Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

     I want to wish my fellow piano teachers pianists a very Merry Christmas!  I've enjoyed some time off from teaching in order to spend time with my family and to reflect on the wonderful gift that was given to each of us- Christ!  I'm so glad He came for me- I can't imagine life without Him.  I hope you take some time to rejoice in the Christmas story, and that you have the opportunity to make special memories with your loved ones during this season!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Goodbye To 'For Love of Piano'

     I've been wanting to give my blog a facelift for awhile, and I finally got a few free moments to spend sprucing it up!  I still have a few changes in mind, but one thing at a time, right?!

     It's time to say goodbye to "For Love of Piano" and hello to "Piano Playground!"  My studio website is also the piano playground theme, so I wanted them to match.  The new blog address is

    While the title and blog addy have changed, I'm still figuring out the feedburner stuff!  For those of you who subscribe by email and/or have lost the feed, here is the new feedburner addy:

     Posts should still come up in your feed as normal.  If they don't, please let me know and I'll do my best to fix that!

    I hope you and your studios are enjoying a much-needed break for the Christmas  and New Year holidays!

Posted by Leah@Piano Playground

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Over!!

      My exam is over, and I feel like it went well! I didn't get 'stuck' anywhere and I had 40 minutes left to proof my work.  It was just me and one other person taking an exam, so we had a nice cozy setting.  Margaret has a huge, furry black cat with a long fluffy tail. His name is Max, and he wandered around while we worked. For some reason I found it comforting to hear him crunching on his food once in awhile. :)

    After I finished, I had the privilege of touching and playing a few notes from my favourite piano make ever- Steinway & Sons.  What a gorgeous, clear tone!  Too bad I didn't have time to stay or I might have forgotten why I was there. :)

    Now to wait the 4-6 weeks before my exam mark is posted online. At this point, I'm just glad it's in the past!  It's been nice to have a bit more free time this evening- for once I don't have to have my nose buried in my theory book!

     Thanks everyone for the well wishes and encouragement!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Twas The Day Before Exam Day....

     Tomorrow I go to the home of Margaret Wood to die take my Advanced Rudiments Exam.  I'm kidding about the die part- I really do feel prepared for this. I'm most nervous about those tiny, stupid notation errors that are so easy to make!
     I want to give a shout out to the best teacher ever- Peggy Craig, from Mount Allison University. She has spent countless hours with me (and with my homework) helping me prepare for this.  She thinks I'm ready....I hope she's right! :)  At this point I'm ready to get it over with and move on to the next step towards ARCT.
     After tomorrow my blog should become more active, now that I'm not consumed with theory facts! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What I've Been Up To...

     Besides being a homeschooling Mom and teaching piano, these two pictures will explain what else I've been busy doing:

Sacred composer John W. Peterson's Christmas cantata "Night of Miracles" is, in my opinion, one of the best works he ever wrote. Our choir is practicing already to do this cantata mid-December.  It's 64 pages long, front and back, of music to become familiar with.

 This is my theory book....I am living in this book. Thank goodness there is food and a bed inside...haha!
I am taking the RCM Advanced Rudiments exam in December.  Enough said, eh?  LOTS of studying and refreshing going on here!

For those of you who have taken this exam, do you have any suggestions for categorizing all the musical terms for memorization?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my fellow Canadian teachers....

                        Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fishbowl Scale Chart

     Did you see Susan Paradis' printable fish the other day?  What a fantastic idea for learning scales! I took it a step farther and created a fishbowl for my students' fish to live in while they learn. I had so much fun creating this!

Each child has a major and a minor fish. When they learn a certain scale, I will write the letter name of the scale in one of the 'scales.'  
The bottom of the fishbowl. I spread some glue, dusted it with sand, and stuck some little jewels on the sand. The seaweed I cut from green foam, and arranged to look 3-D.

Found this cute felt rick-rack to use for the water level

The perfect spot for our fishbowl. I drew a fishbowl shape on white posterboard, then traced  the bowl on blue posterboard and stuck it to the white, leaving a water level at the top.

