Review — Tonic: The Card & Dice Game For Musicians

Today, I’d like to share with you a game that has over the past two years become a favorite during my monthly group classes for my piano students (which we fondly call “Piano Parties”). The game is called “Tonic.”

This game is an effective way to encourage students to explore and be playful with sound. It opens doors of possibility for future improvisation and composition activities of a more structured nature. And it’s fascinating and just plain fun to hear what students come up with during the game.

On your turn, you choose a card from the deck and then improvise on your instrument music that is based on the prompt. There are many different kinds of prompts in the deck, as you can see pictured below.

My favorite cards are the “play this” cards that ask you to interpret the graphic shown on the card.

Other cards ask students to create using just one to three tones (rolling the music dice to determine which ones). Some of the cards ask students to choose a partner or two to aid them with their improvisation.

Although I believe the cards were created with advanced players in mind, I have found the game works quite well for young musicians with a few simple modifications. For example, I allow students to choose a different card if they seem stumped or overly challenged by a prompt they’ve randomly drawn. And I ask students to keep their improvisation short and sweet (30 to 60 seconds) instead of the 3 or 4 minutes some of the cards encourage.

I find that some students are naturally comfortable with improvising. Others are more hesitant. I’ve learned those students find it helpful if you begin the game by taking the first turn, providing a model.

I have a video to share of two of my students, improvising in response to the following card:

In this improvisation, I can hear both students drawing upon pieces they have learned in the past. (There’s even some “Heart and Soul” mixed in there…did you catch it??) It’s wonderful to hear students create something new using “ingredients” they’ve learned from other examples of music.

Here is the video:

Interesting in buying the game? Order it HERE. On his website, you’ll find that the game author, Scott Hughes, offers a free PDF version of Tonic that you can print out yourself. After testing out the game, be sure to purchase the real thing as shown in my pictures above. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny!

Thanks for reading my unsolicited review.

GIVEAWAY: Scott has generously offered to give away a bundle consisting of the Tonic game PLUS his more advanced Tonic Theory game! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post before Sunday, March 25, 2018 at midnight EST, sharing either (1) your favorite improv activity for students, or (2) what you like most about the Tonic game. The winner will be randomly selected the following day. Good luck!

Group Classes

2018 Masterclass Exchange

For the past four years, I’ve arranged a “masterclass exchange” with a fellow piano teacher to give my students an opportunity to receive feedback from someone besides me. I like to correlate the dates to fall within a few weeks prior to my studio recital, so that the event serves as a rehearsal for the students.

Last weekend, I visited my friend Christina Whitlock from Muncie, Indiana, to give her masterclasses to her students. We had such fun!

Each student performed a piece, and then afterwards I provided one or two ideas for the student to consider incorporating into his or her performance.

Continue reading “2018 Masterclass Exchange”


Save The Date: Piano Teacher Retreat 2018

Hello, friends!

I’m very excited to invite you to attend my second annual retreat for piano teachers, taking place at my home studio this summer.

In light of the success of last summer’s piano teacher retreat, I can’t imagine not organizing one again this year!

I hope you’ll consider joining us for my second annual Retreat at Piano Manor. This is a three-day getaway experience for piano teachers to connect, recharge, share, and learn from each another. During this unique experience, you will have opportunity to contribute and benefit from collective wisdom during group discussions, projects, and even relaxing downtime. While at “Piano Manor,” you’ll also enjoy deliciously healthy food planned by my foodie friend, Amy Chaplin of Retreat at Piano Manor will leave you feeling inspired and connected, with newly formed friendships and fresh ideas for your teaching.

Retreat at Piano Manor will occur August 9-11, 2018, at my home studio in Northwest Ohio. This year’s theme for discussion will be announced soon. Please stay tuned.

Please visit to learn more. If you are interested in attending, join the email list there to receive registration information when it becomes available. And don’t forget to mark your calendar!

Happy Monday to you!

repertoire / methods, Reviews

Review: Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey

Back in the summer of 2015, as a huge fan of Irina Gorin’s YouTube channel, I attended Irina Gorin’s first ever piano teacher workshop held near her hometown in the Indianapolis area. Here is a photo of Irina and I during the workshop.

20150807_201911 Irina Gorin workshop

Over the past two years, I have been using Irina’s self-published method book, “Tales of a Musical Journey”, more and more with my students. As I have become more familiar with the books and am seeing its results in my students, it has become my favorite piano method book.

If you’ve watched any of Irina’s teaching videos on YouTube, you have seen for yourself how Irina successfully develops in her students a healthy physical approach the instrument as well as expressive and sensitive playing — even in her youngest beginner students. Irina’s books are the result of combining what she feels is the best of Russian piano pedagogy and the best of American piano pedagogy. This makes Irina’s method unique and quite different from typical American piano method books.

In this article, I’d like to share an overview of Irina’s method and the reasons why I like it so much. Continue reading “Review: Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey”


Shop Update

Just a quick note today —

I just wanted apologize to anyone who has recently encountered the bug that was impacting the shopping cart on my website. I’m happy to say that I have finally solved the issue! Everything seems to be working properly in the Shop once again.

If you ever encounter any problems with my website, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.

Thanks, and happy weekend!

Music Learning Theory

What is “music learning theory”, exactly?

I first encountered music learning theory as an undergraduate student in September of 2008, when Hope College (Holland, Michigan) hosted Dr. Edwin E. Gordon (1927-2015) for a five-day visit. I was fascinated by everything Gordon had to say and have carried his influence with me as I went on to complete a Masters degree and start an independent piano studio in following years. In the summers of 2016 and 2017 respectively, I completed the Piano certification and Early Childhood Music certification offered by the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (see The implications of Gordon’s work regarding how we can best teach music resonates with me, and so I continue to familiarize myself with his research and writings.

Music learning theory is a relatively new subject area within academia gaining increasing recognition and respect in recent decades. While music education and early childhood music communities currently are largely familiar with the concept, piano teachers as a whole are mostly unfamiliar with music learning theory.

To those new to music learning theory, its name might suggest that it is systematic way to teach music theory. In fact, music learning theory has little to do with music theory; nor is it a curriculum.

To those who happen to hold a strong association between the term “music learning theory” and Edwin E. Gordon, the term might seem synonymous with Gordon’s work. The subject area, however, is larger than one individual’s work — no matter how great his or her contributions. Gordon’s own Music Learning Theory (MLT) exists within the larger subject area known as music learning theory.

I’d like to make some clarifications about the subject of music learning theory. In this short article, I will define the subject of music learning theory and discuss possible benefits for piano teachers who choose to familiarize themselves with music learning theory.

Continue reading “What is “music learning theory”, exactly?”


Looking Forward: MTNA 2018 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Happy New Year, my friends!

Who’s planning to attend the 2018 MTNA Conference? This year, the location is Lake Buena Vista, Florida, at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, March 17-21, 2018. See the conference website here.

I’m planning to go and would love to meet up with you there! I planning to arrive a day early and perhaps explore Disney. I haven’t been to Disney before, so I am looking forward to seeing what it is all about. If you might be interested in joining up to explore Disney, please send me a message and let me know.

I hope the new year is treating you well thus far. Best wishes!