YQA: Favorite Collections of Christmas Music

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me 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 on 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 were intending on doing the Christmas books that correlate to the student library or the ones that are part of the “Show Time,” “Big Time,” “Play Time” series. While either is fine, my personal preference is that 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.

In the last couple of years, I started trying some of Piano Pronto’s holiday books. 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. One, in particular, you might consider is the Multi-Level Holiday Classics which includes 3 difficulty levels of each piece.

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

I hope this helps!

~Amy

P.S. Just a heads up that by no later than next week I will be publishing a studio-licensed download of 8 Christmas songs to harmonize and play by ear.  This would be a wonderful resource for him learning to play from chord charts and to play some of the most popular Christmas tunes without notation. Stay tuned!


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


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YQA: What Method and Theory Books Do You Use?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me here

 


Good afternoon Amy,

I am wondering what your favorite method is to use? Why? Also what book do you use for theory. I appreciate your articles so I thought I would ask.

Thank you, Shirlee

 


Hi, Shirlee!

My favorite theory book series right now is the Celebrate Theory from The Royal Conservatory. Some of the things I like about it include:

  1. They’re clean, uncluttered, and the covers are colorful.
  2. They’re well written and nicely laid out.
  3. At the end of every unit, students are asked to explore an excerpt of music (printed in the book) and answer questions in regards to what they see in the score.

I also use Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Keith Snell and Theory Gymnastics by TCW Resources (both published by Kjos) as well as Ready for Theory by Lauren Lewandowski.

Generally, this is when I have multiple students from one family. In order to avoid siblings comparing themselves, I like to keep them in different series. Otherwise, Celebrate Theory is what all my students get.

As far as the favorite method goes, it’s a much more involved answer as I have used a lot over the years!

Currently, my go-to books include:

Tales of a Musical Journey by Irina Gorin

I really appreciate how Irina introduces technique (playing with fingers 3 and 2 first), as well as the note reading approach using landmark notes.

Even though it’s written in a storybook format, I tend to gloss over that part with my students unless they seem particularly interested.

While the series is directed toward younger beginners, I use it with late elementary age students as well with success.

Music Moves for Piano by Marilyn Lowe

This series isn’t your traditional piano method however as it’s based on Music Learning Theory by Edwin E. Gordon.

That is, it uses an audiation-based approach to teaching music. Notation is not introduced right way as in traditional methods.

It is full of a lot of singing, movement, and aural activities such as hearing the difference between duple vs. triple meter and major vs. minor tonality and building a vocabulary of rhythm of tonal patterns.

The pieces are very short and easily digestible. When I first started using this series that was actually a turn-off for me but I have found that my students really enjoy the pieces and it was more my issue than theirs!

Piano Adventures by Randall and Nancy Faber

While I’ve used the entire series with students in the past, currently, I mostly use book 1.

Very few of my students start and one series and complete the whole thing, I tend to supplement a lot and zig-zag in and out of books and levels.

Level 1 of Piano Adventures is a winner though. It has a lot of really great pieces students love!

 

~Amy

 


What method and theory books do you use and love? Share in the comments!


 

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YQA: Email Templates and Sibling Discounts

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me here

 


Do you also have a similar letter that you use for fall and spring lessons? I’m trying to be more organized and intentional with my piano lesson information. It’s been a bit haphazard. I’d like it to be more professional.

Also, I’d like to know how you do family discounts. I teach several siblings and need to consider a discount because each sibling set has another sibling to add!!

Thanks for all your useful information and helpful ideas!!

-Patsy Mitchell

 


Hi, Patsy,

I honestly don’t have an email “template” of any kind I use each year. That would definitely be nice, but I find every year is always a little different so I end up composing information based on whatever that year holds.

That being said, I do generally follow a similar format for that initial contact email getting things going for the term

1. Greeting

Hey there! I hope you’ve had a great summer thus far.  This email is to let you know all of the details regarding the upcoming school year.

2. Specifically lay out what is in the email as well as what required actions and deadlines are needed.

Please read these 3 sections of information below, then there are two forms at the bottom of the page you need to fill out by August 1.

 

3. Outline start date and any other details needed for the first week back to lessons.

4. What will remain the same (as far as studio offerings) and what will be slightly different this year (and why).

5. Highlight any policy changes and attach the annual studio calendar.

6. Action – again, be specific.

ACTION: by August 1 please:

Fill out your registration form.
Fill out this schedule request form.

 

Hopefully, that gives you a general idea of what to include each time!

As far as the family discounts go, I know exactly what you mean!

When I first opened my studio, I did 10% for the 2nd student but quickly found that I had way too many families with two kids in piano I couldn’t really afford to give that big of a discount. Currently, 70% of my studio is made up of siblings!

Now, there are no discounts until you reach 3 students in a family. At that point, I give 3% (which equates to the cost of approximately one lesson).

I know plenty of teachers that don’t give any discounts. The perspective behind that is that if they didn’t have multiple kids in lessons you would have a whole other family in that spot that would be paying full price.

Thanks for a great question and yea for working toward being more intentional and organized!

~Amy

 


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YQA: What Do You Use After Piano Safari 3?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me. If you have a question feel free to contact me here


Hi Amy,

I’m really enjoying your posts, especially Friday Finds!

Regarding method books, my question is: what do you use after Piano Safari, level 3? Or do you design your own curriculum?

Many thanks, as always for your help.

Warmly,

-MJP


Hi, MJP!

As far as method books go, I am definitely a zigzagger. Rarely do I put a student in one method book series covering books 1-2-3 back-to-back.

Sometimes that works just fine and can certainly give the student a feeling of progress by “moving to the next level.”

I find many students, however, transition better through levels if I either supplement between each one for a few weeks (or months) or even cover the same “level” in two different book series. For example, I might have a student finish Piano Safari Level 1 then do Piano Adventures Level 1 before moving into Piano Safari Level 2.

One thing to keep in mind is that (with the Piano Adventures series in particular), I’m not one to give students both the Lesson and Performance books. I usually just do one or the other, especially if I’m weaving it between levels of another series.

In answering your more specific question on what I would do after Piano Safari 3, I often go to Piano Adventures 3B or into a repertoire series such as Celebration Series Repertoire Level 2.

(The authors of Piano Safari say that book 3 transitions nicely into Celebration Series Repertoire Level 3 but I always find doing a little in C.S. book 2 first a nice transition.)

Piano Safari 3 covers Major and Minor keys and technical skills in the keys of C/Am, G/Em, F/Dm. Piano Adventures 3B focus on the minor keys only.

Here’s an example scenario.

  1. Piano Safari 2 (5-finger patterns)
  2. Piano Adventures 2B (Chords)
  3. Piano Adventures 3A (One-Octave major scales/keys of C, G, F)
  4. Piano Safari 3 (Two-Octave scales/keys of C/Am, G/Em, F/Dm)
  5. Piano Adventures 3B (Two-Octave scales/keys of Am, Em, Dm)

This may be a little excessive example overlapping however, something like this might work for a student who is professing a little slower. Also, as I said previously, keep in mind this would just include one book in the P.A. series (such as lesson or performance)

I hope this gives you some ideas. Good luck!

~Amy

 


Reader friends, do you have any suggestions?

MJP and I would love to hear where you take your students when they finish Piano Safari Level 3. Please share in the comments!

 


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YQA: Specifics on my “À La Carte-Style” Adult Lessons

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me over the last few years. 

 


I’ve been a regular reader and subscriber of your blog for ages!

I’m working on a website reboot for my studio over the summer and have been browsing other teachers’ websites to get ideas.

I read your blurb about adult lessons and really liked the way you have it set up with 6 weekly lessons over 8 weeks. Would you mind if I borrow that setup and use it with my own adult students?

If you’ve got a moment to respond, I’d love to know how you handle specifics of that setup – do you have the adults come at the same time each week for their lesson, or offer flexibility on time slot as well? Any specific wording that you’ve found works well to communicate those policies?

Thanks for your help and for all the great tips over the years!

-VR

Continue reading

YQA: Light but Fun Composing Ideas for Summer

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me over the last few years. 

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,

Frances

 

​​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. You will likely want to purchase the teacher book as well however 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!

~Amy

 


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YQA: Purging Old College Notes and Professional Magazines

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself bring to me. 

 

Dear Amy –

Help!

I have these enormous binders from college many years ago.

I know I need to toss a lot of it, but there are definitely resources in there I don’t want to get rid of (and would love to make more easily accessible to review).

Any advice?

-CW

 

Hey, CW!

I would hedge a guess many-a-teachers are nodding their heads in agreement – me being one of them. Ha!

You’re beating me to this task as it’s one I’ve also had on my list for years but never seems to move up in importance. Bravo to you for tackling it!

That being said, last year I went through a similar purge of all my MTNA American Music Teacher and Clavier Companion magazines.

8 years’ worth and something like 5 magazine file boxes were weighing me down mentally. Why? Because how does someone utilize any of that information or recall what they need to from stacks (or binders) of information.

You don’t!

That’s when you decide (as we did) that enough was enough.

How did I tackle it?

A little at a time – not putting pressure on myself to use one of my days off to do it all.

I placed a small stack next to the couch and every day – either first thing in the morning during my brief quiet reading time or at the end of the day’s downtime – I would flip through one or two magazines.

