Organizing Piano Games and Teaching Resources

Teaching areas can be hard places to organize. Not only do we like to keep items close at hand, but if you teach a variety of levels, the number of teaching resources can easily double.

There are games, scale books, sight-reading materials, pedal extenders, dry-erase boards, game markers, technique tools, highlighters, and much more.

The great thing about organization (like many things in life), is that there’s no right or wrong way.

What we DO need in order to make it happen though is:

  1. Intention
  2. Action
  3. Some kind of (consistent) system
  4. Regular upkeep
  5. Ability to recognize when your “system” needs an update/refresh

In this post, I want to share a few different ways I have stored my own teaching games and resources over the years as well as links to loads of other teachers’ ideas.

As you’re considering a system that works well for your space, keep these things in mind:

  1. Make it easily accessible – Store items in a way that will help you to both use and remember what you have
  2. Categorize – Group your items according to level, concept, game style (such as group games vs. solo games), and more.
  3. Contain – Use a variety of storage formats including magazine holders, containers, drawers, files, and more.

I hope this post gives you lots of fresh ideas as you freshen up your own teaching space!


For more on that, listen in on episode #19 of The Piano Pantry Podcast – Spring Cleaning: It’s Time.


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Expressive Movement Videos for Preschool Lessons and Group Classes

Over the years, I’ve shared about an expressive movement resource I use off and on during preschool lessons and early elementary group classes from John Feierabend called Move It!: Expressive Movements with Classical Music for All Ages.

The series includes 20 dances set to Classical works from Brahms’s “Waltz in A-flat” to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The movements reflect both the form and expressive quality of the music. They’re really fun and my kids have always enjoyed them.

During Covid times, I found myself wanting to give a small assignment like this for my preschool kids to do at home. Unfortunately, the series I have is only available on DVD. So, I went searching for other options available online and quickly came across a large number of videos on YouTube.

These videos make for a fun and quick “focus activity” to use at the start of lessons or group classes for preschool or early to mid-elementary students.

You could also use them at the beginning of group lessons as you’re waiting for everyone to arrive for the class. Students can join in as they enter the studio.

Do it along to the video, or learn it yourself and have them follow you.

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Piano Ensemble Repertoire

Do you include group classes in your studio in some way, shape, or form? Do you have at least two pianos? If so, then consider incorporating ensemble playing into this time!

Piano ensembles are a fun and easy way for students to experience collaborative playing and have been a staple activity in my group classes for years. I’ll share some great sources for piano ensemble music in today’s post.

(For holiday-specific ensemble music, check out the post: Christmas Collaborations: Recommended Piano Ensemble Music)

Before we dive in, one point of advice I wanted to mention is that I have always approached this as a sight-reading activity. I do not send music home prior to a group class for them to practice.

Music is chosen based on what I know students can easily sight-read. Since I am lucky to have four keyboards with headphones, they spend a few minutes playing through their part a couple of times then we unplug and play together.

Also, erring on the side of easier than I think they could play has proven to be a good rule of thumb for successful experiences. I’ll try to give you some specific examples throughout.


Interested in hearing more on how I run my group classes?
Listen in on Episode #3 of The Piano Pantry Podcast: Group Class Scheduling Experiences and Ideas


 

Hal Leonard Student Piano Library

My favorite over the years has been the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library Piano Ensemble Series.

Reasons I like this series:

  • They don’t require 4 pianos.
  • The spine is perforated so you can easily remove the parts from the book.
  • There is a teacher score.
  • While the difficulty levels are equal for each part, sometimes they will have 2 parts with one hand only and 2 parts with two hands so that’s a small way I can divide between students based on their sight-reading strength.
  • It includes suggestions for fun midi sounds – a different one for each keyboard. I don’t always use these but sometimes it can be a fun twist. Here’s a fun example (two of these teen students were beginners and two had been in lessons for a few years):

Things I don’t love about this series:

  • The kiddy artwork and song titles. While it’s not terrible, I often choose the piece based on how “un-kindergarten-like” it feels.

 

Buy it on Sheet Music Plus

Hal Leonard Piano Ensembles, Level 1
Hal Leonard Piano Ensembles, Level 2
Hal Leonard Piano Ensembles, Level 3
Hal Leonard Piano Ensembles, Level 4
Hal Leonard Piano Ensembles, Level 5

 

Alfred’s Basic Piano Library

Similar to Hal Leonard, Alfred has a piano ensemble series as part of their Basic Piano Library method.

Reasons I like this series:

  • Each book includes a lot of pieces – more than 4.
  • There are some pre-reading ensembles in 1A.
  • There is a teacher score.
  • It includes suggestions for fun midi sounds – a different one for each keyboard.
  • The pieces are written for 4 keyboards and every part is two-handed
  • Overall, the titles and artwork feel less “kiddie-like” than Hal Leonard’s so it can work better for older students.
  • There are 4 levels but you can opt to purchase two “complete” sets rather than 4 individual levels.

Things I don’t love about this series:

  • The music is harder. There isn’t a lot (even in book 1) that students who have been in lessons for even a couple of years would be able to sightread and play successfully almost immediately. Again, I think this is a good indication that this series might be better for students that play at the intermediate level.
  • The pages are not perforated like Hal Leonard’s (allowing you to purchase 1 book). You have to either tear the pieces of the spite to distribute or purchase 4 copies of the book.
  • The pages of each song are printed back-to-back so there’s no way to separate them out (like Hal Leonard’s) For example, part one is printed on the backside of the previous piece, parts two and three are printed on the same page back to back, and part four is on the front side of the next piece. That means that you either have to purchase multiple copies or tear the pages out of the book to distribute then (dare I say) photocopy one of the parts (the one that’s on the backside of part 2).

 

Buy on Sheet Music Plus

Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 1A
Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 1B
Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 1 Complete
Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 2
Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 3
Alfred’s Piano Ensembles, Level 2 & 3 Complete

 

Self-Publishers

There are two other good locations that I currently know of for piano ensemble music online. I have not used either one extensively as I have the Hal Leonard or Alfred Ensembles but I like what I see and think they are a great option!

Please note that I am not being paid in any way to promote these products. I’m just letting you know what’s out there! 🙂

The first is Lauren Lewandowsi’s site: Piano with Lauren. She has 12 arrangements available.

Each piece includes:

  • A short summary about the song
  • Rhythm Practice
  • Individual parts for harmony (chords), bass notes, and melody
  • Advanced variations of each part
  • Each part is notated in its simplest form first and then as more advanced variations. The variations allow for a group of multi-leveled students to play together.

 

The newest one I’ve discovered is Miss Dorla’s Piano Pyramids.

Each piece includes:

  • 5 parts (at 5 different levels – a real gem!)
  • Conductor Score

 

Any More?

I hope this post has given you some great resources for gathering your students to make music together!

Do you have any favorites to add to the list? Let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for new resources for piano ensembles.


Please note all of these links are affiliate links which simply means I get a very small percentage back without it costing you extra as a way of helping me run this blog. Thanks!

 

Group Class Lesson Planning Made Easy

Ever since I started teaching piano full-time just over ten years ago, group classes have always been part of my studio offerings in one way or another.

While we’re not necessarily going to cover the variety of group class format options in this post (check out episode 3 of The Piano Pantry Podcast for that), I do want to share an overall group class lesson plan format that has consistently proven successful for all of my group classes no matter the level.

In this post, I’ll be referring to the style of a group class that is more of an occasional enrichment class, not a weekly “group piano lesson.”

Each class generally includes four key areas:

  1. Performances
  2. Audiation Activities
  3. Ensemble Work
  4. Music Theory Games

In this post, we’ll talk about why each area is important and will share some of my favorite go-to resources.

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A Sequenced Assignment Series for At-Home Practice with Note Rush

Today I’m excited to share with you a brand new product available in the Piano Pantry shop!

It’s a sequenced set of custom links to use with the Note Rush app.

This product was a result of wanting to give all my students well-sequenced, note-naming assignments to do at home each week that focused on small groups of notes at a time with lots of repetitions.

Rather than creating these assignments manually for every student every week, I sat down and designed an entire well-sequenced set all at once.

Teachers will find it especially useful when using it in conjunction with any kind of online assignment tools such as email, Google Docs, or Tonara (a software program for giving student assignments online.)

In this post, I’ll give a quick primer on Note Rush then show you how this product can be incredibly useful for you as a teacher!

P.S. Be sure and get the 15% discount code at the end of the post in celebration of the launch of the product.


Please note this product is not produced by or in conjunction with either Note Rush or Tonara and is of my own accord.


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A Big One-Minute Club Update and Free Landmark Notes Download

Recently, I went through a big overhaul of the annual One-Minute Club Note-Naming Challenge we do in my studio including an update to the levels as well as putting together a new display/tracking board.  I updated the original post to show you some of these most recent updates (including photos!). It also contains all the details you need to get it started in your own studio.

Part of my big update was moving to a leveling system based more on a landmark approach to teaching note names rather than the skips-alphabet approach.

While I find the skips alphabet approach to be a really useful way to help students understand how the grand staff comes together, I personally found my students spending too much time counting up the staff to find the notes and struggling to name them quickly.

