Improve Your Audience’s Recital Experience with these Simple Signs

Organizing a studio recital involves lots of different aspects beyond student repertoire preparation. Many of us, I’m sure, have stories we can tell of the lessons learned in our first few years of recital planning.

One of my first lessons learned was to put up some kind of signage, especially when the recital is not in the same location every year.

Is it a necessity? No.

Can people generally find their way to the recital hall or auditorium eventually? Yes.

So why use direction signs?

If you’ve ever attended a graduation party, baby shower, or conference, I’m sure you will agree that the minute you see a sign indicating you are in the correct location, you breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s comforting to not have to wonder if you’re in the right location or to have to search for where you’re going. Relieving this small anxiety for your audience will make a great first impression and add a professional touch with little effort. All it takes is a few signs posted around the building where the recital is being held.

This free download includes 9 different signs. They are intentionally designed in a very simple, no-frills format so they can be used for any studio and any recital. Enjoy!


Consider taking your signage a step further and purchase a yard sign you can reuse from year to year that has your studio logo and says “Recital Here” or something generic that could be used for any kind of performance(s) you organize in your studio! I’ve not done it yet myself, but I love the idea!


147 Tunes to Harmonize: Traditional, Popular, and Christmas (Free Download)

Over my years of teaching, I’ve encountered several lists of tunes to harmonize using primary chords. Often, however, they’re either not very comprehensive, or they include a lot of tunes that students these days have never heard because they only include folk tunes and a couple of Christmas songs.

Last summer, I started a studio-wide harmonization focus that lasted through the summer and fall. After continually having students look at the song list and shake their heads that they didn’t know many of the songs, I finally decided it was time to compile my own list.

This comprehensive list includes 147 tunes (traditional, popular, and Christmas). The list progresses from tunes that only use a tonic chord to those that use four chords (I, IV, V, vi). They are mostly in major tonality (of course, because we live in the Western World), but there are also some minor tunes.

They are also not tied to any particular chord progression (such as I-IV-V-I or I-vi-IV-V). It will be up to you and your student(s) to determine when the harmonic changes occur within each tune.

Besides sharing this free download, I thought we could chat briefly about what it means to “harmonize” tunes.


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Free Printable: My Hands, Watch them Grow

Over the years I’ve come across several different printables for young students to trace their hands. Many method books also include a page for this activity. However, none of these include one little thing I really wanted, so I decided to make my own sheet. I’ll tell you what it is, but first, the backstory.

It’s very easy when attending professional development conferences, to hear great ideas but then forget to put some of those ideas into place. When I attended the 2017 MTNA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, I gleaned a fun idea from a session given by Amy Immerman on tracing students’ hands.

She suggested that with young beginner students we not only trace their hands but retrace them every so often so students can see how much they’re growing – kind of like the typical height-growth chart found in a lot of homes, but for piano! 🙂

Children love to learn and see how they are growing.  Just last night I had a group class for tweens. When I asked each of them to remind me how old they were, none of them responded with their actual age. They stated how old they would be in how long, such as “I’ll be 13 in two months.”

Growth, in whatever form it is, feels good.

The reason none of the other printables I’ve ever found have worked for me is that they don’t remind me to re-trace their hands. It’s easy to forget to do things unless they’re right in front of us (a perfect example of why so many teachers love method books).

This printable includes instructions for students to trace their hands multiple times over the course of their first year of lessons.

I would recommend keeping it in front of their piano binder or in their student file folder. (Check out my student files here.)


A Visual Guide for Formula Pattern Scales (Free Download)

Contrary motion scales are awesome. Not only are they fun to play and sound cool, but they’re a wonderful way to teach scale fingerings – especially when students are first learning to play scales.

A step up from a simple contrary motion scale is playing scales using what’s called a “formula pattern.”

P.S. I’ve always wondered why it’s called a “formula pattern” so if you know, please educate me! I find it to be a boring name for such a fun scale! Ha!

Actually, I think we should call them zig-zag scales instead! What do you think?! LOL


What is the Formula Pattern?

If you’re unfamiliar with this scale pattern, it is basically a 2 (or 4) octave scale with a bump in the road.

  1. Begin by playing the scale ascending in parallel motion.
  2. At the halfway point, play a contrary motion scale, returning back to the middle.
  3. Finish the top half of the ascending scale in parallel motion.
  4. Once again, after descending halfway back down the parallel motion scale, throw in another contrary motion scale (out and back in).
  5. Finally, finish the pattern by descending the final half of the scale in parallel motion.


Why the Visual Works

The first time I tried to teach a student the formula pattern, it was a struggle. I try to avoid using formal “scale books” for students to have to read every note and fingering, so I needed to find an easy way to explain the pattern.

