piano moving

How to Safely Store or Move a Piano | Caring For Your Piano

piano moving

When you own a piano, moving takes a bit more planning. Should you hire a professional, or do it yourself? Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares what to keep in mind to make sure your instrument stays safe and sound…


Many years ago, when my family relocated, the expertise for moving our household grand piano was delegated to professional furniture movers. Three piano legs and the pedals console were removed and wrapped in blankets. The moving parts for the body, including the music stand, the keyboard cover, and the hinged top of the grand piano were secured. All this was wrapped in thick blankets and put into a piano case.

We thought all was well, until the piano arrived in our new home… with a huge bolt driven through the piano case. When the case was opened, we discovered the bolt was driven through both the piano and the soundboard. If you have ever considered hiring professionals for your piano moving, this is probably your worst nightmare.

How to Safely Move Your Piano

For cross-town relocations, a professional piano mover is usually your best bet for a grand piano. In long-distance relocations, it’s best to have a professional who deals exclusively with pianos to disassemble your piano and pack it carefully before involving furniture movers. Some piano companies will also move the piano for you. This may mean that two separate companies are involved in packing, and it’s a good idea to check the paperwork to be sure who will be responsible for delivering the piano in the same condition it left.

Although upright pianos have fewer moving parts than grands, and don’t require disassembly, it’s still a good idea to find a piano mover. Many pianos are much heavier than they appear and, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you may appreciate having help loading it into a rental truck.

Considerations for Storing Your Piano

If you need to store your piano during your move, there are extra things to consider. Since many important parts of the piano are made of wood, which is subject to expansion, the temperature extremes can ruin the instrument. Store your piano in a conditioned space, away from damp places. Don’t even think about putting your piano into a metal storage shed! It may be better to sell a piano in excellent condition, and just put that money away to buy another piano in the future.

Before your piano comes out of storage, think about where you will want to practice and play music. Look at the windows, walls, doors, and floor. Despite having insulation, an exterior wall is not the best choice for a piano. Look for an interior wall, with conditioned rooms on both sides. And, although it’s nice to have light from a window, take care that the piano will be protected from excessive heat, drafts, and rain.

Pianos in basements and garages may seem like a good idea to parents who are tired of hearing their kids practice. However, consider whether this is a good choice for an investment that can range in value from a few hundred dollars for a used spinet to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new top-of-the-line grand piano. Consider placing a rug under the piano, particularly if the piano will be on a cold surface like tile, and definitely avoid putting your piano on a bare concrete floor.

Getting Back to Playing

Now that you know where your piano will be placed, it’s time to call in the piano moving professionals! Grand pianos will need to be reassembled, and your piano will need to be tuned; pianos can’t be expected to hold their pitch during relocation. It’s a nice idea to pencil in an annual appointment with a good piano tuner to keep things sounding good.

So, now that you know about storing and moving pianos, what happened to that piano I mentioned in the beginning of the article? Well, fortunately my great-grandfather was a piano tuner, and my dad was pretty handy with tools. My dad took a good look at the crack left in the soundboard by the bolt, bought several bottles of wood glue, and borrowed an amazingly huge wood clamp and a book from the library about piano rebuilding.

Watching as my dad glued the piano together and tightened the clamp, our family prayed for the resurrection of our beloved grand piano. The piano stayed clamped together for about a week while we refinished the exposed, cosmetic woodwork to a painted, antiqued look. My dad took apart and reassembled that piano piece by piece, learning how a grand piano is put together and tuned. Finally, in a suspenseful moment which seemed like an eternity, with our family as his audience, he carefully unscrewed the clamp. It held!

Although this is very unlikely to happen to you, it’s an example a worst-case scenario during piano moving. Don’t worry too much — make sure you hire a professional piano mover, and good luck with your piano adventures!

SylviaSSylvia S. teaches singing, piano, theater acting, and more in Helendale, CA. She comes from a musical family of several generations, and her experience includes playing an electric keyboard and singing vocals in a professional, working band. Learn more about Sylvia here! 



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Where is the Best Place in the House to Put a Piano?


Buying a piano is a big investment — so it’s important to care for it so it will last for years. Learn what to keep in mind for piano placement in this guest post by teacher Timothy S...


So you went and splurged on your first piano. Even though you can’t exactly play the piano right now. Or maybe you can and your purchase is less a splurge than an investment because some initial lessons have convinced you that some real musical talent resides in your home. Even few of those with the resources to buy a piano are overburdened with too many perfect spots to locate the instrument. So the question eventually comes down to choosing the one spot in your home that is as close to perfect as possible.

Keep Away From the Windows

Sure, the portrait of someone sitting at a piano framed by big open windows may make for a breathtaking view from outside the home, but you didn’t spend all that money to learn to play the piano just so you could admire it from afar, did you? Ever get an up-close and personal look at a piano that has spent years in the path of direct sunlight? Wood, varnish, and paint are not friends of the sun.

Be Wary of Climate Change

Equally damaging is the placement of a piano anywhere in the vicinity of your home’s most extreme fluctuations in climate. The effect of placing a piano in close proximity to the heat emanating from furnaces, radiators, and air vents is a no-brainer; keep your piano away from them. In addition, keep your piano as far away from the kitchen as possible. The fluctuations in temperature taking place in that room can wreak not just havoc, but pure mayhem. The same rule applies to bathrooms, laundry rooms, and any other especially humid rooms in the home.

Think About Acoustics

In most cases, chances are you bought a piano with the intention of actually learning to play. Where the piano sounds best to you is what’s important. If you prefer the muted tones of carpeted room, so be it. If you prefer the more operatic tones produced inside a heavily tiled room, go for it. You are the one who is going to spend the most time listening to the sound your piano makes. For that reason, you should leave the piano wherever it sounds best to you.

Avoiding Clutter

Many people like to place a grand or baby grand pianos in a corner. This decision looks good and may even appear to be the most efficient use of available space. Unless, of course, it means taking everything that was in that corner of the room and stuffing it anywhere else in the house where it will fit. The potentially jarring result is the clean lines of a minimalist corner at jagged odds with an otherwise cluttered room.

Traffic Flow

Others prefer to place the piano more toward the middle of the room. This is a perfectly fine choice that likely avoids the issues of sunlight, temperature fluctuations, and humidity while also affording a much more fluid movement of the sound vibrations produced within. Unfortunately, placing a piano away from corners and walls often results in obstructing the natural flow of traffic through the room. Consider placing the flatter side of a baby grand piano lengthwise against a wall. Horizontal angling of a spinet piano rather than vertical angling can often reduce the need to divert traffic around it.

Different teachers, tuners, and virtuosos all have their own idiosyncratic perspectives on proper piano placement to get the best sound, but that location is just simply not always practical. You do have other household needs to consider, after all. The single most ideal place in the house to situate a piano is where your indoor atmosphere is most well-regulated. Atmospheric conditions related to temperature, humidity, sunlight, and even the expansion and contraction of the floor below are more likely to cause long-term problems with your piano than the minor physical damage that results from putting it the most convenient part of the house.

TimothyTimothy S. teaches writing online. He has his B.A. in English from the University of West Florida, and was twice named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Learn more about Timothy here!



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class presentation

5 Tips for Ensuring Your Class Presentation is Unforgettable

class presentation

Do you have a big class presentation or speech coming up? Learn how to make it memorable with these presentation tips from online tutor Carrie M


Have you ever sold a product to an individual or large group? If you are thinking to yourself, “I don’t think so,” think again, because if you’ve ever been charged with the task of giving a presentation to a class of your peers and your teacher you have definitely sold a product! The real question is: how did you do, did you sell your classmates and your teacher on the topic you were presenting or the invention you spent hours creating? The only feedback you may have received was from your teacher with the grade you earned, and that only tells you how well you completed the to-do list of items typically required for a presentation. That being said, here are a handful of presentation tips to win over your audience and make your presentation unforgettable.

1. Tell a Story

People of all ages relate to personal stories. When you incorporate a story from your life that connects to your topic, your audience’s ability to engage and connect will increase immensely. This is one of the best presentations tips, because your audience will leave remembering the story you shared and, therefore, will remember what it was you taught or “sold” them.

