Incentives, Newsletters, Piano Lesson Success, Studio

Achieving Excellence!

A huge congratulations to all my students who did The Royal Conservatory piano exams in June!!! EVERYONE received First Class Honors and their marks ranged from 84-88!  Outstanding dedication and practice effort, Everyone! I am just so proud!

Now go celebrate, you deserve it! 🎉

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Seasonl/Holiday, Studio

Ahoy Mateys!!! A Pirate-y Practice Challenge

March is here but I sure do have a few students dragging their poor little feet into piano lessons lately!  Every time I say, “Hey there!  How are you doing today?”  the response is always, “Tired”.  It seems that Spring Break cannot come soon enough.  So, I have a little something to put some pep in their step…well, some pep in their practicing at least!

keep calm

Just kidding! That’s not it.  Although, I have to confess that just might be my mantra for the month! 😉  What I DO have for my students is a brand new practice challenge with a fun pirate-y theme that I found from the brilliant Dows of Teach Piano Today.  Now I did tweak it just a tiny bit to match up a bit more with what I know motivates my students (that’s the great thing about sharing ideas with other teachers, it can spark our creativity and inspire us to put our own little twist on it!) and I will be rolling it out in the studio tomorrow, but you can see a little bit of what it is here:

piratechallenge1 piratechallenge2 Pirate-Practice-Studio-FB-2

Incentives, Master Classes, Piano Lesson Success, Seasonl/Holiday, Uncategorized, Video of the Month

October Master Class and Practice “Craft”

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! What a great week of master classes we had! I was so proud of our students, we had a terrific turnout (only 1 student missed due to being away) and all our students (even the first years) were enthusiastic to get on that grand piano and solo for us! For the little Sunbeams 1 kids, it was their first time on the grand piano! Exciting! We also had fun with rhythm cups again! And I pulled out a video of the month for them. Sadly the video I had planned: Batman Evolution by The Piano Guys, which I had thought perfect for the month of October, is having “technical difficulties” while they work through a copyright issue. So I had to choose another. It was still enjoyed by all with music “spooky” enough for the coming Halloween season, not to mention it involves a mesmerizing, or possibly magical, amount of instruments all played by Steve!

Each student took home a practice aid that we worked on in class. These are not meant to stay in their book bags but to be kept on the piano for daily use. Thanks to the wonders of Pinterest (have I mentioned before how much I love that site?), I found a couple of practice aids by Teach Piano Today and Compose, Create and was able to create something similar for our students. They look a little like this and are explained below:

practice abacus

The elementary level students made the one on the top. It is designed to make repetitive practice a little more interesting. The student should practice each of their pieces 3-5x a day so we brainstormed different ways their piece could be practiced to make it more fun and interesting and wrote that on the clothespins. As the student practices their piece, they take the corresponding clothespin off, flip it over to reveal their sticker and clip it to the opposite side (see picture).

Voila! An environmentally friendly (completely re-usable. Yay!) and, hopefully, fun and motivating way of encouraging effective daily practice. 🙂 (inspired by Andrea Dow of Teach Piano Today)

The late elementary to advanced students made the lower one. As a student myself, I grew up having to fill a certain block of time with practice and often, to be very honest, it was a bit mindless. I’ve talked to many of the students about practicing smarter not harder and being more focused or mindful about it. And here is how I would really like to see them practice a piece:

Play the entire piece and note which sections need more work.
Pick 1 section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Pick a 2nd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Pick a 3rd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Play through the entire piece at least 1 more time and then make note of what needs more work the next day.

So the advanced students each made an abacus with 5 beads while the younger ones used 3 beads and so their practice of each piece really should look a little something like this:
•Row 1 – 1 bead for the 1st play through
•Row 2 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 1st section (or 3 for the younger student)
•Row 3 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 2nd section
•Row 4 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 3rd section
•Row 5 – 1 or 2 beads for the final play through(s

With this set up, students can see that they are not really done with each piece until ALL the beads are on the OTHER side of the abacus! And it is easier for them to keep track of and be more mindful of their pieces! (inspired by Wendy Stevens of Compose, Create)

Have a great weekend and Happy Practicing!!

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success, Studio, Uncategorized

A little SUMMER FUN…and, yes, it does involve a treat!

Can you believe that July is coming to a close already and August will be here at the end of the week? I hope you all have been enjoying a wonderful summer so far, filling it with some good memories and soaking in every last bit of sunshine!

If you read my last blog post, you will see that our family hasn’t gotten a whole lot of piano practice in this summer: . But, even so, we’ve managed to “chew” through (pun totally intended here) our little gumball incentive. Now, I do have every intention of refilling that gumball bag but thought that perhaps a little something extra might be kind of fun for August and would add a little something new to it….something to get us really excited about returning to music! And something with the idea of creating beautiful summer memories in mind. So, I am sending out a little AUGUST PRACTICE CHALLENGE. Woohoo! Aren’t you excited?! Well, you should be because these 8 fun-filled activities (inspired by my favorite piano blogger, Andrea Dow) can involve the entire family and will certainly add to your wonderful summer memories! And, actually, it’s not so much a practice challenge as more of a fun musical challenge, many things don’t even involve being at the piano! Just check your email this week for an attachment to print out. Then complete throughout the month of August and bring in your sheet with all it’s initials and blanks filled in, and any other thing you may have to attach to it, 😉 to your first lesson in September to receive a little mystery treat.

mystery treat

Now, when you print off this incentive, you will notice one of the challenges is to go see a live concert! Guess what! The ESO is putting on a number of FREE events that include live concerts throughout August as well as some other cool opportunities (like a backstage tour and lunch at the Winspear) and, while you are downtown, don’t forget to check out those street pianos! I believe there is one in front of the Art Gallery.

Reminders of these ESO events will pop up on my Facebook page, so if you have Facebook and haven’t “liked” it already, go to and “LIKE” the page, then click on “Get Notifications” and you won’t miss a single update!

And, if you haven’t checked your email already and are just dying to know…This fun-filled piano challenge will include activities like:

Attend a live music concert and write down the names of the instruments that were played (include at least 6!) While you are downtown taking in a concert, play one or more of the street pianos!
Teach at least two friend to play something from your very first piano book.
Teach yourself a piece from your lesson book that you haven’t learned yet.
With help from your parents and the music store staff, purchase a new book or sheet music in a level appropriate to you, that you would be excited to learn.
Put on a mini-concert for family, include a printed program (just like we have at our piano recitals) with a little bio and at least 4 pieces on the program…or take it downtown to the street pianos! 😉
Compose your own simple piece, written down or simply memorized, give it a title and play for me in September OR send me a video link!
As a family, listen to a piece on YouTube by each of the following composers: Liszt, Schumann, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Decide who was your favorite.
Interview extended family (grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles) and find out how many play or played an instrument and what instrument they play….be sure to write this on the sheet!

Enjoy and make some beautiful summer memories!

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success

Summer Practice Inspiration and How to Keep On Keeping On

Summer Practice. Do those words strike dread and fear in your heart? Practice is the key to piano success…and that includes summer practice! In fact, if you are taking the summer off of piano lessons, summer practice goes a very long way in making certain the return to the lessons in the fall in a positive and enjoyable one. Our fingers are muscles and need to be exercised, and so does our brain! Regular practice keeps our fingers dextrous and “in shape” and sight reading and learning a new piece or two keeps our brain and our note reading skills sharp.

Having two children of my own means that I am continually look for creative ways to keep them inspired….especially when it comes to my son who is always trying to tell me now that he is a lacrosse player NOT a piano player. I don’t see what he can’t be both! 😉 Anyway, quite by accident I came across this pin on Pinterest (oh, how I LOVE that site…it’s made me a better teacher, mom and wife….but again, I digress) that was created for summer reading. I looked at this little craft and thought, “That is SO fun, if only I’d seen that years ago when I was sweating so hard to keep my own kids motivated to read over the summer!”….and then it hit me: “That would totally work for piano practice!” So, I took the little poem about reading and changed a few words to make it about practice and this is what I came up with to send home with my piano students at their last lesson:

gumball practice

Into each little bag, I put approximately 20 gumballs…20 little practices are the MINIMUM I hope to see my students practice over the 10 week period of no lessons. I am hoping that maybe the bag might get mysteriously refilled over the summer! 😉 For children who don’t like gum, lifesavers or hard candy could be put in a little bag….I thought of that but had a hard time making the poem work. With a little bit of inspiration I CAN be creative… but there is a limit.

