ASMTA Conference: Ensembles, Duets and Technology…. Oh My!

Lori Frazer knows what she is talking about when it comes to midi and the features of the Yamaha Clavinova.


Lori shared, “We lose 78% of students between level 1 and level 2.” (This is based on music sales) It’s up to us to come up with things that we can do with our students to help prevent them from quitting so early.

I would like to share my top 3 tips that stood out to me in this presentation when it comes to ensembles, duets and technology…

1) To be an effective duet partner, learn the other person’s part. 

I really loved this and will need to remember when my students prepare for our chapter’s ensemble program. If they are familiar with what their partner is playing and sounds like, they are going to be more on top of their own part!

2) When playing on a digital piano like the Clavinova, find an instrument that would represent an articulation correctly. ie: Marimba for staccato

Which leads to another great tip that Lori shared…

3) Remember the mood/genre of what the student is creating. Then base those instrumentation choices accordingly. 

There were plenty of hands on examples on Lori’s presentation which is always helpful.

I wish I had gotten a picture of Lori holding up one of her USB flash drives. She collects them and has all sorts of fun one’s like wonder woman, etc. Check out these music themed flash drives I found here.

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ASMTA Conference 2015: Apps to Spark Creativity and Composition

This isn’t deja vu. Yesterday I put the wrong title with the post. That one was Teaching the Mobile Generation with Today’s Hottest Apps. (The title has been corrected, thanks Leila for catching that!)

Now for Apps to spark creativity and composition!

She opens with this quote by Sir Ken Robinson (you can see the TED talk here), “Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”IMG_7084Steal (Borrow) Like an Artist. “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” (Picasso)

I have learned that there are VERY few truly original ideas anymore. If you thought of it, chances are pretty high someone else in the world has too or something very similar. When it comes to composition Leila encourages students to borrow ideas from the pros, current repertoire, 12-bar blues, Heart and Soul and more! What else  can you borrow from?

When borrowing composition ideas… It’s good to follow their lead, change it up- make it our own (remember we are taking “ideas” to spark the creativity and composition), transpose it.

Are your students having a hard time getting started? There are a lot of great “jumpstart” activities out there on blogs in regards to composition. Leila mentions Wendy Stevens, Joy Morin, Kristin Jensen and Susan Paradis (and don’t forget Leila’s blog too!) for some composition starter ideas.


Leila shared a few rules for Jumpstarting.

1) Structure is key

2) Intro ABA Coda

3) Keep it appealing

4) Set Limits

There are a lot of apps that can help jumpstart the creativity and composition process. Look for apps/online resources that can create Melody, Harmony, Rhythm and Notation. (i.e.: Piano Maestro, NoteStar, Orphion, iReal Pro, Garage Band, Tin Pan Rhythm, Hook Theory, Supermetronome Groovebox, SpeakBeat, My Rhythm, Notion, MuseScore, Noteflight, Symphony Pro. The list can go on and on… You can find most of those links here.)

“Everything is a remix- so steal like an artist”

Rules for Melody-

Pentatonic Scale

Motive, Repetition, Sequence…

Questions and Answers

Create in Pairs of 2, 4 and 8

Imitate a Master

Make it simple

Rules for harmony-

Stick with primary chords first

Borrow tried and true progressions

Use a diatonic pallet

Listen for bass line

Experiment with color chords

Aquire with back pocket tips and tricks

Rules for Rhythm

Keep a steady beat

Stick with one time signature

Choose a favorite rhythm and repeat

Rules for Notation-

Compose what you can notate

Avoid composing while notating

Aim for 4 measures per line

Details matter

Some other wisdom from Leila…

The more you dig and explore the more ideas you will get.

Fake it till you make it.

All Rules are meant to be broken but don’t break the rules without a very good reason.

And remember to showcase those compositions!

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ASMTA Conference 2015: Teaching the Mobile Generation with Today’s Hottest Apps

IMG_5248A few weeks ago at the beautiful WigWam Resort, ASMTA (AZ) had their state conference. I will be posting over the next few weeks on some of the classes I was able to attend. I was excited when I saw that Leila Viss would be coming to present for ASMTA. She had to leave just as quickly as she came to get back for her son’s HS graduation but it was nice seeing her. Leila did back to back presentations. Her first presentation was on “Teaching the Mobile Generation with Today’s Hottest Apps”

Leila began by getting everyone involved (and a way to earn some chocolate- which is always a great thing) and did a round robin style game with Note Squish. Note Squish is a fun app similar to the old “wack-a-mole” you used to see in arcades. After getting the correct answer you got to take a piece of chocolate. IMG_7070Now keeping the candy in mind we used those candy words “Hersey”, “Butterfingers” etc… creating some fun candy rhythms.IMG_7075Then she had a teacher come up and notate a rhythm we were clapping using a whiteboard app. (Check out this post by Leila on how this all played out.)IMG_7076One of Leila’s favorite apps is iReal ProThere are so many uses with this app but she showed how we can have students start with a one note improv starting with one note, then adding more. Speaking of notes, Leila shared “A nickels worth of notes (pentatonic scale) is worth it’s weight in gold.”

