Christmas Tunes to Harmonize

A Free Reference Sheet

One of the most downloaded free resources here on Piano Pantry is 147 Tunes to Harmonize: Traditional, Popular, and Christmas.

Due to the popularity of this download as well as the recent release of my new book Christmas by Ear: 8 Tunes to Harmonize, I thought now was a perfect time to share with you a FREE handy quick reference guide of Christmas tunes to harmonize!

Each of the 20 tunes included are well-known traditional ones that are in the public domain.

Often times students are happy to play only a portion of a favorite tune. While many Christmas tunes have a little more complicated harmonizations, sometimes the opening portion or the chords are more simplified. For this reason, a few are listed twice.

For example, you can harmonize the open two phrases of Deck the Halls using only tonic and dominant. Many’s students might get a kick out of being able to play even a few phrases of favorite tunes by ear without having to learn the whole thing!

Here are a couple of quick ideas on how you could use it:

  1. Pull it out when students forget their materials or haven’t practiced enough on their pieces.
  2. Practice harmonizing these tunes on your own to develop your own ear!
  3. Have students choose one piece off the list that they’re not learning as part of their Christmas repertoire and have them work on playing chords while they sing! One of my favorite first steps with students is to play root position chords in the RH and either chord roots or root octaves in the LH.

Interested in having a little more guidance through the process of playing by ear with your students?

Checkout the new book I mentioned above, Christmas by Ear: 8 Tunes to Harmonize.

Here’s a quick preview from the book.

Read more about this resource in the post: The Most Versatile Christmas Book You’ll Ever Own.


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Friday Finds #231

Playing By Ear

With this week’s launch of my new Christmas by Ear: 8 Tunes to Harmonize book, I thought it would be fitting for this week’s finds to continue on the theme of harmonizing and playing by ear. 🙂

P.S. There’s a 15% off launch celebration discount going on that will end on Oct. 26 so don’t delay in getting your copy!



Is Learning to Play by Ear Worth it? What the Best Piano Education Experts Really Think (Piano Picnic)

I, along with a lot of other wonderful online content creators, chimed in on this post a few years ago.



How Do You Play a Song By Ear? (Musical You)



I know playing by ear can be a hard topic – it’s something I struggle with every day myself. If we do anything with our students on playing by hearing though as piano teachers, let it be about them playing “Happy Birthday“.

Just this week I had one of my 6th-grade students excitedly tell me about how she gets to be part of the middle school show choir now. In their first practice, the teacher asked if anyone could play the piano. After stating she did, the class (of course!) asked her to play something. What did she play? Happy Birthday! She was SO PROUD she could sit down and do that!

Happy Birthday By Ear: The Ultimate Teaching Resource.



3 First Pop and Rock Songs to Teach by Ear (Chrissy Ricker)



How to Play Pop Tunes by Ear (Bradley Sowash)



How to Simplify and Teach a Pop Song By Ear (Creative Piano Teaching Podcast #107)



While I’ve had a small handful of students over the years that have incredibly strong ears for playing music by ear, this little guy is probably one of the best. He amazes me at every lesson! Hear him play “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in 12 keys.


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The Most Versatile Christmas Book You’ll Ever Own

Teacher: “Billy, do you want to play any Christmas music this year?”

Billy: “Eh, no not really.”

Am I right when I say this is a phrase you rarely if ever hear from piano students? 🙂

I would suffice to say that Christmas is the time of year when many students get most passionate about what they want to play. Some have quite strong feelings about what favorite Christmas tunes they want to play and some just want to play as much as they possibly can.

Today I’m excited to share with you a new Christmas book that is unlike any other Christmas book for piano students. 

I’m confident that you’ll not only find it to be completely unique, but incredibly versatile as well.

What is it?

It’s a book of 8 Christmas tunes to harmonize and play by ear including:

  1. I Saw Three Ships
  2. Away in a Manger
  3. Silent Night
  4. Up On the Housetop
  5. Go Tell it On the Mountain
  6. Jingle Bells
  7. Joy to the World
  8. The First Noel


Goals of this Book

The overarching goal of this book is to enable piano students to feel like they can sit down and play some of their favorite Christmas tunes anywhere and at any time without notation in front of them.

Many students find great joy in the annual musical feast that comes around each year making it a great opportunity for the development of life-long musicianship skills.

Students will be encouraged to discern between duple vs. triple meters and major vs. minor tonalities, learn to harmonize using chords, play in a variety of keys, use several accompaniment patterns, and more.

The format encourages the development of audiation, improvisation, and creativity skills by presenting multi-level steps/variations on playing each tune. Each song includes its own checklist so students can use and build on these sheets year after year as their skills progress.

Besides developing skills for playing by ear and playing tunes in a variety of ways, students are also gaining the valuable skill of learning how to play from a chord chart in any key.

Think of it kind of like “build-a-bear” – students are “building-a-book” of Christmas music! 🙂

Continue reading

YQA: Favorite Collections of Christmas Music

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me here


Hi Amy!

Do you have favorite collections of Christmas music for your students?

My middle kid wants me to get out ‘the’ Christmas music book (we have a very old primer from my in-laws).

I told him he had to learn two new songs from a non-Christmas book before I would think about that. So, he sat down and sight-read the whole Faber Piano Adventures, Level 2A Performance book. 🤨 😮 (I guess the desire for Christmas music was a good motivator!) So, I’m going to get the Faber Christmas books for levels 2 and 3.

Do you have any other recommendations?

-Anna Parkinson

Hey, Anna!

Why yes, I do! I actually have an entire blog post dedicated to some of my “Trusty Christmas Favorites.

But first of all, bravo to you on finding a way to light the fire for your kiddo! It sounds like you’re probably headed in the right direction.

As far as Faber goes, I don’t know if you were intending on doing the Christmas books that correlate to the student library or the ones that are part of the “Show Time,” “Big Time,” “Play Time” series. While either is fine, my personal preference is that latter.

Since I have a whole post of my favorites, I won’t share too many more details here but will mention that you might also consider getting him the  Adult Piano Adventures Christmas Books.

Each book has a lot of music. The first 1/3 of book 1 is labeled as “beginning Christmas songs: easy arrangements with simple harmonies.” Section 2 has 13 pieces labeled as “Christmas songs in the key of C Major with I, IV, and V7 chords) and Section 3 is the same but in the key of G Major.

Due to the primary-chord structure and keys included I would say book one is leveled with the student library up to level 3A.

In the last couple of years, I started trying some of Piano Pronto’s holiday books. I haven’t used any of them long enough to say they’re ones I return to “year after year” but there are some unique little finds. One, in particular, you might consider is the Multi-Level Holiday Classics which includes 3 difficulty levels of each piece.

Some of my older students enjoyed the arrangements in Christmas Classics: Contemporary Lyrical Solos. That book would probably not be the best next step for him quite yet, but I still wanted to mention it.

I hope this helps!


P.S. Just a heads up that by no later than next week I will be publishing a studio-licensed download of 8 Christmas songs to harmonize and play by ear.  This would be a wonderful resource for him learning to play from chord charts and to play some of the most popular Christmas tunes without notation. Stay tuned!

Do you have any favorite Christmas collections? Share in the comments!

Subscribe to the Piano Pantry email list to keep up to date!

You’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, and more. You will also have the option to have new posts delivered to your inbox weekly.

YQA: What Method and Theory Books Do You Use?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me here


Good afternoon Amy,

I am wondering what your favorite method is to use? Why? Also what book do you use for theory. I appreciate your articles so I thought I would ask.

Thank you, Shirlee


Hi, Shirlee!

My favorite theory book series right now is the Celebrate Theory from The Royal Conservatory. Some of the things I like about it include:

  1. They’re clean, uncluttered, and the covers are colorful.
  2. They’re well written and nicely laid out.
  3. At the end of every unit, students are asked to explore an excerpt of music (printed in the book) and answer questions in regards to what they see in the score.

I also use Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Keith Snell and Theory Gymnastics by TCW Resources (both published by Kjos) as well as Ready for Theory by Lauren Lewandowski.

Generally, this is when I have multiple students from one family. In order to avoid siblings comparing themselves, I like to keep them in different series. Otherwise, Celebrate Theory is what all my students get.

As far as the favorite method goes, it’s a much more involved answer as I have used a lot over the years!

Currently, my go-to books include:

Tales of a Musical Journey by Irina Gorin

I really appreciate how Irina introduces technique (playing with fingers 3 and 2 first), as well as the note reading approach using landmark notes.

Even though it’s written in a storybook format, I tend to gloss over that part with my students unless they seem particularly interested.

While the series is directed toward younger beginners, I use it with late elementary age students as well with success.

Music Moves for Piano by Marilyn Lowe

This series isn’t your traditional piano method however as it’s based on Music Learning Theory by Edwin E. Gordon.

That is, it uses an audiation-based approach to teaching music. Notation is not introduced right way as in traditional methods.

It is full of a lot of singing, movement, and aural activities such as hearing the difference between duple vs. triple meter and major vs. minor tonality and building a vocabulary of rhythm of tonal patterns.

The pieces are very short and easily digestible. When I first started using this series that was actually a turn-off for me but I have found that my students really enjoy the pieces and it was more my issue than theirs!

Piano Adventures by Randall and Nancy Faber

While I’ve used the entire series with students in the past, currently, I mostly use book 1.

Very few of my students start and one series and complete the whole thing, I tend to supplement a lot and zig-zag in and out of books and levels.

Level 1 of Piano Adventures is a winner though. It has a lot of really great pieces students love!




What method and theory books do you use and love? Share in the comments!


Subscribe to the Piano Pantry email list to keep up to date!

You’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, and more. You will also have the option to have new posts delivered to your inbox weekly.

Friday Finds #230

Best of September

Hold onto your hats – I have a whole lot of goodies for you this month. I’m pretty sure this is one of – if not THE biggest list I’ve ever published!



Julie Knerr shared a lovely series of photos by her mother that, in 5 images, display the steps it takes to bring a painting from a sketch to a work of art. Use these images as a synonym for your students taking pieces from just learning to polished performance.




Unfortunately, Teach Piano Today has discontinued its Piano Game Club! The page is still live, but you are no longer able to sign up. It was announced in an email directly to current subscribers.

Get other great game resources from:

Music Discoveries
Vibrant Music Teaching
Susan Paradis
Color in My Piano


I’ve been catching up on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s podcast (which is not currently active), The Confessional. One episode almost brought me to tears – Meg Lavery, Storyteller, and Teacher.



Ashley Danyew outlined 15 of her favorite supplemental collections for elementary piano students.



It’s time to give my kitchen towels a spiff up. I’m going to use this technique with Oxi Clean recommended by America’s Test Kitchen and subsequently The Kitchn.



With the turnover of the new season this week, amplify your fall time mood with my Autumn playlist on Spotify.




Joy Morin came up with a simple and yet brilliant incentive program for her students.



The Lazy Genius #228 – 5 Ways to Organize Your Books

Since we moved into our new house, I’ve discovered rather than keeping all my books in one location on a designated bookshelf, I love keeping them in small groups in a location that fits their theme.

For example, I keep books about having a welcoming home on the kitchen windowsill, books on Music Learning Theory next to my desk, books on learning and personal growth in the stairwell going to my studio so my students see them, and so forth.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I don’t actually have a big enough bookcase to keep all of them in one location but even so, I still love the idea of theme areas!



Natalie Weber discovered a piece that worked brilliantly as a rote piece for a student who desperately needed it. She shared it along with how she is organizing her rote repertoire both physically (and in Evernote!)



Are you interested in learning more about Music Learning Theory? Did you know I have a whole page here on Piano Pantry dedicated to MLT resources? Find a list of recommended books, a series of some of my favorite YouTube videos on the topic, podcast episodes, and more!

One resource I recently added was a podcast from Musicality Now: Mind Before Fingers with Marilyn Lowe. I thought this was one of the best I’ve heard from Marilyn.



One of my former students is an avid songwriter. Follower her on Instagram for wonderful monthly songwriting prompts!



Speaking of songwriting, our beloved Chrissy Ricker has a beautiful updated new YouTube channel!



Thanks to Clinton Pratt for sharing details on the upcoming American Eurhythmics Society Conference.

I’ll be presenting to a local association in Ohio that weekend but it looks like a great low price and students are free!



If you’ve been around here awhile, you might remember my Piano Teacher Must-Haves: A Minimalist’s List.

