Tag Archives: Group lesson ideas

My New Autoharp


Not too long ago I got the idea in my head that an autoharp would be perfect to get my students enthused about reading lead sheets and learning chords. When I was about 10 years old our classroom teacher would sometimes let a few of us stay after school and play on an old autoharp. That is where I think I learned about primary chords and a lot of music theory that I didn’t learn in piano lessons. It made learning the guitar and playing lead sheets a lot easier for me.

I started checking on eBay to see if I could afford a used one. I know something about autoharps because I used them when I taught elementary music education.  Every time I started at a new school I would get out the dusty autoharp and tune it up.

For several weeks my husband and I checked eBay often. I didn’t want to spend much, $35.00 tops. I wanted a name brand autoharp in case I needed to buy some parts, one  with all the strings, and a hard case. I figured I could tell by the descriptions if they were playable, but we knew we were taking a chance.

I bought a 20-year-old Oscar Schmidt because you can still get parts for this brand. It was out of tune and a few of the strings are pitchy. But it sounds fine, at least for a $35.00 autoharp. For comparison, on Amazon you can see the cost of a new Oscar Schmidt 15 chord autoharp, so I saved a lot of money buying an old one. It did not come with a tuning wrench, but I picked up one at my local music store for about $6.00. You can also order one from Amazon. I have to tune it more than I want to because it has been so long since it was tuned. Every time I tune it, it stays in tune longer, so I have hope for it. Right now I don’t want to invest in a new set of strings, which will cost more than the autoharp! If you think you might want to buy a used one, be sure you are comfortable with how to tune it, and don’t pay too much! If you can tune a guitar, you can tune an autoharp. It just takes longer.

I made some song charts for my students with easy chords and used it with all ages at my last set of group lessons. The songs had one, two, or three chords, depending on the age of the group. One of my goals with older students was to bridge the gap between playing I IV V7  and C F G7. The students and I had a lot of fun, and I think they learned a lot. What was amazing to me is that my students had never seen one before. I guess they aren’t used in school music programs any more! 

Now I wonder if I can arrange some music for autoharp and piano! Would that sound weird?

A New Piece on Sheet Music Plus

If you didn’t see my notice on Facebook last week, I have a new piece up on Sheet Music Plus. You can listen to Rain Rhythms here. It is a $3.99 digital download at the intermediate level.


Filed under Group lesson ideas, Teaching Aids, Theory

St. Patrick’s Day Material

Here are some St. Patrick’s Day printables for elementary age students that I’ve made over the years. There is nothing new here, but I’m posting it for new readers.  To download, click on the link below the picture, not the picture itself.

Clover card1

Clover cardOpen2

St. Patrick’s Day Card for your students

I used these last year and my student’s loved them! The are little shamrock cards that fold up. I add a gold foil covered chocolate coin inside! If you don’t have green paper, use some stickers or decorate with green markers.

Shamrock composing activity

Shamrock composing activity

Let’s Go Marching is a pre-reading activity that even beginners can do. Use either finger numbers or note names.

Shamrock composing_blank staffLet’s All Go Marching, a composing activity on-the-staff

This is the same composing activity as above, but designed for students who have learned a five-finger hand-position and can draw notes.

Shamrock kyboard note_raceShamrock Keyboard Game

This is one of the best games for learning piano keys. it is even good for older students. I’ve made this game with designs for all the seasons, and this one works well for St. Patrick’s Day.

ShamrockNotesShamrock Notes for St. Patrick’s Day

This is good way for beginning students to practice writing all the notes on the grand staff. I’ve learned that if students discover that notes on the staff just move up the alphabet, they are less fearful about learning them.

Shamrock rhythmsShamrock Rhythms Game

Last year I re-made the graphic of this game because my original used a ton of ink. But you only have to print out one copy.  Students draw cards to find missing rhythm values in a measure. There are some circle shaped cards to cut out. It is game for older elementary students who are comfortable with note values. It also can be used as a theory class game or file folder game. Print on cardstock and laminate for durability.

CloverFullONotesClover Full of Notes Rhythm Worksheet

This is a worksheet, so you can print one copy of this and either laminate it or place it inside a sheet protector and use dry erase pens. I made this as a review for students who have already learned rhythm values. This also looks fine printed in black in with no color. Does anyone want an outline only copy they can color in group lessons or music class?  Let me know and I’ll try to make one.


Filed under Holiday Activities and Worksheets, St. Patrick's Day

Jingle Bells with Rhythm Instruments at a Group Lesson

Jingle Bells with instruments

I bought the electronic version of the new book by Philip Johnston called The Dynamic Studio: How to keep students, dazzle parents, and build the music studio everyone wants to get into. (Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate because I get questions about where to buy the things I write about. Amazon sends me a few cents if a reader buys something from clicking  the book link.) Philip Johnston writes inspiring books that get me enthused to teach in different ways. One of his main ideas is to be different; don’t always do the same thing. Maybe that was on my mind when I decided to use rhythm instruments in my group lessons.

After an unsuccessful search for an easy piano/rhythm band ensemble I could use in a group lesson without a lot of preparation, I wrote my own.  I arranged this specifically to be easy enough that they could be successful without having to practice, so please keep that in mind.

I  wrote the second piano part for an electric bass, which some students can play. This part can also be played on the piano, so I call it Piano 2 in the score. You can also use bells or any other tuned instrument, and it sounds fine to omit it.

The first group was my youngest students. They absolutely loved the instruments. But if you have ever used rhythm instruments with young children, you know what a challenge they are.  I didn’t mind that some of them could not play the written part and just played the steady beat.  I was surprised that a few of them actually followed the score. I let the little beginner on the bells shake them through the entire song rather than the way I wrote it in the score. No one in that group reads well enough for the piano part. I had to play by ear because I could not find the piano score! That seemed to amuse the young group.

The second group of 9 and 10-year-old students was absolutely the right age for this activity. Without any practice, (except for the Piano 1 part, which I gave to a 5th grader the week before) they were able to read the score and play the correct rhythm. We traded instruments and repeated it a few times. I am only sorry that I didn’t record it, because they did really well. The student playing the piano part was thrilled to be part of an ensemble.

After that, we changed directions and performed on the piano for each other using good performance skills. Everyone had learned a Christmas song or a favorite piece. That did not take too long and we went on to the next activity.

They had all been looking at the electric bass and wondering why it was there. We discussed the history of the electric bass and how it was like the double bass. I also got in some theory with the older groups, as we discussed the root of chords and how that is an easy way to play the bass. This is where taking our state theory exam really helped. I demonstrated with my meager guitar skills (Me on the electric bass, how funny was that!) and then let them all try it.

Our last activity was playing a Thanksgiving board game, with different level cards for each age group. I was relieved my students enjoyed the game because I had not tried it out with a group. Even my older students had fun and reviewed some theory at the same time. Finally, we just had enough time to pass out cookies and candy canes, and they all left happy.

Later I asked what was their favorite activity. Can you guess what it was? The rhythm instruments! So with that in mind, I am sharing my simple score with you. Feel free to change the instruments to whatever you have on hand, even homemade instruments.

Obviously you don’t need a score for this simple rhythm section, but my students found it interesting, and it helped me focus. If one of your students has a family member who can play the Piano 2 part on the electric bass or any other instrument, that would be really fun, especially for a Christmas recital! Please alert me if you find any mistakes in my score, as I don’t have an editor. Have fun and if you have a successful performance, let me know!


Filed under Christmas, Group lesson ideas, Holiday Music, Rhythm

Funny Thanksgiving Food for Printing/iPad, and Some Sad “Skitch” News

Funny Thanksgiving Food for iPad and/or print

Some time ago I made a worksheet called Funny Thanksgiving Food, and recently I drew a version  to use on the iPad or Android, and it is also a printable. This  worksheet is a review of the notes around middle C. Click on the link above for this colorful version that looks good on a mobile device. However, since it is a PDF so it can be printed, laminated, and used with dry erase markers.

I also significantly updated the print-friendly version below, which has keys instead of notes on the staff.  Funny Thanksgiving Food has been a very popular coloring printable over the years, but I think I draw better now. The coloring version is good to use with younger children at a group lesson while waiting for everyone to show up. What child can resist coloring food all the wrong colors! (I also have a version where the pilgrim has to be colored, which might be useful for parents or a group class. Email me and I’ll send it to you.)

Funny Thanksgiving Food

The mention of the iPad brings up the subject of Skitch, my (used-to-be) favorite app to use with worksheets. Imagine my disappointment a few weeks ago when I discovered the company that bought Skitch, Evernote, has totally revamped the app in version Skitch 2.0, so that it is no longer useful with my students!  As a matter of fact, it has created a lot of resentment and angst among long time Skitch users. You can do a search on the web to read about it. If you have the first version of Skitch, I advise you to keep using it and DO NOT update it! Once you update it, you cannot get the old version back.

I am looking for a replacement app for Skitch that will work in my piano lessons, and when I find one that is as easy as the first version of Skitch, I’ll let you know.  So far I have tried many apps, and none are simple and easy enough for my needs.

All I want is an app to import and open PDF’s from the web, with some easy tools to draw lines and circles on  the PDF.  It should have an eraser without erasing the PDF, and/or an un-do button. There should be a way to clear the screen to start over. It needs to be so easy that even *I* can quickly figure out how to use it. Please leave a comment or email me if you know of one! I’ve tried various PDF reader apps that can be marked with annotations, but none are simple enough for what I am looking for.  I’ve also tried various whiteboard apps and drawing apps. I’m still looking!

I wrote Evernote very politely asking if they could put the first version back in the app store for those of us who use it for education, but they never bothered to reply.


Filed under Group lesson ideas, iPad Ideas, Note Identification, Preschool Music Resources, Thanksgiving

A Fast and Simple Way to Use the iPad in Lessons with Skitch

If you are new to the iPad, I want to share the fastest no-fail way I’ve found to download and use graphic activities in piano lessons. Not all worksheets and activities are suitable for use with an iPad, but many are and not only is it more fun, but it saves paper and ink. The picture above shows a students doing rhythmic dictation on the iPad. For the purpose of this tutorial, I will use the Ladybug Board Game graphic that I posted on my website last week.

Download the Free App Skitch

To set this up, you will need to download Skitch., a free app from the iTunes store.   Skitch is not a super complicated app that will do a million things, but it fast and easy to use. Once you have Skitch on your iPad, you can use any graphic from the web in your lessons.

I have tried out many apps to use with my graphics since I was given my iPad, some that I bought and some that are free. In my experience, Skitch is the fastest and easiest to use. In a piano lesson I don’t have a lot of time to fool around with trying to remember how an app works. It has to be as easy as picking up a pencil and paper.

Before Your Student Arrives At the Lesson Set Up Your iPad

1. Using your iPad, open the Skitch app. On the home page there are several icons on the top row. Select “Web.”

2. When next window opens, there will be a place to type in a website or do a Google search. To make it easy for this tutorial, you can click on this link. http://www.susanparadis.com/catalog.php?ID=SP310

3. Select “Download”. This opens my Ladybug Board Game PDF document, just like on your desktop computer.

4. Turn the iPad to Landscape orientation. (You need to do this for any graphic in landscape orientation but not portrait.) Using two fingers, center the graphic exactly like you want to use it. You can make a graphic smaller or larger by zooming in or out. This is one of the reasons I like Skitch.

5. When you have it just like you want it, click the camera icon on the left. Skitch saves the Ladybug picture and puts it on the home page for future use. You cannot change the graphic (other than crop it or zoom in or out), but you can draw or type all over it.

6. Notice now there are a lot of icons on the left side. The Ladybug graphic is saved on the home page of Skitch for you to use in your lessons. It will be there until you delete it.

With Your Student in the Lesson

1. Do not tell your students you are going to play an iPad game. This will confuse them, (especially the younger ones) because iPad games have animation, and all you are going to do is draw on the graphic. I learned this the hard way, with a disappointed little child. (There are plenty of iPad animated games but that is not what this tutorial is about!) I simply tell them we’re going to practice notes or whatever on the iPad. Then they will not expect the ladybugs and bees to fly around and be all let down when they don’t. Sometimes I ask if they want to use paper or iPad. They always choose iPad because it is new and different.

2. Open Skitch and select the previously saved Ladybug graphic from the home page.

3. When it opens, select the colored *dot* on the left and select the size and color. Now select the *pencil* tool. So far it has only taken 20 seconds of lesson time to get ready to use with a student. Practice this before you use it in a lesson and see how long it takes you! That’s all you have to do!

4. To do the activity, use the same directions as the paper board game. Using either keyboard of grand staff flash cards, students select a card and move to the correct letter. Using the pencil tool, the student will cross out the letter he lands on. Use different colors for two or more players. Keep drawing, moving, and crossing out until the student gets to the end.

If you are on the bench, you can play a piano key instead of selecting a card. Be creative! I try to make activities that teachers can use in different ways.

The picture above is a screen shot that I used with my student. He crossed out in green and I used yellow. We find it a lot easier to use a stylus (around $15.00) than drawing with our fingers.

There is no eraser tool in Skitch, but there is an undo tool, and it will go back as much as you need. The garbage can icon will clear the entire board of any writing you have done, but it won’t clear off the Ladybug graphic. The shapes (the circle icon) are difficult for little ones to use, so I prefer the pencil tool. The pointed finger icon is the select tool, and if you select something you draw, you can move it around the board!

What I like about Skitch is that it makes it easy to use any picture on the web that gives you permission to download. You can use a giant staff and draw notes. You can draw a note, select it, and move it around the staff. You can use Skitch’s (typing) keyboard, type in letters, and move the letters around a grand staff. By modifying the rules of your activities, you can think of many ways to use Skitch. On my game, for example, you can draw a little ladybug and move it around the board with your finger. Or you can draw a circle to use as your “token” to move around instead of crossing out letters.

I plan to show you some more graphics that are good for the iPad this summer. In the meantime, check out the beautiful ones by Anne Crosby. (Go to her links section.)  Jennifer Fox has written a lot of ways to use the iPad in piano lessons, so be sure to check out her blog. If you are willing to share your iPad graphics, please let us know!

Leave a comment if you have any questions or if there is something you need help with. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, so it might not show up right away.


Filed under iPad Ideas, Teaching Aids