I thought I’d share something I call The Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept with you in this month’s article.  This is something I use with great success to get new guitar students ready to play music quickly.  In my role as worship director at my church it’s been an indispensable tool in getting new guitar students up and running on the worship team. The first chords most guitarists learn are G, C, D, and Em.  In the key of G, these chords cover the 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m chords that are found in most folk, pop, and rock songs.

Key of G basic open position chords After I teach these basic chords, I usually teach my students a special voicing concept for G, C, D, and Em that is used more widely in the music they really want to play.  After that, I show them how to use the capo and suddenly they’re able to play a lot of music in a lot of different keys! One of the things that used to frustrate me as a guitarist is when I would buy a piece of sheet music only to discover later that the guitar chord diagrams don’t show that actual chord voicings that are being played on the original recording of the song!  That frustration worsened if the song was in a non-friendly guitar key like Ab, Bb, or B.  Even if I learned how to play a Bb barre chord, it never sounded like the guitar in the original recording.  I knew something else was going on that the sheet music wasn’t telling me.  It was only when I discovered this common-tone chord concept that I learned what was actually happening! Here’s how the Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept works:

  1. Place your 3rd and 4th fingers (fretting hand) on the 1st and 2nd strings at the 3rd fret as shown in the diagram below (circled in red).  These two notes (D and G) are the “common tones” that will remain the same for all 4 chords.
  2. Since the 3 & 4 fingers stay in the same place for all 4 chord shapes, the 1 & 2 fingers are the only fingers to that move.  Look at the 1 & 2 fingers in the G chord.  Notice how they move one string over to create the Cadd9 chord.  Very simple movement!
  3. To make the Dsus4 chord, the 1 & 2 fingers split on either side of the 2nd string (like they do in a regular D chord).
  4. Finally, the 1 & 2 fingers land on the 5th & 4th strings to make the Em7 chord.

Capo Common-Tone Chords How to apply this concept:  Let’s say your chord progression is Em – C – G – D.  Try playing the common tone voicings instead of the basic chord forms.  For instance, if you see a C chord in your chart, play the Cadd9 voicing instead.  When you see D, play the Dsus4 instead.  If you come across a C2 (Csus2), the Cadd9 is going to sound great.  This approach might drive a music theory purist crazy – but to most ears all these voicing are going to sound great.  Try it! In the diagram below, I show you how to easily change the G chord into a G5, a.k.a. G(no3), by removing the 1 finger. (The 5th string gets muted by the 2nd finger.)  Now, move the 2nd finger over one string and your Cadd9 becomes a legitimate Csus2 because the 3rd of the chord (that was previously played at the 2nd fret of the 4th string) is now muted.  I love the jangly sound of those treble strings! G5 and C2 But wait!  There’s more!  Arming yourself with a capo, the guitarist’s top accessory (behind a tuner of course), enables you to use these common-tone shapes to play in at lease 5 more common keys! Common Tone Capo Chart No more going into cardiac arrest when you’re called upon to play a song in Bb (or Ab, B, etc.)!  Just slap your capo on at the 3rd fret and play your common-tone shapes!  Try this experiment:  Play the following chord progression using the basic open Key of G shapes - C – G – Em – D.  Try playing the same progression substituting the common-tone shapes.  Now put your capo at the 3rd fret and play those same shapes.  You’re playing C – G – Em – D shapes, but sounding Eb – Bb – Gm – F.  I’m betting both you and your students will love the sound of the common-tone chords and find the concept very, very useful, especially when transposing.  When first learning this concept, it may help to write your transposed chord shapes over the existing chord names in your chart.  After a while, you’ll begin to recognize them and you’ll no longer need to write them in…you’ll be able to transpose in your head! In my next post, I’ll expand this concept to include some inversions. Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Group Guitar Class

July 27th, 2014 by

Group Lessons, Part 2 of 3

By Robin Steinweg

Guitar-group of kids

My waiting list had grown, especially with prospective guitar students. What to do? I multiplied my time this summer teaching an 8-week group guitar class (read about my 8-week vocal group here: http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/group-lessons/).

