Words of Wisdom

Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Musical compositions, it should be remembered, do not inhabit certain countries, certain museums, like paintings and statues. The Mozart Quintet is not shut up in Salzburg: I have it in my pocket.”

— Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), French conductor and composer

Every Wednesday brings Words of Wisdom here at the Color in my Piano blog in the form of a musical quote or joke, intended to bring inspiration or humor to the middle of your week. Have suggestions? Send an email off to admin[at]colorinmypiano.com.

Ear Training, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory, Printables, Rhythm

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (3/3)

In continuation of a description of the music theory activities at our Piano Mini-Camp a few weeks ago, here are more details concerning the activities we used:

Rhythm Dictation Game

This rhythm dictation game by Natalie was a real hit with the students!  I printed off two sets of cards and put the students into groups of two so that they could work together.  Here’s how the game works:

  • Instruct the students to sort/spread out the cards on the floor so they can see the different rhythmic value options.
  • Clap a rhythm for the students.  Instruct them to listen and be able to clap it back to you before beginning to dictate the rhythm using the cards.  This may take a few listens before they can clap it back accurately.
  • Tell students to work together within their team to dictate the rhythm using the cards.

I tried to clap rhythms according to the approximate level of the groups of students I was teaching, and increased the difficulty of each rhythm as they became accustomed to the process.  I also tried to vary the time signatures between 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4.  I kept the rhythms to just 2 measures long, unless we were in 2/4 time or unless the students were more advanced.

I think it’s important to have the students be able to clap the rhythm back in its entirety before beginning to dictate it using the cards, because it helps increase their musical memory.  Otherwise, they will dictate only 1 or 2 beats at a time, and constantly be asking you to “do it again!”  If they can remember it themselves, they can then re-clap it to themselves as needed as they work on dictating it. Continue reading “Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (3/3)”

Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory, Printables

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (2/3)

In continuation of the series about music theory at our piano mini-camp, here are the descriptions of a few more of the activities we did:

Music Adventures Board Game

In my music theory classes, one of my goals was to cover as many areas within the broad scope of “music theory” as I could.  The gem stones activity covered 5FPs/scales/key signatures; the rhythm dictation game covered rhythm and ear training, and the Hear & Sign game covered more ear training.  This game, called “Music Adventures,” focuses mostly on music terminology, but also on note reading and identifying intervals.

You may recognize this game from the picture on the right: I created this piano-bench-sized board game earlier this year, and it is available for download on the Printables > Other Resources page.

To prepare for this game, we first quickly reviewed some music terms on the chalkboard.  Then I set the students loose in teams of 2 to play this music board game.  You can vary the length of this game by using either one die or two dice.  I had lots of things I wanted to do in my 30-minute classes, so I gave each team two dice.  We played this game one time, on the second day of camp.

Susan Paradis’ Music Bingo

I used Susan’s Music Bingo game at a group lesson about a year ago and it was a huge hit, and I thought this was a good opportunity to use it again!  I used this game on the last day of camp, and it was quite a fun way to end the day.

To cover the spaces on the Bingo sheet, instead of using the red markers picture on the right we used the same colored glass stones that we used for the gem notes on keyboard & staff activity.  One less thing to haul along from home with me to camp.  =)

Stay tuned – there is one more post about our music theory activities coming soon!

Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (1/3)

As promised, here’s more about the Music Theory classes at our Piano Mini-Camp a few weeks ago.  I didn’t create formal lesson plans per-se, but the next three posts will serve as a general outline of the activities we did over each of the three camp days.

Gem Notes on the Keyboard & Staff

Using Susan Paradis’ wonderful resources, I created an activity for teaching 5-finger patterns (5FPs) and scales.  We used colorful glass stones (from the dollar store) to build 5FPS/scales on her table-top keyboard printable and one of her grand staff printables.  After printing everything out on cardstock, I cut out the table-top keyboard so that the students each had one long keyboard and then put each grand staff in a sheet protector.

