A Fun Change to Keyboard Festival this Year!

IMG_4643Every year I have a keyboard festival in my studio. Keyboard festival is similar to Clavinova festival if you are familiar with those. Matter of fact, the reason I started keyboard festival was because of the Clavinova festival experience I had years ago! I thought it was fun and was looking forward in having my students participate in this yearly event with my students, but then the store in my area that hosted Clavinova festival closed. And so did the opportunity of participating. So when that happened I decided to host my own festival and called it keyboard festival, where students played on the digital piano or Clavinova (I didn’t have a Clavinova until last year) with background accompaniments.

This year, I decided to use the Piano Maestro app as our tool for the background tracks. All but one of my students (he made his own backing track), played their piece on Piano Maestro. Before students performed I gave a little tutorial about Piano Maestro and all the cool features it has. My wish is all my students eventually would have access to the app at home.

I thought I would share what I did to help make things go quick and smooth.

First, I didn’t want students to log into their individual Piano Maestro accounts to find their pieces because I wanted loading time to be at a minimum. So with a different email, I set my studio up as a “student” and connected to me as the teacher. I then plugged all the students pieces into the Home Challenges. So when it was a students turn to play, it was already opened to “Foxx Piano Studio” and they just chose their piece from the pieces that were in home challenges. It made it super quick and easy!

Again, to keep things simple yet effective, I took advantage of the Clavinova speakers and hooked a longer, good quality audio cable from the iPad to the Clavinova. This is the audio cable I used. (click picture for link)

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.02.28 PMIt worked GREAT!

Not all my students have Piano Maestro to practice with at home, so for those who didn’t, I just made sure they chose a piece that had a hard copy available. (Piano Pronto, SuperSonics, Higgledy Piggledy Jazz, etc…). Then I simply recorded the background music from Piano Maestro to my phone and emailed it to them so they had the accompaniment to practice with. They practiced on the app itself when they came to lessons during their lab time.

I’m sure most of you are aware, but just in case you aren’t… Did you know? Piano Maestro is FREE for teachers and their students! So if you have an iPad and don’t have it, be sure to download it here! JoyTunes also has a great Facebook support page for teachers here.

I always have the families bring goodies to share (I provide drinks and paper goods), but I like to also do a little something so this year I used these music themed ice trays and made chocolate music molds! They were a hit. Yum!


You can find the music themed ice trays on Amazon here.

Feel free to watch the video of our Keyboard Festival below if you are interested.

Music for Space Themed Recital

This week my students will be choosing pieces for our spring recital, Reach Beyond the Stars. I thought that it may be helpful to share the pieces I have found for my students to choose from in case you are doing a space themed recital or might in the future… If you know of any others that aren’t listed below, feel free to share in the comments!

(Note: Pop pieces like Star Wars and Part of Your World, etc… are available in all sorts of levels. I am just listing them below once)


Pre-Reading (off staff)-

Night Songs- Mary Leaf


Early Elementary-

The Eastern Eclipse- Jerald Simon

Spaceship to Mars- Carol Matz

Spaced Out!- Cheryl Finn and Eamonn Morris

My Race in Space- Willard A. Palmer

A Walk in Space- Willard A. Palmer

Star Wars- Faber Pop Rep. Primer

Yellow Spaceship- Kevin Olson

Night of Stars- Faber/My First Piano Lesson C

Rising Stars-  Jennifer Eklund/Pronto Pizazz

Part of Your World- Faber/PreTime Popular

Men from Mars- Faber/Piano Adventures Primer

No Moon Tonight- Faber/Piano Adventures 1 Lesson

Dreamy Sky Blue- Faber/Piano Adventures Gold Star Performance 1

The Alien in My Treehouse- Carol Matz



Shooting Stars- Elizabeth W. Greenleaf

Sky Blue- Robert D. Vandall

Alien Yard Sale- Larry Rapshaw

Star Trails- Walter and Carol Noona

Moonlit Path- Debra Perez/Will Baily (Reflective Moments 2)

The Return- Spotlight Solos- Jennifer Eklund

Starlight Dreams- Christine H. Barden

Soaring Above the Clouds- William Workinger and Ed Sueta (Keys to successful performance 2)

Stargazing- Helen Marlais

Star Quest- Phillip Keveren (Hal Leonard)

Storms on Saturn- Piano Adventures Lesson 2A

Starry, Starry Night- PA 2A

My Moonbeam- Alfred’s Premier Performance 2A

Purple Twilight- Alfred’s Premier Performance 2B

Somewhere Out There- Hal Leonard Popular Piano Solos 2

Mist in the Moonlight- Elizabeth W. Greenleaf (In Recital Bk. 2)

A Place in Outer Space- Kevin and Julia Olson (Simply Silly Duets)

First Flight- Melody Bober (Just for Fun Elem)

Moonfinder- Dennis Alexander (Finger Paintings 1)

Somewhere Out There- WB Taz’s Terrific Songs

Saturns Rings- Martha Sherill Kelsey (Superstar Solo’s ‘N Stickers 1B)

Hopscotch on Mars- Martha Sherill Kelsey (Superstar Solo’s ‘N Stickers 1B)

Milky Way- Piano Adventures 2B

Lunar Eclipse- Piano Adventures 2B


Late Elementary-

Mission in Outer Space- Dennis Alexander

Space Flight= Elmer G. Lee

Voyage to Mars (3 solos)- Arthur Frackenpohl

Dance of the Moon and Stars- PianoMorning.com

Stars- PianoMorning.com

Starlight- PianoMorning.com

In the Distance- Will Baily

Rocket Man- Jerald  Simon

Five, Four, Three, Two, One… Blast Off!- Jerald Simon

Starlight Serenade- Jerald Simon

The Comet’s Tale- Melody Bober

Martian March- Jennifer Linn

First Light- Mary Leaf

Starlight Waltz-  Timothy Brown

Diamonds in the Sky- Nancy Lau

Sunbird- Lynn Freeman Olson Signature Collection Vol. 2

Space Adventures (Bk with 10 solos)- James Bastien

Musical Planets (Bk with 8 solos)- Carolyn Miller

No Limits- Jennifer Eklund

Starry Night- Alfred’s Premier Performance 3

Nightfall- Piano Adventures Technique 3B

I Believe I Can Fly- PA Pop. Rep. 3B


Early Intermediate/Intermediate-

Looking Up- Jerald Simon

Something Like a Star- Ann Buys (PianoMorning.com)

Stargazing- Kevin Olson

Across the Stars- Dan Coats

Journey’s End- Jennifer Eklund

New Horizons- Jennifer Eklund

Guiding Light- Jennifer Eklund

Drops of Jupiter- Train (Hal Leonard)

All of the Stars- Ed Sheeran (Best of Ed Sheeran Hal Leonard)

Sun Catchers- Robert Vandall (Celebrated Piano Solos Bk. 3)

Fishing the Sky- Kurt Bestor (Pianoscape 1)

Purple Moon- Dennis Alexander (Just for You 4)

Star Trails (Bk with 8 intermediate solos)- Lynn Freeman Olson

Space Travel (Bk with 9 intermediate solos)- Nancy Telfer

From a Distance- Hal Leonard More Pop solos 5

Star Trek The Next Generation- Hal Leonard Pop Solos 5

Wind Beneath the Wings- Piano Adventures Pop Rep 5

Moonscapes- Christopher Norton (Connections for Piano 5)

Swinging on a Star- Alfred’s Premier Pop and Movie Hits 6

Star Dust- Elena Cobb



Distant Galaxy- PianoMorning.com

Columns of the Sky- PianoMorning.com

Jewels in a Night Sky- Kathleen Massoud

Venus- Naoko Ikeda

Beyond the Horizon- Randall Hartsell

Halloween Festival 2014

Halloween Decor

Every year my students dress up in costume and perform a halloween piece in October. It’s one of our favorite events to look forward to! Every year I also like to put a little twist on the event and come up withsomething between the performance pieces. And let me tell you it is getting harder and harder to figure out new ideas. But this year I came across a Halloween Jokes “I Have, Who Has” Game that Tweet Resources created. PERFECT!


