Teaching Students to Read Music

What is the number one reason students don’t practice?

They can’t read music well.

Having to figure out every note as you play is no fun at all. It’s like reading a book in a foreign language where you have to stop and look up every other word. It’s a tedious chore.

Teaching students to become fluent readers is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching the piano. There are just so many notes! But it is possible, and it is well worth the effort.

After much research, trial and error, and many years of teaching I can honestly say that I have figured out how to teach my students to become competent readers. My students can pick up their music and read it. This makes learning much more enjoyable for them and teaching much easier for me. In this post, I am going to share with you exactly how I teach my students to read music.


I love to start students as young as possible. I start students at three-and-a-half to four years of age. I don’t teach reading to very young students. We work on lots of listening, ear training, and hands-on activities. Around the time a child begins to read words is when I start teaching music reading. Here’s how I do it.

Know your Student

In my experience, most piano students fall into one of two categories: visual learners and auditory learners. Because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance, visual learners tend to look at the score and auditory learners tend to try to pick things up by ear.

Some kids take to reading easily. They have an easy time connecting what’s going on in the score with what happens on the keyboard. Others have naturally great ears and can hear something and learn it without looking at the music very much. For these students reading seems counterproductive.

As a teacher, it is crucial that I watch and listen carefully to see how my student is learning.

How to Begin

I can honestly say I became so frustrated with many of the available piano method books that I wrote my own. I recommend that you stay away from any method books that have hand positions and fingerings over every note. Use a method that introduces new concepts slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning. You may also want to use more than one method and always have lots of supplemental music.

Downplay Mnemonic Devices.

I start my students start with middle C and we go from there. I don’t even mention “every good boy does fine” I use this only as a reference, it can be helpful to help a student find the first note of a piece. That’s it though, no counting lines and spaces.

How Music is Read

Piano music is read by seeing patterns and transferring those patterns into music on the keyboard. Think about it. As an experienced pianist, do you ever think about note names while you are playing?

The score is a picture of what happens on the keyboard

Notes go up. Notes go down. Skips, jumps, chords, repeated notes. It’s all very logical. I tell my students that. What the music looks like, that is what it is. It never tricks you. This may all seem obvious, but it isn’t. I have found that pointing this out to my students really helps them to make the connection between the score and the keyboard.

In the Beginning

Start with a few notes and expand slowly. I start with treble C through G and then add Bass C through G. While making sure that my student is understanding and able to play these notes, I begin expanding the notes until all of the treble and bass clefs are covered. Then accidentals, chords, different keys. All of this happens as students are learning to count and understand rhythm as well. The process is fairly straight forward, but it takes work and persistence.

Practice is Key

Of course, even if you are an expert at teaching you may see very little progress if your student isn’t practicing at home. So, it is imperative that your students do their part. I talk about the subject of motivating students to practice in my book “The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town, Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”


The Most Important Time to Practice

I want my students to practice every day, however, I tell my students to practice on the day of their lesson after the lesson is over and as early as possible on the next day. This is because for information to go from short term to long term memory it must be repeated within about 24 hours of being presented. If a student waits a few days before coming back to the piano and practicing, much (if not all) will be lost.

Read the post, Practice Makes Progress

At the Lesson

I do my best to sit back and let my students figure things out. When a student starts a new piece, I let her take a look at it and try to read through the score. I may begin by asking, what is the key and time signature? How will you count the rhythm in measure 3? If my student gets stuck, I encourage her to try and figure things out.

I will ask, do the notes go up or down? Is that a skip or a step? How do you count the rhythm in measure three? I keep coming back to the point that they can learn to read well, that music notation makes sense and that learning to read is worth the effort.

I make sure my students have the opportunity to read through their assignments at the lesson so that I can be sure that they are able to read the music when they are at home.

When a Student Just Isn’t Getting It

Usually, these things work. But there are times when I really need to work hard with a student to help him to learn to read.

In my experience, these are usually students who have very good auditory skills and can get by without learning to read. Years ago, I had a student who had such a good ear that he could learn pieces like Debussy’s “First Arabesque” by ear!! The only way I could get him to read music was to find obscure music and change pieces every week. (Now you may ask why a student like that would have to bother learning to read music in the first place — but that’s another discussion entirely).

With these types of students, I give them lots of new music to look at. I also allow them to learn music by ear as a separate skill. I strike a bargain, so to speak, “learn your minuet and then listen to and learn to play “Piano Man”.

A Few More Tips

Create a Print-Rich Environment

Music notation is beautiful!

Classroom teachers know that having lots of words and print in the classroom environment helps students to learn to read. We can create a musical print-rich environment in our studios by having musical posters and examples of beautifully engraved music readily available.

At home, students should have more than one piano book. Give them lots of different music to look at. Let them see what you are playing.

If you are watching a YouTube video look for one that has the musical score scrolling by as the music plays.

Be careful to make sure any music notation your students are exposed to is accurate. We have all seen music bags and sweatshirts with backwards treble clefs and keys sigs that feature flats and sharps at the same time.

Music Writing

Give your students a pencil and some staff paper. Let then write some music of their own. This is a great way for them to strengthen their note reading skills.

Get the Young Composers manuscript book for free as a Paloma Piano Gold member.

Apps, Flashcards and Note Spellers

Ehh… I use them here and there. They may help a little and they can be fun but honestly, I don’t believe they do much to create excellent readers. This is because music is about seeing patterns; It about learning to hear and play what you see before you on the page. This is why isolating notes doesn’t do much to improve music reading skills.

Be a Cheerleader

Encourage any progress you encounter. Celebrate success! Acknowledge the fact that music study is hard work, but add that hard work is good.

Words have power!

I never let my students say, “It’s too hard” or “I can’t do it” without substituting phrases like “It’s challenging” or I can’t do it yet.”

My Favorite Word

My favorite word is “imagine.”

“Imagine how it will feel when you can pick up any piece of music and read it easily.”

I believe it is important to keep the vision alive and let students know that it is attainable.

It’s worth it to help students to learn to read music fluently. Being able to easily decipher music notation makes playing music much more joyful. This ensures that the piano will be part of your student’s life for years to come!

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10 Tips for Teaching Transfer Piano Students

“Hello…Ms. Hall?” “Yes, this is she” “My name is Sherry I am looking for a new piano teacher for my daughter Angie do you have any openings in your studio for  new piano students?”

“Hmm, a transfer piano student,” I think to myself. Am I excited because I may get a student who can play well and is ready for some great repertoire? Or am a filled with trepidation thinking about all of the remediations I may have to do? To be honest, a little bit of both. But transfer students are part of the game so here are 10 tips that will help you book those transfer students have great success.


  1. Have both the potential student and her parents attend the first lesson. You really want to be able to speak with whoever is responsible for booking the lesson. Ask that the student bring along any music on which she is working. Let them know that you will be expecting the student to play for you so that you can place the student at the correct level.


2. Be well prepared and ready for anything. Make sure your teaching space is neat and free of distractions. Have many levels of music on hand for the student should he show up without any music to play.


3. When potential transfer piano students first enter the studio have the student sit beside mom or dad while you sit at the piano. Take this time to get to know them a little. I always ask how long the student has been playing, how much practicing they are normally doing and most importantly whether or not they enjoy playing the piano. I want to make sure the student feels at ease and not as though they are at an audition.


4. Be ready to play something yourself. Parents love this! A nice, short but flashy piece is sure to impress both student and parent and set you up as the expert.


5. At some point, it is time for the new student to play something for you. Ask him to play something he likes and knows very well. Be sure to point out all of the good things you see and hear. Does he have great technique? Perfect rhythm? Does he sit up straight and tall? I am sure you can find something good to say. After that, do some teaching. Dive in and show your stuff. Parents want to get an idea of your teaching style and your expertise.        Read the post about “Sight Reading”


6. Refrain from asking questions about the previous teacher or criticizing his or her pedagogy (or lack thereof). Keep everything positive. You will have plenty of time to remediate problems and teach new concepts later.


