piano teacher resources

8 Great Tools Every Piano Teacher Needs On Hand

piano teacher resources

Thinking of using your skills to teach piano to others? There are so many online tools to help you along the way! Here are some of the best piano teacher resources, as recommended by New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...


Whether you’re in your first year teaching piano students or your 50th year, here are seven great tools and resources that every piano teacher needs to keep new students rolling in and sticking around for the long haul!

1. This worksheet bundle. Have your students learning to read music in 21 days? Um, yes please! These packets are awesome and skip the acronyms (Every Good Boy, etc., ) and get right to being able to read music. Perfect for all ages!

2. This quiz and game website. Check out this site that a music teacher created. It offers free interactive games and quizzes AND access to the software links where you can build your own to cater to your students. Very cool.

3. This metronome app. Besides using this as a standard metronome, I also use it to see how well my student gauges tempo (you can tap along with the student to find out the tempo at which they are playing). As a composer, I use this app all the time for quick references of ideas in my head.

4. This podcast for jazz piano. Paul’s voice is the bomb. I mean, he’s from London, so that helps. And he talks through his piano chops seamlessly. Great for teachers and students wanting to explore jazz.

5. YouTube on your iPad (or phone or laptop). YouTube is the place to be pulling examples from when teaching your students. Bring an iPad loaded with awesome videos of mash-ups, inspiring performances of a piece your student is working on, or alternate ways of performing a passage. Not only will you look oh-so-cool, but you’ll break up the lesson and show your student that music exists out in the world in lots of neat ways.

6. This note-reading app. This is great for your teen who won’t practice or the kid who’s glued to the iPad. It treats reading music like a game but is also sleek and simple.

7. This career coach. Oh hey, that’s me! Here’s the thing: One-on-one coaching is the most effective way to bust through career plateaus. Coaches provide two things: new ideas and accountability. If you do not get new ideas, growth is impossible. And if you don’t have someone holding you accountable, you will go back to you default ways of working, which also does not allow for growth. What is cool about my coaching is that I also work with you on your branding and marketing — your website, the content of the site, your pricing structures, and new ways to get and keep new students.

8. TakeLessons.com. I’m listed as a TakeLessons teacher, and it’s probably the best teacher tool on the internet for getting found. The easy user interface makes it easy to manage your teaching calendar, payments, and canceled lessons in addition to gathering testimonials and increasing the chance that prospective students will find you. Both parties have the security of the TakeLessons cancellation policy, so there’s no need to badger my students for payments. Very convenient!

So try some or all of these out and see how many of the great piano teacher resources you will find yourself unable to live without!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!



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tips for learning piano

3 Other Musicianship Skills You Need to be a Great Pianist

 tips for learning pianoOne of the best tips for learning piano is making sure you have a well-rounded skill set! Read on as online piano teacher Crystal B. shares her thoughts…


The piano is definitely a unique instrument and playing piano requires a specific skill set. However, there are some basic musicianship skills that every piano player needs.


When people think of musicians that need great timing, they typically think of the drummer. But it’s equally important for a piano player to have great timing! Many times, new piano players overlook this very critical skill and feel that it’s not as important as other elements. But good timing is one of those fundamental music skills that is extremely important no matter what instrument you play.

A large part of being a great musician is being able to play with the right “feel,” and acquiring this skill starts with timing. Being a rhythmic player becomes even more important if you are playing with other musicians, especially in the studio. In most studio settings, you will be playing to a “click track,” which basically functions like a metronome to keep everyone on the same page rhythmically. So when your music teacher is asking you to play with a metronome, just know, you are practicing a skill that you will definitely use at some point!


Knowing music theory is probably one of the most powerful tools you can have, regardless of the instrument you play. When you gain the understanding of how music works — why certain chords sound good together and why certain keys/scales have sharps and flats (the black keys) — this unlocks so much potential as to what you can accomplish as a musician. The other great thing about theory, is that it enables you to effectively communicate with musicians that play other instruments. So much about theory crosses over to every instrument, and knowing it also makes learning additional instruments much easier.


