A Fun Alternative to Flashcards

Do you ever get tired of drilling boring old flashcards? I do! Today I’d like to share a fun alternative I came up with this week that can be used for either individual students or with a larger group.

This week for my group piano class I decided to turn flashcards into a fun game that could be enjoyed by the whole group! I made some piano playing cards and we played Musical Go Fish. It was an excellent way to review notes on the staff (you really need to know the notes in order to match them up, or to ask another player if they have one of that note!) and also was a good review of music terminology such as dynamics, time signatures, accidentals, and rests.

The piano playing cards includes thirteen sets of four matches. The matches include sets of different notes on the staff that have the same letter name (along with one card that just has the letter), time signatures, keys on the piano, rests, note values, accidentals and dynamics. (See all sets below.)

So far we have only used the cards for Go Fish, but they would be super fun for a rousing game of Spoons (that would require even faster note recognition!) as well as other simple games.

The Piano Playing Cards are now available for purchase as a digital download in the Shop.

New Freebie: Piano Valentines

I have a new freebie available for you in the Shop today!¬†I’m already a little tired of winter, but with Valentines Day coming up next month it makes the cold a little more bearable ūüôā I love this fun holiday! Piano Valentines are cute music-themed Valentine cards you can print out and give to your students. It’s always a nice gesture to give our students small gifts for holidays such as Christmas and Valentines Day. This makes it super easy! Just print, sign your name, attach a candy or other small treat and they are ready to go! There are five different sayings to choose from.

Happy teaching!

Don’t miss my other fun Valentines Day-themed piano resources!

6 Awesome Ways to Encourage Super Sight Reading!

In my teaching I like to focus a lot on sight reading. I feel that it is imperative to help my students develop strong sight reading skills in order to become confident pianists and musicians. A strong sight reader is a musically-literate pianist! Plus, isn’t that a goal of every developing pianist – to be able to sit down and play a fun song they’ve never played before and enjoy the experience of exploring new music?

Today I’d like to share 6 awesome ways to help encourage super sight reading in your studio. Some of these can be done¬†from the very first lesson! Let’s help nurture a new generation of super sight readers!

1. Learning Steps and Skips

Young pianists can learn to sight read by simple intervals (steps, skips, repeats) from the very first lesson! I get out my Giant Floor Keyboard and my Giant Floor Staff and we practice walking up and down the keys and the staff in steps and skips, then we transfer that to the piano with our fingers! We cover high and low, and sometimes I take my little students to my staircase so we can practice stepping and skipping up and down the stairs – then we relate it to the staff!

The most effective method I have used for transferring these concepts to actual sight reading is using my Steps and Skips Strips, which are included in my French Piano Pack. Students as young as 4 and 5 become super sight readers using these fun flashcards. Students pick a starting note on the piano, then we play the short melody on the card while saying “step up,” “skip down,” “same,” etc. Students LOVE putting several cards in a row to create awesome, long sight reading songs!

2. Learning Landmark Notes

Students who know a few landmark notes on the staff and are proficient at sight reading steps, skips and repeats are able to sight read pretty well on the staff, even if they have only been taking lessons for a few weeks. I find that the quicker you can get students reading on the actual staff, the better! It is a HUGE confidence boost when a student can go home and tell their parents that they read actual music on the staff for the first time! I have some super fun Paris-themed Landmark Notes resources available in my French Piano Pack that will help familiarize students with the landmark notes in no time. It includes a landmark notes cheat sheet, two sets of flashcards and two worksheets to test their knowledge.

3. Speeding Up Note-Naming

As students branch out and learn more notes on the staff, they need to be able to name and play them quickly in order to improve their sight reading. These fun and colorful Rainbow Flashcards (available in my Irish Piano Pack) encourage students to play two notes in a row by floating the wrist up after the first note and landing directly on the second note. When students can play notes quickly without fishing around for the correct key, their sight reading speed will increase dramatically!

