Kerri Green

To Mark or Not to Mark

August 31st, 2014 by

Marked Score

A few months ago, I joined a few piano teachers’ groups on Facebook. They have been a great source of teaching inspiration and have reminded me how many differences there are within our ranks as music teachers, even with teachers of great experience. A recent discussion has again sparked my interest in that basic teaching tool: the score and how we mark it to help our students succeed.

A score from a transfer student was posted: every fingering was marked as well as numerous note names. The score was cluttered with many section numbers, reminders and colors. The teacher sharing the score said that she prefers a cleaner score, with a student translating the necessary information from that mostly clean score, then asked the opinion of the group.

Here are some of the varying practices of the group:

1. Pencil only so they can erase scores before they send their students to an adjudication or competition.

2. Colored pencils or pens with a different color each week so it is clear what details were covered in the most recent lesson. Most of these teachers also advocate copying music before beginning study on it so that the copy is the one covered in color and the original score remains clean for judging purposes.

3. Eraseable colored pens so that both purposes of 1 and 2 can be achieved (i.e., colored to make notes more evident, but erasable for later so the score isn’t as cluttered.)

4. Different types of office supplies to help keep the score clean: Post-It tape so that the notes are removed when the problem areas are addressed, highlighter tape for the same thing with more impact,  removable red dots for specific problem areas.

5. Students mark important details themselves, often before study begins.

6. Important fingerings marked, as well as articulation, dynamics, phrasing indications, chord symbols, section numbers.

7. No teacher approved of every finger number marked in a score. The only note names that were agreed to be acceptable to be marked are notes that are continually missed or tricky ledger line notes. (I will admit that when I had an assigned amount of organ practice to do in college along with my piano practice, and when there were no organs available, I often sat in the hall and wrote every single fingering and pedaling into my score to count it as practicing. That was my almost-one-and-only stint of fingering every note, but I found it helpful enough that I tried applying the principle to the Bach Partita I was learning on piano and loved the exactness I felt as I worked through each measure so carefully.)

8. Something important to note for teachers of students entering festivals or competitions: none of us as adjudicators preferred a marked score from students. The rule should be clean copies only for judges, unless you would like the judges to immediately zero in on the offensive sections and be looking for the problem during performance.

I was interested that so many of the teachers in the pencil-only camp were quite passionate about their dislike for cluttered scores. As a student of many teachers who marked my scores with colored abandon, I must admit to a certain affection for those teachers and those lessons when I return to my multi-colored pages from years past (the picture at the beginning of this post is one page from college.) I never imagined that so many people would consider these rainbowed scores to be inconsiderate or offensive! Many teachers in the group mentioned a similar affection for their scores from previous study, especially when marked with effective fingering and inspired instructions. I now have more respect for the other viewpoint as well, but I think I am set in my bright and colorful ways.

What are your score marking principles? What are your students responsible for marking? (Mine are supposed to mark section numbers, important fingerings, and in a perfect world, chord symbols.) What are your most common markings? (Mine are a phrase tapering mark, fingering, chord symbols, and articulation. And lots of rainbow circles around dynamics, etc.)

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Posted in Teaching Tips

Last month in Part 1, I explained how learning just 4 chord shapes that shared common tones, and using a capo could get your students up and running and able to play lots of songs in multiple keys.  I promised to expand the concept to include a few more chords.  So let’s get started!

In Part 1, I used the basic open position chords for G, C, D, and Em – the 1, 4, 5, and 6m chords.  Let’s expand that now to include all the degrees of the major scale.  The root note of each chord below, in the “basic chords” diagram, represents each degree of the major scale.  The result is a “chord scale.”  Just like you can assign a number to the degree in the scale, you can assign a number to the degrees in the chord scale.  If you play through the chords in order from 1 through 8, you’ll hear the major scale – the root notes ARE the scale!  A quick aside here, I highly recommend teaching the chord shape I use for the 5/7 chord, D/F#.  There’s a huge pay-off in terms of future learning a super-valuable, movable chord shape.  More on that in a future post.

G major scale and degree

Basic Chords - Chord Scale

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

updatesWe are pleased to announce the new features and fixes in August:

  • The new and improved iOS app is being released in a few days. Watch for our email when the new app is released.
  • Blog categories can now be filtered.
  • Added the ability to copy and repeat existing events to another date.
  • Made registration form fields optional (teacher can select required fields.
  • Updated alignment on PDF invoice details section.
  • Updated the No-Reply tag on emails.

We  will be releasing a new Android app within the next several months.

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Posted in New Features and Fixes, Site Announcements


(Part 2 of 3)   

By Robin Steinweg   guitars on stands

The past two months I’ve shared some of the advantages of offering group classes. The first, June 27, covered Group Lessons, specifically a group voice class. July 27 featured Part 1 of Group Guitar.

