Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gift Ideas for Music Students

Some years it is more difficult to decide on Christmas gifts for my students than for anyone else! This was NOT one of those years :) There are so many possibilities. Ornaments, personalized recital videos, gift cards, and treats are some of the things I have given in the past. This year, I decided that I would make a favorite treat that friends and I have shared for years: Puppy Chow!

Puppy Chow? Wait a minute, what's that? Puppy Chow is basically Crispix cereal covered in melted chocolate and peanut butter, then covered in powdered sugar. It really looks quite similar to the food we feed to small puppies, and that's what's so much fun about it! Plus, it is delicious!

I made a double batch yesterday, purchased some adorable clip art graphics, and made these. I'm giddy about how cute they are :)

Drum roll please…


The front of the treat bag toppers says Merry Christmas and the back says Puppy Chow. I filled a cellophane treat bag with Puppy Chow goodness, stapled the toppers on, and here's the result. Hope my students like them!

I also made some Cookies 'n Cream Fudge for some friends of ours, and here's what the finished product looks like. The front of the treat bag toppers says Merry Christmas and the back says Cookies 'n Cream Fudge. I can't wait to put these in the mail! 

Please enjoy these free sets of treat bag toppers. Merry Christmas from The Plucky Pianista!

Visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to download your own set of toppers. Toppers with the names of the treat + Merry Christmas are included, as well as blank toppers. The links are below. Hope you enjoy :)

I've also added three additional treat bag toppers to my store. They're free as well! 

I'd love it if you leave some feedback after you download the toppers. Thanks so much!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Accompanying 101: 5 Tips for Beginning Accompanists

This post is featured as part of "The Top Influential Piano Blogs You Should Be Reading" at Digital Piano Review Guide. The post has been revisited, refreshed, and revamped to bring you even more tips for accompanists, and you can read the updated post here!


'Tis the season to employ your accompanying skills, or teach them to one of your students!

One of my high school students was asked by her high school choir director to accompany their Christmas concert this year. She has been practicing the music for about three weeks, and we have been working on her accompanying skills during her lessons.

Here are five tips for beginning accompanists that my students have found helpful, and hopefully your young accompanists will find them helpful as well.

Tip 1: 
Get a specific tempo from the director for each song before you begin practicing. You don't want to practice something too slowly or too quickly. It's best to know the performance tempo before you begin so that you know what your final performance goal is. 

Tip 2:
Three-hole-punch your music and put it in a binder as soon as you receive it. This will streamline your practice sessions and keep the music from falling off the piano as you as you work on your page turns.

Tip 3:
Practice the page turns so that they become a seamless part of the performance. Plan in advance whether you need to omit notes, what notes you will omit, and which hand will turn the pages so that you can practice that choreography. 

Tip 4:
Know how the director conducts entrances and cut-offs. If you have participated in choir or band, you are probably very aware of following the director. If not, this is something the director will have to help you get used to. Your piano teacher can work with you on this as well. 

Tip 5: 
Play musically. No matter what, no matter when, play musically. Think of accompanying as an artistic endeavor, and perform artistically. You will be supporting the choir in many ways, but supporting them musically will enhance the performance. 

These simple tips can make a first-time accompanist's rehearsals and performances run more smoothly, and they can greatly increase the likelihood that the accompanist will feel confident and have a positive experience. 

Do you have more tips for beginning accompanists to add to this list? Please comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Advice from Someone Who Knows

If you don't know about The Musician's Way Blog, check it out. This post is a gem.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Transform Your Studio Space on a Budget, Part 4: The Reveal

It's finally time to "unveil" the budget music studio makeover! Before you read the rest of this post, you might want to take a minute to read the first three parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

All done? Buckle in... Here we go!

Monday, September 9, 2013

What's Your Super Power?

It's great to be back from a restful and relaxing vacation, and things in the studio, store, and blog are full speed ahead! Lessons begin today, so I wanted to share with you our theme for the studio this year:

I ordered these shirts from and used their clip art and fonts to design them. I thought they turned out great! The price was reasonable, the shirts are good quality, and what's better than free advertising for the studio when my students wear their shirts around town? :)

After designing and ordering the shirts, I decided to design their lesson binders to look like the shirts, and added their name to the binder cover as well. Here's a photo of a few of the lesson binders.