7. Assuming things go well. Five or so minutes before the end of the lesson be sure to book the next appointment. Now is the time for them to sign up. Have your schedule ready, any parent materials you want to give them including your studio policy. If mom or dad is not prepared to pay your monthly or semester fee at that moment let them bring it to the next lesson. There is always a chance they may not come back but you have a much better chance of getting the student if they have an appointment set up. Read the post “10 Ways to Make Your Piano Studio More Profitable”


8. During the second lesson, it’s time to get to work. My number one most important tip for working with transfer piano students is, always assign repertoire that is about two levels below where you think they should be playing. There are two reasons for this; first, most transfer students have some gaps in their learning and second, it is much better to speed through some easy music and boost a student ahead then it is to have to pull back and assign an easier piece. Working through some easier music builds confidence and gives the student a chance to review some skills and fill in some gaps while having to step down to something easier is discouraging.


9. As you work with your new student you will discover her strengths and areas that need to be worked on more. You will most certainly find things that you would have done differently than her previous teacher. I recommend reserving judgment and gently steering your new student in the direction you would like to see her go.


10. Keep an open mind about everything. It will take time for you to develop a relationship with your new student. There are many reasons students change piano teachers. Some are wonderfully trained and are coming to you because of a move or because the former teacher has retired. Others have had a bad experience with a teacher or may have been dismissed from a teacher due to a lack of practice or some other situation.

I hope that these tips will be helpful when getting started with transfer piano students. I have had many over my years of piano teaching. By and large, they are a pleasure to teach and do very well. I find that I am challenged and learn a lot from each and every one.

Thanks for reading. If you like this post please share it. To download hundreds of pages of free music and resources for your piano studio join Paloma Piano’s forever free Gold Membership


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“The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town, Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”


No More Labels Please – Tips for Working With Special Needs Piano Students.

I wrote this post a while back and never published it. I was worried about being too…I don’t know…controversial.


I totally respect the scientific community and all of those people who dedicate their lives to finding ways to help people learn. I know there are outstanding teaching techniques, therapies, and medications that can help people who struggle with issues that keep them from achieving their highest potential. I believe we should work together and explore all avenues that can lead to success for our students.


No More Labels Please – Tips for Working With Special Needs Piano Students.



“She’s a ‘special-needs’ learner”


“He is a ‘gifted’ child”


“She is ‘difficult, oppositional, temperamental’” …fill in the blank.


There may be a very real diagnosis. Like ADD, or Autism. I get that. I understand. (Really, if you knew my family history and my teaching experience you would see I am no stranger to this.)


Ever wonder why a lot of parents don’t tell you about their child’s diagnosis?


They want you to see their children as people. Just regular kids.


I am a teacher.


My job is to impart knowledge.


In my case musical knowledge.


My job is to figure out how I can help my students learn. Because I believe, everyone can learn something, and just about everyone can learn to play some music.


So personally, I don’t want to know what my student may be labeled before I meet him. I want to get to know him for myself. So far, in 36 years of teaching all kinds of people I have yet to come across someone who couldn’t learn.


I see all of my students as human beings, just like me. Good at some things, not so great at others. Every single one is a treasure chest full of potential. Figuring out how to unlock it is my responsibility,



So, I say,


“Come on down… What’s your name?”


Mine is Doreen.


No More labels  Please – Tips for Working With Special Needs Piano Students.


Here are some of the ways I have found success with all of my students.


1 – I prefer not to know too much about a diagnosis or exceptionality before I meet any student. I honestly believe find a way I can work with any student who is willing to work with me.


2 – See everyone as equal. Everyone is equal. Sometimes I may have to change the ways I present things but as I see it, this is part of being a good teacher anyway. I do this with every student.


3- Take your cues from the student. I always ask all of my students what they are trying to get out of the lessons. If the student is non-verbal a take a step back and give them a chance to explore a bit. I keep hands-on activities and games on hand, I can play for them if they are not ready to try playing for me. Maybe, a student just wants to sit quietly while I talk to mom or dad. I am always mindful that the student is in the room.