If you not familiar with how “I have who has” games work it goes like this…  Someone starts off with the question. Then everyone looks at their cards to figure out if they have the answer. So in this case being jokes, I started off with a joke, then each family looks at their cards. If they think they have the answer to the joke then they give the answer. Then everyone laughs and a performer performs! It is a great way to not only entertain during the event but to relax each performer before they go up to perform!

Afterwards I picked a students name from the pumpkin jar to see who won a treat. Then it was pictures, goodies and guess how many candies are in the jar time! A spooktacular time for all!

Here are a couple group pictures. If you want to see more pictures, just click here to go to my studio blog.


IMG_6592My families bring in treats to share, but I saw a cute fruit kabob pumpkin online and thought it would be an easy thing to do and would make a perfect center piece. Turned out super cute!

IMG_3483I dressed up as a Jedi music teacher who fights Rhythm Wars with Boomwackers. 😉



Are you doing something fun for with your students next week? You may be interested in some of these Halloween themed games…

Witches Brew: A Halloween Composition Game 

Witches Brew: A Halloween Composition Game

Boo! (A Rhythm Bump It Game) A fun 5-10 min. game to end your lessons with!

Boo! (A Rhythm Bump It Game)

Trick or Treat (A musical Hot Potato style game)

Trick or Treat: A Musical Game

Spider Scales Puzzle (Building major and minor scales)

Spider Scales Puzzle

Music Web-Mathsters (A board game using rhythm/math skills)

Music Web-Mathsters

Be sure to ‘Like’ FPSResources on Facebook and follow FPSResources on TpT to stay up to date on giveaways, reviews and other music resources!

Be Our Guest: Adjudication & You – How To Survive


I’m happy to introduce our guest for July- Kassandra Weleck, a piano teacher from Tucson, AZ. Kassandra has shared a fantastic post on adjudication that I think you will enjoy reading. Some good tips for all, no matter what your role is. Enjoy…

Hello! My name is Kassandra and I’m super excited to be a guest post for Jennifer’s blog. I teach piano in Tucson, Arizona in both my private studio and at the community college. I have also spent a LOT of time adjudicating, organizing events with adjudicators, and having my students evaluated over the years. There are so many things I have learned.

When I first arrived at graduate school, my pedagogy instructor told me point blank that I would be adjudicating come spring time. I was mortified. What do I do? What do I say? How would I be nice but effective? What about my students – I’d never had my studio evaluated before. I had done evaluations and competitions in the past, but how would I prepare my students? How would I handle the adjudicator’s responses? What would I do if things went way off base? What would I do with my results? Lucky for me, I had some pretty amazing colleagues and instructors to give me advice and show me how to go about doing all these things. Once I got out on my own and started having to organize events, I learned some really important things that make a good adjudicator and, ironically, what makes a good teacher and student in an event. These are the things I want to share with you today, and I’ll break it down as follows:

1. Adjudicator Survival – Preparation, Execution, Follow-Up, & “Issues”

2. Instructor Survival – Preparation, Execution, Follow-Up, & Critique and Doubt

3. Student Survival – Preparation, Execution, Using Comments and Decisions, & “Other”



For most events that I have participated in, adjudicators are experts in the field and tend to have a master’s degree or higher in said field. Even if the adjudicator is not trained on the instrument(s) to be reviewed, s/he has a high degree of basic music knowledge that can give general overall comments. Adjudicators are there to help students and teachers hear how a performance of a piece(s) is going, to give suggestions on improvement (if needed), and sometimes to determine a score or place for the performance. Adjudicators are not there to berate performances, find fault in everything, or simply to collect a payment (if given) before scampering off. They honestly want to see students succeed, and hear that the teachers are doing well in preparing their students for adjudication. If any of these items are lacking, the adjudicator can provide the knowledge and guidance to reach that further level. This is one of the prime reasons why I love evaluation events as well as master classes – both give students and teachers instant feedback on how something is going and, if everyone is open to it, guidance to reach beyond the the current level.

