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I created this visual to help students see and hear the distinctions between the three types of minor scales. 

Sad Natural
I always think of a natural minor scale as a bit sad or melancholy.

Creepy Harmonic
The #'d 7th tone of the harmonic scale adds a creepy sounding appeal and of course makes the V7-i progressions sound so much more resolved, which is probably why the majority of minor pieces use the harmonic scale form.

Mixed Up MelodicI think of the melodic minor as kind of a "wanna be" major.  As the scale ascends, it starts with that distinctive minor flatted 3rd, but then the #6th and #7th tones almost trick you into thinking its a major scale.... until it returns to the natural minor form as it descends.

Click Here to get your Minor Scales Poster Free Printable.
On my previous post "Teaching Scales with a Story" learn how to introduce these concepts to students in a memorable fun way.
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In order to earn the "Technique Wizard Challenge" on my piano student leaderboard, students complete the following technique challenges that correspond with their current level.

Technique Wizard - Star
Caterpillar Crawl
Can you prepare to use proper piano technique motions by demonstrating these movements away from the keyboard while listening to Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca?
Bicycle Wrist Circles
Jump Rope Staccato Bounces
Swimming Pool Float Offs
Weight Lifting Finger O's
Balance Beam Thumb Tucks
Teeter Totter Wrist Rotation
Alternating Hands - Piano Safari Herbie Hippo

Technique Wizard - Hero
Piano Safari Animal Techniques
Can you demonstrate all of the animal techniques in Safari Friends after learning each of the other animal pieces? Links to Reminder, Instructional and Performance Animal Technique Videos are on PianoSafari.com .  By clicking the song titles below you can view the Reminder Videos for each rote  technique piece
Lion Paw - Are your arms heavy? Is your wrist flexible?
King of the African Drum
Zechariah Zebra - Are your fingers tall? Thumb on side tip? Bubble Hand?
Zebra on a Pogo Stick
Tall Giraffe  Does it sound non legato (slightly separated)?  Does your wrist float off the long notes?
A Day in the Life of Tall Giraffe
Kangaroo Are you playing with a bouncy arm?
Kristabel Kangaroo Visits Korea
Tree Frog Are you playing with sticky legato fingers? Is the sound smooth and connected?
Rain Forest Mystery
Soaring Bird Is your wrist doing a "mini-swoop? Does your arm follow your fingers?
Hawk on a Mountain Peak
Monkey Swinging Is your wrist rotating back and forth?
Monkey Blues
Safari Friends Review of all Safari Techniques

Technique Wizard Scholar
Can you do the Thumb Tuck Challenge and apply it to 5 1 octave scales?
Shaping Scales with Dynamics-Make the volume rise as you go up and fall on the way down.
Legato vs Staccato Scales- Can you play right hand legato while left is staccato, then switch?
Demo Secrets: Float off Phrase endings
Intro to Pedal Changes by Ear Video

The idea of having technique wizard was sparked by this post on the Colourful Keys blog.  I love Nicola's organized way of motivating students!

Related Posts:
Is Your Piano Teaching Curriculum Comprehensive?
Piano Technique and Artistry Group Lesson Activities
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Piano students love to play familiar songs and over the years I've collected several free patriotic themed songs and activities to celebrate the 4th of July in addition to pulling out some of the patriotic/march music in my library.  I have listed them below in general order of difficulty including some of the teaching concepts included in the music/games.
I find it helpful to slip the music into sheet protectors in a colored 3 prong folder that students can "check out" from my library and then return after the holidays to be used in future years.

Games and Activities
SP 4th of July Composing  (tied notes, adding harmony, composing techniques such as end on tonic, repetition, sequence, intro/outro etc.)
MFPS 4th of July Composing "Fireworks in the Sky" Kristin Yost
SP 4th of July Rhythm Memory  (quarter, half, dotted half  and whole note values)

Beginner Level
MFMT Yankee Doodle (hands separate with primary chord symbols)
MMF Oh When the Saints (Intervals 2nds-5ths, mostly hands separate)
MMF My Country 'Tis of Thee  (Key of C, hands together, finger crossing/subbing, dotted rhythms)
MFMT My Country 'Tis of Thee  (Key of F late elementary)
MFMT Taps - (hands together, broken inversions)
MMF America the Beautiful 1A (mostly hands separate, flats and dotted rhythms)
MMF The Star Spangled Banner (hands together,voicing:melody switches between bass and treble)
Intermediate Level Music
MMF America the Beautiful 3
GS Your a Grand Old Flag (grace notes, jazz style from his book Jazzed about the 4th of July)
MMF 1812 Overture  (L.H. ostinato, eighth notes, triplets, chromatic scale)