It’s surprising how much I remembered what articles I enjoyed and found benefit in. (It helped that the first time I read them years ago, I folded down the page on my favorite articles. 🙂 )

Step #1 – Find a time frame that works that feels achievable, not overwhelming.

Step #2 – Flip through, skim, and determine what is most beneficial moving into the future. (Have high standards – only the best information/articles. For me, that was no more than 1 or 2 per magazine – sometimes none!)

Next, I used the Scannable app to scan the articles. (Genius Scan is another favorite app for scanning).

When you scan with Scannable, you can choose to save it in either PDF or image format into Evernote, or “send” it into another program.

So, even though Scannable is an Evernote product, you could use it to scan items and send to any of your file managers such as Google Drive or iCloud Drive.

Step #3 – Scan and save in the digital management place that works best for you.

Remember that simply saving articles digitally will not do you any more good than the physical ones if you don’t make them easily accessible – that is, easily searchable).

One of the reasons I absolutely adore Evernote is because Evernote Premium gives you additional search powers. It can search the text of PDFs as well as your handwriting on hand-written notes! I find that amazing (and incredibly helpful).

Without Evernote Premium, it will only search the titles of notes and text typed in the notes themselves.

If you don’t want to pay for Premium, or if you prefer to use a cloud file manager such as Google Drive or iCloud Drive to save all of your stuff, the best way around this would be to make sure you title the document thoroughly for what it’s about.

Sometimes I add additional words outside of the title – ones that I might use when searching for information on that particular topic. This will make it much more searchable in whatever digital storage place you use.

Here’s an example (from an online article/resource):

Natalie Weber has a composition resource called “The Psalms Project.” I might title the file name (or Evernote note) like this:

The Psalms Project_Composition_Composing

Otherwise, if I saved that PDF file and was looking in my digital files for a composing activity, using the word “composition” is not in the original article title.

I hope that makes sense!

If you use Evernote, you can also tag every item with a multitude of things. So I might tag that one note with the tags:

composition, bible, summer camp

Then, that one note/file will show up under each category without being duplicated in Evernote.

Step #4 – Make sure the materials you are converting to a digital format are easily searchable and thus useful.

Once you make your choice of what’s worth keeping. The last part may feel a little difficult…

Trash the rest.

It’s time.

You didn’t look at it for 10 years anyway, right?

Is it really that important?

I don’t think so.

Feel the weight lift from your shoulders? Ahhh…

Sweet relief.

Step #5 – Let it go. The trash is your friend. 

P.S. Please recycle.

P.S.S. If you’re interested in diving into all the great ways that Evernote can work for you and your business, check out the Evernote for Independent Music Teachers series here on Piano Pantry.

 

~Amy

 

Please note that Piano Pantry is an affiliate for Evernote which simply means I earn a small percentage back if you sign up using my link at no extra cost to you. See all disclosures here.

 


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YQA: Summer Lessons and Curriculum

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me over the last few years. 

 


What curriculum do you teach in the summer?  Do you keep the student going in their regular curriculum or do you use something different to give them a break?

I love your idea of 6 lessons in 7 weeks and I would love more info on how you set it up.

Thanks,

PM

 

Dear P,

Those are some great questions and I would be happy to share a little more info!

I don’t have a set curriculum I teach in the Summer. For the most part, I just keep going with whatever students are working on but it’s always quite relaxed and there is no Classical repertoire involved unless the student specifically wants it.

Usually, I try to do a lot of pop tunes, Disney, chord charts, really anything the student is interested in. For several years I held a studio-wide outdoor picnic performance and it was fun to play that kind of music in that environment.

The 6 lessons in 7 weeks have worked perfectly for me ever since I’ve opened my studio. Depending on how my late July looks, I’ve even done 6 lessons over 8 weeks or 7 lessons over 8 weeks (you get the idea).

It’s nice to give flexibility to families in the Summer and I prefer to have a lighter schedule myself. Because of my preference for a light summer, I also do not require students to take summer lessons. I strongly recommend it for the first 3 years but don’t require it.

If they opt not to take summer lessons, however, I do have a $30 non-refundable holding fee in order to keep their spot for fall lessons. I can’t replace my income for those two months if they don’t take lessons because I can’t take on new students that I don’t have space for in the fall.

This is a great way to still have a little extra income while maintaining a lighter summer schedule.

The summer tuition fee is paid for in one payment (due by the first lesson) however, on occasion, if a family requests, I will let them make it in two payments. My fee is the same “per lesson” rate as the school term although I don’t advertise “per lesson” rates – that’s just how I calculate my fees.

I only advertise an all-encompassing rate – so an annual rate for the school term and a summer rate. From there, they have payment options of annual, semester, or monthly. I think it’s good to keep the focus on the big picture fee and not on the per month (and especially not a per lesson) fee.