Part 2: Group Guitar Class

I’ve seen great success with group guitar classes in the past—this was no exception. Here’s how I went about it. You may have excellent ideas, too. We’d love to read about them, if you’d share them below!

*How many in a group? Six students signed up. I’ve had as few as three and as many as thirteen. I’ve been in larger groups myself, so I’d go up as high as twenty. The toughest part of that is tuning. I have them come early for that.

*What ages? Ten to adult. This group had three children (10+) and three adults. Though I enjoy groups of similar ages, I think the ones with adults and kids together are the most fun. The generations encourage and enrich one another, and the adults tend to remove the need-to-be-cool factor. We can get silly or serious. It makes the youngsters more open to songs of a variety of genres and decades.

*How long are classes? I aimed for forty-five minutes, but we usually ended up going over.

*Materials used? This class was for absolute beginners. I came up with my own instructional materials and compiled appropriate songs, which has given me complete freedom to tweak as I go for the particular group. I also have future group guitar class materials for advanced beginners, intermediate, advanced intermediate, and advanced. I’ve often had students stay with me through all five groups, and then enroll in private lessons.

I present most songs as chord/lyric sheets. I decorate with copyright-free clipart.

Each student must have an acoustic guitar to play. No electrics—I don’t like to mess with cords and amps in a group. I’d get hoarse talking over them!

guitars on stands

*Where to hold the class? I’ve taught in my home studio, in my living room, and at two different churches in town, depending on the size of the classes. They all work well.

*Is a group an advantage or a hindrance? Read more…

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Posted in Financial Business, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

How musical is ‘unmusical’ Man?

Can ‘unmusical’ people become musical? What, if anything, can we as educators do to teach the apparently ‘tone deaf’ person to sing in tune and successfully with others?

blindfold peopleIn Part I of the series, I talked a bit about the paradox of ‘unmusicality’. If, as many people believe, music-making is somehow intrinsic to humans as a species, how can some people be apparently ‘unmusical’? For some singers, out-of-tune singing can usually be fixed with improved technique, but for others, the lack of development in their musical awareness and understanding can seem to be much more profound, even potentially neurological in origin. These people do encourage us to think again – and think deeply – about the anthropologist John Blacking’s famous question: ‘How musical is man?’

In Part II, I looked at a few of the types of ‘unmusicality’ demonstrated by community choral singers that I have come across in my work as a choral clinician and singing teacher. The idea there was to tease apart the types of ‘less musical’ singers I have worked with to see how they differ, and where their strengths and weaknesses typically lie.

I grouped my singers into three categories based on their musical responses: Generalists (those whose singing lacks pitch reference); Skiers (those who sing across the correct pitch areas, or in the right direction, but who do not usually sing discrete notes); and Talkers (those who sing well in their speaking range, but become Generalists or Skiers in other parts of their voice.) In my work with these singers over time, I have found that they also typically demonstrate one or all of the following three qualities:

1. They report not hearing the details in music

2. They are not comfortable with the sound of their voice

3. Their lack of melodic awareness occurs only in ‘musical’ settings, i.e. their speech (which includes many ‘musical’ elements, such as tone and melody) is normal.

The first two qualities in this list suggest that there is a disjunction between perception (whether neurological or psychological) and response. The second item in this list is explained by the other two.


Teaching unmusicality
uuclinic-4In this post, which is the final post in my series, I’m going to talk a bit about how I have worked with these students in my own workshops and teaching studio.

As I’ve said before, I’m not at all an expert in this field – I’m just speaking as a musician and music teacher who is very interested in what music is, and how working with people who aspire to make music can be hugely revealing about the origins of music, both as cultural phenomenon and as a psycho-physical human response.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll separate my discussion by my three (imperfect, but I hope, useful) categories of ‘unmusical’ singer. In actual fact there are many ways in which the musical responses of these types of singer overlap, but for now I’ll separate them.

I’ll look forward to any other categories any of you may like to add in the comments section, below!


