The Dilemma of Kids With Great Ears.

I have seen this subject come up quite a bit in piano teacher groups. So I’ll tell you all a story.

I have a student.

The kid is brilliant. Not only that, he is sweet and hardworking. He started learning to play the piano with me at four years old he’s eight now. I’ll call him Johnny.

He has an amazing ear. He can play just about anything he hears. He also plays really musically. At the last recital, he brought the house down with his rendition of Cindy Lauper’s  “True Colors”.

I didn’t teach it to him. He heard it and came up with his own arrangement. It was so moving that people literally had tears in their eyes. After that, half my studio requested the opportunity to learn to cover this song.

The one little thing about Johnny is that he resisted reading music. Part of it was that he was so young when he started and so very talented that his technique and musicality far outpaced his notation reading abilities. The other part is, he is also a normal kid, who likes to do lots of things including, sports, art, etc. So I’m guessing in his mind reading music notation didn’t take top priority. In fact, spending his time and effort ciphering all of those little black dots on the staff probably didn’t make much sense to him. After all, why would anyone want to do things the hard way?

The fact is that it is human nature to take the path of least resistance. (Scientific Daily). We are hardwired to expedite tasks in the past our survival depended on it. So it should not be surprising that some musicians find it easier to learn music without using the notation. It should also not be surprising that kids are…well…kids.

My ultimate goals are to teach my students to play the piano. So that when they are old like me they can still sit down and play the music that will bring joy to themselves and others. I also want them to have the proper training so that they can take their musical skill to a professional level if they wish to.

I will move heaven and earth to make this happen.

How do I do this?

My number one priority is to help my students keep going. Actually, this is my only priority, because if they quit I have no chance of reaching my goals.

As long as they want to learn to play and are willing to put in some effort I will do what it takes to keep them from quitting. This means meeting them where they are and understanding each individual personality, and learning style.

This means since I am trying to keep my goal of helping my students become lifelong players I know I must constantly adjust my teaching methods.

And learn new skills myself.

In the case of Johnny, I know that if I had strictly insisted on the traditional method book approach and tried to demand that he read all of his music this talented boy would probably be long gone. I believe this could be a loss to myself, to Johnny, to his family, and possibly to the world of music.


So here’s how it’s been playing out.

Luckily, Johnny’s parents are amazingly supportive. Plus, his parents love music and they listen to it all of the time. (Which is why the kid is so musical in the first place.)

When Johnny was a little guy I let him explore. I tried traditional method books but he really didn’t take to them. So we worked on technique and improvisation. We always had some readable music around and spent some time on it. I could tell he was resistant to reading so we focused on his strengths and learned his favorite popular songs by ear.

When he got a little older (around six or seven) I made a deal with him that we would spend ten minutes of his lesson time on reading notes and rhythm and the rest on really trying to figure out what he was playing.

He understood that scales were important for the purpose of learning chords and figuring out what sharps and flats to play. So whatever song or piece of music worked on, we started with the corresponding scale and leaning the numbered scale degrees.

I had him listen, and listen, and listen some more throughout the week to whatever music it was he was trying to learn. (Although, usually this wasn’t necessary because he already knew it.) Sometimes, it was me who had to learn the music because he knew the song better than I did. As a result, I have learned a lot of new songs!

In addition, we are always working on theory, transposition, chord substitutions, blues, and improvisation. All by ear, (never by rote) and building an understanding of theory.

There’s more  in the post

Teaching Popular Music

All throughout this journey I took opportunities to point out the value of learning to read music notation. To show Johnny, that reading music has value and can actually be the easier way to learn music in many cases.

I have had a mantra.

“You are a very smart kid, when you decide it’s worth your while to learn to read music well, you will.”

Guess what?

At eight years old Johnny is learning to read. It’s not always a straight-line journey but he’s getting better every week. I always knew he could do it. When it comes right down to it I think learning to read music is easier than learning to do what has come so naturally for him.

Actually, you can play very well without reading. Conversely, you can play very well without learning to play by ear or improvise.

So my fellow teachers, why is this such a problem for us?

