Color in Piano

“A coloring activity to help young piano students learn where notes are located, reinforce colors and fine motor skills.

We sometimes forget that for newcomers to the piano identifying within 88 keys can be daunting.  Finding Middle C for some students can be like finding a needle in a haystack, and let’s face it, Middle C is a crucial component to most beginning exercises.

This fun Color in Piano activity will help them learn where the notes are in relation to black keys and neighboring notes. For younger students it also will reinforce colors and fine motor skills in coloring.  Students can also write the note names on top, or even on some blank stickers, then stick on top. You can also upload the pdf to your tablet then with an annotation app have them write the note names in.

I deliberately didn’t start this on C, so they really have to work to find C! 

Father’s Day Composition Activity (Primer)

"This composing activity helps reinforce note learning, writing and rhythm while producing a wonderful gift for the student to play and present to their Father and/or Grandfather for Father’s Day." 

Theory doesn’t have to be a chore, for student or teacher.  Composition is a great way to connect the theory that students have (possibly unknowingly) learnt, with the joy of making something, playing and then sharing their accomplishments.

There are many composing resources out there, but they are usually for students who can play 5-finger scales in each hand, play hands together and play 8th notes♫. I have a student who only knows A, B, C, D, E, and quarter notes as the shortest note♩. There was nothing really out there for them.  I needed something simple that would reinforce quarter, dotted half and whole notes, note names, but still be a fun activity.  

So I drew up this Father’s Day Composition Activity to accommodate the students who are just beginning.  There are four blank measures, so you can use it for either treble or bass, or a combination of both.  You can introduce whole rests if desired, even have a composition that only uses Middle C.  (It would actually be a great activity to introduce Middle C to students who have not yet learned how it looks written out.) Drawing the notes help the student practice note reading, note shaping, correct stem length/direction and afterwards any dynamic markings they know can be added in.

How To Use

1 - First use a shaker or clapping to reinforce the words “Happy Father’s Day” using the given rhythm:

Hap-py  Fa- ther’s Day

2 - Depending on the student’s level, help them choose a hand position (Middle C, C major, G major etc.) and which note they’d like to start with. If they only know braced thumb and middle finger, just ask on which note they would like to begin.

3 - I find it useful to have some visual reference, so I will often select the letter names they know from my Note Name Flashcards and put those on the music stand.  If they can’t decide what note to start on, shuffle up the cards, and have them choose one. (I have one student who is confusing G3 and B3 so I am going to have them only choose from G A B to help focus and reinforce those notes.)

4 - Compose 3 different note combinations, then have them choose which one they liked best. These note names will be the melody. 

My students are usually full of wonderful melodic ideas but if they need a little help getting started ask them if they want to go higher/lower, repeat the same note, use steps/skips, or if all else fails shuffle the flashcards and have them choose from them.

5I like to use erasable colored pencil when transferring the chosen idea to the staff, it adds color and can be altered as need be.  Use this time to reinforce: 

  • note reading tips e.g. “A is the top line, step up to B”
  • stem length 
  • stem direction
  • note head size
  • how notes move up/down, step/skip
  • that music is divided into measures 
  • time signatures: add each measure to make sure it adds up to four

6 - Introduce “I love you very much” using the given rhythm and repeat steps 2-5.

 I      love  you  ve- ry    much

7 - Once all notes have been written in, you can add dynamics and articulation (if known). Use the Dynamic Flashcards for reference if needed.

There is space on the worksheet to add their name, draw a picture, as well as coloring in the title.  

Happy composing!


I have also added a two measure activity: Father’s Day Composing Activity - 2 measures only

Winter Wonders

I recently had a beginner student tell me how she loved Frozen.  I am sure there is not a piano teacher out there who hasn’t had to make an easy arrangement or add these very popular songs to their teaching repertoire.  But this student was on Primer Level, just learning where to find the notes on the piano, had just learned quarter, half and whole notes, but that was it. 

So I set about making a primer arrangement of "Do you want to build a snowman?" Because if there’s one thing that Frozen has given me as a piano teacher, it’s very enthusiastic and practice ready students!   

How to build the snowman

The song uses both hands in C position, with the LH crossing over at one point, so not much moving.  