The Generalists

In my work with Generalists, I’ve noticed that their responses to musical stimuli tend to be predominantly bodily, by which I mean they tend to flex major muscle groups, rather than their actual vocal instrument, when reacting to a musical sound. All singers do this to a certain extent, of course; they sway, frown, flex their arms, and stand on their toes as part of their visualization of their musical material, and learning to control these responses is of course an important part of professional training. But the Generalists go further than this, and in what to me are interesting ways.

Singing with the body Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Oh my God!

© Olga Vasilkova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As you glance over at Kyle, you are surprised to see tears brimming over. Where did those come from? He is just so sensitive! Some students seem to take corrective comments in stride, but others melt with the slightest suggestion for improvement. Kyle melts…

There can be multiple reasons for a student to not respond well to correction. Each of these reasons would suggest a different approach for resolution.

  • fear of failure
  • low self-esteem
  • perfectionist attitude
  • frustration with themselves
  • not meeting their own expectations
  • lack of understanding of the problem
  • have a hard time trying new things
  • feel they are not able to please you
  • bad day at school
  • hit their emotional limit for the day
  • low stress tolerance
  • fight with parent or sibling in the car on the way to the lesson
  • feel out of control
  • not doing music lessons for themselves, but out of coercion
  • not used to being corrected
  • not used to working hard for something
  • do not respect you as a teacher
  • loyalty to a previous teacher

Questions you might ask yourself as the teacher:

  • Have I properly prepared the student to play this piece?
  • Is this piece too challenging for this student’s emotional reserves?
  • Does the student know what I am asking for and how to achieve it?
  • Does the student have the technical skills to do what I am asking?
  • Was I clear in my instructions?
  • Have I broken the skill down into small enough pieces?
  • Is the tempo too fast?
  • Is the fingering wrong?
  • Have I already pushed too hard for this session and it’s time to back off?
  • Have I given enough positive feedback to balance the negative?
  • Is it time for a break or time for a new piece?
  • What is my best guess as to what is behind this melt-down? (see list above)

Many times we can slip into a pattern of ‘the student plays and then the teacher makes corrections.’ This can be an uninspired approach if it is not a process of joint discovery and stretching for the next level. There are many creative ways to involve the student mentally and emotionally to get past a road block. One approach is to praise what you honestly can, and then, instead of immediate correction, try one or more of the following: Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

"Circuit Training" Music LessonsThey’re not all the same but every now and again you meet a teenager determined to fit the stereotype. With so much hair over their face you’re not actually sure what they look like, their shoulders are dropped so low their hands are practically touching the floor and all questions are met with an obligatory “dunno” response (if you’re lucky)!

Were we ever like that? I’m sure many of today’s finest musicians had their moments as teenagers and I would like to just say that many of the teenagers I’ve taught have been highly “switched on” and motivated. But how can we inspire even the most apathetic student?

Enter something I’ve been trying out I call “Music Lesson Circuit Training!”

Now I need at this point to warn you that Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips


Michael Kaeshammer

We all know that stickers, charts, music money, trophies, and competitions may motivate students to progress but these “tactics” are just that, extrinsic motivators to get your students to do what YOU want.

However, why not find more ways to trigger intrinsic motivation so that your students achieve and move forward just because THEY want to.

Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone do something that I want to do. With the availability of videos on YouTube, it’s easy to see and experience others excel and having fun making music. When viewing  videos on YouTube, each one usually inspires me in some way. It dawned on me that the same videos could have a monumental impact on my students. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Teaching Tips

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-young-boy-girl-fighting-image17751175In my last post, I promised that I would share a story about 2 students that challenged my perceptions about teaching young kids how to play guitar.  If you didn’t catch my first post, you can read it here.

