8 Year Old’s Piano Recital Goes Viral

Can you imagine your town coming together for an 8-year-old’s piano recital? The residents of one Minnesota town did just that, gathering by the hundreds in the rain to see young Dylan Spoering play a free show.

A local musician saw the sign Dylan had put up in his front yard to advertise the show, and thought it would be fun to get the community together to make this talented kid feel like a rockstar for a day. He created an event page on Facebook, and now the piano recital is getting national attention. Check it out!

Have you seen anything like this in your town? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!


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Top Five Piano Songs For Kids

2372172953_8da7d61e8e_bAre you a teacher or a parent looking for some great piano songs for kids? Check out these suggestions from Nutley, NJ teacher Christina C

As a piano teacher at several music schools in northern NJ, I’ve attended quite a few recitals. While listening to my colleagues’ students as well as my own, I’ve heard a variety of musical pieces performed, which got me thinking: What are the top five piano songs for kids to play?

Since there are many different songs and arrangements of songs to suit different levels of ability, I will stick to the top five songs that can be learned within the first year or two of taking piano lessons. The following five pieces are in order of easiest to most difficult, but assumes that other songs will be taught in between learning them.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

The first song I teach my students, after introducing them to the white keys of the piano in “C position” is “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. This song is easy, recognizable, and children can play its simple melody with their right hand alone. Kids love to play this because they are excited about playing a song that they already know, and can show to their family and friends, who will recognize it too.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Another song I have a lot of success with is “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. This song is great because the melody can be taught first using all five fingers of the right hand, and teaching the new concept of stretching your pinky finger over to the right to play the A key as well as the G key. This is a perfect piece to teach this new concept because the student can easily see that the hand should stay mainly in the C position, only moving the pinky to the right as necessary to play the A.

Another good thing about this song is that after the right hand melody part is taught, I help the student learn the underlying chords that go with the melody to play with their left hand. I explain how to find the “home note” and how to identify the key that the song is in by listening. Three very basic major chords are used (C, F, and G) and they happen to also be the I, IV, and V chords, respectively, which is also a very important concept to learn, as many songs use this very popular chord progression. After learning the melody and chords with each hand playing separately, when the student is ready, we put the hands together.

Happy Birthday

My third pick for top piano songs for kids to learn would have to be ”Happy Birthday.” This is a staple song in a pianist’s repertoire. The next time your child attends a birthday party for a family member or friend, encourage them to play the song on the piano while everyone else sings along! This is also a good song to teach kids because the melody can be split between both hands for an early beginner to learn, or arranged for the melody to be played with the right hand and the chords with the left for a more advanced student.

The next two pieces I have selected are classical and also more difficult, but can usually be incorporated into a student’s repertoire within the first year or two of study.

Minuet in G (J.S. Bach)

There are two sections to this Minuet and most people will instantly recognize the first section. I usually play the whole piece for my student, and get them the music for both sections – but so they don’t feel overwhelmed, I tell them that we are only going to learn the first part and see how it goes. I slowly teach them the beginning of the first section- right hand separately, then left hand separately. They will practice it hands separately for a week in between lessons and then start putting the hands together. Before they know it, they are playing Bach and they are usually so excited they can’t wait to go on to the next section of the piece!

Fur Elise

Finally, this list would not be complete without “Fur Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven. I can remember hearing it as a little girl and wanting to play it as soon as possible, which I did! It is fairly easy to play, and uses both major and minor chords. There are different arrangements with simpler left hand chords that also skip the middle sections of the piece, which are rather challenging to a beginner. These easier arrangements are really wonderful because they allow a beginner to play a well-known classical piece, which can really boost their student’s confidence.

These five pieces are highly recommended to learn if you are taking piano lessons. Each song has its own concepts to learn in addition to learning to play the song itself. If you are in your first year or two of piano lessons, see which of these you have played and which you have yet to learn. Ask your piano teacher about anything on this list that you have not yet learned, and I’m sure that he or she will be able to take it from there and teach you arrangements of these songs appropriate to your individual level. Above all, enjoy playing the piano!

ChristinaCChristina C. teaches piano, composition, songwriting, and more in Nutley, NJ. She majored in Piano Performance at Ithaca College, and has over 15 years of teaching experience in professional music studios in NJ. Learn more about Christina here! 