If you would like to see an example of my most recent announcement to my studio regarding Summer lessons, you can download the PDF here. I write it out in a document basically for my own historical archives but copied and pasted the text into an email.

I hope this helps and let me know if you have any more questions!

 

~Amy

 

 


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YQA: Awards “Catch-up”?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me over the last few years. 

This question was posed in reaction to two posts on giving out studio awards at the end of the school year:

Studio Awards: Policies and Procedures
Studio Awards Update (including some awesome trophies!)

 


Dear Amy,

I love your awards ideas and would love to implement it in my studio but have a couple of questions.

  1. If you have a transfer student, do you count the years they studied elsewhere in your calculations?
  2. If you were to start implementing this after your studio has been running awhile, would you play catch up with all the students and their trophies or just start in the current year? I would have several on the legacy award at this point.

I am excited that the students will have something else to strive for even if they don’t compete in the Federation or state exams.

Thank you for your input and thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas with all of us.

Blessings,

-SL

 

Hi, S,

Wow, these are GREAT questions! Here’s how I would handle each scenario:

In answer to your first question:

Transfer students receive their “Music Study” award based on how long they’ve been taking lessons – it’s about commitment – not just the time with you.

That being said, the “Legacy Award” IS about time with you. So, if you were to use that particular award in your studio and you had a transfer student that has been taking for 8 years (or however long you set your legacy award for), they would not get the legacy award – just the Music Study award for 8 years.

In answer to your second question, I have a two-part answer depending on what your question is asking…

If you’re asking if I would play catch-up as in giving them “back” awards, then no, I would not. That could, however, depend on how many students you have. If you have a really small studio and it won’t cost you a lot of money to do so, then certainly you could consider it. I think if you simply announce it’s a new program and from here on out, I would be surprised if anyone complained that you didn’t give them 3 trophies as “back pay”.

If you’re asking if I would play catch-up as in starting students at whatever year they’re at even if they haven’t received awards in the previous year awards then yes, I would. If a student has been with you for 4 years then they get an award for 4 years, even if this is the first year you’ve given awards.

I hope that makes sense and good luck with creating your own studio award program!

~Amy

 

 


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YQA: Music Lab Time for Young Students

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions that readers like yourself have asked of me over the last few years. 

 


Do you have a certain age range that you have created your Piano Pantry Lab items for? Do you think 2nd graders would do fine watching the videos (like the 1st Halloween one that is 10 minutes)?

I only had one student today so I got to hear her feedback on the two videos of the organ and the wine glasses from page 1 of your Halloween videos. It was fun to see how excited she was about it!

Keep creating wonderful materials to help us teach our students. Love all that you do!

-LS

 

 

Hi, L!

I’m so glad to hear your student was enjoying the Halloween lab!

As far as the age range, lab time can definitely be trickier with students younger than 3rd grade. As I’m sure you have experienced, they have a hard time working on their own without you helping with every step. So, yes, most of the labs I have available work better for mid-elementary students or older.

That being said, sometimes it can depend on the student. I’ve had 1st or 2nd graders that do better than 3rd graders on their own!

My lab time for younger students is always shorter than most – 15 minutes is usually enough for them.

I still use many of my lab resources – like the Halloween video series you mentioned – but pick and choose which ones to assign. Shorter ones under 5 minutes or ones that are visually appealing like the animated version of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns work nicely.

In instances like this, rather than simply having them watch, I always give them a blank notebook when giving listening and ask them to color what they hear.

Several of the videos from Set 1 of the Music Theory video series are also good for younger student’s lab time.

One other thing I sometimes do with young students is listening to enriching music while coloring in their own personal art books. Check out more details in these posts:

Friday Finds: Productivity Tools and Simple Songs 

Inspiring Creativity with Student Art Books

Other programs I’ve used in the past with success during lab time for young students include:

Sproutbeat (which just went through an awesome update, merging their worksheets and games apps!)
Music Learning Lab Pro

Ningenius
My Orchestra App from Naxos
Beanie’s Musical Instruments
TuneTrain
Pitch Painter
Rhythm Swing

I hope this helps!

~Amy

 


P.S. If you would like to get a closer look into how I run my labs, you might check out the Music Labs Made Easy ebook!

This 15-page eBook is chock full of all kinds of “pro tips”.

We’ll talk about scheduling, set-up, and organizing labs.

Laid out in an easy-to-read and understand format, this book will answer all your questions regarding music lab time!

 


P.S.S.

In celebration of the 5-year anniversary of Piano Pantry, everything in the shop (including the eBook!) is 15% off through the end of March 2021.

Visit the Piano Pantry Shop

 


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