I agreed to teach two siblings as beginning guitar students.  Brother is younger than Sister.  The two of them are complete guitar greenhorns.  Mom wants to “expose” them to music.  I’ll call them Manny and Madeline. (Not their real names.)  Keeping the sibling rivalry stoked, Madeline likes to point out her little brother’s short comings and often punctuates her observations with well-placed kicks to Manny’s shin.  The first time this happened, I didn’t even see it and I was sitting right in front of them.  There’s no wind-up to the kick; it’s more like one of those reflex reactions.  Brother says something, sister replies and boom!  It’s gotta hurt – she plays soccer.  She knows how to kick.  I seriously pondered the thought of suggesting to Manny that he bring a pair of shin guards to their lesson.  When I set up their chairs, I make sure Manny is well out of the reach of Madeline’s leg.

Mom says she is just trying to give them some exposure to something other than sports.  Dad, a self-described sports enthusiast, likes to make Manny and Madeline compete in everything they do.  This might explain why tuning guitars at the beginning of the lesson tends to turn into a grudge match.  Never thought I’d see two kids engage in guitar tuning trash talk!

At the first few lessons it took at least 10  to 15 minutes just to tune the guitars and get focused on playing one string or one note.  “Hey kids!  Let’s play the high E string together.”  Manny says, “E string?!  What if it was an E-I-E-I-O stwing?  (Oh, brother.)

As the teacher, I felt a lot of pressure to try to accomplish something at each lesson.  I mean after all, Mom and Dad are paying good money for me to teach their kids how to play.  What a challenge!    I can’t get either one of them to play a even a one-fingered chord!  And of course, both Manny and Madeline can’t wait for the lesson to be done.  (Clock-watchers!)  Frustration can easily set in.

Then one day, I had an epiphany!  Turn the lesson into a game!  (Some of you right now are saying, “Duh!”)  The very next lesson, I created a game called Crack the Code!  I wrote the following fret numbers on the whiteboard and offered a prize to the first one who could crack the code!

0 – 0 – 7 – 7 – 9 – 9 -7

5 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 2 – 2 – 0

7 – 7 – 5 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 2

7 – 7 – 5 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 2

0 – 0 – 7 – 7 – 9 – 9 -7

5 – 5 – 4 – 4 – 2 – 2 – 0

Their competitive instincts took over and the contest was on!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  These two siblings, who prior to this couldn’t tune their guitars or play a one- fingered chord or even fret a single note, were suddenly playing a song!  Manny said, “Hey!  I know that song!  It’s Old MacDonald!”  ;-)

Over the weeks, I began to loosen up a little and have some fun with these two.  I tried to find kid friendly resources to help make learning guitar fun and it’s been working.  (Read more about the resources I use here.)  At their most recent lesson, Manny said to me, “Mr. Shelby, I had a dream today that I want to come true.”  I said, “Oh yeah, what’s that?”  Manny replied, “I dreamed that my guitar lesson would last 2 hours!”  I think these kids are teaching me a thing or two!

More posts by Pat Shelby:

I Don’t Teach Guitar To Kids (Part 1)

Why I Use Music Teacher’s Helper

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Posted in Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Group Lessons

June 28th, 2014 by

By Robin Steinweg

Singing group of girls   When that waiting list grows out of proportion, how do you multiply your time? With group lessons!

Part I: Vocal Group Lessons

To multiply my time this summer, I’m conducting two 8-week group classes. I’ll write about the other (a group guitar class) next month.

Normally I’d advertise. But due to circumstances, I emailed  my present students and posted a note on facebook. Word-of-mouth proved sufficient, and I have enough students for a pleasant group.

A great thing about group lessons is that I can charge a lower tuition fee per student, but still earn a good deal more money per hour. Also, my time of preparation is once for all the students in the class. This tends to create more of a buzz about my studio, too.

Here’s how I’ve gone about it—you may have wonderful ideas of your own—please share them in the comments below!

*This group is for 8-12-year-old girls. Classes are 45 minutes long. If they are successful, I will try to offer a follow-up 6-8 weeks this fall.

*To help them get to know each other, I had them share birthdates, family, nicknames, pets, hobbies, musical experiences—they had fun with it. I wrote a curriculum with lots of flexibility in it until I could get to know their strengths/areas of growth.