4 – Start with easy. I do this with all of my students. It is much better to give a student an easy task and level up than to have them fail and the pullback. Maybe an easy task is just learning right and left hand.


5 – Celebrate success! Did my student learn a new note or a whole new piece? Can she clap a steady beat?  Point this out and give a high-five! Again, I do this with every student.


6 – Get ready to be amazed! Yep, get ready. I have discovered students with photographic memories, perfect pitch, outstanding rhythmic abilities, beautiful singing voices, improvisational abilities, and young composers. I have learned never to underestimate anyone.


7 – Expect the best. Never set limits. Hold every student to a personal level of excellence.


8 – Partner with parents. Listen to and support parents and caregivers. I assure them that I hear their concerns. I always try to remember to share successes with them.


9 – Focus on the positive. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If there is a minor problem, I try to redirect my student’s attention to the task at hand.


10 – Trust. I am a teacher and a human being I am not perfect I am always learning to be better than I was the day before. I believe that I can find a way to reach any student who is willing to be reached.


11 – Lean on the piano community. I am so fortunate to live in a time where I can email a colleague, search the internet, or ask my Facebook friends for advice and suggestions. I have learned so much from this.


12 – Remember the words of Dr. Sinichi Suzuki “Where love is deep, much can be accomplished” I learned this many years ago and I have found it to be true indeed.


No More labels  Please – Tips for Working With Special Needs Piano Students.


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For great hands-on activities for all students





Making Online Piano Teaching Easier

We have all been thrown into online lessons whether we wanted to be teaching online or not. I have been teaching online since 2016 when I moved from South Florida to Cleveland Ohio. I have several students who wanted to continue their lessons with me, so I started teaching using FaceTime.

Here are some things that make online teaching easier for me and my students and may help you as well. I am not covering set-up and technical issues in this post as most of you already have your online set-up in place.

For Yourself

1 – Get comfortable. Get a comfortable chair, set things up so you can stand if you need to. Being physically comfortable is step one in making online lessons easier.

2 – Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite drink. Treat yourself, you deserve it!

3 – Change your schedule. Online teaching is more demanding for us. However, just about everyone has some flexibility right now. I set my schedule up so that I don’t have more than six students in a row.

4 – Keep a pen and paper handy to take notes.

When Working With Your Students

1 –Assign easier repertoire. Cut your students (and yourself) some slack. Take a step back and assign some fun easy to learn pieces.

2 – If a student is struggling, work in small chunks. Learn a measure, learn the next measure then put them together, and so on. Cover what you can and assign this to your student for practice. For more advanced students who can read well and work independently, this may be a great time to take on some new challenges. But for a lot of students taking a step back and assigning something easier to learn is a good way to go.

4 – Offer to check in with students during the week. I have been telling my students that if they are confused about something or run out of things to do to contact me and I can jump on Facetime and help them out or give them some more work. (I do this even when in-person lessons are taking place.)

3 – Games and videos. I find these essential. About midway through the lesson, my students and I play a game, or I choose a short video for my student to watch. The mental break does wonder for my student’s focus and attitude. It also helps me.

4 – Choose a theme of the week. Last week I had my students focus on reviewing musical terms. We played a musical terms game. This week the theme is Baroque music, next week we will explore the Classical period. This not only is educational but fun as well!

5 – Be encouraging. Our students are getting used to this new way of teaching as much as we are. Tell them how great they are doing! Pump them up, help them to feel good about giving online lessons a chance.

6 – Keep track of assignments. I am using the Tonara app with most of my students which I highly recommend. It’s a fun way to keep in touch and keep track of practice. You can even send and receive messages and recordings. If your students are not using Tonara, Have them write their assignments in a notebook and read it back to you.

Sending Music

I have all of my student’s music in pdf format making it easy to email to parents. Of course, most of the music I use is on my website palomapiano.com. Teachers pay a small membership fee and are licensed to download everything on the website and use it with their own students for as long as they are members. (There are a lot of free things available right now.)

I recommend imslp or pianostreet for standard repertoire. Imslp is free to use pianostreet requires all users to have a membership, students must have their own account.

