Piano Lesson Warm-Up / Focus Activity

What kinds of activities do you do to help your students get focused at the beginning of a lesson?

I saw this question recently in a Facebook group post and realized it was time to share an activity started doing this year.

After attending a workshop by Melody Bober a couple of years ago, I was inspired to come up with a little warm-up routine to use at the start of each student’s lesson.

Not long after that, I was listening to an episode of the All Keyed Up Podcast where he was interviewing Marvin Blickenstaff. At one point, Marvin called warm-ups at the beginning of a lesson a way of “stimulating circulation.” I loved that phrase and it was another element that convinced me to come up with a fun little routine of my own.

The benefits of including something like this in your lesson are:

  1. It helps students take a moment to transition from their day into the lesson time.
  2. It helps students loosen up a bit and serves as a reminder of the elements of good posture and technique such as arms approximately at tabletop level, forearm rotation, relaxed shoulders,  natural hand position, etc.

The routine I designed is now available in my shop. Here’s a look!


Piano Lesson Warm-Up / Focus Activity

While this was developed with piano students in mind, it could be used with music students of any instrument!

Some of my specific goals in developing this routine were:

  1. Be something students of any age would feel comfortable doing (delivery and vocal tone have a lot to do with this. ūüôā )
  2. Be easy to remember and take less than 1:00 to complete.
  3. Be something that can be done sitting or standing.
  4. Include movements for as many parts of the body used in playing piano as possible including head, back, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers.

As a bonus, the words flow in a somewhat chant-like manner. The first two  of the seven-line chant are:

Look to the left and right;
Tilt your head side to side.

Gentle twist, from the waist;
Body circles, that’s the way.

Here is a 0:15 snippet of the 0:50 routine.


Final Tips and How to Purchase

A couple of final things to keep in mind when incorporating a routine like this:

  1. Yes, it’s good to be consistent, but it’s not the end of the world if we don’t do it every week. Sometimes students plow into their lesson and are so focused on being ready to play one particular piece, we just dive right into that.
  2. Don’t force it. If you sense a student doesn’t like it or that it doesn’t work well for them, then don’t do it. Don’t feel like it has to be used with every student even though it was written in a way that all ages could be comfortable.

This product includes a PDF printable of the full warm-up chant as well as the full video displaying the motions.

Add it to your shopping cart now or from the Piano Pantry shop.


Do you have any favorite warm-up/focus activities you use in your studio? Share in the comments!


A Visual Guide for Formula Pattern Scales (Free Download)

Contrary motion scales are awesome. Not only are they fun to play and sound cool, but they’re a wonderful way to teach scale fingerings – especially when students are first learning to play scales.

A step up from a simple contrary motion scale is playing scales using what’s called a “formula pattern.”

P.S. I’ve always wondered why it’s called a “formula pattern” so if you know, please educate me! I find it to be a boring name for such a fun scale! Ha!

Actually, I think we should call them zig-zag scales instead! What do you think?! LOL


What is the Formula Pattern?

If you’re unfamiliar with this scale pattern, it is basically a 2 (or 4) octave scale with a bump in the road.

  1. Begin by playing the scale ascending in parallel motion.
  2. At the halfway point, play a contrary motion scale, returning back to the middle.
  3. Finish the top half of the ascending scale in parallel motion.
  4. Once again, after descending halfway back down the parallel motion scale, throw in another contrary motion scale (out and back in).
  5. Finally, finish the pattern by descending the final half of the scale in parallel motion.


Why the Visual Works

The first time I tried to teach a student the formula pattern, it was a struggle. I try to avoid using formal “scale books” for students to have to read every note and fingering, so I needed to find an easy way to explain the pattern.

Since I’m a visual person, I came up with this simple visual for my students. Every student I’ve used this with has found it very helpful – I hope that perhaps it will help your students as well!


Formula Scale Progressions

Here is the leveling based on the Royal Conservatory of Music program’s technical skill requirements to give you a rough idea of a good progression of this particular technical skill.

Level 1 = C Major (2 octaves)
Level 2 = C, G Major (2 octaves)
Level 3 = D Major (2 octaves)
Level 4 = C harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 5 = A Major, A harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 6 = E Major, E harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 7 = D Major, D harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 8 = Eb Major, Eb harmonic minor (4 octaves)
Level 9 = Db Major, F Major, C# harmonic minor, F harmonic minor (4 octaves)

P.S. Joy Morin has a great free downloadable PDF of the Technical Requirements for the 2015 RCM Program.



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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Three-in-One: A Review of Little Gems for Piano 

(and an MLT-based Application)

As I was driving to my studio this morning I was thinking about the early years of piano instruction. While they’re often the hardest for parents and children to get through, the first few months and years are the most important for several reasons.

First, we must engage our music students in a way that fosters a love of and a successful experience at making music. Second, we must develop a healthy technique so they have freedom at the piano from the start. Third, we need to introduce students to a variety of sounds, tonalities, and meters so they can hear, think, and engage in music with understanding. 

That’s a whole lot of goodness wrapped up into a student’s first experience at the piano!

Today I’m to going to share my thoughts on a book called Little Gems for Piano and how rote pieces like these can cover all three of these critical areas in one. We will focus especially on the last one as¬†it is part of the philosophy I am slowing working to incorporate in my teaching called Music Learning Theory (MLT) by the late Dr. Edwin Gordon. Continue reading

Friday Finds #44 Carpet Squares and Vegemite



Carpet Squares. I went to my local carpet store and asked if they had old samples they¬†needed to get off their hands. They were happy to sell them to me for $1 each. I purchased 25. My original intent was to hand them out to families to use as bench “prop-ups.” Layering several of them is a perfect way to boost a little kiddo up on the bench without beeing too “cushy.” I just store them under a table in the studio.

While I haven’t gotten around to distributing to families yet, I HAVE found a use in my studio! They’re PERFECT for group classes – mostly for the little ones. I plop the rug down EXACTLY where I want them to sit for activities whether it’s a half circle for performances/listening, or a circle for a game. They love having their own spot.

A recent class discovered they like making their own “stage” when they do their¬†music/movement using John Freierabend’s “Move It!” Video’s¬†(which I recommended in a¬†previous find). They’re wonderful movement activities set to Classical Music and the kids LOVE them – they always ask to do “one more.”

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Friday Finds #34 Bubble Wrap Voicing and Triscuits


Brought to you by “Amy’s lunch on Tuesday.”

My intrigue with the limited edition Pumpkin Spice Triscuit was rewarded when I found they were quite tasty! They have just the right amount of seasoning, and while they held their own all alone, they would be awesome with a cranberry cheese ball or some sharp cheddar. Well, everything goes with sharp cheddar in my opinion!

This recommendation is of my accord. Triscuits is not paying me to proclaim their goodness.



Creative practice trackers. The piano key layout is a nice touch too.



Bubble wrap to teach voicing – brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, Christopher Fisher!



While I believe in letting students “take a break” over the holidays if they want, encouraging holiday practice by having students get autographs from those for whom they performed¬†is a fun idea. Even if they don’t “practice,” keeping them playing is the most important thing, and¬†our students can never get enough performance opportunities.



pe-2-pedal-extenderThe PE-2 Pedal Extender from DPH Music Arts is put to a lot of work in my studio. I would buy it over and over again.

They are having a Thanksgiving Promotion -20% off until 11/27/2016.  Order online at dphmusicarts.com/store  to get the discount.

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