If you are ever called upon to adjudicate, or even if you have done it many times in the past, there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for your event(s). By no means do I know everything and think this is all you should do – this is simply a list of items I have found most useful over the years:


            Get to know the event. What are the guidelines? Who is participating? What will students be   playing? Will they play multiple pieces? Are the pieces only from one musical period? Will    there only be comments given or will you have to place students? Are there prizes? Will there    be a “winners’ recital?” Are you getting paid? Is it on a grand piano or a church upright? There are a million more questions I could put here, but you get the idea – know what you’re getting   into before you get there. I recently adjudicated an event where the other judges wanted to judge the students based on their potential, not their actual performance that day. Huh? That wasn’t what the event was for – know the guidelines!

Get there early. Do you know what time I arrive at events when I’m going to adjudicate? 15 minutes before the time the organizers tell me to be there. Why? I’d rather be early and sit around twiddling my thumbs than be racing at 90 mph in my car trying to get to a place I’ve never been before. Also, do your organizer a favor and be early – they’re already under enough stress that day!


            Find something positive to say within the first 10 seconds. This is especially important for   beginning-level students whose pieces may only last 20 seconds! One of my favorite things to           read before I adjudicate is this list of positive adjectives. Try to see how many you can use through the course of your evaluation – I think you’ll discover that you’ll keep a more positive tilt to your listening when you’re trying to see the good side.

Find a positive way to say something negative. This is really hard to do when you’ve been listening all day and just want to rip your hair out. Instead of saying something like “my ears were bleeding from how loud you were playing,” try finding a constructive way of phrasing it: “there is a mezzo piano at m. 64 that didn’t happen – it really kills the phrase when it doesn’t change dynamics.” See? You still got to say “kills.”

Smile. I can’t tell you how many adjudicators over the years have scared me to death by staring at me like I was for dinner. SMILE. Even if it makes your face creak and hurt, give it a try! Many times, it will allow the person playing to relax (if they can see you). Heck, even if they can’t see you, smile – it might make the volunteers and organizers think you’re enjoying yourself.


Thank the organizer(s). Truly, this is the most important one. Would you like to adjudicate this event again? You better thank someone in charge! Even if it was the most ridiculous event you have ever done and swear you will never touch it with a ten-foot pole again, say thank you: you never know when that thank you will save your behind someday.

Get paid. If it is a paid event, hopefully the organizer has already given you your payment. If not, speak up! I remember an event I adjudicated years ago where I asked about payment as I was about to leave. The organizer blinked at me and said “payment?” Apparently, that was the one thing she had neglected to arrange. However, I have to give her credit – she wrote me a personal check, apologized profusely, and never let it happen again.


When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). I hate to even bring this up, but from time    to time, it does happen. Someone will be upset with your results and/or comments and bring it up. Most of the time, they will talk to the organizer. Sometimes, they’ll talk to you. Always refer issues back to the organizer. Most events will say “judges’ decisions are final,” so you     don’t have to defend yourself or think any further about the issue. This is why they are the organizers and you are the adjudicator. Hopefully that is as far as the issue ever goes; if not, do not participate in that event or with that organizer(s) again. Ever.



The teacher is the wealth of knowledge from which students learn, so teachers have a big responsibility here to set the students up for a positive experience. Not only do teachers need to give the student honest feedback regarding their music, they also have to build up their confidence to go through with the event. It’s a tough job but, when done correctly, makes for some very happy people all around. Teachers can be extreme novices up to extremely experienced. Some have no high school diploma while some have attained all possible degrees in their field and then some. However, everyone can follow these guidelines to prepare for an adjudicated event:


Set up the student for a positive experience. Notice I didn’t say “success.” Sometimes, having a positive experience is the best you can hope for. I once had a student participate in an evaluation where he received the lowest possible score overall (that’s what happens when you don’t practice!). However, he came back telling me about how nice his adjudicator was, how wonderful the piano was to play on, and how much fun it was to be at that location.  These were all things that I had made sound like a dream come true during lessons, and he took them to heart and looked forward to experiencing these things. To me, that’s a good way to make an evaluation look more tantalizing!

