2013 OhioMTA Conference (1) – Improvising Is For Everyone, by Bradley Sowash

Sowash21Improvising Is For Everyone, by Bradley Sowash

Last weekend, I attended the 2013 conference of the Ohio Music Teachers Association.  This year, it was held in Cincinnati at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  I carpooled with three other teachers from my area.  We had a lot of fun!

The first session was held by Bradley Sowash, a jazz musician and piano teacher located in Columbus, OH.

For a number of years now, Mr. Sowash has been encouraging teachers to include creative skills (improvisation and composition) in their lessons.  For many years, teachers would respond to Mr. Sowash’s message saying they were certainly not interested in doing so.  However, things are changing: in recent years, teachers have begun agreeing with the premise that teaching off the page is just as important as teaching on the page.  Now, teachers are asking for information about HOW to do so.  Today’s presentation addresses this question about HOW to teach the skills for improvisation.

To begin, Mr. Sowash discussed 5 myths about improvising/playing by ear.  Many people believe that you must be born with a good ear in order to improvise or play by ear, but it simply isn’t true: it comes through practice and study just like traditional musical skills.

Next, Mr. Sowash described the process of teaching scales and chords to students in preparation for being able to improvise using them.  He called this section, “Scaling the Chords.”  The goal here is to teach scales more creatively, teach chord fluency, and understand pop/jazz chord symbols properly.  Continue reading “2013 OhioMTA Conference (1) – Improvising Is For Everyone, by Bradley Sowash”


OhioMTA Conference 2013 – This Weekend

Hello readers,

This weekend is the OhioMTA (affiliated with MTNA) State Conference, taking place in Cincinnati this year.  I am looking forward to connecting and re-connecting with other piano teachers in Ohio and, of course, learning a lot from the sessions on the schedule.  If you will be at the conference and I haven’t met you before, I hope we will have the chance to meet in person!

I am bringing my iPad Mini along and plan to take and blog conference notes.  :)  Stay tuned!


Freebie: Technical Requirements Charts for RCM/MDP Practical Exams

Today, I’m sharing a project that I have been working on extensively for the past three weeks.  I am very excited to have this project complete and be able to share it with you!


For the last two years, I have entered a couple of students in the Royal Conservatory’s Music Development Program (previously known as The Achievement Program and the National Music Certificate Program in the U.S.).  It is an excellent program that I hope to continue to use with my students.  Preparing for the practical exams has been a positive experience for my students.

As a newcomer to the MDP, I found it challenging to keep track of the technical requirements with my students.  I found myself pulling out the MDP Piano Syllabus at every single lesson in order to clarify something or check if we were doing things right.  And writing out the technical requirements on my students’ assignment sheets each week was time consuming, especially since I expected my students to review each previous weeks’ material.   Continue reading “Freebie: Technical Requirements Charts for RCM/MDP Practical Exams”

Reviews, Rhythm, Technology

Review: Rhythm Lab app

11397_492880264102613_200460320_nRhythm Lab app — $2.99  *for iPad only*

Rhythm Lab is an app created by Jon Ensminger (a piano teacher in Michigan) that is designed to help students improve their sense of rhythm.  The app provides a series of graded rhythm examples for students to tap using the large, on-screen buttons.  The app even evaluates the accuracy of the students’ performances.

I frequently use printed rhythm cards with my students during their lessons, but I have also been using this app recently with a few of my older students who really need help with rhythm and who have their own iPads at home.  During the lesson, we practice a few rhythms and discuss strategies for accurate and musical rhythm performance (e.g., helping the student feel the meter beforehand).  Then I can ask students to practice certain rhythms on their own at home.  For students to use at home, Rhythm Lab is better than printed rhythm cards because the app can provide students with instant feedback.

There are a variety of one- and two-handed rhythms available, divided into 10 levels.  The simplest rhythms feature basic rhythms and time signatures (2/3, 3/4, and 4/4).  The more advanced rhythms feature mixed meter (5/4, 7/8, etc) and various tuplets.  Continue reading “Review: Rhythm Lab app”

Games, Printables

Large Keyboard printable

At last Saturday’s Piano Party, I wanted to play the Spell-A-Keyboard game with my students as a team game, but indoors.  Since I couldn’t draw keyboards with chalk as I did when we played the game outdoors, I realized that I needed to come up with some other way to provide a floor keyboard for each team.

So, that is why I decided to create this:


It is not as large as a floor keyboard, but it could substitute for one in a pinch.  It is just the right size for beanbag games!  Perhaps you can find other uses for this large keyboard.

Directions:  Download the “Large Keyboard Printable” pdf from the Printables > Other Resources page.  Print the pdf on four pieces of cardstock paper.  Cut on the dotted lines and then tape together as indicated.  When assembled, the keyboard measures approximately 20 inches x 13 inches.

