Evernote for Gmail: A Review

In April 2019, Evernote came out with a new add-on, “Evernote for Gmail.”

If you’re not sure what an add-on (extension/plug-in) is, it’s simply an extra little program that extends the functionality of whatever program you’re using whether it’s your internet browser, WordPress site, or email client.

You are likely most familiar with add-ons in your internet browser. As you can see in this small screen-shot, in the Google Chrome browser, add-ons are viewable to the right of the URL bar.

Today I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on whether or not Evernote for Gmail is a useful tool.

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Piano Teacher World: A Year in Recap, 2018


Last year (2017), after being inspired by a post written by Leila Viss in 2016, I decided to sit down and think through everything that happened not only in my world as an independent piano teacher but just in general in what I would call “Piano Teacher World”.

Writing posts like these the last couple of years have been very enlightening, encouraging and really just a healthy exercise in gratitude in general.

The idea behind the “Piano Teacher World” recap is to take a look back at significant news, happenings, and impact in the world of independent piano teachers. The final part of this post also includes resources that have made a direct impact on my own teaching.

I tried to be as thorough as I could and will admit that the list is much smaller than it was last year. Be sure and share in the comments if there was anything you would add to the list!

For the sake of being thorough, I asked for recommendations on multiple Facebook groups and received a lot of excellent feedback on The Art of Piano Pedagogy group regarding overall trends – all of which I agree with. Let’s start with those. (If you’re interested in reading all the comments, which are much more specific, check out the full post here.)


2018 Trends

1 | Declining or leveled-off interest in iPads and apps. Better balance and understanding in the role they play in lessons.

2 | Teaching and learning piano online is becoming more and more viable and easily available.

3 | A shift in attitude and growing excitement toward rote teaching/learning.

4 | Increased curiosity and interest in Music Learning Theory and how it can impact piano teaching, not just Early Childhood Music.

5 | Continually improved quality and ease-of-availability in regards to self-published material.

6 | Rising interested in quality blogs, podcasts, and online communities.

7|  Continual professionalization of the field.

8 | A renewed interest in pedagogy outside of academia.

9 | Ongoing concerns with declining membership in professional organizations such as MTNA.

Also mentioned in the list, while not a “trend,” was Brenda Wristen and Lora Deahl’s book Adaptive Strategies for Small-Handed Pianists (Published November 2017).


In Piano Teacher News

ELISA MILNE opened a shop on her website.

Launch of CYBER CONSERVATORY that accompanies the app Super Score.

A teacher friend shared this one specifically with me. She has always loved Marvin Blickenstaff’s method “Music Pathways” and Paul Sheftel’s MIDI accompaniment for the series. She says there are lots of good compositions by Lynn Freeman Olson. 

THE FRANCIS CLARK CENTER is continuing to see changes as Dr. Pamela Pike was named the new Editor in Chief/Chief Content Director and Dr. Andrea McAlister was appointed as the new Director of Content Curation and Senior Editor for Clavier Companion. 

They also launched a Facebook group for subscribers called Piano Teach Learn.

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Christmas Collaborations: Recommended Piano Ensemble Music

Perhaps more than any other time of year, Christmas is a time when we, as a society, make music together the most. Whether it’s caroling, singing Christmas music in church, or as a family in the car while you drive to grandma’s house, there’s just something about Christmas music that encourages music-making together.

So if with our voices, why not also with our instruments? Each year, the week before Christmas we have group classes in my studio. These classes are the perfect opportunity for ensemble playing.

In this post, I will share a few go-to resources I use in my piano studio so my students can make music as a group. The books and music mentioned in this post do not include duet repertoire, piano trios (such as piano, cello, violin), only piano ensembles of three or more.

I’m lucky enough to have four keyboards in my studio we can use which is, of course, ideal but not always realistic. If you don’t have four keyboards, don’t despair – there are options here for you and ways you can equip your students to make music together!

Speaking of Christmas piano ensembles…perhaps one of the most-watched on YouTube (with currently 18,950,525 views), is the Piano Guys’ version of Angels We Have Heard on High with 32 fingers and 8 thumbs.

Granted, this is exactly a “piano ensemble” but it felt fitting to include it in this post because it’s so incredible.


Downloadable Sheet Music Ensembles

Susan Paradis

Susan Paradis has several Piano Trios available on her website.


She also has a Jingle Bells Duet with Rhythm Ensemble that, while it’s a piano duet, includes an ensemble of 4 rhythm instruments. This is a fun ensemble to use during group class with elementary students especially.

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Favorite Podcasts Under 20 Minutes

When I first discovered podcasts years ago, I went bananas. Every free moment I was listening to one – working out, driving, making the bed, cooking dinner, laminating and cutting out teaching aids – you name it.  I couldn’t get enough. 

It almost got to the point where it felt like a to-do list. I didn’t want to miss an episode of any of the podcasts I was following (the list was much shorter then).

Then one day it hit me. I’m burnt out. I simply have not had the motivation to listen to any-more, especially those that are more than 30 minutes.

Keep in mind I’m talking about on a weekly basis. There are those times on long drives or when I’m mowing the yard in the summer when I’m happy to plug in and listen to a long show, but in general, I am now reaching only for those that are 30 minutes or less and even more frequently 20 minutes or less.

So, today I wanted to share with you my favorite podcasts under 20 minutes.


Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast

Host: Andy Stanley
(Also known for: Pastor at Atlanta-based North Point Ministries)

Description: “A conversation designed to help leaders go further.”

Episodes worth mentioning:
03.02.2017 Creating a Culture of Continual Improvement
05.05.2017 Doing What Only You Can Do
07.07.2017 How to Lead When You’re Not In Charge

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Recommended Reads: My 2017 Reading List

Although I am an avid reader, several years ago, amidst grad school and the early years of opening my piano studio, I found myself reading very little (except what was assigned in school, of course). A few years following, I still found myself continually saying how much I missed reading so I finally set my foot down for myself and said – no more.

Each year I now set a goal for how many books I want to read and increase it by 1-2 books per year. In 2017 the goal was 20 and I hit it spot on. Next year the goal will be 21. See? Baby steps are manageable. Before I know it, I’ll be reading 30 books a year.

After being inspired by the following quotes…

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ~Oscar Wilde

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” ~C.S. Lewis

…I vowed this year, to begin including re-reads in my list. The goal was to re-read 5 books (25%) but unfortunately, I only ended up re-reading one (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). That’s OK though, I just reminded myself that it’s about baby steps. So, my goal for 2018 my goal will be that 2 of the 21 books will be re-reads.

I hope you can find some inspiration for your own personal book list below. Let me know what you’re reading and some of your top recommendations from this past year in the comments!



Business / Professional

The Savvy Musician by David Cutler

Beware, this book is more of a manual than a pleasure read. 🙂 It is absolutely chock full of ideas for thinking outside the box as an independent music teacher. New teachers and those looking to build their business or explore new income streams will find this book extremely useful.

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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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Trusty Christmas Favorites: Repertoire I Return to Year After Year

We all have our favorites. Our favorite Christmas songs, our favorite composers, our favorite arrangements. Each year when it comes time to pull out the Christmas books for students, while I try new ones each year, it seems I always return to the sturdy few.

Today I’m going to share with you my favorite Christmas books for students from beginner through late intermediate levels. The repertoire in this post to me is what I consider good solid arrangements. While several pieces I’ll highlight are jazzy, I’m not including any books that are specifically labeled with specific styles like “jazzy” or “Romantic Christmas” etc. (those are for another post another time).

Today is just about good old trusty Christmas music.

After so many years, you begin to see not only which books seem to appeal most to students, but which pieces within those books are the best. So, I’m also going to also highlight some of the arrangments I return to again and again.

I always ask my students if they have any requests for Christmas pieces, so hopefully seeing specific piece names within books will help you as you do your Christmas book shopping.


Faber Supplemental Christmas

I often give my students a Christmas book that is below their current method level, so if they’re playing in Faber 2B, I may choose to give them 2A Christmas. I want them just to be able to have fun playing Christmas music and to be able to play as many pieces as they can.

Level 4 is my favorite especially because of the jazzy arrangements of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Winder Wonderland that use lots of 7th chords. Continue reading

Favorite Hymn and Praise Piano Books (and a Church Music Recital)

Finding quality arrangements of hymns and praise/worship music for piano students is not easy. To help make your search easier, in this post I’m going to share a few that have proven to work well with my students in recent years. I’ll also share snippets from a church-music-themed piano recital I did with my students.

Let’s talk just briefly about why finding appropriate hymn and praise/contemporary worship music arrangements for piano students is so tricky.

First of all, hymns are written in a homophonic (and even more specifically, homorhythmic) texture meaning they sing the same rhythm in a blocked chordal structure – one that is not easy to play for even intermediate-level piano students.

Second, while many churches are moving away from hymns, contemporary worship music trends, and changes so quickly, many of the “praise” books that were published in years past, no longer resonate with students.

This definitely creates a struggle for piano teachers!


Functional Musicianship in Daily Life

One of my solutions is to ensure all my students learn to play chord charts and lead sheets so we can easily download any worship song they like and learn how to play it or at least sing and accompany using chordal patterns.

Part of my teaching philosophy is that I want to enable my students to be functional musicians who can operate in multiple situations, especially those they encounter daily. For many in my studio, church is a big one.

One of my students just started playing in their youth worship band, and many others are providing music as preludes, communion, offering, and leading during youth-led services. I have several students who are also singers and love singing and playing contemporary worship music.