There are many other composers offering printable music with studio licenses. Making storing and sending super easy.

Keep it simple. Choose a few pieces at a few different levels for your students. For right now it’s Ok if multiple students are playing the same piece.


I love my piano parents! Every one of them is focused on what is best for their children. I really want to make sure they know that I appreciate them. If you have young children at home and out of school right now you know that this is an especially challenging time. Here are some ideas.

1 – At the beginning or the end of the lesson be sure to say hello to parents and ask how they are doing.

2 – Send emails regularly with updates and music and resources for the students.

3 – Send a text letting parents know when their child has had a great lesson.

4 – Be caring, be concerned, stay positive.

5 – Plan a zoom meeting and get together with families for some enjoyable and music educational activities.

I am working hard to provide the resources that my students need and I am sharing everything with other teachers. I am making more music and resources free so as to help teachers organize and plan their week. I have been sending an email out sharing my weekly theme including resources and a list of free pieces on Sunday evening.

To get yours visit www.palomapiano.com

Keep going, teachers. We all have a positive part to play. This crisis will pass hopefully soon.

Stay safe.

Many thanks to our health care and essential workers.

1 thought on “Making Online Teaching Easier”

Favorite Piano Teaching Books and Resources

I compiled a list of favorite piano teaching books and resources with the help of many colleagues. These are the books piano teachers recommend and use daily in their studios. The list features resources for beginning through later-intermediate piano students.

On 2/15 I had the honor of speaking at the MTNA Conference Nashville 2020. I met so many great people! I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to learn from these fine teachers. I asked them to share two or three of their favorite piano teaching books and resources. Their “go-to” teaching resources so that I could share them at Paloma Piano. 

Here is the list;

Favorite Piano Teaching Books and Resources


The Ultimate Preschool Piano Activities Book

Faber Piano Adventures

Compose Create (Wendy Stevens)

Hal Leonard Primer

Wunder Keys

Get Set Piano

Alijam Music (James King)

Piano Pronto Prelude Book

Piano Maestro

Bastien New Traditions

Keyboard Kickoff

Sounds from Different Lands (Irina Nenartovich)


Paula Dryers Rote Pieces

Back to Basics (Marlene Moore – JW Pepper)

Summer Daze – Barbara Harry

Chrissy Ricker – Destination Adventure

Tasty Tunes – Wendy Stevens

Celebration Series

Faber – Disney Show Time, Chord Time, etc.

Star Wars – Five Finger Beginner

Kevin Olsen – Perfect Start

Primer Pianist – Cappy Cory

Suzuki – Piano Books

read the post “Make Time Fly While Teaching Piano Lessons”

Continue reading “Favorite Piano Teaching Books and Resources”

The Best Piano Teacher in Town Free – Preschool Webinar 

The Best Piano Teacher in Town Free Preschool Webinar 

Sign up for the webinar

Wednesday, February 5, 2020, 12:00 pm ET

Imagine having a great time teaching preschoolers. Teaching little kids on the keys. Imagine those lessons are so much fun that you could teach eight three-and-a-half and four-year-olds back to back and feel energized and inspired. Imagine that you are really teaching them music, they love it and their parents are not just happy but thrilled. Imagine you can’t wait to get to work because it’s so much fun and the time flies by.


This is what I posted 2 years ago…

This isn’t only possible, this is my life. I left my well-established studio of beginning through advanced students behind. I said goodbye to West Palm Beach Florida and came to Cleveland Ohio ready to start teaching. I have a home studio but I also teach three days a week an arts center that is famous for Kindermusik, as a result, I have 25 students (so far) 19 of whom are four years old or younger. I love it and here’s why.

Fast Foward 2 years and I am still teaching almost all of those preschoolers who are now reading music, playing well, and loving the piano!!

Continue reading “The Best Piano Teacher in Town Free – Preschool Webinar “

Piano Students with Challenging Attitudes


My second son Johnny is musically gifted and like his mom he loves music. He has always been a super-sweet kid, although when he was younger, he was a bit on the shy side. When he was 12 years old, I took him to a new guitar teacher. Being a quiet person, Johnny didn’t say much during the lesson with his new teacher. The teacher took this the wrong way, he told me he was sensing an “attitude problem.”

