Online Music Labs and Organizing Repertoire in Tonara

Over the years I’ve gotten lots of emails with great questions from readers like yourself.

Recently, it dawned on me that instead of keeping that information between me and the person who asked, perhaps others could find it useful!

So, I’m beginning a series on Piano Pantry called “Your Questions Answered” and will post approximately one per month. Enjoy!

In this time of online lessons, what does a “lab” look like? When I read your posts I feel like I’ve been teaching in the dark ages, and suddenly been thrust into the light. You inspire me to up my game!!!

I am wondering how you organize your resources on your computer too. I am struggling with this….especially videos. Are you using Tonara? I am, but struggling with saving repertoire to re-use.

I know this is a busy time for you with the new teaching year. I’m grateful for any help you can offer. I want to be better!!!!!!



Hi, C!

These are all great questions and am happy to help.

I’ve always promoted my lab time as a “bonus”, so when the COVID lockdown went into effect in March 2020, I didn’t worry about moving the entire lab time online. My students and I simply had our individual lessons and called it good – luckily with no complaints from parents. 🙂

One thing I did do, however, was to use the Music Theory Video lab series and assigned it through Tonara.

I pre-created a set of assignments in the “repertoire” section of Tonara for each video and titled it not only by the “set number” and “video number” in which I ordered it but also by what they were supposed to do (an “action word”).

For example:  WATCH: (S1 #15) Steps and Skips on the Staff

(Here’s a screenshot for you to see it in my Tonara repertoire database – click on the image to view it more closely if needed.)

A link to the video on YouTube video is included in the assignment.

As you stated, while the repertoire tool in Tonara is super awesome for storing frequently-used assignments like this, I know it can be a struggle to take the time to make it happen.

Last year I went through that and tried to just focus on inputting one book at a time into Tonara. I title the assignment by an acronym for the book first then the name of the piece.

For example, for my Music Moves for Piano books I might title assignment like this:

MM1 (U01) PLAY: Popcorn

MM1 (U02) SING: Triple Meter

(The “U” stands for “Unit”). 

This makes it easier when you use the search function to be able to see all of the pieces in one book together IN ORDER of the book.

Keep in mind that the longer the title gets, the student won’t be able to read the whole title on their device until they actually click on the assignment itself. That’s why I try to keep the title as descriptive and yet succinct as possible.

Here’s another screenshot:

I don’t know if that completely answers all of your questions but hopefully, it’s a start and can inspire you to find some ways that will work for you!

Best wishes!




Just a heads up that all links in this post to Tonara are affiliate links. All it means is if you sign up to use it through one of those links, I get a little back without it costing you extra. Being an affiliate for great products helps me cover the cost of running this free blog! 🙂

9 Lessons-Learned From My First Zoom Recital

Well, this is a post I never expected to see myself writing! LOL.

Over the past two months, studio teachers from all over the world have taken the plunge into unknown territory

Here are  7 things that I learned from our first Zoom recital. I hope this will make your recital a little easier!


#1 Do a practice run

For our in-person recitals, we always do a rehearsal the day before. I’m glad I didn’t let the online format change this norm.

Holding a practice recital the week prior gives students, parents, and ourselves a chance to know what to expect. Even more importantly, it allows you to practice “managing” the recital online.

Definitely plan on requiring a parent to attend the rehearsal so they can practice holding the device and we could pick the best location. This will avoid you having to give instructions during the recital like “move a little further back”, or “turn your camera sideways” or “no, no, that’s too close – we want to see their hands!”

The practice run will make everyone feel much more relaxed going into it recital day!


#2 Send an Invitation Email

Send families an email at least a week ahead of time that is specifically for them to forward on to family and friends. Here is mine. Feel free to use it or any portion of it as needed.

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Help Your Students “Enable Original Sound” on Zoom With This Email Template

You know how sometimes in life you’re told about something that you know you should do but at the moment, you just can’t bring yourself to mentally mess with it?

That’s how I was when we started using Zoom for our online lessons.

Teachers in Facebook groups were mentioning the importance of the “Enable Original Sound” setting to help with sound quality but I was just trying to wrap my head around getting myself set up online to pay it any mind.

Then two or three weeks of lessons went by and I was DONE with the garble. It was time to upgrade our sound.

Do I kick myself a little for not dealing with this sooner? Yep. But, oh, well, I’m over it now.

Through all of this, I have to say one thing all my studio families have been mentioning in our evaluation meetings this week, was the quality of my communication throughout this whole process. They felt the instructions were incredibly helpful and easy to follow.

That’s part of our job! Quality communication.

To spell things out as clear and easy as possible, I gave my step-by-step instructions using screenshots. It doesn’t get easier than that!

Teachers: You have my permission to copy and paste this entire email and use these images to send to your studio families (if you don’t mind having my mug shot! LOL).

Continue reading

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, Joy Morin writes at, 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.

Recently, I went through a bit of an overhaul of my own program and in the process did a big update to the original blog post.

If you use this challenge, even if you’ve read the original post before, you’re going to want to check it out again as it now includes 7 small but really great tips to help ease nerves during the timing and help foster the best results in students.

Read the Original Post: 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 a few different ways we can adapt this challenge to our online lessons including the pros and cons of each format!

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10 Products to Make Your Online Teaching More Comfortable

If you’re not already teaching lessons online, many of us will be this week following Spring Break.

I think we can all agree that online teaching can take a little bit (or even a lot) more energy than in-person. Hopefully, the more we do it, the easier it will get!