Because many of our music schools and conservatories haven’t taught us to play by ear or improvise. Popular music (and even jazz in some cases) was considered taboo and not taught or encouraged. I love popular music. I grew up on Long Island N.Y. at the time when Billy Joel was just getting famous and was the inspiration for a generation of piano players. But my teachers didn’t let me spend any lesson time on music like this.

I always joke that I couldn’t play anything when I got out of music school. I had to spend years learning to play Church music, Pop music, and I’m still working on Blues and Jazz.

Student’s like Johnny have made me a better teacher and a better musician.

I know it can be a challenge, but I ask that you don’t give up on students that seem to resist reading music. There are so many resources out there that can help us learn new skills. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, go ahead, step outside of the box, and go for it.

If teaching pop music and playing by ear just isn’t your lane that’s ok. Very few teachers are experts in every area. Encourage your students and send them to a teacher who likes working with this type of student.

I would ask that you do your best to keep kids with great ears that resist reading music going. It’s well worth the effort.

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12 Games You Can Play With Online or In Person Students of Any Age 


30 minutes can feel like a long time for students. Especially online students. About mid-lesson I like to take a two to four-minute break and play a game. These games are great because you don’t need any additional materials. You can play them anytime! These games work well in person too.


I want these games to be fun and I also want them to build my student’s musicianship. Here are 12 games you can play instantly online without any special materials or downloads.

1 – Name that tune. Roll a die or choose a number (two through six) play the notes from a song or piece the student knows and see if he can guess the song. Take turns with your student guessing and playing.

2 – Major or minor. Play a passage in a major or minor key and see if your student can tell the difference.

3 – Chord qualities. Start with just major and minor chords and have your student identify the chord qualities. Take turns with your student and have her play the chords as well. Add new chord qualities as your student increases in proficiency.

4 – Stump the Professor. This is my favorite. Ask your student to choose any piece from her book and you will sight-read it. One tip is to anticipate that your students will usually ask for the most difficult-looking pieces. So if sight-reading isn’t your forte you might want to go over these ahead of time.

5 – Name the instrument. Pull up a YouTube video featuring an instrument other than the piano. Don’t show it to them and see if they can name the instrument and the instrument family by listening to it.

6 – What is the genre? Play a few bars of Blues, Jazz, Classical, Rock, Pop etc. Your student gets to try and figure out what you are playing.

7 – Who is the composer? Play a snippet of a piece and see if your student can figure out who wrote it. A variation on this would be to name the period in musical history in which the place was written.

Continue reading “12 Games You Can Play With Online or In Person Students of Any Age “

Sounds all Around


There are all kinds of opportunities to train your ear just walking down the street. I was out in Seattle a couple of weeks ago walking around when I heard the beep, beep, beep of a payloader backing up. C#


My text tone is a C natural, email F#, my oven timer is an E, and on, and on you get the picture.


But it gets even more fun when you hear all of the different ringtones, social media notifications, and product logo jingles.


Don’t forget the church bells.


And then there’s nature, the almost perfect fourth of the Mourning Dove’s song and the Cardinal’s “birdie, birdie, birdie” (perfect fifth).


There are notes and there is rhythm too. The passing train and the sound of car tires on a bumpy road. The woodpecker, the tiny cricket, and the bullfrog serve as the rhythm section.


I use these sounds to make myself a better musician. I teach my students to do it too.


To listen…really listen!


Is that siren you hear ascending or descending?


Do you hear the clock ticking? That’s 60 bpm on the metronome.


Can you identify the rhythm of the roofer’s nail gun as he works? (Cur-chunka-cur-chunka)


What if the interval of the ding dong doorbell? What are the notes?


How about your cat’s meow?


If you hear a song while shopping, can you sing it? Can you tell if it’s in a major or minor key? Can you hear the bassline or the chord progression?




I wasn’t blessed with perfect pitch, but after years of playing the violin in school, I can still hear the A 440 in my head. The director always had it blaring over a speaker as we came into the orchestra room. So, using that as a reference point I can usually identify a note. (Do I sound like a music geek or what?).


I tell my students if they hear a tone to sing it and then take a guess. They can see if they got the note right by using a phone app called Tiny Piano. If they hear a rhythm remember it or record it and try to write it down.


