Yiyi Ku

National Piano Month

September 22nd, 2014 by

Did you know September is National Piano Month?!


Alfred Music has teamed up with Making Music Magazine – Engaging and Inspiring Musicians to give away Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Piano Complete Starter Pack.

One lucky winner will receive the Teach Yourself to Play Piano Complete Starter Pack courtesy of Alfred Music.

This prize package includes:

  • high-quality Firebrand™ electric keyboard—full-size keys, 136 preset sounds and 128 rhythms, an illuminated LED keyboard display, built-in speakers, recording functionality, and sheet music stand.
  • Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Piano book
  • Audio CD with demo and performance tracks
  • DVD instructional video and software (Mac & PC compatible)

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music News, Press

Make-it-stickA ten-year study of learning, just published 6 weeks ago, has come up with some surprising conclusions.   One is that drilling a passage of music over and over is not the way to master it.  For some students and teachers, this will come as a shocker!

Below I’ll discuss details about the book, its authors, and a link to a summary article online, but let’s get into the meat.

It turns out that working in a focused way on one thing yields results, but they’re only temporary.  One example is the way someone might cram for a test and get by, but then forget most of the material soon after.  But it applies to learning music or any other subject as well.

A couple of other strategies work much better than single-minded practice, if the goal is mastery and long-term results.  Read more…

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Posted in Music News, Practicing, Teaching Tips


Yes, Yiyi, is just as nice in person as she looks in a pic!

I’m still catching up on sleep after my return from the Music Teachers National Association Conference in Chicago. Attending dynamic sessions, and intense meetings, hanging with favorite peeps from around the nation, meeting Facebook friends in person and of course enjoying scrumptious meals took their toll on my sleep patterns. At the same time, what I absorbed will provide that much needed energy to reinvigorate my teaching.

Before I share more about my unique experience and the reason behind the title of this blog, here’s a couple of things I wish to mention.

Music Teachers Helper at MTNA

First, Music Teachers Helper should be proud and pleased with Yiyi Ku’s presentation on the terrific features of MusicTeachersHelper.com. This important tool has become irreplaceable to me. I’m sure those who attended Yiyi’s session learned what they were missing and signed up thanks to her comprehensive coverage of this online, savvy assistant.

The Full Scoop at MTNA Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Professional Development

blue river6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists

When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!

Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!

“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.

“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.

“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!

I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.

Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!

Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…

“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!

Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.

Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for Read more…

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Posted in Music News, Performing, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Calling all piano lovers.  


Please take a few minutes to fill out this short survey about a new portable piano coming onto the market. Further details inside: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JT3DH7R

Thank you in advance. Your feedback will impact the design and features of this digital piano.

Here’s the survey link again: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JT3DH7R

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews

The Music Teachers National Association conference is held every year at different locations throughout the US and Canada. This year it was held at Disneyland (nuts!) and it was magical. The reason I say magical is that it seems the tides are changing.  Here’s how my colleague and business partner, Bradley Sowash called it:

Bradley unlocking the secrets of chord symbols. His tips are incredible!

I’ve just returned from the Music Teacher’s National Association conference in CA where I was fortunate to serve as chair of the jazz/pop track along with project manager Leila Viss [that’s me].  I’ve been swimming upstream on the subject of teaching creativity as a necessary ingredient to comprehensive musicianship at music teacher meetings all over the country for several years.  So it was with particular delight to find that we could attract a packed room of teachers for nine hours of sessions with experts on the subject of teaching popular music styles, improvisation and creativity. 

It seems the old model of only teaching the “masters” using only the written page is finally giving way to a more balanced approach or as someone at the conference quipped, “the Queen Mary (of music education) is slowly turning.”  I can get even more dramatic by declaring, “The eye/ear revolution has begun!”  Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Yiyi Ku

The Holidays are Here

November 26th, 2012 by

Every year I organize a studio holiday recital. This is our biggest recital of the year. While the more advanced students usually play their classical repertoire, most elementary-intermediate students like to play holiday/popular music for the festive season. I am on the look out for new holiday/popular music for my students, which include young beginners, budding intermediates, serious competition-ready musicians, teenagers that listen to Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood, and adults who enjoy Christian melodies and soothing new-age styles. With this diversity in mind, the following new titles have caught my eyes.