To help you along the way, here are 10 products I love that can help make your next few weeks feel a little less stressful and a little more comfortable.

Remember, it’s the small things that can bring us joy in stressful times!

Here’s a quick reference guide – descriptions follow!


#1-4 Hydrate and Moisturize

Staying well-hydrated is always important for good health, but we may need to be even more conscious of it now. If we’re not intentionally conscious of it, we may tend to find ourselves talking a little louder than normal which leads to dry mouth and dehydration.

Consider keeping an electric kettle next to you for cups of tea or even warm lemon water. Chef’s Choice Electric Glass Kettle is good quality and well-priced.


One of my favorite teas is The Republic of Tea’s Spring Cherry Green Tea


The individual bags are convenient for on-the-go teaching.

Excess talking can also easily dry out the lips. Don’t forget a stash of chapstick! SW Basics Organic Beeswax Lip Balm


With everyone being more conscious of handwashing perhaps longer and more frequently than before, the skin on your hands may be suffering.

Keep this lovely-smelling EO Body Lotion, Coconut and Vanilla on your desk to enjoy after each hand-washing.

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Save Time and Money Taking Online Payments With Coinhop

As many teachers are considering what it may look like to run their studio (temporarily) online, one topic that may be necessary and quite urgent is making the move to online payments.

If you’re still taking checks from parents and worried about making the switch, rest assured, while it may take a little leg work setting everyone up, your future self won’t regret it.

Taking online payments will not only save you time from manually depositing checks but the payment portal I want to share with you today will save you money compared to 90% of the other online payment services out there.
(P.S. That number was arbitrary. Basically, the fees are cheaper than anything else I’ve found out there.)

Coinhop has been my payment portal of choice for several years now. I hope the reasons why I love it will help you as you’re considering online payment options for your studio.

Please note that Piano Pantry is enrolled in the Referral Program with Coinhop which simply means that if you sign-up, I will get a small commission without it costing you any extra.

Sign up for Coinhop now!

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

Is you Inbox overloaded with emails titled “Person/company name’s response to COVID-19″?

Are you feeling a little bit like you’re in the Twilight Zone?

Do you just want to make it all go away and get back to normal?

Is one side of you glad to know that “we’re all in this together,” and another part of you tired of hearing the phrase already?

Yeah, me too.


Strong Declarations

Over the past week as posts on Facebook have ramped up regarding online lessons, we’re seeing success, generosity, and encouragement, but also escalating anxiety and even negativity.

Several posts popped up of people expressing their frustration with online lessons and in the heat of those frustrations, they declared them to be “worthless.”

Really?, I wondered…

Worthless? Continue reading

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

Are you looking for a few extra (but simple) tools to help you with your new journey into online teaching?

Here’s one you may have not even considered!

A free compilation of 48 of the best music-theory videos from all over the web is available to you here on Piano Pantry.

How can this video-series help make your life easier over the coming weeks?

The videos have been leveled into four sets based on the rough/general order in which concepts are introduced in most piano methods.

You will be able to quickly and easily access videos that can help reinforce new concepts your students may be learning. Here are a few examples of videos in each set:

Set 1
  1. Key names and the music alphabet
  2. How to draw the treble and bass clef
  3. Landmark notes
Set 2
  1. Skips alphabet on the staff
  2. Sharps, flats, and naturals
  3. How to build major and minor triads
Set 3
  1. AB and ABA Form
  2. Chord inversions
  3. Circle of fifths
Set 4
  1. Scale degree names
  2. Augmented intervals
  3. Double sharps and flats


Before, during, or after your online lesson, grab the link and text or email it to students/parents. (If you use a program such as Tonara, simply attach a link to the video in a theory lesson assignment. Easy!)

Should these videos replace a lesson?

Are they an easy and fun way to provide additional e-learning to your students?

Access the video series here.

Here’s a screenshot showing a few videos that are included in the series:


Tracking Sheet

If you’re interested in having a way to keep track of what videos you’ve assigned to each student, find the 2-page guide that accompanies this series in the Music Labs Shop or simply add it to your shopping cart now.

P.S. All music labs are studio licenses so you can print it as much as you need for your students.




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FaceTime Lesson

Around 11:45 today, I received a call from the mother of my 1:00 student. She wanted to check with me as “M” had been complaining of a sore throat and said she was feeling a little achy. Although she didn’t have a temperature or seem sick otherwise, the mother wanted to see what I wanted to do. Thank you! I was grateful to her for being considerate of my health. She knew I would be traveling for the next week and wanted to be especially cautious.

At first, I suggested I would do a video lesson for her; I have been trying this for the first time this year and have had good feedback from parents. (I still need to figure out a better way to record videos other than with my iPhone but that’s another conversation). It then dawned on me that I had not yet replenished my Piano Adventures 3A studio copy. It makes it hard to do a video lesson without the music they are working on!

Then I remembered I updated my policy this year to read:

Students who are ill should not come to piano lessons. I reserve the right to send a student home if they arrive sick. If students are only mildly ill, please contact me and we can do a FaceTime lesson or I can record a short video assignment for them during their regularly schedule lesson time.

I had yet to try FaceTime with a student so we decided to go for it and I’m so glad we did – we all agreed it was a great success! The mom held the phone and was able to maneuver around as I needed. We were able to cover all the material we normally do during her 45-minute lesson. Mom dropped by the studio about 30 minutes later on her way to Walmart to pick up new sight-reading cards, a fresh assignment sheet and a few other things.

Yea for technology keeping me healthy!