*I found and created warm-ups. Physical movement (asked them to reach up as if for something on a high shelf that they want badly (a sugar glider, an American doll…), easy descending patterns, pulses, vowel formation, diction, ear training… done with as much humor as I can. Tongue twisters come in handy. Whining like a puppy and meowing like a cat on different pitches turned out to be surprisingly effective warm-ups!

Girls sing 3 parts

*Familiar songs in appropriate keys followed. I played just the melody and listened for who can match pitches and how much confidence they might have, and I began to get clues as to their vocal ranges. From this I can plan the rest of the group lessons.

*Rounds—I had nearly forgotten the benefits of learning to sing rounds! For beginning singers, not an easy feat. Some benefits: Social—you know how kids often walk together or sit together, but are in their own worlds with their phones, texting or playing games? Rounds are a bit like that. The kids are standing in close proximity, but each concentrating on their own thing—separately but together! If you have enough students, they can divide into groups or even just two on a part. Singing rounds requires much concentration, and tuning out the other parts while focusing on their own. Ear training—singing a melody and singing harmony.

Maria von Trapp (Sound of Music—the real woman, not Julie Andrews) said that singing rounds teaches you “to mind your own business.”

Surplus benefit: since rounds are based on mathematical relationships, students are learning math concepts while singing.

You can find some CDs of rounds here: http://fun-books.com/books/lester_family_music.htm

Here’s another source for rounds: http://roundz.tripod.com/

I’ve been using The Round Book: Rounds Kids Love to Sing, by Margaret Read MacDonald and Winifred Jaeger (80 songs).

Round Book the

*In addition to rounds, I included a couple of very funny (and obscure) songs to keep them laughing. And I remind them that laughing is great for feeling where the support happens. Talk about pulses!

*Real energy occurred when I asked the girls which musicals they would love to sing something from. As each girl mentioned a musical, the others exclaimed how they love that one too. Contagious. I promised them at least one piece they all love. They can hardly wait for the next group lesson. Win!

Even though the group represents abilities from not being able to match pitches to start with, all the way to one girl who does so unconsciously and has sung in public for years, they are working together, being challenged to progress, learning note-reading, intervals, solfege, blending, listening, focusing, and cooperating. In just a few weeks their improvement has impressed me.

This is the first time I’ve taught more than one vocal student at once. I’m liking the way I can multiply my time with group lessons!

singing children

I’ll share about the mixed-gender-mixed-age group guitar class on July 27th.







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Posted in Financial Business, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

Anna at CSU Outdoor PianoHere are some ideas to move your studio forward this summer:

Hold a sight-reading challenge. Set out good sight-reading books from your library for students to choose from each week. Give out prizes at the end of summer for reading a certain number of pages.

Host a summer camp. You could hold your camp one day a week for a month, or four to five days in one week. It could be to attract new students, or a fun intensive for current students. I like “Way Cool Keyboarding” books by Musical Moments for great ensemble playing with beginners.

Attend a concert and invite your students. Give your students “points” in the fall for each concert they attend over the summer. Email notices of upcoming events in your area, especially free events for kids. There will be a free “Peter and the Wolf” performance in my local park in a few weeks, so I sent a flier out to all my families.

Get out all the fun music. Take a break from your regular repertoire and find something different and exciting to learn this summer.

Prepare for fall competitions. This is the time to polish up pieces that need to be ready to go in October or November. For ideas, see my blog on “Preparing for an Event or Competition.”

Organize your music and files. Check for overdue borrowed books. Label and file new music. Enter new music into your Music Teacher’s Helper library. I use cardboard magazine boxes on my bookshelves to organize my music into labeled categories, so that I can find books quickly.

Order a new computer or iPad game.  Learn to use it yourself this summer so you can use it in your media lab this fall. Check out “The iPad Piano Studio” by Leila Viss.

Attend a workshop or seminar. Local colleges or music stores often host guest artists or speakers. Consider traveling a little to immerse yourself in a blues workshop, or an improvisation seminar.

