My 2021-2022 Student Christmas Gifts

Over the years, I’ve shared several ideas for Christmas gifts for students, including all that I’ve done up until 2020. If you would like to check out some of those, visit these posts:

Christmas Gift Ideas for Music Students: Who Couldn’t Use Another Idea?!

Music-Themed Bookmarks for Student Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gift Round-Up

My Perfect Homemade Student Christmas Gift: Hot Cocoa 

I’m playing a little “catch-up” in today’s post, sharing what I did last year and this year.


My 2021 Student Christmas Gifts

Have you ever done a “hodge-podge” gift year? This was one of those years for me.

The main gift I planned and was especially excited to give was sugar cookies decorated with the new studio logo (the small version).

If you want to read more on this new logo pursuit, read this post: Keep Your Studio Marketing Fresh with New Branding

Thankfully, we have a bakeshop in our small town so I could hire them out (cookie decorating is not my strong suit)!

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Friday Finds #236 Advent



There are several online piano teacher friends sharing Advent Calendar goodies. Check back every day for new finds, resources, and giveaways!

Midnight Music (Katie Wardrobe) 

Vibrant Music Teaching (Nicola Cantan)

Francis Clark Center for Piano Pedagogy



Christmas Freebies on (Chrissy Ricker)



December is a time many of us have fun holiday group classes. Check out Lauren’s piano ensemble music:

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Jingle Bells



A Holiday Lap-Tap Duet on We Three Kings (Teach Piano Today)



We’re halfway through and I already shared this in Best-of-November, but here is an Advent playlist on Spotify for your enjoyment through the rest of this season.

I also have several Christmas playlists including Christmas Jazz and Christmas Classics, and Christmas Worship.



Recent recipe finds:

Slow Cooker Bang-Bang Chicken (The Magical Slow Cooker); serve with rice.

Mississippi Pot Roast (The Magical Slow Cooker); serve on top of a baked potato or alongside rice, quinoa, or mashed potatoes.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal (Sweet Savory and Steph)



Did you hear? Prima Music is going out of business! So sad! Prima was my go-to for quite a long time. Pop over there through the month of December for 50% off EVERYTHING while supplies last.



5 Fresh Christmas Arrangements for Church Pianists (Chrissy Ricker)



Deck the Halls piano duet (Natalie Weber | Music Matters Blog)


My Perfect Homemade Student Christmas Gift: Hot Cocoa

If there’s one type of gift you will likely never see me give students, it’s a hand-made craft. Don’t get me wrong; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those types of gifts – I think they’re fabulous. I am just a TERRIBLE crafter!

Luckily, we have Joy Morin at for those types of student gifts. 🙂 She has many great homemade ideas on her site, including paper ornaments, glass ornaments, and mittens.

What my students WILL get from me is some kind of baked good or food item. My favorite is a homemade hot chocolate mix because what kid doesn’t love hot chocolate?!

Let’s pause for an important question.

Do you call it “Hot Cocoa” or “Hot Chocolate”?

I usually say, “Hot Chocolate.” I only used “Cocoa” in the title because it was shorter. Ha! LOL

Tell me what you call it in the comments! 🙂

This post will show you how to put together this fun homemade gift!


Recipe Considerations

Since I’m not exactly a recipe website, I’m not sharing the recipe directly but have recommended ones online you can use (like I do!)

My favorite recipe is from Cook’s Country, but since it’s a paid recipe service, here are some other versions you could try from Pioneer Woman and AllRecipes. 

Consider recipes made with powdered milk, so students only have to add hot water.  Along those same lines, I would advise you to not do the layered-type cocoa mix where you have to dump the whole container into a pot to mix.

What all these recipe mixes have in common:

  • Dry milk powder
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Confectioner’s sugar (dissolves better than white sugar)

(P.S. The only addition to this Cook’s Country is white chocolate chips and a bit of salt.)

Since the Cook’s Country recipe uses white chocolate chips, they have you mix the recipe in a food processor to get the chips into smaller pieces so they will dissolve better/quicker.