Practice. How do you do anything in front of others without being overcome by nerves? You do it front of others to practice. Not only does this help shake off some nerves, it allows discovery of other things about the upcoming event that may not have been considered, such as moving the bench, setting up the music stand, what to wear (or what not to wear!), where to set up, etc. You can take this opportunity to do comments for the student as well. This kind of practice is great to do several times in the month leading up to an adjudicated event.

Ensure the student has everything ready. Is all the registration paperwork turned in and paid? Is the recording sent (if needed)? Does the student have music for the adjudicator? Is the music marked for every measure? Do they have extra reeds, strings, mallets, etc. just in case?  Does the student and/or family know where to go for the event? What time? Don’t leave this to chance – anything you forget to review with the student, no matter how minor, may come back to haunt you later. I once forgot to tell a student to dress up for a recital at a music school I taught at. He panicked, knowing that dress was part of the grade, and borrowed his girlfriend’s skirt. Well…he passed the dress portion of his grade, but I still see photos of him in that skirt on Facebook from time to time.


Be present (if possible). As the teacher, your responsibility is to make sure the student is as prepared as possible. Sometimes that means making sure that they feel secure at the event location by having you there. If you can be there, be there. It makes a world of difference to both students and families. If you can’t be present, make sure they know everything about the event (see Preparation) to ensure comfort.

Get away from the evaluation area! This is my number one pet peeve as both an adjudicator and an organizer. If your student is in a room being evaluated, and the evaluation is supposed to be blind (adjudicator has no idea whose student s/he is listening to), get away from the room! Feel free to be nearby to meet your student before and after, but please, stop making yourself known to everyone and their brother.

Help out (if possible). The organizer(s) will be so thankful for extra help, even if it’s just someone to take down signs at the end of the day, or check to make sure Person A got to the appropriate room. It takes a village…


Be patient for results. No one cares if you’re Emmanuel Ax or Iam Nobody – you aren’t  getting your results until the results are ready. Sometimes you know ahead of time when they will be ready, and sometimes you simply have to wait until it’s finished – either way, you will get your results. Don’t be pushy. On the other end of the scale, go get your results. There’s nothing worse than having a student evaluated at an event and not knowing how s/he did because you were too lazy to get the materials!

Be positive with the student(s) no matter what. Did your student do well? Great! Congratulate the heck out of them! Did your student do poorly? Find something good about the experience, and then discuss ways to do better next time.


            Take the adjudicator’s comments with a grain of salt. When reviewing comments from an adjudicator, it’s easy to blame the student for all the issues that occur. However, what if the real issue is you? If there is a recurring theme across the board for several students (e.g. uneven tempo, lack of dynamics, etc.), maybe it’s the way you approach the topic that might be at fault.  Critique yourself against the comments – can you do something different? Are there other ways of getting students to do that skill? How confident are you in your skills on this item? Could you find a way to improve that skill? Also, remember that adjudicators are human and hear   things differently than you do. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just another  perspective on a performance.

When in doubt, always refer to the organizer(s). Hey, wait, this is familiar…wait a minute, Kassandra, you’re recycling this issue from the “Adjudicator” section! Lazy! No, it’s not lazy, it’s important to review again from the teacher angle. Let’s say your student is the only student that has his/her music memorized for a competition and is the only one that plays their piece(s) without breaking down and crying in the middle. Then, your student doesn’t place in the top 3. You think “is that adjudicator out to lunch? My student should have won!” Do not go to the adjudicator. Go to the organizer(s). Be very objective rather than subjective when presenting   your issue; in other words, present the facts and leave your emotions out of it. Remember that many times the adjudicator’s decision is final and there is nothing the organizer(s) can do. Take whatever decision is made by the organizer(s) with grace, and move forward from there.



The student is the person doing the evaluated event. S/he has spent a lot of time (I hope) preparing for this event and putting a lot of thought and energy into finding a way to do well. S/he hopes for the best possible outcome for him/herself, and wants more than anything to earn the positive praises of the event trinity: family, teacher, and adjudicator. Sometimes, just getting to the event is a success. Other times, the student really has a chance of coming out on top. In either instance, students need a solid foundation beforehand to ensure their chances of a positive overall experience.


Practice pieces every way possible. That sounds bizarre. “Does she mean practice the pieces   upside down outside?” No, no, let me explain: practice pieces every way possible means to make sure that every sense we use as musicians is utilized: sight, sound, and touch (if you taste   and smell when you play, kudos to you because I sure don’t). See what you’re doing in both the  music and on your instrument. Hear what you’re playing and really listen for what you’re trying to achieve musically. Feel how you move as you accomplish the music to its full realization.  Once you’ve done all that, take away one sense. It’s a great way to check how solid you are. For example, take away sight – practice in the dark. It will force your hearing and touch to be more solid. Practicing in ways outside of your usual routine will only make you stronger and       more connected to the music.

Know what your event is all about. Are you playing to win a monetary prize in a  competition? Are you playing to receive comments on how you’ve progressed in a year’s time?  Are you playing to see who has the best self-composed cadenza in a concerto? If you know what the event is all about, you’ll be better able to achieve whatever the goal for it is.

Know the Ws of your event. What event, where is it, when is it, and who is your audience? Know what’s going on, or at least make sure whoever is taking you knows. Optional W: will there be a place to warm-up?

Practice performing for others. Especially if it’s an adjudicated event, make sure you’ve played for others in advance so that you’re not so nervous. Ask your teacher to write comments while you play. Have your family listen and offer critique. Play for your pet ferret. The more you perform, the better your performing becomes.


Smile and think positive. “Oh no, I’m going to play so horribly that the adjudicator is going to fall over dead when my Bach is finished.” If that’s the attitude you have, that’s the performance you will give. Walk in thinking “I am going to rock my Bach and the adjudicator’s day will be a million times better because of my performance.” You stand a much better chance of doing well with this kind of positive thinking!

Take your time. Just because you’re up there ready for the performance doesn’t mean you have to start instantly. Breathe, think about what you’re going to do, prepare, and then go for it.

Have fun. After all, that’s what this is all about, right? Enjoy your moment with your music.


Read, critique, grow. Look over your comments. What did you do well? What can you improve on? Critique yourself – is this the best I can do, or can I incorporate some of the  adjudicator’s suggestions? Grow through the experience – what can you take away from this that you didn’t know/have before?

Don’t be your own worst enemy. It’s easy to focus on all the negative things an adjudicator  might mention. Try instead to find the good things – did you play something particularly well? Did you achieve a personal goal? Did the adjudicator maintain his/her composure and not cry? Find the good. Find the positive. Be your own cheerleader!

Look ahead. What’s next on the horizon? Now that this experience is behind you, where are you going to go with it? Look forward and continuing growing as a musician!

4. “OTHER”

Problem results. You have a problem with the results you got for your evaluation. Why the heck did the adjudicator do what s/he did? Were they asleep?!? The biggest focus to remember here is that the evaluated person should NEVER, EVER approach the adjudicator about results. Again, go to the organizer. If you are still living with your parent(s) or guardian(s), have them  go to the organizer. Sometimes, problem results can be laughable – I once had an adjudicator  write “student’s skirt is too short for piano playing” on an evaluation and mark her down one grade. My student and I had a good laugh about that one, and I joked that maybe she was  showing too much leg for the adjudicator to focus on her playing. Manageable for both her and me. However, if you have a bigger issue than the length of your clothing, get someone to contact the organizer for you. Chances are good that the organizer can explain what happened.

That was a horrible experience and I never, ever want to do it again. If you’re thinking this   after an event, talk to your teacher. Be honest. If you don’t communicate this feeling, how are you ever going to have your voice and opinion heard? My undergraduate teacher had a requirement that everyone in our studio compete in the annual concerto competition. After two years of doing it, I finally spoke up and told her how much I hated it. She looked at me oddly and said “why didn’t you say so? We can always just work on a concerto and not do the competition.” I can’t tell you how relieved I was. Speak up! Do yourself (and future   adjudicators) a favor and find other ways to show off your talents with your teacher.


