Saturday, April 30, 2011

Need Food Ideas For Your Recital? Try The Sandwich Piano!

Isn't this just the cutest thing ever?! This isn't my idea- I saw it here, and I think this blog author saw it in a magazine. 

Look no further for food ideas for your recital- you could make these in all different kinds of sandwich fillings. I am now imagining a really looooong sandwich that stretches across a table...with, you guessed it- 88 edible keys!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Musicality

     In light of the royal wedding which has captivated the world, here is a glimpse into one of the people who influenced Kate as a young girl.    
     I was curious as to whether or not Kate Middleton is musical. I found out that she did, in fact, take piano lessons along with most of her family. The following article tells about her piano teacher, who wrote a special song for William and Kate. The details of the composition intrigue me- he used several different keys to indicate Kate's and William's parts. I am looking for an actual recording of it,but it may not be publicly available yet.
     I couldn't get the actual article to format correctly on my blog, but here is the link- you will enjoy it!
     Keep up the good work, teachers- you are influencing special people with great futures!

  Kate Middleton's piano teacher makes special wedding gift | News

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Just A Reminder...

...That today and tomorrow are the last days to enter the giveaway for these teaching blocks:

In case you missed the first post, you can read the details about these blocks here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Look Who Came In The Mail!

...Some Barnyard Friends! :)
Yes, Moi, who never wins anything, won Anne's giveaway!

And thankfully this neat teaching aide packet was not too damaged when our over-zealous mailman tried to stuff it all into our under-sized mailbox.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Finale-The 'Final Note' In Music Software

     I love to compose and arrange- in fact, that love started when I was just a child taking lessons. I would write poems and put them to music, and then hide them away in a file. :) Most of them are still there, by the way. But a few songs have been resurrected and used in our church choir both when we were in Nova Scotia, and now in New Brunswick. In 2007 I wrote a Christmas drama, a biblical fiction about the wise men. I also wrote a theme song for that drama called "What Can I Give?" that has been sung several times. It is now in the beginning stages of being copyrighted.  
     Since 2002, I have used Noteworthy Composer for all of my composing and printing, and it has served my small scale purposes very well. I would recommend it for anyone who is starting out and doesn't plan to mass produce their music. :) It is very user friendly, which means a lot to me when it comes to computers!
     I have some friends who use Music Creator by Cakewalk and they find it sufficient for their composing goals.
     This post, though, is really to put in a plug for Finale, which is possibly the leading music software company at this time. They have several different editions, depending on what your needs are. This software has been on the back of my mind for a couple of years now- on my wish list, that is!  I had heard that it was really expensive, and so I put it on the back burner. But you know what? It's not really expensive, unless you want the $600 version. ;) I'm looking on a smaller scale, so now I've got my eye on Finale PrintMusic- it looks perfect for what I have in mind for my future goals in music. I'd like to get more into the playback type of notating, and since I already have the Midi keyboard, why not?!  I have about 12 piano arrangements stored away in my brain that I would love to get onto paper and into print. In the past I have put arrangements into the computer note by note- yeah, that is seriously outdated now!  
      The Finale website is very visitor-friendly, and has many 'at-a-glance' pages, allowing you to compare the 
     features of each software version, and easily choose the one that best suits your goals. Have a look around, and be impressed.  You can even download any software edition for free and try it out for 30 days! Another great thing about PrintMusic is that it comes with 150 printable theory worksheets and flashcards for music educators- yay, that's us!
     What about you? Do you do composing and arranging? If so, what music software do you use?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Wonderful Easter To All

    I want to wish all of my fellow piano teachers and pianists a Happy Easter!  I hope we will all take some extra time to reflect on the resurrection and the new life that it gives us through salvation.
    Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hands-On Approach To Teaching Compound Time...And A Musical Giveaway!

     This project is my brainchild- seriously, I spent a few evenings thinking up a hands-on way to teach the concept and theory of compound time.  I wanted it to be a craft that I made myself. And this is what I came up with: Blocks!
I cannot even tell you how excited I am with the finished project! It turned out even better than my imaginary image was. I couldn't find blocks that fit what I wanted, so I made these using wooden blocks of different sizes (the lightweight ones). I then traced the different sizes of squares onto coloured foam. Then I cut out the foam and glued it to the blocks with craft glue. Using a stencil and a sharpie, I drew the numbers to different time signatures. Yep, lots of cutting, glueing, and drawing. But now they are ready to use! 
Here's how to use them:
Like this (facing up)...

...or like this (facing out)
     So if we are teaching the time signature of 9/8, set up that side of the big block. Then set out 3 blue blocks to show the 3 beats in 9/8 time. Next, set out 9 pink blocks to show the 9 pulses that make up the 3 beats. Beside the blue blocks, set out a green block with the correct note value on it (in this case it's a dotted quarter note) to show which note gets the beat. Then set out a green block beside the pink blocks to show which note value gets the pulse (in this case it's the 8th note). 
    This can be a teaching aid or a game, or both. I'm can't wait to try this with my students when they arrive at compound time. And I'm so inspired that I want to make some blocks for my beginners that show simple time.
     Here's the best part- I am going to give a set of these blocks away to one random person. The set will include 2 big blocks, 2 green blocks, 4 blue blocks, and 12 pink blocks. (They may not actually be those exact colours, but this way you can tell what sizes they will be.) Here's how to enter:

*Leave a comment on this post telling me why you think you're not too old to play with blocks! :)
*Post about this giveaway on your blog or website, and comment here again telling me that you did. This will give you an extra entry.
*Become a new follower of this blog for an extra entry (tell me this in a separate comment).

      Winner will be chosen next Thursday, April 28th by a random number generator. Have fun!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rethink Where You Get Your Ink!

     If you're like me, you go through a lot of printer ink making worksheets, activities, and projects for students and studio!  And if you're like me, you find it painful to pay for the ink you need. Well, pain no longer- go to printerfillingstation and fill up for a fraction of the price you are no doubt paying. They carry every ink from every printer out there, and the website is set up so it's super easy to find what you need.

     Here's my personal example- I just purchased a combo pack of black and color ink. The total cost was $47.25, including shipping to Canada. 

     Oh, you want to know how much ink I got? Sorry- I almost forgot! ;) I got 12 refills of black ink and 20 refills of color ink. Yep, you did read that right! They send a refill kit and instructions on how to do it yourself. Then the next time you order you just need the bulk ink, since you'll already have the refill equipment.

     I can't wait to get my box in the mail. I have a feeling I'll never feel that inking pain again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Printable Music Graphics & Teaching Aids

Click on, a site that provides high quality, beautifully created website graphics, including website sets, webpage templates, background images, horizontal rules or dividers, graphic bullets, handouts, worksheets and more, including music Web graphics. You'll also find over 100 free FlamingPear graphics plugin presets for Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and more.

 I've used this site in the past for making flashcards to send home with my students. I had forgotten about the site and just 'found' it again today. I'm going to do some digging around to see what I can find. Check it out!

 Sorry about another picture-less post, but my camera has gone belly up. Hopefully I'll have a new one within a few days!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Showcase Your Musical Dreams

     I was inspired to do a "dream post" because of Joy over at Color In My Piano, who is soon to be piano shopping. I think it got a lot of us in the music blogging world to start thinking about our dreams when it comes to pianos and studio set-ups.  Some of you are realizing your dreams, and some of you (like myself) are still in the dreaming stage.

     So here is my dream- dream I have had since I was a little girl taking piano lessons: I want to own a baby grand piano.  My dream expanded when I was a teenager and I learned the word "Steinway."  I am a Steinway girl all the way. (So no offense if you love Weber or Yamaha or Kurtzman...this is just my opinion based the limited research I've done and the exposure that I've had. Your dream is precious to you, no matter what kind of piano it involves!)  
    My dream expanded even more when I played on on a Steinway (a 9 foot concert grand) for a daycare graduation one year....and grew a bit bigger when I went to my college piano instructor's house one day and played on her Steinway.  And then last year I took the plunge and wrote for the buyer's guide.  I fell in love with the living room model, the Model O, which stands 5 feet, 10 3/4 inches long.  Then I saw the price: $60,000. Ok. Pocket change.  ;) Gulp! Oh, how I wish! But dreams aren't stopped by a price tag because God answers prayer and miracles happen. 

Steinway & Sons Living Room Model
     This wonderful, beautiful thing just gives me chills- I can't even explain what grand pianos do to me. They inspire me- they are just sitting there waiting for someone to extract their beautiful sound.

Steinway & Sons Baby Grand
     If the living room model was too big for my living room (which it would be right now), I would gladly accept the classic Steinway baby grand, which stands 5 feet, 1 inch.  I just know that that extra inch of piano is why Steinways have such a rich sound! ;)

     I got a glimpse of my dream  last year when my college piano instructor (the one who owned a Steinway) wrote in one of her letters that she was selling her piano. How much, I asked? Only $15,000. Oh my. What an absolute steal. But still a lot more pocket change than this teacher has. And I confess, I did cry over that piano. If only it wouldn't have cost just as much to ship the 3-legged beauty from New York to Canada......yeah. You get the picture.

     So that's my dream- there it is, out there in the blogging world. But it's still in my heart, still in my prayer journal, and I feel sure it's still in my future. 

     Do you have any special music- related dreams? What kind of piano do you dream of?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Preparing To Play For A Funeral

Part of being a church pianist means being asked to play for funerals.  I have to play (and sing) for one this afternoon, so it's on my mind this morning. I have a few things I always do to make sure I am prepared for funerals, and I'd like to share those tips with you.   This is only my second funeral to play for here in Moncton. When we lived on the island in Nova Scotia, it seemed like my husband and I were constantly doing funerals. So I compiled a few things so I'd always be ready. It sure helps me not to be so nervous when everything is in order for the music part of a funeral.  

Funeral Tips:
1. Compile a 'funeral notebook' with about 15 familiar hymns. Put them in plastic page protectors, for the purpose of your notebook staying neat, and for the purpose of quiet page turning.  Most of the funerals I have played at wanted a prelude of about 15-20 minutes long. If I play 2 verses of each song, my collection of hymns will be sufficient, with a few extras just in case it starts a few minutes late.

2. Learn/know how to smoothly modulate between hymns during the prelude. As I've mentioned in previous posts about modulation, it is a pet peeve of mine when there is an awkward silence between hymns. Funerals are already nerve-racking enough for family and friends without having an uncomfortable pause between hymns.  (See my post on "Easy Modulation For Church Pianists")

3. Contact the vocalists ahead of time and practice with them, even if it's a familiar hymn. You'd be surprised how many little kinks can come up even with a simple song (timing, the need to transpose, etc.)  I consider it tacky to be running over songs right before the service.  

4. Copy the songs that the vocalists are singing, and put them in your notebook. It's a lot easier to have it right in front of you instead of switching books and trying to get them to stay open, remembering the page number, etc.

5. Be familiar with the instrument you will be using. In Nova Scotia I often played at the funeral home. They had an ancient organ that needed a lot of tender loving care (no, actually it needed to be retired!) and it was very difficult to play, especially after being used to playing a piano most of the time. Call the funeral home and arrange a time to go in and practice on the instrument. 

6. If using an organ at your church or the funeral home, write down the settings on a piece of paper and take it with you. Anyone who plays the organ knows that something happens to all organs in between when you walk away from it and when you come back to it! :)  Possibly children play with the tabs and settings. In the case of the funeral home, there are often many musicians using the same instrument and you can't be certain that when you return for the actual service that the organ will still hold your settings.

7. Ask for an order of service from the officiator and be familiar with when you are "on" to play. 

8. Be prepared for emotional vocalists. This is so hard, and I have a hard time knowing what to do when vocalists are unable to continue singing. I usually play a few measures of the song, giving them another chance to come in if they are able. Usually the vocalist is able to make a decision as to whether or not he/she can continue, and it is the instrumentalists job to follow and help that incident go smoothly and not be too obvious.

9.  Keep the tempo of the prelude and specials at an even pace.  It is not necessarily needful to drag the hymns so as to depress everyone even more. But neither is it necessary to fly along trying to encourage a false sense of happiness. Be sensitive to the family and the mood of the service.  Often memorial services allow for a more upbeat tempo than funerals.

10.  Decide ahead of time whether or not you will sit at the instrument for the entire service. If possible, arrange for a chair to be placed somewhere within reach of the instrument for easy transition during the different parts of the service.  Our grand piano is up on a stage, and it can be tedious to climb and descend the stairs multiple times. I usually place a chair behind the piano to eliminate that movement and to save my back from unnecessary pain when I'm not playing.

11.  In the event that there are several instrumentalists, contact them ahead of time and talk through the program (who is playing what, and when), the switching of pianists, etc. and make it as smooth and unnoticeable as possible. Once again, having chairs set up will help with the moving around.