The mobile generation are either digital natives or digital immigrants. (Natives are born in the digital generation) You can read more about the two differences here.

Then she goes in and talks briefly about Generation C (also known as the “YouTube” generation) and also what she has coined as “Generation “R” (this generation tends to be older and not as experienced with technology).

Generation C: 

More choice

Less commitment

Like to be connected

Cyberspace Community


“Generation R”:






Wants to become Relevant


Always Remember: We are not teaching music, a method, etc… we are teaching a human being.

Gamification= Solidification

She concludes by sharing 3 tips when it comes to using the iPad….

Tip #1- Get to know your iPad

Tip #2- Make time to use your iPad (Music tech time during lessons is great for this!)

Tip #3- Secure apps and get to know them.

I would encourage you to visit Leila’s blog, where you will be able to read about other apps that she recommends for teachers. Stay tuned as the next post is also a presentation by Leila!

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MTNA Conference; Tuesday, March 24, 2015: Teaching Skills Not Pieces

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(This is the last post in this series) I really enjoyed this presentation by Dr. Beth Gigante Klingenstein, author of The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook. (Great book by the way if you don’t already own it…)


Dr. Klingenstein firsts asks us how much time do I spend teaching skills, discussing musical elements and fixing mistakes?

The most pressing task is to teach people how to learn. (Peter F. Drucker)

Then she went through the following lifetime skills…

Practice– How can we teach students the art of discovery? Dr. Klingenstein says that we should expect 99% accuracy the 1st week. How many of  your students do this? I know this is something I need to work with my students on more. The key is slow practice and intelligent, mindful repetition. Students should discover the musical elements, patterns and technical elements in the piece. Practice should be goal oriented. (versus time). I do stress this with my family when they ask how much time their child should spend practicing. Dr. Klingenstein said when students first learn a piece they should start with hands together. Then if needed can break certain sections hands separate.  She also stressed that students should be able to make musical choices from the very beginning (dynamics, articulations, etc.)

If you google- 8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently (Dr. Noa Kageyama), it was discovered that it did not matter how long practice. What did matter how many times they played incorrectly, The % of correct practice to incorrect practice.

Memorize- There are 4 different ways a student can memorize. Analytic/Cognitive, Tactile/Kinesthetic, Aural and Visual. The best way to memorize is to memorize as they learn the piece. Other tips are small overlapping sections, patterns, mindful repetition, slow, various orders and to be able to start from any location.

Performance- Students should practice performing. When they say can I start over? Do not let them…. “You are on stage, deal with it”. They should learn to cover (avoid fixing, no expression, shaking head, keep going…), focus on musical issues when performing, not on demons, avoid perfectionist tendencies. “Olympic skaters fall down all the time and its okay, it’s normal to make mistakes…”

Timing- Students should count out loud and count before playing. You can use the metronome, drums, clapping, tapping, etc. Teach students how to learn correct timing on their own! Let the student figure out right timing. After they have done so, you can step in to demonstrate subtleties of rhythm.

Technique- The goals for good technique are to play musically, be tension free, strength, speed and finger independence/control. Basic technique should be taught early. Stand back and look for proper position, posture, use of fingers, wrists, elbows and arms. Look for tension in face, jaw, neck, shoulders, back, arms, wrists,fingers. Discern the cause of the tension. If it hurts, something is wrong.

Sight-Reading- This can be learned. Look over the piece and check for patterns, read intervals and view chords as a single unit.  Use knowledge of theory. Count out loud, do not mess up timing. Keep going no matter what (80% is okay). Develop good fingering habits. Do not stop! Keep eyes ahead and on the music.

Fingering- Good fingering habits impact: Musicality, Technical skills, Accuracy, Memory and Performance. Remember fingering choices have technical and musical repercussions. Develop fingering options. Plan ahead. Observe 100% of fingering on the page (if it doesn’t work, change). Rethink poor choices. Keep fingering consistent. Choose fingerings that eliminate strain.

Pedaling- Students should understand the mechanism of the pedal, explain it. Incorporate use of pedal early. Use a pedal extender for small children. Explain varied reasons to pedal (legato, blending, dynamics, tone color). They should understand how/when to lift and the various graduations of pedaling. The should understand when and how it’s appropriate or not appropriate to pedal by stylistic period/composer. Avoid over pedaling! Tip: start playing staccato with pedal up and then gradually put pedal down so you can see the gradations/colors of the pedal.

Self Assessment- Teach students to assess progress. Spend time doing our own self assessments of teaching skills. Research possible ways to improve teaching. Reinforce the need to listen

Are we teaching our student the skills they need to succeed?


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MTNA Conference; Tuesday, March 23, 2015: Creative Chords

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Bradley Sowash’s showcase was one of the most entertaining showcases I think I have ever attended. The pictures below will give you a taste of that entertainment.




