Monthly Archives: June 2010

American Portraits by Wendy Stevens

Wendy Stevens the creative teacher from ComposeCreate has a new book, hot off the press, called American Portraits, Six Character Pieces for Piano Solo. The premise of this book is original. Wendy chose 6 people from American history, unsung heroes as she writes in the preface, and wrote a piece about each of them. I love history and I am actually certified to teach it, so I was immediately intrigued by this book and rushed down to the Hal Leonard booth at TMTA and bought a copy. I am glad that I did, because I have  been enjoying playing through the book and getting to know the pieces.

 The music is late intermediate level. As I played, I tried to imagine the historical figures and what they must have gone through, and the courage and inner strength they must have had. The music expresses this and it is easy to get lost in the music and just enjoy the imagery.

 The music has interesting but beautiful harmonic shifts and some syncopated rhythms that will delight your students. There is a contemporary feel, and the music has lovely melodies that are sometimes haunting, sometimes playful, but always heroic and larger than life, like the heroes she is writing about. Each piece is about 4 pages and can be played by students with small hands on the small side.

 The character sketches include Abigail Adams, Davy Crocket, the artist Thomas Moran, Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad, the midnight riders of revolutionary times, and pioneer women. There is an entire page of a  picture and insightful biography before each piece.

 There is also a page of performance notes that describe each piece. For example, in Frontier Chorus, the piece about Davy Crocket, Wendy begins, “The melody in the A section begins like one I would imagine Davy Crockett whistling on a clear, crisp morning.” These performance notes will help your students capture the spirit of these American heroes and learn something about style and imagery. Hal Leonard is certainly to be commended for including these extra pages that make the pieces come to life. Hal Leonard also has posted some pages from the book.

 In our local schools there is a history fair each year, and I think this book would be a great starting point to choose a project. This would also be a good book for students who are looking for a home school project. I hope some of the teachers and parents reading this will consider working this book into their students’ history curriculum if the student is capable of late intermediate music. Another suggestion would be for a teacher to discuss and perform these as a mini-recital in a history class, a history club, or at a senior center. Teachers could even have a student recital with a “hero”  or historical American  theme. If you have any suggestions for other music with this theme, please post in the comments to share with others.

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Filed under Holiday Music, Music Reviews

Silly Sentences for Summer Group Lessons


Silly Sentences with no graphics

I had some requests for the Silly Sentences Game without the Christmas graphics. I made this game for a holiday group lesson and I was surprised how much the students enjoyed it. Other teachers, too, said their students liked it and asked me to take off the Christmas graphics so they could play it anytime. So, finally, here it is, just in time for summer group lessons and music camps.  To play the game and read the directions, look back at my original post from December 2009, called, appropriately, Silly Sentences.

This new black and white version has two PDF pages, one with the vocabulary words and one with the silly sentences. If you have younger students, use the sentences near the top, and use the cards toward the end with your older students.

Wouldn’t it be fun for students to make up their own silly sentences? Teachers with long summer camps might have time to do that.

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Filed under Group lesson ideas, Intermediate Students, Music Vocabulary

The Notorious NoteBoys™ Teach Major Scales

What is a Major Scale

If you’re not familiar with my NoteBoys, they are the characters I use to add a little humor to music theory. My students have learned the personalities of each NoteBoy and look forward to new installments of the series. I usually make one good copy, laminate it, and keep it on the sofa table so that students can look at it while they wait for their lesson. I also pull them out when I see that students need a more visual explanation of some theory concepts. Some teachers put them in a binder with plastic sheet protectors and have the students use a dry erase marker on the sheet protector.

If you haven’t seen all my NoteBoy posters, here are the links to some of them.

These three teach chord inversions:

Circle of 5ths:

“Mighty Dot” explains dotted notes:

Last week I was at the Texas Music Teachers convention. I enjoyed meeting a lot of teachers who like my website and I am very humbled by your appreciation of what I do. I brought home a lot of new music and a few books in particular that I want to review. The major publishers were there, but unfortunately some of their sessions were at the same time so I’m sure there was a lot I missed.

In addition to reviews, I have another Noteboy poster in the pipeline and I have a few more beginning worksheets that I’ve not posted yet.


Filed under NoteBoys, Texas State Theory Test, Theory

Hot Cross Buns – Pre-reading for Left Hand

Hot Cross Buns for Left Hand

When I made up the original Hot Cross Buns for the right hand, I also made one for the left hand and due to popular demand, I am posting the left hand version today.

Put this in their binder with the right hand version and  ask your young students the difference in the two pages. See if they can notice that the stems go down, the buns are on the left side, the finger is blue, and the border is a different color. Learning to notice things on the page will help later on when they have to notice musical symbols and expression marks.

Why do some people like me have so much trouble with their right and left hand?  When someone says use your left hand, to find it quickly I make an “L” with my left hand and thumb. I have students who do that, too.  I’m right handed, but I use my left hand for a lot of things, such as eating and using a computer mouse. I don’t know if that has something to do with it or not.

I’ve seen teachers get impatient with those of us who have this problem and say “left hand, left hand, left hand” louder and louder, as if saying it louder is going to help. Trust me, it doesn’t! The best thing to do is just accept that it has nothing to do with intelligence or musical ability and go on from there. One of my students is a wonderful artist and musician, and yet she always mixes up her hands. She composes and plays by ear, too. I usually just gently touch the hand I want her to use and that works.  


Filed under Pre-reading, Preschool Music Resources