Category Archives: Music Reviews

Tasty Tunes by Wendy Stevens



Wendy Stevens has a new book published by Willis Music Company and she shared a copy with me.  Tasty Tunes is an early to mid-elementary book with 10 original pieces all about food.  I know from personal experience that food is definitely one of the top topics for elementary age children. They love to talk about food and make jokes about different food combinations. So why not a music book all about food?

The idea is cute and  the cover is a beautiful color picture of French fries, but what about the music? Well, the music is very nice. There are appealing lyrics to most of the pieces. Children are going to enjoy reading the lyrics and talking about them. Lyrics are a great starting point for playing with style and artistry.  Also, at this level lyrics are used as a tool to learn the rhythm of a piece.

Some of the titles are Macaroni Pizza, Rock ‘n’Roll Rotini, A Pickle Sandwich, French Fries, Ice Cream, and 6 more. Wendy has several children, so I know she was was writing to appeal to them!

Each piece has a different musical style, from folk, to tango, and a rock/boogie sound. Many of the pieces have clever rhythmic ideas that make the melodies fun to play. As the book progresses, the music increases in difficulty, making the book work right along with a method book. I like the fact that several hand positions are included. Use this book with a student in the 2nd book (elementary, often called Book 1) of most method books, after the primer level. The music contains accidentals, all the notes on the grand staff, and no eighth notes.

Wendy has made a clever video to showcase the book. It’s here:

The thing about Wendy’s music is that it is always imaginative. It is hard to compose music appealing to students within the bounds their abilities, yet musically interesting. Wendy was able to accomplish this in Tasty Tunes. I think your elementary students will enjoy this book!

Tasty Tunes (6.99) is published by Willis Music and is available from your favorite music store.

You can visit Tasty Tunes on Wendy’s site to read more and see other places to buy this book.

[Disclosure: Wendy sent me a copy to preview. I am never compensated for my reviews, and the opinions are my own. I only review material I use with my own students.]

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Wendy Stevens’ Thanksgiving Prayer


Thanksgiving Prayer by Wendy Stevens

Are you looking for something musical your families can use for Thanksgiving?  What about a family performance for grandparents and relatives at Thanksgiving get-together? Well,Wendy Stevens has created something just for you.

She has written a Thanksgiving ensemble in her own special style called A Thanksgiving Prayer. I think most of us agree that there is just not enough Thanksgiving music around that modern students can relate to. Wendy took a lovely, child-friendly Thanksgiving poem and set it to a melody that students can sing and play. The multi-faith lyrics are appropriate for students of all religions.

When you buy A Thanksgiving Prayer, (very moderately priced at $2.99 for 9 pages, single use) you will receive an ensemble for piano, voice, and guitar. Wendy thoughtfully included several versions, all included for the same price, and this is quality, professional music.

The piano version is in the key of C. The right hand stays in middle C position and has mostly quarter notes. There are a few easy syncopated eighth notes that give it a modern sound. The left hand accompaniment has mostly half notes, starts in C position and then moves around slightly. There are a few simple flourishes that students will love and you can teach by rote if necessary. Only the white keys are used.

The second version that is included in the set is for piano and guitar. Guitar players who play chords such as Csus2 will be able to comfortably play this, but there are also guitar chord symbols if they need them.

The other version is for piano and easy guitar. These chords are easier, C, F, G, and Emin, and it also has chord symbols. I’m not that good on the guitar, but I can play this guitar version. I’m so glad it’s in C, so I can also play it on my autoharp, minus the Emin, which is missing on my autoharp.

Here’s another idea. Since the melody has a small range, students who are learning recorder in school can play the melody on their recorder, adding to the ensemble. I tried it with my recorder playing the melody only, and it was very charming.

Don’t be afraid to give this to older students in levels 3 and up if you’re going to use the ensemble version. This is a good opportunity for your older students to be the ensemble leader.  

There is not very much Thanksgiving music published that is about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. I am so happy Wendy has added this timeless and thoughtful addition to our holiday repertoire.  This music is available for single or studio license. The studio license allows you to print as many copies as you want.

You can read more about Thanksgiving Prayer and listen to Wendy sing and play it on her website. 






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Wendy Steven’s New Halloween Pieces


The internet is buzzing with teachers who are loving Wendy Steven’s new Halloween pieces. These are early elementary level pieces, with fun sound effects your students can add. Although beginning level, they are not babyish, so they can be used for all ages of children who want a Halloween piece. I love the art on the covers. I think it’s important to have good looking covers for the elementary age group.


Hop on over to her blog to watch the video and listen to these new pieces, published by Willis Music. You can also see a sample of the music.

The videos are not long so it will take less than a minute to watch them both. This is such a great way to showcase new music! I wish every new piece could be featured this way, don’t you? Composers, take note. Maybe even I will give it a try!

Disclosure: This post is my opinion and I received no compensation or review copies of the music. 


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Jot! A Great iPad App for Education


Jot! An iPad App

I’ve noticed a lot of piano teachers have iPads. I see them at conventions typing away on their tablets while I’m still trying to find a pen in my purse as I remember that I left my paper back in the room. So I take scribbled notes in the margins of the presenters handouts. I have files of scribbled notes with very wise sayings from some of the great presentations I’ve been fortunate enough to attend. I think I’m rambling, so I’ll get right to the point.