I hope that I’ve been able to give you ideas from all three points of view to survive adjudicated events. They can be a lot of fun if everyone is prepared and goes with the flow. I’m a big believer that positive thinking enhances what you can do, and so a lot of achievement lies in your mental preparation beforehand. Enjoy yourself, and have fun with the music!



Kassandra Jenkins Weleck earned her bachelor of music in piano performance at Bowling Green State University magna cum laude with University Honors, and her master of music in piano performance & pedagogy from Arizona State University. She has performed in recitals, master classes, chamber performances, and music festivals in the United States, Canada, England, and Austria. Her teachers have included Rebecca Casey, Jane Solose, Caio Pagano, and Jan Meyer Thompson (pedagogy). Kassandra has held offices at the local, state, and division level for Music Teachers National Association, and currently serves as co-chair for Arizona Study Program for MTNA’s southern Arizona chapter, secretary for MTNA’s Arizona association, and division coordinator for MTNA’s composition competition. She teaches music and piano at Pima Community College, and maintains a small private studio in Tucson.


Thank you Kassandra for being our guest this month and sharing these fantastic tips! If you are interested in being a future guest blogger on FPSResources.com, I would love to hear from you!

Brownie Points this week!


This Saturday is my spring recital, so this week is our recital rehearsals. Students come for one hour on their normal lesson day. They play through their pieces and we go through performance tips, etiquette and any other things I need them to know about the recital. If we have time then they get to play the “focus” game. This is where a student plays their piece while the other students do things that could possibly happen at the recital. (i.e.: coughing, sneezing, baby crying, phone ringing, etc…) The goal is stay focused throughout your performance. They love this game!

In my studio, aside from one optional event that requires it, I do not require memorization in performances. I would rather have a student play a solid performance with their music then have a shaky performance without it. However I do ENCOURAGE memorization especially for the spring recital (our other recitals the rest of the year are more casual). I also let students know that even if they have their piece memorized if they are more comfortable bringing the music up I’m okay with that. Again, I want them to feel confidant, secure and ready. I want them to also play how they normally practice at home. So if they are normally playing without the music, then I suggest to not have the music up there as it could be a distraction. If they normally play with it there, but they don’t look at it, then play that way. Whatever they are used to doing at home, I want them to do it at the recital.

Those students that can prove at the recital rehearsal that they do have their piece memorized (whether or not they end up using the music at the recital does not matter) gets a little something “extra” from me.

This year the “extra” is all about the “brownie points”…



You might be asking, well if it doesn’t matter if they have the music or not when they perform why even encourage? Because I noticed the students that have their piece memorized usually have their piece in the back of their pocket. So all in all it helps with the polishing process.

Be Our Guest! Common Time: Creating Community Within Your Studio


I’m happy to introduce our March guest, Megan Desmarais. You will want to make sure you read her post as it is filled with wonderful ideas. Be sure to visit her blog, Pianissimo- a very piano blog when you get the chance.

Common Time:  Creating Community Within Your Studio

As a piano teacher, one of my goals has always been to create and maintain a sense of community within my studio.  Since playing the piano can, at times, be a fairly solitary experience, I also want to show my students that it can be the opposite.  Enjoying and making music is also a communal endeavor and friendships are made surrounding music.  Here are ways that I get my students interacting with each other:

I used to teach only 30 or 45 minute back-to-back lessons.  Students would see the one student that came before them, and the one student that came after them, but they would never see the other 30 students that I taught until a recital.  Because of logistics of entering and exiting my studio, students wouldn’t even hear each other play.

pic 1When I moved to a new state and started a new studio from scratch, I decided to change my format.  Now, all of my students come in twos or threes and stay for an hour.  Sometimes they come with a friend or siblings and sometimes they are randomly matched based on scheduling.  Regardless of who comes together, there are countless ways to help students collaborate:  working on flashcards, playing duets or ensembles, playing games, trying an iPad app together, talking about the listening assignment.  A huge bonus is that veteran students are encouraging to beginners and beginners look up to older students.  They learn a lot from each other! This format isn’t a group lesson, because students are still getting individualized attention, but it is an excellent compromise to turn a solo activity into a more social activity while maintaining the feel of a private lesson.


