This is the size staff paper I use when I compose at the piano. Your older students will prefer it to the 8 stave paper I posted yesterday. The left margin is wider so students can put it in a binder.
I’ve posted some staff paper for my younger students that is big enough for their small hands but not too big for a grand staff. I left a little extra room at the top for a title. As with all of my material, click preview to print.
I really have enjoyed using the keyboard pentascale labels I made a a few weeks ago. However, some of my readers asked if I had thought about making two octave labels so they could write out full scales. Click here to get to my website and then click preview to print.
At first I was afraid they would be too small for the size label I have, but after trying it out, I think they are big enough to at least put dots on the keys. You might not be able to write in finger numbers. If you don’t want to buy 1″ X 2 5/8″ address labels, you can cut them out and tape them on your student’s assignment books. That is what I did when I first tried them out.
There is a wonderful 3M Scotch™ brand tape that is removable. It’s rather hard to find, and more expensive than regular tape, but I always keep some on hand. You can tape one of these little keyboards on their assignment book and the next week remove it and place it on a new page. If you do this, you won’t have to buy labels, and the tape is a lot less expesive than buying adress labels. The tape works like those little yellow sticky notes that teachers love so much. It is sold in either a roll that you have to put in your own dispenser, or sometimes I find it in a plastic dispenser like regular Scotch™ tape. I think I usually buy it at craft stores, and when I do I stock up. It lasts me a long time, because after all, you can move things around and use them over and over!
I made the octave labels in brighter colors than the pentascale labels to help from getting mixed up. The pentascale labels can be found here. If you have any questions about how to print out these lables, contact me!
I’ve mentioned before that I owe the esteemed pedagogue Jane Bastien a big favor, because she is the teacher who gave me the idea for the One Minute Club that I have been doing in my studio for years. If my students can say and play grand staff flash cards in one minute or less, they become a “member”. The student who is the fastest is the overall winner and I give some sort of prize. This year it was a gift card to an ice cream parlor. To allow more winners, once a student has won, he or she never has to do it again, so someone else gets to win. The winner is always a high school student because at this age their motor skills are highly developed. This year a student was able to say and play all the notes on the grand staff in 17 seconds. That’s pretty fast! I only spend about 6 weeks of the year on this activity because otherwise it becomes predictable drudgery and isn’t fun.
Elementary children have to really work to be able to get their time under a minute. I keep a yearly record and sometimes it takes several years, so once they can do it they are very proud of themselves. I make a business size card that I give to the elementary students and in the little star-burst on the right side of the card I put in the number of years they have received it. No one seems to mind that it is always a high school student who wins. It gives the young students something to look forward to, and adds a little hero worship to my studio.
One year a very young student was able to be a member and a few weeks later he told me he got a wallet just so he could put his card in it. I make a different card each year and I think they enjoy seeing what the card will look like each year. I tell them the cards are “collectible”. This year I used a drawing of a piano that my daughter painted for me.
My cards are made to be printed on Avery Business Cards #5371, or a template that size. However, if you have one of the easy to use graphic programs such as Print Shop or Publisher you can make your own cards. You can even make them in Word because there is a business card template built into the program. You can download cute clip art from the web. If you don’t have a color printer, you can make it in black and white and use colored card stock to print the card. Write me if you need some help making your own.
I don’t have time here to go into how I prepare students to learn their notes, but this activity is not the only thing I do, especially with young students and beginners. I use all kinds of activities to get students to this point, including the games and activities I’ve posted as well as a lot of other activities. That is one reason we wait to do the One Minute Club at the end of the spring semester. What I have found over the years is that if students know the names of the notes and where they are located on the keyboard, they do better in piano lessons. While I teach by intervals and I think that is very important, students who know their notes quickly learn their music faster and enjoy piano more, especially when they are no longer in 5-finger positions.
By the time they are teens they don’t really care about getting this card, so don’t bother to make one for this age group. They do, however, enjoy trying to beat the other high school students in how fast they can play the notes!
Every teacher has to increase tuition at some point. If not, we would still be charging $2.50 a lesson like I did when I first started teaching. If you are a new teacher, have you given any thought to how you plan to raise your tuition when the time comes? Here is an example of what not to write:
Parents, as you know my husband lost his second job when he fell off the bull at the rodeo last month. With the economy like it is, this has caused a hardship to our family, especially since Grandpa is missing again and not sending checks for Judy’s kick boxing lessons. Plus, Johnny has been selected for the select polo team and while we’re excited, it’s not cheap!!! So please, if you don’t mind, be sure to give me $5.00 extra in lesson money starting next week. I know it’s going to be a hardship for you, but my husband said if I don’t bring in some extra money soon, I’ll have to give up my iphone and go back to greeting at Walmart. Thanks!!! –Suzie
The above letter is a humorous attempt to break every rule of professional business communication. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional piano instructor, get in the habit of using the word “tuition”. When it is time to raise your rates, do it in a business-like manner. Even with the cost of postage going up, send your letter through the mail. Don’t hand it to the student or the big sister because it will probably never reach its destination. Email is fine for notices and reminders, but a tuition increase is one of the few things that should be snail mailed.
Here are some more pointers.
Keep your letter short and to the point. You should not give a reason to raise your rates, even “the current economy”. Keep your personal life out of your business. Don’t be apologetic; this is your business. Give parents plenty of notice and do not make a sudden decision to raise rates at the last minute. Never give more information than is needed. If you teach by semesters, then it is best to inform parents that tuition will raise the next semester, or the next fall.
Effective September 1, 20– monthly tuition will be $xx.00 or $xx.00 per semester for 45-minute lessons.