4. Using Good Sight Reading Techniques

When students have a little guidance on good sight reading steps, and use these steps each day in their sight reading, their sight reading will improve every day! I like to teach my students 4 steps to sight reading. First, look ahead at the piece and be aware of what is coming up! Find the correct hand position, and second, play the song¬†at the speed of no mistakes – which means SLOW enough to not mess up. No matter what happens, try not to stop or skip a beat. Third, ask yourself “How did I do?” and point out any tricky spots you may have messed up on. Fourth, play the piece once more, this time going for accuracy.

Download the Sight Reading Tracker to give your students a fun and colorful reminder of the sight reading steps, so they can improve day by day!

5. Creating a Studio Sight Reading Challenge

In my studio we are starting a fun sight reading challenge this month; I want my students to sight read a TON this semester, so for each song they sight read throughout the week they get to put a little fuzzy in a jar in the studio. When the jar is all filled up they will earn a pizza party at the next monthly group class! Setting a studio-wide goal to work on a specific skill like sight reading is a great way to motivate your students. It creates a sense of community and a little bit of a social aspect to piano.

6. Improving Your Own Sight Reading

Take a 100-piece sight reading challenge with your more advanced students and improve your skills together!¬†Choose a composer and sight read all of their piano works. Or, sight read works from composers of the same musical period. Or, choose sonatas or preludes and fugues or miniatures. The point is, get yourself sight reading on a daily basis. It’s an amazing way to improve your skills, to become acquainted with more piano literature and to set a good example for your students.

A great way to end your Christmas recital

Last year I shared a fun Christmas Songs & Activities Pack with several activities you can use in private lessons and groups during the holiday season.

Today I wanted to share what I did with one of the activities for my studio recital this weekend. The Carol of the Bells Jam Session Activity was the perfect thing to do at our group class after I had the students perform their recital pieces for each other.

I printed the activity and cut out the strips that each has a simple part of the song. Before the students came I got out my bells and other instruments and decided which part I wanted each student to play and what they would play it on. One of the great things about this activity is that there are SO many ways you can do it. You can use whatever instruments you have available and make it turn out so fun. I used my piano and my organ (the two students I assigned to play on the organ were thrilled to have a chance to try it out!), hand bells and xylophone tone bells, boomwhackers, and a tambourine. It would have worked just as well using all bells, any number of different instruments, or even all on the piano if you can squeeze your students onto different parts of the piano. The possibilities are endless.

I did change a couple of the parts to be more simple because I have a few students who are pretty young. I love that this activity is actually really fun for children or teenagers or adults alike, and it is very easy to adapt it to whatever age group you have.

Make sure that you assign the first part (the main motive that repeats over and over and over) to someone who is a little older or who you can trust to carry a steady rhythm throughout the entire piece. The way this works is that you start with part number 1, have that student play it twice, and then add part two. Once they have played it twice, add part three, and so on until everyone is playing. It’s important to have everyone count together out loud (“1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 -4”) so everyone knows where to come in.

After parts eleven and twelve were played (I had one of my teenagers play both of them on the organ, once with right hand and one with left hand) I had all of the students stop playing (I taught them to listen for the A, A A A! at the end of that section and think “Stop! Stop stop stop!”) and my most advanced student and I played the bridge section together. After that everyone jumped back in and played their parts two more times. We ended with the first motive being played just once on the bells, slowly, and then one of my students played the lowest A on the piano to end.

I was a little nervous that everything might fall apart (we had only rehearsed once, at group class a couple of days before the recital) but my students nailed it! I was so proud of them. The audience was delighted and the students had a BLAST. It was the perfect way to end our Christmas recital!

Visit the Shop to download this activity and  for more great piano teaching resources!

More Classical Christmas Piano Music

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Three years ago I wrote a post about Classical Christmas Piano Music, highlighting several different Christmas-themed classical pieces. I love the idea of having students play some really great actual classical piano literature for a holiday recital instead of (or in addition to) your usual piano arrangements of Christmas carols. Since then I have found some more excellent pieces that I’d love to share! Many of these I discovered in Jane Magrath’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature. This list is a great resource for teachers of intermediate-level students, as all of these pieces are quite accessible for students of that level.