I actually was able to gently introduce the concept of legato playing using the imagery of one sound melting into the next sound.  The introduction of the LH cross over as a snowflake also allows the student to take care in placing the A and keeping a relaxed wrist.    (TIP: If the LH C chord at the end is too much for the student to master, have them just play the C and G, and white out the E.)

Her next goal is to play “Let It Go”, and for this one she will be reading the notes on lines and spaces.

Audition Music Preparation

As a pianist I have played for many auditions and masterclasses.  Unfortunately, the music is often not professionally presented and cuts are not clearly indicated.  I wanted to present some of my observations to help you prepare your audition music in a more concise way.

Missing Notes in Songs

 Make a clean copy with no missing notes

Prepare your music

The accompanist is there to support you and help make you shine. Your job prior to the audition is to prepare your music so it is presented in a professional and organized way.  So take the time before your audition to get your folder and music in order.

Have one clean, well photocopied version of the song, and make sure there are no missing notes, staff or information. Keep this original clean and make copies from it to edit.

In a binder not in a bind

Present your music in a ring binder. (3-ring binders are ideal, as the music does not droop or sag.)

Have your go-to songs in front and write or print a table of contents for ease of finding.

Use tabs/dividers to label the music in your binder, so it is easy for you to find the cut you need.  

Always have a full un-cut version of the song in your binder.

Double check your binder has no rings that are loose and do not sync up, or when the pianist turns the page it will slip through and fall down.

Using non-glare sleeves will keep your music clean and stop punched holes on the page ripping, or tape your pages together accordion style.

Don’t bring stapled music or loose papers that can fall off the piano.

Ideally you want your pianist to do as little page-turning as possible, so place music in the folder with this in mind.

You do not need every song you have ever sung in the binder. Keep it current.

If you decide to present music outside of your binder, to avoid page turns, be sure to line up the edge of the paper to the next page when taping.  Don’t overlap pages when taping, or they will not stand up correctly.


Have the song title and musical it is from at the top of the page, and be sure to include any directions that were on the original, like tempo, swing feel etc.  

Each song should have an introduction, 2-bar or 4-bar, and this should be marked clearly in the music.  

The introduction helps set the scene and should make sense with what you are about to sing about. 

Introduction measures do not count in the 16-bars you will be singing.  

Make the cut

It is inevitable that for a 16/32 bar cut there will be a lot of jumping around in the music.  It is harder to read a score first time when there are measures half penciled out with arrows pointing “go here” and “turn two pages forward”.  If you do cross out sections, do it in black sharpie, so there is no doubt that those measures are out.  

Ideally create a new piece of music by cutting out the sections you want, arrange and paste on a new sheet, then photocopy.  This ensures you have a clean copy of your cut that is easy to read and most likely without page turns.  

If you do decide to cut and paste, please please please remember some music theory basics.

Missing clefs and Key signatures

Music with no clefs or key signature

CLEFS: Make sure you have clefs at the start of each line. 𝄞𝄢 Sometimes clefs will change within the song too. They are important as they dictate which note should be played.

KEY SIGNATURE: The key signature indicates which notes are sharps () or flats () in the song.   It is located at the start of each line, after the clef.  

TIME SIGNATURE: This should be at the start (after the key signature) and anywhere in the song where the time changes. It consists of two numbers balanced on top of each other and indicates how many beats are in each measure. 

Make sure when pasting measures that the lines of the staff connect correctly to the next measure. 

Mark any ritardandos (rit.) where the music slows down.

Any notes you are going to hold longer than written, add a fermata above (𝄐).

Mark any dynamics (louds, softs, crescendos, etc.). 

If you have a place in the song where you wish the vocal/accompaniment to make a complete break before continuing, mark a caesura (//), commonly known as railroad tracks.  Place two slashes just above the staff.  If it is more of a breath you can mark a comma above the staff (❜).

Make sure you take the appropriate chord symbol with the notes when cutting the music.  These are the letters and numbers notated above the vocal line in some scores.

Mark endings clearly. 


Once you have prepared your cuts, ask someone who plays piano to look at it or have a professional play through them. Listen to any advice or changes they suggest.


Talking with your accompanist

The accompanist is on your side.  Greet them with a smile, they’re there to help make your audition the best it can be. 

Be sure to open your binder at the correct page and quietly sing a few phrases or gently tap to indicate the tempo.

The panel in the room know if you spend a lot of time talking to the pianist about pauses and cuts, that your music must not be correctly notated, take the time to do this beforehand.

Happy singing!

Do you speak lines and spaces?

"All Cows Eat… Milk?"

The gem above came from a young piano student at her lesson a few weeks ago.  Yes, it was funny and cute, brought some big smiles and led to a discussion about how baby cows do indeed eat milk, but it was a reminder to me of how tough it is for some students to learn to read notes on the staff.  Sometimes we forget that we have been reading this language for decades, and that our students are trying to master another language with nowhere near as much time dedicated to it as needed to be fluent.  We recite our EGBDF’s, smiley FACE 😄 but the breakthrough comes with the student just being so comfortable and fluent with the musical alphabet, where every note is in connection to others that they don’t have to recite rhymes. 

So to reinforce, in a different way, I grabbed some string, a couple of water bottle tops and set to work in modifying the pink carpet…    

IMG 3459


Instant staff and a new approach to lines and spaces.  

All my students were so excited to see the new addition to the floor and were ready to give it a try.  Here’s a couple of games we played.


For younger students just getting to grips with steps and skips we practiced moving around the staff by jumping and hopping. “Stand on G and jump a step down”. When they arrive on the new note they have to shout its name. That one student who is really shy and jumping on the floor isn’t going to appeal… ask them to place something on the note, an eraser, a shaker. Next time they’ll want it to be their feet!


For this, I made some word flashcards.  After the student selected one, they would make a sentence using the word, then walk out the word, saying each letter as they land on it.  For some students I would just read aloud the word they chose and and have them spell it out with no visual aid.  This is a fun game, and I like that it reinforces spelling.

bass clef

It only took a few minutes to set up the floor before lessons started and I used it with students for just 3-4 minutes, mainly at the start of the lesson, to give a nice burst of positive energy.  For students who sometimes get fidgety or lose concentration, I did the game in the middle of the lesson to break it up. 

Flashcard Fun

Let’s face it, as adults we would not find pointing to notes on a page with an accompanying “what’s the name of this one?” all that inspiring, so why would students? But as soon as you change things up and add flashcards to the lesson, things get more interesting!  There are numerous games and possibilities, lasting from one minute to five.  Parents who want to help their child at home can also reinforce the teacher’s lesson by printing the flashcards and playing at home.

Here are a few of my favorites.

What do I need?

I’ve made some flashcards which can be downloaded as pdf files for free here.  I like to print them out on card stock, then after cutting them out, laminate them to help them last longer.   You may wish to use different colored card stock for each set.


Lay the lettered cards A B C D E F G face up on the floor. I like to change up the order each time, as younger students often find the leap of what comes after G hard to grasp. (B C D E F G A is my favorite)

Choose the note cards you wish to work on, e.g treble or bass, or to make it more challenging and fun, let the student shuffle the treble and bass note cards together. Put the shuffled cards face down, about one meter away from the letter cards.

The student picks the note card, shouts its name, runs and places it under the lettered card.  The object of the game is to match the cards as fast as possible.  Setting a timer and keeping note of the overall time helps keep a record of their progress.


The classic memory game but using music flashcards

There are two ways I like to play this.

-Using the name cards and the note cards.  Make sure you have a name card to match each note card, this may mean you have to print more name flashcards. Create two sections, one with the name cards and the other with the note cards (all face down). The object of the game is to match one card to it’s corresponding card in the other section, by turning over one card per section at a time.  If unsuccessful in finding a pair, the cards are replaced face down and the student has to remember where to find that card.

-Using treble cards and bass cards.  As above, make sure you have a treble to match a bass of the same name.  The student has to think in both clefs when playing this version.


Have the student play a song they know well, preferably from memory. As they are playing, place a dynamic flashcard on the stand.  The student has to play with that dynamic marking as soon as they can.  Start slow, then end by having a different dynamic every couple of beats or every measure. Expect lots of laughter towards the end!