Bradley Sowash has a brand new book that was featured at this years MTNA Conference, Creative Chords.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.12.31 PMBradley says “Our goal as teachers ought to be comprehensive musicianship. Both eye and ear skills are essential.”

And then asks the question, why have the eye/ear approaches remain separated? Answer: Pride and Prejudice. Each camp (eye and ear) is secretly jealous of each other.

In this showcase, Bradley teaches us the steps to teaching “off page” creativity



*Compliment (the ember of creativity is important, easy to squash it out)

*Ask Questions (I noticed… are there?….)

*Turn them loose

The Creative Chords book balances both the eye and ear. Students can learn familiar tunes reading and by ear. They can personalize melodies and improvise variations. They can interpret pop/jazz chord symbols, apply stock accompaniments in a variety of styes and use music theory to enable their creative ideas.

The Creative Chords book is unlike anything I have seen out there. It has a look and feel where it can be easily used as a main method book, but opens itself up to use along with your main method. It  begins at a mid-late elementary level. Students should have some basic music theory knowledge when beginning Creative Chords.

In the book students will find:

  • PLAY Steps when learning a piece. Prepare, Learn, Add, Your Way
  • Work Out- Technical Exercises
  • Creative Concept- Creativity with the technical exercise.
  • Extra Challenge- An added challenge to the technical exercise.
  • Theory Tools

Along the way there are little tips and fun little characters (including a cartoon version of Bradley!) scattered throughout.

Broken up into 5 units students will learn about:

  • Sweet Harmony
  • Transposing
  • Scaling the Chords
  • Accompanying
  • Encore- Applying it all.

Creative Chords is an IPS- Interactive Practice Studio book. Which means, inside the back of each book there is a special code to download backing tracks, video lessons and other documents and files such as worksheets, musical examples, etc. Creative Chord is published by Kjos and is available at your favorite music retailer. You can find a little more information on the book at the Kjos website here.

MTNA Conference; Monday, March 23, 2015: Pedagogical Strategies For Children with Special Needs

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Hold on to your seat because Melissa Martiros had a lot to cover in a short time!



Use the iPad for recording, (record self playing and send video).

You may need to break down to simpler… then move up from there.

Prompting- brings them back (based on students as far as what works).  If color coding, keep consistent and gradually fade out

Structure is very important, especially with kids with autism.

Develop rapport

Communication (non verbal, pay attention, most disruptive behaviors are communicative, make eye contact whenever possible, say what you mean- clear, direct, literal)

Reflective journaling after lessons (this will help you later in reminding you what works, what doesn’t, etc…)

Basic factors when teaching:

Keyboard geography



Active listening

Interpretation and expression


Processing all

Additional factors:

Full body awareness and control

Ability to block out external stimuli

Ability to stay on task

Ability to establish working relationship with adult

Ability to retain, memorize and transfer knowledge

Understanding social clues

Communication and assessment and feedback


Parents you work with are going to know more than you ever will about their child- become a partner with them.



Regardless whether or not they have the label, you can see what is going on with the child and respond accordingly. You do not need a label in order to respond what is happening.

Put the child before the disability- respectful language (not “autistic” child, child with autism)

Other Tips:

Come up with a plan before behavior issues in what to do when behavior issues occur.

Transition time (before lessons begin). Some kids will need a time to transition from the outside world into lesson time. This can be as simple as getting a glass of water. Going to wash their hands, etc…

Help with sensory (ball or something to keep hands busy), drink of water…

Change activity you are doing (change to theory, etc…)

Physical activity (jumping jacks to get energy out, etc.) Allow child to stand if needed.


I noticed on Melissa’s website that she has a special needs blog coming soon. Here is the link so you have it when it goes live.


MTNA Conference; Monday, March 23, 2015: Piano Adventures at the Intermediate Level

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In this showcase Randy Faber went through the 2nd editions of levels 3A and 3B. I was a little late getting to this session, but wanted to share a few quotes as I know many of you use Piano Adventures in your studio. Randy mentioned that in the 2nd edition the books are tied in tighter together.IMG_4787

On Technique:

“Use the rotation to get where you are going.”

“Be clear on gestures: Forearm rotation, wrist circles”

“First exaggerate the circles (etc) then trim down.”

“Taller knuckles and duck bill (closed hand) approach as students move into intermediate pieces.”

(Duck bill approach= put hands out, cup them with all fingers and thumb touching. Turn over hand.)

“Finger muscles are not efficient, finger coordination is better. Use 3 sources of power: Arm weight, core- rotation, back muscles. Use the sources of nature.”

On Sight-reading:

“Controlled environments with similarities.”

“Use the books not just simply sight-reading but applying the technique secrets.”

“Smart thinking of decoding is from chunking.”

At the end of the presentation he shared the Piano Adventures will be coming out with a new app soon called Piano Adventures Player app. This app will have the entire midi library built in.

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