“Sonatinas, Scary Songs, and S’More.” Just the fall theme to carry out my goals for students.

I wanted to avoid the crunch of pre-Christmas activities for once. But an earlier recital meant I had a month less to help them prepare. How could I help them shine? How could I motivate the third-year students hanging on the fringes? How could I involve the earliest beginners?

Sonatinas for levels two and up are available (here’s one book). But I found none for my first year students. Some weren’t even reading notes yet.

So—I wrote them! A couple had two movements, but most had three.

I asked questions to discover their likes, hobbies and activities. And I wrote custom-made sonatinas for my beginners.

For Soccer Sonatina I used only six notes. This was for my youngest little one. He conquered “Dribbling” and “Passing Drill.”

For Sonatina Minecraft, I listened to Minecraft’s music. Then I wrote in a similar style. My student thrilled to play “Moving Boxes” and “Oh, Share the Night” and “Find the Path.” One student enjoys mythology. For her I wrote “Flight of Pegasus,” “The Loss of Persephone,” and “Puckish Mischief.” There were also Zoonatina, Puppy Sonatina and Canine vs. Feline Sonatina, among others. I even wrote sonatinas for my beginning guitar students. For Ballet Sonatina I read up on it first. Then I wrote “Allegro,” and “Pas de Valse.” My young man was excited to realize “En L’Aire” made a sound picture of leaping and landing lightly. One student wrote her own piece for the recital.

What about the title “Sonatinas, Scary Songs, and S’More?” Halloween songs are easy to find for all levels. The “S’More” part included Christmas songs and general-themed pieces. It also included non-messy s’more treats later at the reception.

I’ve never had students more motivated. They couldn’t wait to share “their” pieces. As a bonus, the sonatina theme can grow along with their musical skills.

The down-side?

It’s one week later. Now they wonder, “When is our Christmas recital?”

Do you write songs or arrangements for your students? If not, give it a try. Consider the techniques each one is perfecting at the moment. Give it a fun title. I’m sure MTH blog readers would love to hear about it!

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Performing, Promoting Your Studio

Learning, Playing and Teaching Music by Intention

What truly distinguishes music that feels warm and human from music that seems cold and computer-like?  Intention.  We can teach expression in music nearly from day one, by thinking of the intention of the music we play.

When a computer plays music from a MIDI file, it plays the correct pitch and note value of each note at the correct time.  A musician may play that same music with relatively correct pitch, note value, and timing, because there is an intention to lean in one direction or another.  In some music software, computer programmers have added a “humanize” feature, which simply randomizes the starting time of a note very slightly.  The programmers imagine that the difference between computers and humans is perfection vs imperfection.  They don’t realize, or maybe just can’t possibly program, the real difference:  intention.

A musician (except on an instrument such as the piano where there is no pitch control) will play a pitch that sounds best within the context.  For example, Read more…

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Put Your Records OnI remember, as a child, spending many an hour with my record player and LPs (long play vinyl records) in my bedroom. For me, half the pleasure of listening to the music was reading the sleeve notes which often gave up a wealth of fascinating information about the artist, composer, sometimes the instruments used, the recording personnel and the studio. And then there was the cover art which was a marvel in itself.

Of all the music that I listened to, I can’t forget an old Burl Ives record. One of the songs was called “I Know an Old Lady.” Apparently he didn’t “know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die!” I played that album over and over.

As I grew older, I began to realise that listening to an old man singing folk songs was definitely not cool and that if you were to be esteemed in your peer group, you had to be listening to Read more…

photo by:

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips


This past weekend marked a major milestone in my use of my favorite device, the iPad. I played piano at my niece’s wedding and read all the music scores from my iPad with the help of an app called forScore and turned the pages with my PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth Page Turner Pedal. Ahhh…a match made in heaven!

