Monday, December 13, 2010

"Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells....what?!"

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here how much I love Christmas and Christmas music.  I love, love, love it!  I'm one of those who will start listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day.  Gets me into the festivities RIGHT NOW.

So, imagine my excitement when I was asked to sing a mini-concert of Christmas music to a large group of Kiwanis Club members in one of the swanky athletic clubs in the Seattle area.  I had not done specifically Christmas music before, although I have been a soloist for years, but this was right up my alley.  So, I got right on it.

I called my ex-roomy, who was an excellent pianist, and we met at her house to "rehearse".  We picked a set of songs and ran through them maybe once.  After all, Christmas music -- how hard could it be?!  Easy as pie.

As I sat up on the stage in front of these several hundred people I felt confident, maybe even a bit smug.  I was going to be singing the songs that I love the most and I was going to blow them AWAY!

How wrong I was!   The second I got up to the microphone I knew there was something wrong.  Something was rising up inside of my body that I had not ever felt to that extent before.  And, my friend felt it, too.  She started playing.  Fast.  Faster than we had practiced.  And all of a sudden I realized...."I DON'T KNOW THE WORDS TO THIS SONG!"

But, I could do nothing about it.  The intro had completed and it was my turn.  My turn to sing.  My turn to wow them.  My turn to make a complete fool out of myself...

"Just hear those sleigh bells ringling, rijerjlelijlkngln-ing, too,
Come on it's sdlkjf;oasdkf for a a;sldjfa;sodjf ;laskjfdl asf with you!
Outside the asodjfaslkdmf;l and oeoirj;oasiejr asff YOO HOO!
Come on it'sapsodfijaosdifja;soidf for a poajsdf;oajsdlkfja sdd with you!"

What had come over me and taken over my voice?  What was taking over me that I couldn't make stop?!  My mind is racing as quickly as my mouth is spewing out nonsense.  "Wait!  Those aren't the words!" I am thinking to myself!  But, I didn't know what they really were, and  it only got worse:

"There's a birthday party apsodfjalmwe;lrjlj asdpofjasdofj Farmer Gray,
It will fpeoajs;eljejfoij l  sadpofiasd of a perfect day!
It will poasijdf;laskdjfl;asdkjf o o;tijasoito sf asotija;soti;oisdj

I looked at my incredulous audience.  Many had their mouths open in disbelief.  Others were adjusting their hearing aids.  Many of the faces said to me, "I can't believe I have to sit hear and listen to another 20 minutes of this!"

But, in my professional training I KNEW I had to keep going, to not quit, and to keep a smile on my face like I knew exactly what I was doing.  And finally, the song was over.

It was not the end, however, as I had 5 more songs to peform.  And the rest of them were not much better.  It only got better when I got to "O Holy Night", my closing number, which I actually DID know because it is my favorite Christmas song on the face of the earth.

My friend and I left that place holding on to each other necks both laughing and crying together as we walked out to our cars.  Several weeks later, I called to ask when we might be receiving our checks in the mail.  The agent replied, "Oh -- that was a charity gig."

Needless to say, I use this constantly as an example to my students to know their music 100% or they will end up like me.  I hope they listen.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Piano Parties - Woo hoo!

We are just heading into the Christmas season, and I can feel the excitement. My students love to play Christmas music, and for my Jewish students I offer Hanukkah music for them to play as well.

In the past, I have had a Winter Recital, which has been a great mid-season event. This is where they can play their Christmas or Hanukkah songs for the guests, as well as an additional song they have been working on. I have had up to 35 students, so instead of having one recital, I would do two on the same day, and it makes it so much more enjoyable for the listeners -- I have found that even with great music the guests get a bit restless.

However, this year I knew I would not be up to a full-fledged recital due to a recent minor surgery, so I have decided to do smaller "Piano Parties" in my home for the students to play their Christmas music. The kids LOVE these.