The students really enjoyed using the colorful “gems.”  One little student kept asking me, “Are they REAL GEMS?!”  =)

With the younger students, we learned just about 5FPs: how to build them (WWHW) in various keys, and how to make them minor (lower the 3rd).  With the more advanced students, we learned about the entire scale (WWHWWWH) in various keys, and how to make them minor (lower the 3rd, 6th, and 7th for natural minor).

We first created the 5FP/scale first on the keyboard (pictured above), and then created it on the staff.  The reason I had the student do both is because I think students sometimes fail to make the connection from the keyboard to the staff and vice versa.  I intended this activity to be a way to build their understanding of the connection between their playing and what they see on the staff when it comes to 5FP/scales.

In order to notate a sharp or flat on the staff, we used different shaped gem stones (which I also found at the dollar store): an oblong shape.  I’m sure you could also just use the different colors to represent the notes with accidentals.

We spent about 10-15 minutes each day on this activity.  Each day, we reviewed what was covered the previous day and then added something new to the process (like learning about minor) or tried out other key signatures.

Make A Keyboard Activity

On the first day of camp, I started each theory class with another Susan Paradis activity: Make A Keyboard.  I strongly recommend printing this printable onto cardstock paper so it will last longer.

I chose this activity mostly as a warmup activity to get their minds working before moving on to more complex activities.  But it’s a good activity to see whether the students remember how the keyboard is laid out without looking.  One student had all her black keys in groups of two at first, and couldn’t figure out why she had extra black keys!

I handed each student a small zipper bag with all the piano key pieces inside and told them to “make a keyboard.”  This activity took less than 5 minutes to complete.  It worked very well as an opening activity!

Stay tuned – more music theory activities from our mini-camp are coming soon!  Meanwhile, check out the recent responses to the July Forum topic about piano method books and be sure to contribute your thoughts!

Printables, Studio Business

Just Added: Piano Lessons Flyer Template

New printable just added:

Piano Lessons Flyer Template (.doc)

Advertise for new piano students by filling in this free Piano Lessons Flyer Template!  Just edit and print in Microsoft Word (.doc) and you’ll be ready to post your flyers all over town.


  1. Download the Piano Lessons Flyer Template from the Printables > Studio Business page.
  2. Open the file in Microsoft Word and edit the file so that your own information is entered.
  3. Print the file.  Using a pair of scissors, cut vertical lines from the bottom of the page (as marked) so that interested students/parents can rip off a tab with your name and contact information.
  4. You are ready to post your flyers all over town!

View the flyer template large below:

  Piano Lessons Flyer Template (32.5 KiB, 22,808 hits)

Announcements, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps

Opening Piano Mini-Camp Activities

Each day at our piano mini-camp, we opened the day with an opening activity that involved all 11 of the campers together before sending them off in their individual groups to their first class.

On the first day, the opening activity was to create name tags to wear.  My colleague found foam sheets that she cut to size and attached ribbon to.  Each student wrote their name with marker and decorated their name tag with stickers.  They turned out very cute!  And they are definitely more durable than cardstock paper.  (Mine is pictured on the right. Although I am married, I had the students address me as “Miss Joy” because it is easier to say.)

The second day, we played a rhythm name game to help the students learn each other’s names.  Here is the link to the game we played.  We found that it was a little bit complicated to be doing complicated body percussion while chanting, so I would recommend simply clapping or tapping one’s thighs to the beat.

On the final day, we made egg shakers which the students could decorate and take home.  We filled plastic easter eggs halfway with rice (or however much the student desired to create the sound they wanted) and taped them closed with colored electrical tape (strongly recommended over glue).  The students then added stickers.  My egg shaker is pictured at right.

I was able to incorporate the egg shakers into my Music Theory class during a dictation game so they could put them to good use!  More information about the activities we did in my Music Theory classes coming soon!

