Awards “Catch-up”?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.

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.




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!




Music Lab Time for Young Students

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.


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!



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 students’ lab time.

Another thing I sometimes do with young students is listen to enriching music while coloring in their own 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

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

I hope this helps!



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!



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



Advanced Arrangements of Sacred Music

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.



I have searched the internet for decades, always looking for sacred piano arrangements that are very very advanced level. I play all of Rudy Atwood’s and Harold DeCou’s piano arrangement solos, and have wanted new material.

The problem is that no matter what piano book or piano sheet music I look at on the internet, all of them are too easy, and bore me, since they are not a challenge to me at all. I am looking for titles of piano arrangement books of sacred music, whether classical or jazz style.

Do you know the names of some advanced enough music books, or the names of some Christian piano arrangers who still have this kind of music in print to where I could order it?

I hold concerts at times, and find that it’s hard to find new music that is advanced as I am looking for. It almost seems to me so far, that it was more in the 50’s-70’s when this type of music was published.

Nowdays the big name seems to be for instance, “Hal Leonard”, etc, and their music is way too easy for me. I love the hard stuff, where it takes me time to work it out, instead of material that I can play right on the spot with no challenge to it.

If you have any ideas of where I could find (for sure) material this advanced, would you please let me know? Please don’t send me to all these many many sites I have looked under for hours and hours, never to find.

Also, I am the type where I need to be able to view a sample of the music, so I know what I’m ordering, to make sure it’s not too easy, and a lot of them do not show samples.

If you have any ideas, would you please email me back? Thank you. I know I’m asking a lot.

-Sincerely Yours, M


Hi, M,

I do have some suggestions and am happy to help!

The first group is books that I have played over the years and enjoyed. Phillip Keveren and Mark Hayes have always been my go-to but I would say Mark Hayes verges on having more advanced arrangments that you are likely looking for.

I agree with you that it can be really frustrating to be looking for music and not be able to preview it – especially when we’re in 2020! To help you out, I did a little searching for each book I’ll list here and I will link to it ONLY if the location has a preview available. 🙂

I find JW Pepper and Alfred both do pretty good in some instances with offering previews. Sheet Music Plus sometimes as well, but not always.

  • Worship with a Touch of Jazz by Phillip Keveren (jazzy arrangements of more contemporary – but still older – worship songs)
  • Well-Tempered Jazz by Mark Hayes (wonderful jazzy arrangements of older hymns and gospel songs)
  • Well-Tempered Praise III by Mark Hayes (Simple Gifts / I Need Thee Every Hour, etc.)
  • Praise Classics by Mark Hayes (older choruses like Bind Us Together, As the Deer, etc.)
  • Open My Heart to Worship by Mark Hayes (more contemporary – but still older – worship songs like Above All  and Open the Eyes of My Heart)

The three books linked above are to JW Pepper’s website, but the last two books by Mark Hayes are also available for preview on Alfred’s website. It appears there is another book he has as well called “Gospel Classics” that also has a preview available on Alfred’s website.

This next group of books are ones that I’m familiar with but have not played from a lot myself. I think you may find these even closer to what you’re looking for here as they’re quite virtuosic!

  • Marilyn Hamm has some wonderful advanced arrangements. If you visit her page on the Alfred publisher’s website and click on each individual book, they do give you Sample Pages under the Product Description. In the past, I have played some from an older book of hers – “One Lord, One Faith”. You can preview that particular book on Sheet Music Plus and JW Pepper.
  • Dino Kartsonakis is an incredibly OLD arranger to name, so there aren’t a lot of purchase options out there except on eBay (I searched “Dino Kartsonakis Piano Sheet Music”). The book I grew up with and remember I managed to find here, but there is no preview. I can attest, however, that his music was incredibly virtuosic!!
  • Jesus Shall Reign by Victor Labenske (One of my adult students played out of this book and it was fairly virtuosic from what I remember but there is no preview online.)

I really hope you can find something that works well with what you’re looking for. Best of luck!



Articles you may find useful:



Evernote Basic or Premium?

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.


Hi, Amy,

I saw that there are three levels of Evernote to choose from.
Is the free version worth trying?

I definitely want to get more than my feet wet with Evernote (perhaps knees??? lol!), but I’m not sure which version to start with.

Do I need the Business level? Can you give me one or two differences between Basic and Premium please?

Organization is not my forte….



Hey, A,

I get it. Things like this can be confusing!

There are currently three plans for Evernote:

  1. Evernote Basic (FREE)
  2. Evernote Premium ($7.99/month)
  3. Evernote Business ($14.99/user/month)

As an independent music teacher, you definitely do not need Evernote Business unless you have a team of teachers you want to have access.

In comparing Basic and Premium, there are two big items independent teachers like yourself would benefit from considering:

 1. SPACE:  How much will you be using it?
(A question you can’t really answer until you use it.)

Basic = 60 MB of uploads per month
Premium = 10GB  of uploads per month

2.  DEVICE LIMIT: How many devices will need access?
(Desktop, tablet, phone, etc.)

Basic = 2 devices
Premium = Unlimited

The short answer to your first question is YES, it is worth trying Evernote Basic for free, of course! It won’t hurt to start there.

It’s no big deal to upgrade if you begin to find that you need more space, devices, or want more features.

A few features of the extra features I use and love that Premium offers but Basic doesn’t:

  • Annotating directly on PDFs.
  • Search the text of PDFs. (When you do a search, it will search the text – including handwriting – inside PDFs and Office Docs.)
  • Forwarding emails directly into Evernote.

Here is a great comparison chart of Evernote features and details.

Good luck and I hope you find Evernote to be a useful tool in your professional and daily life as I do!




RSS and Your Secret Letter

This post is part of a series called Your Questions Answered that highlights questions from readers just like you. If you have a question you would like to submit, you can do so here.

It was posted by a reader after reading this post here on Piano Pantry: Managing Internet Content the Easy Way.


Hi, Amy!

I’m trying to set up my RSS reader so I can get my email under control.

If I add Piano Pantry to my RSS reader and unsubscribe my email, will I still get the Secret Letters?  I don’t want to mess everything up!




Hey, L!

Yea for RSS! You’re going to love it. I’m also glad to hear you’re enjoying the Secret Letters and don’t want to miss them! 🙂

That being said, if you unsubscribe from my email list, you will NOT get the Secret Letters. That’s why they’re called “Secret.” 😉 They’re not available to find anywhere online and only go to those on the email list.

RSS is about feeding new blog posts into one spot so you can visit one website and see all the new content from your favorite websites at one time.

I still stay subscribed to a lot of email lists because most of them nowadays send more than just blog post updates. To keep all of those subscriptions out of my inbox I use which I then set up to send me a Daily Digest.



It’s all so confusing!  How does one know if it’s an email list or a blog post update?  I suppose I will have to figure it out!  I’ll take a look at  My inbox is out of control at the moment.  I was doing well in the email department but somehow I got behind and now it’s a MESS!

One more question for you – how do you remember where to find something later?  It might be in the RSS reader, it might be in an email, it might have been in a Facebook group.

Do you have a way to put what you glean all in one place so you aren’t trying to remember where you saw it?  No way do I have enough brainpower to remember all that!  (I’m guessing you might say Evernote, but I still thought I’d ask!)



Hey again!

Great question and yes, it CAN be confusing!

You can’t always know until you sign up for a list, what types of emails they will be sending. If you notice a subscription is only sending you posts to your inbox (and you’re already seeing new posts in your RSS reader), then you can unsubscribe.

RSS isn’t so much about completely getting rid of all of your newsletter subscriptions as it is giving you a place to read website content in one location rather than relying on your time in your email to be when you see and read new content.

As far as saving and retrieving your favorite articles for later, Feedly (my RSS Reader), allows you to save (and search) articles – so that’s one good option. You can also send articles from Feedly directly into Evernote.

I try to be very picky about saving too many blog articles, but if I do, you are correct – I save them into Evernote and then tag that note by whatever it’s about such as “group lessons” “apps” “lesson planning” etc.

The search function of programs like Feedly and Evernote is really great so you really don’t have to get super caught up in labeling and tagging articles too much. Just type a keyword into the search box and it will usually find it.


How to Free-Up Storage Space in Gmail

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. 


Hi, Amy! I keep getting emails from Google saying that I am close to being out of Gmail storage. Of course, they just want me to buy some. Is there a good way to free this up?



Great question, M,

Yes, you can take some easy steps to free up some space!

First, make sure it’s actually Gmail taking up your Google account space (and not Google Drive or Google Photos).

To see how your Google storage is being used, visit:

Once you know who the culprit is, you can decide where you need to clear space. Since your question was about how to free up space in Gmail (and we assume that’s causing the trouble) here are some steps to follow to clear out your email.

1. Permanently delete LARGE emails

  • Go to ‘All Mail” in the sidebar (which is basically your “archive”)
  • In the Search mail” box at the top type:    has:attachment larger:10MB
  • Hit “Enter
  • Select the emails you don’t need, then click “Delete”
  • Continue the process by replacing the number “10” with higher or lower numbers” subsequently.

2. Empty your trash

  • On the left, click “Trash” (You might have to select the down arrow for “More” to expand and find “Trash”.)
  • The fastest way to clear the trash is to hit “Empty Trash Now” which will delete anything older than 30 days.

Please know that you cannot retrieve these emails once you delete them from the trash. However, don’t let that scare you. You deleted them initially for a reason!

3. Permanently delete emails in Spam

  • On the left, click “Spam”. (You might have to select the down arrow “More” to expand and find “Spam”)
  • At the top, select the checkbox so it will select all the emails on that page, then click “Delete Forever”.

You will likely have pages and pages of Trash and Spam items. It makes it much less tedious if you view the maximum number of emails per page as possible.

You can change this setting by clicking on the Settings gear at the top right of the page, then “See all settings”.
Under “General settings > Maximum Page Size, you can select the number of conversations per page up to 100.

If you find you still need space…..

4. Delete your oldest emails
  • Go to “All Mail”
  • In the top right corner, click on the gray text that shows how many emails you have (i.e. 1-100 of 9,617)

If you’re only seeing 25-50 emails at once, you can change how many you see per page by going into the Settings.

  • Select “Oldest” (This will sort your emails from oldest to newest, making the oldest emails more easily visible to you without having to scroll through pages and pages of emails.)
  • At the top, click on the empty selection box that will select all the emails on that screen at once. Once it’s selected all the emails, click “Delete”
  • You can continue this for as long as you need to make more space.


If you decide after all of this that you do want to purchase space…

The good news with Google is that you get more free storage space (15 GB) than with anyone else!

If you do happen to decide to buy more space with Google, luckily it’s the same cost as Apple’s iCloud Drive or Microsoft’s One Drive.

  • Google Drive (15GB Free – 100 G $2/month)
  • iCloud Drive (5GB Free – 50G $0.99/month)
  • One Drive (5GB Free – 50G $2/month or FREE with Microsoft 365 Subscription)
  • Dropbox (2GB Free – 1,000 G $10/month)

Most of us will never need more than 50GB and for $2/month with Google, you get 100GB which is a TON of space.

I hope this helps!



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! 🙂