I knew that my son did not have an “attitude problem” although, I could see how his teacher may have perceived it that way. I explained to the teacher that Johnny loved the guitar he was just a quiet kid. Things went better after that. (I also took this opportunity to teach my son about trying to be more outgoing.)


This situation made me think about my own students. I knew there were times that I had also struggled with what I had perceived as student attitude problems. I came to the realization that if someone could misread my child, I could certainly be misreading my students as well. I also pondered the idea that if indeed a student had an attitude problem there might be a reason behind it, and there might be something I could do to make the situation better.

My job as a teacher is to reach people, this means that I have to dig deep to discover who my students are, and what makes them tick. Because my ultimate goal is to teach as many students as possible to play the piano well.


What is an “Attitude” Anyway


“The way that you think and feel about somebody/something; the way that you behave towards somebody/something that shows how you think and feel.” Oxford Dictionary

Obviously, an attitude can be good or challenging. But it’s a challenging attitude that presents the problem. As a teacher, it can be really frustrating trying to teach students who are rude, sarcastic, sassy, or withdrawn. As a human being, it is natural to find such situations troublesome. There are, however, ways to make things easier.


Take a step back-Put it into perspective

“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

 Dealing with students with attitude problems is indeed annoying but it’s not the end of the world. I may not have control of how my student is behaving at any given moment, but I do have control over how I respond and over how it affects me. When dealing with a challenging attitude I try my best to say calm and carry on with the lesson. I want to give myself some time to decide how I will address the situation.


Observe Don’t Absorb

If a student is being rude, making comments, or displaying unsettling body-language I imagine myself as an observer. I don’t absorb the negativity. As the teacher, my job is to teach my student how to play the piano. In order to do this, I need to be a problem solver. I need to find out why my student appears unhappy, unmotivated or both. Going forward, I try to do my best to discover what is bothering my student.


It’s not always possible to turn things around

 Before I delve into problems and solutions, I feel that I need to admit that while I have been able to solve many “attitude problems” I have not been able to solve them all. It’s important to accept the fact that some things are outside of our control.


Here are some of the challenging attitudes I have come across and how I was able to deal with them.


The Quiet Student

This student won’t speak, he avoids answering questions or just nods or gives one-word responses making the lesson feel very long and uncomfortable.

This student may simply be shy or self-conscious. He may need some time to warm up to me and to the situation. In this case, I greet the student warmly, but I try not to talk too much. I stick to teaching and talking about music. As time goes on this type of student usually starts being more interactive.


The Angry Student

Sometimes a quiet student also seems angry. She may not want to be at a piano lesson. Some kids are compelled by parents to take lessons. This can be a very difficult situation because when asked the student will often say that she wants to take lessons. Especially if mom or dad is right there.

With this type of student, I try my best to inspire her and win her over. I sometimes can appeal to her by saying that since she has to be at a piano lesson why not make the best of it. In the end, it is usually possible to work with a student even if she is not that excited about piano lessons. I will continue to work with a student who will practice, be respectful, and show some sense of goodwill. If I find that the lessons are very uncomfortable or that the student is not making progress, I will let them go.


The Student Who Hates Piano Lessons

In my 35-year teaching career, I have had a few students come right out and tell me they don’t want anything to do with the piano. I totally understand this. There are many wonderful activities that I would never want to be involved in (like sky diving, long-distance running, or worse, sewing). When this comes up, I talk to parents about putting their child into an activity they will find more to their liking. I explain to parents that if their child is not interested in learning the piano and will not practice at home, they are wasting their time and money. If all else fails I put them on what I call the “last chance program.”

See the post, “Time to Say Goodbye”


The Rude Student

Sometimes, students are just plain rude. They talk back, make snide comments, or even mock me. Sometimes these kids are so crafty that I might not even realize right away that I have been insulted. Other times, it’s not what they say but the way they say it that makes my blood pressure rise. This type of behavior must be nipped in the bud immediately.  I have tried using a bit of gentle humor to get the point across that a student’s comments or behavior are unacceptable. Other times I let piano students with challenging attitudes know that they need to turn things around and act more appropriately.

There may be many reasons why a student will behave rudely. It may be that they are accustomed to talking to their friends and family in a sassy manner. Some students even think they are being funny. The bottom line is that as teachers, we deserve to be treated with respect. In fact, we must have the respect of our students if we are to be effective teachers.



The Clown

I love funny kids! I really appreciate a good sense of humor but not so much during piano lessons. We only have thirty minutes to an hour to work and quite a bit to accomplish, so while a little jocularity might be amusing, we just don’t have time for a lot of fooling around.

I have found that a student may clown around because he is nervous or anxious. At times a student acts up as a diversion because he is unprepared for the lesson. Some kids are natural comedians and love to joke around. If I feel that a student clowning because he is feeling uncomfortable, I do my best to put him at ease. After that. I remind my little jokester that the clock is ticking, and we have to get to work.


Challenges are part of the job

As teachers facing challenges of all kinds is what we do. From musical and technical issues to attitude and motivational issues we have to come up with creative ways to educate our students. I do my best to be patient with my students and with myself and look at challenges as an interesting part of the job of piano teaching. As piano teachers, we have a long-lasting impact on people’s lives. Our job is important and rewarding.


As for Johnny

 My son John is grown with three kids of his own. He isn’t shy anymore he teaches music and plays professionally.

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Beginning Piano Improvisation Activities

This post will explore beginning piano improvisation activities and why improvisation is so important.

Objectives, For students to feel comfortable making their own music. To inspire creativity. To build confidence and comfort at the keyboard.

“Improvise means make it up as I go along

I can play some music, and improvise a song”

Improvisation is an important part of learning to become a musician. Improvisation helps build ear training, technique, and creativity. Improvising also makes the student comfortable at the piano. Not to mention the fact that improvisation is fun!


Here are my favorite beginning piano improvisation activities I use with my youngest students.

  1. Use the black keys to improvise beautiful music that features the pentatonic scale. Have your student hold the pedal down (or hold it for him).
  2. Have your student improvise a melody to a simple poem.
  3. Play an improvised musical phrase and have your student “answer” with their own improvised phrase
  4. Use pictures or other objects (prompts) to spark improvisational ideas.
  5. Suggest a set of notes for your student to use while improvising (for example C, E, F, and G).
  6. Suggest rhythmic patterns for improvising
  7. Suggest that your student improve using right, left or both hands.
  8. Read a story and let your student improvise the background music
  9. Improvise using different sounds on a digital piano
  10. Watch a video of a famous artist playing and let your student “Play along” with the artist in the video. 

The sooner you start beginning piano improvisation activities with your students the more comfortable they will be. Improvisation helps students to feel confident and creative. Most people associate musical improvisation with Jazz. This is because Jazz relies heavily on improvisation. But any style of music can be improvised.

Improvisation has many benefits, it helps students to feel comfortable at the keyboard. Being able to improvise means that if you have trouble during a performance you can keep going. It means you always have something to play.

Improvisation builds strong technique, strong aural skills, and flexibility. Improvisation leads to music composition. Improvisation is a critical part of becoming a musician.

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Practice Makes Progress

Chapter 18 – From “The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town-Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

Practice makes progress.

“Our aim needs to be the nurturing of children. The moment we rigidly convince ourselves, “Education is what we’re after,” we warp a child’s development. -1-  First foster the heart, then help the child acquire ability. This is indeed nature’s proper way.”

        — Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love

Getting People to Practice

This is big. Really big!!

In fact, everything I have written in this book so far leads up to this crucial point. From cultivating our own positive mindset to having a Teaching Blueprint, everything we do all leads to setting students up for success. Success means learning. In order to learn, students must practice at home. Without at-home practice, students cannot be successful. Without at-home practice, I cannot foster a joyful studio.

