34/60 Christmas is a time for sudden progess

At this time of year I switch to focussing on Christmas Carols. With careful choice of book, many of the students will make great gains in confidence and motivation.

As well as choosing “off-the-shelf” books, I’ve also transposed carols into unlikely keys to introduce new key-signatures in a stress-free, low-technical-demand setting.

So, for some cellists transitioning between Grade 1 and Grade 2, I printed out Jingle Bells, Little Donkey and Away in a Manger in F major and Bflat major. Teaching the carols at the same time as the scales made it possible for them to learn the new fingers, hear when they had got them right, and also have to tunes for the Christmas holidays. When they came back in the New Year they were more than ready to make short work of learning their exam pieces, without having to cope with unfamiliar finger patterns as well.

Pianists will develop note-reading skills; I’ve been using the new Paul Harris “A Piece a Day” series this term, but I’ve put these to one side in favour of Pauline Hall’s “Pianotime Carols”  for beginners, or Alan Bullard’s Pianoworks Christmas for post grade 1. The students are able to get to grips with a new carol most weeks, and develop a renewed interest in practising if the happen to have gone off the boil recently!

I’m sure teachers of other instruments will have their favourites… feel free to share your recommendations below.chick singing

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33/60 Ballet with year 1 and 2 – next lesson

A few weeks ago I posted on this topic; what happened was that I thought I would be teaching in the hall (no IT, no big screen, just me, the children, instruments and my music system) when I was “bounced” back into the classroom because the hall was needed for the gymnastics class.

So, music and movement was “out”, but the opportunity for using the interactive whiteboard was “in”. Mt topic for the half term was pulse and metre – identifying two-and three- time.

We sang songs, did musical activities and so on, as planned, but had to reduce the amount of movement that could be done in the cramped classroom.

However, having the use of the whiteboard was great! We watched clog dancing!

First off was the clog dance from La Fille Mal Gardee

clog dance la fille


which caused a lot of interest and comment. We watched it several times. The children loved the comedy and the story-telling, and the way the music and dance worked together. We kept the pulse by tapping on knees, and noticed how the dancers also kept in time.

Then came the Lancashire Wallopers;

clog lancsa completely different style in every way; noisier feet, a small band, dancing outdoors…

Finally, Dutch klompen dancers at a tulip festival

clogs klompenAfter we watched the klompen dancers a few times, we then adapted some of the moves to make our own dance, using the music from the video. I formed the children into two lines with sufficient distance between to avoid any accidents when they were doing some of the more extravagant leg movements…  

All of these dances can easily be found on youtube – search for La fille mal gardee clog dance, Lancashire Wallopers and Dutch clog dancing.

Watching youtube dances became a theme of the lessons; I’ll post some more in due course.

paperchain people wikihowimage from https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Paper-People-Chain

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32/60 The Elevator Song



This is a song to teach by rote; at the end of it you sing up the scale 1 2 3 4 5, and back down 5 4 3 2 1.

Once this is secure, you can then choose a floor; eg 3; and sing 1 2 3; 3 2 1; 1 3 1

It is useful for teaching the intervals of a major scale, and also for singing cleanly from one note to the next. Some practical exam aural tests require recognition, or singing, of intervals and this song is a good place to start.

When the first five notes of the scale are perfect every time, increase the number of floors to the full octave; 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Just be careful trying to go straight to number 7; that’s a bit tricky!

Poppy divider

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31/60 Hoovering and Swooping


Product Details

When the children in the choir slide between every note in the song…

Image result for swooping paper airplane

It is quite hard to break them of this horrible habit. Every time there is a leap between two notes they slither from one to the next rather than moving cleanly.

“But we like it better that way” they chorus.

“Trust me, it doesn’t sound so good” is my harsh and uncompromising reply. It has taken a couple of weeks of careful work, singing the various pairs of pitches accurately and separately, indicating the pitch movement with my hand, getting them to copy the movement, and slowly reducing the empty space between the sounds until they are beginning (on the whole) to get the idea.

To give them their due, they have tried hard, and the improvement is tremendous in just a few weeks. Patience and Perseverance is the name of the game here. I feel a need to teach the “Elevator Song” again.

Poppy divider


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30/60 Happy Birthday to me

birthday google doodle

It isn’t my birthday just yet, but I am teaching ALL my piano and keyboard students to play “Happy Birthday” at the moment. Preferably from memory, as part of my “Active Repertoire” project.

Easy-Peasy, for beginners who know the letter names of the notes but not much else;

I just write out the notes, and show them how to play it using whatever fingers on whichever hands suits them best;

C C D C F E;   C C D C G F;       C C C’ A F E D;        Bflat Bflat A F G F;

There are a lot of technical elements, especially in the third phrase, for example;

  • jumping the hand to a new position (octave),
  • skips or hops, where you miss out one letter between notes
  • steps, where you play next door notes.

and the fourth phrase;

  1. playing Black B,
  2. semitones

It is also an opportunity to discuss dotted rhythms and scale fingerings.

Next Level Up

The student works out the notes, and then we add a simple LH using just F, C and Bflat

C C D C F E;   C C D C G F;       C C C’ A F E D;        Bflat Bflat A F G F;

F        C           C         F                Bb     F                            F    C  F 

and maybe write out the pitches on two staves, and discuss where the strong beats occur, and put bar lines just before them. I wouldn’t add the exact rhythm at this stage.

The Full Monty 

Having completed stage 2, I would use inversions to make a complete LH chord accompaniment, showing how the F chord( F A C) transforms so easily to a C chord (E G C) by just moving the two lower notes down, and then how F can move to Bflat (F Bflat D) by moving the two upper notes up. If the student is writing the notes out on a stave, now is the time to add rhythm and all the details, including time and key signatures, pause sign and double bar. Don’t forget to explain why the last note is a two-beat minim… because the song starts with an anacrusis… which is a crotchet’s worth of notes for the first “Happy” on the third beat of an incomplete bar…

I’m expecting to be “Happy Birthday’d” everyday for a week when my birthday finally arrives!

Poppy divider

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29/30 Teaching with a torch

I had a “light-bulb” moment the other day, when I was teaching a young lad who is good at playing by ear, but is finding reading the notes on the music hard work by comparison. This pen-torch

pen torch 2 crop

happened to be lying beside the piano, so I picked it up, switched on, and used it to “high-light” particular notes on his music;

pen torch 1 crop

for example         ”That’s an E, and that’s an E, and can we find another E?”

He was very pleased indeed to be given the torch, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time “focusing”  in on various notes in his pieces.

The more fun ways I can devise to encourage the pupils to get to grips with reading music, the better.  This one was a winner.

Poppy divider

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28/60 Watching Ballet with Year 1 and 2

Romeo Juliet ballet 1

One of the many, many, sudden changes to my lesson timetabling was occasioned by a clash between gymnastics with year 5 and 6 in the hall, and my year 1 and 2 lesson in the hall.

Well, music can be taught in the classroom, whereas gymnastics definitely can’t. I didn’t even open my mouth in protest.

However, it meant that I was now completely re-thinking my “music and movement” to feel the pulse lesson “in real time”. After a few pulse and listen and copy activities, I had a brainwave. We listened to part of “March of the Knights” from the Prokofiev “Romeo and Juliet” ballet (on the wonderful www.classical100.org website which I posted about here ) and made up a sort of story about the Knights marching around while families were having a picnic in the park. We were able to act it out, marching around in a menacing fashion between the tables, and then all sitting on the carpet or wherever there was space in the dance-like sections.

Romeo and Juliet 2

Then I found a youtube clip and put it on… howls of protest because the choreography wasn’t a bit like our story. The lesson could have capsized then and there, but luckily we were able to have an interesting and lively discussion about how the music expresses moods, but doesn’t tell you the story unless you know it already.

The lesson did capsize, luckily just in the final minutes, because “the men are wearing tights!” Fits of giggles… but the children (not all, but mainly girls) who Were interested in the dance managed to “shush” the riotous laughter and the children became involved in the ballet again.

It did give me an idea of how to re-shape the lessons for the rest of term…

Romeo and Juliet 3

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27/60 Active Repertoire

A recent post on www.pianodao.com reminded me that I had meant to do something about “active repertoire”

If you go here;


you can read all about it, and track back to the first post on this subject. The idea is that everyone,  – that is you, and your students, should have a couple of pieces which can be performed confidently, without music, at the drop of a hat, anywhere, any occasion.

So much of what we are learning is “in progress” and therefore not ready for a public outing.

I remember, when I was about eight, the rather old-fashioned and intimidating father of a school friend insisting that I should have a “party piece” to be able to perform on demand. “Mine’s the ‘Cake-Walk’ by Debussy”, he announced, and promptly sat down (at his beautiful Bluthner grand) and played it. “Now, what can you play,” he asked? and I legged it – too shy.

Now I usually play “Solfegietto” by C P E Bach in these kind of circumstances; short and flashy. or Kabalevsky “Little Story” from his Children’s Pieces if something more cantabile would be more appropriate. It doesn’t want to be too long, or too “intellectual”, or too stressful for the performer or listener. They don’t really want ten minutes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, whatever Lucia  in the E F Benson books thought;

-from “Queen Lucia” by E F Benson;

…Perhaps as they softly assembled for departure, a little music would be suggested to round off the evening, and she saw herself putting down the soft pedal as people rustled into their places, for the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata.” Then at the end there would be silence, and she would get up with a sigh, and someone would say “Lucia mia”! and somebody else “Heavenly Music,” …

My grandmother’s 90-year-old piano teacher, when I visited her back in the 1960s, taught me to pick out “God Save The Queen” on her ancient upright (I think she might have said “God Save The King”!) because “you never know when you might need it”.

As a priority, I shall make sure that everyone can play a minimum of “Happy Birthday”, a Christmas carol, and one of their old pieces by the end of this half of term. Starting with me.

Poppy divider

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