Piano Parties are events I have at my home the week before a recital, and are used as a "Dress Rehearsal". Parents are typically not invited -- this is for the students to perform their piece in a non-threatening environment and "work out the nerves." I show them how to walk in, enter the piano bench (if they need refreshers on this), play their piece, then exit the bench and take a bow. They also have to learn how to be good "guests". After they have performed, we embark on some fun games, and then they eat some nummy snacks – cookies/cupcakes that some of the parents might bring, and fruit drinks. The game of choice is always "Flash Card Challenge". I split the students up so they are competing against each other in two lines (two teams). The first child (in the front of the line) who names the note correctly receives the flash card and goes to the back of the line. Once all the flash cards have been "guessed", we count up the total of "points" and that team wins. (Typically the cards with ledger lines are “bonus questions.”) The winners get a small prize and get to choose from the snacks first. Piano parties typically have 8-10 kids in each party and usually run about an hour, and take the place of their lesson for the week. I have them sign up on the wonderful website that I use called "Music Teacher’s Helper."

This year, however, I will hold Piano Parties as mini "recitals". I don’t want to “jip” the parents out of hearing their children play their Christmas music, so I will hold Piano Parties next week that the parents will be invited to. They will not be long – probably 45 minutes long at the max, due to the fact that people are so busy during this season, and the kids are studying for finals, etc. I will offer three different evenings for these events, which they can register for using my Student Website at Music Teacher’s Helper. (If you are a teacher and have not checked out this website, please do so…they offer a free trial and website! It is a time saver and wonderful way to keep a calendar and do billing, etc.)

I'm so looking forward to next week and my Piano Parties!  So are my students!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's 11 ...who?, my friend, A, just bought a whole set of Tiffany-priced ornaments that depict the 12 Days of Christmas -- with one ornament for each phrase. These things are beautiful, delicate, and the DETAILS!!! With bird feathers and everything...

However, we were a bit confused with the way they came down... A and her daughter, Merideth, were convinced that they had it wrong. Here's how the set was created:

12 Pipers Piping
11 Ladies Dancing
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Drummer's Drumming
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans A Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Gold Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
1 Partidge in a Pear Tree

The confusion is in the first four... Isn't it
12 Drummer's Drumming
11 Piper's Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing

What do you think?


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great New Review of Chord Piano Is Fun!

The following is what I think is a very nice review about Chord Piano Is Fun.  She mentions the need for several more songs and more have been added since this review:


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving, Chord Songs, and Christmas

I love the start of the "season"...first Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years.  I know some people don't like it, but I like listening to Christmas music early -- which is a good thing, because I'm giving Christmas music to students early enough for them to play for family on Thanksgiving.  This is their request. And, the parents love it -- as do the kids themselves.

A wonderful way to get kids to play a lot of Christmas songs, is by teaching them to play by chord.   I've included several Christmas songs that are written with chord symbols with Chord Piano Is Fun!  This way, they can play the melody with their right hand and the chord with their left, without having to read any notes in the left hand.  I also have the students try different left hand patterns to make the Christmas songs sound even more professional, and they get so excited to be able to play 4 or 5 songs right away and learn a few more at home after getting their Christmas music "packet".   Christmas music is a great way to teach chord piano, because they are motivated to play it because they want to be able to perform it for their loved ones.

If you haven't checked out my book, please do so!  It's a great way to learn how to play your favorite Christmas carols yourself, or if you are a teacher, to teach your students!

We all have so much to be thankful for.  I thank God for the gift of music!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The JoDog Therapy

Everyone should have their own personal JoDog.  Honestly, I never really liked dogs before we got ours.  But, when I realized that when I saw a baby and I actually wanted to hold it, I realized it was time for me to get a dog (because I certainly wasn't going to have another baby, as MUCH as I love and adore my son and would go through it all over again to have him).  So, we got a beagle.