Nearly every studio has recitals and they are a great way to get your families together.  However, the atmosphere of recitals can affect how students and families interact.  A formal recital, even with a reception, doesn’t always foster conversation and interaction.  While there is definitely a time and place formal recitals, it is nice to shake things up. I love changing the venue, formality, and feel of my recitals.

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This recital was modeled after a trivia night that I had attended.  Students spent about a month leading up to the recital learning piano trivia.  Families sat together around tables and students helped their parents answer the questions.  In between rounds of trivia, students performed ensemble pieces.  
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This recital featured a summertime theme.  Each student played a song about summertime and also played their own composition inspired by summer.  We made short videos of each student introducing themselves and their composition and describing what inspired their composition.  The video clip played as each student walked to the piano and it was a great way to highlight their personalities while still allowing them to focus on their performance.

pic 4This Christmas recital took place in the gallery at a local art museum.  It is a very formal setting and not conducive to visiting.  My students filled over 4 hours with music.  Even though this recital setting did not involve a lot interaction, each student contributed towards the ultimate goal of sharing music with the public.

Student-Only Recitals and Activities

pic 5In addition to larger recitals, I have also made a point to create smaller, less formal events for my students.  Each year I try to have at least one recital that is just for students.  They play music for each other, but we also make sure to spend plenty of time doing other activities that get the kids talking, working and playing together.  Here are some recent activities:
-Name That Tune with kazoos
-Get To Know You Bingo customized with facts about my students
-Rhythm games with egg shakers
-We put together a 5-part ensemble from Lynn Freeman Olson’s “A Folk     Gathering.”  9 Kids played the piano parts and about 15 played the percussion     parts, all together.
-Students trained for Piano Olympics and came together for some friendly     competition and to show off their theory skills.

Summer Camp

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pic 6aPiano Camp is the ultimate piano studio community builder!  Spending a whole week together is a sure way to help your students get to know each other.  Since Piano Camp allows for some down time and a variety of activities, it is easy for students to relax and become friends.  My group of Piano Camp students from last summer are always asking when they will get to see each other again.

Incentive Program

Even though my students play at different levels, have different personal goals, learn differently and play different music, they are all unified with my incentive program.  It helps us to all speak a common language and work towards a common goal.

Each year, I create a themed assignment book that each student uses to track work and progress.  The goal is to earn points – every 20 points allows a student to record a song of their choice.  When students have earned 10 songs, they get to make their own CD.

Having this unifying framework makes it easy for students to relate to each other.  They like to chat about their latest recording.  They are good about helping each other follow all the steps to making a recording.  They stand around our progress chart displayed on the wall at the end of their lessons and find their name and look for other familiar names.  They talk about their plans for designing or naming their CD.

We celebrate the completion of our CDs with a CD release party.  This event is purely social.  Students see their CDs for the first time, their music is playing in the background, we eat ice cream and play games.  We applaud students for their hard work in a relaxed and fun setting.

These are ways that I have been actively building community within my studio, but of course, a sense of community will look different from studio to studio.  For other studios, community activities might look like this:
-Regularly scheduled group lessons, theory classes or master classes
-Field trips to professional concerts and performances
-Organized challenges that all students can participate in.  For example, a     practice challenge where students individually compete to practice so many     minutes during the course of a month

Teachers, do you feel like there is a sense of community among your students?  What are some things that you are doing to foster camaraderie?  Share your experiences in the comments!

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Megan Desmarais, NCTM operates Megan’s Piano Lessons, a piano bustling piano studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma that includes kids K-12, adults, Skype lessons to students overseas and Kindermusik classes.  Megan also blogs about teaching, learning and loving the piano at verypiano.com.  

Megan studied music at the University of Tulsa and received her Master’s in Piano Pedagogy from Wichita State University.  She is active with her local Music Teacher’s Association and currently holds the position of historian.


Thank you for being our guest Megan! Don’t forget to follow Megan’s blog! If you are interested in being a future guest on FPSResources, let me know by emailing me: jennifer@foxxpianostudio.com

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