Fall Kickoff 2012

Ahoy Matey’s! This year our theme is Hidden Treasures. Students will be focused on finding the “hidden treasures” in our music; focusing on Rhythm, Notes, Technique, Dynamics and Expression. Students will be advancing on their pirate treasure map as they practice each week and advance pirate ranks. In addition they will earn their pirate “booty” (aka jewels) for completing different tasks and the hidden gem for the week. Students will be able to spend their booty at the Pirate auction in May. I bought Jeana Beasley’s Hidden Treasure Kit (which will be perfect to use during group lessons and Christmas camp) and then adapted her incentive program to fit what I wanted to do in my studio.

At our Fall Kickoff we learned about the new Hidden Treasures program and students decorated their treasure boxes where they will keep their jewels in that they earn each week.

In addition, students shared their Practice Prop project that they worked on over the summer. Each summer students work on practice prop projects that reflect how they do with their practicing. They apply a goal (whether it is a timed goal or a task goal) to their practicing and then add to their project based on that goal. For example a timed goal might be practice for 20 minutes that day then spend 20 min. on their project that day. A task goal may play a piece 3 times perfectly and then when that is accomplished add on a piece to their project. I always enjoy what projects students decide to do. We had lego projects, art projects, a couple puzzles, even a homemade blanket and more!

Enjoy the pictures and take a look at the before and after pictures for the treasure boxes! They did such a great job decorating! I had them decorate them with stick on jewels and metallic markers.

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Beware of email scammers!

Tis the season… If you are like me, you have probably come across several email lesson inquiries that don’t sound quit legit in the last few months. Just in the last two weeks I think I’ve had 3 come through. When in doubt, it is probably a scam. Here are some tips that can help determine whether or not to respond to the email. 
1) The grammar or spelling isn’t quite right. (These are the obvious one’s but some are not so obvious)
2) The inquiry is looking for a “tutor” for a short period of time with a lot of lessons in that short period of time (i.e.: 3-4 lessons a week for 3 months; on a holiday, etc…)
3) They want to pay you a lump sum up front. (what happens after this point is they will send you money for more than what you asked for. Then they will ask you to send them a refund for the difference back. The problem is there check will bounce before you realize it and they just made some money off of you.) 
4) The inquiry sounds too good to be true. (i.e.:Homeschooler, wants lots of lessons, will pay for several months right away…)
5) The email sounds “staged”, not personable, no way to contact them other than email, refers to your services as music lessons or you as a music tutor instead of piano lessons, asks odd questions, etc…

If you get emails that may look a little suspicious (They just keep getting better and better)…

1) Don’t respond. I actually block their email from my inbox.
2) If you already responded and you find they sent you a check for more then the amount. Do not cash it! Chances are 99.9999% that it is not legit. (In the end scammers are all about the money)
3) Deal with local clients only. I ALWAYS meet my potential clients first for an interview and evaluation before taking any money.
4) Report the spam to the the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov. Be sure to include the complete spam email, your ISP’s abuse desk. At the top of the message, state that you’re complaining about being spammed, the sender’s ISP. Most ISPs want to cut off spammers who abuse their system. Again, make sure to include the entire spam email and say that you’re complaining about spam.
5) I think this is most important: When in doubt trust your intuition! If something is coming off not quite right then it probably isn’t.


Tech Tuesday: MLC- An online theory playground

When it comes to online subscription services I always hesitate to sign up only because there is a monthly fee attached to it. I prefer to pay a lump sum and get it over with. So usually with any subscription based service I hesitate for years, meanwhile still checking out the service trying to decide if it’s really worth it. Like MusicTeachersHelper.com, this was also the case for MusicLearningCommunity.com. (I will be referring it to MLC from this point on…)

Finally after years of trying out the free games I decided to dive in and really try it out. The first year I used MLC with my students both at the lesson during lab time and had them available to do the games at home as well. This went okay, but I really wanted my students to get the full benefit from this resource. So the next year I decided to assign games as an actual theory assignment. Like most teachers, I was using theory books but a lot of times students wouldn’t get the pages done. They would “forget” the book at home, or simply wouldn’t care. So I figured MLC would be their theory assignment. I would assign a game that would correlate with the unit they were in at their lesson. The first year doing this I noticed students were really good about playing their theory games at home at the beginning of the year, but as the year progressed, like their book assignments, things started to slide.

Now I didn’t want to give up on MLC, I felt it was a great resource for students so like anything that doesn’t go quite the way you want it to, I reflected on what I can do to help make this more successful in my studio. So the following year I decided I was going to be more diligent with the parents. If I found a MLC assignment wasn’t getting done, I would email the parents and follow up with them. Reminding them that this is to their child’s benefit and part of their piano assignment. 99% (nobody’s perfect) of the time, this made a difference. This is where MLC became the most successful in my studio. In addition I have held occasional contests over breaks that involved playing the MLC games, and I always make sure MLC is part of our yearly incentive program.

Now if you haven’t heard of MLC, you are missing out. Christine Hermanson and her husband have pretty much thought of everything that would help teachers and their students review, grow, develop and enjoy the theory process.

Top 5 reasons I subscribe to MLC…

1) The GAMES (of course!)- More than 450 games and counting! Games cover concepts such as: Keyboard Elements, Aural and Visual Pitch, Aural and Visual Rhythm, Intervals, Scales and Key Signatures, Music Terms and Symbols, Tonal Memory and Playback, Chords and Harmony Aural and Visual from the primer level up to level 5.  Now there are games that are MIDI compatible!

2) Progress Report– I love that I can check the scores of my students game any time I want to see how they are doing. If they are not reaching the target score on a particular game, then I know that concept is one that needs to be reviewed more at the lesson.

3) Printable Assignment Score Sheets– Another fantastic feature is assignment score sheets that students can print out. Christine went the extra mile and has customized assignment sheets for the following method books: Alfred Premier, Artistry at the Piano, Celebrate Piano, Faber Piano Adventures, Hal Leonard, Music for Young Children, The Music Tree and Carnegie- Royal Conservatory. Eventually there will be sheets for: Succeeding at the Piano, Piano Town, Alfred’s Basic, Bastien Piano Basics and Pianimals. I’m anxiously awaiting for one for Pianimals to come out. If the method book you use isn’t on this list, there are generic leveled score sheets you can download. In addition there are assignment sheets that correlate with the following programs: California MTAC “Certificate of Merit”, Florida State MTA “Student Day” and the Illinois MTA “Achievement in Music” (AIM)

4) Teachers Guide and Games at a Glance– I love the teachers guide and Games at a Glance and refer to these often especially when I have a student that is in a different method that one that is listed above.

5) Personable– Christine is always happy and willing to help where needed. There have been a few times where I had a need for a specific game concept and emailed Christine with my wants/needs. She has always been gracious and willing to take those ideas and turn them into a reality! The best part of #5 is meeting Chris in person at the MTNA Conferences!

(Here is us at the NYC MTNA conference last March…really wish I could fix my hair in the picture. ha! ha!)

Those are my top 5 reasons, but there is much more to discover. Teacher Membership is $19.95 per month for up to 50 students. I personally set aside a certain amount in my studio registration fee that covers a subscription for each student. If you had 20 students, that’s only a $1.00 a month per student. Most families are more than willing to pay for this service if you don’t add it to a studio fee.

Start out with the free games and/or a 2 week trial and give it a try!


If you haven’t heard of PianoMorning.com you are missing out on some music treasures. PianoMorning.com is a subscription based website that is chock full of music, theory and technic worksheets, and one of my favorites – composition worksheets.