Monthly tuition for 30 minute lessons will be $xx.00 or $xx.00 per semester.
Lately there has been a lot of talk on the web by piano teachers about teaching our students how to compose. I have posted a lot of activities for beginning students to compose, and I hope this has helped to get the ball rolling. But often teachers need more than just an activity. Wendy Stevens is a very accomplished composer who has a blog to help with music composition. I’ve had a link to her site for quite a while over in my blog roll, and recently she has been posting some great ideas about how to encourage our students to compose. If you click here, you will go to her post “10 ways to encourage composition in your studio”.
Please let me know how your composition efforts have turned out. I would love to post some student compositions here on my blog. If you have student composition your student would like to share, send it along or even part of it along. I think a lot of teachers would feel better about teaching composition if they could see some examples of at least parts of some compositions! I can use or not use the name of your student, depending on your preferences. Even just a few measure would be helpful.
The other day I was drawing a tiny keyboard on my younger student’s assignment book and I had her draw dots on the correct keys. As we worked together looking for whole and half steps, I casually said that my drawing was kind of sloppy, and it would be a lot easier to read and more fun if I had some keyboard stickers. So I sat down at my computer and designed some! Actually they were easy to make because I’ve been designing my own labels for years and I drew the keyboard about 10 years ago. You probably recognize it from my pre-reading solos and my picture scales! However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this, so for your whole and half step pleasure, I’m offering Keyboard Labels. Please let me know what you think!
Now all I have to do is peal one off and stick it in my student’s assignment book. This will give students a handy reference, plus it will encourage them to look in their assignment book.
I used Avery White Address labels, product number 8160. I printed my labels directly from the PDF I’m posting here and my graphic fitted on the labels perfectly, so I hope you have the same luck. In case you can’t find this particular Avery product, the label size is 1″ x 2 5/8″ and there are 30 labels on each page. Before you print on your label sheet, try printing on a regular sheet of paper and hold it up to light to see if it aligns with your particular labels. I’m posting a picture of one of the sample ones I made. Your copy will not have the green border because it didn’t seem necessary.
I didn’t want to leave off Dad, so I wrote a Father’s Day composing activity. Unless you have real young students, by this time of the year students are now reading notes. However, this piece is a little challenging to students who have just started reading music. There are several skips which you will need to circle and practice in the air. You will notice that I put the RH thumb on D and not middle C. That is because I like to use other positions besides middle C. I think it is easier on the bridge of the hand, and in the long run, helps music reading by intervals.
This piece is written in the C pentatonic scale. Here is a suggested way to teach this activity. Step one is for beginning or problem readers. Skip this step if your student can sight read this section.
1. Learn the 8 measures that are already composed by tapping the rhythm on the fall board while singing the words. Alternate between singing the words and your favorite way to count the rhythm. Find and circle the skips with a marker. Point out and draw a square around the leap of a 4th in measure 5 with another marker color. If they haven’t learned about 4ths, call it a leap. Play measure 6 in the air. Have the student play one hand while you play the other. Switch sides. On the fall board tap the rhythm using the correct hands for each staff. When the student is ready, play both hands.
2. Tap the rhythm of the composing section. Discuss some possible words that will go with the rhythm. If your student has some ideas, write them in. If the student comes up with a different rhythm, change the rhythm notes I wrote above the staff.
3. On another staff such as a white board or a large staff , show the 5 notes in this piece. Have your student play these notes and only use them in their composition. Unless they change hand positions, the last note should be bass clef middle C.
4. Going measure by measure, write in the notes on the staff. The student should play the previous measure before writing a new one so it makes musical sense. When finished, play the new section several times and adjust if necessary.
Sometimes students don’t like to follow suggestions and want to write notes that make no musical sense. There are several reasons for this such as a power play, silliness, a contrary nature, or genuine musical curiosity. I stay flexible and if I see a battle coming, I let them write whatever they want, as long as they can play it. Don’t engage your student in an attention seeking power play. You know what kind of student I am talking about!
When your students start to compose music on their own, they will need a reference book to answer tricky questions such as in a 3/4 meter measure with one quarter note, do you use 2 quarter rests or one half rest. Students need to learn the importance of notating music in the conventional way so that it is easy for the music reader. The book I recommend is Essential Dictionary of Music Notation by Tom Gerou and Linda Lusk, published by Alfred in 1996. It is a very tiny paperback, about 4″ by 5″ in size, full of illustrations and examples. It also has a very tiny price, $6.95, making it affordable for students. This is really an excellent book, as good or better than some of the more expensive textbooks I have seen, especially for writing piano music.
However there is a new book on the block, Essentials of Music Notation. This book has a similar title and is by the same authors, Tom Gerou and Linda Lusk, and is also published by Alfred. I expect there is going to be some confusion when I suggest one of these books to students and teachers. Essentials of Music Notation is very new, published in March 2009. It is a larger 80 page paperback, 9″ by 12″, and is more comprehensive. Everything you need to know about music notation is in the book and it is still a very affordable $11.95. This new book has an interesting format, two columns on a page, and is also full of excellent illustrations and examples. It is quite easy to understand and easy to look up questions, even for a beginning composer. I highly recommend this book to teachers and students who want or need a book with more depth than the Dictionary of Music Notation above. You really can’t go wrong with either of them. If you want to look inside the book, do a search in Amazon and you can see that it will answer all your music notation questions. As soon as I saw it was available, I added it to my collection. Also, since it is larger, maybe it won’t get lost on my desk!
Thanks to Alfred Publishing for making these books available at such a reasonable price!