Monthly Archives: July 2010

How to Play a Lead Sheet in One Easy Lesson

How to Play a Lead Sheet in One Easy Lesson

BlueBoy has fallen in love, GreenBoy is worried about copyright (aren’t we all), and RedBoy is mad that a girl as smart as him has arrived on the scene. If you aren’t familiar with my NoteBoy™ series of theory sheets, check them out.

When I was a teen I discovered very inexpensive fake books of popular music sold on the magazine rack of the local drug store. When I purchased my first one, (the Beatles) I  didn’t realize there was not a bass staff until I got home and saw only a melody line in the treble clef with chords. That was fine by me. I had already taught myself to play folk guitar so I was familiar with just chords and a melody line. In the enthusiasm of youth, I plunged into it and had lots of fun. It was easier for me than actually reading the music because I was a little lazy, I suppose.  

As a piano teacher, I have found that playing from a lead sheet doesn’t come as naturally to all of my students as it did for me. A lot of them are not interested, or maybe they need the comfort level of everything being written down. But some students want to learn how so they can play in praise bands, jazz groups, or  keyboard in garage bands. Some teachers want to get their students started, but are not quite sure where to begin.

I like to start from the beginning when I teach something, so I made a very straightforward handout in black and white, very serious and boring. But being my usual distracted self, I soon started adding  arrows and then color, and before too long, cartoons. I’ve found that my students are more attracted to something if there is a little humor and it is certainly more fun for me. Did you know that studies show people learn easier if humor is involved?

With that background, today I present a little handout that you can use to introduce your students to the world of playing notes that are not on the page. The students I made this for have been introduced to I and V7 chords in the key of C and are comfortable playing them. The age of the student will vary, but I make these NoteBoy sheets for students about age 11 and up.  Even my high school students love the NoteBoys when they are visually explaining things like chord inversions.   I do not suggest you use this with students who are in the beginning stages of learning to play the I and V7 chord progression.

What comes after this? One thing you can do is write the popular chords along with the Roman numeral analysis in their music so they can learn right away that  I V7  I   is  C  G7  C   or   G   D7   G.  Roman numeral analysis is necessary if students are serious about music, but  I think students need to learn both, and the theory behind the numbers and letters.

I would like to thank the excellent teachers Marcia and Deborah who graciously looked this sheet over and made some helpful suggestions.

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Filed under NoteBoys, Theory

Note Bingo

Note Bingo

When students come back to lessons after a break it is not unusual for them to forget note names, especially in the first few years of piano study.  I made a Bingo game to help with this problem. You can play it by trying to cover 3 in a row or if you have more time, Black Out. What I like about this game is that it is quick to play and will not take up a lot of lesson time. I tried to make these cards appropriate for all ages, so you can use these cards with older beginners, too.

Magnetic Wand and Bingo Chips

I’ve had many teachers ask where they can get magnetic wands and chips and I’m happy to announce that you can order them here. The student gets to scoop up all the chips with the magnetic wand and that makes the game more fun.

There are 8 student cards in this set so you can use this game in a group lesson, too. The last 2 pages are answer cards you can use as calling or drawing cards in various ways.

One time I played it so the student would pick a treble or bass card and then an alphabet card.

When played in a group, the teacher can pick a grand staff card and then call out the note, such as “high treble F”. If there is one student in your group who is more advanced, he can draw the grand staff cards and announce the name for the rest of the group.  

One of my young beginning students was having trouble remembering the treble and bass clef, so we only used the treble and bass answer cards and he would place a chip on a note if it was in the treble or bass clef. He didn’t even know the names of the notes yet.

You can also have students place chips on notes that are high or low, or lines and spaces. 

I try to make all my material so that the teacher can use it in various ways to suit each student or group. Actually the possibilities are endless depending on the level of your students, and that is the way piano games should be.


Filed under Note Identification, Texas State Theory Test, Theory

Sign and Symbol Hunt — from Cecilly



This is a picture I took along the coastal highway in California where I was visiting for a few weeks. The clouds are descending down from the mountains, but you can still see a little bit of the Pacific Ocean in the right corner. What a beautiful state, and the people are so friendly! I look forward to visiting again some day.