I’m hoping this little idea will inspire students to keep going while enjoying a little treat for their efforts.

Looking for more ideas to keep that Practice Tank full and the motor running? Take a little field trip out to downtown St. Albert and enjoy hunting down and playing on the beautiful street pianos that are spending their second summer out!


And here’s another post I shared with more ideas to keep practice inspired and fun and a lot more like play than work. Have you made your way through some of these over the past year? Candle light practice was definitely a favourite here!

Incentives, Master Classes, Piano Lesson Success

Master Class Mayhem and Wrap Up Fun

This past week we wrapped our another great year of piano with one last set of Master Classes and oh the fun we had. To be fair, our regular weekly lessons are always fun and energetic but our bi-monthly master classes allow every student young and old, tall and small, the opportunity to meet together and perform for one another outside the twice yearly recitals. They have truly helped boost students’ performing confidence and helped them be better prepared for both recitals and exams. In addition to performing for each other, master classes include games and lessons that help students better understand theory, improve technique, and learn about composers, musical genres and history. Here’s a little peak at our most recent master classes:

We had three separate master classes this week with each class having approximately 12 students in each. As each student arrived, I gave them paper and a pencil case and they created their own little poster of what they thought made their year of piano lessons really ROCK. They we had a little “photoshoot” with each of them at the piano. Here’s a sample of some of our pictures (the rest are posted on our Facebook page):

june 1

I even made my own poster…art is not my strong point as you can see. Okay, AND I was in a bit of a hurry! 😉


Next on the agenda was “Solotime”. Each student prepares a piece to share with the class and be given positive and encouraging feedback from both teacher AND peers.


After the solos were performed, we had a bit of a little awards ceremony. I presented students with awards for the most recent practice incentives.

The first was our Rockin’ the Practice Challenge that was sent out to all 45 of our students. This was a fun practice incentive I received and then adapted from my favorite teacher resource site Teach Piano Today. I gave my students 4 big challenge to complete by the end of the year. Those that made it from Dusty Dan’s Coffee Shop all the way to Radio City Music Hall received a little treat. I’ve never seen kids so excited to get Pop Rocks! It was fantastic!


The other challenge had been given to all the older student in private lessons. Their challenge was to learn 30 pieces this year….not an easy feat for students in the early intermediate and higher levels. Congratulations go to Brianna, Vian and Brayden! That was a lot of hard work and dedicated practice!


And what would a master class be with out a treat!? We enjoyed peanut-free (a couple students have severe peanut allergies and wear an epi-pen to each lesson) ice cream sandwiches while watching a The Piano Guys video! 🙂


We finished up the last half of our master class with music games. We had two days of beautiful sunshine and played our games outside in my yard, however one day was rainy and the games had to be adapted for inside.

Our first game was Music Theory Beach Ball. Students threw the ball to each other and then named the note, clapped the rhythm or defined the musical term closest to their RH thumb:


The next game was Sidewalk Chalk Rhythm stories. This is a rhythm dictation game. I sang a two measure rhythm and then they wrote it on the sidewalk with chalk. Excellent ear training! The rainy day students were a little ripped off as they had to write it on paper.


Our final game was Spell-A-Keyboard, a game I adapted from fellow piano teacher, Joy Morin. First, teams created a “lollipop” keyboard with their sidewalk chalk. Then I called out words that each group had to work together to spell with little beanbags. They really enjoyed competing to see which team could find the keys the fastest. Great for drilling that keyboard geography. Here’s a little video of the fun!

And with that we are all wrapped up for the summer! Enjoy the sunshine but don’t forget to keep that practice tank full! I’m looking forward to getting in a little more practice time myself! 😉

Incentives, Piano Lesson Success

How shouting at my kids made them practice better!

Over the years, I’ve seen it all at my house. The piano practices that were done at record speeds just to get it over with, the ones where heels dragged to the piano so slowly they barely got 5 minutes in before it was time to run for the school bus, the practice done in tears, the practice done with loud banging and a scowl…oh, and my kids have done this too. 😉 Don’t forget, I grew up having to practice the piano too…I know all the shenanigans!

