Monthly Archives: April 2010

Keyboard Fly Cards

Keyboard Fly Cards

How about using flash cards to teach brand new students the names of the piano keys? Make the cards a fun game that can be played several ways. That’s what I’m posting today. Jennifer, whose website I recently added to my blog roll  made the suggestion. Since I have been honing my Photoshop skills and had some new techniques to try out, I thought I might as well make something useful. If you’re a Photoshop user, you know that there is more than one way to do things, and there is an endless supply of new things to learn.

 Getting back to the cards, here are some suggestions.

  • You can use these to play Swat the Fly like the Fly Flash Cards I made earlier. Place the cards on a table, call out a letter, and the student swats it as quickly as possible.
  • You can play hide and seek with the cards, hiding the cards around the room. Tell your student to find the fly holding the “D”, for example. Little students need the cards to be very obvious. Older children like a challenge.
  • In a private lesson, have the student sit across the room from the piano.  While you time him with your phone or a timer, he grabs the card, runs to the piano, and plays it. This is a variation on my favorite keyboard game. It’s easy, fast, and it works.
  • In a  beginning group class,  pass out the cards and let students run up and play their note on the piano.
  • In a group, students sit in a circle and pass the cards while music plays.  When the music stops you call out a letter. The student with that cards runs up and “swats the key” by dropping a braced 3rd finger into the key.

 I hope some of you will leave a comment here for other ways to use these cards because I know how creative piano teachers are.

 There used to be a time when some of my students had trouble learning the names of the keys. I am happy to say that by using some games and a few worksheets at the beginning lessons, all of my students learn their piano key names quickly now and can identify them with speed. While learning sentences and ideas such as the Back yard where the Cat and Dog Eat and the Front door, where Granny and Auntie live are helpful to introduce the keys, I also needed some way for the student to identify them quickly and not have to count up from C. That is my objective with these games.

 This is a large PDF file with 2 pages. It may take a little while to download. There is one card that is intentionally left blank.  I’m not sure what you can do with it, but maybe you can come up with a game where it is the free card and the student can play any note he wants.


Filed under Group lesson ideas, Note Identification, Preschool Music Resources

Staff for My Magnetic Notes

Staff for Magnetic Notes

(This PDF has 2 pages, intended to be printed front and back. Set your printer orientation to Landscape.)

One of my latest posts showed the magnetic notes with the wand that has been such a big hit with my students.

Magnetic Wand and Chips

The only problem is that while I have made what seems like a zillion staves, there was not one in all my files that fit the little plastic chips.  I set to work to make some because there are so many things students of all ages can do with the magnetic wand and the chips, and they love the wand. I have to admit I like to play with it, too.

 I specifically made the staff I am posting today for my junior and high school students who  can use the chips to make major and minor triads, inversions, difficult intervals, and all forms of major and minor scales.  This staff  can also be used for ear training. If you are interested in staves in color, check out my website

What is different about this one is that not only does it fit my magnetic notes better, but there is a blank staff for the back included in the PDF. You can make twice as many as you need, printed on both sides, and when you need a longer staff, use the back to make the front staff longer.  Or you can laminate your 2 sided copy and use a dry erase pen to learn how to draw music symbols. This is the inexpensive way for new teachers or those of you out in the missionary field to get some supplies for theory classes, because you don’t have to use the magnetic chips. You can cut out paper that you have on hand, and I have to admit I have done that in the past.

Optional Back of Staff for Magnetic Notes


Some of you don’t have access to laminating machines, so see if you can find some clear vinyl to cover these staves so they will last longer.  This is what we did before the advent of laminating machines, back in the day!  [edit: Beverly posted a comment that she uses sheet protectors. When they get too marked up you can discard them. Thank for the idea!] I want to caution you, however, that some dry erase pens do not erase well on laminating material of any kind.  I have found that red, especially, do not erase well. The ones I am using now work if I don’t use red.

If any reader knows a brand  of dry erase pens that work well with laminated material, please post the comment here and I’ll update the post. Or send me an email. Pictures of your students using the materials are really appreciated!


Filed under Group lesson ideas, Theory

Returning to the Piano

Wendy Stevens, a friend to this blog, has a new publication.  Her latest book  Returning to the Piano, a Refresher Book for Adults is fresh off the press from her publisher, Hal Leonard. You can read her  post about it on her website here.  As far as I know, there is no other type of book on the market like this for adults that contains such a nice collection of music that adults really want to play. There are 96 pages and  pieces range from show-tunes, popular hits, and folk songs,  to classical arrangements adults like. Wendy is really an excellent composer and arranger, and her arrangements are always musically and fun to play. If you teach beginning adults or recreational piano for adults, check this out.

