Back to Piano Lessons Kick Off Ideas

piano lessons

Here we are, still in the middle of summer, a time for piano teachers to rest, and to celebrate the hard work of the previous semester.

Maybe you’re like many piano teachers, choosing to take off during the summer due to your travel schedule, or the fact that your students travel during the summer.

Perhaps you adopt an every other week sort of approach or teach throughout the entire summer.

Whatever model you adopt, the fact remains that a new teaching season is just around the corner!

It’s important to kick off new teaching seasons on an exciting, joyful note, that inspires students and helps them stay engaged throughout the semester.

The following ideas are for you to consider before diving into the new fall semester that is so quickly approaching!

Organize a challenge event.

I used to work at a local arts center (by local, I mean Atlanta-based).

And every year they put together a “Scale-a-thon.”

This was primarily a challenge that inspired students to learn their scales, chords, and arpeggios over the course of a semester.

Midway to three-fourths of the way through the semester, students had a chance to participate in a big festival, demonstrating what they had learned, playing games, and possibly receive rewards for their efforts and accomplishments.

It was so well attended and became a tradition for this particular arts center.

We all have students who have “checked out” due to travel schedules, right?

Parents are not as engaged with piano lessons during the summer as they are during the school semester.

And maybe this is okay; they’ve worked hard with their students on homework throughout the semester.

Summer is a time to recuperate.

But students spend far too much time in front of the television, they play (as they should), and travel. They’re not practicing that much.

Hosting an event, like a fall kick off challenge that inspires students to practice over the course of a semester is a great way to set a positive tone for the new teaching season.

Host small group gatherings.

If you don’t like the idea of throwing a big group gathering like a scale-a-thon, maybe you host something on a smaller scale, such as a small group gathering.

Do you have a group of beginning students who have taken with you for a year or so? (Of course, you can throw this event for older, more advanced students as well.)

Consider hosting a small group gathering based on age groups or piano level at the beginning of the semester.

Ask parents to get involved and help organize the event.

Pro Tip: Students excel when their parents get involved.

Begin the event by allowing students to play a familiar piece.

Perhaps you can ask a parent to narrate a fun story as you accompany them on the piano. This is an excellent way to teach students about music’s emotive power.

Consider preparing a fun snack with a cute music related theme.

The possibilities are endless! Just get creative.

Make the first piano lesson super special!

If you don’t like the idea of any sort of group gathering, consider making the first piano lesson of the new season super special by presenting your student with a brand new piece of music.

Of course, you can find music in the PracticeHabits online store.

There are free pieces of music and exercises scattered throughout the site as well.

One lady within the PracticeHabits Membership Community uses Halloween music and organizes Halloween themed recitals to inspire her students.

I think this is such a cool idea!

Fun and well-crafted sheet music inspire student practice.


Hopefully, you’ve connected with one of these ideas.

Try something new this season! Get creative!! Have fun!!!

Are you looking for a community of like-minded piano teachers to connect with and learn from?

How do unlimited sheet music downloads sound?

Looking for fun and creative technical exercises that inspire student practice?

Well, consider joining the PracticeHabits Membership Community!

CLICK TO LEARN MORE

 

Five Practice Tips for Staying in Shape During the Summer Months

practice tips

It’s Summertime again and the school year is over, leaving our students and families to plan what to do with all of their free time – A trip to the beach, a family road trip, maybe even pick up a new hobby?

It seems like every year they brush music to the side so that they can enjoy whatever vacation time they do have, only to come back to lessons in the Fall with a lot of catching up to do.

Since most students take a break from lessons during the Summer months, how can we encourage them to stay in shape with their instrument while still helping them feel like they’re getting that much-needed break?

Teach Your Students How to Stay in Shape During the Summer with This Free Practice Guide!
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Here are five brilliant practice tips to help your students stay in shape over the Summer.

Stay Inspired

If students stop thinking about music and close off their emotional relationship with it, then it’s much harder to find the willpower to practice when not having lessons over the Summer amidst so many other fun distractions.

Encourage your students (and their parents) to find the time to go to concerts (of any kind) and try to listen to the music they play and want to be able to play so that it remains strong in their consciousness.

It doesn’t take much, but it’s amazing what a difference this makes in their playing!

Stay Disciplined (When They’re in Town)

Many people take extended trips out of town during the Summer, so the time they do have to practice is significantly limited.

To remedy this, encourage your students to plan out their calendar as much as possible and be sure to make a practice schedule for the days they know they will be at home.

It’s important to stay continuous in practice whenever possible, as days off usually call for some time to get back into the swing of things.

Practice sessions can be shorter than during the school year, as long as students maintain a constant (or as constant as possible) connection to playing the piano.

This is the best way to avoid that “rusty” feeling in September.

Set Reasonable Goals

During the school year, students have regular lessons, recitals and competitions to challenge them, but during the Summer they seem to be on their own.

Having goals moves them forward, and the key for efficient Summer practice is setting modest goals.

Choose 1 or 2 pieces for your students to work on by themselves so that they can bring them to their first Fall lesson in good shape.

Encourage them to have a family recital at the end of Summer to challenge them, or to make a recording of their pieces at least once.

And encourage them with all of that extra time on their hands to think about what pieces and styles of music they want to tackle next.

All of this will help motivate them to be self-disciplined.

Work to Strengthen a Weak Skill

One great way to take advantage of the Summer break is to focus on strengthening a weak skill.

Establish what this is for each student and show them how to work on it effectively.

In addition to their regular practice, they should take the time to sort through whatever particular issues they may have deliberately.

Summer break gives them the space to address these kinds of deficiencies without the stress of the hectic school year schedule.

Overall – Have Fun!

That’s what Summer break is all about, right?

So encourage your students to improvise, compose, or make arrangements of their favorite songs.

It’s good for them to do things that make them happy to be a musician.

Remind them to enjoy themselves, be inspired, and stay as continuous as possible in their practice by setting modest goals.

These practice tips will help them come out of the Summer with an even deeper connection to music and the piano!

Teach Your Students How to Stay in Shape During the Summer with This Free Practice Guide!
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About the Author: This guest post about staying in shape during the Summer months is by Carter McMullen from the Baltimore School of Music. You can read more about Carter and his work below.

Carter McMullen is a piano teacher at the Baltimore School of Music. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, both in Piano Performance. He continued his music studies at conservatories in Paris, France and London, England.

Carter maintains an active performing schedule including solo and chamber music, instrumental and vocal accompanying, and jazz. He toured South America three times with the Chase Educational Foundation, giving concerts and masterclasses in Argentina and Chile, and has performed in concerts in France, Italy, the UK, and the US. He regularly collaborates with performance students at the Peabody Institute.

In 2017, Carter founded the Union Square Chamber Music Society, and as Artistic Director, he organizes monthly salon concerts in which he regularly takes part as a performer.

Inspiring Music Sparks Imagination and Creativity

Inspiring

The boy in the picture looks pretty bored, doesn’t he?

I think he needs a new and inspiring piece of music!

Do you remember receiving a brand new piece of music from your piano teacher?

Do you recall the wonderful feeling you’d get when opening the clean, crisp pages for the first time?

I sure do.

What a joyful experience it was!

There’s something special about introducing a student to new and inspiring music.

This reason alone helped me fall in love with festival competitions.

My teacher, Mrs. Jackie Hudson, always picked the best pieces for me to play.

The vibrant and colorful pictures on the front covers and the clean smell of the new pages inspired me to practice (something Mrs. Hudson was super thrilled about).

Of course, the music had to be good as well!

And it always was.

The National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) sure knows how to put on a good piano festival.

I’m always impressed at the attention to detail in every aspect of the festival.

They’ve produced a nice teacher resource of music titles suitable for students of all levels.

The NFMC Festival Bulletin is an excellent resource. And they’re always updating it. So you can trust its contents are relevant!

There are other sources for new and exciting music; PracticeHabits.co of course, and others.

I’m a huge fan of the Festival Collection series produced by F.J.H. Music Company Inc.

It’s perfect for actual classical pieces (no arrangements) and runs the spectrum from beginning to advanced students.

Many of my students have made their way through these books.

The repertoire contained in the Festival Collection series is excellent for festivals, auditions, and recitals.

Here’s a quick list of several other fantastic and inspiring resources I’ve used in my teaching journey –

  1. The Complete Book of Scales, Arpeggios, and Cadences
  2. Music and technical exercises arranged by Keith Snell
  3. Most anything by Dennis Alexander
  4. Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts

What about you?

Are you in the market for some new and creative piano music to inspire your students this Summer?

I sure do hope so.

Well-crafted and inspiring music sparks imagination and creativity in piano students and encourages healthy practice habits!

 

Paving a Path to Excellent Musicianship

paving a path to excellent musicianship

We piano teachers share the responsibility of moving our students toward excellent musicianship.

Of course, students and parents also share in this responsibility. But that’s a post for another day!

Beginner – Intermediate – Advanced

What a tremendous privilege it is to see a child through all three stages! But how do we responsibly guide our students through each stage?

I’m convinced that we do this in the following ways –

1.) Instill students with passion and love for music and the piano.

Many students begin lessons enjoying the piano. Many do not. But it’s our duty to help them fall in love with the instrument!

Instilling passion and love for music should be at the top of every teacher’s list.

Imagine pursuing something without excitement. Without joy.

How dull.

Chances are you’ve been there. I sure have!

But our joy for music and the piano should be infectious – spreading from one student to the next.

Teach them to love the piano like they love their video games, TV shows, or playing outside (do kids play outside these days??!!).

Make it fun and exciting!

Make it a goal for your students to arrive at each lesson prepared and excited to learn.

May they never lose their sense of wonder and awe!

The next two principles come much more easily if they’re guided by the first.

2.) Promote excellent technique.

Students can not achieve excellent musicianship without proper technique.

Five-finger drills, scales, arpeggios, chord inversions, and Hanon exercises all help promote excellent technique.

Albert Franz of Key-Notes brilliantly reinforces the importance of teaching proper technique –

Piano technique could be thought of as the “interface” between a musical idea and the music that comes out of the piano. Piano technique is our control over our instrument.

After all, the most sophisticated airplane in the world is useless if you don’t know how to fly it. So it is with the piano.

Are your students learning how to control their instrument?

(Scales are the first exercises that come to my mind when I think about technique. Here are some fun scale exercises I created just for you! I’ve had great success with these!!)

3.) Encourage students to share the gift of music.

Above all, we should be preparing our students to share the gift of music with others.

We do this through providing opportunities for them to play in front of others in recitals, festivals, competitions, worship services, and community events.

Do you encourage your students to share their gift with their friends and family outside of regular lessons and recitals?

When was the last time you asked your students to play for the local retirement facility?

The elderly have become a neglected part of our population. It’s unfortunate but true. This is a prime opportunity to serve and share.

Graham Cochrane of The Recording Revolution has this to say about sharing music –

Musical talent and inspiration wasn’t given just for you to have and to keep. It was given so that you might give it out; that you might share it with others.

So if music is given TO you, and it’s best enjoyed when it flows OUT of you into the lives of others – then doesn’t that make you some kind of musical conduit or channel?

I like that a lot!

Music should flow out of our students. We pour in, and they pour out – blessing others one note at a time.


You’re helping your students along on this very fun and difficult journey. A journey that yields bountiful fruit if properly tended to.

Keep up the excellent work you’re doing. Continue paving the path to excellent musicianship!

Your students will appreciate it. And so will those who hear their fantastic music.

Christmas Recital Time, Again?

Tree at Christmas recital

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it?

Christmas recitals are just around the corner.

Are you prepared?

Better question – Are your students prepared?

Many Christmas recital to-do-lists look like this –

  1. Purchase food and drinks
  2. Tune piano(s)
  3. Create and print programs
  4. Collect recital fees
  5. Remind parents of due dates and recital times
  6. Extra piano lessons (maybe make-up lessons) before recital

The list goes on and on!

It’s difficult to accomplish these things when there are so many other items on the list!

The most important item being one-on-one time with your students.

Many of you have expressed to me that the biggest problems you face in the lesson room include lack of practice and lack of enthusiasm.

Well, I’ve told you that PracticeHabits.co is a resource for you. A resource you can rely on for helpful tips and tricks when things get tough.

Things can get real tough around recital time.

Let me provide you with one super fantastic tip that’s helped me time and time again with my students around recital time.

Introducing – THE STUDENT OF THE MONTH.

It’s something so simple, yet so inspiring to your students!

They have an opportunity to work hard practicing and preparing for weekly lessons and important events such as recitals and in return their efforts they receive the prestigious STUDENT OF THE MONTH award!

Now, maybe you already have a similar program within your studio.

Awesome!

Consider reimagining it this Christmas recital season just to light a little fire in your student’s bellies ; )

What if you gave this prestigious award away to several students during the month of December and rewarded them at the end of the Christmas recital?

What an honor! What a message you’d be sending to all of your students and their families –

Practice is important. Engagement is important. Your student has worked really hard in these areas and deserves to be rewarded!

It helps light a fire in the bellies of your other students as well.

Now, I used to award a certificate as well as a special piece of music to my students of the month.

It was a win-win, really.

They received a gift for their hard work. That gift was a piece of music. The students loved practicing these pieces!