So what is a parent to do to keep their child motivated and practicing better all while keeping the tears and the scowls at bay? Well, frankly, I’ve taken to shouting! That’s right, I pretty much try and yell at my kids each morning at least once, if not more. Both of my children practice before school. Dexter on the upright piano upstairs and Delaney downstairs on the grand. Since I am both teacher and parent, I try to step back just a little bit during their practice time….to keep my sanity but also to allow them to develop a little independence. But as a parent, I’m not totally off the hook. If I don’t give them a bit of direction, their practice time is likely to turn into a race through the pieces just to get them done with little growth or progress being made. So, while I make their breakfast in the kitchen, I keep an ear out and listen to their practice and then I shout.

Sometimes, it as simple as, “Holy Cow! Remember how hard that was to play last week?? Now listen to it!! Practicing that piece carefully 5 times every day sure paid off! That’s incredible!” or maybe “Wow, that was the most expressive I have ever heard you play that!!! Can you do that again with all those beautiful dynamics!” Occasionally my shouts have scared the pants off of them, but because I do it so positively and enthusiastically, they usually end up laughing or at least smiling after they’ve jumped 3 feet in the air or fallen off the bench.

Imagine my excitement this week when I found out that I’m not the only parent shouting at their kids…and that this shouting is a pretty good thing. My favorite piano blogger Andrea Dow just wrote about doing something similar and she put together this sweet graphic for us piano teachers (and parents!) to share.

So, print this off to put on your fridge and when piano practice has got you wanting to shout this week, pick something off of this page and shout it out! All in love of course!

shout out practice

Piano Lesson Success

Conservatory Canada Gold Medal

Congratulations go to my student, Jessica! She received the Conservatory Canada Gold Medal of Excellence for the highest mark in Alberta for a Level 2 Contemporary Idioms Piano Exam. I am extremely proud of her and the other two students, Dexter and Delaney, who decided to challenge the relatively new Contemporary Idioms exams last June. This was the first I had ever prepared students for this type of exam and being a classically trained pianist and Royal Conservatory alumnus through and through, it was a bit of a learning curve for me and definitely out of my comfort zone! But with one student receiving a Gold Medal, one receiving Gold standing and one receiving First Class Honors, it was a great reminder to me that trying something new, no matter how intimidated or unqualified you may feel, can be extremely rewarding! I am incredibly grateful to Canadian composer and teaching colleague, Andrew Harbridge, in Ontario for answering all of my emails so promptly and thoroughly, his support and encouragement kept me going! What an exciting journey this has been and what fun to take part in this exciting and inspiring new Conservatory program!

Master Classes, Music Camps, Piano Lesson Success, Seasonl/Holiday

Our Epic Olympic Master Class Wrap Up

Every four years it gets pretty loud and rowdy in our house. Okay, it’s like that everyday…but even more so every fourth February. We just LOVE the Winter Olympics!! Well, we love the Summer Olympics, too…but nothing seems to help winter pass by quite so quickly as spending the dark, cold evenings cuddled up on the sofa eating popcorn and watch amazing athletes battle it out in the snow and on the ice!

It’s also been a pretty exciting past few weeks in our music studio as we’ve been having our own version of the Olympics: our first ever Piano Olympics! Over the last few weeks, students have been completing certain piano related events and going for the gold as well. This week we wrapped up our Olympics with a “Closing Ceremony Master Class”. And just what did we do at our master classes this week? Well, allow us to show you!

1. We began our master class with a game. I didn’t really have a name for this game. Some students called it “Headbandz” (sans the headband) and others called it “Who Am I?”. Basically, students partnered up and each one had a music rhythm on their post-it which was stuck to their head and they had to get using yes or no questions. IE “Does my note get 1 beat?” etc. This was a nice way to re-connect and war up to each other since some of the students had seen each other since the Christmas Recital.

2. Then I had students share their favorite event from the Winter Olympics and their favorite event from our Piano Olympics.