This decision was due to the fact that the happy couple requested Jon Schmidt’s “Waterfall” as a recessional. As there wouldn’t be time for me to memorize the piece and because I dislike depending on someone else to manage the tricky page turns, I determined this tech-savvy combo was the logical choice. Read more…

Read More » Comments Off on forScore and Cicada: A Match Made in Heaven (0)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Performing, Product Reviews

tractor and trailer

Now I must explain from the outset that I have absolutely no farming experience whatsoever! Completely zilch!

But I do know that a trailer will go nowhere without a tractor to guide it!

So how can we help young Jenny conquer that awkward phrase in her song?

How can we help old Mary Williams to master the art of rubato?

How can little Jonny play that scale with flair?

Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm

The answer is simple – us! It all starts with Read more…

Read More » Comments Off on “Follow My Leader” (0)

Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Music for Life

May 28th, 2015 by

A Master Class Series by Robin Steinweg

Music for Life

Music for Life

My second Music for Life Master Class—a success.

I started this series with plans to invite senior musicians. I’ll expand it to include musicians of all ages. Music for Life could end up defining my studio.

A master class series like this can enhance and promote your studio as well as inspire and bless your students. (Be sure to schedule it on your MTH calendar, and have reminders sent automatically!)

As students arrived, I directed them to the dining room for cheese, crackers, lemonade and sweet tea. Things go better with an after-school snack, don’t you think?  Snacks 5-20-15

Char Monette came as our featured local musician and piano teacher. I invited students and parents/grandparents to attend. We had good attendance in spite of busy May schedules.

Char shared musical moments and wisdom for about twenty minutes.

At age 8 her family moved to Japan when her dad was called up to fight in the Korean War. They couldn’t have a piano because he was only a lieutenant. But her classmate’s dad had a higher rank, and owned a piano. She walked home from school with Edward every day and practiced half an hour. Her teacher spoke no English, and she no Japanese. Music was their common language. She practiced very hard to earn a pat on the shoulder, and avoid mistakes which elicited a “No-no-no-no!” or worse, a rap on the knuckles with a pencil.

She began to teach in 1977 when another musician in town told her she must. This is good for us to remember! We can encourage musical gifts in others.

Ava, Amy Jorgenson, Sam, Char Monette, Bethie              Char Monette speaks to my students

Char said:

“Music is a gift from God. To think that your fingers can move on the keys, and music comes out… that is a gift from God.”

“I don’t often sit and listen to music. I would rather make music.”

I asked, “Char, what has music meant to you throughout your life?”

She responded, “You know, I don’t really think about it. I breathe, but I don’t think about that either. Breathing is pretty important. Music is just like that.”

She played “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” from her John Thompson Third Grade Level book.

Char's book, 1938 copyright

My students played for her. Some played their own compositions or their own arrangements of pieces. Some played my arrangements. They all gave a gift of music back to Char to thank her for coming to show them Music for Life!

You might like to read about my first guest in this series: professional drummer, vocalist and pianist Martha Nelson: Music Is for Life    …and here are a few of my students…

Sarah Wruck plays her own Key to My Heart     Sam plays Purple People Eater

Leanna plays Phantom of the Opera Dane plays In the Hall of the Mtn King

Chris plays Theme from Titanic   Ava plays Big Brass Band

Malea Niesen


Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Music History & Facts, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio

Anna at Sonatina FestivalRecitals are very beneficial for music students. A primary benefit is providing motivation to work toward a goal and highly polish a piece of music. Many students are not willing to put this degree of “polish” on a piece without the added incentive of a performance.

Recitals can also teach students valuable skills, such as proper protocols for solo musicians, dealing with mistakes during live music, learning self-calming and relaxation techniques, and developing positive ways to talk to themselves in stressful situations.

One of the main benefits of a live performance is to share music with others, and to enjoy it together. I tell my students that their music is a gift they are sharing with the audience. It is usually a joy to give a gift and watch the other person respond with pleasure.

To a lesser extent, performance is a concrete demonstration to the parents that progress is occurring. I downplay this with the students themselves, but I know that this is an important reality that a music teacher must take into consideration.

An even more slippery notion is that the performance reflects the skill of the teacher. In a lot of ways this is true of course, but in many other ways it is not because there are too many variables; student ability, willingness to practice and follow instruction, home environment and instrument quality, parental support, social anxiety levels, and even the amount of sleep the student had the night before. If you view an isolated student performance as a direct judgement on your teaching ability, too much pressure is placed on the child and the teacher.Hannah Cameron at piano

Live performance can take place in a number of different settings, from very casual to extremely formal. I like to take my students up a continuum throughout the year from casual to formal. In this way I can watch each student and evaluate their ability to handle stress and performance challenges, and I can then adapt to give them the best chance of having a positive experience. If approached with the right attitude, even less than perfect performances can be an opportunity for learning, not a catastrophe.

The most basic level of performance happens when the student plays for the teacher at his or her lesson. If performance anxiety is severe, this may be the only performance level tolerated for awhile. In extreme cases of performance anxiety I try to gently nudge up the tolerance level by first having a stuffed animal sit on the piano and listen in on the lesson. Next I may have another student sit in the room during the lesson. This is also a great time for duets and improvisation.

Group lessons provide a step up in intensity. I like to have ensemble playing time as part of every group lesson (I teach piano so group performance is not the norm). If a piece is out of a student’s range I adapt it by having them play just one hand, or maybe a chord base. Group lessons can also include solo performances. This could either be in the form of a master class, or it can be a time to demonstrate performance skills for an upcoming event.Ensemble Time

Once students are able to play comfortably in front of their teacher, stuffed animals and other students, a small studio recital should be well tolerated. This can be just for students, or for a small group of students and their parents.

If students become used to performing from a young age, most seem to adjust to it well. If you have an older beginner, it may not be as easy for them. They may view themselves as “behind” compared to other kids their age. No teenager likes to look less than perfect. This calls for a lot of creativity on the teacher’s part, such as finding pieces that sound harder than they are, or pulling together a fun ensemble or teacher/student duet.

The next level is to take students out to a small local venue, such as a retirement home. At the beginning of the year I try to keep the repertoire easy and fun for this kind of an event. I talk about how glad the residents are to see them and how they are going to love anything they do. I make the program informal and maintain a friendly exchange with the audience. At these first outings I also stay close by the piano to help with footstools and cushions, and to offer encouraging words.IMG_5109

Community events can be made more exciting with a theme, such as Halloween or Christmas music, or by including more duets. Student/parent numbers are fun. This would also be a good time to let students try out their accompanying skills by playing for a sibling to do a violin solo, etc. I don’t usually encourage a lot of extra guests besides parents to these small venues. Students and their parents are asked to spend some time talking with the residents before and after the performance.

Mid-winter through early spring is a common time for judged performance opportunities. This is a different venue from a recital, but with many overlapping skills required. Students in their second year of lessons are ready to participate in one or more judged events.

By the end of the school year students should be able to perform in a formal recital. These larger events take a lot of work, but I believe they are worth the effort. I do not recommend more than a 45-60 minute program of music. Students can be divided into two or more recital times if you can’t fit all students in that time limit. Make sure students of every ability level are included in each group. Think of something interesting to include about halfway or two-thirds of the way through the program. It could be an exciting duet or ensemble, a second instrument with accompaniment, or even an audience participation piece.Recital Crowd

I spend a lot of time preparing students for their formal recital. They are encouraged to dress up, and invite their extended family and friends. Stage lighting and the presence of many cameras are discussed ahead of time. Complete “formal performance” protocol is expected. I give out annual awards to each student after the recital and then host a reception where parents provide the food and I provide the punch. I describe it as an end of year celebration; no judges—just a great time to share their music and have fun.Food Table Decorations

Not withstanding the importance that I place on recitals, I have had students who cannot play in front of others, no matter how many ways I have tried to build their confidence. At this point good judgement and compassion need to rule the day. I do not believe that public performance is mandatory in order to learn to play the piano recreationally. We all know stories of adults who quit piano entirely because they could not deal with recitals. I don’t want any of my students to be pushed beyond their breaking point.

