repertoire / methods, Retreat

2017 Piano Teacher Retreat

Hello, readers!

I’m so excited to share with you some photos from the three-day Piano Teacher Retreat I hosted earlier this month.  

On Thursday the 17th, 12 piano teachers arrived for our retreat activities. They came from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, Ontario (Canada), …and even as far as Georgia!

Including my friend Amy Chaplin (who was in charge of delicious meals for us!) and myself, this added up to 14 piano teachers in “Piano Manor” — which is what my students and I fondly call my home studio. :)

My chief goal with my Piano Teacher Retreat was to create a professional development experience with no single “expert” to learn from, but instead with all attendees collaborating and sharing their thoughts and experiences, toward the goal of growing together to become better teachers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love conferences, but if we really want to create an experience that results in the greatest amount of learning, we need to create learning experiences that very closely replicate the actual desired skill or behavior.

To that end, this was not a professional development experience where attendees sat in their seats and passively listened. Nope. At Piano Teacher Retreat, everybody participates. :) All 14 of us kept busy through group discussion sessions, studying certain method books with a partner, and presenting our findings with the rest of the group. We were hands-on and interactive!

Continue reading “2017 Piano Teacher Retreat”

repertoire / methods

Video: A Peek Inside the Littlest Piano Method Book You Ever Did See

Hi there!

Earlier today, I went live on Facebook to take a peek inside the littlest piano method book in my collection. :) It’s called “Little Players: A Piano Book For Very Young Beginners,” by Robert Nolan Kerr. The copyright year is 1941.

I found this book among a boxful of other old sheet music I received from a retiring piano teacher. It’s an interesting piece of history. Join me in taking a closer look at this book!

Here is the Facebook Live video.

Taking a peek inside just about the cutest little piano method book I ever did see…

Posted by Color In My Piano blog on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Here is what’s covered in the video:

  • 0:37  Check out the size of this little book compared to a typical-sized method book.
  • 1:47  Take a guess: which reading approach is used by this method book?
  • 3:06  Find out what “very young beginner” age the author intended this book to be for. Today, I think publications generally use “very young beginners” to mean age 4-6.
  • 3:27  Find out which touch (non-legato, legato, or staccato) the author expects the student will use throughout the book.
  • 4:30  Check out the 1940s era illustrations.
  • 5:42  It’s nice to see pieces in both duple and triple meter early on.
  • 6:11  This book contains a few interesting activities requiring students to experience meter through listening and moving to music the teacher plays.
  • 8:15  This is a method where the student is learning to play pieces through a combination of note and rote learning. Singing also seems to be encouraged.
  • 11:42  An early page in this book indicates that it was for group or individual instruction. Can you picture a classroom full of school children, each with their own copy of this little book?! :)

Thanks for exploring this old method book with me!

Questions for you: Have you ever before seen such an adorable mini-sized piano method book?! Do you teach your beginners to play with legato touch first, or do you do something else first? What other interesting observations do you have after taking a virtual peek with me inside this interesting piece of pedagogical history?

Thanks for watching!

P.S.: Why am I looking through old piano method books? It’s because I’m in the midst of preparations for Retreat at Piano Manor which I will be hosting later this summer, August 17-19, 2017! During the retreat, we will be looking through piano method books from across the decades, uncovering pedagogical wisdom relevant for us today. Be sure to watch the facebook page and here on the blog for future videos about piano methods.

Professional Development, repertoire / methods, Retreat

Video: Let’s Talk about John Thompson’s “Teaching Little Fingers To Play”

Hi there!

Earlier today, I went live on Facebook to talk about one of my favorite old piano method books: the classic John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano. I have to admit certain bias for the “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” book. It was my first piano book when I was all of age 5. :)

Here is the Facebook Live video.

Let's talk about this classic piano method: John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano. I have to admit certain bias for the "Teaching Little Fingers" book because it was my first piano book when I was age 5. ??