Here’s an outline of what I cover in this eight-week beginner class.

I record the songs from each class, and email them as MP3s to the students.

Digital recorder, Tascam DR5  Digital Recorder

I record them at tempo so they can listen and learn the songs.

Then I follow up with a slow version which includes pauses before each chord change.


Week 1

-parts of the guitar (for both classical and steel string; I used pictures)

-finger numbers

-basics of tuning

-the all-important How to Read a Chord Chart

-how to strum (basic downstroke)

-easy versions of the C and G7 chords. Also complete fingerings of these.


Their first song requires only one chord: “Frere Jacques” (“Are You Sleeping?”)

-hints for a clear sound

-another one-chord song and then a couple of two-chord songs

-a strum in 2/4 time

0731184137  (Gavin’s got it down!)

Note that in the early classes I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible.


Week 2  Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Financial Business, Music Theory, Practicing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

Mr. Arpeggio Book

Student workbook and assignment book to coordinate with game board.

It is so exciting to start a new school year. I usually take August off to give myself time to get ready for a new direction in the fall. In my never-ending attempt to keep kids engaged in the study of piano and music, I create a different theme and activity set each year. This year my theme is World Music, and I’d like to share with you how I have put this to work.


Game pieces to move around the board; little superheros.

Mr. Arpeggio Map

Game board. Students move a space for each day of practice.

As the basis for my activities I chose to use an assignment book and game board from Keys to Imagination, created by Michelle Sisler. ( There are several themes available, and I am using “Where in the World is Mr. Arpeggio” to coordinate with my world music theme. Each student gets a
workbook that includes assignment pages, along with activity pages at the beginning of the book which correlate with the game board. I purchase these books for the students out of their fall deposit money. A vinyl game board is pinned to my bulletin board and games pieces depicting superheros are added. The game board depicts a map of the world with a trail for students to follow as they track down clue cards to find Mr. Arpeggio, who has been stealing musical symbols. The clue cards also include interesting history and composer facts. Students progress on the board according to the number of days they have practiced the previous week.

In order to add a competitive element to the game, I also hung an even larger world map (under $15 at Hobby Lobby) on another wall and marked out a route for the students to race around the world.  Students will choose a cute paper luggage tag on which to put their name, and then move the tag along the route as they accumulate points. In order to get on the map they need 15 points to get to Denver International Airport. From there they work their way to New York City, on to Paris, then Shanghai, and eventually end up in Los Angeles. Their prize reward increases at each destination. They will earn points by collecting the previously-mentioned clue cards, bringing their books, playing their scales cleanly, writing compositions, completing theory pages, playing at recitals, and other activities and goals.

large world map

Large map I added to have a race around the world.

During weekly media lab time I will add in world music activities on the computer. I may also use some of Keys to Imagination’s “Are We There Yet” studio series. This curriculum provides many activities related to studying world music. I will incorporate the world music theme into my group lesson activities and any special concerts or field trips we attend this year.

Are we there yet

Multicultural activities for group lessons and media lab time.

Media ceiling view

Media room decorations.

Students will also be choosing a piano piece to study from a foreign country. I usually have a theme-specific recital sometime during the winter so the students can share these pieces with family and friends. I’ll encourage them to write a report about the country and/or the composer and maybe share some of those facts before they play.

ceiling flag strip

This long banner ties it all together.

To set the mood, I ordered very inexpensive decorations from in the world theme—lots of flags! I may leave these up all year, or move some of them around from time to time. I have little cards to send out before lessons begin letting students know about the “world wide search” and how I need their help to find the thieving Mr. Arpeggio!

I’d love to hear from other teachers who use a theme each year for motivation!



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Posted in Financial Business, Music History & Facts, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

It is that time of the year again – back to school craziness!

photo-2This is a great time to order new music for your music studio, as most publishers have back-to-school promotions. Aside from my favorite methods and teaching staples, I also like to check out what is new and expand my studio library.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I will be offering four learning tracks in my piano studio this year: Fun Track, Recital Track, Festival Track and Competition Track. In this post, I would like to share some of the music I will be using for my Festival Track students.

In all my years of teaching, I have always believed in the value of music festivals. While not every student is suited to the stress and extreme demands of music competitions, I think music festivals offer a nice alternative for most students. There are many kinds of music festivals. The ones I am talking about are those where students are given an opportunity to perform one or more memorized pieces before adjudicators in a non-competitive setting, with or without an audience. The key word here is non-competitive. Instead of selecting only one first-prize winner, everyone has a chance to earn a Superior rating, or Gold Medal, or whatever the award is to recognize a job well done. In music festivals, age and level do not matter, older beginners can play elementary pieces and still receive the highest recognition, provided the job is well done. Some music festivals have repertoire requirements, for example a Sonatina Festival where everyone has to play one movement from a Sonatina. But my favorite music festival is one that allows students and their teachers the freedom to choose and play “anything.” My local music teachers association offers one such festival!

When choosing music for my Festival Track students for music festival adjudication and performance, I have the following criteria:

1. The music must inspire practice – it is readily appealing.
2. The music must challenge the student in some way – rhythm, hand crossing, specific pianistic figurations such as extended arpeggios, etc.
3. The music must not be overly difficult from beginning to end – there can be sections that challenge the student’s current technical abilities, but there must also be sections where the student can feel enthusiastic about their progress.

The following fits the bill nicely.

Piano Extravaganza by Robert D. Vandall

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Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Around the dinner table we had a conversation about music teachers.  Here’s a sampling of what people regarded as their best teachers.

One person remarked that he was never prepared for lessons with his first violin teacher, and was often afraid to go his lesson.  And yet once he was there, his teacher was always friendly, always engaging, and he left feeling happy to have been there, and determined to do better (which he oftinstruments camp 024en did not, because next time he was again unprepared!).  This musician is now quite well known in his style, tours constantly, and runs several music camps focused on encouraging students to express themselves through music.

Another person at the table plays violin but noted that two of her favorite teachers had been piano teachers.  One was a lot like the teacher we just discussed:  any time the student came to a lesson, the teacher took her from where she was, gave her lots to try during and after the lesson, and left her feeling energized, and never guilty about not having practiced enough.  Another of her favorite teachers used to Read more…

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Posted in Teaching Tips

By Guest Blogger, Donna Schwartz.

Last time, I gave you 2 simple tricks to read music notes. In many school districts, teachers are pressured into putting on concerts right away, and are told by administrators that the students have to read music right away.  This goes totally against how we learn music, which is by using our ears to listen and our bodies to feel rhythms.

There are many systems that teachers use to count rhythms, with the most popular being the number counting of beats in every measure. I was trained that way myself, but noticed quickly that some of the same syllables for certain rhythms (i.e. 8th notes) were also used to count triplets (i.e. 1 + a).  This would be confusing because triplets are felt differently than 8th notes. I somehow managed to learn how to feel the rhythms in those situations instead of relying on the counting.

The number counting system is good for determining where the beats fall in a measure, but there’s a simpler, well-researched system that is based upon rhythm function. Edwin Gordon’s system allows the student to recognize and feel the big and small beats in duple (based upon 2 small beats for every big beat) and triple (based upon 3 small beats for every big beat) meters.

Since most students are taught the number system, I will explain how this works, but I also want to compare that with Gordon’s syllables to give you a choice. Whatever works is what is best for you! Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Teaching Tips

Yiyi Ku

Did You Have a Good Summer?

August 10th, 2014 by

Inland Valley Symphony outdoor concert in Temecula

Inland Valley Symphony outdoor concert in Temecula

Today was the last day of my “summer vacation.” Starting from tomorrow, I will be back to my regular teaching schedule. I took a three week studio break from June to July, some students had lessons after that, some have been away, and I will see almost all of them back for lessons this coming week. I spent most of today organizing my teaching supplies and sorting new books for students, and wondering where did the summer go! Well, I have had a productive summer, and a recent blog by Leila Viss – Why Don’t We Collaborate? made me reflect on the various collaborative projects I have been involved with this summer.


With Dan Callaway at Temecula Pop Under the Stars



First, some of you may remember the name Dan Callaway. Dan was a blog author on Music Teachers Helper, I read many of his wonderful posts before I joined the blog team. Well, as it turned out, I met him in person this summer in an outdoor “Pop Under the Stars” concert in my town! He was one of the featured solo vocalists and I played the keyboard in the symphony orchestra. The concert was a huge success, drawing more than 2000 people. Dan was awesome and the audience loved him! As a pianist, we don’t get a lot of collaborative opportunities to perform with a large number of musicians. Unlike band instruments, we are not used to producing a “collective sound.” The experience is invaluable, and I can not recommend it highly enough!

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Although I am a professional music teacher, I like to challenge myself when using any computer program to get the most I can from it to help me with my daily tasks.  I have spent much of my early working life with computers, creating systems, writing manuals and teaching people how to use programs to get the best from them.

In a series of blogs called ‘Getting Innovative with MTH’, I am going to share some of my favourite workarounds that help me in Music Teacher’s Helper for a ‘One Stop’ approach for all my studio needs.

To Do List. Creative

To Do List

Creating a ‘To Do List’ 

I really do love the flexibility and powerful features within the MTH Calendar for scheduling all my students.

However, I also like a place to keep notes of things I still need to do, both from a personal point of view and for work related things (check dates for a new student, schedule a group session for my adult students, go to the dentist, etc).

So I have created a way which works for me.   Read more…

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Posted in Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper