How to tell when your child isn’t practicing.

Excellent article that applies to all instruments, and not only to the piano. (And it’s not too long, either!) Click Here to read it!

Not much needs to be added to the article, but I do want to make the dreaded comment: learning music is not always fun.

FUN in music is being able to perform well on pieces you have learned, especially with others. Sometimes you will be frustrated (particularly if you aren’t practicing well), sometimes it will be tedious or irritating, and that’s completely normal! Take a break and do something else, play something different, and then come back to it in a few minutes. A practice session for a beginner should be about 20 minutes of playing (not setting up) and then take a break and come back to it, unless they are making progress and want to practice longer. Some advocate no more than 45 minutes at a sitting (due to the brain’s processing ability). I encourage two 45-minute sessions for advanced students, rather than one hour-and-a-half session.

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Recital Programs!

As a creative person, I do enjoy making an attractive product like a recital program, but sometimes they are a pain. Below you will find a link to purchase some I have created, if you do not want to go through the hassle of making and formatting your own. Right now I have Christmas Lights and Holly Berries. I am considering making a wintery one with snowflakes, so if you are interested in that one please comment below (so I am not wasting time making something nobody wants!) and let me know if you want a half page or a 2 page.

Tips for lovely recital programs:

  1. Keep it Simple. Your program really only needs some sort of outline, maybe a festive image or two (clipart is good for that) to frame the important information. Clutter is distracting from both the performance and the information.
  2. Write Minimally. All that’s really necessary to include in the program is the title of the recital, date, location, and then the names of the students along with their piece titles, and their instrument. Any other information like “Thank you for coming!” can be stated in your introduction at the recital. If you want to include a website link, make it small across the bottom. You can see how I organize my student’s names in the samples below.
  3. Make it Pretty. The program will be a keepsake for many students, and I personally prefer it to handing out certificates. (I give them commemorative buttons instead of trophies or whatever.) The program should have color representative of whatever season or theme the recital reflects.
  4. Small is Ok. It’s just fine to use a half sheet recital program. It is, in some ways, easier for a parent to store these in a shoe box, and cuts down on costs for you. Simply print the front at home, flip it and put it back into your printer so it prints on the other side, cut it, and you’re done! (Test this before doing the whole batch!)
  5. Charge a Fee. Some teachers charge a small recital fee, $5 or less per family, to assist with printing and the coffee you’ll need to keep the creative juices flowing.
  6. Optional. You could also include age, grade, number of years playing, how many recitals performed, etc. I have two students performing on their birthday this year and I put a cute little Christmas light bulb next to their name.
  7. My Recital Programs. Here are the programs I created.
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Colorful Clef Mnemonics

I know what some of you will say: “Don’t use mnemonics! It’s terrible!”

While I do try to get students to memorize each note, or at least one starting note, sometimes a student needs the mnemonic to help them remember. (Every kid is different, right? Differentiated instruction?) When you’re in a classroom full of kids, sometimes having the mnemonic on the wall is helpful and saves time for everyone. I hope you will enjoy these mnemonic devices, complete with colors and the clef letter on the clef!

Editable versions are available, but not yet posted on TpT. Feel free to email me through TpT to get the editable version, after purchasing the original.

Posted in Teaching Band, Teaching Chorus, Teaching Elementary, Teaching Guitar, Teaching Musical Theatre, Teaching Orchestra, Teaching Other Music Classes, Teaching Piano, Teaching Private Lessons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recital Tips (gifts!)

As far as teaching careers are concerned, mine has been relatively short. I taught a few lessons as a teenager, but have only been consistently teaching for approximately 6 years. Here is what I have learned:

  1. Make a simple program of all students and pieces played. Kids love to see their name written down, and it helps relieve anxiety about when students perform.
  2. Keep your own program and mark which students you are accompanying, the track number of their CD accompaniment, etc.
  3. Arrange the recital order from beginning students to older students. It is much more enjoyable to see the really good students later on in the recital, and it helps to not intimidate the students who are nervous.
  4. Give a unique gift to the students. Certificates get thrown away, and participation trophies are meaningless (and expensive). I recently started giving buttons! The kids can collect them, and they are small enough to store easily or wear whenever. These are the buttons I ordered for this year: colorful sheet music (my favorite!), treble clef with roses, and this bold design. This year I have two students with birthdays on the recital day. I am giving them this button.
  5. Send multiple reminder emails with the following information: what is appropriate to wear (if jeans are not acceptable, emphasize it), what time they are to arrive (15 minutes prior for piano students), the location, how long it will last, and brief reminders about behavioral expectations for students as well as friends and families (flash photography!).
  6. Have a separate area for the students to sit while they wait for their turn. This makes stage transitions easier and helps them relate to other students.
  7. Arrange the pieces so that students who might be both singing and playing an instrument are not doing one after the other, and try to avoid putting two of the same piece of music close together in the recital order. I also like to make sure I don’t have all students of one instrument type in a row. So three piano students (that’s six pieces!), violin, two piano, clarinet, voice, three piano, flute, etc.
  8. The night before, pack a bag with all the things you will need (including programs and gifts!) and review the items before you head out the door.
  9. Consider having a “finale” number, something as simple as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that would be enjoyable for students, a photo op for parents, and encourage them to stay to the end of the recital.
  10. Ensure that the recital is special — include decorations if at all possible, or host the event at a location other than the studio, preferably one with a small stage. This year mine will be at a piano store that has a room for recitals.
  11. Remember that your behavior, dress, and attitude will affect the children whether you realize it or not. If you are flustered and disheveled, irritable, stressed out, etc. students will begin to think this is the norm for a recital day. If you appear prepared, relaxed, let mistakes roll off your shoulders, etc. then students will know they have nothing to worry about!
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3.5 Rules for Picking Christmas Music

It’s that time of year, when music teachers all over America (and I assume other places too!) begin picking Christmas music with their students. I enjoy this particularly because it is like hitting the reset button for the students: they play music they know and enjoy, can perform for family, and can step away from the more “serious” homework-like pieces in their method books. We do seasonal songs right up until Christmas! I tend to use the various Faber Christmas books, but I often go to, method books (Rubank for winds, Essential Elements for strings), and,, etc.

For years I’ve followed these unwritten rules about picking music for recitals, but I never verbalized it until yesterday when I boiled it down for a curious student. Essentially: I don’t particularly care what you play as long as it follows these basic guidelines.

  1. It must be new — While I love refreshing Christmas music that has already been learned, for recitals and assignments the pieces have to be something on which the students have not previously worked. It can be the same traditional song, but should be a different arrangement.
  2. It must be unique at the recital — Typically my students play two pieces for the recital (some advanced play three), and I try my best to ensure that there are no more than two performances of any one song, and it’s best if they are different arrangements. The audience can only handle so many primer-level versions of “Jingle Bells”.
  3. It must be appropriate level — I don’t mind if younger students (particularly those who do not practice as much as I’d like) play pieces that are slightly easy for them. This can be wonderful for developing confidence as well as reinforcing note-reading and muscle coordination. It also tends to encourage practice! I try to have all the seasonal pieces be at the student’s level (or a tiny bit easier) with one that is a little more challenging (especially if it’s one they really want to learn). I also take into account the age appropriateness, particularly for vocal students. “All I want for Christmas is You” would be more appropriate for a teenage student while “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” would be better suited to an eight-year-old student.
  4. It must be appealing — This should be a given, but sometimes it isn’t expressed to the students. The music doesn’t all have to be Holiday, but it must be “pretty” and fitting for the uplifting holiday season. It also should be things the audience will enjoy, even better if it’s something that isn’t performed as regularly at student recitals (like “O Little Town”, “Christmastime is Here”, “Grinch,” etc.)

Examples: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” (vocal), “Sonatina in C” (piano), “The Ash Grove” (flute), “Cool Ghoul” (piano – it’s jazzy & really neat), various woodwind duets.

Bonus: Teachers, if you can play the duet part for your younger beginner students, please do so. Having you on the stage with them helps them relax, lets you help them when they get muddled, and the accompaniment makes the music sound so much nicer for the student and the audience.

These are some pieces my students are playing:

Piano: Christmastime is Here, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Away in a Manger, Over the River and Through the Woods, I Saw Three Ships, O Christmas Tree, Carol of the Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (the boys always like this one), Deck the Halls, Sonatina in C

Vocal: Santa Clause is Coming to Town, O Holy Night, Silent Night, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Love is Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Rudolph, Joy to the World, We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Flute: The Ash Grove (duet), Minuet from Orpheus (trio) , Greensleeves

Clarinet: You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, Duet

Strings: What Child is This, Angels We Have Heard on High, Hannukah, Mele Kalikimaka

Posted in Teaching Piano, Teaching Private Lessons, Teaching Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CHRISTMAS Duets for beginning Violin and Piano

violin and piano

Hello everyone! It’s October, and you know what that means for music teachers…time to start Christmas music!

Two of my private students happen to be twins; they always want to try to play together, but since one is on violin (sharps!) and the other on piano, they don’t often have that opportunity at this point in time. (They have been playing for a little over a year now.)

Here are two duets that I arranged for them. They will probably be at least a little bit challenging, but I think they will be ready in time for Christmas. 🙂

I would love your feedback or to hear recordings of your students playing these arrangements.

Angels We Have Heard on High – VIOLIN

Angels We Have Heard on High – PIANO


What Child is This? – VIOLIN

What Child is This? – PIANO



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The Dreaded Clarinet Embouchure (VIDEO)

Correct embouchure is EXTREMELY important for getting a good sound on any instrument, but the clarinet is particularly difficult. One of the pitfalls that young clarinetists fall into is thinking that they are right simply because they can get a sound out and play a bunch of notes (or across the break). This is FALSE, and explains why students often don’t learn the correct mouth shape for clarinet playing. Unlike a brass player, who CANNOT access the full range of their instrument without first developing a correct embouchure, clarinetists can get the majority of notes out while using a poorly developed and incorrect embouchure (they won’t sound very pretty, though!).

Three very important elements of the embouchure for a clarinetist are:

  1. Pointed/Flat chin
  2. High tongue
  3. Corners in

When these two elements work together, musical magic happens.

Watch THIS VIDEO to learn how to make a proper clarinet embouchure.


Posted in Teacher Guides - Band Instruments, Teaching Band, Teaching Private Lessons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment