Book Review - Kid's Guide to Learning Ukulele

Today's blog post is a throwback to when I was a bookseller in the Children's Department at Vroman's Bookstore, and one of our regulars was a music educator, and singer/songwriter, named Emily Arrow. Emily frequently writes songs based on popular picture books (here's her youtube channel), and would often stop by to check out the new releases and visit about kid's books. And just last month, she released an instructional book on how to learn the ukulele that I'm very excited about. 

Ukulele is one of those instruments that's pretty easy to pick up, especially for kids with some musical experience. A beginning instrument is not very expensive, and the neck & fretboard are the perfect size for little hands to get a start on a string instrument. With this book they'll learn about tuning, strumming, playing some beginning chords, learn up to 24 folk songs, and (my favorite) use the Song Recipe to write their own songs on the ukulele. The format is easy t…

March Practice Challenge

As we head into the home stretch of our studio school year, and look ahead to Progressions & the Spring Recital coming up in April, we've got one last practice challenge that is focused on getting us confident and performance ready: we are doing a bead challenge!

The way it will work is at by our last lesson of February, each student will have been assigned their recital piece & given the beginning of a lanyard (we'll keep these in the studio until the end of the month to prevent them getting lost). For every 10 times they practice their performance piece during the month of March, they can add a bead to their lanyard at their lesson. The goal is to practice those performance pieces 100 times during the month of March. For online students, we will choose the earned beads via Skype during lessons, and I will send your lanyard kit to you to assemble as you like at the end of the month.

Students who get 10 beads will have completed the challenge, and will earn a music char…

Staff Wars - Note Reading App Review

Every so often, I like to share an music education app that will help with home practice, and today, I'm sharing one that is sure to be a hit called Staff Wars. This will be especially helpful for students who are preparing for the upcoming Progressions evaluations, and we will be using it in lessons for the next month or so to help build their confidence for the written portion of the exam.

Staff Wars is a note reading app that can be played on an tablet or phone. It's set in outer space, and would be especially great for Star Wars fans, as the ship you are in looks remarkably like a public domain X-wing, and your objective is to shoot enemy notes out of the sky. 

As you get notes correct you will level up, and the notes will start moving quicker to increase the challenge. After your three lives are used up, the game is over, and you can play again, trying to improve on your last score. 

There are 2 ways to customize the notes you'll be trying to identify, especially for be…

Healthy Home Practice Environment Part 4: Encouragement

Today is the last week of our series all about setting up a Healthy Home Practice Environment, and I've saved a really important one. We're talking about encouragement. Piano kids work hard when they practice, and showing them that we recognize the work they are putting, and are proud of them for it, in is really important in inspiring them to keep it up. 

One of the tricks about giving encouragement and feedback is to make sure that it is authentic. If your child played through a piece and it sounded like a train wreck, we don't want to say "that sounded really great!" because they have ears too and they know whether or not it did in fact sound great. If they get used to us using vague generalizations to protect their feelings, they won't be as ready to listen when we really have something valuable to say. At the same time, I know that non-musical parents may not always know exactly what to say to support their children during practice. So, today, I'm sha…

Healthy Home Practice Environment Part 3: Learning Tools

Welcome back for part 3 of our series on setting up a Healthy Home Practice Environment! Last week we talked about some things to consider in making our home practice space more ergonomic for ease of use, and to support healthy technique. Today, I'm sharing some of my favorite home practice tools, or piano accessories if you will, that can help us achieve that.

Here are my 5 favorite tools to enrich your piano practice space:
1. If your piano space could use some more light, try a piano lamp.  2. If your piano kid likes mechanical things, how about a metronome? You can always download an app to a smart device, but having the real thing can be more fun and eliminate the distraction of a screen during practice time. 3. A footstool & something on the seat to boost their height (a folded blanket is my favorite quick fix) is good to have available for all practices. If you have a little who is using the pedals and want to invest in something a bit more piano specific than a foots…

Healthy Home Practice Environment Part 2: Ergonomics

Welcome Back for part two of our Healthy Home Practice Environment Series, and if you missed the first post about choosing where to put the piano you can read it here. I've titled this second part 'Ergonomics' for lack of a better term, because today we'll be talking about ways to make the space as functional, and as supportive for good technic and ease of movement, as possible. 

I've talked on the blog before about how important technique is to keeping your piano kids hands, wrists and even shoulders healthy as they (hopefully!) spend more and more time at the instrument. And there are some simple things to do in your home set up that can encourage this. 

Here are 4 quick things to take into account to support healthy technique. 
Leave plenty of space behind the piano bench. One of the biggest factors in poor technique are when students are sitting too close to the piano.If you have another piece of furniture (like a table etc) right behind the piano bench, the stud…

Healthy Home Practice Environment Part 1: Location

Happy New Year everyone! We're jumping into the new year with a blog series about helping set up a Healthy Home Practice Environment that will encourage piano students to visit the piano often during the coming year. 

Today our discussion is all about location. Where your instrument is located in the house can actually have a huge effect on your student's consistency in practicing. In creating a pleasant space to practice, you will show your child your family values music, and that can only help in instilling a sense of musicianship within themselves.

Here are 5 key things to think about when choosing where to put the piano:
1. For those with digital pianos, your piano should have a permanent location.  An instrument that has to be stowed away under a bed or leaned against a wall between practice sessions is simply not going to get practiced enough. Show your child that music is worth investing in by creating a permanent space for them to build their musicianship skills. 2. Quie…

Merry Christmas from Dawn's Piano - free sheet music gift!

Today's post is a wish for a very Merry (and musical!) Christmas and holiday season from our studio to your home.  And I'm sharing with you an elementary leveled piano solo of "The First Noel" that I prepared when I couldn't find exactly the right thing for one of my late elementary students who wanted to learn it this season. 

My goal was to create something with movement in the bass clef and to include some intro & interlude sections that would add some sophistication to this piece as a piano solo, but still be an appropriate level for an elementary leveled student. 

You can preview what the arrangement sounds like here:  

The sheet music is available for purchase on Sheet Music Plus, but for you, dear reader, you can receive a copy as my holiday gift to you by entering your email below!

The studio will be closed the next couple weeks so students and teacher alike can all enjoy some holiday down time with family & friends. The blog will go quiet for those…

Happy Birthday Practice Challenge

We've wrapped up our Pianovember practice challenge! If you want to see the final leaderboards on the challenge website you can head over to Our studio collected 4,395 total tallies. And here are some shout-outs to our top 5 Pianovember practicers: 

1. Elliot S - 895
2. Emory W - 659
3. Ruby T - 569
4. Gentri C - 393
5. Sloan S - 252

Way to go! 

For the month of December we'll have another little rest from practice challenges while we finish preparing for the Christmas Festival on the 14th, enjoy some holiday themed theory games, and work up some short playlists of Christmas pieces to entertain family over the break. 

When we resume lessons in January, we are going to kick off the Happy Birthday Practice Challenge. This one is actually quite easy, we just have to learn how to play "Happy Birthday"! I feel this is an important song for students to know because when birthdays come around, playing a piano accompaniment along to the singing of…

Music at the Holiday Table

Today I'm sharing a fun idea, that is not by any means new, to bring some music to the holiday table at your upcoming celebrations and family dinners during the holiday season: Musical Crackers! Christmas Crackers are a holiday tradition in the UK that sort of resemble the celebratory poppers full of confetti that we sometimes use here in the states during the 4th of July or other celebrations. However instead of containing confetti, they usually contain a paper crown and a small gift, favor or joke. Christmas Crackers make appearances in Harry Potter and other iconic British shows and books that have scenes taking place around Christmastime, and are traditionally opened at the end of the holiday meal while still at the table.