But that’s just the beginning. In the next post, I will write about how we use the sounds all around to create our own music.



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The Pre-recorded Holiday Recital

My last studio recital was supposed to be in-person but several people tested positive for COVID and two, it was moved to Zoom. It was Ok but a few of my students were too nervous and became stressed out about the switch. So I’ve decided that we will have a pre-recorded holiday recital.

I am going to assign pieces for my students to learn. Once they learn their music they can send me a recording of themselves playing and I will create a recorded recital. I will set a date and we will all watch together on zoom.

How it works

Students can record themselves (or parents can record their children) playing their piece. They can show hands only, back or side-view or whatever they feel comfortable with. When the student is satisfied with the performance they will send me the video. I will review the recordings with my students and if necessary remediate their work. I want to make sure they will be proud of and feel good about. Continue reading “The Pre-recorded Holiday Recital”

Age-related Practice Guidelines


Keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to create lifelong musicians and keeping in mind that I want my students to grow to love the piano, my objective is to train students to be independently responsible for their own piano practice.  Students will govern their own practice when they want to it and see the value of practice. I use the following age-related guidelines in my studio.

Preschoolers ages 4-6 — Parents supervise practice

My preschoolers work on things like ear training and keyboard exploration. What I expect is for them to spend five to ten minutes going over the music we worked on at the lesson. I ask parents to be nearby and help when necessary. The preschool program I use is very relaxed; my goal is to introduce the little ones to the piano and build some basic musicianship. I want this stage to be fun and engaging, so I use lots of games and off-the-bench activities.

Elementary students ages 5-11 — Parents remind children to practice.

As soon as students are ready (usually about the time they begin reading words), I transition them into Book 1 of the Paloma Piano series and note reading. At this point, they should be able to practice by themselves.  But, I have found that my elementary school-aged kids won’t remember to practice without a reminder. I ask parents to set a consistent daily practice time and remind their child to practice. I tell my students that when their parent tells them to go practice they should do it right away.

Middle and High School Students ages 12 and older — independent practice.

Since the ultimate goal (as per my Mission Statement) is to have students become independent musicians. I expect my older students to take full responsibility for their own practice.

These age-related suggestions are just guidelines. As teachers, we know what works best for each individual student. I have some ultra-responsible, super-motivated younger kids who don’t need to be reminded to practice. (I love it when this happens!). Some older kids may still occasionally need reminders and help with organization when it comes to practice. As teachers, we must use our best judgment.

Here are two interesting tales of practice gone wrong


When I was a kid, I took piano lessons along with my friend—Stacy. I was twelve years old when I started and was very motivated. Stacy… not so much. Her mother’s solution was to set a kitchen timer for 30 minutes and make her sit at the piano and “practice.”

I’m pretty sure you can figure out how well that went.

Stacy took lessons for a long time. She turned into one of the “piano lesson casualties.” She quickly became one of those people who took lessons for years but grew up not being able to play anything. What’s the moral of this story? It’s not about how many minutes you spend sitting at the piano.  It’s about what you do while you are sitting there.


I had a clever student who owned a digital piano with a record button. His solution to fulfilling his allotted practice time was to record himself playing something once and then hit the playback button until his 30 minutes were completed. When I told his mom he wasn’t making progress, she was mystified and insisted that he was indeed practicing for 30 minutes every day. He was a bright young man, so I knew something didn’t add up. His sister finally told me what was really going on. This was annoying, but I had to give the kid an A-plus for ingenuity.

Focus on Tasks Not Time

I don’t tell my students how long to practice each day. I work with each student to develop detailed specific tasks and practice goals to meet on a daily basis. I will ask older students how much time they have for practice in the coming week and what they think they can accomplish. Younger students decide how many times they can practice a particular piece or skill each day.

I record everything in a notebook that students can bring back and forth to their lessons. I find this low-tech solution works well. It makes it possible for students and parents to have a written, easily accessible record of what the child is supposed to be practicing.

I also write the date and assignment on the actual music score. I use plastic tabs to bookmark the pages in the notebook and all music books. My goal is to make it as easy as possible for my students to find their music and the page in their assignment notebooks.

I work hard to train my students and their parents to depend on the notebook to guide them as they practice. I often do a practice-practice the last five minutes of the lesson where I will say “Let me see how you are going to practice when you get home”. I am checking to see that they will first open and look in the notebook. If they don’t, this is my chance to reinforce this. If a student shows up without a notebook, I ask them and the parent where it is.

I usually purchase notebooks for my students when back-to-school specials are running. I do find myself having to “harp” on the notebook issue with some students and parents. I’ve replaced more than a few notebooks that have gone missing or have been eaten by the family dog. I recommend a piano bag so students can keep all of their music and their notebook together. I do whatever it takes to make my students understand that following a plan is the key to making progress. Is it easy? No. But it’s worth it.

Creating Practice Assignments

Involve students in creating their weekly practice assignments and be very, very specific when it comes to assigning tasks. With beginning through early-intermediate students, ask them how many times they will practice something each day. Once you agree on a mutually acceptable number, record it in the notebook and write it on the music.

Ask intermediate through advanced students how much time they will have to spend practicing in the coming week. Then devise a specific daily practice plan that involves things like, how the metronome will be used and which practice techniques will be implemented to accomplish a realistic practice goal for the week.

When you involve your students in setting their own practice routines for the week, you shift the responsibility from the teacher (or their parents) to the student. This works best because each student decides and plans for his or her own practice.  This makes it the student’s responsibility. The student has control, which works because let’s face it, it’s human nature that nobody likes being dictated to.  But when students set their own practice times, they take ownership of the process and are more likely to follow-through.

With existing students and families, I sometimes have to revisit the issue of practice time. If I find my students are falling off the practice wagon (which happens from time to time). I am prepared to go all the way back and revisit my Mission Statement and their original piano goals. I do this to encourage and remind my students to keep their eyes on the destination.

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Help My Student Isn’t Practicing!!

This is a summer like no other. The airports are packed, national parks are over full, and everyone is out and about. It’s no wonder, we pretty much lost last summer to COVID so the fact that people are letting loose and on the go is good news!


The bad news is that our piano students may not be doing as much practice as before.


So, what can we do? If you’re like me, you don’t really want to have students quit, but teaching students who haven’t practiced all week is…well…no fun. (That’s putting it mildly) No fun for the teacher, and no fun for the student either.

Let’s make piano lessons fun and rewarding. 


Paloma Piano has plenty of resources to help make lessons fun and keep things moving ahead, even if a few of your students are having a little trouble staying inside this summer.


Let’s fill up that 30 minutes and make time fly! Your students will be learning, and they won’t even know it! Best of all, everybody will be happy, you, your students, and their parents;) Here’s what we have for you! Continue reading “Help My Student Isn’t Practicing!!”

Teaching Students to Read Music

I tell my students that music reading is our burden to bear. I played the violin all through school and reading the treble clef one note at a time was a piece of cake. Of course, there was all of that annoying tone and intonation to focus on. The bow arm position and vibrato it’s all pretty complicated.

Pianists have two hands that operate the same way, no problems with intonation, embouchure, vibrato. But what we do have is two clefs and a lot of notes! The only people who have more notes than us are organists.

Teaching most students to read music well is no easy task! But when students can read well our lives as teachers is so much easier! Some of my students learn to read very easily, for most, it takes some more effort. There are a few who have a really tough time learning to read music notation.


Know your student

In my experience, most piano students fall into one of two categories. Visual learners and auditory learners. Because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance visual learners tend to look at the score and auditory learners tend to try to pick things up by ear.

Some students take to reading easily. They have an easy time connecting what’s going on in the score with what happens on the keyboard. Others have naturally great ears and can hear something and learn it without looking at the music very much for these students reading seems counterproductive.

As a teacher it is crucial that I watch and listen carefully to see how each student is learning.

How to Begin

I can honestly say I became so frustrated with many of the piano method books available that I wrote my own. I recommend you stay away from any method books that have hand positions and fingerings over every note. Use a method that introduces new concepts slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning. You may also want to use more than one method and always have lots of supplemental music.

Downplay Mnemonic Devices

I start my students with middle C and we go from there. I don’t even mention “every good boy does fine” I use this only as a reference, it can be helpful to help a student find the first note of a piece. That’s it though, no counting lines and spaces.

How Music is Read,

Piano music is read by seeing patterns and transferring those patterns into music on the keyboard. Think about it. As an experienced pianist, do you ever think about note names while you are playing?

The score is a picture of what happens on the keyboard.

Notes go up. Notes go down, skips, jumps, chords, repeated notes. It’s all very logical. I tell my students that, what the music looks like is what it is. It never tricks you. This may all seem obvious, but it isn’t. I have found that pointing this out to my students really helps them to make the connection between the score and the keyboard.

In the Beginning

Start with a few notes and expand slowly. I start with treble C through G and then add Bass C through G. making sure that my student is understanding and able to play these notes I begin expanding the notes until all of the treble and bass clef are covered. Then accidentals, chords, different keys, etc. All of this happens as students are learning to count and understand rhythm as well. The process is fairly straightforward, but it takes work and persistence.

Practice is Key,

Of course, you can be an expert at teaching and see very little progress if your student isn’t practicing at home. So, it is imperative that your students do their part. I talk about the subject of motivating students to practice in my book “The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town, Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

The Most Important Time to Practice,

I want my students to practice every day, however, I tell my students to practice on the day of their lesson after the lesson is over and as early as possible the next day. This is because in order for information to go from short-term to long-term memory it must be repeated within about 24 hours of being presented. If a student waits a few days before coming back to the piano and practicing, much, if not all, will be lost.

At the Lesson

I do my best to sit back and let my students figure things out. When a student starts a new piece, I let her take a look at it and try to read through the score. I may begin by asking, what is the key and time signature? How will you count the rhythm in measure 3? If my student gets stuck, I encourage her to try and figure things out.

I will ask, do the notes go up or down? Is that a skip or a step? How do you count the rhythm in measure three? I keep coming back to the point that they can learn to read well, that music notation makes sense and that learning to read is worth the effort.

When a Student Just Isn’t Getting It,

Usually, these things work but there are times when I really need to work hard with a student to help him to learn to read.

In my experience, these are usually students who have very good auditory skills and can get by without learning to read. Years ago, I had a student who had such a good ear that he could learn pieces like “First Arabesque” by Debussy by ear!! The only way I could get him to read music was to find obscure music and change pieces every week. (Now you may ask why a student like that would have to bother learning to read music in the first place, but that’s another discussion entirely).

With these types of students, I give them lots of new music to look at. I also allow them to learn music by ear as a separate skill. I strike a bargain, so to speak, “learn your minuet and then listen to and learn to play “Piano Man”.

Reading Isn’t Everything

I want my students to learn to play…period! There are all sorts of reasons why students have problems learning to read music.

A student might be too young to grasp the concept.

It may be that a student needs glasses and can’t see the music well.

Maybe he just doesn’t practice.

Some students just don’t see the point. Like the ones I mentioned above who can play everything by ear.

Whatever it takes, I do my best to keep all of my students engaged. If a student quits, all is lost. I would rather focus on playing by ear for a while if necessary.


A Few More Tips,

Create a print-rich environment.

Music notation is beautiful in and of itself!

Classroom teachers know that having lots of words and print in the classroom environment helps students to learn to read. We can create a musical print-rich environment in our studios by having musical posters and examples of music readily available.

At home, students should have more than one piano book. Give them lots of different music to look at. Let them see what you are playing.

If you are watching a YouTube video look for one that has the musical score scrolling by as the music plays.

Be careful to make sure any music notation your students are exposed to is accurate. We have all seen music bags and sweatshirts with backward treble clefs and keys sigs that feature flats and sharps at the same time.

Music Writing

Give your students a pencil and some staff paper, let them write some music of their own. This is a great way for them to strengthen their note-reading skills.

Apps, Flashcards, and Note Spellers

Ehh… I use them here and there. They may help a little and they can be fun but honestly, I don’t believe they do much to create excellent readers. This is because music is about seeing patterns it’s about learning to hear and play what you see before you on the page. This is why isolating notes doesn’t do much to improve music reading skills.

Be a Cheerleader

Encourage any progress you encounter. Celebrate success. Acknowledge, the fact that music study is hard work, but add that hard work is good.