If anyone has a beagle, maybe they can relate to how great these dogs can be.  My son wanted to name the dog "Dave" even though it is a girl dog.   But he then decided that that was too masculine, so he named her "Jo".  Go figure.  Still confuses people.  They still call her "he".  And, since you can't shorten "Jo", we've lengthened it and call her "JoDog".  There are plenty of other things we call her, too...

This dog (like many other dogs, I am sure) believes that she is the center of the universe and that I have piano lessons in my home just for her and her alone.  When a student arrives, her butt wags back and forth so far that you think she will fling herself against the wall.  Often, with her most "favorite" people (I don't know what designates them as such, but it is usually those who have cared for her in the past when we leave town), she rolls on her side and whines and cries and is just plain pitiful.  (In fact, I have also put a tag on her that says "Pitiful".) When I interview students, often times they want me to be their teacher because, not only do I give out candy, I also have "this dog."

I've found this little beagle has been a HUGE help when I teach piano lessons.  When I've worked the kids pretty hard on a section of music, or if I can sense that they are a bit frustrated, I always give "doggy breaks".   I'll just say, "Doggy break!" and here scurries JoDog and jumps up on the piano bench.  She digs the attention. 

Sometimes, just to lighten everything up, I put JoDog's ears in a pony tail.  She tolerates it, but it gives the kids a good laugh.  Then, after a few minutes of them petting and oogling and googling the dog, and JoDog drinking it all in, I say, "OK JoDog, time to get down", and she jumps off the bench and heads back to her bed, or the top of the stairs, which is her perch.  She's been loved on, had some good attention, had her endorphines stimulated to her satisfaction and can now rest.

And, the kids, once they return to their music, are refreshed and will actually play the part of the piece we were working on with major improvement.  The kids have had a chance to calm down and let their subconscious brain do the work on the piece while they get their therapy from the small furry hound.

And they feel so proud. And I feel so proud.  And they have a smile on their faces.

Every piano teacher should get themselves a JoDog.  If you are new to the dog thing, I can help and have something called  "How to Care For Your JoDog".  Maybe I'll post that sometime.

I think I'll go hug my dog.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Be "Passionable!"

LA, the mom  of my student Hannah, was telling me the story of her daughter's private clarinet lesson teacher, who is of Asian descent.  These kind of stories warm my heart, because I am married to a man of Asian descent, and his little mom lived with us for a time.

Hannah's teacher, I'll call him "Mr. L",  had been working with her for a few weeks, and one day expressed his pleasure -- "You are gorgeous!  Gorgeous!"  Hannah was a bit concerned, and felt a little awkward, until he completed his thought, "You play just gorgeous!  Gorgeous!"  Ah.  Phew.  That was better.

Then, recently, she got that awkward feeling again.  When she walked into lessons, her teacher exclaimed, "You are very passionable today!"  Hannah was thinking to herself, "OK, now should I be concerned?" And again, he finished his thought..."Your headband and your shoes match each other!  You are so passionable!"  She realized he was trying to say "fashionable" and just thanked him and smiled.

I love that word, "Passionable!", Mr. L!  So, this is the word I use with my students when they are playing their piano pieces.  "If you don't remember anything else remember this:  Be passionable!"



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gabs and Izzy

My student, Gabby, who is 10, LOVES piano.  She LOVES music.  But, she is also very busy with lots of other things.  I had been wondering if she should continue with piano because she never had the chance to practice but loved coming to lessons.  We had a song she wanted to learn, Fur Elise, but didn't have much time to work on it, and recital was coming up really quickly.

Gabs loved working with chords.  She picked up very easily and was actually more excited about doing chord songs and writing music from what she learned in the book about how to write a song than anything else.  So, one of her recital songs was going to be the beautiful song that she wrote based on the chapter on how to write a song.

However, she wasn't learning Fur Elise quickly enough.  So, I asked her, "Gabs, your little sis Izzy likes to sing, right?"  She said, "Oh yes she sure does!"  I said, "How about if you accompany her on the piano for the recital -- that way she'll get to sing and you will still get to do another piece!"  She LOVED that idea, so the song she wanted to learn was Eye of the Tiger.  And Izzy LOVED that song! So, I found a chord chart for Eye of the Tiger and Gabs and Izzy practiced at home and put it together.