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

Announcements, improving as a teacher, Music Camps

Summer Piano Mini-Camp

Last week, a colleague of mine and I held a summer piano mini-camp with the help of our piano professor.  Here’s what we did:

  • We planned to hold the camp on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 12:30 – 2:30pm.
  • Application forms were sent to all the piano teachers who are members of our local chapter of MTNA and Michigan MTA.
  • We charged a fairly low rate, to encourage more participants.
  • Location: my piano professor’s church, where there are a number of nice pianos and plenty of rooms for us to use — at no cost to us.

We received applications from 11 students.  The students ranged in age from 7 years to 13 years old.

We planned a rotating schedule, where the students were divided by age into 3 groups (which we named A, B, and C) and rotated from class to class.  My colleague taught Music History class, I taught Music Theory class, and my piano professor taught Performance Class.  Here’s how we divided our time:

12:30 – 12:45  Opening activities (all campers).
12:45 – 1:15  1st class
1:15 – 1:45  2nd class
1:45 – 2:00  Snack time
2:00 – 2:30  3rd class

The snack each day was different, consisting of items such as pretzels, fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, and juice packs.  Nothing too sugary or expensive!  We were very careful to keep our expenses low.  Snacks were our largest expense; the rest were simply a few craft supplies needed for games/activities.

The camp was quite a success!  Our campers had a great time.  A few of the parents even asked if we would be holding camp again next year.

Stay tuned — I’ll be sharing more about the opening activities we used and more about my Music Theory class soon!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Composition, improving as a teacher, Teaching Piano

Improvisation Yields Creativity and Musical Understanding

I haven’t talked about improvisation lately, and in the past I’ve only spoken of the value and benefits of improvisation in the piano lesson in a rather academic-y way — and so today I’d like to discuss some specific benefits I’ve seen develop in a particular student of mine as a direct result of our improvisation activities.

Some background on my student: she (let’s call her K.) is just a beginner, having started lessons in January of this year.  K. is seven years old, and is now nearing the end of the Primer level of the Faber Piano Adventures.

Here’s what I’ve seen in K. so far:

  • The freedom to explore and be creative. She is learning by exploration. She enjoys figuring out how to play tunes by ear, without any assignment or direction from me.  She’ll say, “Look! I figured out how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb!”
  • She is discovering musical concepts on her own. She has already figured out — all on her own — that when she plays tunes in certain keys, she needs to use the black keys for them to sound right.  It’s astonishing when you think about it — she has actually discovered the reason behind key signatures and how transposition works, all by herself!  I expect that when we actually start talking about these concepts together, she will find these ideas easy to absorb because she already “gets it.”
  • Her ear is developing in a way that is far more efficient and practical than me drilling her with intervals (for example) over and over.  She knows what the interval of a 3rd should sound like when she sees it on the page, and her fingers then know what to do.
  • We’re having fun! Improvisation is a great way to end a lesson.  She is always excited to “make Chinese music.

To sum it up, improvising regularly with my student has helped her realize the freedom that comes with the art of music, rather than placing a limit herself to play only “what’s on the page.”  And this is causing her to understand how music works all the better.

Creativity At Work

K. surprised me last week with a little composition she wrote.  And she created her own kind of shorthand for notating her composition onto a sheet of paper.  It looked something like this:  CDECCDEEFGGEDDDDEDC.  She informed me that the long notes were notated by having two of the same letter in a row.   Continue reading “Improvisation Yields Creativity and Musical Understanding”

Resources, Studio Business

Piano as a way to build community

Check out this fascinating news story:


It’s great to see the great potential music (especially the piano) has to connect members of a community in a unique way!  This story really got me thinking: what are some ways we as teachers of music can use our skills to connect and benefit the community?  We tend to set our focus on just our studios, and admittedly we sometimes get overly competitive with other teachers in the area.  Wouldn’t it be great to join forces as teachers/musicians in a particular community and find ways serve the greater community?  (Ideas, anyone?)  =)

For more:

Visit artist Luke Jerram’s “Play Me, I’m Yours” website to view video uploads of various pianists playing on the pianos in cities all over the world.