3. We listened to Olympic Fanfare by John Williams and answered a few questions. Then we discussed who John Williams is, what the piece was composed for (uh, the Olympics, of course!) and the form of the piece.

4. Then we had “solotime”. Each student played a piece they had prepared over the last couple of weeks. For some it was a composition of their very own, some it was the Chariots of Fire leadsheet they’d worked on and for others it was our national anthem, O Canada. We enjoyed each and every piece together and the students gained more valuable performing experience!

5. We played a rousing game of Wintervals (interval naming) and Rhythmic Hopscotch

6. And finally the moment, everyone had been waiting for: The Medal Presentation (and a treat!)

This created a LOT of excitement:

Others were a little more laid back about it all, like our Bronze medalist, Grace:

And Kiara and Mytchal:

Jack had to check and see if his was real gold! 😉

All in all the last few weeks have been a rousing success! Looking forward to doing it all again in 2018!


Incentives, Piano Lesson Success

Perspective: Making Practice More Like Play

Practice. It can be the most dreaded word for young–or not so young–pianists. However, it is often just a matter of perspective. And we parents are the absolute biggest influence as to what that perspective will be. If we look at piano practice as one more stressful or annoying chore to fit into our day, then how can we be surprised when our children resist it. I saw this excellent quote by Thomas Edison just the other day:


It was such a good reminder to me on a day that seemed overwhelmingly filled with chores and errands and work to do. I looked at this quote and thought, “I’d really like to be able to look back on my life and say this!” And then it got me to thinking that it could also apply to piano practice. Let’s change our perspective, rather than making practice one more chore to do in a day filled with chores, let’s make it so much more. I’m not going to lie, piano practice will still technically be work, but with a little enthusiasm and support, we can help make this work much more enjoyable, rewarding and fulfilling. How?

Routine doesn’t have to be boring. Routine can actually be something you really enjoy. I have a much loved routine in my morning cup of coffee. I really look forward to that hot cup of steaming coffee first thing in the morning. It’s soothing and comforting, sometimes I even start looking forward to it the evening the before! 😉 In our family, practice is just part of our day. It happens first thing in the morning before school and both my husband and I often make a point of telling our children how much we enjoy hearing their beautiful music first thing in the morning and how it just sets the tone for our day and makes it that much better.

We’ve made sure we’ve scheduled piano practice at a time of day that can’t conflict with playdates or appointments or sports practices. When I was growing up, I started out always practicing after school and oh, how I dreaded it. I could hear the neighborhood kids playing outside, or ringing my doorbell and asking if I could come play….and I felt bitter! Many times I’d complain or cry or even sneak off when my mom was busy with something else. It was work and it got in the way of what I thought was real play! Changing my practice time to before school made a huge difference…but so did something else…

When I was practicing after school my piano was in the basement. Not only was I isolated from my friends outside but I was isolated from the rest of the house! When we moved to another house, we moved the piano into the upstairs living room and my practice time to before school and it changed my life…well, it felt like it did anyway! 😉 And I’ve learned a little bit from all of this to share with my own children. I keep the piano in the heart of our house. When I wake my kids up to practice, I make sure the living room is warmly lit. I put the coffee on and get breakfast ready. Not only does it seem warm and cozy and smell nice, but they have breakfast to look forward to after. This helps make the experience so much more enjoyable for them.

I’ll admit, running my kiddos out to lacrosse, youth group , Pathfinders, etc, etc, etc almost every night of the week can dampen my enthusiasm. It’s exhausting, but I’ve chosen to put my kids in these activities because I think they are valuable and important. Piano lessons are a choice. If you’ve made that choice, it must mean they have value to you. Let your child know this. Be enthusiastic about it all, tell them how wonderful it is that they can play an instrument. Beg them to give you concerts. Praise them. Make all that practice seem worthwhile. Here’s another inspiring Thomas Edison quote:


Need more concrete ideas on how to make practice more like play? Back in October I shared some pretty cool ideas from fellow piano teacher, ANDREA DOW, about FILLING THAT PRACTICE TANK and creating a more playful piano experience. I’ve been working through them slowly over the year with my own two kiddos and thought I would re-share them with you!