Practice Buddies

I started doing this when we went online. I started giving certain students 10 minutes a day, 5 days per week. During this time we just work on not reading using my “Super Shorties” and “Reading Rx” workbooks. You can use any appropriate music with your students.

Usually, two weeks of practice buddy lessons get them over the “hump” and they start to feel more comfortable with reading music notation.

Words Have Power!

I never let my students say “It’s too hard” or “I can’t do it.” I substitute these phrases for phrases like “It’s challenging” or I can’t do it yet.”

My favorite word

My favorite word is “imagine.”

“Imagine how it will feel when you can pick up any piece of music and read easily.”

I believe it is important to keep the vision alive and let students know that it is attainable.

It’s worth it to help students to learn to read music fluently. Being able to easily cipher music notation makes playing music much more joyful. This ensures that the piano will be part of your student’s life for years to come!

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Teaching Rhythm

“Music is organized sound, Rhythm is the timing of  In time is where the music exists. Time is like the canvass, rhythm the brush strokes, and notes the colors.”

What’s more challenging than teaching piano students to read notes?

Teaching them to count.

At least this has been my experience.

I think that this is because rhythm is more abstract. A note is a note. A 440 is the second space from the bottom in the treble clef. Start on middle C and count up six.

But what is a quarter note?

A quarter note gets one beat…right?

Well, most of the time.

What’s a beat?

A unit of time that can be any speed. From very slow to super-fast.

It’s no wonder that beginning piano students young and old find the concept of rhythm a bit hard to grasp.

When teaching students to understand rhythm and apply it to their music (i.e. counting) I think there are a few things working against me.

Number one – Rhythm involves math. Enough said. I am aware that there is some old wives’ tale that musicians just love math and are naturally good at it. Maybe, but I haven’t met many musical math wizards. I am certainly don’t fall into that category myself.

Number two – It’s relatively easy to imitate rhythm once it is heard. Studies show that rhythm is somewhat hardwired into the human brain beginning with the mother’s heartbeat. Language is also rhythmic. A lot of students really don’t count they listen and hear how the rhythm goes and then imitate what they have heard.

Number three – It’s hard enough to get the right fingers on the right notes, and getting the right fingers on the right notes at the right time. Yikes!! The default is that the rhythm goes out the window. From the student’s standpoint, this is an acceptable sacrifice.

Of course, we know better, don’t we?

Number four – The solution is part of the problem. The solution, of course, is to slow down and count out loud. But for some reason, most students seem to HATE doing this. I took a poll this week and asked my student why they don’t like counting out loud.

The top two answers…

“It’s annoying”


“It’s embarrassing”

Ok, annoying I get, but embarrassing?


Number five – We only see our students once per week. We can go over this stuff with them ad nauseum but if they don’t think about rhythmic concepts between lessons the information never gets from short-term to long-term memory.

Things have become more intense for us in the past few years. As music in the school system gets reduced or cut, we no longer have music educational reinforcement going on during the week.

So, it’s all up to us.

First of all, I’ll admit that I have been coming across this problem more than usual lately.

When I ask a student who has been in piano lessons for three years how many beats a half note gets and the say “a half” I feel like turning in my membership card to the planet earth.

It is soooo discouraging. Ugg! I feel like such a nag.

Can you relate?

How do I tackle this challenge?

The same way I tackle them all.

First things first, I get a nice drink. No, no! not a tall glass of Pinot Grigio more like a Grande Pike from Starbucks.

Then I take a deep breath and thank God I know how to play the piano.

After that, it’s time to get down to teaching my students to count. Once and for all.

First, I explain to them that the rhythm is more important than the notes. We can have music without notes (percussion) but we music have rhythm.

I always demonstrate this by playing Bach’s minuet in G with no rhythm i.e., every note is the same, and then I play it with all of the wrong notes but the correct rhythm.

Then I used my painting example.

I tell my students that music is “organized sound” it moves through time. Time is where the music exists, and the rhythm is the timing of the music. Rhythm is our canvass.

I ask my students to imagine a painter trying to paint with nothing to paint on.

I do this because mindset is everything. If I can get my students to see how crucial rhythm is to the music I can begin to break through and really teach them.