A lot of times when people think of playing by chord charts, they think of guitar players. Some piano players only play by reading notes, but I highly recommend also learning to play using charts. This will make you a more versatile player and will also help you function well in a setting where you are playing with other instruments (especially guitar players). Also, if you decide to become a session player, you will need to learn the Nashville Number System. Charts are a great way to get the basic knowledge you will need to make learning this much easier.

All of these things are useful musicianship skills which will come in handy regardless of the instrument you play. One other thing worth mentioning, I highly advise students to play with others who play different instruments any chance you get. This is one of the best tips for learning piano, because it’s a great way to become familiar with how other instruments work and what skills cross over. It’s a great learning experience and lots of fun too!

CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!



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piano practice

3 Tips To Avoid Getting Bored During Your Piano Practice

piano practicePiano practice doesn’t have to be boring! Stay motivated with these three tips from online piano teacher Crystal B...


Playing piano is a great joy for many people, but sometimes practicing can become repetitive and boring. Here are a few ways to enhance your piano practice time while still honing your skills and acquiring new ones!

• Practical Application

Many times the things that seem most boring when practiced alone (such as scales, theory, etc.) can be found in some of your favorite songs. If you’re getting bored with a particular topic, see if you can find a way to incorporate the new knowledge into something that you’ll enjoy playing. You may need to ask your piano instructor for help with this one; he or she can point you in the right direction and give you a song that will make learning the new skill more enjoyable.

• Diversify Your Practice Time

Instead of working on one thing during your whole piano practice time, divide your time between different things. For instance, try warming up with some technical exercises, doing some note reading, and then playing something by ear or using charts. This will help keep things interesting and will also help you become a more well-rounded musician.

• If You Feel Like Playing Something Specific, Go For It!

While it is important to practice things that aren’t always the most fun, remember, learning a new instrument should be an enjoyable and exciting experience! If you sit down to practice and you are really drawn to a particular song, play it! You can accomplish a lot and have a great time by working on a song that really inspires you — even if it’s not what you intended to practice when you first sat down to play.

Remember, the most important thing is that you keep playing, practicing, and learning new things. Have fun!

CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!



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Play Me, I'm Yours Austin - piano 5 - photo 07, Apr 16, 2011

10 Fun Ways to Spice Up Your Piano Playing

Play Me, I'm Yours Austin - piano 5 - photo 07, Apr 16, 2011Love to play the piano, but want to take a break from scales and Hanon exercises for a bit? Here are some ideas from New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...


It happens to all of us: we get in ruts. Whether you’re bored with your practicing routine or your repertoire, we’ve all been there. But instead of giving up on playing the piano, take action! Here are 10 fun ways to spice up your playing.

1. Put your own spin on it! Try taking a straight song and swing it. Here’s a great example of a swinging Bach piece:

2. If you’re already playing some jazz, why not change up the melody? Write your own on top of the chords and see what you come up with. (You can do this with any style, really. Even scales.)

3. If it’s major, make it minor, and revel in its darkness.

4. Test your chops and transpose the whole song. Take it down a half step, or up a fourth, and see how the piece changes just by transposing it. Does it become lighter? More inspiring? You can discover the reason why the composer wrote it in the original key.

5. Change the tempo. I do this with my singers a lot as well. Take a piece and slow it down so that each note is held until the exact pitch is found. It’s tedious but a wonderful way to internalize the notes. The same is true for fingering for piano. Once you’ve got it super slow, try speeding the piece up as fast as you can and see how you do.

6. Play a song outside your comfort zone. Like Rachmaninoff? Try playing an arrangement of an Eminem song (like this guy). Like pop? Try Mozart, or learning “Fur Elise” so you can say “No, this is how it’s done” when your friends plonk through the first few notes at a bar.