As teachers, we all know the importance of practice.  But for some reason, the idea of at-home practice escapes many students and their parents. I think this may be in part because piano lessons are one of the few extra-curricular activities that require practice outside of actual class time.

Parents aren’t used to having to make children practice baseball at home every day. However, students must practice the piano at home regularly. And this requires some hard work. Piano practice in and of itself is hard work—very hard work that most average people (especially children and teenagers) would prefer not to do. I make a big point to tell my students to listen to their parents when they ask them to practice. I tell them not to argue with mom or dad or promise to practice later. I follow this up with “and say thank you to mom for bringing you to piano lessons and reminding you to practice. Imagine how you are going to feel in a few years when you can play really well!”

Getting young kids to practice requires that parents help or at least remember to remind them to practice. This can be a tall order for busy families. Those of us who are parents also know that it is not easy to get kids to do things they would rather not do. Our students and parents need our guidance and support in order for consistent and careful practice to take place.

Read the Post “10 Tips for Accurate Piano Playing”

Nothing makes me feel happier and more joyful than students who actually practice. Students who come to their lessons prepared and ready to work on new skills and materials. When my students practice at home, the lessons are so much more fun to teach. Parents are happy, recitals go well, and students don’t consider quitting.

Continue reading “Practice Makes Progress”

Evaluating Piano Student Progress

“What is measured gets improved” Peter Drucker

Evaluating Piano Student Progress

The school year is drawing to a close. The kids are counting down the days, so are their teachers.

For most piano teachers this means year-end recitals and getting ready for the summer teaching schedule.  For school-aged students, the end of the school year is a milestone. They receive year-end grades and test scores. Children get promoted (hopefully) or move on to new schools.

Yes, indeed though we are only halfway through the calendar year the end of school is a time of transition. A time to reflect on progress made during the year gone by and look forward to the future. A time for students to take a look at what they have accomplished and evaluate themselves. A time to celebrate what they have done well and plan to make future improvements. The perfect time for evaluating piano student progress.

As a teacher, this information is useful for me as well. I want to make sure I am teaching all the skills and concepts necessary for my students to become accomplished musicians. (Of course, not every category is applicable to every student.)

Read the Post- “The Value of Independent Piano Work”

Assignment Book

I have each student keep an assignment that we write in each week. This makes it easy to go back and see what has been assigned and completed.


Progress Worksheet


I use this worksheet to help with evaluating piano student progress.






Here are some of the things to look at when evaluating piano student progress,

  1. Technique-Make a list of the scales, arpeggios, and technical exercises that have been covered. How many can be played from memory?
  2. Repertoire-List the pieces you have learned to completion. List any accompanying or ensemble playing you have done.
  3. Music Theory-Make a list of music theory concepts learned throughout the year. Include things like musical terms, key and time signatures, musical form or any other music theory that may have been learned. Ear training can be included in this list.
  4. Music reading-Compare your reading skills with your reading skills at the beginning of the school year. Notice any improvement you have made in your sight-reading level.
  5. Musicianship-Consider any general musicianship skills you have worked on or improved throughout the year such as. Learning to play using chords, improvisation, playing by ear, or composition.
  6. Music History/Listening-What did you learn about composers, genres, and/or periods of music history? Make a list you have probably learned much more than you realize.
  7. Performances/Festivals-Have you played in performances of any kind? Recitals or church services? How about accompanying? Have you made any recordings or videos of your playing?


Evaluating piano student progress may be surprising,

I’ll bet that your student will probably be surprised (hopefully pleasantly surprised) at how much has been accomplished throughout the school year. For some students, this may be a “reality check” letting them know that they need to work a little harder in the future.

Lastly, the end of this school year is an opportunity to set goals for the summer and for the coming school year. You may want to let your students take a week to consider what goals are important to them. Ask them to imagine where they might be with their playing at this time next year.

At the next lesson sit down with your students, go through the skills listed above and set some goals. With younger students, you may want mom or dad to weigh in while setting goals for the coming year.

Keep the Piano Progress Sheet in front of the student’s notebook. At the end of the next school year take it out and see how this year went.


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