     There is always that chance that something will happen that you are not prepared for, but having some of these things in place will help immensely with some of the smaller details.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Theory Terms Clothesline

   Over at Pianoantics, Anne has developed a clothesline for teaching theory terms. I decided to make one for myself, and so far my students love it! I tweaked it a bit to fit my own studio needs, but it still follows the original plan pretty well.

     You know me, and my love for I had that ready, and  my color ink ran out- go figure!! So here's what I did:  I printed the basic design off on blue cardstock (for the blue sky part) and then printed off some extra sock pages in several other colors of cardstock. Then I cut out the socks and glued them right on the slots on the blue paper. Although it was more work, it turned out so well, and I love having those brightly colored socks hanging on my studio line. :) Here are the pics:
I used the clothesline right on my piano, but I plan to hang them on some easily removable cording for future use.

I added terms like "double flat" and "double sharp" to challenge my beginners and refresh my intermediates

...and even the "breve rest" for when we get into compound time

I checked Michael's for the clothespins- they were over $4 a pack. Then I found the same pack at the Dollar Store for....$1! 
     I added this project to my "box of tricks" and am looking forward to using such a colorful and creative teaching aid! I still have two rows of clothesline with blank socks on them so that I can add to and develop them as my students move into different areas of theory. Thanks, Anne,  for sharing it with us!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Does Color-Coding Help With Memorization?

     I've been doing this little experiment over the past 2 weeks.  I have 7 pieces to learn for my RCM exam. 5 of them have to be memorized.  I am a very visual learner.  So I've been trying to figure out some practical ways to help myself memorize and distinguish my different pieces.  In college, when preparing for an exam, I would color-code my notes. Then when I took the test, I could bring up that page on my mind's blackboard, and I could actually see what I had written on the page. It really helped me get the right answers!

     So with that idea in mind, I began to "think off the page" regarding my music.  "Why," I asked myself, "is music always printed black-on-white?"  Perhaps there is a really good reason- maybe our brains read and pick up the contrast better.  But I was too curious not to try something a little different for my own practicing. Here's what I did:
Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A Flat Major

     Yep, it's "yum yum yellow."  You should have seen my instructor's face when I opened my notebook at my lesson last week. I should have brought him some sunglasses.  :)  

      So far, this experiment has not yielded any astonishing results. In fact, when I started using it, it seemed that the notes were actually more muddled when I tried to recall them in my mind. But I am going to continue this for a full month and then decide if it is to be permanent.  I am considering using pastels instead of brights. If I color code each song, then when it's time to perform, I hope that I will see the distinguishing factors (and even my practicing notes) more clearly on my virtual blackboard.

     Another thing I advocate is the use of cardstock instead of regular weight paper. Especially in the event of needing to work on a piece for months, cardstock sure does hold up better then regular paper! I don't think I will ever go back to regular paper again. Now, for the pieces that don't have to be memorized, I will probably keep them on regular paper for the sake of easy page turning.

     What do you think of color coding music? What other "wacky" things do you do to help yourself memorize?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


     Piano teachers, head over to for a fabulous giveaway of some of Anne's creative teaching materials!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teaching Scale Technique Creatively

  I'm sure we all have students who don't particularly like doing scales and arpeggios.  Shhhhh, don't tell them, but some of us teachers don't like them either! ;)  I am a big fan of helping students connect their theory knowledge to their actual pieces of music.  So why not implement this into the learning of scales, chords, and arpeggios? 
     Below is a picture of part f Czerny's "Study in C" (which I believe is a Grade 1 piece for those of you familiar with RCM curriculum).  This was taken from the Music Analysis section of my theory textbook. There are a few things missing in the piece, obviously for the purpose of study. But my primary purpose is to highlight the technique that could be taught from this piece.

     There are so many things you could teach from this piece, but I'll list just a few:

1. Notice that there is a C pentascale (5-finger) in measure 1, a G pentascale in measure 3, and a bass C pentascale in measure 5.  Lots of scale practice there for beginners!

2. Blocked chord recognition in measures 2, 4, and 6.  Broken chord recognition in measure 7.

3. Chord inversions.

      I am not advocating "sneaking" scales into a student's repertoire so they won't know they are there.  Rather I am suggesting that they be actually shown the scales (and be reminded to use the same correct fingering they have been learning separately).  When they realize that the "boringness" of scales can be utilized in a pretty piece, that's when music comes alive for them!

     With intermediate students, take it a step farther.  Get them to transpose the song into various keys.  You guessed it- they get scale practice in all kinds of keys!