Recruit new students. This is the time of year parents are looking for a music teacher to begin lessons in the fall. Make sure you are on top of your marketing strategies. For marketing ideas check out my blog on “How Do You Attract New Students?”

Try out Music Teacher’s Helper. If you don’t already use this fabulous tool, summer would be a great time to learn all it can do for your studio and your sanity!

Plan your studio budget. I swear I only make $.03 per hour after you take into consideration all the time I spend outside of lessons, and the number of “toys” it takes to keep me having fun teaching. But seriously, summer is a great time to plan for the money aspect of the next school year. List your projected expenses, and then calculate how many students you need, and what you need to charge for lessons this coming year.

Think through individual student needs. Summer is a great time to ponder each student, make a list of their personal strengths and weaknesses, and how you can best move them forward.

Decide on your “theme” for the coming year. My students are on a mission to find out what our theme will be for next year! Read my blog on “Themes Add Focus to Your Teaching” for more about how this can enhance your school year.

Look into Michelle Sisler’s games and motivational tools. Michelle is so creative! Every year she comes out with more and better ideas. Check them out at http://keystoimagination.com.

Get your instrument tuned and repaired. If you have been putting off this task, now is the time to get everything in tip top condition.

Learn new music. You could read through new music for ideas for your students, or brush up on some higher level pieces you will be assigning. You could also spend more time on your own musical repertoire.

Read a book. I am enjoying the book “Make it Stick” by Peter C. Brown, recommended on this blog site. If you can’t attend a seminar, a book is an inexpensive way to update and expand your thinking on a particular subject.

Get healthy. I’m serious. It is the only way you are going to live through next winter and withstand all the germs that are going to be traveling through your studio. Summer is a great time to make changes in your health habits.

Rest and refresh your spirit. Summer is a great time to take time for you! Do something you love but never get time for. Get outdoors, take a mini vacation, enjoy your kids and family, or just sit and enjoy the beautiful sunshine and be grateful for all you have been given.

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Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Yiyi Ku

New Piano Music

June 22nd, 2014 by

Dear Teachers,

I hope this post finds you well and you are either enjoying a well deserved summer break, or will be having one soon!

Most private music teachers have a lighter teaching schedule during the summer months. This is a perfect time to research new teaching materials for the next semester.

In my last blog, I talked about offering different “tracks” of programs in my studio for the next school year. Here are the descriptions of the four tracks:

1. Fun Track – for students that want to keep piano in their lives but can not commit to regular practice.
2. Recital Track – for students that want steady progress and opportunities to perform in recitals and non-adjudicated events.
3. Festival Track – for students that want to participate in adjudicated music festivals and exams.
4. Competition Track – for students that are interested in competitions and higher level music examinations.

I believe in selecting appropriate supplementary music for the different tracks. For example, students in the Fun Track are more likely to practice if they are given familiar tunes to play, while students in the Festival or Competition Track need to focus on the classics and good quality original music.

Here are some new resources I will be using:



1. Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections – by Carol Matz


I gave a detailed review of this series in my previous post “National Piano Guild Auditions Part 2.”

I am very pleased to find that two new levels are now available – Book 4 (Early Intermediate) and Book 5 (Intermediate). These are exactly what the title says – Famous and Fun, and are just perfect for my Fun Track students. The list of songs included in each book is enticing, there is something for both girls and boys, a variety of styles are included (Pop, Classics, Favorites, Rock, and Duets), and what has impressed me the most is the quality of the arrangements.

These do not sound juvenile. These are sophisticated-sounding arrangements, yet are technically very accessible for the designated levels. Students in the Fun Track want to play tunes they know – Star Wars, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Beauty and the Beast, Over the Rainbow. They want to play tunes everyone knows – America the Beautiful, Greensleeves, The Star-Spangled Banner. They may not have the techniques required to play the classics in their original form, but they will learn simplified versions – Pachelbel’s Canon, Debussy’s Claire de lune. They want to impress their Friends – Hey There Delilah, Don’t Stop Believing. Lastly, they want to have fun making music with others – duet versions of The Pink Panther and James Bond.

Read more…

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Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips