Monthly Archives: June 2009

Fourth of July for beginners

Fourth of July PR

Fourth of July

I have a preschool beginning student who is very enthused about taking piano. He’s only had a couple of lessons,  but each week I write  an easy little piece for him to play and he really likes them. We put them in a 3-ring binder that has a cute cover with his name on it that I made and printed out for him.  I print these  on 32 pound paper so they will hold up well.

This week I’m giving him this Fourth of July chant. It’s kind of hard to sing since the melody note is just a repeating E flat. If you are familiar with the beginning of the newer method books, this is the same kind of thing.  Teach your student to chant or sing the words in the correct rhythm keeping a steady beat.  Have your student “play” and chant on his lap until he memorizes the words before he tries to play it.  I hope the American flags will help the students’ eyes  track the finger numbers getting higher on the page.

If you don’t understand this page, here is how it works. The student plays right hand fingers 2 and 3 together on the black keys starting on D flat and E flat going up 3 octaves. The rhythm is 3 quarter notes and a dotted half note and repeats. At the end the student can improvise on the black keys while you play some sort of ostinato in the bass.

Triple meter can be challenging for young students. The more they beat these rhythms out on their knees or the fall board, the better they will be down the road. For those of you who may wonder why teach young children, the answer for me is that when they get older they have no rhythm problems, among other benefits.

One thing I wanted to do was encourage my student to improvise at the end. I don’t know if he’s ever seen fireworks, but I hope he has so we can play some shimmery sounds on the black keys. Of course, being a boy he might want to go down to the bass keys and play booms and crashes, and that’s ok, too. You never know who will turn out to be a composer!


Filed under Pre-reading, Preschool Music Resources

Photo Bookmarks


   Photo Music Bookmarks

This post is for those of us who love crafts!

At a camp once we made bookmarks and added pictures of the children. Now days everyone can take a picture and print it out almost instantly on their computer. Students love to have pictures taken and this might be a fun item to send home at the end of camp.

Print the PDF on card stock. Do not laminate at this point.  Cut out inside the frame along the straight red border with an Exacto knife. It works better to start at each edge of each side and cut to the middle. If it looks a little rough, you can clean it up with small scissors. In fact, you might be able to cut the inside with scissors.

After the inside is cut, you might  see some  white of the card stock,  so take a red Sharpie and color the white edges. Mine matched the red ink almost perfectly. Then put your photo behind the opening and move it around until you get the best view. Trim the photo larger than the opening and glue. Sign and date the back. Now you are ready to laminate or cover it with clear adhesive paper. Remember, most home printers use ink that will run when wet, so it is important to laminate them in some way. In the summer, perspiration on your student’s hands are enough to smear the ink,  and you don’t want them messed up before they get home!

If you want to get fancy, before you laminate make a backing for your bookmark with another piece of white paper and glue it to the back.  Punch a hole at the top and tie a ribbon at the top. A tassel would be nice, but they are hard to find unless you order them on the internet.

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Filed under Teaching Business

Review: American Popular Piano


Once upon a time about 250 years ago there was a young boy named Wolfgang who took music lessons with his father. To keep the young squirmy boy interested, his papa tempted him with a steady diet of inspiring music by such top-notch composers as Monterverdi, Palistrina, Byrd, and Gibbons. To make it a little more educational he threw in some 500-year-old plain chant. Little Mozart resisted and begged to play some popular music. Like a lot of young people of his time, he was especially fond of minuets. And his father, wanting to be up to date, obliged the little boy and said he could play some popular music, but only in the summer and only if he learned his other, real music, first.

Of course I just made this up. Leopold Mozart wrote pieces in the contemporary style of the time for his young son. So why do some musicians today only regard music by long dead composers as the only valid music to teach piano students?

Why not have a carefully sequenced method series that uses the music styles of today? Why not seriously teach these styles with a series that starts at the beginning and moves gradually up to the early advanced level? Why not offer this in addition to classical music?

Christopher Norton and Scott McBride Smith, very well known in the field of piano pedagogy, have written a series that does just that. Recently I had an opportunity to hear this series presented in depth. I bought the books and played through all the pieces. I was very impressed with the quality of the music. Christopher Norton has a long history of writing well-composed music in popular styles.  The music is carefully graded to progress gradually. It is meticulously edited by Scott McBride Smith with all the musical elements we want our students to learn. All popular styles are represented. I love the covers, which will work for any age. There are no “popular” hits in these books. All of the music is specifically composed for the piano in popular styles students are used to hearing.

There are 9 levels complete with Repertoire, Etude, Technic, and Skills books. The books can be also be used as a supplement to your regular method. Inside the Repertoire books, there is a CD of backing tracks for the Repertoire and Improvisation Edude books. There is a practice and performance tempo track and all the tracks are carefully listed on the back cover.  I have really playing along with the CDs! This summer I hope to work on improving my improvisation skills. I improvise a lot, but always on my own. These CDs will allow me to improvise within a group. I also like the Glossary at the end of the Repertoire book. You might need to study up on all the different popular styles so you can have more fun teaching them.  

I would like to point out this is not a beginning method book in the traditional sense. Students should be reading notes around middle C before starting the Primer book. If you’re one of those teachers who just has to use a specific primer book or you’ll fall off the bench, your piano will burst into flames, and your students will never get to the conservatory, you can start the students the way you usually do and then move into this series.

Let’s make it our goal to give students quality music in today’s styles as well as the great classics. Check out the web site at you can view a discussion of these books. The videos will probably answer all your questions. American Popular Piano is published by Novus Via Music Group and distributed by Hal Leonard.


Filed under Music Reviews

Fourth of July Composing Activity

Composing Fourth of JulyFourth of July Composing Activity

If you have summer students or a summer music camp, you might be interested in this Fourth of July composing activity. This activity may take too long to do in a lesson, so students can do some at home, or you can work on it for several weeks in the lesson. 

As an introduction ask the students what instrument they would like to play in a marching band. Ask what is the difference in a band and an orchestra? Often children have never thought of that.

First learn the rhythm by saying and tapping the words. Find the syncopation and circle it if necessary. For younger students you may want to cross through the tied notes. Ask if they know why there are two notes over the word “band”.

Students can write their music in any key; this does not have to be in middle C position.  Beginning composers can write just a melody and alternate using the right and left hand on each staff system. Older students will want to write a melody with harmony. If they know tonic and dominate chords, even the 2- note variety, they will want to use them. Encourage all students to play a drum pattern in 5ths as an introduction. They can also improvise a coda using the same rhythm with the drum getting softer as the band marches away in the distance. It might be old hat to us, but not to the student. Elementary children think very concretely.

Remember good composing techniques such as repetition or sequence.  I have already built in rhythm repetition. There is nothing wrong with some lines being the same.  It is usually safe to use some sort of question and answer form. Often I will tell them to repeat one line and we decide that before we start to compose. This piece has the same rhythm in the first and last line. Show students how the melody can be the same except for the last few notes. The first line can end on the dominant and the last line on the tonic.  It is OK to set some limits, like only use steps and repeats, or steps, skips and repeats.  This actually helps the students.


Filed under Composing Activities, Holiday Music