7. Write your own piece. Even if you don’t consider yourself a composer or songwriter, take a very basic chord progression (I-IV-V-I or swap out the I of the vi. Another common pop progression is I-vi-V-IV) and see what kinds of melodies, chordal voicing, and rhythms you can come up with. You have your own taste, and no one’s going to know what you want but YOU.

8. Create a mash-up. We’ve all seen “Glee”. Mash-ups are totally in right now. Try combining two songs that have nothing in common, like “Fur Elise” and that Eminem song — OR try combining all those pop songs that have the same four chords (including the new one you just wrote!). Here’s one of “Roar” with “Eye of the Tiger”:

9. Take a piano lesson! If you aren’t already taking piano lessons, having someone give you new ideas, new exercises, and new repertoire ideas can be just the thing you need to see a new side your piano playing.

10. Get a mentor group! I tell this to all of my career coaching clients. When you have a mentor or coach, you get new ideas and accountability. Yes, your piano teacher definitely counts as this, but it also doesn’t have to be so formal. Go find other piano players in your area and create a group — like a book club except you’ll have a challenge to impress each other with fun new arrangements or something that will have you practicing, performing, and shedding light on what else is possible!

Last thing: have fun! If you’re taking yourself too seriously, take a step back and reexamine why wanted to play the piano. When you remember what you love about music, the piano, playing, and performing, then you’ll really have no problems diving back into it!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!



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14020649641_130ed25631_k (1)

Hack Your Digital Keyboard With These 5 Cool Ideas

14020649641_130ed25631_k (1)Have you recently purchased a keyboard or digital piano, and want to explore all the cool things you can do with it? Take a look at these ideas from Corona, CA teacher Milton J...


So, we all know this piano instrument is one of the coolest things created in the world (this is fact, not opinion). Because of that, we also understand it is a wonderfully flexible instrument in that we can use it for many different genres of music.

As we take piano lessons, it’s important to start with music theory and the classics to learn chords, melodies, and how to read all of this on sheet music. The reason this is important to learn from the onset of piano lessons is so when we get to the cool stuff mentioned below, once we migrate or supplement the piano with a digital keyboard, we have a musical understanding of what’s happening and we can recreate it at a later time.

So with that, here are some very cool things you can try on a digital keyboard — most of which can be done no matter what brand of keyboard you have, from a basic Casio to a more high-end Yamaha digital piano. Get ready to have some fun!

Drum Patterns

Rhythm is a huge component of playing any instrument. Understanding how poly-rhythmics works can go a long way in instrument reproduction on a digital keyboard. The endgame becomes what drummer The Tommy Drums demonstrates in his keyboard drum cover of Paramore’s “Misery Business” (below). This recreation is wonderful and showcases the versatility of a good digital keyboard. With steady lessons in rhythm during your piano lessons, you’ll soon be able to equate that to the recreation.

Strings and Synths

A good digital keyboard has the capability of replicating the sounds of many different instruments. One of those many instruments are of the string variety. Once you understand how inversions and improvisation functions musically, changing your keyboard settings to a synths or string instrument output can transform your eventual performance or recording. Musician MHanded showcases how he created an improvised “movie soundtrack” track using his Yamaha digital keyboard below.


Guitar? On a digital keyboard? If you have a really good digital keyboard, recreating the sounds of the guitar is well within reach. For example, I recently played with the Yamaha Motif XS8 (one of Yahama’s pricier options) and it is quite remarkable what Yamaha has been able to accomplish using digitized sounds. Famed YouTuber and musician Ronald Jenkees demonstrated this possibility in amazing all the way back in early 2008! Sure, recreating these sounds may prove difficult on a lesser-optioned digital keyboard, but if you’ve decided you want to outfit your instrumentation with one keyboard instrument that can replicate many different instruments with incredible sound and clarity and your budget is bigger, the Yamaha Motif series is an amazing option.