The landmark approach highlights 12 “guide notes” if you will that outline the mirror-like relationship of the grand staff. I especially love how it makes sense with the location of the Bass Clef (or “F” Clef) and the Treble Clef (or “G” Clef).

Rather than students learning individual pitches, they recognize the pattern of the entire grand staff in relation to the piano and from there simply go up or down a step or skip to find the notes surrounding the landmarks.

In the process of all my updates, I created a beautiful visual aid with three different pages to help students see all of the landmarks in a variety of patterns together. Print it off and laminate one copy to use in all your lessons or print off copies for each of your students.

 

A Simple Incentive Program and Prize Box Items Students Love!

On March 12, 2020, I wrote a post called Implementing Incentives: The Struggle Is Was Real where I shared my struggle with implementing incentive programs in my studio.

I had intended to follow up that post immediately with a second one sharing what I had ultimately found as a super simple and successful solution to implementing an incentive, more specifics on the program, a list of popular prize box items, and some free downloads from my own programs.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Suddenly, all we could think about was how to transform our studios overnight to online instruction.

The need for hearing about an in-person incentive program and physical prize boxes suddenly felt completely useless at the time, so I decided to put the post on hold in order to do my part to help which included these posts:

A Simple (and Free) Video Supplement to Support Your Online Teaching

Musings on Keeping a Positive Perspective During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Save Time and Money Taking Online Payments with Coinhop

10 Products to Make Your Online Teaching More Comfortable

Healthy Snacks for Long Teaching Days

I haven’t forgotten you though, and so here I am, back on the topic of incentives in the studio!

Each of our situations looks quite different at the moment in our studios with some remaining online, others going back to in-person or some version thereof, and some having to close down their businesses (our hearts go out to you!)

Before we dive in if you didn’t catch the first post, be sure and read it first!


Implementing Incentives: The Struggle Is Was Real


 

My “Winning” Incentive Program

All in all, my struggles with implementing an incentive program helped me realize what I really needed out of a program. It had to be:

  1. Simple
  2. Flexible
  3. Consistent
  4. Easy to implement
  5. Work for all ages

Not only that, but the program I ultimately landed on also gives students a bonus life skill.

What is it?

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Games Webinar This Thursday

Hey, friends!

I just wanted to drop you a quick note and let you know that I’ll be a contributor on a webinar put on by The Francis Clark Center this Thursday, May 21 @ 11:00 a.m. EDT.

Our topic will be focused on games during online teaching. Other contributors include Nicola Cantan, Joy Morin, Christina Whitlock, and Melissa Willis. What a great crew and I’m honored to get the chance to be a part!

I’m guessing you know most of these ladies but if you don’t, here’s a little about each one:

Nicola Cantan writes at Colourfulkeys.ie, Joy Morin writes at ColorinMyPiano.com, Christina Whitlock is author of our awesome Varsity Musician Series here on PP and Melissa Willis has been really active in Facebook teacher groups sharing her online teaching tips on YouTube since this all started.

Can I give you a sneak peek? I plan to share a tip for keeping all of those games organized. It’s me – you know I can’t resist!

You can either register for the webinar ahead of time or view the replay later by visiting this link.

Hope to see you there!

 

The One-Minute Club Goes Virtual

One of the top posts here on Piano Pantry is the One-Minute Club Note-Naming Challenge.

Here we are, four years from the first time we talked about this studio-wide challenge, and every teacher around the world has suddenly been thrown into online teaching like we never expected.

So, today, let’s talk about three different ways we can adapt this challenge to online lessons including the pros and cons of each format!

If you haven’t read the original post yet, you’ll definitely want to check it out to have a better understanding of how the challenge works!

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Implementing Incentives

The Struggle Is Was Real

To incentivize or not to incentivize. That is the question.

(Or maybe you’re simply wondering at the moment whether or not “incentivize” is actually a word? It is, by the way. 🙂 )

Do you struggle with implementing an incentive program?

Is it because you’re torn between the philosophy of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation or is it because it’s a struggle to be consistent in implementing something? (Or maybe a little of both?)

While there’s plenty of research supporting both sides of this age-old question of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation, today I’ll be sharing my journey with (and support of) implementing incentives. Specifically:

  1. Why I struggled for years with implementing incentive programs.
  2. Four things I found an incentive program (and I) needed for long-term success.
  3. How others in the field helped inspire and develop my own philosophy regarding extrinsic rewards along the way.
  4. How short term rewards can turn into long-term joy including a specific example from my studio.

In a later post, I’ll get more specific with the incentive program I’ve been using with success for several years, and a list of popular prize box items.

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