Very excited to announce the release of two elementary solos, designed to be taught by rote/ear, Make Way for Mischief and Cold Blast, available at laurensonder.com!
Reading piano music is a complex activity for many reasons. One of the biggest challenges beginners face is correlating notes that go up and down on the staff to keys that go "up and down" (right and left) on the keyboard. One teaching aid that I and many other teachers have found helpful is the "sideways" or horizontal staff. By turning the staff 90 degrees, students can more directly see how the staff and keys are related. Obviously, the staff can't stay that way, but seeing it turned on its side can help students make the connection even when it resumes its usual vertical form.
In 2013, I decided to make a large horizontal staff with "notes" (colored squares) that actually lined up with the corresponding keys on the keyboard. I color coded the squares to match some wooden letter beads I'd bought. Unfortunately, the bead set is no longer available for purchase (and I lost my pink "G" bead!). It's not hard to get your hands on pink, blue, and purple Post-it notes or highlighter tape though, if you like the color matching idea!
I've linked to two files below: an oversized PDF file that can either be printed on a large printer like a plotter or tiled over six 8.5 x 11" pages (see below), as well as an 8.5 x 11" PDF version that includes a printed keyboard.
Horizontal Staff PDF - Oversized (22 x 13")
Horizontal Staff PDF - Letter Size (8.5 x 11")
You are welcome to use these files in your studio and send them home with students for home use! I only ask that you not redistribute or alter them. Please share how you are using them in the comments!
Printing the Oversized PDF at Home:
You can print the oversized file in Adobe Acrobat Reader using 8.5 x 11" paper using by tiling it over 6 pages and trimming carefully!
A couple years ago, I made my own Velcro staff to use with my students. It's come in handy for many activities, from identifying landmark notes to melodic transcription. It is sturdy, lightweight, and sits easily on my upright piano's music stand. I've posted instructions below on how to make your own. If you do, please let me know how it turns out!
My student really enjoyed this piece from Tales of a Musical Journey Book 2, called The Grasshopper. I added a simple treble duet with quirky grace notes, which she thought sounded like a cricket. Fun for both of us :-)
This post is a modified version of an "About Practicing" handout I recently made for parents of my piano students. A lot of prospective have questions about what home piano practice looks like. Endless amounts could be (and have been) written on this topic, but here are some helpful basics to keep in mind:
How much should students practice?
Daily, quality practice is essential to a student's progress and enjoyment in piano. Unlike other activities for children, which are often scheduled 2-3x a week, piano lessons are generally scheduled only once a week, so reinforcement at home is very necessary. In my studio, I give the following guidelines:
What is meaningful practice?
Meaningful practice is, essentially, practice that helps reinforce concepts learned in the lesson. It is extremely helpful for students to practice immediately after their lesson, or the very next day, to reinforce what they just learned. Students may need to be reminded to work on the assigned goals for each piece. Simply playing through pieces without specific goals in mind is not meaningful practice.
What about repetition? How many times should a student play each piece (or phrase or section)?
Students rarely do their best work on their first try. Repetition is important for improvement, but it helps to focus on improving one thing per repetition. Point out positives before reminding students about something they forgot to do or still need to work on.
Sometimes my child just wants to “mess around” on the piano and make up their own songs. How can I get them to focus on their assignments?
Messing around (improvising) on the piano is a wonderful activity with many benefits and should not be discouraged. Remind your child that they may only have a certain amount of time to play the piano (before it's time for dinner, for example) and that they need to make sure they have time for their lesson assignments too, so that they can get better at playing the piano.
It can be a big challenge for a young beginner to connect with music notation. There are so many elements: pitch, rhythm, tempo, fingering, dynamics... Students often accidentally leave out dynamics when first playing through a piece. Sometimes the best thing to do is to help them feel the dynamics away from the page. Here's an exercise I recently used: I drew a "dynamics map" of the student's piece using the signs for crescendo and diminuendo. We listened to a recording of their piece and shaded in the dynamics shapes as the music played--making bigger crayon strokes as it got louder and smaller strokes as it got softer. It's great that the shapes we used were actual music notation symbols, but it would work well whether students had already learned these symbols or not!
Had a lot of fun playing duets with Jennifer Tripi at the Norman Public Library last week. We wore blue tulle in our hair to represent water, since we were playing two water themed pieces: En Bateau by Debussy and Night by the Sea by MacDowell. Thanks to Mary Sallee and the Norman Area Music Teachers Association for putting this event together!
Thoughts on Piano Teaching
Lauren Sonder is a piano teacher in Norman, OK.
She loves to apply creative teaching techniques to help students get the most out of their lessons.