Category Archives: Teaching Business

Grand Staff Binder Covers and Using Binders in Music Lessons

Covers for Student Music Binders

 Binder Covers

The front and back covers of binders are valuable real estate for learning. I noticed when I started incorporating theory information on the binder cover, they learned it easier because they see it all the time. Well, that is, if they practice they see it all the time! :)

It is well worth the few extra dollars to buy your students the kind of binder that works the best in your lessons. In my studio, the cost of the binder is deducted from their book and activity fee. However, some teachers include the price in either a registration fee or build it into the tuition fee.

I use one inch binders, and I buy the more expensive  “Clear Cover Heavy Duty” binders made by Avery. (I’m including a link to Amazon for those of you who can’t get to a store.) These are often a lot more expensive, but you can get them at the big box stores in the Back to School section for a few dollars this time of year. The thing I really like about this particular binder is the “one touch” open and close. It easily opens with one hand and I do not need to take the binder off the music rack to open it.

I print my assignment sheets on both sides, and I punch holes in both sides of the page. Then all I have to do is turn the page over to reuse it. All that page hole-punching is a lot easier since I bought an electric hole puncher  on Amazon. I’ve had it now for 3 or 4 years and it’s still going strong. It punches about 15 pages at a time. My advice is to keep it cleaned out and if your paper is thicker, such as card stock or 24 pound, put in less than recommended. My assignment page is a free download. The early childhood one is here.

The binder covers you see today match the design I posted two weeks ago. I have some students who are too young for key signature charts, so I use the grand staff binder cover instead.

Included in today’s PDF printable are:

  • A front cover with the notes of the grand staff labeled for students who are too young for a key signature chart.
  • A black and white version of the same staff.
  • The grand staff in landscape view with the notes labeled.
  • The grand staff in landscape without the note names so students can write them in.
  • The grand staff in landscape in black and white.

The version of the landscape grand staff  is similar to the one I posted last year, but it uses less ink. I laminated it and made a poster out of it but it also makes a nice binder cover. The unlabeled one is great to put inside a clear sheet protector to practice writing note names with a dry or wet erase marker. It also works on an iPad. If you don’t know how to print one page from a multi-page PDF, please see my FAQ.

When I decided to switch over to using binders, I was a little worried it would be too cumbersome and a lot of trouble. Now I have it down to a science and it works great. Teachers have a place to add Picture Scales, (legal) music downloads, and theory sheets. The pocket on the front makes a great place to store sheet music. Many teachers add a small yearly charge for the cost of ink and paper.

[Disclosure: If you buy something from my link to Amazon, I make a few cents to support the expenses of maintaining this website, so thank you for your support.  However, I encourage you to check out prices to find the best buys in your area. I absolutely do not link to something unless I have it myself and I think it is a good price.]



Filed under Music Printables, Teaching Aids, Teaching Business

2014-2015 Calendar, Key Signature Chart, and Reminder Cards

2014-2015 Calendar Set

Calendar 2014-2015

It’s time to start planning for fall semester lessons. An organized studio is a happy studio where parents and students know well in advance what is coming up!

There are 3 pages in this document, a calendar, a matching key signature chart and a set of reminder snail-mail postcards.

This 2014-2015 calendar is designed for you to type your studio events in the center. I suggest you put dates for:

  • Festivals, including sign-up deadlines
  • Recitals
  • Holiday breaks
  • Days your studio will be closed
  • Group lesson dates
  • Deadlines to memorize music for events

After you print the calendar, measure where you would like to set your margins in a word processing program like Word or Pages. Here are the margins I used:

  • Left – 2.50
  • Right – 1. 25
  • Top – 1. 25
  • Bottom – .75

Calendar Binder Cover

However, the margins are going to depend on your printer and the font size you choose. I suggest using only one font with a size of around 11. The above photo uses 11 point Arial.

In the first line, I put my studio email address. In the second line, I added my phone number where parents can text me if they are running late. Skip several lines and start your studio schedule on the left margin. When you finish, go back and center the headings. I also increased the font size and changed the color.

After printing the calendars, place them in the see-through cover of the student’s binder. On the back of the binder, you can insert the key signature chart. I always feel like the more they see it, the more familiar it becomes.

Once you get used to using binders with your students, you will never want to use any other kind of assignment book. You can use dividers for music, scales, theory, downloads from the web, etc. Feel free to use my assignment pages, found here, Assignment Page, and the one for young students here, Assignment Page for Young Students.

Now when your forgetful students ask, “When does my sonatina have to be memorized?” or “What day is the theory test?” tell them to look on their binder. They usually say rather sheepishly, “Oh, yeah.”