Developing Left-Hand Skills to Play Pop Songs

You may have seen the wonderful videos on YouTube of pianists — such as David Sides and Ryan Jones (PianoKeyz) – playing popular songs on the piano. What may seem like a very difficult feat to accomplish is actually not that difficult. One of the underpinnings these pianists use is arpeggiations (playing a note within the chord one note at a time), in addition to playing the melodies either by ear or by sight (but mostly by ear). Developing your left hand will prove crucial in fostering your ability to play your favorite pop songs’ chord progressions across two octaves in conjunction with chord inversions for ear-pleasing bass notes.

Go to Pop Piano Class!

Sure, a masterclass on how to play pop hits seems daunting as a beginner or intermediate piano player, but as you’ve develop your ear to recognize tones and melodies from the radio to the piano, transferring that to learn more songs – maybe even mash-ups – is not too far away. World-renowned pianist and performer Chilly Gonzales teamed up with 1LIVE (Eins Live) in Germany to create a YouTube series “Pop Music Masterclass”, in which he goes over some of the last few year’s top hits reimagined on the piano. While this will take a bit of knowledge and piano independence on your part as you watch and incorporate what you’ve learned on your piano, this is a remarkable challenge that is not only attainable but also very rewarding. Here are some tutorials to check out:

And there you have it! Some cool new tricks you can try on your digital keyboard either in or in-between your piano lessons. Now don’t just sit there staring at your computer screen reading words, let’s get to playing!

MiltonJMilton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!



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Piano Recitals Aren’t Just for Kids! Here’s Why

4626496464_2196ec03bc_bMost people think of piano recitals as strictly ways for young pianists to showcase their skills for proud family members. But adults can benefit from performances and recitals, as well! Learn more in this guest post by Seattle, WA teacher Erica L...


The lobby of the piano hall fills with camera flashes, nervous smiles, and small sweaty hands tightly clutching music books. Parents herd their children into the auditorium. However, when scanning the room, it’s clear very few adults are preparing themselves for a performance. One or two may pace nervously, squeeze their partner’s hand, or sit silently in their chairs remembering to breathe deeply. Seemingly these adults torture themselves for nothing. But rather, these students seize the opportunity to advance their skills and confidence.

Recitals secure skills that can only be rehearsed in lessons.

Most adult students instinctively hold themselves to a higher standard because “they know better.” As an adult, mistakes create a more significant negative impact on your self-image as a pianist. And as a result, rehearsing mistake recovery for adult students remains one of top priorities of a piano teacher. Piano lessons prepare you to make particular choices during adrenaline-prone moments. Piano recitals provide you with an opportunity to secure skills such as mistake recovery in these types of high-pressure moments.

Recitals encourage the steady development and growth of a student.

It’s inevitable that the start of January brings a tidal wave of new habits and skills. However, life gets busy, and by February any changes made have come to a halt. Participating in piano recitals provides a tangible deadline to work toward. The likelihood of completing a lesson book or learning a difficult song such as “Over the Rainbow” increases dramatically if you know a performance is on the calendar.

Recitals empower and build confidence.

Participation in recitals allows you to showcase new skills and growth. For example, say you worked on maintaining a steady tempo while playing a Clementi sonatina. However, by not performing the sonatina, you miss the opportunity to hear your practice time and effort validated by an appreciative audience. With that empowerment and success, confidence builds, and you begin to advance through harder skills and pieces.

Recitals teach vulnerability.

Performance requires vulnerability. With each note, you release hours of practice and effort into the hall. The audience will evaluate and listen to the performance. However, audiences listening to piano students never heckle or throw rotten fruit. They only encourage. So what better place can you find to practice making yourself vulnerable? You’ll also find that practicing vulnerability translates to other areas of life (e.g. relationships, workplace, self).

Recitals are more than recitals.

Piano recitals benefit adult students far more than realized. The recital develops security in certain performance skills such as mistake recovery. Additionally, it supports your growth as a student by forcing you to accomplish a goal. After a successful performance, the applause from an audience builds your confidence. You become more empowered and maintain a stronger belief in your capabilities. Finally, recitals provide an opportunity for you to practice vulnerability. Like many vocations, learning to play the piano offers many skills and benefits that translate beyond the music.