Excerpt from website: “PianoMorning.com was created by a staff of qualified teachers and composers from the “Canyon Country” area of Southern Utah and Florida’s Orange County in central Orlando. Our aim is to provide high quality services to piano teachers everywhere with downloadable theory supplements, new music, and “contact” services. We’ll work with you in your own unique environment as you spend your mornings planning with us.”

Every week a new piece of music or worksheet is available to download. If you subscribe to their blog you will be updated when those downloads are available. Ann Buys is the editor and one of the composers for PianoMorning.com. Sarah Pierce and Jenny Baker are the other composers and writers for PianoMorning.com. There have been a couple occasions where I was looking for a specific themed piece for my recital so I would email Ann to request a new composition in that theme. Within a few weeks the perfect piece I was looking for was created and shared! PianoMorning has music in different styles. There are classical, holiday, hymns, ragtime, jazz and blues, children pieces, themed pieces and more. You can even find duets, trio’s and ensembles to download!

The other thing I enjoy about PianoMorning is you can go to the website and get a taste of each music by not only viewing the music but listening to a clip. I use this tool by sharing the PianoMorning link to my students and having them browse through the music and choose what pieces they would like to learn after they listen and view it. In addition you can see samples of the worksheets as well.

Rates are $28.00 for a 6 month subscription, or $49.00 for a year. Right now they are running a special to try it out 2 weeks for only $2.00 with no commitment. With all that PianoMorning offers you can’t go wrong with that deal! You can find the link to the 2 week special here.

Tech Tuesday: Piano Apprentice Keyboard and App

A few weeks ago there was a Groupon for a Piano Apprentice Keyboard. This keyboard intrigued me especially since the purpose of it was to use it with iPad, iPhone and iPod. After learning it was compatible with iPad’s Garageband app and any other app that uses CoreMIDI, I decided to purchase it.

After I received the Piano Apprentice Keyboard I downloaded the free Piano Apprentice app, which is an app from Scott Houston, “The Piano Guy”.

There are 3 sections in this app. The first section is “Jam”. This simply allows the user to play on the keyboard and seeing what they are playing on the IOS device screen. As you can see in this picture that both the keys on the keyboard itself and the keys on the keyboard screen light up when played.

The second section is the Lesson section. The lessons are video lessons for specific pieces chosen. They are separated into Right hand only, Left hand only and both hands. In some of the lessons Scott Houston will get on the screen in his “Piano Guy” teaching style and teach how to learn the chords and hands together in the pieces. The keyboard and video keyboard screen interact with eachother lighting up the notes.

The third section is the Performance section. This is where students will see the lead sheet with melody notation and chord symbols. They can play this on their own or they can push the play button and the keys will light up as the yellow bar advances through the music as they play.

I tried the Keyboard with Garageband and Garageband does recognize the keyboard. The keyboard sound goes through the iPad when played on the keyboard. But don’t expect any notes to light up…

I recently upgraded my iPad 2 to the “new iPad” (can’t call it the iPad 3 you know…) because I maxed out the memory on my 2. So I have kept only piano and music apps on my iPad 2 and will be using it for the studio iPad for students to use during their lab time. I’m looking forward to having students try out the Piano Apprentice Keyboard on the iPad this year.

Animusic’s “Pipe Dream” Made Real

Are you familiar with the Animusic DVD’s? You can also find some clips on YouTube if you don’t have the DVD’s. Animusic is a music computer animation production. My students love watching Animusic. I have one student that would watch it every week if he could. The animation in these productions are very detailed and mesmerizing. And believe it or not, students can learn quite a bit from watching these clips (more on that later).

Last February, Intel decided to make a real world version of Animusic’s “Pipe Dream”. Taking 90 days to go from concept to completion, the robot “musicians” use 2,300 balls to produce 120 unique notes on what Intel describes as “off-the-shelf hardware” running “existing software”… and $160k later the real world version was born! Check it out here.

A couple years ago I posted how I use Animusic in my studio and shared some resources. You can review that post here.