  Large Keyboard printable (137.1 KiB, 15,119 hits)

You can print the printable more than once if you want to create a longer section of keyboard.

Let me know if you come up with other creative uses for this keyboard!

repertoire / methods, Reviews

Review: The Music of Jon George

Having lived in my town for just over 2 years now, my studio is comprised mostly of beginner and elementary level students.  A few months ago, I felt that a handful of my beginners were ready for some early elementary level supplemental books — things that would get them moving around the keyboard more and help prevent them from becoming too “method-ized.”  (You know what I mean, right?  I don’t like my students to become overly Faber-ized, Alfred-ized, Bastien-ized, or whatever).  :)

Two years ago at the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, I attended an Exhibitor Session for Willis Music led by Glenda Austin.  Most of the session was about composer William Gillock (no longer living) and his wonderful compositions for students.  I remember that Glenda introduced the session by stating that many experienced teachers are well aware of Gillock’s extensive output of music for students, but that many younger teachers might not be familiar with his music.  I enjoyed that session so much — it was great to learn more about Gillock and his music that has stood the test of time.

Jon George is another composer who has left behind a huge output of wonderful pieces for students.  While I am relatively new to his music, no doubt many of you have made great use of Jon George’s music over the years!  A few months ago, I decided to order a few of Jon George’s early- and mid- elementary level books to use with my students.  I’m so glad I did, because I am thrilled with what I found!

3507673Kaleidoscope Solos – Book 1, by Jon George

Early Elementary.

I love this book.  It is very difficult to find such good writing for beginner students.  This book contains some of the best writing for the early elementary level that I have ever encountered.

The pieces in this book require students to play with their hands starting at different places on the keyboard, which helps prevent students from getting “locked” into positions such as the Middle C position.

As a teacher, I do my best to encourage students to shape phrases and play musically even when they are beginners and these pieces make it easy to do so!  These melodic pieces are inspiring to students and appealing to the ear.  The student of mine who received this book is thriving with these pieces.  I will be utilizing this series much more in the future.

There are 4 more books available in this series, progressing to an intermediate level.   Continue reading “Review: The Music of Jon George”

Studio Business

Studio Artwork Notebook update

Remember back in April when I visited Jody and her Piano Cottage?  In her waiting room area, she had a blank notebook lying around for students to draw artwork.

After being inspired by Jody, I ordered a blank, hardcover notebook from Amazon for my own waiting room area. It has been a few months now, and I thought I would share a peek at some of the artwork students have created!


Yes, even my cat Coda made it into the notebook!  :)

Games, Group Classes

September 2013 Piano Party

Last week was a busy week and I didn’t manage to get a single blog post posted!  Hope you missed me — I’m back!  ;)

On Saturday, I held a kick-off Pizza Piano Party with my students who are under age 14.  My goal with this get-together was for students to get to know each other (especially the new beginners) and to generate some excitement for the new year.  Before and after eating our pizza, we played a few simple music games.

First, I let students color and cut-out their own paper piano (download the blank printable here from  This was a good activity for students to work on as everyone arrived.  It also allowed students to chat openly and get to know each other as they worked.

Next, we played a game I called, “Find the Music Note.”  It is a musical twist of the old “Find The Thimble” game.  I read about this game somewhere online over a year ago — let me know if you have any idea whom I should credit for this game idea.

To play this game, you need something musical to be the thimble.  I found the plastic red eighth note pictured below at a thrift store a couple of years ago, knowing it would be useful for something one day!  I think it was originally a balloon weight.  You can any small little object for this game.  I have some music note and piano buttons I bought from a craft store — something like that would work well.

Each round of the game, there is a “Hider” and a “Finder.”  The Finder must close their eyes as the Hider finds a good place to hide the “thimble.”  All of the other students must pay attention and watch where the Hider puts the thimble.  Once the Hider has returned to his/her seat, the Finder may open his/her eyes.  As the Finder walks around the room, everyone else must help tell the Finder whether they are getting closer to or further from where the thimble is hidden.  Instead of saying “hot” and “cold” as the traditional game goes, I asked students to vocalize high sounds and low sounds.  (So they wouldn’t wear out their voices too much, I asked them not to make loud sounds — just high/low.)

We played a few rounds of this game until everyone had a turn to be either the Hider or the Finder.  My students had such a blast with this simple game!  It is a good party game to use with young students of varying levels.


Next, we played an indoor, team version of the Spell-A-Keyboard game.  If anyone is interested, here is the printable for making the floor keyboards pictured below.


The last game we played was what I call the Rhythm Name Game (read about this game here).  I use this game frequently at group events because it works well with a group of students at varying levels.  Students of any level can stand to improve their sense of rhythm, ear training, and musical memory!   This game works well as the last game because gameplay can continue even when students gradually leave with their parents.

I am looking forward to more monthly Piano Parties this year!