The sign above

The finished bowl. Total cost of materials (that I didn't already have on hand): Only $3
 Time Spent:  1 1/2 hours

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rewards of Organization- My Studio Is Ready!

Find cute bookshelf for lending library...check!
I found this bookshelf at Salvation Army for just under $10. It even has a glass door on the front- perfect for
keeping toddlers out of it. :)

 Organize and label music for lending library...check!
The label cards I made on the computer. They are inserted into plastic card holders I found at the dollar store
 Create check-out method for lending library...check!
This notebook will serve my check-out purposes until I get my library entered into Music Teacher's Helper
Buy teaching resource bins...check!
Found these super-cute bins at the dollar store

 Label teaching resource bins...check!
These are labeled the same way as the lending library cards.  I used some wispy pink ribbon to hang the cards from the inside of the bin and then taped them down. The polka dot decor came from my scrapbooking supplies.

Set up bulletin board and incentive charts...check!
At this point, I use incentive charts for child students only

Buy and label practice notebooks...check!
These are labeled the same way as all my other labels, and attached with scrapbooking photo squares. I still have some more of these to make.
Organize teaching aid shelves...check!
The basket holds music theory games. To the right of it is my "Music Box"- my prize box, which I hope to fill with all sorts of surprises! :)

Take picture of finished living room studio...check!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Teacher Shortage!?

     It seems that our city is experiencing a teacher shortage.  It amazes me how a studio can grow from one year to the next, even without active advertising- word of mouth works wonders! This year I find myself overwhelmed with students to the point where I am trying to refer them to other teachers, and they are swamped too. 

     I am taking on some students for a teacher friend of mine, which is maxing out my student capacity for this time in my life.  Even so, it's more than double what I had last year.  My husband will love me when it's time to babysit while I teach. :)  (Just kidding- he fully supports what I do!)

     Just when I thought things were settling into a schedule, my neighbour approached me. He is a piano teacher also, and lives at then end of our street. "Do you want some more piano students?" he asks, and then explained why he needed to refer his students.  "I have 10,"   he said. Gulp!

     I'm also seeing a trend in the music academies in our city.  Some of our music stores have studios on the upper floor, and guess what?  They are short on teachers too. A teacher friend of mine got a call from them just before I asked her if she wanted some of the ones coming my way.  For various reasons, some of the teachers in our area (including myself) are not keen on recommending students to the music schools.  But what to do with all these students?

     I have had to resort to a "first come, first served" policy.  I leave slots available for our church people, but for the general public,  I still can't get over the fact that I am turning students down. 

     Thoughts for discussion: Teachers, how do you handle a rush of students?  Who do you refer them to? Do you recommend your city's local music schools?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Multi-Cultural Music

     Two weeks ago Moncton hosted their annual multi-cultural festival downtown.  Last year we were taking French with the multicultural association, and made many friends from all over the world.  This year we enjoyed going back and catching up with them.  We also enjoyed the booths set up in the streets- I even got a henna marking on my wrist. :) It lasted about 10 days and then disappeared.

   One of the highlights of the festival is the multi-cultural music. We made a special effort to go hear the African children's choir on Saturday morning at the farmer's market. They did a great job of blending together, and it was amusing to watch as they switched places in their rows while they sang, and then ended up right back where they started. 

     Here is a pic of them singing "Soon, oh, very soon....we are goin' to see the King...":

Monday, August 1, 2011

For Love of Musical Food: Piano Birthday Cake

     I made this cake last week for my husband's birthday.  Although I am not Wilton-trained (but hope to be someday!), I really enjoy making fun cakes for our family birthdays. Here are some pics and simple instructions on how to make this piano cake:
I started with a plain white cake mix, and baked it in a 13x 9 pan. I measured actual piano keys to get the right size and cut two squares of cake.  Then I fit them together so they made a long keyboard and iced it with white icing.  The Kit Kat bars, although longer than actual black keys, do nicely on a cake like this!
I used Scribblers to write the message on the cake- I had just enough keys to write "Happy Birthday."
Underneath the keyboard it says "to a # pianist."
I found these adorable tiny rose candles at our local farmer's market.  They looked so cute on this cake.  It would have been a bit cuter with green time!
The sharp is made from black licorice

Here is the finished product.  It was really hot the day I made this, and the icing was melting.  The "black keys" were threatening to slip off the keyboard so I had to get it in the fridge quick!