Another teacher has put together their own list! Aren’t they the best types of lists?!  Check out Piano Studio Must-Haves from Lassen Piano Studio.



A great little instant-read thermometer for only $12!



Congratulations to Christopher Goldston on the launch of his new website where he’s self-publishing his own compositions as well as (potentially) some unseen solos from his mother, Margaret Goldston!


Want to keep more up-to-date with all things on Piano Pantry?

Subscribe to the Piano Pantry email list!

You’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, and more. You will also have the option to have new posts delivered to your inbox weekly.


Sync Student Birthdays to your Calendar with My Music Staff

If you subscribe to and use My Music Staff for your music studio, they have a feature in the calendar that, with basically one click, will add your studio calendar from My Music Staff into your personal cloud calendar (such as Google or iCloud).

I have found this especially useful when tracking my student birthdays since I send students cards in the mail.

I don’t utilize the MMS calendar for my studio schedule so all that shows up there is the student’s birthdays. You may still like this feature, even if you have your entire studio schedule there!

My Music Staff has a help article available to show you how to set this up, but I thought it might be helpful to highlight the feature here and include some screenshots for an easy visual. (Click on the image to enlarge if needed.)

Keep in mind I use Google Calendar, so yours may feel a little different.


1) Navigate to the Calendar from the sidebar in My Music Staff then, clear to the right, click on the purple “Set up Sync” button.


2) Select which calendar you use.


3) It will automatically open your calendar with the proper link. Click “Add”


4) In Google Calendar, it will show up under “Other calendars”. To rename the calendar or to change the calendar color, click on the three dots on the right.

It may take 24 hours for them to sync, but they will show up!

Here, I’ve toggled all of my other calendars off just to show the student birthdays.


More on Student Birthday Cards

If you would like to read more about doing student birthday cards/postcards, check out these posts:

Marketing with Postcards (it’s not what you think!)

Fun Postcards for Student Birthdays

Unique Student Birthday Cards on Etsy

Student Birthday Cards with a Surprise Twist


Do you have something you do in your studio every year for birthdays?
I would love to hear your ideas – please share in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?

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Organizing Your Hardcopy Music Books

It’s finally time to talk about organizing hardcopy music books! This is a topic I’ve wanted (and I know YOU’VE wanted) me to address for a long time. I’m sorry it took long!

Organizing music – whether hardcopy or digital – is one of the biggest organizational struggles for many teachers out there. It’s understandable why; I mean, who of us doesn’t own too much music?! 🙂

Should we organize by artist, genre, title, or dare I say color? LOL (Sorry, Home Edit, not this time!) There are so many ways!

Not only that, but we need to be able to locate music quickly and maintain perspective on what we own so we don’t keep buying music we already have.

Today we’ll look at a couple of different storage solutions for storing music as well as ways of categorizing for ease of use. You’ll also get a peek into my own personal system.

Are you ready to tackle that stash of music? Here we go!

Continue reading

Friday Finds #229

Welcoming Students (including photos of my studio entrance!)

As I was preparing this week’s list, I realized this is a topic that’s not really covered a lot in piano teacher world!

How do you welcome students into your studio? By welcome, I mean both in the sense of when a new student comes to your studio for the first time as well as in your daily welcome to weekly recurring students.


This is definitely something I’ve started to think about!



I was first inspired by this topic when Joy Morin shared a printable welcome poster. Ah! What I brilliant idea!



I needed my welcome poster to say a few different things though so I created my own in Canva. Here’s how it turned out:

(Our front door doesn’t always go all the way shut – especially in the winter -and while you think you have shut it, sometimes it needs a good push. Thus, the first step. 🙂 )

At the first week of lessons, for the first time ever, I went outside and greeted students as they came into the studio for our group class. I had everyone gather outside together as others arrived and then we all went in together.

Here’s my full entryway. It’s the front door to the house and students enter and go directly down the steps to the basement. There is a bathroom just off to the right of the entryway.

I took time with the group to point out the checklist which I have in a photo frame right when they enter.



I don’t know about you, but I’m so tired of nasty hand sanitizer! Lol.

In Leila Viss’s recent studio tour, one of the items she shared was a hand sanitizer she loved.

I’m a sucker for recommended products so, while it was a little expensive for my taste for hand sanitizer, I tried it out. It IS pretty amazing

P.S. My students still get the cheap stuff! 🙂



(Kudos to Jennifer Foxx for this idea!)

