December 30, 2010

New Years Organization

Its that time of year...the time for Christmas clean-up, a few more parties, and New Year’s resolutions.

Yuck, I said the “r” word.

Whether or not we like making resolutions, it is something that almost everyone does - maybe not on paper, or engraved in stone, but as a new year approaches, we all have things we want to change, accomplish, or improve as we start a new year of our lives.

In the area of piano teaching, it should be no different. We all have areas we want to improve in, and things about our teaching that we want to improve. And for many of us, I think that improvement finds its way into one common area - organization.

Now I must admit, when it comes to organization, I am a bit OCD. . . ok, very OCD. I love organizing, and almost everything thing in my room is arranged in alphabetical, numerical, chronological, or color-coded order. My books are on my shelves first by content, then by height. (I worked in a library way too long!)

But despite my mad organizational skills, I always feel I need improvement in this area when it comes to my teaching. Why? Because I want to do what will work for me best. And because when I need something I want to know exactly where it is, and I want that place to be convenient. Oh yeah, and I want my students to think I have it all together. (Ha ha, do I have them fooled!) Most of all, I want to glorify God in everything I do. I Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” I believe that the Lord is glorified in something as “little” as organizing!

Part of the reason my teaching materials always need a better organizational method is because I keep most of my teaching materials at home, but I give lessons at the church. So my things must not only be organized but also portable. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve had to turn around and go back to the house for something I forgot. Its a good thing its only one tenth of a mile away!

Here is a peek into my organization for the coming semester of teaching:

This is my everything file. I have a file in here for each of my students. (And you will notice they are in alphabetical order!) In this file I keep books they will soon need, the information sheet they fill out when they begin to take lessons, the worksheets/activities we have completed and those we will do in the near future. I keep everything we’ve done, so that I don’t repeat myself and so I can see what things need more work.

Behind those files are other files for staff paper. I have several different kinds of staff paper, from really large grand staffs to viola clefs. Because I use viola clefs so often.

Next is a recently added file for Christmas music and activities. That way next year it will be easy to browse through in plenty of time to use with my students.

The next file is copies of frequently uses worksheets. I began this part of my file in college when I took Piano Pedagogy class. I use a lot of the material that I gathered in that class, and will probably tell you more about that soon! I also have some of these worksheets saved on my computer, so I can either copy them or print them off when I need them.

The last few files are just bits of random things that I either collected through college or only use once in a while. I have some of my college notes in there as well, so I can refer to them from time to time.

Besides this box, I have 3 expanding files with all my games, activities, flashcards, etc. in another box with some of my other teaching materials. (metronome, stickers, pens, white board, markers, clipboard, and fly swatters. Yes, I said fly swatters.) This box thankfully can stay in a closet at church, because I never need these things at home, and they are easy accessible.

I also keep a binder with a tab for each of my students (in alphabetical order, mind you) where I write down what we work on each week, or what I want to go over next time. This helps me prepare for each weeks lesson without getting my students confused.

And last but not least are the small stacks of arrangement and method books to look through that I keep conveniently under my dresser. Well, they are out of the way at least! But you see what I mean about needing to improve my organization...

Now that I have explained my organization to you, I want to hear how you do it! Are you already very organized? Then what works for you? Are you improving your organization? Then how are you doing it? Or maybe you have a different resolution for this coming year. Whatever the case, I hope you will share it with the rest of us! You can by doing one of the following:

1. Comment on this post

2. Email or Facebook me, and I will post your ideas in another post. (you can remain anonymous if you prefer)

3. Write about your resolution on your own blog or website, and send me the link. I will post the link in another post.

And in case you need a little direction in the area of organization, here is what some other teachers have to say about it:

Here is one way Susan keeps her games organized. Here is a way to keep flashcards organized.

Jen keeps her students organized here.

Here is how Natalie organizes her research online and other web-stuff. Here is her experience organizing last semester. And here are some new years resolutions that she posted.

Hope these are a help! Don't forget to give us your two cents worth about organizing!

December 21, 2010


Not much going on here because of the flurries of Christmas activities! However, I did put some new links in my blogroll on my side bar, and I encourage you to check them out! I have not had time to fully peruse each one, but I hope to more over the next few days. Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2010

Christmas Lessons in Review

Just thought I'd give you a quick update on how some of the Christmas activities worked with my students in the last couple of weeks. I certainly enjoy this time of year, and I think that they did too!

For games, I played Ornament Bingo with my beginner students and Musical Christmas Lights with some beginners and all my intermediate students. Both of these games can be found at Susan Paradis site. My students always seem to like bingo-type games. Sometimes I play with them and sometimes I let them play alone with me calling out letters or whatever. There are lots of possibilities with these games for variety.