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compose a song for piano

How to Make Composing Fun for Singers and Pianists

compose a song for piano

Want to learn how to compose a song, but not sure where to start? Here, Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her strategy for teaching the process and making it fun at the same time! Read on to learn more…


Teaching my voice and piano students how to compose a song is a huge part of my curriculum. It is multi-functional, in that it works to hone students’ sightsinging, musicianship, creativity, and theory knowledge in practice. And with most students out of school for the summer, it’s a great time to do something out-of-the-box, like composing!

One of the easiest ways to get even the youngest students to write and then sightread their own music is a simple game. First, on a sheet of staff paper, I draw a five-note scale in a tessitura where the singer’s comfortable. If the student is a pianist, I’ll choose a position where they’re comfortable. I prefer the simplicity of C major for beginners, but I might use an entire scale for more advanced students. Below it or beside it, I draw a series of notes. For instance, for my six-year-old voice student, Ella, I drew a quarter note, then a half note, then a dotted half, then a whole note. Depending on the student’s theory level, I sometimes write the number of beats beside each kind of note.

Now, the fun begins. I’ll ask the student to choose a note from the scale that’s been custom tailored, so to speak, just for his theory level. Then I’ll ask him to choose what kind of note we’ll use. So my voice student, Ella, asks, “May I please have an F and a half note?” I write a half note on F. Ella then asks, “May I please have a G and a dotted half note?” I reply, “No, Ella. It’s in 4/4 time. Only four beats fit into this measure. With a dotted half added to a half, that’d be five beats. That’s too many.” “Okay,” Ella says, “I’ll take a quarter note on C and a quarter note on D.”

Many of the best piano curriculum books feature a few exercises in which you must write a few measures of melody, but this game extends it and makes it accessible either for voice students who don’t have those books or for piano students who may not be quite ready for the exercise of simply coming up with something. Eventually, of course, you will slowly grow to take charge of this game and be able to compose a song more freely and independently. As that time comes along, I’ll begin to allow more freedom with only some constraints.

For instance, if you’re an intermediate student, I would ask you to write your own eight measure piece, but I’ll give you the time signature, the key signature, and perhaps the left hand chord progression. Making it even more fun could mean writing some lyrics first and trying to write the melody to match.

When I was growing up, it was always the running joke that singers were the dumbest of the musicians when it comes to theory and composition. Often, pianists weren’t regarded much more highly. But perhaps, that’s because they were never given the encouragement needed even to try.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint 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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Learning Piano: Keeping Young Students Excited About Music


Is your child learning piano this summer? Check out these tips from Des Moines, IA teacher Mariana P. to help him or her stay on track and motivated…

Do you have a young child who just started taking piano lessons? The summer is a great time to start lessons, since children have more time and are able to practice a little more, which is essential to grasp the basics of music and piano technique. However, with more time also come fun vacations and camps.

So, how do you help your new piano player retain what he or she has just learned when you’re away? First of all, speak to your instructor and get their insight. The lesson before a trip or summer camp, meet for five to ten minutes at the end to discuss a plan. If you feel confident enough to guide your child through a few new pieces, exercises, or worksheets, have your instructor write down a detailed plan of what to do in between lessons.

For example:
Week 1 – Lesson book page X, theory book page X, technique book page X
Week 2 – Lesson book page Y, theory book page Y, technique book page Y

Please be aware that almost every lesson book page has a corresponding theory, technique, and performance page and you will be able to find those at the bottom of either the lesson book pages or the complementary book’s pages.

Supplementary Materials

If your child has a particular weak point, go ahead and explore some of the worksheets available for download or purchase at lesson plan marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers or Lesson Plan Pro.

I have a four year-old student who is just learning her finger numbers, so I suggested to her mom to visit The Plucky Pianista and download her Froggy Fingers worksheet. I’ve used it with my most recent students who are new to learning piano and have had a ton of success. If your child is more into games, Susan Paradis has a couple of them for learning finger numbers. My favorite ones are:

I’ve also created a set of flashcards to practice finger number recognition and placement on the keyboard. You can find it here.

Free iPad Apps
I own an iPad and and iPhone so I haven’t been able to try out the apps available for the Android platform, but here are my favorites for iOS users:

This is great for beginners to feel the beat internally when learning piano. Students have to wait for the count-off and tap the green button for the necessary duration. Each level has an accompaniment to make the exercises more interesting.

This app includes a few free songs and you can buy some more through the app. There are 15 “bots” and they each play a different pitch. When the player is ready to play the song, one bot will light up and raise its hand to let him know to touch it. It’s a fun version of a light-up keyboard. The app offers the option of having the bots sing the pitches on “la,” note names, or solfege syllables.

This is a bonus one. It’s a silly ear-training app to introduce tonal memory. There are three “blobs” and their “king blob.” The three blobs sing three different pitches and then the king blob will sing a pitch that matches one of the other blobs’; choose the correct one and move on to the next exercise.

Finally, the most important thing to keep your child excited about music is being excited about it yourself. Have fun during your practice sessions, be silly, and explore the instrument to ensure the joyous light of music remains lit in their hearts.

MarianaPMariana C. teaches piano, singing, and Spanish lessons in Des Moines, IA. She has a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Master of Music in Vocal Pedagogy at the Catholic University of America. Learn more about Mariana here! 



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Piano Hands

Basics of Piano: What Should I Expect at My First Piano Lesson?

What To Expect From Your First Piano LessonNervous about your first piano lesson? You’re not alone! It’s only natural. The piano is a daunting instrument – so many keys, so little time! But we’d like to let you in on a secret: there’s nothing to be nervous about. With a little bit of preparation, you can start your piano-playing journey without any worries whatsoever.

How to Prepare

First of all, relax. It all comes down to your mindset. Before your first lesson, think about your goals. Do you want to someday play at Carnegie Hall? Do you want to play in a band or just noodle around at home? It helps to know exactly where you want to go. Of course, starting small is always the best strategy. Get the basics of piano down: scales, beginner exercises, and maybe one simple tune. Your first lesson will be all about your introduction to the instrument. Just remember, the professional musician playing Carnegie Hall this weekend was once exactly where you are now!

Chat with Your Teacher

Every good student begins with a good teacher. Establishing a solid teacher-student relationship is important, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teacher will likely ask you what your goals are – so if you followed the above step,  you’re prepared for this! Feel free to name some songs you’ve always wanted to play or your favorite artists. At this time you can ask about studio policies as well. Any advanced knowledge of what to expect can go a long way to ease those first-day jitters. Here are a few questions you might want to ask your piano teacher:

  • What equipment, books, or other accessories do I need?
  • What is the policy regarding rescheduling lessons?
  • How is a typical lesson structured?
  • What do you expect of me as a student?

Be Patient

Once again, your results are highly dependent on your state of mind. You’re not going to be playing Rachmaninoff at your first lesson – you’re more likely to start with a major scale, probably in the key of C Major. These basic scales and exercises may not be the most fun at first, but they’re the best thing you can learn for control over the instrument. You’ll get to the fun songs and melodies with time!

What Control?

The piano is a big instrument, but it’s also a delicate instrument. Tap a finger lightly on one key; see how lightly you can tap. Notice how the sound takes on a soft, almost bell-like quality. Now strike that key harder. Notice how the sound brightens and becomes more percussive. Training the fingers to control these piano dynamics is one of the basics of piano study. Again, don’t discount the simple exercises your teacher starts you out with! They’ll come in handy – we promise!

A One and a Two and a…

Your teacher will probably teach you some basic exercises, and expect you to practice them on a daily basis (or whatever you’re able to work into your schedule). These are basically repetitive melodies designed to get your fingers used to playing. For years, a popular exercise routine was the Hanon method, a series of exercises to strengthen the fingers for virtuoso performance. Many teachers rely on these exercises for their students, but not everyone does. When they don’t, it’s usually for one reason: Hanon exercises can be a tad boring! Some teachers try to combat this by using more interesting melodies and exercises that make practicing fun as well as effective.

The piano is a truly a one-of-a-kind instrument. No other instrument gives you the entire tonal range of the orchestra right at your fingertips. Learning the basics of piano may not take you straight to Carnegie Hall, but the joy you’ll receive from learning this awe-inspiring instrument will take you somewhere far greater – to a world where music is at your command.