The next two photos are from our church music recital.

All my students learn to play from chord charts and lead sheets and a few older ones work on 4-part hymns on occasion, even if their church doesn’t sing hymns. It’s still an important skill they may be able to use someday!


Favorite Church Music Books for Students

In my opinion, Alfred, in general, has the best collection of sacred music out there. Their Sacred Performer series is full of a plethora of any type of book you could imagine. A lot of sacred music I get for students is published by Alfred.

Disclaimer: All opinions regarding publishers and books are 100% my own. This is not a paid advertisement. However, please note that Piano Pantry is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program. There may be links to Amazon products in the post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Simply put, being an associate allows me to make a small percentage from Amazon on items to which I link at no extra cost to you.

One of my all-time favorites

Alfred Student HymnalI had been on the lookout for a while for a book of hymns in their original state (not arranged) that were slightly simplified. The homophonic texture of most hymns is quite complicated for most students to play.

The Piano Student’s Hymnal from Alfred is exactly what I was looking for!

Praise Hits

Praise Hits is a solid selection of music that’s generally not outdated. Often in the “praise hits” world, with the quick shift in contemporary worship music styles that occur, it’s easy for a lot of students to not be familiar with the music even in books marked as “Popular,” “Current,” or “Contemporary.”

Levels 1 and 2 are OK but Level 3 is my favorite. The pieces are written in a very chordal style with inversions and voicing similar to what I might choose to play if I were playing from a chord chart.

All of the levels correlate with the Alfred Basic Piano Library levels.


Hymn Book

In that same Alfred Basic Piano Library is the Hymn Book series.

The leveling follows the same as the Praise Hits books.




Play Hymns

The Play Hymns Series by Melody Bober and Robert Vandall is really nice.

Book 3 in particular, has a winning arrangement of It is Well with My Soul that sounds pretty impressive.

I’ve been able to use the arrangement in book 3 successfully with students playing in Faber Level 3A with a little rote help.


Faber Supplements
Of course, I can’t go without mentioning Faber’s Hymns supplements.

Book 2B is one of my favorites from this series since it focuses on using primary chord progressions.

Book 4 is one of my all-time favorite hymn arrangement books to use with students. There are lots of pieces and the arrangements are all very pleasing. I go for this book even before I go for books 3 or 4 in the Play Hymn Series mentioned above.


Bastien Hymn Favorites and Popular Hymns

Bastien doesn’t make it into my studio often, but I have used the Hymn Favorites books quite a bit. Level 2, once again, is my favorite.

Like Alfred and Faber, the levels correlate with the levels of the piano method series.

The Popular Hymn series is similar. I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure the difference between the two series. Maybe one was published at a later date with supposedly more “popular” hymns of the time?


Christian Hits for Teens

Christian Hits for Teens is one of my newest discoveries. One of my students performed “The Prayer” from Book 3 at the recital.

An intermediate-level student, not only was the piece a bit of a stretch, but I’ll admit I didn’t allow quite enough preparation time for her to master it.

We were about to cut the piece short during one of her lessons when we took a moment to listen to Celine Dion and Josh Groban sing the piece on YouTube. It gave me a brilliant idea!

Since we had two keyboards on stage, she played the first 2 1/2 pages and I picked up when it became beyond her ability halfway through page two and played to measure 60. She played measures 61 through the downbeat of measure 64 then I played the final page. She joined in with me on the final two resting chord measures to close it out and it worked quite splendidly – just like Josh and Celine! 😉


Current and Classic Praise

Carol Tornquist is one of my favorite arrangers of Christian piano arrangements. Her book Current and Classic Praise (Late Intermediate / Early Advanced) is one of my absolute favorites. A couple of my students have played from and really enjoyed it.

The selections are current and classics, literally! My favorites, in particular, include 10,000 Reasons, How Great is our God, In Christ Alone, Your Grace is Enough, and Your Great Name. I have to say though that there’s not one arrangement in the book that I don’t like!


Christian Hits

She also has a book called Christian Hits I recently purchased and am excited to keep on hand. It’s marked as “Easy Piano” but we all know that’s a lie. 🙂 Come on publishers!

I have a student who plays around the level of Faber Level 3B who this was perfect for. It includes inversions, root-5th-octave-crossover accompaniment patterns, dotted 16th rhythms, and plenty of syncopation.

My biggest qualm with the whole “easy piano” mark is that when people other than teachers (like piano parents) go out to buy a book for their students for Christmas or something, they never pick the proper difficulty level because of labels like this. They think “gee, my student has been taking piano for 5 years, they surely play harder than easy music” and they get them an advanced level book which is not even close to what they can handle. We should all put our heads together and come up with a better labeling system!