From Jen's Piano Studio Blog we played Christmas Carol Rhythm Matchups (does anyone else really have to think when they spell the word "rhythm"???? :) We also played a similar, but slightly more advanced game from Layton Music called Christmas Rhythms. (Theres that word again!) These games (yes, they still are games) helped them to really think while being able to enjoy some well-known Christmas Carols. Sometimes I would just leave them to figure it out on their own, sometimes I would sing and clap the song, then have them put it together and then clap it back to me.

All of my beginners played some of these simple Christmas Songs from Susan Paradis: Good King Wenceslas and The Twelve Days of Christmas. Some of my students went online and found some other Christmas carols to play. Go them! They all loved playing these. My 7-year-old sister Carrie loved The TWelve Days of Christmas....I mean loved it. She even added the little "bump-bump bum bum" like Miss Piggy after "5 golden rings." And if I hear one more verse of that song, I think I'll scream. :)

And now, I have one more lesson tomorrow, and then we are done with lessons until after the New Year. My students are glad for the break...I did not assign them anything over Christmas. And their teacher is glad for a little break too. :) How about you?

December 16, 2010

A CD Giveaway

Head over to Music Matters Blog, where Natalie is hosting a beautiful piano cd giveaway. I greatly enjoyed what I heard of Sandy's cd. So simple and relaxing. Sounds like a perfect cd to play while sewing and drinking a cup of coffee. :)

I will soon post about how my last lessons of the year went as well as how much my students LOVED the various Christmas activities and songs we did. Stay tuned!

December 13, 2010

Christmas Carols

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Christmas carols that are found in our hymnals. I am sure most of us know that some of them are not very biblical. Certainly that has been my mindset, and in case you are wondering, yes, I do agree.

But I never really stopped to look at what makes them un-biblical. Lately I have looked over a few, but I almost think I am more confused now about the whole issue!

For instance, many of our Christmas carols are about the angels singing. And I know that that is an issue to some, because the Bible never ever says that angels sing. Whenever there are any angels, they are always "saying" not, "singing." For real, go look at Luke 2 again, and it clearly says, "the angel said." Did you know that?

But then I have also heard the issue that the word for "said" there in the original language could mean sing, or talk. So I'm confused. Does the fact that the song says the angels sang make it unbiblical?

Another song I was looking at was the song "We 3 Kings." As long as I can remember I have viewed this song as a big no-no at Christmas time, because we do not know how many Wise men there were, and they weren't kings either. (Check Matthew 2 out for that bit of info!) But I really got to looking at the rest of the words to that song, and the hymn isn't about the wise men at all, really. If focuses more on the gifts they brought, and each verse talks about one of the gifts - Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It tells why those particular gifts were brought, and how they forshadowed Christ's death. Its actually really neat! So because we do not know for sure how many of these wise men there were, and we do know that there was 3 gifts, is this song unbiblical?

I'm not trying to start a mutiny here, these are just some of my thoughts about our hymns, and I am hoping you all will chime in. What is your opinion? Am I missing some other doctrinal error in these songs?? Which songs do you steer away from, and which ones do you embrace?

December 7, 2010

Last Minute Christmas

Before we take a break from lessons for the Christmas holidays, I just wanted to let you know about two more resources to take advantage of this season:

A GIVEAWAY!! (Jumping for joy...)

Leah is hosting a Christmas CD giveaway on her blog, Drops From My Cup. Leah is a piano teacher in New Brunswick. I listened to the clips from this cd and LOVE IT!! (With a capital heart) There are even ways to enter more than once. So head on over to her blog and find out how to enter this fantastic giveaway!! Even if you don't win the cd, you will enjoy the clips you hear and you will purchase your own. Yeah, its just that good.

Secondly, A RESOURCE:
Over at Layton Music they have a great rhythm game using Christmas carols. The rhythm of a carol is written out on little cards that the student has to put in order. How neat is that? I am planning on using these this week in my lessons. One of the great things I like about it is that it will be thought provoking even for my most advanced student. And games for him are hard to find. I did notice as I was cutting them out that the song "O Christmas Tree" has one too many beats in the top right-hand box. Minor detail, I just used a little white-out on mine. But it sure did have me stumped for a bit!!

I hope you enjoy these last few lessons with your students and that you are able to use some of these great resources.

What all have you been doing in your lessons lately? How long of a break are you taking off this Christmas?

December 1, 2010

Christmas Games

In my first post, I talked briefly about playing games at lessons. How many of you never knew you could play games in your piano lessons? (Raise hands)

Well, to make things so much easier on us piano teachers, there are some great people out there who make up these worksheets games for us to use. Bless them.

Susan Paradis just posted all her holiday games and worksheets (but we'll call them games) in one convenient post for us to pick what we want to use from them. Love it. And I also love how she has snow falling all over this post. (How did she do that??)

Jennifer Fink over at Jen's Piano Studio Blog also is beginning to post some Christmas activities (maybe thats a better word). Here is one she just posted about. I believe I failed to mention this resource in my last post about christmas music, but Jen also has some great Christmas stuff for us to use. You can browse her blog and website to find other creative things she's posted in the past.

Stay tuned for some more updates on Christmas music and activities to use in your lessons!

November 29, 2010

Christmas Music

Well, it may be a little late for most of you piano teachers, but just in case you were still looking for some last minute Christmas songs, I will go ahead and post where I found some great (translate: free) Christmas songs for my students.

Before I go on, let me give you my philosophy on Christmas music for my piano students. Number one: I let them play non-hymn Christmas carols. (Gasp!) Ok, ok, calm down and let me explain. I do NOT let them play these songs in church....thank you captain obvious. I let them play them just for fun. C'mon, who doesn't like to play all 12 verses of "The 12 Days of Christmas"???

Number Two: I don't assign these songs like normal songs they practice every week. I lighten their load of songs from their lesson books, and give them the Christmas songs to practice and play just for fun. I mean seriously, Christmas only comes once a year, why waste it trying to cram practice time down their throat?? Besides, a lot of times they actually learn more this way, especially if its songs they like. (But don't tell them that.)

Okay, now on to the links:

The Church Pianist (Jenifer Cook) has some great "in church" arrangements. This time great doesn't just translate free, it also translates into "I love her arrangements."

Koerts Music (James Koerts) has a few of those "great" arrangements and also a Christmas book available for purchase. is having a sale right now on Christmas and Thanksgiving music. Also, if you have not already, sign up for their free monthly newletter. Each month they include a piano arrangement. December's will be here shortly, I'm excited to see what Christmas song it might be!

Music Matters Blog - Natalie posted on where she gets her Christmas music

Susan Paradis has some pre-reading and beginner songs that she has adapted. I used several of these for my beginning students that were just dying to play Christmas music. These are those "non-church" songs I was talking about. My students loved them! Especially without the pressure of having to have it all practiced up in a weeks time. For some, I even let them just play it like they heard it in their heads, even if it wasn't exactly what was written. Gasp, I'm a horrible teacher. :)

I also have some books from Soundforth and the like that I am playing out of this Christmas season. I just may let you in on some of those one of these days.

How about you? Where do you find good Christmas Music for your students?? What is your "Christmas Music Philosophy?"

November 25, 2010

Tips From My Studio - Beginning A Lesson

Comparatively, I have not been teaching piano for very long. I have taught my siblings for several years ( I started all 4 of them as beginners) but other than that I have only been teaching “real” students months. 

Ok, now is the point where you roll your eyes and say, “And she thinks she has tips to give ME??”

Yeah, thats about how I feel too. Next to most of you, I feel about knee-high in the area of teaching. Ok, make that ankle-high.

But even in my limited teaching experience, I have learned a few small things. (And I mean small.) Most of this stuff you probably already know, but in the event that you don’t, hopefully it will be a blessing to you.

This first thing I would like to share is about beginning a lesson. All those years I “just” taught my siblings, I usually began a lesson with, “Ok, lets have a lesson now” or, “Will you stop talking long enough for me to get a word in?” or something similar to that. It wasn’t until I got to college (at least thats the first time it really sunk in with me) that my teacher, Mrs. Susan Smith, prayed with me at the start of every lesson.

Now just perhaps my previous teachers did pray with me, but if they did, the weight of that didn’t sink in until college. Even then, I didn’t start doing it in my own lessons. Things take a while to penetrate this thick skull.

What I did notice about these lessons with Mrs. Smith was that praying at the start of a lesson really calmed my nerves and settled me down to get serious about the lesson. It also showed me what the focus of our lesson was...not to impress my teacher, but to bring glory to God. Yes, even an ordinary, mundane, and (heaven forbid) boring lesson should bring glory to God!

As I said before, even though I thought starting in prayer was wonderful, I did not start doing it with my siblings. After all, they are “just” my siblings. (In case you are wondering, that is the wrong attitude to have!! My poor siblings...I had so much to learn! But that is another post for another time.)

Finally, this summer when I started teaching “real” students, it sunk in. Probably because I felt more scared about teaching other people, and I felt like I really needed the Lord’s help! It is sad, but isn’t that how we so often treat prayer?? We don’t realize how much we need it until we are in a situation we can’t handle without it. 