2. Integrate Different Media

A medium is simply the way in which we communicate — for example, music, artwork, movies/videos, and PowerPoint. Often presenters get stuck in the rut of standing behind a podium or desk reading off a screen or notes as they present material to an audience, and this is often the reason their presentation is completely forgettable.

When you watch a movie it is rare to have the setting and tone remain the same, so why should your presentation be any different? Just as with your stories, the media you choose to incorporate should be appropriately used and should have a connection to the topic on which you are trying to present. If you are doing a PowerPoint presentation about the Southern Colonies, for example, have links within your PowerPoint to videos or photographs about the Southern Colonies (this could be how it looks now compared to then or a map showing what the landscape looked like during that time, etc.).

3. Tickle Their Funny Bone

They say laughter is the best medicine, so why not include some humor in your presentation? Your audience is sure to rank your presentation as unforgettable when you lighten the mood with a bit of laughter. Of course, you want to make sure that your jokes are appropriate to your audience and the topic. This can also be achieved through the stories you share. For example, if you’re presenting information on the effects social media has on today’s high school and/or college students, you could add “hashtag” to everything you say, and then show a YouTube clip of the skit “#Hashtag” with Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake.

Word of caution: Be sure to view clips prior to showing to ensure they are appropriate for your class.

4. Provide Tasty Treats

Food plays a significant role in our lives — we need it for nourishment and sustainability, but it is also used to mark events in our lives such as birthdays, graduations, baby showers, the loss of a loved one, etc., and we use it to connect to others. So, if food is so significant why not make your presentation unforgettable with some treats or candy? For the college crowd, baked goods are an excellent item to have sitting out for your audience to partake in as they congregate before your presentation and, also, as they are listening to you present. For the high school crowd, baked goods may be unrealistic, so candy would be a better option. You can use it to get audience participation by asking a question and the person with the correct answer earns a piece of candy. If you are able to bring in cooked/baked items, it will leave a huge impression on your audience if the food chosen relates to the topic being presented. For example, if your topic is on the 13 Colonies, make some food that would have been served during that time period.

Word of caution: You may need to check in with your teacher before bringing items. Also, be mindful of allergies. Avoid anything with nuts if you are unsure of your audience. Your teacher should be able to provide you with the types of allergies within your class.

5. Know and Be Passionate About Your Topic

If you are knowledgeable and passionate about what you are presenting, your audience will leave feeling the same. No matter what medium you use, you need to make sure you know everything there is to know about the topic you’ve chosen or have been given to present. If you know your topic forward and back then your passion will increase as well, and it will in turn make your presentation unforgettable. You need to be able to present the material like a story in itself and be able to answer any questions that might be thrown your way. Nothing makes a presentation more forgettable than a presenter who has to read directly from his/her notes or PowerPoint, and who is obvious about how much they dislike the topic. Be the breath of fresh air to an audience, and wow them with your depth of knowledge.

May these tips be your jumping off point to the most unforgettable presentation of your academic career! If you find yourself needing a visual aid, check out this website for some modern-day presenters who leave their audience with an unforgettable presentation.

Good luck!

CarrieMCarrie M. tutors in a variety of subjects online. She earned her BA in Elementary Education as well as Exceptional Student Education (special ed.) from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. Learn more about Carrie here!



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cold reading a script

How to Prepare for a Cold Reading Audition in 4 Easy Steps

cold reading a script

Vying for your dream role on stage or on screen? Any audition can be scary, but especially so if it calls for reading a script without ever seeing it before. Here are some helpful audition tips from Huntington Beach, CA teacher Natalie E. to help you prepare with confidence…


Preparing for a cold reading audition can seem like a daunting task. How can I make strong choices if I’m still on book? How can I truly capture the life of the character if I’m only reading a couple of lines? What if I make a mistake while I’m reading?

Here are four simple audition tips to help you prepare for that big audition or callback:

1. Practice, practice, practice.
Start by reading plays and screenplays. Read them voraciously. Read them out loud with your friends, family, or acting coaches, read them out loud by yourself in your room, read constantly, and do your best to act the parts as you go along. After all, the best way to get better at something is by doing it, right?

