A first lesson

These are the activities enjoyed by a bright young ‘not quite five years old’ beginner student during her first lesson – a step by step journey from the start to the finish of our day one musical adventure together.

On arrival I had Miss E sit at the upright piano. After adjusting the seat height, giving her a footstool and making sure she was comfortable I asked her to choose an attendance sticker. This is a positive start to each lesson and allows time for brief conversation eg “Ah you chose a rainbow sticker – what colour do you like the most?”

Some musical teddy colouring book pictures were the perfect speaking prompt for a little girl who was very reserved and would only whisper during our meeting the day before. I propped the images up on the closed piano lid and she was pleased to be able to tell me the name of the instrument each teddy was playing – drum, violin, guitar, flute, trumpet, xylophone and last but not least, keyboard.


I lifted the heavy piano lid and explained that only the teacher is allowed to open it so students don’t hurt their fingers. With the piano keyboard intentionally covered by felt, I then asked Miss E to tell me what was hiding underneath and she eagerly responded “black and white!” I carefully pulled back the felt to reveal just the white keys and we talked about how they all looked the same. After taking away the cover we studied the groups of black keys and discussed how they will soon help her learn to find and name white keys. With closed fists she played black key clusters of two’s and three’s with the hand of her choice (right). I asked Miss E to lift her arms high stretching up into the air then low down to the ground before showing her high and low on the piano. She played some low keys and said they sounded like thunder. I added “Yes, exactly! And stomping dinosaurs and elephants too!” Then she played some high keys and made sounds like fairies – followed spontaneously by some wonderfully playful improvising with naturally relaxed hands on the middle keys.


We then moved to the other side of the room to the digital piano and CD player where I often do listening activities with students. As a fun introduction I lined up some animal flash cards (Baby Einstein) across the piano and we listened to the corresponding realistic sound effects (from a ‘Soundtracks’ board game CD) with the last sound being a musical instrument playing part of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. Miss E guessed correctly – the sound of a piano! She was so keen to join in with her own animal noises that I had her make each sound again, without the CD and while pointing to the cards from left to right.


Still sitting at the digital piano, I handed Miss E a foam mallet and asked her to copy some clapped patterns by tapping on the closed lid. I used the ‘secret message’ rhythms from My First Piano Adventures Writing Book A – the series she will own and continue to work from, among other resources, in the weeks ahead.


One more listening and percussion activity before moving away from the digital piano – this one is always a favourite with students. I ask if they like fast or slow or medium speed music and they usually exclaim “fast!” Then we use claves to tap along to the beat of the Hal Leonard Lesson Book One CD tracks 1, 2 and 3 – samples of slow, medium and fast music. Keeping up with the latter tempo creates smiles and giggles all round and repeating in reverse order is great too. Miss E tapped enthusiastically and evenly – and although seated, moved her whole body in time to the music.


Next it was off to the carpet for floor games. To my delight as soon as Miss E saw the alphabet puzzle she proudly announced knowing all her alphabet and happily proceeded to sing A..B..C…to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle. I asked her to take out the top row of letters and showed her that A to G is the music alphabet. With just a little hesitation she could also call out the first seven letters backwards.


A closed box of resonator bells will always initiate a “What’s in there?” so we enjoyed finding out by experimenting with the chime bars inside – tapping up and down a scale – and then letting Miss E rearrange them on the floor and listen to the different ‘colours’. This activity included showing her how to make a pretty ringing sound with the mallet and not a harsh thud.


Miss E then asked if we were going to play the BIG piano so we did one more carpet activity in anticipation of what was to follow at the grand – a revision of the black key groups she had found and played earlier at the upright. For a taste of written theory to come, Miss E used a whiteboard marker on a laminated practise keyboard and circled the groups of two black keys from low to high and three black keys from high to low.


While she sat correctly at the grand piano, I introduced Miss E to one of the music room plush toy friends – a rabbit puppet in a top hat. I said he didn’t have a name and she suggested ‘Hoppy’. Miss E put Hoppy on her right hand and then on her left.


Next I asked her to hop down from the piano bench and we moved it out of the way so she could stand up and walk along beside the piano keys to play Bunny Hop from ‘Pianimals Book 1’ with her left hand.


After a quick ‘wave your right hand/wave your left hand’ game I gave Miss E her homework – two sheets of white paper for tracing around her right hand and left hands (with parental help) and decorating with anything she chooses – stickers, textas, pencils, paint etc as a keepsake for her display folder and as a reminder of the size of her hands when she started learning piano.

I announced it was almost time to say goodbye but before she left we would play together at one piano. I placed a removable dot on treble A and asked Miss E to continue playing the note while I played piano music (a chord progression) with her – our very first duet and a very relaxing and therapeutic way to end the session 🙂


Thanks to Tim Topham for the chord progression https://timtopham.com/ – a popular improvising activity with students of all ages and levels.

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Games and activities

A ‘Dolphins and Blue’ theme 

Almost a year has passed by since we had this theme in the music room. Seems I neglected to take photos….however here is a video from the archives 🙂

Games and activities

Wooden theme

It was a busy week setting up for trial theory exams in the music room so I kept carpet time activities simple and natural with wood.

Listening blocks – matching pairs with the same sounds….

Large 14cm/5 and a half inch letters for music alphabet and scale activities….

Stepping up and down the 8 rung octave ladder. I have also ordered a 15 rung two octave ladder from our local country market….

Just added, thanks to a handyman at our local market…a 15 rung ladder!

Finger number games with the flip down hands….

Jenga blocks for making patterns of two, three and four beats or for using as musical maths counters….


Games and activities

A ‘ducks’ and yellow & orange theme in the music room this week for ‘at the piano’ and ‘on the floor’ activities.

Locating and counting the groups of two and three black keys….

Finding D’s with letter tiles and mini ducks….

Mother duck and her three baby ‘pitch’ ducks – one likes high sounds, one likes low sounds and the other likes middle sounds. Students position the baby ducks in their favourite places on the piano and play and listen to the sounds.

For ‘My First Piano Adventures’ students – shaking tambourines to the beat of  ‘Friends At The Piano’ and rhythm sticks for copying ‘Secret Message’ rhythms.

C major pentascale ducks. Plus enough of these alphabet cards for younger students to lay out the music alphabet and say it forwards and backwards and for older students to make one and two octave scales.

Right hand and left hand and finger numbers review then reinforcement with a game where student places elastic hair ties (they look like some kind of cheesey snack in the photo!) on their own fingers eg RH 1, LH 2 etc

My double set of flash cards comes in handy – I hold up a card and student snaps the matching note on the carpet with a bat then tells me the note name.

How many beats? Placing the correct number of duck clips on the notes and rests.


As a performance student I like markings to be made on my sheet music for identifying parts of the score that need extra attention. As a teacher I like to do the same – circling, underlining, writing tips, drawing asterisks and directing with arrows. In contrast I also want to keep my music clean and ‘as new’, very proud of the fact that, other than losing some music books due to flood damage, I still own in good condition almost every piece that has ever been added to my library.

Using a pencil has always worked for me and I expect became a habit knowing that close to exam time all markings would need to be erased. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I love colour and I’ve found students respond well to it.  A favourite workshop activity of ours is using coloured pencils, felt pens, crayons and highlighters to locate signs and terms on a throwaway scanned page. Then, while attending a teaching seminar, I was very excited to learn of the existence of highlighter tape! I immediately researched availability and purchased a small pack of refills to see how it would work in my studio. My students really enjoyed choosing a colour (“all blue” or “all of the colours”  being the most popular requests), cutting the required length, positioning it for themselves and even removing the tape when a prompt was no longer needed. A successful addition to my stash of stationery supplies……until more often than not the rolls of tape rolled away and ‘disappeared’. Time to get organised and seek out a practical storage solution for this great resource. In a box with a pair of scissors? On a memo/receipt spike with a safety cover? Both cheaper alternatives although less ‘perfect’ than the dispenser I finally settled  on.

Although I’m not ready to pack away my pencil and eraser yet, and words will always be necessary for specific instructions, I’m looking forward to introducing a little brightness to our pages once again.

And nothing says “this is the same chord with the same fingers” better than two strips of purple highlighter tape 🙂




March 2012

What I enjoy most about group classes is watching and listening to private piano students interact socially. It’s also beneficial to place pupils in a situation where they can talk about the theoretical music knowledge they would generally write down.

Next to totally rearranging my teaching space (and finding enough chairs – this year I splurged and bought a dozen new comfy folding black seats), the most challenging aspect of setting up end of term workshops is convincing parents and older students that it is worth the effort to attend on a day other than lesson day – and to remind them that just because something is fun and free doesn’t mean it isn’t educational or not worth the extra time and travel. Last week I held three one hour group sessions – two based on elementary and intermediate theory levels  and a third for older teens/adults of mixed levels.  Nine students attended each of the first two sessions and two adults plus two teens came to the third session.

I like to have some kind of an icebreaker as students arrive, such as this post-it note idea. Students were asked to write down a word (or two or three?) that comes to mind when they think of music. I particularly enjoyed the responses ‘like’ from a 6 year old and ‘expression of the soul’ from a 12 year old.  Other answers included song titles, Italian terms and signs, instrument names or drawings and adjectives such as happy, lovely and wonderful. Sticky notes were then placed in a bucket for a lucky draw to win bouncing putty or chocolates.

Bunny and egg decorations for inspiration, the colour scheme this year – green and lilac! Most years I place questions inside the plastic eggs however this year I left a basket of eggs on the table as a kind of sensory play during question time and as predicted students played with the eggs while waiting for their turn to speak – opening them, sorting them, swapping colours top and bottom

and filling them with these tiny eggs.

Milk bottle caps are never thrown away in this house! Thanks to http://thepluckypianista.blogspot.com.au/for the great letter insert printables. Students chose two different letters and had to recite the music alphabet from memory – forwards from one letter and backwards from the other….

Thanks to http://colorinmypiano.com/wp-content/files/Rhythm_Value_Posters.pdf for the large note posters. After reviewing note names and beats with the posters, students clapped along in different rhythms to Julian Lennon’s ‘Too Late For Goodbyes’ (excellent beat, not too many words and most importantly no inappropriate words) followed by tapping right hand crotchets (quarter notes) against left hand minims (half notes), right hand semibreves (whole notes) with left hand crotchets etc on the table top.

Group class presents a good opportunity for introducing or revising signs and terms not often seen during piano lessons, giving us the chance to discuss the history of notation and clefs and providing a prompt for learning a little about the stringed instruments of the symphony orchestra. Why is a ‘semi’ breve a whole note? What instrument uses the alto clef? Music symbol flash cards resource from http://www.mtrs.co.uk/

Theory revision time – using  small plastic ‘wheelie’ bins filled with typed music questions grouped into grades Preliminary to Four.

Students could answer the question they drew out or choose someone else to answer for them. After each question students assisted in the organization of later sessions by placing papers in the correct tubs ready for emptying back into the bins. I was pleased when many students begged if they could “pleeeeze” have one more turn at choosing and answering. I was delighted with the brilliant and confident responses from many, the determination of others wanting to be allowed a bit more time to come up with an answer and the willingness of  students to help one another. Everyone was involved and definitely wearing their imaginary thinking caps!

Another activity – the flowerpot drum

for tapping rhythms….

Thanks to http://www.susanparadis.com/catalog.php?ID=SP293 for the Easter Egg colouring worksheet to keep younger fingers busy during question time 🙂

Almost home time. Though I normally put together some kind of take home party favour gift, this year I couldn’t resist these ready made jelly bean hunting eggs in bright colours, especially as I now have a student who cannot eat chocolate. Oops…I also have a student who doesn’t like jelly beans!

Presents for the teacher!

I received this special gift from a lovely student and her creative Mum 🙂

and another very special and unique gift – quail eggs 🙂

“Thankyou” to the students who participated in our end of term Easter workshops.

You were all ‘Eggcellent’!

(‘John Sands’ greeting card image)


“Welcome” if this is your first visit to my relatively new blog or “Hello again” if you have stopped by before. I am still finding my wings in the world of modern technology, using all the patience of a music teacher and mother of six to keep facebooking, iPadding and blogging out of the ‘too hard’ basket. Slowly and steadily I’m learning more……while trying not to miss a step along the way. (Should I have known that blog stands for web log BEFORE I entered the blogsphere?)

Tonight I persevered for many hours with starting to add links to my blogroll. It was really worrying me that I wasn’t giving enough credit to the other teachers who willingly present so much information and who inspire me daily. I am in awe of their ability to make and share resources! For now I will have to be content with sharing words, pictures and ideas.

The old fashioned non-technological me is very fond of collecting things and I especially enjoy seeking out and rescuing second hand treasures from markets and thrift shops. I love old games and odd game pieces – and they are often put to good use as teaching aids or studio decorations. Letters are a favourite and I delight in opening a box of Scrabble to discover unusual tiles such as the mini wooden ones in this photo. They are perfect for locating the music alphabet, making Italian terms, creating messages or in this case casting a keyboard magic spell 😉