I can hardly wait for lessons to begin today! Happy teaching!

Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Always Busiest Before a Vacation!

Tomorrow is the day. Wait, let me say that again. TOMORROW IS THE DAY!!!!! My husband and I are leaving for a vacation, and we are so excited about the prospect of resting and relaxing on a quiet beach all week. But why are things busiest just before a vacation? The planning, packing, and preparing to travel are only a few things that have been on our list this week. Not to mention working extra hard in both our jobs trying to help things continue running smoothly while we are gone so we don't have to worry so much about what might be happening while we are away. It's not that we won't be checking in (we both finally upgraded to smartphones this year, and unless we turn them off, we are still in touch with the world around us), we will just be checking in much less frequently and actively.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Transform Your Studio Space on a Budget, Part 3: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Today's post is about saving money while doing a music studio makeover. If you haven't read the first two posts, you might be interested in reading the first one here, and the second one here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Transform Your Studio Space on a Budget, Part 2: Pinterest, Etsy, and What Not to Wear

In the first post in this series, I gave you a little background about my studio space and showed some pictures of the space before we painted all the wood paneling. I also included the official "Before Pics" of the space.

In this post, I want to talk about what I wanted the space to become and where I found inspiration.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Transform Your Studio Space on a Budget, Part 1: BEFORE the Before Pics

I've been waiting three years to do this piano studio makeover. Before I tell you about it, let me fill you in on a little background so you get the full picture of what I'm dealing with here.

My husband and I got married three years ago this month. When we got engaged in May 2010, I resigned from my faculty position because we were relocating from Mississippi to Southwest Virginia. The week following our wedding, we loaded the moving truck and traveled to our new home in Virginia. Not only did we combine two entire households, we also added the contents from my university office, where I had been on the music faculty for several years. Needless to say, we had a LOT of stuff to organize!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Ultimate Piano Teacher's Organization Binder: Covers & Dividers

I absolutely LOVE being organized, so I created "The Ultimate Piano Teacher's Organization Binder" - 82 pages of binder covers and divider pages! If you want to be the most organized teacher on the block, this is the tool for you. The color scheme is lime green, black, gray, and white, OR shades of pink, black, gray, and white, OR shades of yellow, black, gray, and white, OR shades of blue, black, gray, and white. There are 10 different page designs. The pages are labeled with topics every piano teacher deals with on a daily basis: Recitals, Studio Wish List, Favorite Apps, Group Classes, Lesson Plans, Music to Purchase, and many, many others, as well as pages labeled with the months of the year plus a set of pages without labels that you can customize to suit your studio needs. If you need additional pages, contact me, let me know what additional pages you need, and I will add them. If you want a set personalized with your students' names, let me know and I'll put one together for you. 

Currently available in lime green OR pink OR yellow OR blue

Currently available in pink OR lime green OR yellow OR blue

Currently available in pink OR lime green OR yellow OR blue

Currently available in blue OR pink OR lime green OR yellow 

For an additional free page, be sure to visit my Facebook page and click the Free Stuff tab.

To purchase The Ultimate Piano Teacher's Organization Binder: Covers & Dividers, please visit my store by clicking the Store tab above.

Happy organizing!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Piano Improv Spin-Spiration

My students love to use these colorful and kid-friendly Piano Improv Spin-Spiration spinner pages to help them come up with ideas for improvisation, and I'm sure your students will love them too! 

Four different single-page spinner pages like the one below plus a blank customizable spinner page are included in this pack. Each page contains 8 different ideas for improvisation subjects, including animals, holidays, people, travel, etc., for a total of 32 different improv ideas.

