Finding the perfect words to express what you mean and make the concept understandable to young students can be a challenge. When we finally figure out how to express our ideas, we tend to repeat these phrases over and over again.

I have been enhancing my students perfomances with dynamics (p, mp, mf, f) for many years.  I have accomplished this with two strategies:

1) Define Terms – I teach students to pronounce the terms and defined them.

1) Demonstrate – I play examples and explain the terms. Mezzo Forte (mf) is easy. You don’t need to work hard to play soft or to play loud. Mezzo Piano (mp) and Forte (f) are more challenging because they require extra effort. Piano (p) requires the most effort.

Nothing special here. It has worked well enough, but it was difficult to achieve artistry-level performances with grade school students… until now.

For the past 5-6 years I’ve been taking art lessons, and decided to see if a connection between art and music might help my music students play their music in a much more expressive way.

I introduced value.

Value refers to the visible lightness or darkness of a color, and is one of the most important design elements in a work of art.

So, how does this relate to music?

The following chart shows the four most common dynamic levels and assigns a value to each of them.


I found that drawing a box above a section of the music, and shading it with the appropriate value, gave students a visual indication of how loud or soft the phrase should be played. A light turned on for my students and it transformed their performances.

In some instances, you might draw a box above a four measure phrase and that will be enough. Other pieces are so well written, and your students so capable, that you might want to dig a little deeper -adding value boxes above individual notes.





You’d like to think that you can hand a piano book to your child and their life would be forever enriched from the experience you’ve just provided them.


The truth is the day you sign up for piano lessons is that day the student, mom, and dad get committed to practicing. It’s the only way it really works. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, here are a few ideas to get you pointed in the right direction.

1) Ask Questions – Ask your teacher what your child should be doing that week at the end of every lesson. Ask for a demonstration if you don’t understand. Maybe even sit at the piano yourself and try things out.

2) Set a Practice Goal – I like to ask students to practice 20 minutes a day for 5 day each week. Some days get busy, so every day might not be realistic. Five days a week should be.

3) Flash Cards – Help drill note names and rhythms with flash cards. Not knowing the note names and rhythms can be the most challanging part of playing the piano in the beginning.

4) Suppliment – Look for great pieces to suppliment your child’s music book. This can often stimulate an interest in practicing.

5) Praise – Let your kids know how much you enjoy it when they play the piano. A little praise goes a long way!

Getting what we teach to stick is what we hope for. Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to make it stick. The following ideas may help you focus on what you really want your students to remember, and how you can help them the most.

1) The Main Thing
Students want to know what the main thing you want them to remember is. Their brains are even wired this way, storing the “main thing” and deleting the rest. (If you’ve seen the Disney movie, “Inside Out,” they illustrate this beautifully with memories that look like marbles and employees who are responsible for deleting the memories no longer needed.) The best thing you can do for your students is to decide what you really want them to know and repeat it often.

My main thing is “practice slowly.” I often ask students, Do you ever get better by playing it wrong?” Sometimes, after they’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row I’ll ask them, “ Now that you’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row, what are you good at?” With a smile on their face, they’ll say, “Playing it wrong.” Getting kids to play slowly is a hard sell, but if you say it enough times, some of them will begin to practice that way – or at least believe that you believe it’s the best way. :o)

2) Be Predictable, But Not Boring
Kids love routines. When things are predictable, stress on the brain is reduced and combined with a routine of repeating your “main thing,” your students encode information faster. Just don’t forget to mix it up a little bit to make things interesting.

My students typically begin their lesson at the piano. In the last few minutes, we often experience something new. Sometimes it’s a theory game. Sometimes it’s a lesson about a composer. Recently I ended a lesson by making a video for dad, because he wasn’t there to see his daughter’s wonderful performance of Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid.

What’s your main thing? I’d love to hear about it.


There are so many ways to teach kids to read music. Some teachers believe mnemonics is the way to go, while others support the tried-and-true flash card method.

I think Trevor from said it best when he wrote:

The truth is… everyone is right and everyone is wrong.

Kids learn differently. What works for one child, doesn’t work best for another.

Check out their awesome full post – 5 Ways To Recognize One Note – How To Read Notes On The Staff – at



Browse other “The Piano Student” music theory posts:

Flash Frog™ | Free Printable Music Flashcards for Beginners
Free Music Memory Game | Treble Clef Note Names
Pirate Quest | Basic Music Terms Game (Free, Printable)
Music for Little Mozarts | iPad App Review
Carnegie Hall Park (Matchbox Parking) | Music Theory Board Game



I’m often confronted with pieces that require students to perform pieces with staccato in one hand and a sustained note in the other hand.