1. Surprise with Piano Pancakes – On a Saturday morning, surprise your child with Piano Pancakes topped with chocolate chip “quarter notes”. For each pancake on the plate have your child perform a piece for your family while you all watch in your PJ’s.

2. Balloon Surprise – Fill your kitchen cupboard with balloons that will spill out as soon as it’s opened. On each balloon, write something you love about your child’s piano playing (i.e. “I love hearing your music when I’m making dinner” or “You play your piece with so much expression”.). Ask your child to help you with dinner and wait for the cupboard to open. Read each balloon message aloud together.

3. Monday Morning Mirror Message – Use a white board marker to leave a surprise message on the bathroom mirror for your child on a Monday morning before he or she wakes up. Write “It makes me so HAPPY to hear you play the piano!” or something to that effect.

4. Sneak a Practice – Leave your child a note on his or her pillow on a weekend night that says “Tonight you get to stay up late! When everyone else is sleeping you and I are going to sneak downstairs so I can listen to you play the piano.” Serve warm milk and cookies in the piano room and light it by candle light only. This will be a memory not soon forgotten.

5. Take it to the Highway – Kids who are involved in sports get a lot of glory. Piano kids.. not so much. Make your child smile by writing a message on the back window of your car that says “My Kid Rocks on the Piano! Honk if you love music!”. Roll the windows down and let your child wave to the honking fans.

6. Build Excitement – Before recitals or performances, build excitement with a countdown. Use a blackboard or white board (or a piece of paper on the fridge) that says “___ More Days Until Max’s Piano Performance!” Showing you value involvement in performances ensures participation well into the teen years.

7. Surprise Sheet Music Shopping – Pick your child up from school and head out on a surprise trip to your local music store, offering the chance to choose any music book or piece of sheet music. The key is in looking with your child… spend enjoyable time browsing the books and finding just the right thing to take home.

8. Exclaim with Pleasure – You don’t always need to be fancy. Sometimes a genuine, enthusiastic and unexpected “Holy smokes that was AMAZING!” mid-way through his or her practice is all it takes!

9. Buddy Practice! – Piano practice can be lonely, but if there’s a buddy on the bench it can be a lot of fun. Even if you don’t have an ounce of musical knowledge you and your child can easily complete the activities found in this book which are designed to make piano practice fun, motivating and unique.

10. Make Piano Practice Time “Tech Free” – Whenever your child sits down to practice, turn off the TV, the cell phones, the computer, the Nintendo… everything. Allow your home to be filled solely with the music they are creating and allow yourself to be fully present.

11. Start a Warm Fuzzies Bag – Hang a pillowcase from the top of your piano. Each time your child practices during the week, handwrite a note about something you noticed was done well, a favourite song he or she played, how it improved your day to hear music etc. At the end of the week your child can open the bag and read your notes.

12. It’s UnBEARable – Find some Teddy Bear stickers and, using post-it notes, attach a bear sticker to 10 post-its. Write “It’s UnBEARable without your piano music! Play for us!” and hide them around your house in unexpected places. Your child will delight in finding these in the oddest places.

13. Host a Piano Picnic – Invite the entire family to a Piano Picnic Dinner. Spread out a blanket on the floor beside the piano. Serve cheese and grapes, yummy crackers, and tea and cookies. Have your child provide the dinnertime music in between bites. Drink your tea with your pinkies raised and speak in a very dignified manner (“Ohhhh… that piece was simply splendid my dahling… simply splended I say.”).

14. Check In – When you’re on your way home, call your child from your car (using hands-free of course!) and make a special and heart-felt request for some driving music as you make your way home.

15. Post-Office Piano Package – Create a small package of treats and a note about how proud you are of your child’s piano accomplishments. Mail it to your child and allow it to be discovered it in the mail box.

Full Tanks = Happy Piano Kids

Do these take a little bit of effort? Yes. Does it take a whole lot of effort on the part of your child to master an instrument like the piano? Absolutely! By demonstrating just how much you care about their involvement in piano you lay a very strong foundation for years of musical enjoyment. Beyond that, you also help to strengthen self-esteem and self-image. So pick a “tank filler” and give it a try!” (by Andrea Dow, Wildflower Music Studio, Shawnigan Lake, BC)