They did GREAT.  Gabs played the bass note of the chord with her left hand, and the chord with her right, creating her own rhythm that matched with the style of the song and with what Izzy was doing.  And, she decided to sing along with her during the chorus, so I had her miked up for that, as well.  They were a smash!   And, they had everything to be proud of!

That's what's so great about playing with chords -- it's flexible and fun.   My students love it!



Monday, November 8, 2010

TwitterMoms: The Influential Moms Network

If you are a mom, check out this website!  It's great!  TwitterMoms: The Influential Moms Network


Reviews of Chord Piano Is Fun

Here are some great reviews of Chord Piano Is Fun:

I have to tell you that I have only made it through three lessons so far and I already feel so successful! This is fantastic!

Danny, Portland, Oregon

"Chord Piano Is Fun" is the perfect title for this easy to follow, fun approach to learning to play chords on piano. There are 26 lessons which most beginning piano students will be able to follow and practice. Each lesson takes about 25 minutes or less. The book explains the basics of music clearly and concisely. It provides worksheets, technique practices and pages of scales and harmonized scales making practice time practical and fun. This book has inspired me to return to learning to play piano after taking a 12 year hiatus. I will be using this accessible method when my nine year old begins lessons later this year. If there was one thing about this book I would change it would be to have had this book published years ago when I first started piano lessons!

Kim S., Bellevue, Washington

As a seasoned piano/vocal teacher, I have been looking for a book to teach a chording method without having to write it myself! This book is exactly what I have been looking for! Chord Piano Is Fun is a fantastic tool -- a very clearly written, easy-to-understand, and thorough method of piano chording.  It can be used to self-teach as well as used as a method book with a teacher.   I have added Chord Piano Is Fun as a mandatory supplement for even my youngest students to the traditional method lesson and theory books.

I have found "Chord Piano Is Fun" to be a very helpful tool in the areas of ear training and improvisation as well as a fun way to teach my students how to play popular music.  I have further found that some of my students who were not responding quickly (or at all) to the basic method, yet were very bright as well as musically talented, were becoming so discouraged that they wanted to quit taking piano lessons altogether. At that point, in trying to salvage their self-esteem as well as their interest in piano playing, I gave them a copy of Chord Piano Is Fun and basically started over with them. What I found was renewed interest, increased passion, and a super sense of success in each of those students! At my last recital, one of those students accompanied herself with chords while she sang a beautiful song, and the other played a fairly difficult Disney piece (Under the Sea) using only the treble clef and chord symbols along with some improvisation on his part. Both were FABULOUS performances and I accredit both to the fresh start with Chord Piano Is Fun!

I also put two of my students with learning disabilities (particularly in reading) as well as ADD/ADHD students on Chord Piano Is Fun and all are excelling and enjoying playing piano when other teachers gave them no chance of learning how to play the piano!   THANK YOU FOR "CHORD PIANO IS FUN!"

 Laura Beasley, Music Teacher, Mandeville, Louisiana

"Chord Piano is Fun" really is fun. I took piano lessons when I was a teenager, and again when I was in my forties, (I am now in my eighties) but I am so poorly coordinated I could never get two hands together. Both times I gave up before I really learned to play anything. Now I do a mean rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In", and other recognizable pieces. This is something I can do so I am grateful for this book and wanted everyone to know!

Myra, Clear Lake, Texas


"Chord Piano is Fun" is a well-written, easy-to-understand resource for learning to play the piano using chords. The book is so logically organized that it is possible to start at the beginning, with little or no understanding of HOW TO PLAY or HOW TO BUILD CHORDS, and to complete the lessons with the ability to play many songs in various styles! The method is not just for beginners, but also for the seasoned pianist who wants to play with the freedom chords allow in many kinds of music from hymns to pop. It is especially useful for the church musician who wishes to embellish the hymns or praise songs.

As a retired public school music teacher, private piano teacher and church musician, I know how valuable learning chords can be in the areas of theory concepts, ear training and just enjoying playing whatever you wish. I regret that I did not have this book when I was teaching, as I spent many hours creating my own worksheets for chord study. CHORD PIANO IS FUN.......REALLY IS!

Carolyn, Former Piano Teacher, Camano Island, Washington


For Piano Teachers

As a piano teacher, I created Chord Piano Is Fun to use in addition to and along with my other curriculum, method books, and music pieces for my students.  It integrates very nicely with methods such as Alfred. 

I have found that once the student understands their chords and how they are created, they are able to pick them easily out of their music, thus helping them to learn their pieces easier because they have a "visual" in their mind. 

I hope that you will read my reviews from other teachers and students who are using Chord Piano Is Fun!

If you are a teacher and would like information on how to get Chord Piano Is Fun at a discount for multiple copies, please contact me.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rachmaninov: Prelude in C Sharp Minor

My Mom was an amazing pianist. I only wish now that I had gleaned more from her as I was growing up.

My favorite memories of Mom's piano playing were at night. Often, she would begin playing at bedtime. As my three sisters and I were settling into bed to go to sleep, we would hear mom's beautiful fingers start expressing what she couldn't in her words. We would yell out our requests, "Play Moonlight Sonata!" "Play Peter and the Wolf!" "Play The Swan!" and my all-time favorite was "Play Prelude in C Sharp Minor!" I never wanted that song to stop. I never wanted to hear mom stop playing.

Mom has been gone for over 20 years now. I wish I had gotten a video of her playing it. But, whenever I hear that song I can't but think of her and the emotion she put into it. Maybe that's why it has taken me so long to learn how to play it. It was always "Mom's" song.

But, now I am embarking on that journey. I want my son to remember me playing it. And, I hope that he will learn it himself, as well.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Most Important Chords

Today you might want to practice your  "4 Most Important chords."  Man, that is fun.  And, do it in inversions so that when you're playing from a chord chart the transition from one chord to the next is easy.  Go to Addendum 2 in Chord Piano Is Fun to practice.  Then, take a favorite song that has chord charts and play it with the chord inversions.  The first time or so through, if you haven't played the chords before, you might want to write down the notes in the chord so that you can be more familiar with it.  You might want to write down the actual order of how you want to play it.  In other words, say you are playing the C Chord and the next chord is the F Chord.  Find the common note to each chord (if there is one) and keep that finger on that note (in the case of both C and F, the common note is "C") and then find the other two notes in the chord.  Always find the easiest way to move from one chord to the next.  Refer back to Lesson 8, Inversions, if you need to.
Have fun today!



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chord Piano Really Is Fun!

I'm so excited about my new book, "Chord Piano Is Fun!"  You can find it at

I wrote this book because, as a piano teacher, I could not find just the right book to use to teach my students how to play piano by chord.   I spent SO MUCH money on different methods, cds, books, etc., but still had to "work around" them to teach what I wanted.   It took me 4 years, but it's finally completed and published through Lulu Press.  Woo hoo!  Here is a photo of a student who is now playing for his youth band at church because of what he has learned through Chord Piano Is Fun.

The book moves quickly, and it's very easy to understand.  I've taught several of people the information in this book who have taken piano lessons FOR YEARS and did not realize the reasons for some of the information they were taught to practice.  One of my customers is an 83 year old lady who took piano lessons twice in her life, but never was able to play her favorite music.  Now she can!  She wrote one of the reviews of my book.

Piano teachers, use this book in addition to and along with your method books.  I have found that in using this book with my students it gives them the foundation for learning even their classical music.

It does have some good stuff in it, if I might say so myself.  I think my favorite things are the five ADDENDUMS at the end that provide a lot of great resources and ways to practice and learn.

Please check it out!  Would love to know what you think!