2017 Studio 88 Spring Recital 

The Magical Forest, A Narrative Suite

This year was my 6th Spring Recital teaching piano full-time. I’ve been teaching piano for around 16 years but only part-time up until the last 6 years when I opened “Studio 88” after getting my Masters in Piano Pedagogy and Performance.

Are my kids lovely or what? We were missing three this year but still had a good crew.

The last several years I’ve been trying to mix things up a bit to keep the big recital fresh and exciting. Everyone plays a solo the first half of the recital followed by a 10-minute intermission.

The second half of the recital changes from year to year. Two years ago everyone played a jazzy style and I explained to the audience before each style set what they should expect to hear. Last year we did collaborative pieces including duets, trios, and two pianos four hands (some pieces with a live drummer).

This year, we did a studio-wide collaborative project. I pulled out a book I’ve been itching to use for several years but didn’t have enough students at an early intermediate level to have performed them until now.

I’m going to share the process of pulling something like this together and also share a free download to help you plan your own production of this narrative suite.


The Magical Forest Narrative Suite

The Magical Forest- A Narrative Suite for Piano by Nancy Lau combines short narration with pieces. Each piece also has a representative drawing.

Pieces include: Entering the Magical Forest, Forest Fanfare, March of the Critters, Bear Dance, Waltz of the Deer, The Fairies Delight, Backwoods Bop, Woodland Farewell, and Leaving the Magical Forest. Continue reading

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.

This Recital Preparation Timeline and Checklist keeps me sane, saves money (by tracking food purchases vs. actual usage), and saves time by not having to think through every little detail again from year to year.

I hope this checklist will show you how to keep good records of your recitals and make planning a breeze.

Continue reading

Picnic Performance

I’m excited to share with you a wonderful informal performance I host for my students in the summer.

You’ll not only get all the nitty-gritty including repertoire used, and my preparation checklist, but I’m going to show you how this performance can be used as a marketing tool!


Until last year I didn’t do any kind of recitals during the summer. I believe in keeping summer commitments as light as possible, which is why I make summer optional for families. I usually have 60% of my students take summer lessons.

(Since you’re a piano teacher I know you’re wondering…yes my income drops in the summer. However, students who don’t take have to pay a $25 non-refundable holding fee. This amounts to several hundred dollars which helps a little with the reduced summer income.)

Last summer, however, I decided I wanted to do in informal picnic performance for students taking summer lessons.

I can’t remember the exact reason I decided to do this, but do recall seeing Irina Gorin posting on Facebook about a picnic with her studio families and I thought it was a lovely idea. I’m always looking for ways to build community within my studio and what better way than to have a meal together!

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Photos from a Museum Masterpieces Recital

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on a recital one of my colleagues was holding using Catherine Rollin’s Museum Masterpieces books.

See the original post here:

7 Hidden Lessons from a Museum Masterpieces Recital

Museum Masterpieces


Today I am passing along the photos from this fun recital. I love seeing the photos of the screen with each image while the student is playing. Most of those photos are on pages 2-6.

View the photos here.

Thanks so much for sharing once again, Marylee!

Studio 88 Spring Recital 2016



This past weekend I held my fifth spring recital. Each year I try to do something a little different. This year the first half featured student solos and the second half collaborative pieces. There were several duets, one-piano six-hands, and two-piano eight-hand pieces. Besides a couple of duets here and there, this is the first time I’ve had all my students collaborate. Continue reading

7 Hidden Lessons from a Museum Masterpieces Recital

A friend and colleague invited me to her recital which is this Sunday, but since my recital is the same day, I am unable to attend. I wish I could, however, as the recital she is hosting is a fun and unique idea. She gave me permission to share with you today.

Museum Masterpieces


I am featuring the four books of Catherine Rollin – Museum Masterpieces.  I heard about them when she conducted a workshop at Taylor University last September.  I knew then and there I was going to do this for the Spring recital.  The kids all chose their piece from the insert of the paintings she included in each book.  I asked them what painting caught their attention and then I played the piece.  They have been loving it!  Some asked to play two, so a few are doing that.

Continue reading

Studio Awards 

Policies and Procedures

Like many independent music teachers, my end-of-year recital includes awards. Not only are these awards meant to recognize achievements, but they also serve to celebrate student’s ongoing commitment to piano study year after year.

Team sports do it, so can we!

A colleague of mine who has a new and quickly growing studio, recently posted in a Facebook group asking how in the world teachers with large studios kept track of everything – especially when it came to recitals. Well, my friend, this post is for you as I’m about to share not only the various awards that I give from year to year but how I organize and track everything.

The year I opened my studio, I sat down and devised my system. Consistency from year to year was important as I didn’t want to re-invent the wheel each spring researching and trying to remember where I purchased awards and such. The best way I knew to do that was to write up a document similar to what most organizations call a “Policies and Procedures Manual.”


What to Include in Your Manual

As you’re putting together your own Awards Policies and Procedures Manual, there are several things you should include:

1 – A list of the awards you give annually including any requirements.

Later in this post, I’ll address specific awards, but as far as “requirements” goes, here’s an example of what I mean:

“Students must have a minimum of 25 lessons to receive a 1-year award. Those with less than 25 lessons receive a participation certificate.”

2 – Links to the exact item(s) that you purchase for each award.

For consistency, give the same awards every year. This is also a way to build excitement for students. Imagine a 2-year student seeing a student who has been studying for 6 or 8 years receive a large trophy.

I recently witnessed a 5-year student commenting to another student that they’re staying in lessons at least until they receive the “Legacy Award” (8 years) if not longer (see below for details on the legacy award).

3 – Notes and reminders regarding engraving or anything else you may want to remember from year to year.

I wanted to make sure the wording and formatting of my engraving were the same from year to year so I made notes regarding the exact way I worded the trophy engraving. I also took a screenshot from the Music in Motion website on the engraving instructions so I didn’t have to search for those instructions every year.

4 – A list of students by name and their years of study.

Keeping this list from year to year will be a big time saver. Each year I simply copy and paste the listing onto a fresh sheet, shift everyone’s names down a year, and remove those who are no longer students. This process takes about 10 minutes!

If I have any transfer students who will be receiving an award for the first time in my studio, I make sure I confirm with the parents exactly how long they took lessons prior to coming to me and ensure the parent is in agreement with the years of study I will be awarding their student.

Here is a basic MS Word template for you to get started!



Types of Awards

There are several different awards I give at the recital. All of those listed here are completely objective.


MTNA Music Study Award

All students receive a certificate for years of study.

In the “members-only” section of the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) website, you can get access to several different award programs including this “Music Study Award.”

They have a free certificate available for download signed by the current MTNA President and the Executive Director and C.E.O. The certificate is a fill-in form template that allows you to type in each student’s name.

The first few years I printed them on heavy white cardstock but recently have been using heavy certificate paper so they look a little nicer. (Just note that if you print on a certificate paper that already has a thick-design border, you will need to reduce the print size to 75% (ish) to fit it inside the border.)

Note: It can be a bit tricky to find these awards on the MTNA website, so I’ve included a screenshot (updated as of 4/2019). You will need to be logged in using your member information in order to these pages.

In my current award system, every two years, students received a “bonus” item along with their certificate for years of study. At years two and four, they get a small lapel pin and at years six, eight, and ten, they receive a trophy (progressively larger each year).

Included in this award system will also be a legacy award for students who study with me for eight years. This award was first described in the Varsity Musician’s Playbook Series. At the time of this post, I’m only five years into my full-time studio so this award has yet to be given!

Most of the pins and all the trophies I currently purchase are ordered through Music in Motion.

Click here to download a PDF with more details on my award system including links to all the pins and trophies.

As of May 2019, my award system has been changed and updated. To see new and updated award system, view the post:


Event Participation

Any students who participate in events outside the studio throughout the year are given their ribbons and certificates at the recital.

For example, if I have any students participate in our state’s Achievement in Music Festival in March, they are given their certificate and medal the day of the event, but the theory ribbon is distributed to teachers after the event. It’s nice to have something physical to hand to students when recognizing their participation in the event during the recital award time.

The next two awards are not ones that I do every year, but I think they’re both great programs and are fun to include even if just as a special event one year.


Clavier’s Piano Explorer Practice Challenge

Piano Explorer Magazine has a Practice Challenge that students can complete, working toward 100, 200, or 300 days practice (or more). Students who achieve this get their name listed in the magazine and teachers can print a special certificate available on their website.


MTNA Music Achievement Award Program

The Music Achievement Award Program is another one offered to members of MTNA and can be found in the same area of the Members Only site as the Music Study Award.

Students have to complete several outside musical tasks such as writing a report on a composer, composing pieces, and more. They have a huge array of things to choose from and MTNA has an implementation pack to help you get started.

Students who completed this program received a small plaque at the recital that says “Music Achievement Award,” (purchased from Music in Motion). I also took those students to a professional performance such as a concert with the Philharmonic. Due to the expense of the awards that I give for this program, I do charge a small fee for students who enroll.

I offered this (optional) opportunity to my students for several years but in my effort to reduce activities and simplify, I have not offered it in a while.


One-Minute Club

Each year all students are required to participate in the One-Minute Club Note-Naming Challenge. The winner with the fastest time is announced at the recital and receives a $10 gift card to a store/restaurant of their choice.

What kind of awards do you give? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments!


4/21/2020 Update

P.S. I gave my awards a bit of an overhaul. To check out my new program, visit this post:


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