Filed under Teaching Business

Winner of Just Because It’s Halloween!


Just Because It's Halloween published by Alfred Music

Just Because It’s Halloween published by Alfred Music

We have a winner of  my newly released piano music, Just Because It’s Halloween!

It’s Patricia, of Tucson. She buys her music at Instrumental Music in Tucson. Patricia, please email me your mailing address as soon as possible so I can mail your music to you.

For those of you who do not have a local music store, this sheet music is now available from Amazon and it is on sale. Just click  here or the link above. [Ed. The sale is over, but there is free shipping on Amazon Prime.]

Both hands in this piece sit in the D minor 5-finger position. If you have a student who is “stuck in middle C,” I have found that one way to help them branch out is to work for a long time in a different position, memorizing the piece. Learning to play in several positions the first year of piano will help students be more successful when they transition to more difficult music the second year.

One of the reasons so many students who start in a C position method drop out the second year is because they are introduced to so many new things. They play more hands together, they have more accidentals, the rhythm is more challenging, and on top of that they have never played with their hands out of C position and they get very frustrated. It’s just too much! I think it is better to introduce different positions when the music is really easy. That is why I mix up the hand positions in the easy original music I write, like Sunny Solos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I enjoyed reading about all the fantastic music stores around the country. It has been lots of fun for me, and I plan to do it again!

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Filed under Halloween, Teaching Business

Summer Piano Camp Experience



When Kathy Williamson started telling me about the summer piano camp that she organized with some other teachers, I knew that I had to share it with my readers! It was such a well organized and fun camp, but what else can you expect from experienced elementary classroom music teachers?  If you are not used to working with groups of children, getting together with another teacher would be a great way to start a camp.  And now is the time to start planning for next summer. Kathy graciously wrote the following article to share her experience with you. 

Summer Piano Camp Experience

One of life’s fun adventures is our vision of what can be!   Our life experiences continually build those visions, so when three music classroom teachers joined together to think of the possibilities of Summer Piano Camps, the visions turned into 4 Piano Camps for ages 5 – 13.

The Piano Camp Team:  Carmen Carpenter currently teaches in the elementary music classroom as well as private piano and voice students at home.  Lindy Peterson has also been teaching elementary music but is now leaving the classroom to open a full-time piano studio.  Kathy Williamson has retired from public school music teaching and currently has a full-time piano studio of 34.  So developing musicians has always been their vision.

The planning began in February with work on a logo, website pages, brochure, setting up PayPal, choosing a location and of course, lesson plans!  It was decided that our neighborhoods were the best choice for locations as that is where the children are, so our homes became Camp.  The first two camps were held the first week of summer vacation at Kathy’s house with 4 campers in the morning and 12 campers in the afternoon.  The third camp was at Carmen’s where she did a combo camp of Discovery and Adventure objectives and activities for 4 children with little to no experience.    The fourth camp was at Kathy’s house again for a group of 6 late elementary to early intermediate piano students.  Furniture was rearranged – keyboards were set up – and Camp was in full swing!


Discovery Camp was for beginning 5 and 6 year olds – children with no experience at the piano.   Monday-Friday, 9 AM – 11 AM:  5 days, 10 hours.  The daily schedule:

  • 9:00 Outside Games
  • 9:20 Keyboard
  • 9:40  Lapbooks
  • 10:00 Snack – Outside
  • 10:10   Keyboard
  • 10:30   Outside Games
  • 10:50   Keyboard

The goals for Discovery Camp included topography (not technique), associating that each finger has a number and a purpose, beginning rhythms, and playing simple songs on the black keys and the music alphabet.  No staff work was introduced.


Adventure Camp was for ages 5 – 10 – children at the early and middle elementary level or older beginners.  Monday-Friday, 1 – 4 PM: 5 days, 15 hours.  The daily schedule:

  • 1:00  Outside Games
  • 1:30  –  1:50 – 2:10 Stations     (1) Lapbooks     (2) Games      (3) Keyboard
  • 2:30 Break / Snack and Outside Game
  • 2:45  –  3:00  – 3:15 Stations    (same groups with a continuation of learning)
  • 3:30 Outside Game
  • 3:45 Ensemble Keyboard  (ear training and ensemble work)

Since the majority of the campers at Kathy’s house had a minimum of 6 months of piano, the main goals for this camp were to reinforce vocabulary, rhythm and reading skills.