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Free Lessons

How to Find Free Piano Lessons for Kids – And if They’re Worth It

Free LessonsThese days, there are so many resources available to help you or your kids learn how to play the piano – and many of them are free.  But are free piano lessons for kids the best way to learn? Are there any differences between finding free resources, or paying for private piano lessons? In this article, we’ll go over some of the options, and how to determine what will best suit your child’s needs.

Finding Free Piano Lessons for Kids — Available Free Resources

  • YouTube: Nowadays, it’s extremely easy to browse YouTube and find videos on how to play the piano. There is an almost infinite amount of videos, and more and more show up every day. You’ll also find a wide variety of lessons, providing you with lots of genres and styles to choose from. Almost anybody can try to learn any style of music from YouTube.

  • Music Websites: You can also try out some music websites that offer free piano lessons for kids. They usually provide videos, sheet music, ear training exercises, and a few other bells and whistles. This often involves going through a trial period or signing up in order to access the free resources.

Pros and Cons of Free Lessons for Kids

Free piano lessons, at first glance, may be a more appealing option because they’re free. However, there are going to be some differences in the quality of lessons. Here are a couple reasons free lessons might not be the best option:

  • Free Lessons Lack Human Interaction: YouTube provides many videos, but this approach ignores an important contributor to your success in learning:  human interaction and a skilled teacher who can assess your child’s playing skills. Having a professional available who can observe and comment on your child’s playing is invaluable. Teachers have spent countless hours honing and perfecting their skill — they’ll be able to identify errors in your child’s playing, help to correct them and prevent poor playing habits from forming.

  • Free Websites Only Offer So Much: Learning how to play piano from a free website or trial will only take your child so far. Websites often only provide you with a set amount of material for free, and may charge you after a certain amount of time or point in the program has passed. This can be discouraging for your child if they’re on a positive arch in their learning process.

So, where do private piano lessons come into play? As mentioned earlier, working with a teacher one-on-one is an important part of the learning process. Some additional advantages of private lessons include:

  • Experience with a professional: Private piano lessons give your kids the opportunity to study with a professional, someone who brings their experience, personal insights, successes, and failures to the table. They are able to provide real-time adjustments and answer any questions that your child may have. They are also able to connect with your child emotionally, something that a website or YouTube video can’t do!

  • Variety: It can be beneficial to study with someone who can teach different genres and provide a strong foundation for learning – and private lessons do just that. With free piano lessons, your child will only be able learn so much about a specific genre. A private teacher will be able to guide your child and help them pursue their interests, increasing their excitement of taking lessons.

Putting It All Together

Studies show that children involved in music develop intelligence and skills that stick with them throughout their lifetime. If there is any gift to give to your kids, music is definitely one of them. Although private lessons may not be free, the price is about the only con when considering what’s best for your child. Signing up for piano lessons will help bring out the best in your child’s ability and provide them with a strong foundation to excel!

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Piano By Ear

Should You Learn Piano by Ear? When it Works, and How to Practice

Piano By EarOne of the most satisfying skills you can ever learn is mastering a musical instrument.  Whether it’s a skill you pick up in school, or you’ve come to it later in life, the sense of achievement you’ll get from mastering anything from simple folk tunes to complex sonatas and studies by the great masters is almost without equal.  The social element of music has been part of our society since civilization began, and without a doubt, music is the only truly international language, existing in every known culture on the planet.

However, deciphering the dots, squiggles, and other seemingly meaningless symbols that make up that language can be the sticking point for many beginner instrumentalists, and particularly if you’re just starting to learn the piano. It can be tough to concentrate on not only reading two staves of musical notation at once, but using both your hands – and the right fingers! This is where learning piano by ear – or at least, understanding the basics – can actually come in handy.

Don’t Panic

As a total beginner, there’s a lot to learn. But before you start worrying, think of all the times you’ve listened to a particular song on the radio, and you suddenly realize that you know not just the melody but all the words by heart.  Whether you realize it or not, that’s learning music by ear.  Everyone can do it, and it’s a skill that anyone can master.

How Should I Practice?

You should still stick to the same five-finger exercises and scales that you would if you were fluent in reading music, as finger-strength and manual dexterity are the most important things to you in becoming more proficient as a pianist, whether you learn piano by ear or learn to read music alongside picking up basic skills.  Where your practice will differ is in how you assimilate music.