Since I’m a visual person, I came up with this simple visual for my students. Every student I’ve used this with has found it very helpful – I hope that perhaps it will help your students as well!


Formula Scale Progressions

Here is the leveling based on the Royal Conservatory of Music program’s technical skill requirements to give you a rough idea of a good progression of this particular technical skill.

Level 1 = C Major (2 octaves)
Level 2 = C, G Major (2 octaves)
Level 3 = D Major (2 octaves)
Level 4 = C harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 5 = A Major, A harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 6 = E Major, E harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 7 = D Major, D harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 8 = Eb Major, Eb harmonic minor (4 octaves)
Level 9 = Db Major, F Major, C# harmonic minor, F harmonic minor (4 octaves)

P.S. Joy Morin has a great free downloadable PDF of the Technical Requirements for the 2015 RCM Program.



A Visual Listening Guide for Group Class Performances (Free Download)

Listening guides are like a collector’s item in my studio. My file drawers hold no less than six different forms obtained from other wonderful teaching sites over the years. Unfortunately, none of them have quite hit it spot on for me, so I finally came up with my own.

This listening guide uses small visual cues and descriptors and is wonderful to use for student performances during group class to keep students engaged in listening to the music (and performance) actively.

My recommendation would be to go over the sheet first as a class and even do some demonstrations. With younger students, I even like to have them pronounce the words together to make sure they feel comfortable with the terms.

Laminating the sheets will keep them in good shape for repeated use. Sometimes we use dry-erase markers, but I prefer to simply have students use game markers such as pennies, Japanese erasers, or clear flat marble/pebbles like my students are using in this photo.

Note: I don’t necessarily expect students to write down answers to the question of “Mood,” etc. They can simply be prepared with a verbal answer.




Book of Piano Student Compositions (Free Printable)

Recently, when visiting my friend Joy Morin’s studio during her piano teacher retreat, I noticed a book of piano student compositions she had sitting in her waiting area and thought it was a fun idea!

Today I’m giving you a free printable of the binder cover I created for my own book so you can create your own as well!


Why a Book of Compositions?

A few students in my studio absolutely love composing. Luckily, our state MTA hosts a yearly composition festival called “Opus,” where students can submit a composition and receive feedback from a judge. The winner in each age category then gets their composition submitted to the MTNA Composition Competition for free and gets to perform their composition at the next state conference in the winners’ recital.

Students put so much time and effort into their pieces that displaying them keeps their work present and valued. It’s also a great way to help generate awareness of the Opus program and composing in general. Students could sit down at one of the studio keyboards and play through each other’s music!

Keeping it simple, I used a 1″ 3-ring binder. Each composition was printed and placed in plastic sleeve covers. Compositions that were winners got an award seal sticker on them and I wrote the year it was the winning composition.





Manipulatives and Piano Games for Private and Group Lessons

How many manipulatives, piano games, and other resources do you have in your music studio? You probably don’t even have to count to know the answer. A lot!  Am I right?

Keeping track of all our teaching resources can be a daunting task. Lesson planning for private and group music classes can be enough work in itself without having to continuously recall and rehash all the different manipulatives and games we have each time we plan.

After finding myself physically walking back and forth regularly to my game files, flashcard box, and such, I decided it was time to put together a master list of every activity or manipulative I had or could use to teach a concept.

It can be very easy to lose track of what we already have. Having a document like this has allowed me to not only have an easy place to reference what activities I could utilize at any given time, but it was an awesome snapshot and inventory of what I owned.

Keeping a master list is also a great place to keep teaching ideas that may not necessarily have physical items to accompany the activity.

I thought you might find this document useful as well.


The Master List

Since it is a document that I update on a regular basis, I decided to simply share the public link to a Google Doc. Keep in mind that it’s a working document so it’s possible I will add to, edit, and even remove items as time goes by.

There are three ways you could utilize this document

  1. If you want to keep the document as is and not risk being at the mercy of my future edits, you could download it.
  2. If you want to always see the updated version, I would recommend bookmarking the link in your browser. This way, you simply click on the link, and you always see the most updated version.
  3. If you wanted to create your own list, you could even copy and paste it into your own document to get you started and create your own version with the materials you have!

May this document help you add a little more sanity to your lesson planning and studio organizational life. 🙂

Sign up here to get access to this document:


Candy Jar Contest (Free Printable)

Candy jar contests are sure to grab the interest of young and old alike. Let’s be honest here, when is the last time you turned down an opportunity to guess the number of items in a jar whether it be candy, pennies, or otherwise! 🙂

In my piano studio, I find the candy jar contest to be an easy way to build community. It may feel a little far-reaching, but since most music lessons are solo events, any time I can create an opportunity for all students to engage in the same thing (even if they’re not doing it together all at once), I consider that a win.

