Preschool Piano Classes

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.

 


Hi, Amy!

I absolutely LOVED reading your most recent post offering your reflections on what you’ve learned as you celebrate your teaching milestone. So much of it truly spoke to me!

I am gearing up to launch a preschool piano class this fall and was wondering if you’d share with me how you structured your class – number of weeks, length of class, number of students, lesson plan structure, etc.

(I am currently thinking 8-week sessions, 45-minute classes, 3-4 students, ages 4-6.)

I’ve been learning a lot about MLT, audiation, and MMfP, but I feel like I’m stalling the preschool class launch because I am still so new at all of it. I have been teaching using Piano Safari, as well as several other methods for several years now, and recently ordered the new Piano Safari Friends materials. I also have several years of experience teaching the Music Together program (early childhood family music classes). However, I have felt like until I could teach as an MLT “purist,” I should wait.

Your thoughts on combining methods and doing what works for you and your students has encouraged me to consider another way without worrying about doing it “wrong.” I’d love to hear more about your experience with this age group and the bird and bolts of how you structure your classes!

Marissa L.

 


Hi, Marissa!

Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog post. It is SO NICE to hear directly from people impacted! So thank YOU! 🙂

As far as the preschool piano class goes, your email made me realize that the photo I shared in the blog post was perhaps deceiving! The photo I posted was from a free one-off summer class I did with our local parks department for a few years. I used that photo because I was pulling from a multitude of curriculums with those kiddos.

I have yet to run a full preschool piano class. While I offer the group class, it seems I’ve never had enough students timed just right for it to be a go. I’ve only ended up doing private preschool lessons. Here’s how I advertise my preschool lessons though:

“Lessons are paid for and attended in 8-week sessions. Students come once a week for a private lesson or group class of 2-3 students (depending on availability). Private lessons will be 30 minutes and group classes 40 minutes”

So, whether it was a private lesson or a group class, parents were only committed for a short period.

I think what you’re planning as far as length, time, and students are perfect!

As far as curriculum goes, for the most part, I now pretty well use Music Moves Keyboard Games books 100% for this age. I’ll tell you what I’ve done in the past though (as far as combining resources) that worked well for quite a while:

I didn’t necessarily use all of these at once but did combine many of them at one point.

As far as the Music Moves for Piano series goes, let me say this: just do it – don’t feel like you have to know or understand it all to try using it! Keep pressing on and learning a little more at a time.

The Keyboard Games Books are in my opinion the absolute best piano book for preschoolers out there as the songs are short, encourage exploration all over the piano, and especially support the audition of basic rhythm patterns in duple and triple meters.

It’s worth it!

Good luck and I would love to hear how things pan out!

 

~Amy

 

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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December Fun: Christmas Games and Activities for Your Studio

Are you looking for ideas on fun “off bench” activities to use in this Christmas season? Look no further! Today I’m going to share some of my favorite games and resources that I return to year after year along with tips for each one.

First, let me briefly share how I store my holiday games. We have to stay organized, right?

 

Storing Games (Both Hard-Copy and Digital)

Inspired by Nicola Canton I’ve started storing my holiday-themed games in these clear plastic document folders.

(P.S. The A4 size is nice because if you laminate a letter size sheet, the lamination makes it larger.)

It’s not a cheap way to store games as they’re almost $1 apiece, so I’m currently only storing my holiday-themed games in these. The rest of my games are stored in hanging files in a file drawer. (I’ll write a post on that another day!)

The digital files are stored in my cloud file manager.

From there, I name files for what they are. This allows me to see how many games, for example, I have, how many worksheets, etc.

 

Favorite Christmas-Themed Activities

In no particular order…

Holiday Rhythm Cups from Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.

This is a great way to have fun with rhythm in a unique and collaborative way. The set includes three songs in three levels: Deck the Halls, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Joy to the World.

Check out a clip of my students having fun with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

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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.

 

 

 

Manipulatives and Piano Games for Private and Group Lessons: A Master List

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:

 

A Great Game for Reviewing Major Chords and 5-finger Patterns

Don’t you just love it when you come up with an activity or game that turns out to be a real winner making you wish you had thought of it sooner? I had one of those moments recently and wanted to share the activity with you right away as it was such a hit.

I was looking for a fun way to do a big review of all the 5-finger patterns and chords in preparation for a festival in which a few students will be participating.

The only game I really have for that concept is one of my favorite TCW card games (that’s Three Cranky Women if you’re not familiar) – Flashy Fingers.

Most of the TCW card games though are not made for students just learning, or even in the early-mid stages of mastering any particular concepts. They really have to know their stuff to play most of the games. Believe me, I’ve tried a lot of their games with students who didn’t know the information like the back of their hand and it makes the game a lot harder and not nearly as much fun if they have to sit there for a minute to even figure out the answer.

Don’t get me wrong, they are high quality, wonderful games (I own every card deck in the series), they’re just more useful once the student really knows what they’re doing. The games really help students learn to think faster about concepts they already know and understand well.

Just because particular games are made to be played one way doesn’t mean we can’t utilize them in another, so that’s what I did!

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5-Days of Giveaways | 02: Move It! [DVD]

 

It’s day two of the one-year anniversary celebration of Piano Pantry. As a thank you to everyone for giving me a chance in the crowded blog world, I’m hosting 5-days of giveaways.

Thank you to everyone who entered yesterday’s giveaway sponsored by Marilyn Lowe. The winner of Day 1: Music Moves for Piano Keyboard Games Book A was Karen Lien!

I’m only giving away items that I currently use and love. After today, there will be one more prize worth $20 (a “foodie” giveaway) and two BIG prizes worth four times that much!

 

Today’s giveaway is sponsored by me! If you want to know a little more about me, the life I life, and what makes me tick, you can read more here. If not, that’s OK too – read on! 🙂

 

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5-Days of Giveaways | 01: Music Moves for Piano

 

In celebration of the one-year anniversary of Piano Pantry, I wanted to do something big for you all as a “thank you” for giving this newbie (me!) a shot in this blogosphere world. So THANK YOU!

Here’s the kicker – I’m only giving away items that I currently use and love. Three days will be prizes worth around $20 including one “foodie” giveaway, and two days will be BIG with one worth up to $75 and the other worth $90.

 

Today’s Giveaway is sponsored by Marilyn Lowe, author, and creator of Music Moves for Piano. I was blessed to get to know Marilyn and be trained by her during my training in Music Learning Theory and Music Moves for Piano through the Gordon Institute August 2016 in Boston. You can read more about that here.

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