Posted by Color In My Piano blog on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here is what’s covered in the video:

  • 0:50  Get a peek inside an OLD copy of the “Teaching Little Fingers To Play” book by John Thompson.
  • 2:10  Why I like using the “Teaching Little Fingers” book sometimes today as a supplement.
  • 3:05  Get a peek inside a NEW copy of the “Teaching Little Fingers” book. The illustrations have been updated, but the version is otherwise pretty true to the original.
  • 3:35  How to address one of the potential pitfalls of using the “Teaching Little Fingers” book: the overabundance of finger numbers.
  • 4:47  How John Thompson was ahead of his time as a pedagogue. Or, perhaps there is really just “nothing new under the sun.” :) Hint: See the note on the cover of the “Teaching Little Fingers” book.
  • 7:04  Learn more about other music and resources John Thompson authored.

Questions for you: Have you ever used the John Thompson series? What do you appreciate about it?

Thanks for watching!

P.S.: Why am I looking through old piano method books? It’s because I’m in the midst of preparations for Retreat at Piano Manor which I will be hosting later this summer, August 17-19, 2017! During the retreat, we will be looking through piano method books from across the decades, uncovering pedagogical wisdom relevant for us today. Registration is now open and a few teachers have already registered. Be sure to watch the facebook page and here on the blog for future videos about piano methods.

repertoire / methods

“Un-Method” Books for Piano Students

Un-Methods for Piano StudentsAs a piano teacher, you have probably been in the situation where you felt that using your favorite traditional piano method might not be the best choice for a particular new student’s situation.

For example, perhaps you have a new student who already has experience reading music from school or band.  Or an older beginner with a great ear who is largely self-taught.  Or an adult student who is returning to piano lessons after a number of years.  Or perhaps you have an average-age beginner who isn’t thriving in their method books and would benefit from additional supplement.

For those special situations, it is useful to be familiar with some method book alternatives, which I fondly refer to as “un-methods.”  Un-methods are useful for creating structure in weekly piano assignments while maintaining the flexibility to round out the student’s curriculum with other styles of music they are interested in.  In my mind, an un-method must meet at least two out of these three criteria:

  • Uses on-staff note reading.
  • Little to no illustrations or text on the page.
  • All-in-one book, for the most part.

Below is my list of some un-methods that you might enjoy exploring!


Right From The Start, by Lynn Freeman Olson (Fischer)

3786474_01downloadAs the cover states, this thin volume is a “rapid piano reader.”  Teachers who appreciate a landmark (aka interval) reading approach will appreciate the way this on-staff book begins: by teaching Bass F, Middle C, and Treble G.  The book provides a solid, no-nonsense approach.  I think it is a great book that truly leaves the teaching up to the teacher!

By the end of this 30-page book, students are playing basic rhythms (no eighth notes, unfortunately) within quarter note meters (3/4 and 4/4 time), a variety of articulations (staccato, legato) and notes covering the entire grand staff.

View it on Amazon or SheetMusicPlus.com. Continue reading ““Un-Method” Books for Piano Students”

repertoire / methods, Reviews

Review & Giveaway: Elena Cobb’s “My Piano Trip To London”

A couple of years ago, I reviewed some lovely sheet music by British teacher/composer Elena Cobb (read the review here). She is the author of the Higgledy Piggledy Jazz books, the “Blue River” book of solos, and more.

Elena has recently released a new book: a piano method called “My Piano Trip to London.”

1. COVER NEW FRONT

“My Piano Trip to London” contains 40 pages.  The pieces throughout the book are based on various landmarks and themes from London.

The first piece in the book is a black-key piece to be learned by rote.

Page 5 London Calling Student Continue reading “Review & Giveaway: Elena Cobb’s “My Piano Trip To London””

Giveaways, repertoire / methods

Piano Pronto “Prelude” Book with Teacher Duets – Giveaway

Remember when I blogged about Jennifer Eklund’s music last Winter?   Today, I want to tell you a little bit more about her self-published piano method, Piano Pronto.