Super Easy Songbook: Hymns

This Hymns book from the Super Easy Songbook series by Hal Leonard is a great resource to have on hand as it’s full of 60 hymns in lead-sheet style in the keys of C, F, and G.

It includes charts with suggested chord inversion at the beginning of every piece.

One of my adult students who has played by ear her whole life (and only in the key of F!)  is playing out of this book. I also have her reading 4-part hymns in a variety of keys and playing one chord chart praise hit each week. She is doing great with the combination and is a star student!


The Phillip Keveren Series

One of my other favorite composers, (even more than Carol Tornquist, shh!) is Phillip Keveren. The guy is brilliant. Hal Leonard has a gold mine with his incredible Phillip Keveren Series out there LOL. 🙂

My all-time favorite piano worship music book is Worship with a Touch of Jazz. Oh my, it’s gorgeous.

This is from the Piano Solo series which is Late Intermediate/Early Advanced. My student who is playing in the RCM Celebration Series Level 6 is playing from this book.

There’s also a Hymns with a Touch of Jazz book I came across while writing this post that’s already in my shopping cart. I can’t wait to try it out!

From his Easy Piano series, is the Weekly Worship book that is full of 52 hymns.

The leveling would be good for a student around Faber 3A-3B. It is also a great book for adult students interested in playing hymns that may find the homophonic hymn-style too challenging.

As a bonus, each piece includes a short “hymn history” segment – a beautiful tool for discussing the piece.

10,000 Reasons (15 Contemporary Christian Hits) another in the Easy Piano series, has some great arrangments in it.

One of my students who’s big into praise and worship music has gone through nearly every piece in this book!



Our CHurch-Music-Themed Recital

For our church-music recital, every student had the opportunity to perform two pieces. The first piece was an assigned “reading” piece arrangement. For their second piece, they were given the option of:

  • Another reading/arrangement
  • A piece by ear
  • A chord chart to play and sing
  • A lead sheet
  • 4-part hymn with the possibility of the audience singing along
  • Other ideas they may have…

Four of my youngest students played a piece by ear. They included “The B.I.B.L.E.,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “God is so Good,” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” They played the melody in the RH and we added single bass tone harmonies in the left.

This father/son duo played an arrangement of Christ the Lord is Risen Today. How special is that!?

I was especially happy to have a couple of students play hymns that the audience sang along with. One played “Faith of our Fathers” about halfway through the recital (I “led” the singing) and another did the “Doxology” as the final piece of the recital. It was a great way to close out a church-music-themed recital and to pull the audience in to make music together!

Aren’t they delightful?


What are your favorite church music books? Let’s keep the list going in the comments!


Descriptive and Imaginative

A review of music by Lynette Sawatsky (and a free download offer)

Today I want to share with you a review of the music of Canadian teacher, composer, and adjudicator Lynette Sawatsky. She has quite a few collections available, but I’ll be focusing on Seasons Change and Once Upon a Time.


Once Upon a Time


One of the things I like most about the Once Upon a Time collection is Lynette’s attention to connecting the music to the imagination. She encourages the student to paint a picture in their mind of the piece and the story it is conveying.

For example, in the piece “Spicy Burrito,” she makes the connection between spicing up our snacks or mealtime with different flavors and textures and encouraging the student to customize the piece on the repeat by changing one or more RH quarter notes into double eighth notes in certain measures in order to “spice it up.”

There are 11 pieces included in the book that are perfect for captivating and encouraging students imaginations. I mean, how often do you see a piece with the title “Discombobulated Pigeon”? I would love to hear all the conversations that go on regarding the story that piece is telling! Continue reading

Colors of the Rainbow: A review of Ready for Theory

Recently a teacher-friend told me that I “dress my type.” Of course, this made me crane my neck a bit and look at her with a quizzical expression wondering if this were a good or bad thing.

“I’m pretty sure you’re a Type 4 which means you wear a lot of bold solid colors,” she explained.

At the time I had a bright red dress on. Hmmm…maybe she’s onto something.

“Perhaps,” I said, “but I also wear a LOT of blacks.”

“Actually,” she countered, “type 4 also wears a lot of blacks!”

Well there you go, apparently, I’m a type 4, and I’m doing pretty good on my wardrobe – she wins! LOL.


Bright, Bold, Clean, and Beautiful

What does this short story have to do with my review? Not a whole lot except that solid, bright colors are what first drew me to this beautiful theory course. Maybe my friend WAS onto something. 🙂

Calling a theory course “beautiful” may be stretching it I know, but when it comes to theory books (or any sheet music/method books for that matter), appearance goes a long way with me.

In fact, in a Friday Finds last year, I called Lauren Lewandowski’s Ready for Theory books “the prettiest theory books I had ever seen.”

Don’t you agree?

They’re the colors of the rainbow – what student wouldn’t be drawn to that?!

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