Christmas Solos for Students, arranged by Tom Gerou

This is a collection of three books, containing graded solos that range from late elementary to intermediate levels. They are carefully arranged with students in mind for technical accessibility and immediate appeal! Tom Gerou’s style is fresh, with pianistic figurations, clever but simple use of ties and dotted rhythms, and unexpected harmonic turns that involve frequent use of 6ths and 7ths, these arrangements of timeless holiday classics will bring students and their audiences lots of joy! Read more…

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Posted in Music News, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Leila Viss

Sharing the UK Blues

November 16th, 2012 by

One of the unique features of  MusicTeachersHelper.com is how it continues to build a growing community of musicians and teachers around the globe. Recently, Elena Cobb--from the UK–contacted me–from the US–via MusicTeachersHelper.com to check out her books. Besides finding a new Facebook friend and fellow teacher across the pond, I’ve enjoyed playing some new music.

Elena is clearly a fan of jazz and the 12-bar blues (yes, this American form made its way overseas) and sees the importance of introducing this standard pattern to early level pianists. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is packed full of pieces targeted for “inexperienced” pianists while the second book she shared, entitled Blue River, features more intermediate to late intermediate selections. This collection ranges in style from ballad to blues to Latin. Both books include clever, original compositions that fall into the standard blues form. They could serve as supplementary repertoire or provide great material for a studio jazz–themed unit.


The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz book features…

1) Ten pieces with a CD of live jazz band recordings.

2) Four tracks of varying tempos of witty arrangements for play-along enjoyment. The CD is great training for building solid rhythmic skills and confidence for future gigs with a “real” band.

3) Color coding (in some pieces) of chord changes to enhance reading security.

4) Colorful, full-page illustrations.

5) A considerable amount of extra staff instructions including fingering, counting numbers, phrase markings and chord symbols. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper

As you may recall, I posted a survey to find out if music teachers integrate jazz/pop music into their teaching.  Although the results below are taken from the 1,114 responses received (wow!), I can only see the comments and Poll Daddy detailed reports for the first 200 responses.  Many of the first 200 survey participants left insightful comments and I wish I could share them, just not enough space here. The comments of the rest (800+) will go unread as I didn’t want to pay the extra $200.  The initial data below provides plenty of interesting findings and may generate further discussion here.

So, what do you glean from this survey? Are the results surprising? alarming? pleasing? as predicted? Will you change how you teach after seeing the results of this survey? If so, how? Is jazz/pop music a legitimate style to integrate in your curriculum or should it be used to “entertain” students who are losing interest in lessons? Do you feel validated in your present approach to teaching jazz/pop?  Is there a disparity in how you were trained and what you actually teach? What are the implications for the future of music education, publishers and your teaching style? Did I miss one important question in the survey?

I have my opinons, but I’d love to hear yours! 

1) Are you a classically-trained teacher?

  • Yes 92%
  • Somewhat 7%
  • No 1%






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Posted in Financial Business, Music History & Facts, Music News, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

To be completely honest, I am a ‘just’ piano teacher.  I am not an expert in childhood development nor would I ever claim to be. But as the mom of a child with some extra needs, I have learned firsthand about the importance of childhood development, how music can help, and how it can be hard to for a child with extra needs to accomplish certain tasks in their music lessons.  After working with my son’s therapists, I couldn’t help but pick up a few things that I found to be helpful for him and for my music lessons.  If you have a chance to take some occupational therapy training, or even speak with an occupational therapist, I highly recommend it.  Having an awareness of special needs, learning disabilities, and other childhood struggles can assist your teaching, your student, and their music.  Here are a few things to think about.   

Posture and muscle tone.  Do you have that one student that just can’t ever seem to sit up straight?  No matter how much you remind them, they struggle with good playing posture?  This may be a child with low muscle tone.  They may be perfectly healthy, but just have muscles that aren’t quite strong enough to help them sit or stand with good posture.  You’ll typically see them slouch, lean on one hand, or “W” sit on the floor.

Body awareness.  Some children struggle with knowing where there body is in space.  They may be constantly in motion because they don’t feel settled, comfortable with themselves, or they may lean on you constantly, run in to you, or crash on things to help them ‘feel’ where they are.

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Posted in Music News, Teaching Tips