Print the pages onto white card stock or glossy photo paper (and laminate if desired), then attach the plastic spinners to the center of the page. Students should spin the spinner to select an improv idea, then improvise a piece with that topic in mind. For example, if the spinner lands on "Circus", the student could think of all the things he would see, hear, smell, and feelings he would feel when visiting a circus, then use those ideas for inspiration as he creates his improvisation. These spinner pages can be used in private lessons, group classes, camps, or any other way you can imagine! I purchased these plastic spinners to use with the pages. 

To purchase this colorful and fun set of Piano Improv Spin-Spiration spinner pages, 
please visit my store

To receive a free unmarked copy of the sample page above, 
visit my Facebook page and click the Free Stuff tab. 

MEGA Measures: Early Elementary Edition

A reader requested an early elementary version of Mega Measures, so here it is! 

Mega Measures: Early Elementary Edition includes three separate worksheet pages with a chalkboard and polkadot theme, and incorporates quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes, as well as 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures. On the first page, students will identify the number of beats in each measure and add a time signature. On the second page, the measures have too many beats and students must “erase” (cross out) a note or rest to give each measure the correct number of beats. On the third page, the measures don’t have enough beats, and students must add notes or rests to each measure to give each measure the appropriate number of beats according to the given time signature.

Please visit my store to purchase your copy of Mega Measures: Early Elementary Edition. 

If there is an item that you'd like me to create, feel free to get in touch with me by using the Contact Me form on my blog, or via my Facebook page

Thanks for being part of the Plucky Pianista community! 

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Keys are a Breeze!" Piano Keyboard Packet

The six reproducible PDF worksheets included in the "Keys Are A Breeze!" piano keyboard packet are sure to help your beginners learn the letter names of the piano keys in no time. The worksheets in this packet review the piano keys in a variety of ways - coloring the piano keys, writing the letter names on the keys, labeling the piano keys with a variety of shapes, identifying specific piano keys, drawing a line from the keys to their correct letter, and drawing their very own piano keyboard - students could complete a different sheet each day! These colorful worksheets are especially great for visual and kinesthetic learning styles, and they can be printed or used on an iPad! Click here to visit my Facebook page and receive a free unmarked copy of the sample page included below by clicking the "Free Stuff" tab.

Please visit my store to purchase the entire packet. 

Happy teaching!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

101 Ear Training Tips for the Modern Musician: ebook Review

Today I'd like to share with you some information about a wonderful new ear training ebook by Easy Ear Training founder Christopher Sutton, with Ethan Bennett and Victoria Williams: 101 Ear Training Tips for the Modern Musician.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mega Measures Rhythm Worksheets

Hot off the press...

Brand new rhythm worksheets! If you’re searching for attractive and quality rhythm worksheets to use on your iPad or to print and use with your students, look no further! Mega Measures includes three separate worksheet pages with a chalkboard and polkadot theme, and incorporates quarter notes and rests, half notes, dotted quarter notes, whole notes, dotted quarter-eighth note combinations, eighth notes, and eighth rests, as well as 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures. 

On the first page, students will identify the number of beats in each measure and add a time signature. On the second page, the measures have too many beats and students must “erase” (cross out) a note or rest to give each measure the correct number of beats. On the third page, the measures don’t have enough beats, and students must add notes or rests to each measure to give each measure the appropriate number of beats according to the given time signature.

Facebook fans may visit my Facebook page (click the "Free Stuff" tab) for a free unmarked copy of the worksheet sample above. 

If you want to add all three worksheets to your collection of resources, please visit my store to purchase them. 

Leave a comment below to let me know how you incorporated Mega Measures into your lessons. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monster Melodies

introducing a brand new sight-reading adventure...

This exciting version of Monster Melodies contains 32 two-measure sight-reading flash cards that correspond to 16 all-new four-measure sight-reading examples (8 pages) that are to be played on groups of 3 black keys. Students should sight-read from the flash cards prior to sight-reading the full examples. Flash cards are color-coded to match the full example page from which they are derived.

Print the monster flash cards onto card stock and cut out the cards. Print the full examples or have the student sight-read them directly from your iPad or laptop. Choose which monster set of cards and sight-reading examples the student should play (green monster, pink monster, etc.). Student draws a card, then sight-reads the two-measure melody. After student has sight-read the melodies from the flash cards, he is ready to sight-read the full examples. 

A free page of flash cards is included below, and if you would like to receive the corresponding sight-reading page, visit my Facebook page and click the "Free Stuff" tab. 

To purchase Monster Melodies, please visit my store

Happy sight-reading!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Penguintervals Printable Review Sheets Freebie

Three of my youngest students are busily working on intervals this summer, so I've needed to create more review activities for them. The most recent creation is a continuation of the Penguintervals Interval Flash Cards idea from last month.

This collection of Penguintervals contains three worksheets: 
1. Drawing a line to the correct interval
2. Identifying intervals by writing the correct interval on the sheet
3. Notating intervals onto the penguins' tummies

Click here for your Penguintervals Printable Review Sheets freebie.
Or, right click (or control click) each image above to save as a jpg.

Use these sheets as printables, or use them on your iPad.

I hope you and your students enjoy!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Practice Stache

Most days, I really believe my students are truly learning and understanding what it means to practice. Some days, I'm not so sure :)

As we approach a new year of piano lessons, new ideas, new resources, and new students, I wanted to devise a way to encourage my students to try different ways of practicing, using creativity as well as specific and general goals, rather than the "same old, same old" way during each practice session that some of them tend to do.

I wanted to create a collection of my favorite practice tips and make it into something that could be used as a game. My solution to this was to create a collection of separate practice cards that students could use during practice sessions. Once the idea solidified, I tried out a few different names, including "My Practice Pack" and "My Practice Jar". Those names just didn't quite click, so I decided to call it "My Practice Stache", complete with a mustache :)

Assembly is required, but it doesn't take too long. The PDF contains 52 practice tips on separate cards that should be cut out, a template for a box in which to store the cards, and instructions for assembly.

If you're looking for a unique way to encourage creativity during your students' practice sessions, maybe they need their own Practice Stache! This deck of cards can be used in TONS of ways, so feel free to post your favorite ideas below. Make My Practice Stache the thing you can't live without during the upcoming year. Click here to purchase a copy of My Practice Stache for your students!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guest Post: "Teach Kids to Create Their Own Mystery Song" by Kristin from

This week I'm taking some time away from blogging and teaching to rest and spend some time with my hubby, who is off work this week. No, we're not vacationing - unless overhauling our landscaping sounds like a vacation! :) 

In my absence, Kristin from will be sharing with you. If you haven't visited her blog, take some time to look around. She has shared some fun activities and games for piano students, and I'm sure you'll find many things you and your students will enjoy. Welcome to The Plucky Pianista blog, Kristin!

Kids love composing their own songs on the piano. And teachers love composition because it helps kids apply the theory they’re learning, allows them to express their creativity, and keeps them excited about studying the piano with you.
In this fun tutorial, you’ll learn a simple formula you can teach to your students to get them creating their own mystery song.
How to Create a Mystery Song on the Piano
Refer to the diagrams and instructions below to learn the formula. Play an example for your student and then show him or her how to get started.
Your students will be extra excited about this activity if you take a moment to help them imagine a mystery story. Is someone or something missing? Where should you go to look for clues? Imaginations run wild when you set the stage like this and that creates fertile ground for a fantastic musical composition.
Step 1: Learn the left hand. Locate the highlighted keys and play them in descending order.

Step 2: Improvise the Right Hand. Once you can play the left hand in a steady rhythm, add in the right hand. You can improvise using any of the highlighted keys in any order. Watch the video for an example.