The   4th Camp, Kaleidoscope Camp, was for the Late Elementary to Early Intermediate Piano student.   Monday – Thursday, 9 AM – 3 PM, 24 hours.  The goal for these campers was to give them activities to inspire their growth and technique, provide opportunities to explore the keyboard and learn more about improvisation.   The daily schedule:

  • 9:00 Outside Games
  • 9:15 A conversation about what 1st lessons look like for 5 and 6 year olds.
  • This conversation led to reflection about their personal Piano Journey.
  • 9:30-9:50-10:10 20 minute individual piano coaching
  • 9:30 Piano Journey Notebook (creating anchor charts and starting a scrapbook of how their piano journey began with pictures and a brief history/Board Games/Cup Game
  • 10:30 Break and Outside Games
  • 11:00 Kabalevsky at the Keyboard  (24 Pieces for Children, Op. 39)
  • 11:30 Lunch (each camper brought their own)
  • 12:00 Special Guests
  • (Day 1:  Steinway resident artist, Esteban Alvarez)
  • (Day 2:  Piano technician, David Floyd)
  • (Day 3:  Claire Carpenter, high school student on how and why she uses lead sheets)
  • 12:45-1:05-1:25 20 minute individual piano coaching
  • 12:45 Keyboard Fun and Lead Sheets
  • 1:45 Break and Outside Games
  • 2:00 Kabalevsky at the Keyboard  (24 Pieces for Children, Op. 39)
  • Chopsticks: chords, improvisation and ensemble playing

This camp also squeezed in a trip to the local music store to tour their Piano Music Department and Keyboard Department with demonstrations in each.  The special guests and field trip were definitely a big hit with everyone.


Because there is a wealth of music games online via blogs and Pinterest, as well as games the team had developed and collected throughout their teaching experience, the task was definitely overwhelming in what to choose.   The important thing became matching the games and activities to the objectives and goals.  This just takes a lot of planning time and has become an inspiration to continue to organize the collections the Team has.

The music for the Discovery and Adventure Camps was a combination of music from the free music downloaded from the Susan Paradis collection, and music we created on Finale.

Music for Kaleidoscope Camp was inspired by Elizabeth Gutierrez’s ‘Piano Play Along’ Blog : 24 Pieces for Children, Op. 39, by Dmitri Kabalevsky.  This was supplemented with piano lead sheets.  Wendy Stevens’ Rhythm Cup Explorations was also selected as a fun way to practice rhythms with Kaleidoscope Camp.


There were many discussions about what the camp tuition should be, especially since three us were working together.  We basically decided on an average price comparable to the monthly tuition which seemed fair, plus a materials fee.

Setting up keyboards was really a challenge!  We had quite an assortment between the three of us.  Besides a grand piano we had an 88 key Yamaha digital, an 88 key Roland, six 61 key keyboards and two small 2/3 octave Casios which were great for demo purposes.  We used a combination of batteries and power supplies.  The biggest problem though was not having enough stools.  But an email sent out to parents with the need for stools solved our problem quickly.


In our follow up discussions it was agreed that our camps were a success, the curriculum and games were a success and everyone (including us) had a good time.  With our combined classroom experience and Kodaly training, we value a strong curriculum and planning.  We  will continue to revise this to meet our student needs.  Since Lindy’s and Carmen’s studios are growing we are sure our camps will look differently next year but one thing we learned is the need to set our dates early and let parents know by January as they are already making their summer plans.

There are still many other things to consider in our future planning but we believe that to have a successful camp we need to be sure there are enough hours to meet the goals and objectives.   Of course we each would have made more profit if we’d conducted the camps individually – but we supported each other with an equal division of planning and teaching which definitely contributed to the overall success of our first Piano Camp experience.


  • Planning with goals and objectives in mind
  • Activities that give everyone a break
  • Breaks that give children time to be themselves
  • Music that is fun and easy
  • Homework was given each day to continue the camp experience throughout the week

There are many things we did not address here such as the week the refrigerator was on the blink and the repairman had to listen to all the keyboards playing while he was trying to diagnose the problem.  We did not talk about the many details of running a camp out of your house such as fresh towels in the bathroom, water cups, buying snacks and supplies, etc.   We did not list the games or how we approached improvisation.  We did not discuss specific curriculums or how to set up stations.  We did not tell you about the profound effects of the special guests.  These are conversations for another day and another place.  However, the most important thing to remember is to have a vision – and for us that vision included happy children enjoying music while developing their musicianship.

I would like to thank Kathy for taking the time to write such a helpful, detailed article, and also thank her team and the parents for allowing me to share it with you. These students are so fortunate to be able to participate in a wonderful week of music right in their neighborhood! -Susan




Filed under Games, Group lesson ideas, Teaching Business