Pianovember Practice Challenge

As I announced at the beginning of the year, instead of doing a year-long practice challenge this time, we are trying 4 short one-month practice challenges spread throughout this school year. I like to think of this as something like running intervals: we will do some short sprints with the month challenges, and we'll also have some time slow down to a walk to breathe in between. So, what's coming up next? Well, we wrapped up the "Fall Into Music" challenge in September, and our next one is going to start up in November when we'll be joining Pianovember hosted by the Piano Parent Podcast

In this practice challenge, students get one point every time they practice a song outside of lessons. Each student will need to keep track of tallies during their practice sessions each time they play a song, and at your lessons we will update the total tallies on the studio chart. 

But it doesn't stop there because this practice challenge is also global! This means at the e…

Open Piano Week

During the first couple weeks of our Fall term, I had several students who were very interested in (and somewhat distracted by) the moving parts in the piano while they played their music. So I decided that during the final week of August, we'd have an "Open Piano Week" here in the studio. During lessons that week, the lid on the studio's baby grand was lifted and each lesson included in introduction to what goes on under the lid when we play music. Students had some great questions and observations, and were so engaged that I think for next school year, we will dedicate our first Piano Party to a detailed look at how the piano works!  So here's what we learned as we identified all the tiny moving parts that work together to make music when we strike the piano's keys: Strings - these are often the first things students noticed as we looked under the lid. We discussed how most of the notes on the piano have 3 strings that ring together, except at the lower regis…

All of Me by John Legend - Sheet Music

This month's sheet music feature is All of Me by John Legend arranged for early intermediate piano solo. 

With a clear melody and a chord based harmony, All of Me lends itself well to piano solo, especially since in the original artist recording, the accompaniment is played primarily by a piano. So it really doesn't take too much change for this piece to be pleasing to play for late beginners or early intermediates, and enjoyable to listen to for friends and family of young students.

This arrangement is in the song's original key of A-flat, and will give early intermediate students some opportunity to practice a trickier key signature while playing a familiar melody. The melody is syncopated to follow the vocal line, with the harmony simplified to play the chords on the downbeats. Intermediate students who are ready for more complexity could be encouraged to use the chord progression to create an accompaniment pattern or rhythm of their own.

The sheet music is published thr…

Improvising at Home

Earlier this month we had our first piano party of the new session where students learned about Improvisation. At our piano party, we discussed what it is, it's deep roots in classical, jazz and popular music and introduced some easy ways to get started, then we jammed with a Rock Your Way Back to School improv. Improvisation is a terrific rhythm and ear training tool, and the goal of this piano party was to help take some of the potential awkwardness or shyness out of this creative exercise.

Today's blog post is looking at how you as a piano parent can support you piano kid improvising at home. What I'm going to share are some simple tips that even completely non-musical parents can use to create original improvisation with your piano kid.
Some things to know about Improv: Operates within a structure. Accomplished musicians rely on chord progressions, scales, knowledge of different genre styles, and tempo/rhythm structures to improvise. But total beginners can do it too w…

Jump rope

You've probably heard me talk about the Piano Parent Podcast before, and that's because it's a terrific resource for parents of piano students that covers a range of topics from getting creative with music and practice time, to common struggles, to some simple music theory lessons so parents know what's what in their students music. 

Today, I'm sharing a recent discussion with piano teacher Vicki Conway that had some really insightful information about the importance of movement in brain development, and even gives some really simple activities we can do with kids to help them build some of those essential pathways in the brain to build skills in different kinds of reasoning and understanding. 

I'm embedding both part 1 and part 2 of the conversation here so you can listen to them, and get the info straight from the source, and I'll also include some of my own thoughts below. 

Developmental Fitness, Part 1

Developmental Fitness, Part 2

Here were my four big ta…

2019 Multi-Piano & Guitar Christmas Festival

Last week I told you about our first performance of the year, and here I am already talking about the second! And that's because our first on-stage performance is just a little over a month after the Fall Video Recital.

On Saturday, December 14th our studio will be a part of the Multi-Piano & Guitar Christmas Festival. This annual show is a long standing tradition in McPherson, and a terrific way to kick off the holiday season with some piano ensemble and guitar ensemble Christmas music for an incredibly supportive audience.

How it works: 
We prepare the songs in lessons leading up to the show, and on the 14th will run rehearsals during the day leading up to the performance. (This means if you give me the go-ahead to sign up your student for the show, know that there will be a commitment earlier in the day to rehearse with their ensemble.) These rehearsals are mandatory, because as you can imagine, coordinating up to 16 pianists for each number can take some doing.

At perf…

Fall Video Recital

As we head into the Fall season, it's time to start thinking about our first performance opportunity of the school year - our Fall Video Recital! 

This performance is a little different, because in it we bring together students  in McPherson & online from all over the country. Each student will record or submit a video of their prepared piece during lessons. Those videos will be compiled together, and on Saturday, November 2nd at 10:00am CST, that compilation will be posted on the Fall Video Recital facebook event as well as here on the blog. 

Some of the things I love about a video recital: 
Students are reminded that they are part of a national studio community, and get to cheer on their peers all over the country in the video comments.Family & friends who live out of the area and would love to support your piano kids can tune in from wherever they are.Having our first performance of the year be a recorded video helps build confidence for new students before they find thems…

Young Composers 2019

I'll be honest, this is truly one of my favorite blog posts to write every year. I'm just so thrilled to unveil our student compositions! And this summer I was particularly excited to relaunch the Young Composers summer program after having to pause it last year due to the studio relocating. Having a composing focus rolled back into our regular summer curriculum reflects the value this studio places on creativity and self-expression as a crucial part of learning to play an instrument.

Composing & notating music is also a terrific way to apply music theory knowledge and gain a more fluent understanding of the concepts learned in lessons. And that's definitely something we saw happening this year! So many students, from beginning through advanced levels, impressed me with their ability to take what they were playing on the piano and translate that into sheet music using the notation software with very minimal guidance. And then we went one step further and during our last…

Fall into Music Practice Challenge

Our School Year Session is now under way, and as we head into September, we're going to participate into the "Fall into Music" Practice Challenge hosted by the Piano Parent Podcast. This is a short-term, world-wide practice challenge where each student tries to practice 20 days during the month of September. Any student who completes the challenge will receive a completion certificate, AND a place on the studio social media wall of fame. In addition, we will be running a total of 4 one-month practice challenges throughout this school year, and any student who completes 2 or more of them will win an exclusive Dawn's Piano tote bag. This will be great for carrying their piano books to and from the studio!

So how does the Fall into Music challenge work? 

Well we know that the real work of learning to play an instrument is in the practice time spent between lessons, and we know that parents are the ones who reinforce the practice habit at home. This challenge is designed t…

Digital Piano Recommendations

Starting piano lessons for a lot of people means that we have to look at acquiring an instrument. Today, I'm sharing my favorite digital models for beginning piano students. These are at a lower price point than comparable instruments, but still provide the hammer action feel, touch sensitivity and good quality sound samples that replicate a grand piano well. 

If you are deciding between an acoustic & a digital, be sure to check out this article, and if you're in the market for a used piano keep the tips in this article in mind.

So if you're still reading, you've decided on a digital, and are wanting to know the best, affordable options that will still provide the quality your budding pianist needs. All pianos listed below feature Graded Hammer Standard or Weighted Keys, meaning the keys are engineered to feel like an acoustic piano. Having this feature shortens the learning curve on transitioning from a keyboard to an acoustic, so that when a student is at less…

Piano Maestro

Since I am in prep week between the summer and school year sessions, this post is all about how you can prep at home by setting up Piano Maestro, AND how we can use it to encourage practice by enabling the Home Practice challenge. I've had several parents recently ask me about the piano lab set up after watching their kids sit down and be self-motivated to sight read music using the Piano Maestro app. And that's because this app uses the best parts of gaming technology & the psychology of gamification to create an environment where piano students are learning new notes and technic while actively sight reading and practicing on their actual piano (not just interacting with the screen). All the while, they are receiving in-game rewards and milestones that keep them excited to work for excellence and to progress forward.

What you need: A piano (acoustic or digital both work) and an iPad.

First step: let me know that you'd like to try Piano Maestro at home and I will se…

Just the Way You Are - Sheet Music

Over the years I have had several students of different ages and levels request to learn Just the Way You are by Bruno Mars, because of that have ended up with two differently leveled arrangements, and now for the first time, both are available on SheetMusicPlus. Up until this point, I have had the early intermediate version available, and even though the song is now a few years old, it has consistently been one of the best sellers in my SMP Press store, so I decided to go ahead and make the more advanced version available as well. This piece works well as an audience-pleasing piano recital piece, background music at a wedding reception, anniversary party, or just to play for our own enjoyment.

The cool thing about having a couple arrangements of one piece is we can talk a little bit more about arranging music for different pedagogical levels (for those who are interested in such things). Let me take you through a little analytical listening exercise: 

First, let's listen to the ear…

On Screentime & Reaping Benefits of Technology

There is a lot of marketing, research and branding out there, some telling us how to let our kids get ahead with technology, and others to stay away from it at all costs because it's rotting our brains! What's the real scoop in all this? How can we incorporate the advantages and benefits of technology into our daily lives while maintaining good brain health? And perhaps even more importantly as parents and teachers, how can we do this for today's kids?

Well, last month, I joined in a teacher chat on the Piano Parent Podcast with fellow teacher Judy Wilkins, and the podcast host, Shelly Davis to talk about this exact topic. In the course of our discussion, I found myself really glad that we were talking together, and enjoyed the down-to-earth and actionable tips that Judy shared that were still flexible enough to fit a range of family & personality dynamics. 

You can listen to the full episode in the player below, or go check out the shownotes on the podcast's website

Studio Piano Parties

5 times during the year, this studio hosts a Piano Party, previously called a "bonus studio-wide group class," open to all students who would like to attend. Heading into this coming school year session, I've decided to re-name them "Piano Parties" because it's less of a mouthful, and is a better descriptor of the fun I am hoping students will have at these events. 

What do we do at Piano Parties, you ask? Well, each one has a distinct musical focus on a topic that may not always get the spotlight in lessons:
In July, we do a Rhythm party. With so many new students in the studio trying out lessons, and everyone feeling the energy to move around with the warm weather, summer a great time to reinforce rhythm reading & awareness by pulling out some of the more physical movement-based rhythm activities. In September we'll start off the school year with some Improvising. Students will learn how to rely on the chords, scales & timing we practice during …

Summer Reading List

What better time than Summer to discover some great books?! Today's post is a book list that shares some titles that tell the stories of musical artists or composers, some that have fun with music, and some that explore having positive self-esteem (very important for artists who are in the habit of being vulnerable by putting themselves into performing situations). As a former children's bookseller, and an avid reader, connecting with people about books is one of my most favorite hobbies. 

If you're looking for a way for your summer reading to get your piano kid out of the house, just head to your local library! Here in McPherson, the library's summer reading program gives kids a free book just for signing up, as well as entry into the drawing for the big prize. If they complete a reading log, they can earn more prizes AND more entries into the drawing. If you haven't checked that out already, you can learn all about the Summer Kid's Programming here, there are …