The following arrangement of Bach’s Mussette is one of the early instances of this challenge. At first glace the piece is simple and easy to play. On second look the staccato/sustained value texture that can really hang students up, and perhaps cause some teachers concern as to how to proceed.

Musette (Bach) for Easy Piano Solo | Free Sheet Music


Here’s my trick…

First Step

Ask students to start with a simple challenge. Strike the “G” (sustained note) at the same time as the first stacatto “C” in the left hand. Hold the “G”, while quickly releasing the stacatto “C”.  Don’t go any further. It might take a few tries, but they’ll get it.

Second Step

Play the first two beats of the measure. Hold the half note “G” while playing the first two staccato notes – “C” and “G” – in the left hand. Ask your students to master this before adding more notes. This step will likely be learned faster than the first step.

Step Three

Try playing the first two measures of the piece. It might be messy at first, but if your student was diligent about mastering the first two steps before moving on they will be well on their way to mastering this piece – textural challenge included.



by Jennifer Foxx


Students need creative opportunities to flourish in their music studies. Here are just 3 simple ways you can get started in sparking creativity with your students.

Improvise and/or Compose – I will confess that occasionally there will be some students who will groan when told we are going to be composing that day. Why do you think that is? It’s usually because

they are not confident in those skills. To help with creative confidence, start with improvising. Give them an easy “no fail” base line to work with so no matter what they do it will sound awesome. Black key improv patterns works very well for this! Then gradually work over to composition.

This year in my piano studio, I have created “Creative Story Compositions** where students are combining two skills: Story writing and music composition. Even some of my more stubborn creators are enjoying this process. I have them do a page each month to gradually build their complete story composition. Giving them smaller guidelines to work with has really helped and I have enjoyed seeing their creative process in work.

Play Games – Games are a fun way to encourage creativity. Whether it is an app, a puzzle or something a student makes up; games have a way of igniting their brains, shaping them towards the creative thinking process. The best games that encourage creativity are games without “rules” where there isn’t necessarily a winner/loser but a tool that simply encourages creativity.

Make it Part of the Learning Process – One of my favorite things I like my
students to do over the summer is a practice prop project. A practice prop project is simply something that students create that represents their practicing. The great thing about these projects, besides encouraging practicing, is that they are creating something. I’ve had students create theory games, write compositions, art projects, computer animations and much more. I’m always amazed at the projects that students come up with. Alone, the projects are pretty neat, but then you add the element of practice that was represented behind them and it makes it even cooler; all of the sudden that project means more to them. It represents hard work, dedication and most of all creativity.

Creativity + Engagement = Positive results! So make time for creativity with your students. Light that SPARK! It’s in them ready to come out!

Jennifer Foxx

Doing to same thing all the time can get a bit boring, so it’s no wonder kids whine about practicing. If you’d like to freshen things up here are a few ideas.

1) Head to the Park. Playing outside with the wind blowing and the ducks swimming in the lake might be a fun way to mix things up. Your kids may just get a few complements that will encourage them to continue striving to grow as a musician.

2) Make a Video. Let’s your kids know that you will be making a video at the end of the week to send to their grandparents. You’ll likely get seven devoted days of practice from them out their desire to share their talents with grandpa and grandma.

3) Elf on the Shelf. If you’re one of those parents that can’t wait to pull Elf on the Shelf out of the box again this year, try putting this little guy on practice monitoring duty too. Whatever room he winds up in will be the room they practice in during the month of December. Set the music stand and chair right in front of Elf on the Shelf and ask your kids to try their best for 20 minutes.

4) Practice from the End. My band director in high school started at the end of a piece and worked backwards one day. I’ve always remembered that lesson, and often work on music in this way with my students. Work out the last two measures, then the last four, etc, until the whole piece sounds as good as the first eight measures.

5) Play Simon. I recently had a few of my students play Simon during there lesson. (One of my students made it though 25 rounds. Wow!) It teaches a valuable practicing technique. Pick a very achievable goal, and gradually increase the challenge with each repetition. Pick two notes to start. Then add a note and play it again. Add another note and play it again. Before they know it, 5-10 minutes will have gone by and they will have repeat that section many more times than they ever would have in a traditional practice session – and they’ll know that section of the music very well.


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