2. Familiarize yourself with the material
Often, we audition for plays that have already been published, or for new works that are based on movies, novels and stories, or other plays. Read, watch, or listen to the script or source material, paying special attention to the character or characters for which you are auditioning. Think about where that character comes from, and what role they play in the context of the show; it is also good to think about the kind of clothing that character wears, as it might help you connect. In short, do your homework and come prepared to make educated choices!

3. Warm up
Would you try to learn a complicated ballroom dance step without stretching first? Probably not. So don’t go into your cold read cold; make sure that you’ve warmed up your body and your voice. Do a few stretches, and make sure to include some tongue twisters — preparing your articulators and breathing muscles will go a long way in preventing you from tripping over your words. If your body and voice are warmed up, you’ll be ready for whatever the audition throws your way!

4. Have fun!
That’s the reason we’re doing this in the first place, right? Go big or go home! Don’t be afraid to play, and don’t shy away from the strongest choice! Experimentation and exploration is the best part of being an actor, so go for it!

Ultimately, the people sitting behind the table are looking for two things: do you capture their attention, and do you seem like you’re fun to work with? They want you to be good, they’re on your side, so don’t get nervous — with these audition tips, you can confidently show them what you can do, and how excited you are to work!

NatalieENatalie E. teaches singing, songwriting, audition prep, and more in Huntington Beach, CA. She received her BA in Drama from UC Irvine, and has been studying classical voice technique for 10 years. Learn more about Natalie here!



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Beginner Flute Lessons: How to Make the Most of Your Lessons


As you learn to play the flute, attending regular private lessons are integral to your success. Here, Chicago, IL flute teacher Jillian D. shares her tips for making the most of those lessons…


Growing up, flute lessons were, and still are, an important part of my life. They instilled me with discipline, integrity, and pride, while also allowing me to grow and mature artistically. The moments you spend with your teacher are filled with helpful information and wise insight. The hard part is getting it all to stick. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your beginner flute lessons:

Before your lesson:

  1. Eat. Nothing is more distracting than a growling stomach. Eat a good meal before your lesson, so you’ll be fueled and ready to play.
  2. Be prepared. Show up to each lesson prepared and ready to learn. Working hard in the days leading up to your lesson will allow you to make progress each week.
  3. Review your lesson material without your flute. Going over fingerings, pieces, and other lesson material away from your flute is a good way to warm up your brain before a lesson. You’ll be surprised at how much you remember when you come back to your flute.

During your lesson:

  1. Be engaged and stay focused. It’s easy to let your mind wander when your teacher rattles on about alternate fingerings, harmonic overtones, and melodic minor scales. But stay focused! Be as attentive as possible, and try to absorb everything your teacher says like a sponge.
  2. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, do not be afraid to say so. Your teacher only wants to help you get better, so if something is unclear, ask!
  3. Record it. Recording your lessons is a great way to easily review your teacher’s feedback later. However, it’s always important to ask for permission before you hit record.

After your lesson:

  1. Take notes in your flute journal. You’ll be given a LOT of useful information during your lessons. Write them down in a notebook or journal as you go along. That way, you won’t forget when you’re practicing during the week.
  2. Review. Keep your lesson notes organized and detailed. Even something as simple as reviewing your notes on the car ride home will help your flute playing immensely.
  3. Practice as soon as you get home. Practicing after your lesson is a great way to make sure everything sticks. Go over what your teacher helped you with during the lesson. Take what he or she said a step further, and see what kind of progress you can make on your own.

Concentration, hard work, and preparation are the keys to getting the most from your beginner flute lessons. Have fun, stay focused, and discover something new while playing your flute every day.

JillianDJillian D. teaches flute in Chicago, IL. She is currently working on her degree in Flute Performance at DePaul University School of Music. Learn more about Jillian here!



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6 Websites for Finding Free Flute Sheet Music


Looking for some new tunes to practice? Check out these recommendations for finding flute sheet music from Brooklyn, NY teacher Julie P...


If you’re a flute player looking for more music to learn, you’re in luck! There are many places to find free flute sheet music on the web. There’s more music out there than you’ll ever have time to explore, ranging from solos to duets to etudes and scales. You can find music in genres from Classical to Pop/Rock, Folk, and Holiday. Whether you’re looking for your next solo to study or want to practice your sight reading, the sites below have great options to check out.

