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

Reuben Vincent

Piano Fingering Success

November 10th, 2015 by

piano fingers

The other month I stumbled on my very first piano tutor book from when I was a seven-year-old. The thing that struck me, as I thumbed through the pages, was that my music teacher had written the word “fingering” on almost every page! I can still hear the frustration in his voice as he yet again tried to explain to me the pitfalls of using “any old finger.”

As a piano teacher myself now, it fascinates me that some students have a natural tendency towards following fingering and others, like me, need constant nagging!

Light bulb!

Most sheet music editions have all the fingering suggestions carefully printed but one of my adult students was learning an arrangement without any fingering. In times past, I would pencil in my suggestions but this time I asked him to go away and work out what fingering would work best. The result was amazing! Not only had he enjoyed “taking ownership” of his fingering but it had made him think long and hard about Read more…

photo by:

Read More » Comments (5)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Games/Activities Binder

November 4th, 2015 by

I need help to stay organized. I need inspiration to stay creative. To that end, I keep three binders near. My Command Central binder (studio administration) and Student Files binder (information) help with efficiency. But this one is pure fun. Educational, of course. But fun! My Games/Activities binder.

Games/Activities Binder


When a student needs help with rhythm or note identification, there it is. When I want group games, it’s there. A wiggly youngster in need of off-seat time? There.

I tend to live in the moment. If an item is out of sight, it can cease to exist. The binder nudges my memory.

The Games/Activities binder has a 3-ring pouch of colorful dry-erase markers. Plastic sheet protectors make activity sheets reusable. Write on and wipe off. Pages can be swapped quarterly.

highlighters kept in the games/activities binder

Activities may include:

  • Mazes
  • Search-and-Find (like Where’s Waldo?)
  • Flash card games
  • Card games
  • Color-by-Code
  • Note-identification word games
  • Word searches
  • Crossword and other puzzles
  • Trace the symbols
  • Match the ______________
  • Find the patterns (snatches of music)

screammatchboxnew              game, music 1


  • Notes
  • Rhythm
  • Intervals
  • Ear Training
  • Symbols
  • Assignment Sheet masters for piano, voice and guitar
  • Theory
  • Scales & arpeggios
  • Sight-reading
  • Key identification
  • Improvisation
  • Composition
  • Famous composers & their creative friends (authors, artists…)
  • Music history
  • Ideas (for future group classes/games)
  • Snacks (for group classes/recitals)
  • Resources and wish list


I use an Excel spreadsheet as an index. At a glance, I have the title, supplies needed and location of each, skills/areas covered, age and level, season, and number of players.

Bulky games might be on a shelf or in a drawer.


Certain game pieces are stored separately. Then they can be used for several games. Some games are on iPad.

A number of music teacher bloggers include games and activities on their sites. My resource page includes their links. I highlight games I’d like for my studio.

Here are just a few:

Wendy Stevens                                       www.ComposeCreate.com

Three Cranky Women                            http://tcwresources.com/about.php

Joy Morin—Color in my Piano               http://ow.ly/TvUbW

Office Playground (desk toys, etc)        http://ow.ly/Twnfy

Teach Piano Today (Piano Game Club) http://pianogameclub.com/

Diane Hidy’s Toolbox                             http://dianehidy.com/my-toolbox/

What methods help you manage your studio? How do you keep the creativity in your teaching? Leave a comment!

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Music Theory, Teaching Tips

The Savvy Music Teacher is a new book just out this month, offering a comprehensive look at what goes into making a decent living as a music teacher.  The goal of the book is to provide a strategy for making a positive impact on your community and translating that into a good income for yourself.  The book includes detailed discussions about music teaching options, a variety of income streams, financial explanations and strategies, and stories about successful experiences from over 150 savvy music teachers.

savvymusicteachercoverAuthor David Cutler, the Director of Music Entrepreneurship at the University of South Carolina, starts by asking the readers to become aware of their own teaching formulas and priorities, while highlighting numerous ways to freshen or rethink methods and content.  For many teachers, this discussion might inspire some new ideas about how to match teaching approaches and formats with their personal interests and style.

A review of Cutler’s previous book, The Savvy Musician, can be found in an earlier Music Teachers’ Helper blog post at this link.

Read on, and enjoy an overview of the book, as well as a look at the book’s companion website…
Read more…

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Financial Business, Music & Technology, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips














Competition for a good piano teacher is fierce these days. How do you make yourself stand out? Somehow I’ve managed to make a business for myself in the musically congested city of Los Angeles. Here are some of the tricks in my bag:

Use your phone’s video camera.

Most of the time, parents are not around to watch their kid’s piano lessons. Sometimes, they aren’t even home (nannies are there instead). If you have a studio where students come to you, it’s likely the parents don’t sit in the room with you. This means that the very people who hired you never get to see your actual work. You need to show them what you are doing for 2 very important reasons. Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Reuben Vincent

Ninja Scales!

October 6th, 2015 by

Ninja ScalesI didn’t understand my teacher!

Each piano lesson was the same. Half an hour of scales followed by half an hour of Bach! I hated it!!!

Needless to say, I didn’t want to practise scales between lessons. What was the point? He certainly never told me if there was one. It just seemed like a pointless half hour of boredom each week.

Fast forward on. Now I am the teacher trying to encourage my students to practise scales!!! How ironic!

Sell the Benefits

As humans, we are much more motivated to do something if we think it will benefit us.

So what are the benefits of scales? Have we discussed them with our students? What do they think the benefits are? Here’s a few to get started: Read more…

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Music Teacher Resources

In 2012, a UK survey commissioned by Disney uncovered that 75% of parents who owned ‘app-capable’ devices shared them with their children, and that, “…37% considered apps to be an ‘integral’ part of their family life.”

It’s no secret that introducing children to music at a young age offers numerous benefits. Many studies carried out over the past decade conclude that children who learn to play an instrument benefit from improved language-related skills, along with increased emotional and cognitive processing skills.

With the prominent rise of mobile devices being used in schools and the household, not to mention the hundreds (if not thousands) of children’s apps on the market, how can parents and teachers fully take advantage of this unique approach to learning?

One of the biggest challenges with musical education among children is that parents may not have the prior music knowledge required to introduce the basic elements to them. This means that many children don’t begin their musical training until the ages of five or six, after they’ve started school.

What Can Music Teachers Do?

Teachers can start developing educational programs based around these apps, which will allow them to take on more students at a younger age. This makes individual music lessons a much more viable option for kids, even as young as three, since it provides an easy entry point to kick-start their musical education; which is a huge plus for everyone.

With an increasing number of children being introduced to mobile technology each year, music-based apps have made the learning experience for kids more accessible than ever.

At a minimum, suggesting app-based learning into their playtime schedule of students’ younger siblings, they can begin to grasp key concepts that will encourage further musical development later on in life and potentially make them ready for music lessons sooner.

About the author: Ernst Renner is the founder of www.LittleComposers.com, which make apps designed for children to learn on their own. Their apps are made by music teachers with 20+ years of teaching experience. Little Composers apps are available on all touch-screen devices (including iOS9), laptops, and desktop computers. Learn more about their educational music apps by clicking here.

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Student Files Binder

September 28th, 2015 by

Three binders I keep within reach daily. My Student Files Binder is the most important. It holds my most precious commodity: my students!

Studio Binders

Studio Binders

Last month I posted about the binder that ties together the administrative details of my studio. My Command Central. You might say it’s my administrative assistant. (It works closely with my Music Teacher’s Helper account, which is my executive administrative assistant!)

But the Student Files Binder is the safe containing the jewels.

Students--my treasures

Students–my treasures

Here’s what I keep inside: Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Bella Payne

Piano Practice Incentives

September 21st, 2015 by


Piano LessonsSome time ago, I realized my students were getting a little bored of the same old routine. I thought they needed some stimulation, so I decided to re-think my rewards system. For a long time, I mostly focused on educational music games at the end of the lessons as being a good enough reward. But it didn’t help with energy levels throughout the lesson. I needed some help.  Read more…

Read More » Comments (4)

Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Many teachers settle into a routine set of materials or a method such as Suzuki, or a method of their own making, and find it awkward to break out of the routine if a student asks about more advanced musical ideas.
Is it really something to worry about?  Do students need to be guided along a groomed path, or can a change of scenery, or a glimpse of the road ahead, do them good?

There are, in fact, some great benefits to exposing beginners or intermediate students to advanced ideas.  There are also some drawbacks, which is why teachers are often reluctant to depart from an orderly presentation of material.

One of the benefits to presenting advanced ideas is to open a student’s mind to the richness of music.  Teaching, like parenting, is most effective when done by example.  If you as the teacher share some of the interests, passions, and thought processes that go into your own practicing and performing, the student will have a concrete sense of what it’s like to delve deeply into learning and playing music.

Advanced ideas can also inspire and motivate.  Discussing or demonstrating how a student’s musical selection might Read more…

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips