I didn’t warn my students they’d be composing. I was pretty sure they’d feel intimidated, so I simply asked them for favorite holiday phrases. When they asked why, I said, “You’ll see.” And once they heard the glimmer of a secret, they were hooked.

Here’s what we did.


“Think of one or two short holiday phrases .” (Three or four phrases for older students.)

“What’s a holiday phrase?”

“A word or group of words you hear around Christmastime. It could even be words to a song.”

Some might want an example, such as “Merry Christmas!” Or show them this.  I heard “Ho, ho, ho!” “Open up the presents.” “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” In addition, one came up with “Hark! How the jingle bells rock!” Another said, “Elf on the shelf.”

This exercise provided both rhythm and lyrics for the composing activity. But it only took about five minutes.


We listed the phrases and spoke them in rhythm one after the other. We switched the order until they liked the flow. Then I had them tap and clap the rhythms. If they gave too long a phrase, I said “We need it shorter.” Or if the first phrase was in three but the next in four, “Try another.”

This took five minutes or under.


The melody of their composing came next.


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As I write this blog entry, I realize that it was about a year ago that I joined this wonderful Music Teachers Helper community. My first article here was “Time to plan the Holiday Recital” – it is that time of the year again!

Over the years, I have come across a great variety of holiday music for students. My favorites include: Music for Little Mozarts Little Mozarts Perform the Nutcracker, Famous and Fun Christmas by Carol Matz, Christmas Jazz, Rags & Blues by Martha Mier, and Especially Popular Christmas by Dennis Alexander – all of which feature fantastic arrangements of some of the most popular holiday classics. They are carefully graded to suit different student levels, musically appealing, and provide a good deal of pedagogical merits.

While I always enjoy teaching holiday music to my students and playing the teacher duet parts, every now and then I want to play those beautiful, familiar tunes, too! There are countless Christmas songbooks out there, but many of them are collections for voice/guitar/piano. I am not a big fan of these fakebook-style anthologies – the piano part is usually not very pianistically written, either it is too simple and boring, or it is awkward with big leaps and stretches. I want pianistic, musical solos that sound sophisticated, have a bit of an improvisational nature, do not sound juvenile, and are “showy” enough to play for friends and family! This year, I have found three books that fit the bill! [···]

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I am inspired to write this entry after reading Chris Foley’s well written article “Lessons learned from a studio recital”.

Chris listed many important factors regarding how to plan for a successful recital. It is this time of the year again when many teachers hold a recital at the end of the year to coincide with the holiday season; I thought I would add onto Chris’s list, sharing my own experiences planning for studio recitals.

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