Merry Christmas!

 

Bartok – Romanian Christmas Carols

Twenty pieces in two sets of ten make up Bartok’s Romanian Christmas Carols. I love the gorgeous melodies of these pieces. These would be excellent for later intermediate students to play as a set. These feature changing meters all over the place, so a student with a strong sense of rhythm would be a good candidate for these pieces. For some more interesting background information on these pieces, read the description in the following YouTube video:

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Violet Archer – Habitat Sketches, Three Scenes: III. Christmas in Quebec

A brisk and fresh arrangement of Angels We Have Heard on High. Right and left hands take turns playing the melody while the other plays lively jingle bells-like accompaniment patterns.

Preview and purchase on musiccentre.ca

 

John Beckwith – Suite on Old Tunes: 3 Jingle Bells

This one-page arrangement of Jingle Bells is original, quick and challenging as hands continuously cross over each other in quick eighth note patterns. The result is a fun and fresh version of the familiar tune that is easily accessible and quick to learn for an intermediate student, yet impressive and fun for a recital.

Preview and purchase on musiccentre.ca

 

Norman Dello Joio – Diversions: 4. Chorale and 5. Giga

These two movements of this set are based on the Christmas song “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” The Chorale is a simple, two-part (with a slightly thicker texture at the end) rendition of the well-known tune. The Giga is a lot of fun! It features parts of the tune set to 6/8 time in a lively and rollicking Baroque-like Giga, but with more modern harmonies. This 4-page Giga gets louder and louder and has a dramatic, showy ending. Wonderful for a recital!

 

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Carl Reinecke – Christmas Sonatina

This intermediate-level piece in three movements is written in classical sonatina style and features several different well-known Christmas themes, including a motive from J.S. Bach’s¬†Christmas Oratorio,¬†Silent Night, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” from¬†Geistliche Lieder, a theme from Handel’s¬†Messiah (Every Valley Shall Be Exalted), and the Sicilian Hymn “O How Joyfully.” A wonderful teaching piece and great for a classical Christmas recital.

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William Gillock – Sleigh Bells in the Snow

A wonderful piece written in the key of E minor that portrays a brisk and rapid ride in a sleigh. It features lots of sixteenth-note runs played against a steady rhythm of accented staccato note clusters that sound like jingle bells. As the piece grows and intensifies in the middle there are some fun syncopated rhythms and big chords; it then gets softer and softer until the end as the sleigh drives off in the distance, but the tempo remains steady until the concluding pianississimo notes.

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Luis Gianneo – The Little Road to Bethlehem

A cute little rhythmic piece with a folk-like melody.

I have not been able to find the music for this one, but you can listen here.

 

Vladimir Rebikov – The Christmas Gift: Suite of 14 Pieces for Children

This is a set of elementary-level pieces for children; it includes some really great little teaching pieces that are a lot of fun to play. Movement 1, Gather Around the Christmas Tree is a beautiful little piece that captures the joy and excitement of Christmas. It features lots of small legato phrases in the right hand with descending staccato eighth notes in the left hand.

Movement 5, Russian Doll, is a cheerful, cute little piece that is excellent for practicing small legato phrases, as well as legato against staccato. It also has lots of graded dynamics.

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Several movements included in the book Classics Alive by Jane Magrath

 

Alexander Tansman – Pour les Enfants Set 3 No. 3: Noel

This gorgeous little piece features a beautiful, simple melody that is first played in the right hand and then the left.

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Alec Rowley РSonatina Op. 40 No. 4: Winter

Alec Rowley’s opus 40 includes a sonatina for each of the seasons. The finale of the Winter sonatina is a fun combination of the melodies of The Mulberry Bush and The First Noel.

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Don’t miss my other list of Classical Christmas Piano Music!

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Must-Have Christmas Piano Music

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