Have an extra minute at the end of the lesson or want to refocus the student’s concentration mid lesson?  Announce it’s Italian time. As you show a dynamic flashcard to the student they have to say its Italian name then play C scale (edit this as you wish) at that dynamic.

Scale Schedules (ABRSM Piano)

I always sat ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) examinations, throughout my teens and vividly remember getting overwhelmed by all the scales and technique requirements, especially as the material increased per grade and the exam grew closer.  It’s tough even as adults to organize and manage everything we have to get done, to make sure we are checking every box, and even more so for younger students.  

So I decided to design a practice schedule that would cover all scale requirements each week, by merely doing a few each day.  Sounds so simple, and it is.  It makes the scale mountain not seem so high and I have found if students have a structure to stick to… they usually do.    

It lists the scales and arpeggios, whether hands are together, separate or both, and how many octaves they cover. Looking at the Grade 3 example above, we can see that Day 1 involves practicing: A major scale (similar motion), A major arpeggios and A major scale (contrary motion). 

Perhaps there has been a day where the student was unable to practice, Day 7 can be used to make-up that time.  Or ask them to evaluate their own playing over the week, what scale do they feel shaky on? or what arpeggio is hitting the occasional wrong note? and Day 7 can be used to re-do those. 

FREE Scale Schedule Downloads

ABRSM Grade 1 Scale Schedule

ABRSM Grade 2 Scale Schedule

ABRSM Grade 3 Scale Schedule

ABRSM Grade 4 Scale Schedule

ABRSM Grade 5 Scale Schedule

Practice Schedules are in pdf format, so can be loaded onto a tablet or printed out.  You can find other teaching resources at Downloads.  Happy practicing!

UPDATE 10/16/14

Tempo markings now listed on the practice schedules.

Using the iPad for Music Theory

The iPad is a great piece of technology to use in music lessons.  

1. Students use these everyday so are overjoyed to use something they associate with games and fun!

2. Using it for music theory lessons saves on paper and ink, so the environment is thanking you.

3. Learning doesn’t need to stop when they leave the piano studio, being able to replicate what they did on class on their home iPad ensures they will reinforce what they learned at their lesson.

4. Parents love to see what their child is learning and how they are progressing.  Instead of sending home bits of paper that may never leave the music case, you can quickly take a screenshot of the work, or save it as a pdf. (To take a screenshot, hold the Power button and press the Home button then release both). These can be quickly attached to email and voila, the parent is instantly involved and very proud of their child’s work.

What do I need?

When teaching with my iPad I use a stylus which allows the student to navigate and execute actions with more precision.  I paid around $30 for mine 3 years ago, but you can pick these up relatively cheap now.  I just picked up another one last week for $5. There are many apps, (free and paid) that you can use in lessons, I like to use the Notability app, (link below) when teaching.  It allows you to change colors, change line thickness, undo, save as a pdf and is really straight forward to use. It has paid for itself 20 times over! 

How to use the iPad in lessons?

DYNAMICS  - With a blank page draw “mf” then ask them what it means and tell them to play it on the piano. Then ask them to draw the sign that tells us to play “quietly" but it has to be in blue.  Assign a different color to each dynamic marking, and have them play the sound on the piano, or say their name at that volume to reinforce.

NOTES - Download my large staff paper and have the student draw a purple E on a space, an orange C on a space etc… Learning stem direction is sometimes quite challenging for younger students, so the undo button (usually an arrow facing left) is great.  Not only does it erase the mistake, but from a practical standpoint, you are not left with eraser residue around a page, or shavings around the piano, so the students is left feeling really positive about the finished, clean result. 

CLEFS - Sometimes we get so caught up on notes that clefs get pushed to the side.  Download my large staff paper and have the student practice drawing clefs.  Start by drawing the first one and have them draw the following using a different color for each one.  If they make a mistake and need to start again, let them press “undo" and watch their smiling face as the mistake disappears and they set to work on redoing their masterpiece!

Incorporating music theory into piano lessons is a must, but unfortunately it can be a bit boring for students, so try some of these ideas, see how they work in your studio, with your students.  Feel free to share your own theory tricks for iPad.  Happy teaching/learning!

Copyright © 2018 Angela Dwyer