Ever since my studio moved into our new home, I started asking students to remove their shoes.

Not all students may be comfortable removing their shoes, so I decided to buy shoe covers and a small “announcement” holder to place in my entryway. That way they have a choice.

Foldable Shoe Cover Holder

Disposable Shoe Covers



Whether it’s for my students or visitors in general, there’s something nice about having a little inviting dish of candy.

Lifesaver mints are a nice one for an entryway candy dish.





Keep Your Studio Marketing Fresh with New Branding

This past month, we’ve been talking about celebrating teaching milestones – or teaching “anniversaries”.

If you missed any of the previous posts you can find them here:

Teaching Anniversaries: Celebrating on Social Media and Beyond

Teaching Anniversaries: An Important but Hard Celebration

Teaching Anniversaries: A Time for Reflection

In this fourth and final post in the series, I’ll share how I’m keeping my studio fresh by re-branding and why this is something you should consider for your own studio!


Out With the Old – In With the New

When I first opened my studio, like many teachers, money was tight. I knew branding was important though and I wanted to have a logo right away.

Luckily, we had a friend who was artistic and was gracious enough to do one as a favor. I remember sitting at her kitchen table looking over her laptop as we tweaked the shape and style.

I wanted something simple, subtle, and sophisticated. I kind of hate to use that last term because it wasn’t that I wanted to portray my studio as “snooty” or anything, just professional. More specifically, I didn’t want it to be too kiddie-looking with lots of music notes and colors.

I have absolutely adored this logo. It was perfect.

Change is something I thrive on personally so with the move to my new studio two years ago and the turnover of a new decade of running my full-time studio this year, it felt like the perfect time to freshen up my branding for a new start.

This time, I worked with a designer a self-employed small-business owner whom I connected with when I spearheaded a new logo for our state MTACarson Sprunger with Sprunger Design.



For social media purposes, I also requested that whatever logo we came up with was easy to translate into a small favicon-size version.



I absolutely love both of them and am thrilled with the results.

Interestingly enough, my goals were the same as the first time around: simple, subtle, and not kiddie-music looking. A few things that I particularly love about it this new logo:

  1. It was a complete font change feel from the previous logo.
  2. The design went from flowy and elegant to a little edgier.
  3. The new splash of color.
  4. The fresh take on using the piano lid rather than the profile from above.


Is Re-Branding Really That Important?

Now, you may be thinking this is a nice idea but is it really necessary?

I would say it depends.

What does your logo say about your business? Does it portray it properly? Are you having a hard time attracting adult students? Does your logo look like it’s geared toward preschool children or any type of student?

It’s important that our branding match how we want people to see us and our studios.

Most clients in your studio may not think much about a change in your logo (similar to what Janelle was talking about in the second post on how it’s hard for them to celebrate teaching anniversaries with you).

What they will notice though is your attention to detail in how you present yourself and your business. Consider investing in branding that represents what you want your customers to know about you before they ever meet you.


How to Use Your Branding

Logos and branding aren’t just about the logo that goes on your policies document, social media header, or website. Our branding should be part of everything we put out there, most especially on social media.

As soon as I got my new logo, I created a series of social media images in Canva highlighting student and parent testimonials. These will be posted using a scheduling tool for the whole year (I’m currently using Tailwind).

Would you believe me when I say I’m not looking for any new students? I’m full with a waiting list but I still continue to market. Why?

Building a thriving business is not something you do once a year when you need students, it’s something that should be continuous so your brand is at the forefront of your community’s minds.

I’m pretty excited about how these social media testimonials turned out this year. Here are a few examples:



Every year, in my year-end parent/student questionnaires, I always request (but don’t require) testimonials so I have fresh ones from current students and families every year.

I have to brag a little that my students and parents rocked the testimonials this year!

(If you want to see all of them, they’re in a slide format on my studio’s testimonials page.)

If anything, it can definitely give you a little mental boost once a year. 🙂


Subscribe to the Piano Pantry email list to keep up to date!

Besides regular communication on what’s going on here at Piano Pantry, you’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, books I’m reading, and more. You will also have the option to have new posts delivered to your inbox weekly.