International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)

The IMSLP database is one of the best places to go for free flute sheet music. If you look at the page of scores featuring the flute, you’ll find thousands of scores available for free. These are classical, public domain works with varying instrumentation. Go to this site for flute solos, duets, trios, sonatas, concertos, and etudes, as well as small and large ensembles including the flute. This site can be overwhelming since there are so many pieces available. Try out some etudes, including popular ones by Anderson or Gariboldi, or play some duets, including ones by Quantz and Kuhlau. If you’re really into Bach, try out some of the Sonatas, Partitas, and Concertos.


FluteTunes.com posts free flute sheet music for a new song every day. Each piece is labeled by difficulty level from “easy” through “advanced.” The genres represented are mostly classical and folk music from a wide variety of cultures. Instrumentations represented include flute solos, flute duets, flute with piano, flute with organ, flute with strings, and flute with guitar. MP3 and MIDI tracks allow you to play along with the accompaniment while you learn the song. The site also has pages of flute scales and fingerings.


8notes.com has over 450 pieces from various genres, including Classical, Rock & Pop, Jazz, Traditional, World, and Film. Songs are labeled by difficulty level from “beginning” through “hard.” Play-along tracks and sheet music accompaniments are available as well.

Fluters Music

Fluters Music is a blog run by a high school flute player who writes out the notes for the melodies of pop songs you hear on the radio. The notes are written as letter names above the lyrics so there’s no need to know how to read music! This is a great site if you’re a beginning flutist and you want to play the pop songs you already know and enjoy.

Herbert Lindholm

Herbert Lindholm has made many of his flute compositions available for free. These include technique studies, flute solos, duets and trios, flute ensembles, and flute with piano or guitar. Most pieces are labeled by difficulty level (1-9) and also include the approximate duration of the piece.

Lark In the Morning

Lark In The Morning has a number of large collections of folk songs from all around the world. Collections of free flute sheet music include folk dance melodies from a variety of countries, including Armenia, Austria, Bolivia, Bosnia, Germany, Greece, and Yugoslavia!

Now that you’ve seen how much variety is out there in terms of free flute sheet music, go ahead and pick some pieces you’d like to learn. There are a lot of pieces you can probably learn on your own, but some will require the help of a teacher. If you live in the NYC area I’d love to help you learn the music you’re excited about. Otherwise, search on TakeLessons.com for a teacher in your area. Enjoy!

JuliePJulie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!



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3 Step for Reigniting Your Child’s Interest in Piano Learning


Is your once-enthused child suddenly losing interest in the piano? Read on as Oakland Gardens, NY teacher Ophelia T. shares three steps to take before it’s too late… 


“I don’t want to learn piano anymore! It’s boring! I always have to practice the same thing over and over again! I’m sick and tired of it!” an 11-year-old boy shouts to his parents.

This is a common case scenario for many parents and children who have taken piano lessons, and it can be due to several reasons. A common one is when parents want their child to learn an instrument, but the child was never interested in it to begin with. Another is when the student loses motivation and interest midway into their piano learning. If your child is beginning to fight you, take the following steps to help him or her get back on track for enjoying learning.

1) Identify the reason.

Music is a channel for creativity and passion, so learning piano should never be dull or boring! Instead, music should be the aspect that sparks one’s interest, since it has an unlimited amount of possibilities and there’s always so much to learn! If you find that your child is losing motivation and interest, there must be a reason. As a parent, you should try to identify what the reason is.

2) Find the spark!

Motivation stems from interest. Sometimes children lose motivation and interest because piano lessons become so stagnant in their lives and nothing new comes from it. It’s a common stage for all piano students. As a student of piano myself, I can testify that this was once a struggle for me. As I practiced piece after piece with my teacher next to me nodding her head, I found that there was no major challenge. I mastered how to read the notes and it was just a matter of slowly sight reading and putting it together with my hands. Piano lessons became boring and irrelevant to my everyday life.

However, I soon came to realize that although piano may not be relevant to my everyday life, music definitely is! As I incorporated music I liked to listen to, like popular music, R&B, jazz, and blues in my piano learning, the lessons became fun again. I asked my piano teacher to teach me new styles of music in addition to the classical pieces that she assigned, and soon I looked forward to the challenge of accomplishing new pieces every week.

3) Reignite!

Speak with your child’s piano teacher about adding new elements for more challenge and something fresh. For example, if your child has not learned music theory, ask your piano teacher to incorporate it in their lesson plan. Music theory is fundamental to piano learning and getting familiar with it will make your child an overall better musician. In addition, oftentimes children start off learning classical pieces. Take this as a good opportunity to ask his or her teacher to explain the musical form of the piece and/or go over the history behind the piece or the composer. This makes the piano lesson much more interactive and interesting, and allows your child to “get to know” the piece and build a personal relationship with it. After all, encountering a new piece of music is like meeting a new friend and it takes time to learn what they are like, what they don’t like, and their personal story.

Finally, enjoy and have fun!

Whatever the reason may be for your child’s loss of interest, identify the problem first, and then communicate with your piano teacher to figure out ways to solve it. When in doubt, reintroduce them to piano lessons as simply music: something to enjoy and get creative with. Don’t pressure him or her into thinking it’s another type of schooling. Music is a form of art and is best learned and developed when your child is interested in it, having fun, and then creating their own form of art in music.

OpheliaTOphelia T. teaches piano and tutors in math, English, reading, and language in Oakland Gardens, NY. She is a Hunter College graduate with a B.A in Music with concentration on Music Performance and Music Theory. Learn more about Ophelia here!



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7 Ways to Stay Focused in a World of Distractions


If you feel easily distracted in your daily life, you’re not alone! But as a writer or artist, this can be particularly detrimental to your craft. Here, Ann Arbor, MI teacher Keith F. shares some of his suggestions for how to stay focused…


In our modern culture, we watch television and use the internet several hours a day. We are experiencing ‘passive stimulation.’ Screens with light and color keep our attention, resulting in a form of light hypnosis, with the images constantly changing. Without this form of stimulation we get bored and fidgety. We start looking for something to do, or some other form of stimulation. Passive stimulation blocks the creative process. (Time is also an issue, but that is another lesson.)

Increasing Your Span of Attention Promotes Creativity

You get this great idea. And then something distracts you and you forget about it. And then the process happens again. Deep down inside, you are a creative thinker, not that anyone will ever know. Your creativity will never be expressed. That aspect of yourself will never be developed, and you will go through life operating as half the person you could have been. Unless you develop your ability to stay focused.

To help with this, I recommend trying out some of the following exercises. These exercises are time-consuming. They require practice. Practice takes time. But the more time you put into it, the better you’ll get. Some exercises are forms of ‘active stimulation,’ while others are methods for dialing down the need for stimulation.

Physical Exercise
Physical exercise requires concentration — until you get used to it. Then you have to switch to a new form of exercising: running to bicycling to swimming. There is usually some pain involved and ignoring it can be part of the concentration process. Hatha Yoga is (usually) not painful, requires a fair amount of focus, and can be altered and expanded upon for years. Similarly, dance (ballet, jazz, modern) has a lot of potential as a long-term exercise format requiring focus.

Have you ever tried focusing when you’re tired? It doesn’t work well. Yet a huge portion of the American population chooses not to get enough sleep. Sleep is when you heal from the various abuses of the day. Two or three hours of sleep will not do that. Over the long-haul, you’re setting yourself up for disease and distress. In the short-term, you’re only functioning at 75% of your optimum. Forget about creativity, you’re just walking around semi-numb.

Meditation is about cutting off stimulation and allowing your mind to shut down for a while, taking a well-deserved rest after all the hoops you’ve had to jump through. There are different styles of meditation, all of which can teach you how to stay focused. Some focus on breathing, some focus silencing the mind, and some focus on dance movements.

Reading requires the ability to focus for an extended period of time. Unlike television, it is an active form of stimulation. With a book, you have to imagine what’s going on — excellent training for creativity. If it has been a while, 10 minutes of reading may be a stretch. Start off with a novel you enjoy and after a few weeks try a nonfiction book you find interesting. Keep at it. You’ll get better. I like to read on the bus, in the afternoon after I get home for half an hour, and I usually get in a couple of hours on Sunday.

