Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Increase Summer Fun and Finances

Last month’s blog highlighted three studio options offered for the summer. These include…

1) Piano Olympics–As many were asking how I create a Piano Olympics Camp, you can find the full scoop by clicking here

2) Let’s Make a Melody: offering students the chance to create an original composition

3) Off the Printed Page: encouraging improvisation by mastering chords and creating with “back-pocket” patterns

Just in case those aren’t enough, here’s a few more. I know, I got a little carried away.

“Unlocking the Secrets of Lead Sheets”

Summary: Lessons will focus on reading “simple” lead sheets with basic tunes and ecourage students to pick out tunes by ear. As they build their skills, pianists will choose from a selection of pop favorites and work on “faking” their way through a lead sheet.

Format: Pianists will spend 30 minutes with me at the bench and then another 30 minutes at the computer with various exercises to improve listening skills.


1) Books:

  • Pattern Play–explained more in the last blog, this series of books by Forrest Kinney is a bundle FULL of fantastic ideas to encourage improvisatory skills of any pianist at any level.
  • Chord Play–this newly released series by Kinney will be a perfect fit for lead sheet lessons as it provides a step-by-step explanation of how to add chords to a melody and make beautiful arrangements in classical, jazz and pop styles.
  • Pop Improv–for elementary students looking to play in pop styles, this book/CD set offers hip styles and sounds with minimal technical requirements.

2) Helpful Advice

  • Wendy Stevens is a composer and teacher who continually provides guidance for creativity (and so much more) at I will be assigning her helpful steps to harmonizing “Twinkle Twinkle” as part of the lesson assignments.
  • Bradley Sowash has a very helpful article entitled the Mystery of Playing by Ear. I will definitely be following his lead for these lessons.

3) Software/Website Programs:

  • Auralia–the most comprehensive ear training software I know or can imagine
  • Theta Music Trainer–a web-based program specifically geared towards developing playing by ear skills.
  • MusicLearningCommunity–another excellent website hosting exercises to train the ear



4) iPad Apps:

  • Ear Trainer–terrific app for developing the musical ear for scales, chords, intervals.
  • ReadRhythm–excellent source for refining rhythmic playback skills.
  • AuralBook by PlayNote: Although the exercises correlate with the ABRSM Syllabai, the powereful interactive capabilities of this app are useful for any teachers and students.


“That’s Jazz”

Summary: Most high school students will be asked or may be interested in playing in the local high school jazz band, so it’s essential to get them well-equipped for the experience. Bradley Sowash is not only an amazing jazz pianist, he is also a fine educator who has a unique knack for creating pedagogically sound  jazz “tools” for classically trained teachers (like me.) I value visuals and step-by-step instructions and feel confident , with the guidance of Sowash’s books to play,  improvise and even teach jazz.

Format: Pianists will spend 30 minutes with me at the bench moving through the series as fast as possible and then another 30 minutes at the computer with various exercises to improve listening skills. Most of the assignments will focus on ear training as listed above.


1) Books:

  • That’s Jazz Books 1-3–here’s a past blog that provides more details on these fine books.
  • Additional books or assignments will come from books listed above–Pattern Play and Chord Play.
  • Books that include terrific jazz solos found in Sowash’s That’s Jazz Performance Series or those in Martha Mier’s series, Jazz, Rags and Blues.
  • A visit to the standard 12-bar blues framework will also be planned. Click here for more ideas.
2) Software, Websites, iPad (same as above)


“Ready to Compete”

Summary: Although I have avoided entering students into competitions (for various reasons) I adjudicate many of them and decided  to offer my students the option to gear up for a competition. My thought–once they realize the work and dedication involved (a great deal of practicing on the SAME pieces) they may have second thoughts or they may thrive on the competitive edge.

Format: Pianists will spend 60 minutes with me at the bench selecting competition required repertoire. Goals will include building strong scale and cadence skills, and refining the ear for more musical performances.


1) Federation Festivals Bulletin as students will be entered into the local Federation of Music Clubs Festivals.

2) CD’s of the required repertoire for listening. Students will listen AND follow along with the score.

3) YouTube: Students will view performances of required repertoire (if available) and will be asked to discern the variances between performers.

4) Software/Website and iPad: Assignments will focus on scale and chord notation, listening and playing.


“Two is Better Than One”

Summary: Since I have many siblings enrolled, providing a “duet” option seemed logical as primo and secondo live under the same roof and share the same bench.

Format: Pianists will spend 60 minutes with me at the bench selecting a duet or two of their choice. In preparation for playing together, opportunities for ensemble improvisation will be included.


1) Pattern Play–see above for more details

2) Celebrated Piano Duets: Robert Vandall is a long-time favorite composer of duets. Both my and my students love his pattern-filled ensembles and his rhythms keep everyone on their “counting” toes.

3) Grand Duets for Piano: Melody Bober continues to provide consistently pleasing duets for all level of players.

With this “buffet” of options, it is hoped that everyone finds something they enjoy AND something that equips them with new skills or enhances skills they already own.


Do you offer summer options for your students that vary from you normal lesson plans? If so, please share?

What are your favorite duet pieces?

How do you prepare your high schoool students for jazz band experience?

What are your policies for the summer months? Do you lose students because you require them to take lessons during the summer?


About the Author


  1. Ryan Record

    I have quite a few highschool students. I love to encourage creativity. This summer I am doing a songwriting clinic for highschoolers. I am doing a guitar workshop and a rock music camp. I am also teaching a kindergarten class which is mainly based on a flutophone method. (They love this!!)
    I’m trying to think of new ways that I can increase creativity in the classroom. Its hard to remember when you have an agenda, but I am working on it!!
    I like the resources for ear training, I am big into ear training because I understand how important it is for musical development.

  2. Leila Viss

    Nice variety of classes–wow!
    What song writing guidelines, methods, ideas do you use? Are you willing to share your lesson plans for the class?
    Thanks for your comments and tips, going to check out flutophones now.

  3. Ryan Record

    Just checked out Theta Music Trainer and I am liking it a lot! Thanks for all the great resources.
    I haven’t settled on a final method yet for the songwriting class but I am going to spend time talking about chord structure and melody on the first day. Then I am going to talk about lyrics on the second day. On the third day I am going to do some writing exercises that will allow the students to write by themselves and collaborate. I am going to put a heavy emphasis on ear training but I wont spend to much time on it in class, as it takes a long time to develop.

    There is an exercise I really want to try with them. It is called Speedwriting. You can check it out here:
    I tried this myself and it was a very humbling writing experience.

    When it comes to chords, I am classically trained so I like to teach from that angle, using standard theory and comp ideas. But, I am trying to work a little more out side the box. Hope this answers your question Leila.

  4. Leila Viss

    Love that speed-writing challenge, thanks for sharing!
    All my students will be taking the basic course at Theta Music Trainer–pretty cool.
    In Sowash’s “That’s Jazz” he outlines a unique way to learn chords–worth a peek.
    Sounds like you will have a great deal of fun this summer.

  5. Ryan Record

    Are you a writer as well Leila?

  6. Leila Viss

    I’m a wanna-be writer. Are you?
    Here’s a good resource that I use when teaching song-writing.

  7. […] new ideas.  There are also some great ideas for summer (which I might get to NEXT year) on the Music Teacher’s Helper blog. As of today, I’ve had five students sign up for a package. What have you done in the past […]

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