Teaching Ideas

A Rainbow of Handouts and Studio Incentives

A few tweaks and new bells and whistles make this year's student incentive program and practice aids a rainbow of colours and very much, game inspired.

Using Waveforms in Music Lessons

This week, I tried a new idea out on a student who has trouble playing steadily (and hates the metronome). I showed him our waveforms.

On Student Music Reports

To give my students and I a break from music rudiments, I assign them music reports. They are a great way to give students a deeper understanding of the music they are working on and to let them explore areas of special interest. I used to just ask them to research the composers of the pieces they are working on. Now, I've been getting a bit more creative.

Below are some of the topics my students have been researching:

  • the story behind a song that they like (this was particularly fun with Christmas songs)
  • information about the style or form of the music they are studying
  • composer reports
  • album reviews
  • concert reviews
  • performer reports
  • music instrument profiles

Some have created some lovely poster boards, like this one: image

My latest twist has been to tie music to another activity. For instance, two of my students study Aikido. Last week, I asked them to research five points about the samurai Musashi and his concept of rhythm-timing. Another is plays competitive soccer. She's going to research some information about some of the World Cup songs.

I've got a few more ideas up my sleeve. I am thinking of asking them to research music careers, music genres and local musicians.

Every Other Bar Drill Demonstration for Piano and Melodica

The Every Other Bar Drill has proved to be a successful drill with my students this month. Some need to clean things up, especially their notes, rhythm and fingering. Others need to make their music flow more smoothly. This drill addresses these issues. The student plays the odd numbered bars in a troublespot, while I play the even numbered bars on the melodica. Then we switch.Afterwards, when I get them to play the entire passage, the difference from their first runthrough at the lesson and the latest is like night and day.

A melodica is a "wind piano". A very fun instrument to play. Photo by R-M Arca.

It really doesn't matter what that second instrument is - voice, French horn, percussion. What I have been finding is that this drill really forces my students to count and "feel" the pulse. For me, this is proving to be a great way to practice "Instrument #5" - the melodica. This wind piano is a fun little instrument. It looks like I'll need to work on breath technique a bit more, though.

Special thanks to my student "S" for giving me permission to share this clip from last week's lesson.

Keyboard Geography Cheat Sheets

This year, I have seven students who have had a tough time with their keyboard geography at the piano. One of them is an ARK learner (aural, read/write, kinesthetic. Another one is a VR (visual, read/write. The others are VA (visual, aural) learners. We've tried landmark notes. We've tried colour-coding lines or notes (that worked pretty well, until I started to wean them from the colour-coding). We've tried the good old phrases that everyone knows (e.g., "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge"). No matter what, they look at me and ask "Where do my hands go?" or they'll look at Bass C and play me Treble C, as if any C will do.

This new idea came to me as another student and I were checking with DaTuner Lite to see how well my acoustic piano was holding its pitch.

I pulled out my Piano Teacher's Resource Kit and photocopied the reproducible Keynote Reader worksheets. Next, I had those students write in the letter names and draw a line connecting the note on the keyboard to the corresponding position on the staff.

Next, the pièce de résistance: I introduced the keyboard number system. For instance, the lowest C on the piano is C1, with the notes below being A0 to B0. I labelled the first one for them and had them finish the rest.

Next, I had them apply this new knowledge to the pieces they have been working on. It didn't take them long at all once they labelled their starting notes as "C4" instead of just any old "C".


Thank you DaTuner Lite and Piano Teacher's Resource Kit!

Piano Teacher's Resource Kit look inside Piano Teacher's Resource Kit (Reproducible Worksheets, Games, Puzzles, and More!). For Piano/Keyboard. Educational Piano Library. Softcover. 88 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.296802)...more info

Using Multiple Cameras in a Music Lesson Demonstration

After reading "On Teaching Piano with Multiple Cameras", one of my readers had mused how wonderful it would be to see a demonstration of using multiple cameras in a music lesson. My student Dylan and I were happy to oblige.

Here we are working on a short chord progression from U2's "Stuck in a Moment". I used the three claps at the beginning to synchronize the videos (à la Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir).

We used the following cameras for this demonstration:

  1. POV Camera on Dylan's head (Top Left): GoPro Hero 2
  2. Profile Camera on the Studio Desk (Top Right): Microsoft HD LifeCam 3000
  3. Pedal Camera (Bottom Right): Canon PowerShot 5S IS (I can't bring myself to retire it completely because it's still a good camera)
  4. Overhead Camera (Bottom Left): Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910

I took a photographer friend's advice and turned off the auto-focus on the two webcams. Another thing I do is try to minimize the number of background programs running on the computer when recording video.


The profile view is essential for checking posture and hand position. The overhead view gives you the musician's peripheral of the keyboard geography. The pedal view is essential with students who are having issues with timing their pedal changes. As for the POV camera - isn't is just fun to see how another musician sees when they play? It's also good for checking where they are focusing.

I will probably swap the positions for the pedal and profile camera.

Now, when a student working on something new, I can show them various perspectives that they can review at their leisure at home. Or perhaps they'd like to show off a newly polished piece to their relatives across the country.

Students, "Record & Review" has never been so easy to do at home. Use any of your portable devices, such as a smart phone, iPod, tablet, netbook, laptop, camera. You can place them at various positions as we have here.

Find out more about how to incorporate webcams into your studio here.

* Special thanks to my student Dylan and his family for granting permission to record Dylan for this demo. *