Drawing, painting, and sculpting are all great exercises for creativity. It’s not the end result that counts, it’s the process. You may have to get past your ego on this one. Be patient with yourself. You’ll get better, or switch to a different art form.

Certainly writing in itself requires the ability to stay focused. Some writers trek off to isolated cabins to minimize distractions. That’s not necessary, but it helps. If you’re struggling, I recommend doing the journal/diary experience. You’ll certainly be focused and you’ll get to learn a lot about yourself and others.

Awe-inspiring experiences quiet the mind, and allow it to perceive the world from a different perspective. I strongly recommend finding an awe-inspiring experience once a day: sunsets, art, kittens, or whatever else inspires you!

Sometimes in our modern culture, we need a little help with motivation and learning how to stay focused. Beyond the ideas above, a regularly scheduled meeting with a tutor or mentor who has lots of experience with creative writing can be a remarkably useful solution. Not only will the tutor play the role of adviser, but he or she can provide a sense of commitment that might be otherwise lacking. They will also provide ‘active stimulation.’ (Ready to find a tutor near you? Search here!)

KeithFKeith S. teaches accent reduction and writing in Ann Arbor, MI. He has written three books and a large number of articles on a variety of topics. Learn more about Keith here!



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Crafts That Save Cash: $5 DIY Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Short on cash? Don’t fret! Check out these budget-saving DIY gift ideas from New York, NY teacher Lauren P. to get your creativity flowing…


Don’t stress about exceeding your budget during the holidays. Instead, try tapping into your creative spirit to bring the joy back into gift-giving. Stock up on craft supplies or pantry ingredients to create feel-good DIY gifts that will impress your loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Here are some ideas to inspire the people in your life to feel the holiday spirit with your homemade gifts.

Gratitude & Love


Who doesn’t love feeling appreciated? Stroke your loved ones’ egos while pulling at their heartstrings with a two-sided wood-framed photograph and letter of gratitude, as featured on Southern Revivals.

First, find a photograph that captures the happiest or proudest moment of the gift recipient’s life. This can be especially fun for an elderly family member if you can find a photograph from their youth. As an alternative, simply find a photo of the two of you together. Print or copy the photo in black and white.

Second, think of something your loved one said or did that inspired you. Did they give you advice that changed your outlook on life? Were you filled with pride and emulation when you witnessed one of their accomplishments? Did they tell you a story of a decision or action they took in the past that inspired you to be a better person? Write down exactly how their character or life has influenced you. They may want to display your letter of gratitude more than the photograph!

Supplies (makes 6-8 gifts):
$4: 4” square wood painting panel (1.5” thick)
$4: “Mod Podge”
$5: Acrylic varnish (gloss or semi-gloss)
$1: Foam brush
Rolling pin or cylindrical tube/bottle

o Measure the recessed area on the backside of the wood panel. Then cut the paper for your gratitude letter into a square that will fit snugly.
o Once your gratitude letter is complete, use the foam brush to coat the recessed area on the back of the wood panel in Mod Podge. Carefully press the letter into the glue.
o Use a rolling pin or any hard cylindrical tube or bottle to roll the letter flat.
o Now use the brush to layer Mod Podge over the letter.
o Flip the panel to the front, and repeat steps 1–4 with the photograph.
o Clean the brush and let the panel dry.
o Use the brush to spread the lacquer over the front of the panel. Follow the lacquer’s instructions to apply the correct amount of coats.
o Let dry, repeat lacquer step on the back, and you are done!

Home Cooking & Celebration


Give your relatives, friends, and coworkers something to celebrate even after the festivities are over: a hassle-free sweet or savory treat, like the ones featured over at The Frugal Girls and All Free Crafts. Simply layer the following ingredients into mason jars, glue or tie a mini recipe card to the lid with a string or ribbon, and voila, your DIY gift is ready!


½ cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup chocolate chips and/or walnuts (optional)

Recipe Card
1 mason jar mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes

Chockfull Chocolate Cookies

1 box Betty Crocker Milk Chocolate Cake Mix
1 bag topping of your choice (peppermint pieces, Milky Way bites, M&Ms, pecans, etc.)