This piano improv activity for kids also makes a great duet that’s fun and easy for little kids. You play the left hand and show your young child which keys he can use to improvise the right hand. Later switch and show him how to play the left hand by itself in a slow and steady mystery rhythm. 
Click play to see an example

Piano improv is easy when you know the formulas. For more tips on teaching kids how to create their own music, visit

Kristin is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children how to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and darling toddler boy, who will hopefully soon be making music too! See Kristin's music teaching tips at

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Penguintervals Flash Cards

Looking for a fun way to review intervals with your students? Try Penguintervals flash cards! Nine pages of seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths are included in this adorable set of flash cards, for a total of 54 unique interval cards plus extra pages each containing the intervals in text format. These little blue penguins with intervals on their tummies are the perfect way to review line and space notes, interval recognition, and playing intervals on the piano or other instrument. They could also be used for sight-reading, song-writing, improvisation, matching games, and lots of other ways! The student could place a select number of cards on the music rack and play the intervals one after another as a sight-reading activity or song, or a specific interval could be used repeatedly for an improvisation activity. Students could also use a select number of interval cards, plus the corresponding number of text cards, to play a memory match game. No clef sign is included, so the Penguintervals could be used as either treble or bass clef flash cards. The cover page and a sample page of 2nds and 3rds, as well as a sample page of the interval in text format, are below. 

What are some other ways you could use Penguintervals? Add your comments below! 

You may purchase the entire set of Penguintervals in my store

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"I've Got the Blues"

Today was our "I've Got the Blues" summer group class for some of my younger students. They listened to some blues songs, learned some rhythm patterns they could use to play the blues, they learned the C blues scale, and they also learned to play some rhythm instruments so we could all play together as a band. Our rhythm section included sandblocks, jingle bells (we referred to it as a tambourine today), castanets, a triangle, rhythm sticks, and maracas. Of course we used the piano too! I'll tell you about the fedoras and sunglasses in a minute...

When students first arrived, we all listened to several short clips of a variety of blues songs to get students into a "blues mood", and we did a few movement activities along with the music to help them feel the beat and prepare them for the next part of the class. Then I gave a multi-page handout to the students. One page of the handout included several rhythm examples they could choose from to help them improvise on a blues scale. Another page contained pictures of blues scales the students could play (we played the C blues scale today), and another page included information on free apps with blues jam tracks students could download and play along with at home.

We practiced some of the rhythm examples together, then we all chose different rhythm instruments on which to play the rhythms. Once the students were 100% comfortable with two of the rhythms, we divided into small groups and played them at the same time to prepare students for performing the different rhythms along with the piano. The next thing we did was take turns improvising on the C blues scale, using two or three notes at first, then more notes according to the comfort level of each student. To help the students locate the notes of the C blues scale easily, I placed little pieces of painter's tape (it was blue of course!) onto the piano keys. As each student improvised a blues melody at the piano, the other students and I each selected a rhythm instrument to play. We each chose a rhythm and all played together, taking turns at the piano until each student had a turn.

Then the fun really started! I had downloaded three free apps of jam tracks from the App Store, so I selected the C Major track from the free version of Guitar Jam Tracks, tapped "Play", and we all jammed together with the track. Each student spent a little more than one minute at the piano, and I played Jennifer Eklund's "Bluesy Tuesday"(which was the perfect piece for today, our very own bluesy Tuesday!) as a closer to our blues performance along with the track. Then we donned fedoras and sunglasses, which I found at Dollar Tree for $1 each, and we were ready to go! We jammed a little longer so the students could get more comfortable with the idea of improvising in front of one another, while wearing dark sunglasses, and so they could get used to switching places quickly when their turn at the piano was over.

Then we waited until their parents/grandparents came to pick them up. Once their adults arrived, I filled them in on what we had done during class, and we performed our song "Rainy Day Blues", so named because it had been rainy all day! One of the parents asked us what the name of our band was, so we decided on "The Rainy Day Blues Band". Meet our band in the picture below!

This class was a blast! I only wish I had made the class longer than one hour, and that I had recorded a video of the final performance. The parents and grandparents seemed really pleased with what the students had learned in such a short amount of time (I know I sure was!), and now the students have the knowledge and tools they need to play the blues at home!

A couple of my high school students will be taking a blues class later this summer, and for them, I plan to incorporate something similar to these blues improv sheets from

I've included the handout from today's class as a free download. Click here for a copy of "I've Got the Blues!" and here for a copy of the page/sign I created for my laptop.

If you use these blues sheets with your students, please let me know. I'd love to hear how it goes! If you know of someone who would enjoy this idea, use the sharing buttons on the left or pin the image below to let them know about it.