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

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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

Simple Music Symbols Quiz

This is a quiz appropriate for probably 3rd-6th beginners to music. I’ve realized that most kids easily get basic symbols confused, and often do not know the name of the symbols they are reading. This assessment gives some brief explanation that reinforces concepts already learned while requiring students to attach the symbol with its name. For example, question two asks “The treble clef is used when composers write music for children’s voices, and also when composers write music for instruments that play HIGH notes. Please circle ALL instruments that play HIGH notes.”

This simple quiz asks students to:

Identify the symbol given (treble clef)

Identify which of tthe three instruments listed play high notes.

Identify the name of the staff.

Distinguish between which symbols are notes and which are not.

Distinguish between the repeat sign and a double bar line.

With a bonus response question about what instrument is the student’s favorite and why.


Posted in 3rd-5th Grade Lessons, Composition and Theory Information, Teaching Chorus, Teaching Elementary, Teaching Private Lessons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vocal Technique Tips

I found this article the other day, which goes over some interesting vocal techniques and links for other tips. DISCLAIMER: I have not read through all of the tips on this website and so cannot confirm their validity or safety. I do not recommend allowing a student (especially a young student) to navigate the page alone. Some of the things recommended are things that should be tried once to see how it affects the voice, so you do want to be sure that your students understand that not everything listed is meant to be all the time or for every style of music.

I know it’s been a while…sorry about that! I’ve been focusing on other projects including a novel, my YouTube channel, wind symphony rehearsal, and other elements related to teaching private lessons. Follow me on Twitter, if you like, click here for Twitter and click here to go to my most recent YouTube video. Be forewarned, some (not all, or even a large percentage) of my Twitter and YouTube content is political or social commentary. I tend to lean more toward the right, but have somewhat of a libertarian view (you do you, boo). My greatest goal is to be fair and honest in addressing things that I see happening in the world, hence the screen name. Most of what I post on Twitter is related to writing and research, networking with other writers, etc.

I hope your school year started out well and that you all will have a lovely and music-filled day!

Posted in Teaching Chorus, Teaching Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Female Broadway Duets

An article I found on Camp Broadway. Enjoy!

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