Erica L. teaches piano and music theory in Seattle, WA. She received her B.A. in Piano Performance from Seattle Pacific University. Learn more about Erica here!



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piano competitions

4 Ways Piano Competitions Make You a Better Player

piano competitionsWhat do the best piano players have in common? Most of them have participated in piano competitions, exams (like the ABRSM), or recitals. Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. explores the benefits of piano competitions…


Competition of all kinds gets a bad rap nowadays. In dozens of counties and hundreds of schools across the country, competitiveness is under fire. Students and young athletes are being told that participation and team building are all that counts, and therefore, game scores are not kept. And in even more places, music competitions have become music festivals, in which groups or soloists are graded individually and places like first, second, and third are not given.

Well, in my opinion, competition is what often drives humans to succeed. This is especially true when it comes to musicians, and more specifically, to pianists. Here’s a list of ways that competing makes you a better piano player.

• Pressure to practice

Perhaps the most immediate benefit of piano competitions is not necessarily the pressure to perform, but the pressure to practice. To have a clear and concrete deadline in front of you is quite motivating when it comes to practicing toward that goal.

Knowing that strangers will be looking for both the good and the bad of your art is a whole lot better than being told simply to practice in order to improve in a general way.

• Performance experience

Getting up in front of an audience to speak is one of the most widely feared activities in the world, and that’s only speaking! So getting up in front of an audience to play the piano is even more special, and playing your very best in a competition setting takes the experience to the next level. Performing before judges is nerve-wracking, but very exciting. And honestly, after a competition, a simple recital will feel like a breeze.

• Self-assurance

You have to be self-assured in order to be willing even to enter a competition, and your self-assurance builds as you continue to compete, no matter what the outcome. This helps you to be the kind of pianist who walks into almost any musical situation and says, “Sure, I can do that.”

That kind of attitude can open up the world to you, presenting opportunities that you may never have dreamed of, because you’re saying yes to experiences a less-assured person may have said no to.

• Networking

Networking is typically used as a business term, but it’s also used in the music world. Meeting other musicians and judges and building acquaintanceships at competitions can make a big difference in your piano career, even if you don’t necessarily plan on pursuing it professionally. Making a friend at an event may mean being asked to be part of a festival or being referred for a great gig, or maybe just finding a group of musicians to jam with.

In the end, piano competitions are less about becoming better than other pianists and more about becoming a better pianist yourself. Improving your personal best is the name of the game. That doesn’t mean, though, that the success of others should be ignored. The only great thing about our jealousies is that they can indicate what our desires are. Allow others’ successes and failures to motivate you on your own journey.


HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!



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piano scales

What Tempo Should You Practice Piano Scales At?

piano scalesReady to practice your piano scales? Break out that metronome and consider this advice from online piano teacher Crystal B...

When it comes to practicing piano scales, the subject of tempo always comes up. Many students are unsure of what tempo scales should be practiced, and the truth of the matter is, the answer will vary depending on the student. A good rule of thumb is always start slowly and work your way up to faster tempos. Here are some tips to help you assess your individual abilities and decide on a good starting tempo.

What tempo can you play the scale with note accuracy?

One of the main reasons for practicing piano scales is to learn the correct notes in each scale. I have seen cases where students will try to play the scales too fast and in the process, they miss notes or play incorrect notes. When you are first learning scales, start slow enough to really think about the notes you are playing. Which notes are flat? Which notes are sharp?

What tempo can you play each note evenly?

In addition to the theory knowledge they provide, playing through scales is also a great technical exercise! To get the full benefit of the exercise, make sure that as you play through the scale, all of the notes are played evenly. If you find that you are playing at a tempo which causes certain notes to be played faster than others, slow down! You can always speed up once you have a perfectly even scale. And make sure you don’t use the pedal while practicing this way. You want to be able to really hear the transition from note to note.