Love and practice in the same sentence? Wow, what a beautiful thing!

I want to give you something. An award that you can pass out to your students of the month.

Please accept this fun and inventive arrangement of Jingle Bells for the late-beginner to the early-intermediate piano student as a token of my gratitude for your support of the PracticeHabits.co community.

Now, maybe you’re in need of an excellent piece for the mid-late intermediate piano student. Well, check out my original composition That Fall Feeling. I know you and your students will enjoy it!


The next three weeks are going to be busy. Remember to take care of yourself and your family.

And as always, allow PracticeHabits.co to fill you up with inspiration in the form of great articles and music!

Merry Christmas!

3 Creative Ways to Increase Classroom Engagement

student in piano classroom

There she goes again (eye-roll).

Taking her eyes off of the music and allowing them to wander all around the room!

Sigh…

She’s such a good student when she focusses.

It’s a common scenario. Little minds wander. It’s hard to sit still. It’s difficult to focus.

But there are ways to increase engagement.

Here are three suggestions on how you can increase engagement in your classroom.

I’ve used these in larger settings, such as youth chorus, and group music classes. But they’re easily adapted to the private lesson room.

1.) Movement and Play

This one’s important. Young kids need to move! Some more than others. Believe it or not, this is a scientific fact.

In her brilliant article, Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement, Lara N. Dotson-Renta says,

Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.

She goes on to say that kids learn through movement and play. Imagination is key!

Yet such learning is increasingly rare in early-childhood classrooms in the U.S, where many young children spend their days sitting at tables and completing worksheets. Kindergarten and preschool in the U.S. have become more and more academic, rigorously structuring kids’ time, emphasizing assessment, drawing a firm line between “work” and “play”—and restricting kids’ physical movement.

But how do we teachers encourage movement and play? Especially with our limited teaching time??

It’s a simple as reinforcing things via short games and activities.

For example, my class loves Rhythm Popcorn.

I simply line two rows of chairs facing one another, clap a simple rhythm, and then point to a student to repeat the rhythm. The student then points to one another student and he or she claps the rhythm. So on and so forth.

It’s a simple game, but it certainly increases classroom engagement. The students have fun and learn all about steady and precise rhythm.

2.) Transition

It’s easy to overlook this one.

Imagine you’re six-years-old again and asked to sit quietly on the piano bench for 20-30-minutes.

What would you feel? What would you think?

In their article What is a Normal Attention Span, Day2DayParenting says,

Young children do have relatively short attention spans and generally do best when alternating activities which require sitting still and focusing with those that allow for physical movement.

The younger the student, all the more necessary to transition, and transition often.

The article goes on to outline young children’s attention spans –

Children ages 5-6 years old typically can attend to one activity that is of interest to them for around 10-15 minutes at a time and should generally be able to filter out small distractions occurring simultaneously in the environment. They may only be able to attend to an assigned classroom activity for only 5-10 minutes particularly if they find it uninteresting or difficult for them and do not have adult guidance to stay on task.

Keep things moving along. Don’t rest too long on a particular song or activity. I’ve found 3-5 minutes to be the ideal time for each activity. Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

3.) Visuals

Inspiration.com cites the following as benefits for visuals in the learning environment –

Visual learning helps students clarify their thoughts – Students see how ideas are connected and realize how information can be grouped and organized. With visual learning, new concepts are more thoroughly and easily understood when they are linked to prior knowledge.

Visual learning helps students integrate new knowledge – According to research, students better remember information when it is represented and learned both visually and verbally.

Visual learning helps students think critically – Linked verbal and visual information helps students make connections, understand relationships and recall related details.

Who wants to stare at the same thing for 30 minutes? Especially boring white and black notes on a page?!

Consider changing it up.

Why not print music on green or red paper around Christmas? Or orange paper leading up to Halloween?

This is a fun (and super easy) way to increase classroom engagement.

I’ve found small, handheld whiteboards to be wonderful teaching tools. Drawing examples of notes, rests, etc., on these boards and asking students to name them adds an extra layer of engagement and anticipation in the lesson room.


We need to remember those childhood feelings and embrace them. This is how we keep the sense of wonder and imagination in the classroom.

We want our students to long for the next piano lesson, asking questions such as, what’s Mr. Chris going to do this week? And, I wonder what game we’re going to play this time?!

Let’s encourage creativity in the classroom. After all, encouraging creativity, play, and imagination encourages learning.

Now teach, and teach well, you amazing teacher, you!