!

You (try it yourself!) and your students will have even more opportunity to sound like a pro as I’ve created a chart in iReal Pro that provides an instant backup band. It’s included in the free download. (To download the chart you need to tap on the link on the device that has iReal Pro installed. Let me know if you have any trouble.)

This looks too hard for beginners.

Black Cat Strut is suited for anyone at any level because both hands play separately–at least at the first level. In fact, there’s no need to play hands together at all and that’s the beauty of this jumpstart.

When introducing the pattern, divide and conquer each part by playing one hand yourself, while your student plays the other.

Better yet, divide and conquer in a group lesson. Ask one or more to play the left hand part and assign others to create right hand patterns. You’ll have all kinds of cool cats improvising together!

Check out this video that shows snippets of improvisers of all levels and ages strutting their chops.

How do you teach this?

All of my students learned the pattern by ear. I provided no visuals for them and repeatedly modeled snippets for them to echo.

I gave them step by step instructions, adding more ideas as they became more confident with the catpatterns.

If you notice in the video, fingering is a personal choice for the sake of building a safety net for young improvisers. If given too many things to think about, students might give up.

The beauty of this simple yet sophisticated jumpstart is that you can continue to build on it for those who are comfortable with improvising.

The instruction steps are included in the free download. I highly recommend teaching the patterns by ear and/or by rote as much as possible. That way this will become a memorized, back-pocket pattern that players can enjoy for a lifetime.

What does the free PDF download include?

  • A colorful, black kitty-cat visual of the keys required for the right hand.
  • The pattern broken down into three skill levels with sequential steps on how to teach them.
  • Grand staff notation of all parts.

At any level, this exercise is guaranteed to sound purrfect! -Leila

GET BLACK CAT STRUT HERE


Enter you first name and email address for your free download

Jumpstart improvisation in your studio!



Did you sign up to win free Rhythm Produce cards? It really does produce strong rhythm readers. I use fruit and veggies every day. The winner will be announced October 21, 2016 so sign up by clicking the apple below.

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88 Creative Keys is hosting its next webinar on November 14, 2016. It targets an essential for anyone who wants to be creative at the keys: CHORDS! Click on the boot below to sign up.

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Multi-Level Group Lessons with a Touch of Technology

Anna Fagan was featured as in iPad Piano teacher in the companion blog to my image1book, The iPad Piano Studio. From her smart and savvy comments in social media and presence at national conferences I know Anna stays on top of the latest teaching and tech trends.

In a recent Facebook post she generously shared her plans for a multi-level and multi-age group lesson. Her post was super material for a blog–especially since the problem of various levels in one group is quite common to anyone who offers group lessons. So I asked her if she’d share her brilliant plans.

Little did I know that I have a Florida sister! Her ideas look almost identical to mine. Both of us even have a family of frogs!

I believe you will find her tech-savvy and engaging lesson plans invaluable.

Take it away, Anna Fagan!


My students LOVE Group Lessons – a chance to meet other students and share their struggles and triumphs in this musical journey, and … frankly … just as a place to have some FUN together!

Since I want to make scheduling these as easy as possible for parents (and for me!) I always offer several days and times, set a per-class limit (6-8 students), and then let them sign-up via e-mail — “first-come, first served.”  

Of course, this means that I usually have a WIDE variety of ages and levels in each group.  This presents my greatest challenge – finding activities that will be simple enough even for first-year students, but still a learning opportunity for my older and more experienced students.

YIKES!  Technology, take me away!! 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 88pianokeys.me. 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
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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
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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

HERE

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.

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Time for Three Concert: Marie’s MTNA 2016 Report Part 2

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Marie with Ms Becki and her red hat from JoyTunes

It’s been like Christmas around here as I unpack Marie Lee’s reports from the MTNA 2016 conference in San Antonio. All of them come full of information and pleasant surprises. This time she’s back with a rousing post about the concert that she claimed “was worth the entire trip!”

This is Marie’s second in a series that she is generously offering to me and the loyal and greatly appreciated readers of 88pianokeys.me! The first one (find it here) offers some great group lesson tips and her thoughts on the RMM track. -Leila

Take it away, Marie…

If you’ve attended a few music teachers’ conferences, you’ll know that traditionally, most opening concerts feature classical pianist playing classical music. While I have the utmost respect for these artists and their talent, I find it difficult to sit through 90 minutes of classical piano. Read More