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Filed under Music Reviews

The Perfect Start for Note Reading

I like to review material that takes a different approach to teaching because I think there are always new ways to reach our students.  When I saw Kevin and Julia Olson’s new book The Perfect Start for Note Reading, Book 1, I was immediately interested in checking it out.  Kevin Olson is a well-known and accomplished piano composer so I was curious to take a look at what he and his wife, Julia, would put in a beginning book.

In the preface, it states that The Perfect Start is created “to give the beginning student a solid foundation for note reading and is designed to supplement any piano method.” How many times do we use an excellent method book  only to realize down the line that the student is not making progress. At this point we often look into supplemental music and we don’t want another method book that starts back in the pre-reading stage. What we need is  a book of sequential pieces that are simple, with easy rhythms, cleanly engraved so not to distract from note reading, and,  finally,  non-frustrating so the student will not give up.  Students who have trouble reading music need to feel successful.  All children learn at different rates, and some need more help than others. Teachers tell me all the time that a student has finished the Primer and not ready to go on and ask if I can suggest a book. This book is the perfect solution.

The rest of the preface suggests who might benefit from this book:  “The young beginner, the busy student, any student who might need reinforcement, and for sight reading”.

The other day I took the time to play through each piece and the teacher duets. The first thing I noticed is that this is not a method book.  There are no pre-reading pieces, but there are 7 pages of introductory material that review all the beginning concepts of music.

The pieces are short, 8 measures in length with  staves on the large side, but not too large for an older beginner.   The  illustrations, by Julia Olson,  are stylized black and white  drawings with light orange shading appropriate for all age levels.  There are clever lyrics to help with rhythm that can be used for all ages.  If you are looking for a colorful book with teddy bears and pink ponies,  this is not the book.  A slow learning older student will not be embarrassed because this does not look like a baby book.   The pages are clean without a lot of expression markings to confuse students.

The first notes introduced are middle C and D. Six pages are devoted to those 2 notes, so the student receives a lot of reinforcement.  There are 6 pages that use only C, D, and E. I can tell you that it is not easy to come up with appealing music using only 2 or 3 notes. I have tried it! Of course it is the teacher duets and  lyrics that must sustain interest, and this book  does that!  The teacher duets are full of the interesting harmonies Kevin Olson is famous for in his more advanced compositions. I enjoyed playing the duets and they are easy to follow along with the student. There is another thing I noticed about the teacher duets. Most of the time the rhythm cleverly follows the student’s rhythm to help the student  and not confuse him. I don’t know if this was done on purpose, but I suspect it was.

By the end of the 80 page book the student is playing a fifth above and below middle C. That makes this  one of the most thorough early elementary books I’ve come across. If you use this book along with a good selection of games,  worksheets, a solid method book, technique material, and some other simple supplementary music, I believe your student will be a lot more secure in note reading.

I know the next question you would like to ask is it a middle C position book. The answer is yes and no. Every piece has a notation at the bottom that tells you where to place the fingers after learning the piece in middle C position. Remember, this book is designed to keep students from becoming frustrated and giving up. Let’s face it, some students need this security.  Learning the piece in middle C and then playing it again with the third finger on D, for example, will give the student confidence to branch out of middle C position.  In the book it states, “Hand positions are only ‘guides”. They help you feel comfortable learning new notes. Once you are comfortable, you should explore your pieces further by starting on a different finger.”

When I decided to write a post on this book I emailed the composers and told them about my planned review. They had this to say:

This book was inspired by many of our students that were in need of some solid, note reading reinforcement. We have found that there are a large number of students that move through the method books without actually knowing their notes. This book is designed to reinforce the notes one at a time, so that students can build a solid foundation from the start. We have found that hand positions are comfortable for students to reinforce notes through this logical, steady approach. We realize, that it is important that students not become dependent in hand positions, and encourage teachers to use the alternate fingering options found throughout the book, as well as provide the student with other music that is not written in position.

The book lists a  website The Perfect Start for Piano that has flash cards, audio files, and worksheets. The Perfect Start for Note Reading is by Kevin and Julia Olson and is published by The FJH Music Company. FYI,  I bought this book in a new release package and I’m writing this review because I think this is a new resource that teachers should know about.

Bottom Line

  • To be used along with a method book
  • Starts on the staff
  • OK for varied age groups
  • Clean engraving with emphasis on  slow sequential note reading
  • Uses only the notes above and below middle C
  • Lyrics and musical teacher duets
  • Check out other piano pieces by Kevin Olson


  • check out other piano music by Kevin Olson


Filed under Music Reviews