Recipe Card
1 mason jar mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Chill dough for 15 minutes in the refrigerator
Spoon rounded balls onto cookie sheet
Bake at 350 degrees for 8–9 minutes

Savory Italian Curly Soup

2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp beef bouillon (can substitute for a vegetarian version)
1/4 cup minced dry onions
1 tsp sugar
3 cups tri-colored curly pasta

Recipe Card
8 cups of water
2 can crushed tomato
Boil water, add mason jar mix, and cook 15 minutes


How-to-Make-Peppermint-Bath-Salts-at-TheFrugalGirls.com_2Another great DIY gift idea is to use your extra mason jars and ribbon to create luxurious bath salts and sugar rubs, again featured over at The Frugal Girls. The women in your life will love an excuse to pamper themselves.

Sugar Scrub in Jar

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup white sugar
10 drops essential oil of your choice (peppermint, vanilla, lavender, etc.)

Salt Bath in a Jar

1 cup salt
1 tbsp baking soda
4 drops essential oil of your choice
4 drops food coloring of your choice (optional)







With these low-cost ideas, you can feel good about giving spa accessories to the women in your life, home cooking to the bachelors and students, and framed gratitude to the family members who have it all. Whether you need 20 presents for your coworkers or one heartfelt gift for your loved one, you can’t go wrong with these DIY crafts.

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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reading skills

The Music of Reading: How to Help Your Struggling Reader

reading skills

Is your child struggling with his or her reading skills? Here are some helpful tips from Brick, NJ tutor Elizabeth C. to incorporate music with reading…


Does your child know all the lyrics and melodies to their favorite songs yet can’t read a simple sentence? Is your child the one dancing in front of the television or computer copying the latest dance moves from a pop video yet can’t read a grade level book? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you have a “struggling reader.” If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you also have a musical learner.

Musically inclined children have a natural aptitude for rhythm and tone. These children also have strong audio discrimination skills that help them understand and retain what they hear (hence the ability to rock out to their favorite music). These skills, when recognized, can be utilized to foster reading development and written language fluency.

As a reading specialist and a piano teacher, I have encountered numerous students with these characteristics. Unfortunately, reading in our schools is not often presented as a musical skill, but a passive memorization of phonemic sounds and blends made into words that when combined make sentences that tell a story, share ideas, or give information. However, if we break down reading skills to a musical form, there are sounds (phonics), beats to words (syllables), rhythm of sentences (phrasing), and tone (expression/voice).

If you have a musical learner, by all means do everything you can to foster this gift. You have been blessed with a creative mind. Instrumental or vocal lessons are a great way to develop your child’s natural talents and expand their learning in both math and reading.

If your musical child is struggling to read, there are things that you can do to insure that your child’s reading experience is both musical and magical. The following suggestions are used almost daily within my classroom to reach those talented souls that have “rhythm and soul.”

When learning new words or sounds, have your child “sing” the material using a genre (e.g. opera, country style, hip-hop, rap, etc.). When my students learn their new words and sentences their favorite style is “heavy metal” (head banging and all!).
When learning new words, have your child tap their foot or snap their fingers for the individual sounds for blending. This provides rhythmic context for word reading.
For larger words you can have students segment the word by syllables. Have your child open one palm and make a fist with the other. To count how many “beats” (syllables) a word has you “beat the drum” while saying the syllables of the word. For example: personality = per (beat) son (beat) al (beat) it (beat) y (beat). Then ask your child how many beats are in the word. This skill teaches students to break larger words into parts, making it easier to read.
Sing your sentences!
Give your child the lyrics to their favorite songs and have them read and sing along. This creates the visual component of their audio learning and puts two and two together.
Last but not least, speak with your child’s teacher about your students’ strengths and ask him/her to provide musically based reading activities. You may also inquire if your district has specialized reading programs like Wilson Reading® that utilize rhythmic instruction with kinesthetic and spatial related activities.

The musical learner is a gifted learner. When educators and parents tap into this natural gift the learning can be enhanced and last a lifetime. The struggling reader can become fluent in reading text and reading music. When these skills come together the sky is the limit!

ElizabethCElizabeth C. teaches music theory and piano lessons in Brick, NJ. She is a state-certified teacher with extensive experience working with children of all ages, including individuals with special needs. Learn more about Elizabeth here!



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