What tempo can you play the scale with the correct fingering?

This is such an important factor that gets overlooked many times during piano practice. But missing this critical step will make it very difficult to accomplish the task of playing each note evenly — especially once you try to start increasing your speed! I definitely recommend playing each hand separately before trying to play your right and left hand together. This is very important when you’re learning correct fingering because each hand is crossing over or tucking under at different points. Getting this right will take lots of practice, but it is well worth the investment of time and effort. After a certain point, your fingers will be able to do this on auto-pilot and the good news is, many of the scales use the same fingering.

The most important thing to remember is to start slowly! Fight the urge to play too fast in the beginning. Remember, you can always increase your tempo (and should!) once you have mastered the correct way to play the scale and can do so evenly.

CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!



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piano leaps

Piano Tips: How to Master Large Leaps on Piano

piano leaps

Are you intimidated when you see a large leap coming up in your piano music? Don’t fret! Take control with these tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...


Leaps are one of many piano techniques, but an especially important one because they are common and often challenging to execute; moreover, in learning to execute leaps you will also master other important piano techniques, including preparation, rotation, breathing, and making use of the weight of the hand. The following tips will help you explore and master leaps on the piano.

Think Ahead

Have you heard the expression “Look before you leap”? For piano leaps, I would modify that to “think before you leap.” I encourage students to institute a slight pause during practice right before the leap to mentally organize the concept of which keys you will be striking. You can practice this by pausing, mentally organizing the leap and then not executing it, and then, alternatively, leaping but simply reaching the keys instead of pressing them, and then leaping and actually playing the chord or note. This practice trick works well because it is addressing the most important part of the leap, which is not the fingers pressing the keys but rather the mind telling the fingers to press the keys – that is, which keys, with which fingers, and with which hand shape. The way I work with this in my own practice is that I pause for as long as needed to organize my execution of the leap. If I can’t visualize it clearly in my mind, I don’t move on. This pause becomes shorter and shorter as the mind-body connection strengthens.

Keep Breathing

A leap is one of the most difficult piano techniques, and, whenever something is challenging, a common reaction is to stop breathing and stiffen the body, including the hands and arms. However, this is the opposite of what is needed, especially in a leap where actual movement across the keyboard is involved. To work with this, you can make sure you don’t hold your breath as you work on the leap, even if noticing your breathing means that you initially mess up the leap. I recently read a slogan in an article about perfectionism that stated, “It’s not failure, it’s data.” If you find that you cannot not hold your breath and execute the leap accurately, you could take this opportunity to ask, “What data am I receiving from this experience? Why is it challenging to feel at ease in my body and allow the breath to come in and out and do the leap at the same time?” You may discover a pattern in your body that you weren’t previously aware of; letting go of it may allow the leap to occur more easily and naturally.

Be Mindful of Your Movements

Feeling the weight of the hand is another way to make sure you aren’t gripping the muscles of the forearm, armpit, and hand, but also a way to add certainty and substance to the leap. While you don’t want to hold the body, arm, and hand stiff and without movement, it’s also not desirable to completely lose any sense of tone and substance in the hand. See if you can sense the weight of your hand as it moves through space from one position to the other, and notice the ability it possesses to rebound and spring away from the keys after it strikes them. This sensation of springy weight offers a reference for where you are on the keyboard, where you are going, and how to get there. It’s another source of “data” you can rely on. Lastly, also remember to feel the weight of your torso releasing into the piano bench in relation to sensing the weight of your hand.

When we are leaping at the piano, we generally need to move the whole arm along with the hand. Make sure you are allowing the hand and arm to work as one unit, all originating in the back. Since your arm and hand are obviously physically connected to your torso and back, make sure you are also feeling the energetic connection that exists. Imagine in your mind a line that starts in the low back, travels up the back, out the shoulder, down the arm, and out the fingertips. All of this line functions as one when a leap occurs. Also remember that the arm and hand have an ability to rotate. While you may not need a huge amount of rotation for a leap, sensing a subtle spiraling rotation as your hand and arm fly through the air can give the leap increased momentum and clarity.