My husband declared the cake a winner! :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Studio Supplies: Printer Ink Review Post

     Remember this post, where I told you about the amazing deals on printer ink at Printer Filling Station? Well, I got my order weeks and weeks ago, and I've never been so anxious for my printer to run dry so I could try this refill method out for myself. I was a bit nervous around my bottle of black ink, but it was super easy and not messy. Here are some pics of the process:

They send you everything you need- small drill, needle for filling, syringe, and refill ink- tons of it!

Simply use the drill to enlarge the air hole in the top of your cartridge. Insert the needle in that hole, then insert the syringe of ink into the top of the needle. Push the ink in until the cartridge is full.

                                 My cartridge started dripping, and that's how I knew it was full.

     Then you let the cartridge rest for 30 minutes before putting it back into your printer. They advise to run a cleaning cycle,  and wait 8 hours before using it. I didn't wait quite that long (because I was printing off the score to a classical song I really wanted to play it!) and it printed off just fine.

     There are two things that aren't explained in the instructions for this process:  The measurements are a little off as far as how much ink to use. So I didn't know when to stop filling, until I saw it dripping. Not a problem, really. And the ink cleaned up so well- no staining or spreading. The company sends plenty of extra filling supplies, and the ones I used washed out perfectly for next time.

     Also, I did have some streaking problems when I first started using this ink (as in some of the lines not printing).  After contacting the company, I received the answer to this problem. If you let the cartridge remain empty for too long, it gets clogged with dry ink. Likewise if you let the empty one sit out in the air, the same thing happens. I had to hold my cartridge over a steaming kettle to loosen the dry ink. Once the ink began to run, I knew it was unclogged. Now I just keep it at least half full and don't let it go dry. I haven't had any streaking problems since and I've done a lot of printing (as in a few hundred sheets for various projects).

     I spent $39 and some change, plus shipping, for 20 refills of color and 12 refills of black. But you know what? There are WAY more refills than 12 in that black ink bottle. I can't even tell that I took any ink out of it! This is definitely worth checking out for your studio supplies. (BTW, they didn't ask or pay me to write this review). :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Musical Furniture

Although a bit pricey, these musical furnishing are gorgeous!  They have everything from kids' furniture to coffee tables and outdoor benches.  Take a look at their site- you will be impressed. They actually don't look that complicated to make...if you know a carpenter. :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Fun Teaching Aid for Chords and Scales

I believe it was Anne who first posted about these little clay teaching aids. They were so easy and fun to make, and I've already used them with one of my adult students, who thought they were so neat!

I love how the flowers turned out- so bright and cheery. I made the clay circles first, pressed the flower into the clay, and then removed the flower. I baked the clay, and popped the flowers back in with a dot of craft glue.
Perfect for building chords...

...And great for making scales more visual to the student. The ladybugs are a bit smaller, and work a bit better for scales. 
Total cost for this project: $5

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Intriguing Memorization Aid

In my search for Debussy's Claire de Lune, I came across this video (and others like it) on YouTube.  It's pretty long, but if you watch just a few minutes of it you'll get the idea.

   It got me thinking about how this type of concept (though totally synthesized) may help with music memorization. While I watched, I immediately saw what key it was in; I then noticed certain patterns of note grouping throughout the piece.  You can watch it at full speed or at 50% speed, so as to grasp it better. The poster of this video has many on YouTube like it, and from what I read he plays mostly by this method- not by notes or theory. While that type of playing may be a fun hobby, I am not advocating that people learn to play the piano this way. However, I think it could be a helpful aid for students (or teachers!) to be able to see the note groupings and patterns of their piece. It also distinctly shows rhythm patterns and duration- so lots of things are going on at the same time, which intrigued me to whether or not it would help solidify the music in my brain when I'm away from the actual score. I think I'm going to give it a try!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Although I live in Canada, I am first American, and I want to wish my American readers a Happy Independence Day. I hope you have a great day reflecting on the freedom God has given us. And don't forget to enjoy some patriotic music!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For Love of Musical Food!

So recital time is over....but how fabulously and totally ca-ute is this??!!  For some of you doing piano camps and such, how about making these for your closing day events? Lots of work? Yes. Fun and unforgettable?...YES!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Studio Safety: Does Yours Have One of These?

     I have one of these on the bookshelf beside my piano. And I've actually needed to use it a few times (for band-aids) over the past few years. I got several of these little first aid kits FREE from our local Superstore pharmacy when we lived in Nova Scotia.  I'm not sure if they still give them out free, but it's worth asking about! At the time I got several; I put one in the car and one in my piano bench. This particular kit, though small, even includes the supplies for CPR, which hopefully would never be needed.  Safety first, right?....even in our studios!

     Does your studio have a first aid kit?


Friday, June 24, 2011

Musical Riddles for Sidewalk Chalk

    Here are 3 riddles I used last night for my students to guess on their way in to their lesson. I had planned to do something to test their skills, but in the end I decided to keep it 100% fun (after all, it is summer).  Even if the students don't get them, the parents can have fun!
What kind of phone makes music?
What kind of band doesn't make music?
What kind of instrument is in your ear?
     These are ones you've probably heard before; I found them at Just Riddles and More under the music category. I will say that I do not necessarily endorse all the jokes and riddles they have on the site- I actually have no idea what all is on there as I only browsed the music section. Use the site with discretion!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Fun Summer Greeting/Game Idea

     I still have a few students continuing lessons through the summer. This is what they saw last Thursday when they came to my house.  Thursday night it started raining (about an hour after my lessons finished) and washed the chalk away- perfect timing! I'm thinking about doing a musical riddle of sorts in chalk for next week.  When they get to the door, they can give me the answer and can receive a star for their progress charts. Hmmm....the brainstorming continues.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Birthday Baby Grand

     Sunday, June 12th, I turned 29. Yikes- this is my last year in my twenties! My husband got me this adorable little baby grand clock to go with my small but growing collection of baby grand figurines. (At least I think it was a birthday gift- maybe he thinks my lessons go too long...hehe).
     At any rate, it's beautiful and was a good reminder to me that 'now' is always the time to learn more and improve music skills. It can be overwhelming at times to be a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a student all at the same time.  I mean, I always say that "a good teacher never stops learning." So there's the pressure there to keep improving my skills....

    ....And if any occupation seems the easiest to drop out of, it's the 'student' part. I know that little by little, dreams are realized, and every time I declare my theory homework to be too much to do with everything else I have on my list, my husband reminds me why I'm doing it and won't let me quit.

     Did I mention how much I really love theory? Deep down I don't want to quit- somehow I feel that if I did, I wouldn't ever start again, and the Teacher's ARCT would never be mine.  I need to re-inspire myself with the same passion I try to inspire my students with- NOW is the time!

Monday, June 13, 2011

You Know You're A Piano Teacher When....

1. You go to the music store to buy music for yourself, and everything you pick up makes you think of one of your students who might like to play it.

2. Daydreaming includes brainstorming new ideas for teaching aids and 'writing' blog posts in your head.

3. You go to Michael's craft store for a specific item, but everything you see gives you an idea for a musical craft or teaching aid. 

4. You run your errands in town while wondering if anyone around you is also a music teacher.

5.  You take your children to the park and can't help but wonder how many of the other children playing there are enrolled in music lessons.

6. Your local music store gives you a discount on everything you buy there. All you have to say is "I'm a music teacher."

7.  You try to dissect and analyse the theory in the chords you hear while listening to music.

8.  When listening to someone else play, you cheer them on in your mind, regardless of whether or not they are your student.

9.   It melts your heart to receive a crumpled, scribbled piece of paper covered in artwork from one of your students.

10.  The walls of your living room have music charts and dry erase boards on them instead of framed art. (For those of us who teach at home)

11.   Your toddlers beg to be your students just so they can indulge in a piece of candy from your "piano lesson candy jar." 

12.   You can't get over how much you love what you do! 

     Do you have a "You know you're a teacher when..." to add to my list?  Please share. :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is My Child Old Enough To Take Piano Lessons?

     If you are a piano teacher, you have heard this question...probably many times. I know I have, and it always amuses me a bit that people have the idea of there being a 'majic age' when children can learn piano. Now, I strongly advocate that children be exposed to music from even before birth, and continuing on through toddler-hood.  But when are they ready for the bench?

     Here are a few things  for both parents and teachers to keep in mind when making decisions about music lessons:

     1. Every child is different. Some, like my husband, start lessons at age 5, but not all 5-year-olds are ready.

     2. The parent knows their own child's learning and focus capabilities better than anyone else.

     3. Lessons for small children do not have to be 30 minutes long. How about 15 minutes, or even just 10?

     4. Sometimes group music lessons are better than one-on-one lessons.

     5. There is nothing wrong with giving lessons a try, having to stop, and trying again a year or so later.

    6. Once a child is enrolled in lessons, a routine is better than just a casual music session here and there. Make what they are learning in their lessons a part of your child's daily/weekly schedule.

     7. Lessons do not have to be given every week. 

     8. Simplify concepts and introduce one concept at a time. Small children can sometimes be overwhelmed with all of the details that learning music involves. 

     9. Realize that when children start lessons at an early age, constant repetition of concepts is absolutely necessary and vital to their success. Be prepared to say "That's a half note" about 50 times or more. :)

     10. Write notes in an assignment notebook for the child's parents (even if they aren't musical) so they can help reinforce simple concepts at home.

     11. Communicate with the parents (and likewise parents with teacher) about the child's learning strengths and weaknesses. Although it's sometimes hard to discuss those things, we will be better teachers if we know how a child "ticks" and what their strong and weak points are, so as not to frustrate them unnecessarily.

     12. Give curious parents some tips on how to tell if their child has a "bent" toward music, and may possibly be ready to start earlier than average. For example, our 4 year old has been good at rhythm since before he was 2. He can hear a song and reproduce the beat with a sentence of his own with or without music. Sometimes he makes up his own tune for his new words. I definitely want to maximize his potential by getting him more involved in music and helping him understand some simple theory behind what he is doing. My husband has worked with him some at the piano and I plan to start formal lessons with him this fall.

     I have personally never experienced having to tell a parent "I'm sorry, but I don't think he/she is ready for lessons yet."  That tells me that the parents I have worked with have generally done a good job of evaluating their child's readiness and capacity for formal lessons.  Nonetheless I think parents like the security of hearing from a teacher, in answer to the query of when their child is ready..... "It's really up to you!"

    Do you have any thoughts on teaching small children? Feel free to share.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

From The Little Ones...

   I like teaching both children and adults, but you never get things like the picture above from an adult. One of my little guys drew this and gave it to me. He was so proud of it and kept checking to make sure I had it in a safe place. At his next lesson he explained all the details and even "played" it for me. I was impressed that he even remembered to add in rests and repeat signs...we'll overlook the backward stems just this time! hehe :)
     Somewhere in my files I have some papers that look like this from when I was little. And even though I've advanced to using music software for composing, it's always good to have a reminder that this is where it starts!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fun and Frustrations of Adjudicating

     This past week I had the privilege of attending our 5th annual 3-day Maritime Games and Fine Arts Festival.  I  was an adjudicator for the music entries of the fine arts section of the event. This event is held at Forest Glen Bible Camp, and involves teenagers (from grades 6-12) from churches in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and even Maine.  I always enjoy listening and observing the pieces that the kids put together to present to us. There were piano solos, duets, and hymn playing. There were vocal solos, duets, and groups. There were brass and strings solos and groups. And there were 7 of us judging the pieces in a rotating fashion, according to our area(s) of expertise.  

     The fun of adjudicating is seeing how much the kids have worked, and highlighting the positive aspects of their performances. I love seeing the talent of young people, and thinking of the potential they have if they continue learning. The frustration of adjudicating is having only a 1-inch by 2-inch box in which to write our analysis of many specific areas!  Now, I am a writer by nature and not a speaker (although as I gain experience in front of people the speaking part gets easier).  But the longer I teach piano, the more I realize that it is SO much easier to explain a concept through speech than to write it.  We teachers are constantly sharpening our skills as we learn creative ways clothe the negative with positive motivation to do better. And most of the time we are speaking it, knowing the individuality of the student to whom we speak, and knowing how to present it so they will accept it and be inspired.

     The other part I really enjoyed at the festival was chatting with the other adjudicators (most of whom also happen to be piano teachers) about lessons, both giving and taking. We swapped ideas as we talked about method books, policies, lesson rates, pianos, and the balance of critique and encouragement.  I even got some grading done for a few of my students' theory books, and I had a few minutes to work on my own theory.  It was a great few days and very refreshing for this teacher!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From The Bench...Covers, Anyone?

     Does anyone know where to get a piano bench cover, or where to find a sewing pattern for one?  For some reason,  the finish on my bench seems to adopt the imprint of the fabric grain of whoever is playing. Not sure if this has to do with humidity or what, but I think it would be nice to have a bench cover.  Do any of you have bench covers, and if so, where did you get them?  Suggestions are appreciated! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Jelly Bean Game

     When it comes to teaching kids, it really doesn't take much to make their day....or their lesson.   I am a big fan of visual learning techniques, and using them with kids is so much fun! I think it's neat when something clicks with them, especially when they were having so much fun that they didn't even know they were learning.

     I used this jelly bean game with my child students shortly after Easter. It was all about note-naming while looking at the actual piano keys. "Show me an A above middle C."  "How about a D below middle C?"  if they got it right, they soon found a jelly bean sitting on that key. If they got it wrong, they lost the jelly bean they had previously won. At the end of the game (once 2 octaves of notes had been named) they get to sweep off all the jelly beans and take them home. Not profound, but such a delight to the student....we won't talk about how the parents feel about all that sugar.... :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happy Anniversary to My Favourite Pianist

     You know the phrase "make beautiful music together?" Well, that's just what my husband and I have done practically since we met each other in 2001. Music was what actually brought us together so we could meet. I was a sophomore and he was a freshman. He didn't have a music theory book yet, so guess who had to share with him in class?  I was reluctant at first, but before I knew it we were collaborating to get our theory homework done, and a friendship blossomed from that.

     This is a picture from our ceremony. A composer friend of ours (Dan Hadik)wrote a special song for us. I took the melody and arranged it into a piano accompaniment and recorded it. My husband-to-be and I then recorded ourselves singing the song with the accompaniment. It was played while we lit our unity candle. (We thought we would be too emotional to sing it during the ceremony).
     As of today, we have enjoyed 6 years together, and one of the most fun things about our marriage is that we are both musical, and at the same level. Uniquely though, he has a strong eye and I have a strong ear, so we balance each other. We enjoy singing together and playing piano duets, and usually end up laughing hysterically when we practice duets. (We don't laugh hysterically when we perform them, though!) :)
     I gave my husband a fantastic arrangement of the theme song from Pirates of the Caribbean by Jarod Radnich. You can listen to and/or order the arrangement here, and they send you the download within 5 minutes. And you know what? For once I'm glad this arrangement is not a duet, because it would be CRAZY! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Future Piano Teacher?

   Since something funny is up with Blogger these days (did anyone else have things deleted or comments backed up for re-post?) this is just a test post of my little future pianist (she won't have a choice!) and hopefully a future piano teacher. :)
 She loves to climb up to our old piano when I am practicing on the new one. And she HAS to have music in front of her!