So I thought, well, why not try this with my siblings lessons, too? And you know what? It has radically changed our lessons! Because when I did not start the lesson with our focus on God and bringing Him the glory, and when I had the attitude that it is “just” my siblings, those siblings had the same reaction: “Its “just” my sister.” Not good. But once I started beginning in prayer, they began responding to me as a teacher way better. They are more cooperative and seem to enjoy the lesson more....even the boring parts. (Oops, I said the forbidden “b” word again!)

So you ask, what do I pray for at the beginning of a lesson? I pray that I will speak only the words that will help the student. I try to remember to pray for the student by name and pray something specific for him or her. I pray that all we do in the lesson will bring honor and glory to God. And I pray that we will redeem our time during the lesson. (Ephesians 5:16)

Sometimes I let the student pray, if it is someone that is comfortable with praying out loud. The purpose of praying is not to make the student uncomfortable, so I don’t make them pray unless they want to. 

Do you start your lessons in prayer? How has prayer worked in and through your studio and your student’s lives?

November 19, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway!

No, I am not giving away a book. Sorry. :) But someone I know is!!! So although I do not have my blogroll up yet, nor have I talked about any of my favorite blogs, I wanted to share this one with you so that you could enter it as well. Natalie, over at Music Matters Blog is the one sponsoring the giveaway, and the book is the newest one by Jenifer Cook over at The Church Pianist website. I personally love playing any of the arrangements that Jenifer Cook has written, and am excited about this book because it is for intermediate students. I have a couple of those!

Both of these blogs rank in my top five favorite piano blogs, so I hope that not only will you participate in the giveaway, you will also check out all the amazing resources these ladies have to offer. If you don't have time to do that now, I will be talking about both of these sites more in the future, so stay tuned for that!

And by all means, if you win the book because I told you about it, let me know!! :)


Here goes nothing!! I have had the plans and ideas for this blog and the ministry I would like it to produce for some time. I hope that as all of that becomes a reality and you browse through my little corner of cyberspace that you are encouraged in the area of music, and more specifically, piano!

Whether you are a piano teacher, a piano student, or simply someone who wants to honor God through praise in music, this blog is for you. God demands and desires praise from His children, and many times throughout scripture He commands us to praise Him with some type of musical instrument. Psalm 150 is probably my favorite instance of that...the whole 6-verse psalm is dedicated to musical instruments and praising God!

So fasten your seat belt and hold on! As we travel on this journey of learning how to use music to praise God, take time to look around, enjoy the scenery, and learn some things along the way.

A lot of the posts on this blog will be directed to piano teachers. In fact, I am a piano teacher myself. Hence the inspiration for this blog. When I started teaching piano, I felt so inadequate for the task ahead, and did several google searches for things like, “teaching piano” or “music worksheets.” The result was fantastic!! I found several great resources that have helped me tremendously in learning better how to teach. (For instance, did you know that you could play games in your lessons?? What an inspiration!) There are several piano teachers out there that have been teaching for much longer than I have and that have much better ideas than me!

So why, you ask, are you starting yet another piano blog?? 

First of all, it is not because I have all the answers. Oh, far from that! It is also not to impress upon you my way of teaching or my ideas of what is best. (Although I may share those best ideas with you from time to time.)

It is because I know several piano teachers who teach on a very small scale. For some, they are newly-wed ladies or brand-new mommies that teach a few piano lessons on the side. Others are pastors wives, or they hold a full-time job in another field and teach piano on the side. There also are a handful of male piano teachers out there, also. (No, this blog is not just for ladies!!!!) The fact is, there is so much good material out there, its hard to know where to start! And to wade through all that great stuff consumes one thing that none of us seem to have enough of...and that is time.

(Drumroll please) Enter Nickel Notes piano blog. My goal for this blog is to help these piano teachers sort through all of that great information I keep mentioning. To have a place to find several good resources on interval worksheets, for instance. To know where to go to get answers to your questions. And a host of other good things as well. I hope that this will also give fresh ideas to otherwise stale lessons. (You didn’t know about the games, did you?)

All of that to say (my goodness, I’ve rambled on a long time!) that I hope that this blog will prove to be a blessing to you in whatever category you find yourself musically. I also want FEEDBACK from you...please please please!! What things would you like to see included in this blog? What areas would be the most help to you?? Am I nuts??? (Ok, don’t answer that one!)

Things to look for in the next couple weeks:

A blogroll of my favorite piano teaching blogs

My philosophy of music and studio policies

Resources for Christmas music