What Practice Techniques Will Work for Me?

Everybody is different, and there is no one size fits all technique that will work for everyone.  However, trying some or all of these in your routine may be useful:

  • Practice daily. This goes for every music student, of any age.  You don’t need to sit at the piano for hours; even five minutes a day, every day, will make a significant difference.

  • Decide what you want from each practice session. It’s worthwhile having a goal for each practice session, especially if you learn piano by ear.  It may be that you want to co-ordinate playing a five finger exercise in both hands at once, or you may wish to learn to pick out a simple eight bar melody, or if you’re a little more advanced, work out basic harmonies to a melody.  You’re more likely to concentrate on your practice is you know what you want from it.

  • Listen to music. Listening to music can form as much of your practice as physically playing an instrument.  Whatever genre of music appeals most to you, spend 15 minutes or so twice a week actively listening, and writing down on a piece of paper what you notice. For example, think about if the music happy/sad, fast/slow, which instruments are playing, and note anything unusual.  Music students at college level do this kind of music analysis on a regular basis, and it is extremely useful.

  • Play along to the radio. Encourage yourself not to think of any musical decision you make as “wrong” – what you’re aiming for is fluency in the connection from ear to brain.

What Else Should I Focus On?

The most important thing you should focus on when you learn piano by ear is the connection between your listening skills and your  playing skills.  As with the “playing along to the radio” tip above, there are no wrong decisions when acquiring this fluency. Having said that, keep your ear keenly-tuned to notes that don’t work within harmonies and melodies, or that differ from the original version. Keep going back to your source material, and listen again.

Do People That Play by Ear Learn to Read Music?

Even though learning to play piano by ear can be helpful to musicians, learning to read music is something you won’t be able to avoid if you want to be a serious musician. For most, mastering the piano will include a balance of both approaches. Improving your musical ear will help as you learn music theory and need to quickly recognize intervals and chords, as well as analyzing the overall tone of a piece of music.

Additionally, being able to read music will help you along your career if you’re interested in joining a band, gigging, or even eventually teaching your own students. If someone – in an audition, for example – places a piece of music in front of you, it’s a huge advantage to be able to read it quickly and efficiently.

Where Do I Go From Here?

The most important thing you can do, whether you want to continue to play by ear or not, is to find a piano teacher.  A good teacher can give you the one-on-one instruction needed to improve, and the feedback necessary to stay motivated and stay on track for reaching your goals!

Find the balance that works for you, and you’ll find the world of musical exploration opening up in front of you!


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Piano Lessons

Top 5 Piano Lesson Books for Adults

Piano Lessons

Have you been thinking about taking piano lessons, but aren’t sure where to begin as an adult? No problem! Learning musical theory and practice as an adult just means that you’re more likely to be a dedicated, intelligent student!

Learning with the help of piano lesson books is an ideal way to get comfortable with your new instrument and grasp the basics of musical theory. Once you have covered the basics, you can work with a specialized, private piano teacher to enhance your skills!

The following piano lesson books are the most highly rated among adult learners:

Alfred’s Basic Adult All-in-One Piano Course

The Alfred’s collection of piano books is one of the most popular among adult students because it’s easy and enjoyable to use. Each section covers a piano lesson, musical theory, and technical information about the elements of music and the piano itself. This is the most highly recommended adult piano book on the market right now!

John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course

Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course is not an overstatement: this series of piano lessons is perfect for beginners. Thompson introduces each note in his book one at a time and reinforces his lessons with colorful illustrations and characters. This lesson book, complete with writing and reading assignments, is a great supplemental resource when working with a professional teacher one-on-one.

The Classic Piano Course Book

Written as a series of piano lesson books, the Classic Piano Course Book starts at the beginning with notes, names, pitches and keys. From the first book in this series, you’ll be guided carefully through the practical exercises, as well as theoretical learning. Beautiful classical songs, like “Swan Lake” and “Fur Elise” are included, which will motivate you to complete the lesson! There’s no better feeling than achieving the ability to play a beautiful piece of music. Understanding classical music fundamentals will also help you to play different genres of piano music, and a piano teacher will be able to show you exactly how these principles apply.

Bastien Piano for Adults

The Bastien Piano for Adults lesson book was truly designed with adult learners in mind. Not only does the sample music include songs from all kinds of musical genres and eras — jazz, blues, folk, ragtime and classical — but the lessons are more progressive than children’s versions, at least in terms of musical theory. In addition to the text, the Bastien book includes a CD accompaniment to the lessons. The CD will help you gauge your understanding of tempo and timing, but it still can’t replace the private teacher’s pinpointed guidance.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Musical Theory

Don’t be embarrassed by the title — The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Musical Theory will help you complete your learning experience! A lot of adults worry that they have no musical affinity or natural talent. Is that how you feel? Then this book is most definitely for you! This guide is not specific to piano, but it will help you on your journey to understanding the theory behind all music, from the piano to vocals. Confusing theories are explained as simply as possible, which will help you on your way to being a virtuoso in no time. Musical theory can seem very complicated to the untrained student, so you should never hesitate to seek out the professional guidance of a music teacher.

With the right piano lesson books in hand, you can really tackle your new instrument with gusto! Once you feel more confident at the keys, you will benefit the most from learning with a good teacher. TakeLessons piano tutors can help you find the right person to help with any questions or struggles you experience on the piano, as well as suggest new course books to enhance your learning even further.

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Feeling Weak? Piano Exercises for Finger Strength

piano finger exercisesFor beginner pianists, and especially younger children or players with small hands, building up the dexterity of your hands and fingers can do wonders for your playing.  Just as singers need to warm up their most important muscle with vocal warm-ups, piano players need to take their fingers into consideration.

Here are 5 great exercises to improve your finger strength and dexterity, as originally published over at Piano and Synth Magazine:

1. Scales
The bane of every music student? Piano scales and arpeggios may be boring, but they work. Not only do they help to reinforce knowledge of the notes in each key signature, but they help develop finger strength and rhythm. Try playing major, minor and chromatic scales, and major and minor arpeggios, both single-handed and in unison in a variety of ways:
-legato (notes smooth)
-staccato (notes played shortly and sharply)
-regular rhythm
-alternative rhythm (for example: hold the first note of each octave for longer than the other six notes)
-alternative accents (for example: every third or fourth note)
-inverted (same start note, right hand plays ascending notes while left hand plays descending notes).

2. Stretches
-Play two notes of at least an octave apart, with thumb and fifth finger.
-Play a third note somewhere in between, with another finger.
-Jump staccato from the lower to the higher note and back.
-Hold thumb down on one note and play ascending staccato notes as far as possible with one of your fingers.

3. Work your weaker hand
Many pianists have one hand that is weaker than the other. Scales (see #1) will help, as will practicing parts usually played by your stronger hand.

4. Work your weaker fingers
Generally, the little (fifth) finger is weaker than the other fingers in the hand. Significantly differing finger strengths will make it difficult to maintain even playing.  To combat this, try the following:
-Practice playing scales with even volume across all fingers.
-Play two alternating notes with your weakest finger and a stronger finger. Maintain an even rhythm and volume.
-Play a run of three notes with your weakest finger and two stronger fingers. Again, maintain even rhythm and volume.

5. Key and Tempo
Try playing pieces or phrases of music you know well at different speeds and in different keys.
-Dexterity can be challenged at faster tempos.
-Steady rhythm can be challenged as tempos change.
-Different fingers can be stretched and strengthened as a piece of music is played in a new key.

If finger strength is something you need help with, run through these exercises right when you sit down to practice.  With repetition, you can train your muscles, just as a bodybuilder targets certain muscles.  Readers: what exercises have helped you improve your finger strength?  Leave a comment below!

You might also like…
- How to Practice the Piano… Outside of the Studio
- 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Piano Scales
- Tips and Tricks: Memorizing Music Made Easy


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Lessons With Jimi: Tips for Teaching a Piano Student with Alzheimer’s

windy and jimiThe following story comes from piano teacher Windy C. in St. Petersburg, Florida. Last fall, Windy began the challenging journey of teaching piano lessons to a student with Alzheimer’s.  Below she shares some helpful tips she’s learned as a result of working with her student, Jimi. Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story, Windy!


Last fall I began teaching a 90-year-old woman who has moderate stage Alzheimerʼs. Knowing this in advance, I thought I was up for the challenge; however, things changed when we sat down at the piano for our first lesson and she looked around the room with a confused look on her face and said, “Iʼm sorry, I have no idea what Iʼm doing here.”

I can honestly say I might have had some second thoughts at that point. I looked at her and calmly replied, “Well, Iʼm Windy and youʼre here to play the piano with me. So letʼs have some fun!” But in my head I was mildly freaking out and thinking “Oh my goodness, what the heck have I gotten myself into? How am I going to do this? I never learned how to teach someone with no short-term memory in college!”

I came home after that lesson and scoured the internet and college text books for tips on teaching music to people with dementia, but I came up with nothing. What I am about to share is what I have learned through my experience with Ms. Jimi. I am not a doctor, nor am I an expert on how the brain functions, but I strongly feel that what I am about to share can help anyone working with people who struggle with early to moderate stage dementia or Alzheimerʼs.

Over the past year, Ms. Jimi and I have built a wonderful relationship and I look forward to her lessons more than all my others because I never know what to expect.  All the orthodox ways of lesson planning, goal setting, and progressing go out the window and our 30 minutes together are more like a session of music therapy. Here are five practical things that I have learned from teaching Ms. Jimi:

1. Give The Student The Opportunity To Reach Small Goals

Early on, I realized that Jimi was not going to progress as a typical student would. She could not remember from week to week what we had played the lesson before, so it was obvious that our lessons together needed to be taught in the moment, as an exercise time for her brain.  For 30 minutes, Jimi and I play through pieces that she enjoys and that challenge her, but do not frustrate her.

Ms. Jimi can play simple songs with both hands in C position, G position, and middle C position. We have about six songs in each position that we cycle through. Occasionally, I will add a new one. Usually I will help her through the song the first time. Then we will play it again, and she almost always improves the second time. I’ve noticed when Jimi can play through an entire song by herself, she feels very accomplished. However, she never remembers from week to week what we played during the previous lesson.

2. Use Teaching Aids

As I said, Ms. Jimi is 90, so her eyes struggle at times. Large note music, with the letter written inside the note head, help her immensely. Sometimes I put stickers on the keys to label them just like I might do for a child when he or she is first learning a position. Having the keys labeled is one less thing she has to figure out, which allows her to play through the piece more fluently and enjoy the melody.  I have also found that staying in the same position for an entire lesson helps her to feel more successful. Switching positions between songs causes her to become confused, which then leads to frustration.

3. Know When To Take Breaks

Jimi loves chocolate. If I sense that she is having a rough day and not enjoying the music, we eat a chocolate together.   Sometimes I pull out books that I’ve brought along and ask her if I can play a song for her. She loves “Claire de Lune” and each time I play it, she reacts as if itʼs the first time I have played it for her. “Oh Wow! I love that song!” she will say, often teary-eyed.

4. Know When To Keep Quiet

There are times when Ms. Jimi says “Donʼt touch my fingers this time!” or “Now let me do it and you donʼt talk!” I love her wit, her will, and her determination. And I have definitely learned that it doesnʼt have to be perfect, but she needs to do it on her own. Sometimes I just need to sit back and let her play; if she stumbles, I try to let her figure it out unless Iʼm asked for help.

5. Be Flexible, Creative and Make it Fun

Iʼm always looking for ways to improve Jimi’s experience at piano lessons. Even though I know I could teach Jimi the same exact lesson every single week and she would probably never know – I WOULD KNOW. I mean, good grief, if I live to be 90, I hope that someone makes sure Iʼm still having fun!

One time her grown son came to town and brought her to her lesson. We worked on a simple waltz. She played it for him. Then I asked her if she wanted me to play it so that she could dance with her son. They floated around the room and it was a special moment. On another occasion, I showed her a YouTube video about a 100-year-old woman who was a Holocaust survivor and still loved to play the piano every day. Jimi loved it!

Each music student has different needs. No two students are the same, and that’s what makes our job as music teachers exciting and ever-evolving! My challenge for other teachers is to take the time to experiment and think outside the box to help enrich the lives of their students, not only musically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Music reaches deep into the soul and can bring so much joy into the lives of others!

Enjoy the Journey,

Windy C.

Windy Cobourne