Start from the very beginning.

If a student is struggling, I review everything. Starting with note values, rests, and time signatures.

We work in four steps

Step one- I ask the students to explain what is going on with the rhythm. The time signature, note values etc.

Step two – Write in the beats.

Step three – Clap and count out loud. I insist that they count the number of beats in the measure. If you are playing in 4/4 count one-two-three-four.

Step four – Count out loud while playing. I usually ask students to play hands separately, and then put hands together.

If we can get this far, we are off and running.

Now the trick is to get the students to actually practice counting during the week. So I give my students some written homework, specific practice instructions, and last but not least, the final “YOU MUST COUNT!” lecture.

Since going online, I also check in mid-week with my students who I think need the extra help.

I created a program called Rhythm Rx. It has 10 progressive lessons.

Each lesson has 8 four-measure exercises. Each exercise is given twice so that the student can write in the beats, count, and clap the exercise. Then the student can turn the page and play the same example without the beats written in. The exercises build upon one another so that concepts can be repeated and fully learned. The book ends off with two pieces that the students can count and learn to play independently.

You can download it if you are a full Platinum Member.


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Rhythm Rx

Let’s Get Going – Tips for Getting Ourselves and Our Students Out of the Doldrums

It’s only Tuesday and it’s been a real challenge this week. Even some of my best students seem to be in Lala land. Forgetting notes and rhythms, losing music, playing scales with the wrong fingering. It’s enough to make even ‘the happiest piano teacher in town’ well…not so happy.

I’ve talked to some other teachers and I know I am not alone. Times are anything but usual right now and I believe our students need us more than ever. More than they need us, they need music. So how can we take the pressure off and make piano lessons a bit more fun while at the same time making sure that our students are actually learning something?

First things first teachers. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and musically.

Physically – Be sure to eat well and get some exercise, even if it’s just a walk out in the fresh cool air or a ride on a stationary bicycle. Do your best to sleep well and regenerate.

Emotionally – Stay calm, focus on the present moment. Keep a nice soothing cup of tea nearby. I also like to keep a pad and some colorful gel pens handy for writing notes. I like the colors and the smooth feeling of the gel pens. I keep my teaching place decorated nicely so I have something pleasant at which to look.

Spiritually – Let the music lift your spirit. If like me, you are a person of faith realize that there is a bigger picture and somehow everything is under control.

Musically – You and I are first and foremost musicians. Love the music! Enjoy it. Play, compose, listen, and learn.


Ok, now that, that’s out of the way let’s talk about our students. How can we get them a little more “jazzed” about their piano lessons?

Ask them what they want to play. Some of my students are taking a detour into some popular music, blues, and jazz. This is a great time to learn to read a lead sheet, improvise, or play by ear. All valuable music skills.

Play some games. Take time mid-lesson to play a quick musical game. (We have lots of games at

Watch a video. I love to have my students watch great piano performances. It may be Lang Lang, George Shearing, or any other great pianist. I always ask them to imagine how they will feel when they can play well. I remind them to keep going, that at one time even these great artists were beginners and had to practice.

Play for your students. Show them what you are working on. I like to do a screen share and show them the score. We talk about key and time signatures, musical terms, etc. I ask them if the music looks difficult. I talk to them about seeing patterns in the music and never thinking about note names while I am sight-reading. Playing for our students inspires confidence, and helps them realize that they can learn to play well.

Assign shorter pieces. Having a sense of completion is motivating. Students and parents will appreciate being able to finish music quickly.

Assign easier pieces. If students are really struggling easier music may be in order. Several less advanced pieces may be helpful if students haven’t been keeping up with their practice and need some review.

Assign a “reach piece”. Depending upon the student a more difficult piece that your student is dying to play may be just what the doctor ordered. Maybe it’s time to tackle that Chopin Etude your student has been dreaming of playing.

Schedule an informal recital. Having goals is usually helpful for students. A recital may just be the push a student needs to get up and get going.

Have meet-ups online. We were doing Saturday meetings on zoom twice per month. I plan to continue with this my students got really excited about this it totally lifted their spirits and mine.

Implement a practice challenge. I got this idea from one of the teachers on my Facebook group. Piano Teacher Apprentice. Challenge your students to increase their practice, and set goals for them to meet.

Invite parents to attend online lessons and even do a little playing if they’d like. This can be super fun and provide lots of laughs, not to mention bonding between parent, student, and teacher.

The main thing is to keep going. I really believe we piano teachers have something very valuable to offer our students and their families.

Take heart, I believe that things will get better. Hopefully, things will return to normal before long. I sincerely hope you and your families and friends are well. If there is anything I can do to make your teaching easier please reach out.


Thank you for reading.


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I Love My iPad

I love my iPad! by Doreen M Hall

In July of 2020 my father gave me an awesome gift. An iPad pro. This was before pandemic shutdowns and online teaching became my main way of earning my living. I had no idea at the time how much I would come to love and depend on my iPad for just about everything I do musically these days.

Here are the ways I make use of my iPad. I am only including things that I can use on my iPad that don’t require my student to also have an iPad.

I use the Forscore app.

This app. allows me to have all of my music in one place. I can organize it by genre, I can tag and label pieces for specific students or special events. The app allows me to make setlists for concerts or gigs.

I can either upload and pdf into the app or I can scan it in with the built-in camera. I can also screen share with my student and write on the music in real-time. Highlighting things like accidentals, dynamics, etc. My student and I can go through the score together and add any markings necessary.

Since my website, features hundreds of pdf files (including method books, scales, solos, classical selections, duets, theory, and much more!) I have everything ready for super easy access. Which for me is a total slam dunk!


Speaking of Pdf files the International Music Score Literacy Project has thousands of works in the public domain. These can be downloaded into Forscore in a flash.


I use the iPad to play games like Note-Rush and Foyumin Music Reading. For Noterush My students can actually play the notes on their instrument and the app. hears it. Fuyomin I have the student call the notes out and I enter them. Cool!


I love to pull up awesome music videos to watch with my students. YouTube doesn’t allow screen sharing however I can set my iPad in in front of my computer (mac book pro) and they can see and hear the video very well.


I can use the iPad to record videos of my students playing. I also do this by setting up the camera so that my student can be recorded from my computer screen.


I have a dice app. that I use to play games with my students. We “roll’ the dice to decide how many times they will play a section or how many times per day they will practice a certain skill. Or who will play a new piece first?


I have a couple of metronome apps. Including “Impulse” and “Speak Beat” these work well online. The Forscore app. also includes a built-in metronome.

Backing Tracks

For my more advanced students as well as for my own practice I use the iReal Pro app. This includes backing tracks for hundreds of jazz tunes. I can set it and my students can hear it and play.

Taking Notes

I also have a notepad app, which allows me to keep notes on each student. This way I always know what they are working on and if I need to send any new music, contact parents, etc.


I also have the Kindle Cloud Reader and a Kindle account. Most piano books are now available as eBooks, so I have a few books on my kindle reader. I have had students show up online with new books such as the music from Harry Potter. When this happens, I just pop over to kindle and purchase the book. It’s not as convenient as the Forscore app which allows me to write and notate on the music but in a pinch, it’s great.


I take my iPad to choir practice weddings, funerals, and anywhere else I would take sheet music or music books. You can even get a page-turner foot pedal. Although, I have not found this necessary as page-turning in Forscore is easy. One caveat is to disable SIRI because sometimes a random sound will cause her to turn a page when you don’t want it turned. (I found this out the hard way. But once SIRI was turned off I had no more such problems.)

In conclusion

I am sure I will find even more uses for my iPad. I have the 12.9 inch iPad pro 4th generation. I knew I would be using it a lot, so I went for the 512GB memory. But the 128 or 256GB is plenty for most needs. The iPad comes with many great features. I also have an iPencil which helps with writing while screen sharing. I also purchased a magnetic cover to protect the investment.

The iPad Pro is not cheap, and you can do all of these things with a smaller model. For performances and rehearsals, I like the bigger screen.

The iPad has been great for use during in-person lessons and a Godsend in running my studio online.

If you are interested in getting an iPad I recommend you shop around for the best price. And don’t forget to save your receipt, in the U.S. this purchase is considered a business expense and is tax-deductible.

Happy Teaching!

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