Early Childhood Music, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps

Floor Staff Activity: Introduction to the Grand Staff

Remember last February when I created this DIY floor staff?  I thought I’d share a little activity that shows how I used it recently with my Piano Readiness Class.

(Don’t mind my cat, Coda, who totally photo-bombed this photo.  :)

The two students I was working with have already learned to identify high and low sounds when we sing or listen to music, and can recognize the treble and bass clef symbols.  I showed them the floor staff (which they were totally excited about), and asked them to count the number lines and spaces with me.  I demonstrated that notes can either be line notes or space notes.  Then, I put the treble clef and bass clef on the floor staff, for high and low sounds.

After that introduction, I handed each student a foam disc (you can find these in the craft section at many stores) and gave them two directions: (1) line or space note, and (2) high or low note.  After placing notes on the staff in this way for a while, they realized there were also “middle” notes, so we started doing that too.  Then we started doing it backwards: I asked them to put a note anywhere they wanted, and to tell me whether it was a line/space note and whether it was high/middle/low.

This turned out to be a fun little activity for introducing the staff to a couple of four-year-olds!  The next step will be to associate the alphabet names to the lines and spaces.  :)


2013 Conferences in the U.S. (MTNA and NCKP)

If you have been a follower of Color In My Piano for a while now, you probably know that I absolutely love attending conferences.  :)  Conferences held me feel connected with other teachers, prevent burnout, and continue professional development so I can become a better teacher for my students.  I always leave conferences equipped with new teaching ideas and feeling inspired about piano teaching all over again.

In 2013, there are two great opportunities to attend national conferences in the U.S.  The first is the 2013 MTNA conference.  MTNA conferences are held in the Spring in a different location each year.  In 2013, it will be held March 9-13 in Anaheim, California.  Even if you are not a member of MTNA, you can still attend this conference.  I have attended the MTNA conferences for the past two years, and loved them both.

Continue reading “2013 Conferences in the U.S. (MTNA and NCKP)”

seasonal / holiday

Forum Q&A: Christmas Gifts for Piano Students

I hope all you USA-ers enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  I know I did.  :)

It has been awhile since we did a Forum Q&A post (how did that happen?!).  Last time, we discussed how to help students who are frustrated by the mistakes they make, large or small.  You can read all the responses by clicking here.

Today, I’d like to hear about Christmas gifts for piano students!

Do you give your students a gift at Christmas?  If so, what are you giving this year?  What have you given in previous years?

Please share in the comment section below this post!

Early Childhood Music, Games

Printable: Black Key Group Sorting Cards

A new free Printable has been added to the Printables page:

These cards are a great manipulative to use with young beginners when you are first introducing them to the keyboard.  Students can use the cards to build a keyboard on the floor, alternating the groups of 2 and 3 black keys.  Or, students can use these at the piano, and lay the cards right on the piano keyboard, matching the groups of black keys appropriately.   I printed a few sets of these cards, laminated them, and put them in zipper bags.  This short activity is great for Piano Readiness Classes.

There are two versions included in the pdf: one with the letter names on the keys, and one without.  To download this free pdf, visit the Printables > Other Resources page and scroll down to the B’s for “Black Key Group Sorting Cards.”  Enjoy!

Group Classes, Music Camps, Music History

4 New Composer Lapbooks

Over the past week, I have added four new Great Composers & Their Music lapbook studies to the Color In My Piano shop!

The first one is John Cage.  I mentioned this lapbook before, when I blogged about my October Piano Party.  I think this composer study was my favorite one to teach so far!  It was so fun to teach students about Cage’s ingenuity as a composer.  As an extension, we explored the room to find “found instruments,” and experimented with prepared piano.  (No, I didn’t bring screws or bolts anywhere near my piano…but we did try laying pieces of felt and tinfoil on the strings/dampers to see what sounds we could create!).

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Conferences, Technique

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (5): A Strong & Versatile Technique Within Your Student’s Grasp, by Carol Leone

The next session I attended was Dr. Pete Jutras’ presentation, “The Future of Pedagogy.”  I heard him give this presentation about a year ago at the NCKP – click here to read my notes.

After that, Dr. Carol Leone talked about “A Strong and Versatile Technique Within Your Student’s Grasp.”  I loved the way she broke down different aspects of technique into such simple, understandable terms!

She began her presentation by reminding us that technique should always be approached in the context of discussing sound and expression.  Rather than asking, “Given the movements I make, which sounds would result?” instead we should ask, “Given a desired sound concept, how should I move?”  The sound is our goal, and the ear is our guide.  The opposite (over-analyzation of our movements) often results in discomfort and non-musical playing.

Next, Dr. Leone discussed the various movements made by each part of the body, and in some cases gave us some simple exercises we could use with our students. Here are just a few of the things she talked about:


  • Building the bridge – This is a coordination thing, not a strenghth thing.  Have students make a bird beak with their hand.
  • Avoiding finger “dents” — have students look for the “three bumps” of their knuckles.

Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (5): A Strong & Versatile Technique Within Your Student’s Grasp, by Carol Leone”

Conferences, Technique

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (4): Reduced Sized Keyboards, by Carol Leone & David Steinbuhler

The next session of the OhioMTA conference that I attended was an absolutely fascinating session given by Dr. Carol Leone and David Steinbuhler, entitled: “Increasing Performance Potential: The Reduced Sized Piano Keyboard.”  I had heard of reduced sized keyboards before, but never really understood the reasoning behind it or the advantages.  I was so intrigued by what I learned!  Read on.

Dr. Leone began by discussed hand sizes.  When you think about it, the piano is an instrument designed for those with large hands.  100% of children across the globe are playing pianos that don’t fit their hands.  (For violin, there are 1/2 and 3/4-sized instruments for children.  For piano, we are one-size-fits-all.)

The piano did not always have the same key size that is standard today.  The harpsichord has much smaller keys, as do many fortepianos.  They also had a much lighter action.

Injuries at the piano are at an all-time high, largely because of the demands of Romantic/Modern/Contemporary repertoire (large chords, octaves, etc.).  Pianists with small hands are limited in the repertoire they can play, and are injured much more frequently than those with medium or large hands.  Most of the pianists with small hands are probably women — their hand size is on average 15% smaller then male hands.  It is not an exaggeration to say that only about 10% of hands actually fit to the conventional keyboard.   Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (4): Reduced Sized Keyboards, by Carol Leone & David Steinbuhler”


OhioMTA 2012 Conference (3): Panel Discussion – Book: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

The next session was a Round Table Discussion by a panel of four individuals: Pete Jutras, Tianshu Wang, Mary Craig Powell, and Nina Polonsky.  The topic was to discuss Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and discuss a healthy and effective approach to leading students to achieve their maximum potential.

Here are a few of the comments that struck me the most:

Pete Jutras discussed some of his positive reactions to the book as well as some negative ones.

  • Dr. Jutras observed that in Chua’s book, everything is about winning.  He posed the question: What is “winning” in music?  For the author, it is being #1 in a competition.  For Dr. Jutras, he feels it is students who will play their instrument long after they stop taking lessons.
  • This leads us to some other questions: Can every student be #1?  Does everybody have to play like a concert artists?  What does that do to music and music making and piano teaching?  Does music have to be this way?
  • Among his positive reactions to the book, Dr. Jutras mentioned Chua’s view that parents should not let their kids give up so easily.  American parents often ask their kids whether they want to take lessons, despite the fact that kids are often not mature enough to decide that.  Also, the Tiger Mom approach has no limits — it does not underestimate what kids can do.
  • Another is the idea that enjoyment of an activity occurs when you can do something well.  A sense of fun accompanies achievement.   Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (3): Panel Discussion – Book: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother””
Conferences, Technique, Technology

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (2): Music Performance and Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley

The next session was called: Understanding the Physiology of Music Performance Through Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley.

Kathleen Riley is a pioneer in using technology she refers to as “biofeedback” to monitor movement and muscles in order to help musicians eliminate pain, tension, or discomfort in their shoulders, arms, backs, etc.  She began her session with a quote:

“Technique is the knowledge o the most economical way to produce adequately what the mind conceives artistically.”  – E. Robert Schmitz, from the 1935 book The Capture of Inspiration.

Dr. Riley discussed relaxation and the music — and the fact that although no muscle is ever completely relaxed, there is a resting point.  She discussed that we need to examine how much tension we really need when we play.  How can we release unneeded tension and follow-through on our movements?   Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (2): Music Performance and Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley”

Conferences, Technique

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (1): Experiential Anatomy by Lynn Singleton

Over the weekend, I attended the 2012 OhioMTA Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a great conference, far exceeding my (already high) expectations!  We heard some top-notch presenters and performers and I learned so much.  I plan to briefly summarize some of the sessions for you over the next few days!

The theme of the conference was “The Healthy Musician: Teaching, Performing, Living.”  Here is some info about the first session I attended.

Experiential Anatomy: Using Mind-Body Methods To Increase Awareness for Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Overall Wellness in Musicians, by Lynn Singleton, NCTM.

Lynn began by sharing her own experience with feeling discomfort at the piano, and how she was able to solve her problems away from the piano.  Injury prevention and overall wellness requires a willingness to take self-responsibility.  Our body at the instrument can only be as good as our body away from our instrument!

Lynn discussed the advantages of “experiential anatomy,” which is basically about increasing body awareness so that we can more correctly use our bodies.  Tension arises from many sources: emotional/mental (like stress, fear, lack of self-esteem), physical (habitual movements, injury, compensation for pain), and social/environmental sources (posture in the work environment while using things like computers, cell phones, etc.).  Mind-Body Methods can help us get past obstacles and improve kinesthetic sense.  Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (1): Experiential Anatomy by Lynn Singleton”