Piano-Pronto-Piano-Lesson-Books-Music-for-all-ages-and-all-stages-10

I haven’t been experimenting with the Piano Pronto books for very long yet, but already I can see some reasons why Piano Pronto is unique from the piano methods available from the major publishers:

  • Piano-Pronto-Prelude-book-300x300It is an all-in-one book.  Lessons introducing new concepts, prep exercises to learn, and simple theory questions to answer are all included within the book.  This makes it easier for the teacher to supplement with a variety of types of music.  Or, the method can even serve as the supplement to a different method!  
  • It begins with on-staff reading.  Some students do not need a period of pre-staff notation — especially older beginners or those who have learned staff notation at school.
  • It uses a huge variety of familiar folk tunes and classical themes.  This allows students to use their ears a great deal as they learn to read music.  It also can be motivating for students to be able to play tunes they are familiar with.
  • It does not shy away from teaching rhythm concepts such as eighth notes (taught in the Prelude book) or 6/8 time (taught in the Movement 2 book) early on.
  • It teaches key signatures early on (in the Movement 1 book).
  • It requires students to move around the keyboard early on (starting in the Prelude Book).

If you haven’t taken a look at Piano Pronto before, you can learn more by browsing the preview pages and audio samples on Jennifer’s website.  

Being self-published has its advantages, including being able to interact directly with one’s audience.  Jennifer manages an active forum on Facebook where teachers can ask questions and share success stories.  A few weeks ago, I posted there to ask Jennifer if there was any chance that she would be releasing teacher duets anytime soon to go with her method books.  Jennifer responded almost immediately and set to work writing teacher duets for the “Prelude” book.  The eBook for those teacher duets is now available here!   After purchase, you can print a copy from the PDF or load it onto your favorite score reader on your iPad.

In celebration of this new release, Jennifer has offered to sponsor a giveaway.  Two randomly-chosen winners will receive a FREE copy of the Piano Pronto “Prelude” book and the corresponding teacher duets (U.S. winners will receive hardcopies while international winners will receive digital copies).  To enter, please leave a comment on this post describing which unique aspect of the Piano Pronto method (from the list above) intrigues you the most!  Enter by Wednesday, August 6 at midnight Eastern time.

Don’t forget to visit Jennifer’s Piano Pronto Discussion Group on facebook and request to join.  There, you will find many other resources relating to Piano Pronto, including a transfer assessment guide and a guide to Jennifer’s supplemental music.

Update: Jennifer is running a rare 20% off sale from August 1st through August 5!  Use the promo code SCHOOL20.

Professional Development, repertoire / methods, Technology

Watch this Google Hangout Discussion about Piano Methods

Whew!  I feel like I have so much to share, but not enough time to share it!  ;)

Last week, I held a summer camp for my piano students called “Practice Tips & Tricks.”  It was a fun week.  For my birthday last month, my husband gave me a projector.  (Yes, I’m a techno-geek!)  It was wonderful to be able to have a large visual to use during camp!  I hope to share more details about all this later.

On Friday, I held another Google Hangout this time talking about piano methods.  You can watch the video here.  We did encounter some technical difficulties unfortunately — I apologize about that!  Thanks for bearing with us during this experiment.  :)

I have another Google Hangout scheduled for this Friday at 11am Eastern time.  Please visit the event page here to get all the details and feel free to submit questions for us to discuss in advance.

More later!  :)

Forum Q&A's, repertoire / methods

Forum Q&A: What piano book did you first learn from?

Greetings!  I know I’ve been MIA around the blog lately — it’s been a busy couple of weeks.  This time of year always requires lots of planning time, for upcoming festivals and recitals.  I’ve been helping students pick out repertoire and keeping track of forms and registration dates, etc.  :)

Anyway, I though I would start a new Forum Q&A post today!  Last time, we discussed duet repertoire — I hope you will go check out all of the responses so far by clicking here, and I also hope you’ll continue adding your favorites!

Today, I want to to hear from you:

What piano method books did you learn from as a child?  Did you like the books?  What did you like about them?  What else do you remember about your first piano lessons?

I think it will be fun to hear your stories!  I’ll try to post my own answer sometime this week, too.