4 part Hymns
Battle Hymn of the Republic (print in any key)
My Country Tis of Thee (print in any key)
The Star Spangled Banner (print in any key)
America the Beautiful (print in any key)

Lead Sheets
MFMT Marine's Hymn - (I, IV & V chords, multiple keys to choose from)
MFMT My Country 'Tis of Thee - (I, IV & V chords, multiple keys to choose from)
MFMT Anchors Aweigh -  (I, IV, V vi and ii chords, multiple keys to choose from)
MFMT Army Theme Song - (I, IV, V ii, iii and vi chords, multiple keys to choose from)
MFMT The Star Spangled Banner  (I, IV, V, ii, iii and vi chords, piano, cello, viola)
JW Battle Hymn of the Republic  (I, IV, V, ii, iii and vi chords)

Favorites in my music library that I have purchased
Famous and Fun Favorites by Carol Matz Book 2 including:
America the Beautiful with Teacher Duet (# b natural)
When the Saints Go Marching in (staccato vs legato, #,b, hand shift)
Chord Time Piano: Ragtime and Marches 2B by Faber and Faber including:
The Thunderer by John Philip Sousa
The Stars and Strips Forever by John Philip Sousa
The Marines Hymn
The Caisson Song
You're A Grand Old Flag by George M Cohan
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Following are a few of my favorite points given at a UVMTA workshop that I attended by composer Jordan Roper.
Memorable Melodies begin with an interesting kernel or motif that often repeats throughout the song or is manipulated in different ways intermixed with new material.
For example
Beethoven's Fifth  (melodic motif) "- - - __"
Star Wars - rhythmic motif  "short short short -Long"

3 Simple Steps to creating a Memorable Melodic Motif
1- Stepwise motion (run)
2 - Occasional leaps (m3 or bigger)
3 - Repeated Notes (least important)

Bradley Sowashes "Scaling the Chords" method is a greater starting point to help students experiment with creating motifs within a scale.

Often beginning composers tend to use too much repetition wearing out their audience with the same theme.  Look to other good compositions and compare the amount of repetition in their pieces for a rule of thumb.

Feedback on student compositions:
  • For a piece mainly centered around middle C: Increase the range higher than an octave.
  • For a repeated bass accompaniment: Invert the bass accompaniment interval for more variety. Analogy "apple pie tastes good but it can be even better when you throw in a bite of ice cream (change) every once and a while."
  • For a song containing only Primary chords: Add more chord flavors, sub out majors with minors.
  • For a song in ABA form: Change the 2nd A a little so it is ABA'

Explore Chord Functions:
I= Home
ii iv V or vii - "Get to " chords that lead to another chord
IV or ii - possible endings but never end on V or vi
Use a Thesaurus to help with naming pieces.
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Fifteen years ago I was drawn into the online world of piano teaching tips as I was searching for ideas on how to best introduce musical concepts to my first piano student... a 4 year old.  I was fortunate to land on the piano teaching home page of Martha Beth Lewis and I eagerly read page after page of "How To's" ranging from topics like technique for beginners (with m&ms and hot fudge) to how to teach feminine endings ("grannies").  The creativity and playfulness of her approach had me hooked and I eagerly perused all of the articles on her site.

My textbook "How to Teach Piano Successfully" by the Bastians had provided a foundation for starting a piano studio, but the online inspiration I have received from bloggers and piano teaching sites over the years has inspired me to go beyond the basics and include group lessons, piano lab, games, improvisation, and creativity as integral threads in my piano teaching tapestry.
Following are the top 20 Blogs/Sites that I have continually inspired me with amazing piano teaching ideas and resources from the comfort of my own home.
Martha Beth Lewis- pedagogical articles and teaching ideas for early beginners to advanced level students

Tim Topham - engaging students with pop songs and chords, 150 informative podcasts and webinars on a variety of piano pedagogy subjects

Leila Viss - 88 Creative Keys Get Inspired episodes, music teaching i-pad apps, off the bench creativity

Bradley Sowash - Improvisation, Composing with Easy IntrosOutros, Dot Spots,  Embellishments and Scaling the Chords

Nicola Cantan - Colourful Keys - creative music games, Leaderboard for effective progress tracking Scale Charts, Challenge Board, webinars, teaching videos Bull-s Eye Practice, Leaderboard, QuickClips Videos

Joy Morin - Color in my Piano - Workshop notes, Gordon Theory, Sticker Staff Printables, Music Camps

Andrea and Trevor Dow - Teach Piano Today games, music for young beginners-teens, Creative teaching tips, composing activities

Susan Paradis - seasonal themed Games, Worksheets, Composing activities, GBDFA Song & original compositions for pre-reading-intermediate

Wendy Stevens - Compose Create - rhythm cups, tips for teaching composing to students, Web Rewards

D'net Layton Music- "Where Music Teachers Come to Play" Music Candyland, Real Rhythms, games, simplified primary songs, composer cards

Natalie Weber- Music Matters practice incentives,

Jennifer Fink - Pianimation.com Fun free Piano teaching resources including games, group teaching activities, practice incentives, sightreading sheets, etc.

Katherine Fisher and Julie Knerr Piano SafariRote/animal technique pieces with videos, pattern cards

Sally Cathcart and Sharon Mark-Teggart -  Curious Piano Teachers

Chris Owenby- PracticeHabits.co webinars, tips on effective practice and motivation

Jennifer Boster - The Playful Piano - Muscle Builders Technique, Practice Tricks Pack, Coloring pages

Jennifer Eklund - Piano Pronto - engaging method with familiar songs at a a faster pace, original compositions

Forrest Kinney - Free Resources and Four Arts Philosophy as well as Create First/Pattern Play/Puzzle Play books expanded my creativity at the piano as well as my students.

Jennifer Foxx - Music Educator Resources - Piano Lab, practice incentives, group games

Diane Hidy - Sightreading Cards, Teaching Tip Videos
Laura Lowe - Piano Boot Camp and Teaching Ideas
Sheryl Welles Notable Music Studiominute to win it and other piano teaching games/ practice incentives
Kristin Jensen- Holiday Themed Games and Worksheets

Let's Play Music Making Musicians, Teaching rhythm with rhythm bugs, Teaching Music with Songs & Solfeg, and Chord Colors, Effective Parent/Teacher Communication
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This week at piano camp the activities that students sampled were based on the 4 Arts of Music: Improvising, Reading, Arranging and Composing (see Forrest Kinney article)  This pedagogical framework in piano instruction enables students to become more expressive and creative at the piano as well as entrenching a solid understanding of the reasons behind the organization of the music they read on the page.

We started out with a simple improvisation duet on the black keys (key of F#) using the MusicClock app as a backtrack.
To start simple, students took turns matching the steady beat of the backing track with repeated notes of their choice on the black keys while the other students tapped the beat with chopstick rhythm sticks they had colored.  Next they "borrowed the rhythm" of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and expanded the melody by adding black key notes of their choices stepping around the keys as I played "World Piece" Duet from Forrest Kinney's Pattern Play book. The "Create First" and "Pattern Play" Series are the main tools I use to teach improvisation to students, but I also regularly encourage them to use the pieces from their method books as a springboard of ideas as they create using ideas from my variation cards.
To extend the learning at home students can improvise with Ben Sound. The pieces I have listed in the key of C and a minor use only white keys and are an easy way to begin.

My favorite method books that provide an organized approach to reading music with engaging pieces include Piano Pronto, Piano Adventures and Hal Leonard.  Students usually are assigned 2-3 pieces a week in their purchased method books, but I also have a large supplementary library of pieces for students to regularly explore music in their favorite genres from familiar folk songs, classics, pop, hymns and primary songs, ragtime, jazz etc. I welcome suggestions from my students and their parents about pieces they would love to play. Playing music you enjoy is one of the keys to success and motivation in piano lessons!  
At camp students sampled piano lab time games including Music Ace and the Rhythm Swing and Flashnote Derby apps.  I also use TonicTutor.com and the  Piano Maestro app regularly during labtime to help students solidify their sightreading, notereading, rhythm, ear training and theory skills.
To extend the learning at home explore some of the links to free activities on my Piano Online Activities Page or try some of the activities from my previous beginner piano camp.

Arranging music is more easily taught during private instruction time, but at piano camp I demonstrated various moods of baby shark by applying simple arranging ideas to create  country shark, classic shark, lyric shark, and rock song shark versions while students played ear training bingo, listening for different sounds in the samples (staccato vs legato, forte vs piano etc.). I use the Puzzle Play books to introduce students to arranging music in a step by step fashion.  I encourage students to gain a solid knowledge of chords so they can also pick out some of their favorite pop songs by ear and create chord accompaniments as they identify the chord colors.
To extend the learning have students try to sing along as they try out different chord patterns (broken, blocked, root notes in alternating octaves, etc) by reading the chord symbols at the top of the page from primary songs with only 2 chords.