While I was there Cecily sent me a new activity. I’ve already thought of different ways I can vary this activity, and I’m sure it will spark your imagination, too. Cecilly is really creative when it comes to thinking up new ways to make piano lessons more interesting.  She designed this as a refresher activity when students return from their summer break, as well as prepare new repertoire. I’m going to try this with all my festival pieces and see if it will help students put in expression from the very beginning. If you have a student who never notices what is on the page, try this out. I will be making some flash cards with signs and symbols, so check back for that.  

Here is the game in her own words. Thanks, Cecilly, for sending it to me.

Sign & Symbol Hunt

Materials needed: a specific piece of music you plan to prepare with a student
as part of their assignment, flashcards of all the signs & symbols present in
the score of that piece plus a few extra ones that aren’t in the score.

Set up: Place all the flash cards face up on the floor or table top in random

To play: Open the student’s book to the given piece you’ll be preparing and
introduce it by title, etc. Ask the student to take about 10 seconds to
carefully look over the music making mental notes of any signs and symbols he sees that
will help him learn the piece and play it musically. After this time, have the
student bring his book to the floor or table of flashcards and find as many of
the signs/symbols he can in the music on the flashcards. He can gather the cards
into a pile. There should be some left over because you placed extra ones.
Return to the piano with the book and cards. Then take the first card. Have
the student find this sign/symbol in the score, and then depending on the card,
help the student apply the sign/symbol at the piano. For example, if the card
is the time signature symbol for the meter of the piece, have him point along
the melodic line and count metrically. If the card is a slur sign, select a
phrase and challenge the student to play that phrase smoothly. If it’s a
dynamic sign, find where that dynamic marking is in the music and challenge the
student to play that phrase or section at that dynamic level. If it’s an 8va
higher sign, find it in the score and help the student practice making the 8va
move. So whatever the sign/symbol is, the student can “prepare” for this
element on the spot.

This will help draw the student’s attention to all the signs/symbols in the
score, refresh them in his mind AND fingers, and prepare the piece for his
assignment all in one fell swoop.




Filed under Cecilly's Games, Music Vocabulary

Dennis Alexander on YouTube

Dennis Alexander has posted a number of wonderful, helpful videos on YouTube showcasing the piano method Alfred Premier Piano, which I reviewed last year.

Here is the link to one of the videos with Dennis playing a piece from Level 3A and from there you can follow the links to watch the others as you have time.

Dennis says that he did these videos “for the benefit of teachers who might be interested in trying out the method for the first time, or for teachers who are already using it who might gain some new insight into the pedagogy being used.” I think you can also use parts of these videos with your students to improve their musicality! 

I suggest you show this video to your students who are on the level to play this piece, even if they are not in this method book.  I don’t have a computer in my studio (can you believe it?) but my students are used to marching with me into my computer room for various show and tells.

Share just the musical performance part of the video with your student. The performance is short so you can play it for them twice. After your students  watch it, discuss it with them. Point out the polished dynamic contrasts. No matter how much my students insist they are adding dynamics, they often do not have enough contrast. After they listen to Dennis, discuss out how much more interesting the music is because of his mastery of the different colors of sounds. 

Next point out his hand position. For some reason it is easier to focus on hand position on a video than in person. It is for me and  I assume it will be easier for your students, too. Students need to learn that a good hand position will help them get the sound they want with a lot less effort and possible injury, too.

In the workshops I’ve attended with Dennis, he is very big on gestures such as the exciting rocket up of the hand after a dashing passage. I tell my students that playing the piano has a certain element of acting and drama. What the listener hears is influenced by what he sees. When students see how much more exciting it makes the piece, they will be more willing to try it out. Watch some of his other videos and make note of places you can show to students who need some inspiration.

For those of you who do not have the opportunity to go to piano workshops and see master teachers perform and talk about teaching, these kinds of videos are a wonderful addition to our resources. Take advantage of them and your students will benefit greatly!

There is another helpful resource from  Dennis Alexander that you will be interested to know. On his website  he has posted not only the first page of  many of his compositions, but recordings, too.  So now your students can listen to his music played by the composer! This will also be a big time saver for teachers who are looking for new material.

Dennis Alexander is a composer for Alfred Publishing and has published hundreds of pieces that students have enjoyed for over 20 years. He taught piano pedagogy at the university level for many years, in addition to teaching piano.  He is a wonderful performer, also.  I had the opportunity to talk with him over lunch about composing and teaching, and it was something I will always remember!


Filed under Music Reviews, Teaching Business