Please post your recital experiences below. Especially how you handle performance anxiety at recital time.

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Performing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

By Robin Steinweg

Five Buzz-Making Recital Ideas

Five Buzz-Making Recital Ideas

We all know recitals can build excitement for our studios. Could we get even more creative with them? Give folks a performance to remember. Families will talk about it to friends, friends will see clips or photos on Facebook or in emails, and word will spread about the teacher whose students know how to put on a show. Students will be excited to have been a part of it. You’ll probably add to your waiting list as a result. Here are the first five buzz-making recital ideas:

The First Five:

Read more…

Read More » Comments (7)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Financial Business, Performing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Music is for Life

March 27th, 2015 by

By Robin Steinweg

How can I impress on my students that music is for life? Few sports can be played into later years. But music is for life. A job might be fulfilling until retirement. Music is for life.

I’ve started a master class series in which I’ll invite musicians to share their music and their stories.

Martha Nelson shares why music is for life

Martha Nelson shares why music is for life

The first was Martha Nelson, a drummer/singer/pianist/accordion player who entertained in all-girl bands in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Martha practicing accordion

Martha practicing accordion

Martha sang weekly on the Jerry Blake Show for Madison, Wisconsin’s WKOW TV its first year on the air.

Martha Nelson about to sing on WKOW-TV Madison, WI in the 1950s

Martha Nelson about to sing on WKOW-TV Madison, WI in the 1950s

She passed her music on to her daughters, who are both working musicians (and one of whom is yours truly). She drummed for our family’s dance band through the 1980s.

Mom, daughter master class 2-11-15

Martha played several pieces for my students (including the Glenn Miller hit “In the Mood”), and shared the story of how she got her start. She went all the way back to her mother. Grandma planned to travel to the U.S. from Sweden to join her husband. She was booked to sail on the Titanic. But her first-born, my Aunt Vicky, got sick, and they had to wait. Mom told my students their teacher wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.

She taught herself piano. One of ten children, her dad brought a drum home one day, handed it to her, and told her that would be her instrument.

Now at 89, she still plays piano and sings. And one can often see her foot going or hear her fingers tapping in true drummer fashion.A year ago she joined me singing in a coffee shop—and I gotta tell you, she’s still got it! Her voice hasn’t really aged. Music helps keep her young.

Martha master class 2-11-15 Guest artist Martha Nelson 2-11-15

Yeah, play it!

After Martha’s presentation, my students entertained her. The final song, by Chris, was—“My Heart Will Go On”—the theme from the movie Titanic!

Dane & Chris

Dane & Chris













Ava, Sam & Sara, seated

Ava, Sam & Sara, seated

Music is good for many things: for background, for relaxing, for accompaniment to shopping or working,

for inspiration, entertainment, making a living,

passing on to another generation,

Passing the gift of music on to the next generation and the next...

Passing the gift of music on to the next generation and the next…

and enjoying—from the womb till one’s final breath and into eternal life.

Music is for life!



Read More » Comments (15)

Posted in Financial Business, Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Promoting Your Studio

‘Tis the season of preparing students for upcoming contests, festivals and recitals. Here are four performance-enhancing apps that promise to help you help your students to do their best.



The Camera simulates the presence of a real audience more than you, the teacher, can provide during a lesson. Once that camera starts rolling, students move into a performance zone and are forced to commit to seeing the piece through with musicality and as few errors as possible. The beauty of the camera is that musicians can see and hear the instant replay, make self-assessments and learn from their mistakes. It’s like a digital mirror that reflects EVERYTHING you may be trying to reinforce at lessons. Bonus? It comes free with any smart phone or tablet!


Read more…

Read More » Comments (6)

Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips