Monthly Archives: January 2010

How Sweet the Sound

Wendy Lynn Stevens sent me a copy of her new book of hymn arrangements, How Sweet the Sound,  and I have been enjoying them immensely for several weeks.

These elegant late intermediate piano solos have a peaceful, timeless quality and are appropriate to play for preludes offertory, and postludes. The 9 solos include Day of Arising, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, There is a Balm in Gilead, Thine Is the Glory, This Is My Father’s World, ‘Tis So Sweet, We Walk by Faith, and Not by Sight. There is also a beautiful medley of How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds with Amazing Grace. I would not have thought to put those 2 hymns together, but it is a wonderful choice.

I have written before how well Wendy knows how to craft music. These artistically written solos are mostly reflective and peaceful in nature, but there is also a spirited version of Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said. These arrangements are perfect for both the accomplished church musician and a talented student to use in recitals or festivals. It is worth mentioning that these are not specifically teaching arrangements (there are no finger numbers) but this is a good choice for a student who aspires to be a church musician. They are also excellent for any student who will benefit in a  study of rubato and playing freely with imagination and artistry.

How Sweet the Sound is published by Augsburg Fortress. Contact Wendy if you are interested in purchasing this book from her website, or ask for it at your favorite music store.

1 Comment

Filed under Music Reviews

Three C’s (A Giant Staff)

Giant Staff

If you teach using guide notes with your  young students, you might be interested in an activity I call Three C’s. I made it to help young students learn middle C, bass C, and treble C, but of course it can be used for other activities as well.  

Lately I have been teaching the three C’s together as guide notes  before I teach G and F. I have found that many beginning students get  mixed up and I wanted to try something different. Instead of starting with middle C, treble G, and bass F, will it be easier to remember 3 C’s first before branching out?

Counting lines and spaces symmetrically (illustration only, not for printing)

In order to help students remember, I made a giant staff as a manipulative.  I tell them it’s called Three C’s because we are placing 3 C’s on the staff and we go up 3 spaces for treble C and down 3 spaces for bass C. If you count from the bottom up on the bass clef, you might wonder why I am counting down. The reason is because counting up the treble and down the bass staff is more intuitive for children who are learning middle C. This is the way Faber’s My First Piano Adventures teaches counting on the staff and I have found it works very well.  I am not a teacher who always does something just because that was the way I was taught! Does it hurt later on when they start to read chords from the root up? No, I have not found that to be a problem.


Posted separately are the notes for the giant staff.

Notes for the Giant Staff

Three C’s is the largest grand staff I have on my website. The spaces are 1 1/2 wide and the grand staff is about 14 inches high.

To construct the grand staff , first, print out the treble and bass pages. Laminate them with clear vinyl or a laminating machine.  You will have to attach them together. I used clear mailing tape to tape right sides together, being careful to get the line for middle C exactly in the middle and spaced an even distance from the treble and bass staves. My home lamination sheets are only 8 1/2 by 11, so that is why I had to tape the staves together. Also, the way I taped them makes it easy to fold together and put in a file folder for storage with the notes.   

Next, print out the notes for the grand staff, but do not laminate them yet.  Cut out the notes, including out the insides of the half and whole notes. After the notes are cut out, laminate them being careful not to put them too close together.  You will need to leave some space around the notes when you laminate them. If you are using clear vinyl such as clear book covers, you will have to cover both sides to get the same effect. Cut them out again, leaving about 1/2 inch or more clear laminating border around the notes so the children can handle them easier.  Now when students place the half and whole notes on lines, they will see the staff lines underneath the note.

You might need some small embroidery scissors to cut the insides of the notes.  If you can see a little white inside the notes because it is hard to cut close, color the white edges with a black Sharpie.

If this looks and sounds complicated, it is not. I was able to print it all out, laminate it all, and get it ready for a student in about 30 minutes, and that includes the cutting time.

I made quarter and half notes for this set because so many times students learn only how to place whole notes and get totally confused when the notes have stems. This is especially true with young children and older children with learning disabilities. We practiced placing the whole notes first, then on top of that we would place notes with a stem so students could see how it is the note head that is in the space or line. That is so simple to us, but to children it is often a revelation!

 I teach reading by intervals, but it is still necessary to learn how to identify notes, not only to give students confidence,  but so they can learn to quickly move from one to position to another. It might not be evident  from all the activities I have on my website, but I take a fairly relaxed attitude toward note reading. Eventually they all will learn them if you keep plugging along.  

This manipulative is also handy for older students to review all their notes, and to practice the stem rule. 

Let me know how it goes!


Filed under Note Identification

Wings on Ice

Wings on Ice

With all the cold weather we’ve been having, I thought I would re-post Wings on Ice, an early intermediate piece I wrote for a student who loved to ice dance. She was going through a rough time  and I wanted something she could learn easily and play fluently. But most of all, I wanted to write something just for her to let her know she was special.

This has never been edited, so if you find mistakes, please let me know!


Filed under Early Intermediate

Poor Fuzzy Wuzzy

Poor Fuzzy Wuzzy

I used to have a lot of the pieces from my book Sunny Solos up on my website, but I took them down to make room for other things. I’ve had a request to re-post Poor Fuzzy Wuzzy, so here it is.

This is a RH only piece in D minor.  My students are quite used to the thumb on middle D, but if your students are not and you are branching out of middle C position, have them read by intervals. This piece only has steps and repeats, which is easy.

Here is a hint for new (and newish) teachers. I’ve found that students usually don’t have reading problems until they start playing skips. So if you want to try music out of middle C position, start with the ones that only move by steps. If you do, your students will  do so much better later on when they get to skipping notes out of middle C position. 

There are no expression suggestions on this, except to start “sadly”.   Instead,  I ask the students to write them in the music. After singing the words and tapping the rhythm, I ask the students if there is a place in the music they would like to add another expression and maybe speed up, and of course they love to speed up in the 7th measure. If the student can write fairly well, they can write the word “happily” above the 7th measure. All the children understand that Fuzzy isn’t really sad, but he’s just “happy to be Me.” This is part of the message I try to promote in my studio that we are all different, but special in our own way. If you ask your young student how he is special, you may get to know your student a little better.

This piece is good for the kindergarten and 1st grade set. My daughter is the artist on this one!

Comments Off

Filed under Elementary Music, Preschool Music Resources

Irish Celebration


Irish Celebration is the latest piece by Wendy Stevens, published by Hal Leonard. It is a “Showcase Solo” which means that it is leveled with the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library, which is a piano method popular with many teachers. This series starts with Level One, not a Primer level, so Level One on the front means it is an Early Elementary Piece. It is written on-the-staff in the key of C, with 3 pages including a teacher duet. 

Irish Celebration is a jig with very large notes that will make your youngest students feel very comfortable. As we know, large notes make it look easy, and when we show a piece to our students, we want them to feel like they can do it. At the top of the page there is a keyboard diagram to show students where to put their hands. This is a very handy thing to have because, while the right hand is in middle C position, the left hand pinkie will sit on E, not F as it does in a true middle C position piece. But this is not a problem because the left hand only plays 2 notes the entire piece. If your student can only play in middle C position, this is a good piece to start branching out.  I’ve said many times on this blog that middle C position is very awkward for the hand, and it is so much better if the thumbs are on different keys. I have personally arranged many pieces for my beginning students with the thumbs touching, but not on the same key.

Sometimes I look at a piece with just 7 notes  and wonder how the composer managed to make such appealing music out of so little. Irish Celebration  is one of those pieces. Wendy, my hat goes off to you, because you have written another winner. This piece is a jig, written in 3/4 time, but like all Irish jigs it has a  6/8 feel. It is written  in 3/4 time to be accessible to the beginning student. That means the piece should be played fast with one beat in a measure. Students will love this tempo. Just the other day one of my students told me he didn’t want any more “boring” pieces. I asked what made a piece fun and not boring, and he said “a fast song!” I guarantee that Irish Celebration is a fun piece. The teacher duet is appealing and also helps the student get the feel of the rhythm.

Before you start to teach this music to your young ones, work some on feeling 6/8 rhythm. Sit on the floor and chant or sing some 6/8 songs. There are so many: Hickory Dickory Dock,  Mulberry Bush, Jack and Jill, the list is endless. That’s because spoken English falls naturally into a 6/8 meter. Take a look at any nursery rhyme book and you will see what I mean. As you say the rhyme, you and your student should keep the large beat on your lap or the floor. Be sure you are beating the dotted quarter note in 6/8 meter, not the “small beat” eighth note.  Then change quickly to you singing the melody to The Irish Washer Woman while also beating the dotted quarter note. I don’t know the words to that tune, but I can sing it with fa, la, la, la.  Have fun with it by starting slow and then singing (and beating) faster and faster. This will really get the child to feel the rhythm of a jig.

Then go back to the piano and tap the rhythm of Irish Celebration (using whatever counting method works for you) on the piano lid. Now you are ready to teach Irish Celebration! The notes are not difficult, mostly steps, so it is a very good beginning reading piece.

More Music For St. Patrick’s Day

If you are looking for more music for St. Patrick’s Day, Melody Bober (FJH Publications) has written a level 1 solo that my student’s love, The Leprechaun’s Jig. Here are some more:

 Schaum Publications: Jolly Leprechaun by Schaum, E

Hal Leonard: Jazz Jig by Keveren, EE 

Willis: Jaunty Jig by Hudelson, Elementary

Kjos: Dublin Irish Jig by Bastien, Level 4

Willis: Irish Suite by Melody Bober, Intermediate

FJH: Farewell to Ireland by Timothy Brown, Intermediate

These are not particularly St. Patrick’s Day, but I like them

FJH: Three Wishes by Kevin Olson, Pre Reading

FJH: The Troubadour by Kevin Olson, Intermediate (My student and I liked this so much when it first came out, I wrote Kevin and told him how great we thought it was. Later it became at NFMC choice piece! This is a great piece for teens who like Celtic sounding music)

There are many, many more pieces that can be used for St. Patrick’s Day. I did a search of all the publishers and came up with many songs about rainbows, pixies, castles, ponies, and jigs. I have also posted on my website a few games with shamrocks and a composing piece for beginners with a St. Patrick’s Day theme. If you have a favorite St. Patrick’s Day piece you can recommend, please send me an email. Éire go Brách!

Comments Off

Filed under Elementary Music, Music Reviews