For more on building commmunity in your music studio, see the Varsity Musician’s Playbook series here on Piano Pantry.

In this post, I have a free download for you to run your own candy jar contest.

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Crafting Year-End Parent / Student Questionnaires

As we near the end of the school term, this is the time our attention begins to turn not only toward end-of-year recitals and performances but wrapping up and reflecting on the past school year.

Being that individual instrument study is often a long-term commitment, taking the time to reflect is an important part of the process.

There are two parts I would encourage you to include in your end-of-term reflection.

The first is an evaluation/progress report from you (the teacher) to the student. (Check out this post for more details.)

The second (and the topic of this post) is a survey/questionnaire from parents and students.

This post will cover the type of content and specific questions you should consider asking and various ways to execute and deliver these questionnaires. You’ll also get access to a free download which includes both student and parent questionnaires I’ve used in the past.



When crafting the content of these questionnaires, keep in mind that this form can facilitate multiple avenues of reflection/feedback including (but not exhaustively limited to):

  • Our teaching (and business!)
  • Parental engagement and overall satisfaction
  • Student progress and overall satisfaction within the studio/community

With this in mind, I would encourage you to have two separate questionnaires – one for parents, and one for students. Not only are they viewing lessons from completely different roles/perspectives, but they may not always share opinions. If you prefer (understandably) to keep it to one form, at least be specific in who you are asking the question of.

While it would be wonderful to create a form and use the same one year after year, I have found that as my studio changes and evolves, so do these questionnaires. 

For example, when I was first building my business, I asked lots of questions regarding studio communication and quality. The next year I was more interested in whether or not they felt they were getting enough outside opportunities. Every year is a little different.

This is also a great time to feel out potential new ideas. Considering moving your group classes to Saturdays instead of a weeknight? Poll your families!

Lastly, don’t forget that while you have them, you may ask for a formal testimony that can be used on your studio website or on social media.


Means of Delivery

There are multiple ways you can go through this process and, like the questions, these can change (and perhaps should) and evolve from year to year.

For the first seven years of my studio, I emailed a PDF so they could download and print the form, fill it out, and bring it to their evaluation meeting.

My second evolution was to create an online form directly on my studio’s WordPress site.

Most recently (and currently), I’ve moved into using Google Forms.

No matter what format you use, be sure and give a clear deadline – such as prior to the student’s last lesson.


Get the Free Questionnaires Download

Most of the forms I’ve created over the years include general questions that could be universal to any music studio as well as specifics regarding my own teaching and studio.

In these two free downloads, I removed any questions that related directly to my own studio so you could potentially use them for your own studio.  Alternatively, you can do like I did with Natalie’s and use it as a starting point for creating your own!


What do your year-end parent/student questionnaires look like?
Share your ideas in the comments!



Recital Preparation Timeline and Checklist

It’s that time of year for many when preparations for year-end recitals are in full force. The first year I had a recital in my studio, I kept detailed records of what needed to be done, when, food needs and amounts, and more. I’ve continued to do so every year, and this habit has turned out to be a planning life-saver.

Using a recital preparation timeline and checklist keeps me sane, saves time (by not having to think through every little detail again from year to year), and saves money (by tracking food purchases vs. actual usage).


What Should I Include?

There are three different types of items you will want to create checklists for:

  1. Preparation timeline and checklist
  2. Miscellaneous notes of reflection
  3. Food buying guide

The recital preparation timeline and checklist should include a timeline leading up to the recital, such as what items to complete 3-4 months prior, 6-12 weeks prior, 3-4 weeks prior, the week prior, the day before, and the day of.

Miscellaneous notes of reflection are a great place to jot down mental notes for yourself for future recitals. Things like, “don’t do recitals that last longer than 60 minutes without including an intermission”, “don’t forget you like to keep a clipboard with you for all your announcements and awards”, and so forth.

The food buying guide of course is only applicable if you provide the refreshments for the recital yourself (or for the rehearsal as well). I’ve always liked serving students a pizza lunch after rehearsal as a simple and fun way to build community within the studio.

I’ve saved myself a lot of money over the years by taking time to record actual numbers such as how many people attended, how much food I bought, how much was left, etc., and have really gotten it down to an exact science.

Be sure and sit down no more than a day or two following the recital to make your notes of reflection and record food consumption. I promise, your future self will thank you!


start Your Own Document

To help you get started, I’m going to share a free document of my own list of items – many of which you will want to include.

Keep in mind the content, in general, is my personal record. I’m giving you access via Google Docs. Access is view-only so you will want to download the document so you can make your own edits.

Click here to DOWNLOAD.

Interested in learning how to organize studio awards? Check out this post: Studio Awards Policies and Procedures