Jot! [$4.99] is a white board app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod, and I think it’s a fine app to use with older elementary students. It’s easy to learn, quick to set up in a piano lesson, and simple enough for even me to use.

After you download the app from the Apple app store and open it, there is a page to show you how to use it. You will need to refer to this later.

Once the app is installed, it is easy to use with any PDF printable. Here is how to open one of my documents.

Open up my website on your iPad. It’s faster for me to use  but you can use my WordPress blog, too. Follow the links until you get to “download PDF document“. Select it, and it will open on your iPad. Turn your iPad in the same orientation as my printable. This is important. Most of the material I use on the iPad is in landscape orientation, so turn your iPad to the horizontal (landscape) position if the PDF is also in landscape.

Touch the top right corner of your iPad, and the words “Open In” will magically appear. Select, and a pop-up box will appear with an icon of every app on your iPad that will open a PDF document. If you do not see Jot, go to the second or third page by using the tiny buttons on the bottom of the box. Select “Open in Jot!” (You have to have iOS 6 installed or it will not show up.)

Now comes the only hard part of Jot. On the next screen there is a pop-up box that says “Background.” You will see a mini version of my printable. Using your fingers, drag it to fit inside the even smaller red rectangle. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get it all inside. Any part that is not inside the red box will not show up in Jot! Obviously the guys who made this app are not used to granny eyes!

Click done, and the printable will open and you can draw on it. You can still adjust the size by using the two finger iPad gesture to stretch it bigger.

The menu is on the right side if you are in landscape orientation. Select the squiggly line, a color, and draw away. You can adjust the size of the drawing line. Try out the other boxes and notice you can draw shapes.

There is an undo selection, a way to save documents or send them to parents, and best of all, an eraser. If you press hard on whatever you draw, you can move it around the screen without changing the PDF background. That comes in handy if you want to draw whole notes and move them around the staff.

There is a free version of Jot, so you can try it out. [Edited: This tutorial does not work with the free version, but the free version can give you an idea of how it works. Also, you can take a screen shot of a PDF and use that in the free version.} It is supported by advertisements, which distract me, so I upgraded to the paid version, and it was worth it.

There are other interesting things you can do in Jot, such as real-time drawing collaboration. You can share your document in real-time with users on the internet.  Students can do worksheets on their iPad at home while you watch back in your studio, just as if they were sitting beside you. I have not been organized enough to try that out yet!

I would like to be clear that I do not find writing with a stylus or a finger on a tablet easy for younger children in the  limited time session of a piano lesson. I think it is better for younger children to use hands on activities and not writing on a computer tablet. Jot is better with children over 8 years old. However, parents who have the time to sit and work with their child and guide them will have a better experience.

Disclosure: This review is my opinion after using Jot! for almost a year. I was not paid and I did not receive compensation in any form.  My review was not solicited, nor do the developers know I am writing this review. I discovered Jot! in the app store and bought it after using the free version for several months.



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Flashnote Derby – a Great App for iPhone and iPad

If you have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, there is an excellent app available to help students learn note names, Flashnote Derby. After using it for quite a while now, I have decided this is the perfect iPhone or iPad game for piano teachers because it is easy to set up and play and my students love it. Plus, it really works, and makes drilling notes a lot more fun.

Screenshots used with permission

In order to play the game, select the notes you want to work on. You can select one note, or up to 34 notes, shown above. The notes are fun to select. Just touch the notes you want to use and they change color as they are selected. Touch the “gear” icon and you can select how many flash cards you want to use in your game, and the speed they will be shown. Touch the “thumbs up” icon and the race begins. As 2 horses race across the screen, one flash card at a time is shown above the horses. Students select the name of the note at the bottom of the screen. At the end of the game there is an opportunity to review the missed notes. If the student gets enough correct answers, he wins.

For my beginning students I select 2 notes, usually middle C and G, and 10 questions, at the slowest speed. Beginners always win a game this easy and this give them the confidence to want to play more. I add more notes gradually over a period of weeks, often corresponding to the notes they are learning in their method book. It is very easy to change the level of difficulty for the next student.

The horse racing sound track can get annoying, so I often turn the sound off on my device. I wish there was a way to turn off the sound in the game. I also would like a way to start over if I make a mistake when I first select the settings. [Ed:There is a way to start over. I am embarrassed I didn't know it!  This is from Luke Bartolomeo, the developer:

I just wanted to mention that there is a way to stop a race in the middle if you find that you used the wrong settings, or have made the drill to difficult or too easy for a student. Once the race has started, tap the screen on either side of the actual flashcard, but not on the flashcard itself. A red X will appear in the upper left portion of the screen. Tap the X and the drill will immediately stop and return you to the settings screen.

Thanks so much, Luke for clearing this up.]

Flash Note Derby was designed by a music teacher and I think that is why I find it so successful in my studio. The developer emailed me recently with news of an update that features a dozen instructional video lessons about the grand staff, as well as a way for teachers to create custom drills for their students and send them to students by email.

This app works on the iPhone 3 and 4, iPod touch, and iPad. It seems like every student I teach now has at least one of those in the family.

This app is only $.99 in the Apple iTunes store, and at that price it is a real bargain.

You can read more about it at the website:  http//

Disclosure: I receive no compensation for my reviews and the ideas are my own. The screenshots are used by permission.


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