We ended with this "Do Re Mi ice cream composition" activity where students paired the rhythms of their favorite ice cream and toppings as a springboard for composing a short song.  Using the natural rhythm patterns in spoken words and then adding a melody is just one avenue for composing. Check out "Composition 101: 5 Ways to Begin Composing" to explore other pathways I use to encourage students to create their own music. 
To extend the learning check out some quick composing tip videos or free composing printables on my previous post "Fun Tools for Teaching Composing."

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Recently I received  a tip from one of my piano students about a fun site with "backing tracks" in a variety of styles that provides the perfect backdrop for beginning pianists to improvise with.  Although BenSound isn't specifically designed for this purpose, the repetitive themes provide a nice background for the budding composer to "play around" on scales in a variety of keys while choosing a variety of themes and moods.

1. First determine the key of the "backing track" and play a pentascale as you feel the beat.
2. Next mix up the order of notes in the scale within the pentascale to create your own melody.
3. Try to match the rhythmic style and tempo.
4. Expand the difficulty and variety of your melody by playing in different octaves or alternating hands to create a melodic conversation.
I love how playing in a variety of moods and styles is like adding a spark to ignite the fire of more creative ideas to flow for creating your own original compositions!
Key of C
Little Idea
A New Beginning
Once Again
Retro Soul

Going Higher
Clear Day


A Better World

Creative Minds
Endless Motion

Acoustic Breeze

g minor
Jazzy French
Grand Canyon

a minor
Better Days
Funny Song
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Chord Progressions are the ingredients to music, but sometimes practicing them in drill like fashion can be a bit boring.  But accompanying familiar songs can get students asking to play them for fun!  I compiled a list of familiar melodies that include the primary chords.

I start with a  I-IV-I-V-I pattern, and once students become familiar with that I have them listen for the change up in the order of chords in songs that include the same chords but don't follow the pattern exactly.

C Major
Kiss the Girl (Little Mermaid)
I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ
Down on the Corner
Lava (Pixar short)  - Can you figure out the different order of I, IV and V chords?
Challenge: Try Everything (Zootopia) - Play and sing in C, than transpose to Db to play with the video.

F Major
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Hey Jude (Beetles) (start at 50 seconds)
Can You Feel the Love Tonight (Beginning)

G Major
Can You Feel the Love Tonight (2nd Half)
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Planning a well balanced piano teaching curriculum can be difficult because there are so many elements to consider as students began learning to play the piano. When organizing my curriculum as a new piano teacher, I started making leveled checklists with the basic foundation ingredients that I received in my own piano lessons as a child such as Notereading, Rhythm, Theory, Technique, Ear Training and eventually organized preparatory materials in Piano Teaching Binders

I teach many of these concepts using games from my Piano Game Resource List or during lab time with Online Activities and iPad apps

Browsing various graded piano advancement programs syllabi such as Achievement in Music, Music Progressions, Certificate of Merit, NFMC Festival  Trinity College and ABRSM was helpful for me to discover the scope and sequence of concepts and select the leveling and order that I felt best fit my teaching style and philosophy.

As my teaching progressed I began to fill in the gaps with other ingredients such as composition, improvisation, rote pieces, accompaniment, arranging and hymn playing activities.
As  I recently took part in the Colourful Keys Curriculum Kickoff Challenge, I identified some areas for improvement and fine-tuned my curriculum plans to include a more balanced approach incorporating Forrest Kinney's 4 Arts model and more hymn preparation activities.  My childhood piano instruction was heavily weighted on the "Interpretation" scale with only a smidgen of composition, arranging and improvising.  But these activities not only make piano lessons more engaging, they can also be used to solidify "traditional" skills of note reading, rhythm and chords in an immersive memorable way.  I like to incorporate an element of creativity into every lesson and that is usually a favorite activity for students.
Following are 10 previous posts with easy ideas to incorporate more creativity into lessons that can shift piano lessons from stagnant to stellar!

Fun Tools for Teaching Composition
Valentine's Composing Activities
Composition 101: 5 Avenues to Begin Composing
Piano Safari Composing
Composing with Flour and Salt
Do-Re-Mi Ice Cream Improv Free Printable
Colors of the Wind Piano Improv for Beginners
Teaching Chords with Hymns (Chord Symbols and Lyric Sheets)
5 Fun Ways for Teaching Theme and Variations Form 
Inspiring Creativity with Variation Cards
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