Forum Q&A's, repertoire / methods, Rhythm, Teaching Piano

Q&A Forum | Rhythmic “Simplification” in Arrangements of Familiar Tunes

For last week’s Forum Q&A, I broached a few questions about memorization and many of you left comments regarding whether or not to require memorization for performances within your studio — but not many of you addressed my initial question about whether you consider the skill of memorization is essential to piano playing (i.e., do you think it is necessary/required for concert pianists to play by memory?  Why or why not?).  I discussed this topic further in yesterday’s post, which you can view here.  As always, it’s never too late to add your thoughts to this ongoing discussion.  =)

Today, however, marks the introduction of a new topic for discussion:

Many popular piano methods today include (as they should) arrangements of familiar tunes for students to learn.  This is great, because many students LOVE learning how to play tunes they are familiar with!  (Side note: click here to view a post regarding some thoughts on what makes a great piano method.)  However, these arrangements sometimes present a problem:

Oftentimes in arrangements, the rhythm of the tune is altered and “simplified” in order to accomodate the rhythmic values that the student has/hasn’t learned yet.  This is all fine and dandy, but as a teacher, what do you do when a student comes back the next week playing the rhythm “wrong”?

To give one example that frequently occurs with beginner students, I’ve heard many students return playing the rhythm of “Ode to Joy” with dotted-quarter-eighth rhythms instead of playing all quarter notes (despite the fact that we sightread it together with the rhythm as written).  How do you handle this situation: do you “fix” the student’s rhythm to match what is on the page even though it goes against their intuition, or do you “let it go?”

I’m sure many of us piano teachers have been in this situation before!  Share your experiences in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Rick Harris | CC 2.0

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, repertoire / methods

SUMMARY | July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books

Here is the summary post for the July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books.  Thanks to those of you who shared your thoughts!

Your Thoughts

Allow me to summarize some of the main points that were made in the comments:

  • Choose a piano method that will give students (especially beginners) a strong foundation for the future and ensure success.
  • Choose a piano method that will suite each student’s interests and taste.
  • Choose a piano method that has “good” and “real” music.  (A couple of you made such references….perhaps this could be a launching point for further discussion: what does “good” or “real” music entail?)
  • Don’t necessarily use the same piano method for every student.
  • Be sure to supplement the method with books outside of the method, so that they are experiencing different types of repertoire.

Read all the comments for yourself here.

Your Favorites

You also shared some of your favorite piano methods in the comments.  Here are the ones that were mentioned:

  • “Play Piano Now!” from Alfred publishing – for adult beginners.
  • “Music Tree” – for creative and bright students; strong in theory.
  • Alfred Premier – for students ages 8-11; strong in theory.
  • Alfred Prep and Alfred Basic – for young beginner students (ages 4-8).
  • “Piano Adventures” by the Fabers – has imaginative pieces; encourages note-reading.

My Thoughts

My personal philosophy when it comes to piano methods is that there is no single piano method that is “the best” or that works for all students.  Every student learns differently and every student has various goals, interests, and tastes in music.  Therefore, the teacher must seek to find and use the piano method that will be best for each individual student.  It is important for teachers to become familiar with the various piano methods available so that they can choose the proper method for each student.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating Piano Methods: Continue reading “SUMMARY | July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books”

Forum Q&A's, repertoire / methods

The July Forum: Discussing Method Books

This month’s discussion topic is about using method books (i.e., Alfred, Faber, Bastien, etc.) in the piano studio:

What do you look for in a method book?  What features are most important to you?  Do you use the same method series for all your students, or do you use a variety?  If you use a variety of different method books in your studio, how do you decide which one is right for each student?  Do you use a method series all the way through the final level, or do you take them out at some point?

Post away!  =)

Photo credit: ragingtornado | CC 2.0

repertoire / methods, Resources

A New Adult Student Book on the Market: “Returning to the Piano” by Wendy Stevens

Check out this announcement at the ComposeCreate.com blog: Wendy Stevens has written a new adult piano book entitled: Returning to the Piano: A Refresher Book for Adults.  I often have a hard time deciding what adult method to use with my adult students.  Especially when they aren’t true beginners and have had previous experience with piano, I don’t like putting them through overly method-y books!  In addition, many adult students want to learn pieces with tunes that are familiar to them.  This book looks like it may be a good alternative for those types of situations, or simply as a supplement to an adult method.

Here is the description from the Hal Leonard site:

I just ordered a copy from SheetMusicPlus.com and I can’t wait for it to arrive so I can try out all the arrangements myself!  =)