Unfortunately, this happens when you process dry powder stuff in a food processor. It’s a blustery mess! LOL

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Music-Themed Bookmarks for Student Christmas Gifts

What are some of the most typical Christmas gifts for students you can think of?

Ornaments, candy, and hand-crafted goodies likely came to mind, am I right?

In this post, Christmas Gift Ideas for Music Students: Who Couldn’t Use Another Idea even, I shared many ideas in these same gift categories (well, except hand-crafted because that is not me!).

In this post, I want to share an idea that I had never considered giving as a student Christmas gift until I learned magnetic bookmarks were a thing!


Magnetic Bookmarks

I don’t know how long magnetic bookmarks existed before I discovered them, but whoever invented them must be the most brilliant person ever. Ha! OK, I exaggerate, but how smart is that?!

When I saw these music-themed magnetic bookmarks on Amazon, I thought they could make the perfect gift!

At $3.95 per pack, they are admittedly on the pricier side of a student gift, but if time is a highly valued commodity as opposed to cost or if you have a smaller studio, these would be fun to give out.

They might even be something different you could do for your adult students vs. your younger kiddos.

Another option would be to not necessarily give each student a whole pack but simply lay them out and let each student choose one.

You could put together a little goody bag and include 1-4 of these, a music-themed pencil, and some candy. Done!



Three years ago, I gave my students a metal treble clef bookmark, but I thought they were ornaments at the time of purchase. Oops! Ha!

The tassel means they actually could function in this manner, though. At $13.00 for a pack of 10, you can’t go wrong with such a cute, economical gift!

These bookmarks on Amazon are listed as wedding favors, packaged in a cute little box. Here’s another set I found but haven’t given out myself (yet!).

Don’t forget Etsy is always a great play to look for students’ gifts, including music bookmarks!

If you want more ideas, check out this Christmas Gift Round-Up post.


Have you ever given your students musical bookmarks? If so, share links in the comments!


Music Teacher Eats: A Week of Easy, Healthy Meals (Fall Edition)

Are you a piano teacher (or independent music teacher of any instrument?) 

Does the schedule of your occupation create obstacles in food planning/meals making you feel like you’re in a rut or frequently in “survival” mode?

Then, this post is for you!

Thanks to my good friend, Christina Whitlock, creator of the Beyond Measure Podcast, I’ve found a fun way to pull food fun into the mix a little more here!

Here’s a snippet into a text between the two of us several months ago (shared with permission 🙂 ).

Can you relate to her sentiments? 🙂

Thanks to her, I’m launching this new blog post series called “Music Teacher Eats: A Week of Easy, Healthy Meals”. You can look forward to a new edition of this series coming out at least once a season (fall, winter, spring, summer) and possibly even some holiday versions.

Before we continue, a few disclaimers:

First, I will do my best to meet Christina’s request of easy, healthy, and can be done in 30 minutes or less after teaching (assuming a little prep work has been done 🙂 – see the post: Food Prep and the Studio Schedule for more on that!)

Second, as we all know, the words “easy” and “healthy” can mean completely different things to different people. I vow to do my best to take an overall general approach to both of these words and will also keep in mind that some of you (unlike me) may be serving families with kids.

Third, all of the recipes I suggest here are ones that I have tried and love. I may not be a recipe website, but I cook A LOT and am really picky about quality recipes. Rest easy that everything I share today is a recipe worth keeping. 

Fourth, while I cook a LOT from the subscription sites America’s Test Kitchen and Milk Street, I avoided including recipes from them. (It was hard though because their recipes are soooo good!) All recipes included can be found for free online.

I hope you find something in this suggested weekly meal plan that’s new, exciting, and most importantly, useful in easing the burden of meal planning as a studio music teacher!

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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, 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.



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! 🙂

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Favorite Collections of Christmas Music

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!

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 for 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 intend on doing the Christmas books that correlate to the student library or the ones that are part of the “Show Time,” “Big Time,” and “Play Time” series. While either is fine, my personal preference is the 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.

I started trying some of Piano Pronto’s holiday books in the last couple of years. 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. In particular, you might consider the Multi-Level Holiday Classics, which includes three difficulty levels for each piece.

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

I hope this helps!


9/2022 Update

My new Christmas By Ear collection is now available in the Piano Pantry shop!

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


Light but Fun Composing Ideas for Summer

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.

This question was posed in reaction to another Your Questions Answered post regarding Summers Lesson and Curriculum.


Love-love-love your posts they are so helpful.

Like you, I’m getting ready for Summer Lessons. I try to change things up for the Summer and this year I’m introducing more about composing. I started introducing this the last semester of this year but I want to do a lot more over the Summer.

What ideas do you have to teach composing on a light level but keeping it fun?

What other kinds of things do you do over the Summer?

Also, I have two 4 -year old girls starting this Summer any really fun ideas for them?

Sorry I know that’s a lot of questions but you always have great ideas.

Thanks Again,



​​Hi, Frances!

​A few resources I’ve used in the past include:

​The main thing I think is important is giving them small parameters such as what meter, how many measures, key, mood, etc., and to keep them short. Many of these resources do just that.

​As far as your second question goes regarding fun ideas for 4-year-old beginners, the first thing that comes to mind is to spend a lot of time off-bench singing and moving and doing activities such as drawing a picture that “sounds like this little song we’re going to learn”.

My favorite tool for preschool students is Music Moves for Piano’s Keyboard Games Book A. The pieces are very short – only 4 measures and focus on students simply playing to a beat and learning patterns – not reading notes. However, you will likely want to purchase the teacher book if it’s your first time trying the series.

I’ve also used with success in the past resources from both Trevor and Andrea Dow’s Wunderkeys and Faber’s My First Piano Adventures however, Music Moves remains my favorite because it encourages the most “musicing.” That is, singing and movement, not just reading notes.

I hope this gives you a little bit of a springboard for some more ideas! Congrats on the new students and good luck!



Friday Finds #218

Summer Repertoire

Happy May! If you missed last week’s big April re-cap, you can read it here: Friday Finds #217 Best of April.

I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to remember to put in music orders far enough in advance from when new terms start to actually have music by the first lesson!

So, today, I’m sharing some resources to help you as you plan your student’s Summer repertoire. This list focuses on what I would call a more relaxed repertoire such as popular tunes, what my teens like to call “flowy” music,  and some fun and unique patterned repertoire.

You’ll also see a few favorite repertoire lists from other bloggers as well. Let me know what fun repertoire you have planned for your students this Summer in the comments!

P.S. This week, I answered a reader’s question regarding how I run my Summer lessons. Catch that post here.



Back in 2018, my studio’s Spring Recital theme was “Songs we Know.” In a follow-up post, I shared a list of some favorite books with popular tunes.



Will Bailey has a great site full of fun original music kids seem to enjoy. I especially love his Way Cool Keyboarding Books for teens who play at a mid-late elementary level.

The music is very patterned and young teens absolutely love the way it sounds. Plus, they get a taste of how to play chord charts intertwined between each piece.



Piano Music for Teens (Lauren Lewandowski)

Favorite Beautiful Modern Piano Music for Teens (Jill Ice)



Who doesn’t love fun variations on Chop Sticks? Here are a few I keep bookmarked:

Chopped Sticks Rag for Three by Joyce Grill (1 piano, 6 hands / Early Intermediate)

C.S. Theme and Variations by Randall Compton (1 piano, 4 hands / Early Advanced)

Whitewater Chopped Sticks by Calvin Jones (Early Advanced)



Summer might be a good time to explore the rote repertoire series, Blitz Books, from Samantha Coates.



How about having students spend time learning some tunes by ear and harmonizing? Perhaps better yet, have them sing the melody while chording in the RH and playing octaves or other patterns in the left.

Here are 147 Tunes to Harmonize (Piano Pantry) to help get you started!



Chrissy Ricker’s Let’s Quest! (video game-inspired music) Songbook or any of Andrea and Trevor Dow’s Classical Pop Sessions would be a fun way to change things up for students in the summer!



Summer is a wonderful time to do a studio-wide project to learn the important Happy Birthday tune. Use my new Happy Birthday by Ear teaching resources to guide both you and your students through the process!