The sets that I am highlighting today are musical because each cracker contains the traditional paper crown and joke, as well as a small numbered instrument (chime, whistle or bell depending on the set you choose). They also come with some simple guides to so…

Technique & Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries

Going into this discussion of repetitive stress injuries, I want to take a second to re-frame the way we think of playing a music instrument. I think for a lot of us who may not regularly play, sitting down to play an instrument seems like a relaxing, somewhat sedentary activity. And while there is a calming element to playing beautiful music, I would argue that it's more our mood or spirit that feels the calm, while our bodies are very engaged in the fine motor movements that make the music. A colleague of mine from the McPherson Area Piano Teachers' League describes playing an instrument as being a 'fine motor athlete.' And that is exactly how I want us to frame our thinking as we head into a discussion about technique. 

I think to some extent most of us can understand the importance of learning proper form when playing a sport so as to avoid injury. We need to to do the same with learning to play an instrument. So my first two tips are going to be about form: 

"Here Come the High Notes" Book Review

I've recently received our studio copy of a brand new picture book that puts teaching the treble clef notes into a story format, it's called Here Come the High Notes and is written by Marin Marka, illustrated by Alexandra Tatu. 

I am looking forward to using this book in lessons, especially with my preschool and primer students, as a way to both introduce and familiarize the treble staff. Learning note reading takes time, and the directional reading and abstract thinking required for music notation can be difficult for younger learners. This is why I use so many resources that gamify this skill. And with the addition of this book to our studio library, we can start putting the treble notes into the context of a story as well!

One thing that I enjoyed in this book is that each note is given a little bit of personality that comes into play as they choose their place on the staff. This helps differentiate them without weighing down the story with too much detail. The book does unde…

2019 Fall Video Recital

Welcome to our Fall 2019 Online Video Recital! Thank you for tuning in. 
Over the past month or so, piano students have been working hard both at home and in the studio on their recital selections, and once a piece was prepared we would grab a video for this online performance. What you'll watch below is a compilation of all those collected videos.
This online format for our first recital of the school year provides a lower stress performance opportunity, while still providing the essential practice in working a piece up to a performance level. It also provides a way for all of Dawn's Piano students, in McPherson and online around the country, to participate in a recital together. And I especially really like this format is because it's perfect to share with out of town friends and family who want to cheer on your piano kid but might not be able to attend a traditional recital setting. 
Parents, friends and family, thank you for supporting your piano kids on their musical jo…

Lifelong Benefits of Music Study

This post is a huge pat on the back for all of you studio parents who are giving your kids the benefits of a music education. There is always new research being published about the positive effects music education has on brain health. In this post, I'll be sharing two studies that illustrate both the immediate academic advantages of practicing and instrument and the long-term role that music study can play in protecting the brain from effects of aging.

The first study I'll be sharing is a large-scale study performed by Peter Gouzouasis at the University of British Columbia. In his research he compared the academic test scores of high school students who had studied music in elementary school, and continued to study it in high school, with those of their peers who had not. The findings were that across the board, regardless of socioeconomic factors, teens who had studied a musical instrument not only scored higher than their non-musical peers, but were on average 1 year ahead o…

Perfect Pitch

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have perfect pitch? Or what perfect pitch even means? Do you suspect your piano kid might have it? How do we, as parents or teachers, train and equip young musicians who have this tool in their toolbelt to use it effectively? If you're curious about any of these questions, you'll want to check out this recent episode of the Piano Parent Podcast where Shelly hosted a Teacher Chat with two piano teachers who have perfect pitch. They discussed the benefits and challenges, as well as some teaching and home practice strategies for these students.  

You can listen to that full episode here, and if you want to know what some of my big takeaways were, read on below: 

I've been teaching for 13 years now, and have definitely had a few students in that time with some degree of perfect pitch. A few of the things that teachers Cheryl Reeder & Brianne Lundberg shared really made sense to me. 

First, perfect pitch is something of a spectrum, …