Hopefully these tips will help you leap with confidence, poise, and strength. Don’t forget that the skills you are working on with leaps will also help you improve your general piano playing and technique by ‘leaps and bounds’!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!



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4 Valuable Tips for Succeeding at the ABRSM Piano Exam

Photo from http://gb.abrsm.org/

Preparing for the ABRSM piano exam? Check out these helpful tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...


Piano exams can be an excellent way to challenge your musicianship, set and reach clear musical goals, and improve all facets of your playing. There are many different types of examinations, but one of the most well-established and thorough is the ARBSM piano exam, administered by the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is a comprehensive examination with eight levels, allowing you to progress sequentially through the levels throughout your piano study, and it includes a practical piano performance, scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural tests. The following suggestions are designed to help you with the preparation so you can earn a high score on the exam and progress to the next level. Good luck!

Make a Plan

Perhaps the most important tip of all with regard to the ABRSM piano exam is to make a plan. Because you will want to take at least a few to several months to prepare for each exam level, it’s important to look at the bigger picture as you practice each week. It’s a challenging exam to prepare for because you need to learn three pieces to be performed accurately and at a high musical standard, in addition to being proficient in scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural skills (and theory, which is a requirement in tandem with the piano exam after level 5).

For this reason, I encourage my students to write out a written timeline of goals, with a weekly practice itinerary to meet those goals. For example, a typical week might include: practice and memorize x number of scales and arpeggios (and/or review or increase speed of scales and arpeggios already learned), work on specific sections of each piece as determined with the guidance of your teacher, and sight read at minimum x number of pieces. You will almost certainly need to adjust your timeline and goals as you go along, but the most important part is to create it, implement it, and then adjust it as needed. Also make sure to consult with your teacher and the exam criteria to formulate your plan.

Practice in a Variety of Ways

Another challenge of preparing for the exam is working on difficult repertoire for an extended period of time. While there is plenty to improve upon, there is also the danger of falling into rote memorization, muscle memory, and a musical rut. This not only takes away the freshness and creativity of music-making, it also jeopardizes your ability to perform well on the exam. When exam conditions are different from what you expected and nerves are interfering, performing something learned through rote memorization means that a small mistake could throw you off and leave you unable to recover quickly.

So, to challenge your musicality and strengthen your exam preparation, keep your practicing novel – practice with the music, without it, with your eyes closed; break the music down into each hand or voice within the harmony; use different rhythms to drill challenging passages (ditto for scales and arpeggios); and try to infuse each practice run-through with unique musical expression and ideas. This will ensure that your performance in the exam is inspired, assured, and distinctive.

Be Proactive About Nerves

Nerves are something else worth addressing and working through when undertaking the ABRSM piano exam. My approach with my students is two-fold. First, I encourage them to perform as much as possible prior to the exam. This could be for family and friends (in which case you could also employ some of them as mock jurors), at your piano studio’s annual recital, or as a volunteer in nursing homes or similar facilities. The other thing I recommend is to remember that nerves represent a type of energy running through your mind-body. The thoughts and sensations are your body’s reaction to an increase in energy. You can harness that energy within your body to create a greater awareness of your self, your environment, and the music. Feeling nervous is actually a positive thing that tells you that you are alive, engaged in the process, and full of energy that you can apply to your musical performance.

Get Extra Help

For the aural and theory components, don’t hesitate to seek out extra help. If you’re finding it difficult to address all the exam components with your teacher in the timespan of your piano lesson, schedule a longer lesson, or have separate lessons for aural and theory. They are valuable skills for musicians that deserve sufficient attention and preparation.


As you get ready for the ABRSM piano exam, remember to enjoy the process; it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn some incredible repertoire of the piano, gain new skills, and develop as a musician. The rewards are plentiful!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!



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