Music Student Long-Term

Keep Music Students Long-Term

One of the biggest challenges for a private music teacher is keeping students long-term. So what are the tricks to keeping a student from quitting? Here are 9 tips to help students take music lessons long-term.

When students quit soon after signing up, building a roster of students is difficult, making it a challenge to make a living. There will be those students whose’s destiny is to sing or play an instrument. So no matter how you teach them, they will be long-term. Then there are the students who not only dislike music lessons, they don’t even like the sound of music. And no matter what you do right, they will not stay with you long. 

Long-term piano student

So let’s talk about the middle-range music students that most fall into, those that have some desire to learn to sing or play an instrument. By teaching them correctly, you could potentially have a student for years. 

Have a passion for teaching music

Don’t be a music teacher just to make money when your performances are rare. Or think you can be a music teacher because you know how to play a few songs. There’s much more to becoming a music instructor than you may realize. You must have a passion for teaching and excitement when students learn, or it will become drudgery. If your students feel you’re not enjoying teaching, they won’t enjoy learning from you.

Get to know your students

If you’re still reading this post, I’m assuming you LOVE to teach music (as I do). The first critical factor in teaching is getting to know your students; study them. The great thing about teaching private lessons is how each student is unique. Figure out what makes them tick, their strengths, and their weaknesses. What do they love to do outside of music? Are they a perfectionist (the most challenging type of student to teach)? Are they analytical, mathematical-minded, or do they love to create? How do they learn best? Is it by listening, reading, doing, or watching? Knowing their personality, learning style, and what they love to do helps you match what you’re teaching to how they learn. It also makes the music student feel you know them and will be more endeared to you as a teacher. Who doesn’t want someone to know them well?

Be fun and friendly

When I first began teaching, I thought making lessons fun was an obvious point, but I quickly learned that not all instructors do this. I laugh and occasionally joke with my students while maintaining control and keeping on point during the music lesson. When the music student makes a mistake, I make it light. The less tension the student feels, the better they’ll do. And I never get mad or frustrated when a student makes mistakes. That’s part of the process, and the student should know you’ll never get upset at them. I tell my students that making a mistake can be a good thing, as they learn twice a much! Let the music student know it’s OK to make a mistake; and that, in fact, they likely will. 

Teach in small steps 

If you want to have a student running for the hills after one lesson, overwhelm them! I tell my staff to make the first lesson simple for a beginner, with one nugget of information they can learn. If the student is a quick learner, you’ll know by the second lesson, and you can increase the pace. But if the student leaves confused and frustrated, they’ll blame it on themselves for not understanding and will probably quit. Teach in a clear step-by-step method with plenty of repetition from the beginning and throughout your time with them. Be excited about any little achievement they make. Even small achievements can make a student excited and want to continue learning. Ask your students questions to ensure they understand every new concept you teach. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about. I ask my students way more questions than they ask me in a lesson. 

Don’t guilt them into practice

This is one of the most critical points. I wrote a blog earlier on how to motivate your student to practice. I encourage you to read it. Practicing is one of the biggest challenges for a private music teacher. But one thing I know DOESN’T work is guilting your student into practicing. Making them feel bad when they haven’t practiced will only make them hate the lessons. Adult students already feel bad, so they’ll probably just quit. A child without parents who make them stick with it will probably quit. When a student doesn’t practice, I tell them it’s OK and try to practice more the following week. Nothing can be done about the previous week anyway, so why make them feel bad about it. Have them focus on the future instead of the past.

Sometimes it’s a legitimate reason they couldn’t practice, but if it’s a weekly occurrence, you may want to find out why they’re not practicing. One reason could be not understanding the assignments, as in the previous point. If you don’t give specific assignments, they may not know WHAT to practice. So make sure you give clear instructions on what they should practice. Or maybe they have a busy schedule. I encourage students of any age to schedule their practice times so it becomes routine in their life. Whatever you do, make practicing a positive thing in their life. And never say, “You’re wasting my time and your parents’ money” to a young student. Even if they don’t practice or seem to enjoy the lessons, what you’re teaching them will stay with them forever. You never know what your lessons will inspire the young student in their life.

Learning Progress

My students know I won’t pass an assignment unless they’ve done it correctly. This encourages them to do their best and practice, so I will pass it. If your student does a good job, let them know you’re happy with their accomplishments. If they didn’t meet your standards to pass, let them know to work on it another week without it being a brow-beating session. Keep in mind their limitations when passing or not passing. I will not be as critical of a beginner or slower-paced student as someone more advanced or a quick learner. It’s essential for the beginning student to feel a sense of accomplishment. 

Be prompt and consistent

One of the complaints I get from students that took lessons previously was their teacher would cancel a lot or be late. If you want music students long-term, you must be committed to their lesson time and be on time. Canceling a lesson should be rare and only for unavoidable circumstances. And if you do have to cancel, let them know as far in advance as possible. Showing your commitment to the lessons will likewise help the student be committed and have consistent attendance (which helps in their learning progress.) 

The Right Curriculum is Vital

Drill & Excel On the Piano
Drill & Excel On the Piano

Having the right curriculum that teaches a step-by-step format is crucial. Use the book series that fits your teaching style and what is best for each student. 

Our “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series includes everything a piano student needs in an easy-to-follow step-by-step format, including plenty of repetition so the student can master each level. Teachers can register to receive free shipping and 50% off their first copy and 20% off recurring orders for students.

Remind them of their progress

And finally, remind them how much they’ve learned and how far they’ve come. This doesn’t have to be every week, or it will lose the effect, but do this when you feel the student needs a little assurance or when they’ve accomplished something challenging. I sometimes have the student play a previous assignment they thought was so difficult so they can see how far they’ve come. The most vital part of teaching beginning students to keep them long-term is making them feel good about their progress and accomplishments!

I hope this tip helps you be the best teacher ever. Thank you for doing the best job in the world and sharing your music with others. Please comment to let other private music teachers know your thoughts!

Kathi Kerr is the owner and founder of Melody Music Studios, a nationwide music teaching studio, and Melody Music Publishers.

Keep Music Students Long-Term Read More »

Musical Scales

Are Music Scales Needed?

Are music scales really needed? Does playing musical scales improve one’s musical ability? Why even play scales? Isn’t that something done in the past but no longer relevant in today’s music? Tip #11 will give you five reasons why musical scales ARE vital in today’s music.

Musical Scales
Musical Scale Youtube Video

What is a music scale?

Simply put, music scales are ascending notes in musical order, starting and ending on the same note with the sharps or flats for the starting note’s key signature. For example, the key signature of C has no sharps or flats. So when playing all the notes starting and ending on C, you will only play the white keys.

Playing scales on the piano or any instrument used to be the standard for learning. But in recent years, many music teachers have stopped teaching them, thinking they are outdated and boring. So why are the musical scales so necessary?

Key signatures – Reason #1

Music is played in a specific key signature, meaning a certain number of sharps or flats. Can’t remember what are in a specific key signature? The major scale has a sound most can identify. So if you’re not familiar with the correct sharps or flats needed, you can figure it out by playing the scale. I always teach scales by ear rather than reading notes or by the math formula (whole and half steps).

Scale Numbers – Reason #2

Musical scales help in ear training. Assigning a number for each of the seven notes 1 through 7 are called scale numbers. Each scale number has a unique sound. However, each specific scale number sounds the same in any key signature. For example, the “1” scale number, the “root,” sounds the same once your ear is acclimated to that key signature. The “1” is also the easiest to identify and the most prominent. The following most prominent scale number is the “5”, called the dominant (for a good reason, since it’s…dominant). The third most prominent scale number is the “3”. Then, like magic, if you play the “1-3-5” together, you have a major triad! Showing this to your students is a great way to introduce triads and chords. There are ways to help the student identify the sound for the other scale numbers, the “2”, “4”, “6”, and “7”. A fun assignment is to have the student listen to a simple melody, and identify the scale numbers. For example, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” starts out using the following scale numbers: “3-2-1-2-3-3-3-2-2-2-3-5-5”.  

Scale Numbers
Chord Numbers

Chord Numbers – Reason #3

We can build a triad (playing 1-3-5) on every scale number. This is called Scale Harmonization. For example, in the key of C, playing “C-E-G” builds the triad from the 1 scale number, which is the I chord. In traditional theory, roman numerals are used to identify the chord numbers. For example, I ii iii IV V vi and vii diminished. The great thing about the roman numerals is the upper and lower case identifies the major and minor triads. And just like each scale number has a unique sound, so do the triad or chord numbers. Once you learn how each triad number sounds, you can identify the chord number when listening to a song! This can be done on both the major and minor triads.

Identifying Accidentals – Reason #4

Accidentals or chromatic notes are commonly used in music, meaning notes and chords, not in the song’s key signature. Without accidentals, music would be dull. So if your ear is trained to hearing scale and chord numbers in the musical scale, an accidental will stick out like a sore thumb. Figuring out the scale and chord number for the accidental makes more sense when the student is familiar with the diatonic notesmeaning the scale and chord numbers that occur in the scale.  

Exercises – Reason #5

Using the scales as an exercise is a great way to start your practice. I play scales in multiple octaves many times before a serious practice and teach my students to do that as well. Playing scales build finger dexterity, control, strength, and speed on the piano or any instrument.

But how can the music teacher make music scales fun?

Piano Scales
Piano Scales

I agree that teaching the music scales can be boring at times. That is why I wrote the “Scales on Fire!” series. Each major and minor scale is taught in a short, fun song, using rhythm and harmonies on the scale. The sheet music can be downloaded at for all the major and minor scales for sharped and flatted keys, or each major and minor scale individually. There’s also a video showing myself playing each of them. Now you can teach your students each major and minor scale in a fun and exciting way!

Melody Music Publishers
  • Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Are Music Scales Needed? Read More »

Piano Songs at Melody Music Publishers

Easy Piano Songs
Easy Piano Songs

Hello fellow piano instructors! You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Well, I’ve put my “Tips for Teachers” videos and blogs on hold while making videos of all the piano compositions from my “Drill & Excel On the Piano” books. There is a video of each song individually as well as compilation videos. Here are the compilation videos per level for books 1-3. The videos show me playing along with the sheet music. They are now at Melody Music Publishers for viewing and for purchase. These songs in each level are useful if you need more repertoire for your student if you’re not using the “Drill & Excel on the Piano” series. Remember these are all original songs you can’t find anywhere else!

Late Beginning Level Piano Songs

Here is the video compilation for 16 late beginning songs. Each song stays within a five-note hand position in the keys of G and D. The rhythm includes quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.


Intermediate Level Piano Songs

For the intermediate student, here is the video compilation for 16 original piano songs from books 2 and 3. Songs are in the keys of G, D, and A, and some are slightly outside the five-note hand position. Rhythm includes eighth, quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.


“Mood Swing” Series for the Late Intermediate Level Piano Songs

This series called “Mood Swings”, is a short song in the classical style in all the major and relative harmonic minor keys. This helps the intermediate student to be familiar with all the key signatures. The notes include all seven notes of the scale in a two octave range. Rhythm includes eighth, quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.


Late Intermediate Volume 1

For the late intermediate piano student, here is the first of three volumes of original songs you won’t find anywhere else! Key signatures include F, D minor, B flat, E Flat, and A, and including accidentals. There is no hand position. Rhythm includes sixteenth, eighth, quarter, dotted quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests. These songs are beautifully written to teach specific skills for the late intermediate piano student.


Late Intermediate Volume 2


Late Intermediate Volume 3


Our Youube Channel

Want to see more videos? Please go to our Youtube channel. If you like our channel, I need your help to spread the word to others. Can you like and subscribe?

Early Advanced Level Piano Songs

The next blog will include all the songs from “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4” for the early advanced student. These original songs include accidentals and rhythms up to all triplets (quarter, eighth, and sixteenth).

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 5

I’m excited to let you know that I’ll be writing book 5 to the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series in 2022. This will be like no other book for the advanced to late advanced student. The theory will include up to an advanced theory course, and world music and theory. And once again, all songs will be original and will be written for each chapter’s skills and information taught.

Please let me know what you think! Leave your comment below so teachers can have a conversation.

Melody Music Publishers Owner Kathi Kerr
  • Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Songs at Melody Music Publishers Read More »

Piano teacher and student

How Do Children Learn Piano?

How do young children learn to play the piano? Playing the piano and reading the notes simultaneously requires multiple skills that may be challenging for students under seven. Tip #10 is the best way to teach a young beginning piano student.  

Learning to play the piano requires learning the key names, playing them, and reading music, all at the same time. Learning all these skills simultaneously may be unrealistic for a child under seven. It may cause the student frustration and quit even before they’ve begun. 

Children Learn Piano
Children Learn Piano

There are many piano method books for young students that offer different approaches. 

  •  There is a method called “rote learning,” a “copycat” type of learning. The teacher will play specific notes, and the student will play back what they’ve heard. There is some value in learning this way since a child at this age has learned everything by watching and copying. And it helps them to play songs right away, which keeps their interest. However, I don’t consider this a long-term teaching technique since they may not understand what they’re playing. It also doesn’t teach reading skills.
  • Another method is learning the notes by pattern numbers. However, this is also not effective long-term since most songs are not written out in pattern numbers.
  • Some method books use animal characters to teach fun activities that may not directly help teach the student to play. Even though it’s fun for the student, I feel this is a waste if too much time is spent on these activities.  
  •  Some books start with playing the black keys only with finger numbers. Playing this way doesn’t teach the key name and is not realistic to playing the piano.
  • Some books start with the middle C hand positions, where both thumbs awkwardly share middle C, then skip to other hand positions before the student has the chance to master each one.
  • Another method book offers colors for each key to play songs instead of the key name. In my view, this is an example of another waste of time and learning, since this is not used in reading music.

Children Piano BookAt Melody Music Publishers, we have two books for ages 4-8 called “Color It Say It Play it and Create It,” a 60-page book, and Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”, a 50-page book. They’re taught for children to learn piano with clear steps that start with one concept and incrementally add the next concept needed, which is perfect for the young beginning piano student.  

Both books start with the proper technique with knees at the edge of the keys, sitting tall, and letting the fingers relax to form a rainbow shape. 


Keyboard geography is taught with a coloring book using the seven colors of the rainbow for the seven notes. It starts with coloring the sets of 2 black keys, then the 3 black keys, followed by just C-D-E in the first three colors of the rainbow.


Children Songs by Letter Names
Children Songs by Letter Names
  • Songs to say and play, using letter names using the C-D-E.
  • Copycat games on C-D-E so the student can learn to listen and playback.
  • Familiar songs with letter names and words like fast and hold for the rhythm.


Children Writing Songs
Children Writing Songs

Then my favorite part, where the student does the “Write Your Own Song” using just the C-D-E notes in any order they want, can then play what they just created!

More Keyboard Geography!

Back to keyboard geography, coloring the F-G-A-B, then letter names for songs to practice all five notes. More copycat games follow with C-G.

Piano Exercises for children to learn piano

Children Piano Exercises
Children Piano Exercises

Then something is added that no other method book for this age has, EXERCISES! I believe even the young student needs to play exercises to develop their playing skill. These are patterns they can memorize and play multiple times to create control, steady beat, and speed! When students do not have to concentrate on the notes and rhythm, they can let their fingers fly on the keys.  

Then there are more familiar songs with letter names and fast and hold for the rhythm, and another “Write Your Own Song.”

Rhythm for children to learn piano

Rhythm Children Piano
Rhythm Children Piano

Now rhythm is introduced, showing the value for the one, two, three, and four-count notes and rests (notice their names are not included). Worksheets follow for the student to fill out, then RHYTHM DRILLS, something not seen in any other method book for this age! I have found even a 4-year-old can play the rhythm drills and count aloud. Playing rhythm drills establishes fluency in reading, counting, and a steady beat. Then there is rhythm dictation, where the student listens and writes the rhythm they hear and a chance to create their own rhythm.  

Songs With Big Notes!

Once the rhythm is introduced, familiar songs are given using big notes with the name inside and rhythm for the young piano student to read notes and rhythm.

The left hand is introduced with fingering, songs, exercises, and copycat games to say and play using letter names. A page of rhythm drills is given, then left-hand songs with big notes and rhythm. These are original songs that are written how the left hand typically plays.

Both Hands Playing Songs!

Children Piano Songs
Children Piano Songs

Then as you may guess, both hands are introduced with letter names to start and exercises. And finally, big notes with rhythm to play hands together. There are copy games for hands together that start with both hands playing the same note, then hands playing different notes. The book finishes with both hands playing familiar songs. Each song gets a little more challenging with a total of 33 songs.  

“Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”

This book starts out recapping book 1 at an accelerated pace, so students ages 7 or 8 can begin with this book. After the student completes playing hands together with big notes and rhythm, it then introduces notation for the treble clef notes C-G, worksheets, and four songs. Then the bass cleft C-G notes are taught, worksheets, and four original songs for the left hand, written in the left-hand style. A rhythm drill is included reading both treble and bass clef lines. And finally, six songs with both hands, all original except the last song, “Ode to Joy.”  

The beginning of each book has assignment pages, note pages, and large manuscript pages for the student to write songs. The back of the book has a practice chart with points to give the student for passing assignments. And just for fun, there are Christmas songs at the back of both books. The student can play the arrangement for the level they’re in at Christmas time. 

By the end of book 2, the young student can play with skill and read fluently in the C position! They’re now ready to progress to our “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series!

I have seen my own young students learn when one concept is taught at a time. The “Color It Say It Play It and Create It” series offers the perfect step-by-step model for the young student to learn and thrive on the piano!

I hope this helps you be the best teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How Do Children Learn Piano? Read More »

Intermediate Piano student

Piano Method Books for Intermediate Students?

Are piano method books needed for the intermediate students? Most intermediate-level piano method books are merely repertoire for the student to play. But is there more for the intermediate student? Tip #9 are the information and skills the intermediate student should learn.  

What do beginning piano method books teach?

Beginning-level piano method books primarily teach keyboard geography, note reading, a little rhythm, diatonic intervals up to a 5th, and the I, ii, IV, and V7 triads. After finishing levels 3 or 4, most students can read music reasonably well and identify the intervals and the triads. However, there is more for the intermediate student to learn beyond just playing songs.

Watch our video

More for the beginning student?

First, let’s start with the beginning-level books. Here’s what you’ll find in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1” from Melody Music Publishers that you won’t find in most beginning-level method books:

Drill & Excel Book 1
Drill & Excel Book 1
  • Rhythm Drills for the whole, half, dotted half, quarter notes, and the rests with multiple rhythm drills 
    1. “Rhythm is the most neglected part of most method books, even at the beginning level. Most piano method books only show the note’s value. However, simply knowing the value doesn’t create a sight-reading skill. Playing rhythm drills where the student plays and counts aloud (using a metronome) on one note is needed to read rhythm fluently”.
  • Theory 
    1. notes in order on the staff with multiple note reading worksheets
    2. C scale hands separate, then hands together for one octave, then multiple octaves (I have found even beginners are capable of playing scales in multiple octaves)
  •  Exercises
    1. multiple 5-note patterns (most instructors will add a book like Hannon for exercises; however, it uses a 6-note pattern, which can be difficult for a beginner)
    2. Staccato exercise – I’ve never seen this unique exercise in any method books, but it is an important skill to learn
    3. Independence of hands playing different dynamic levels and staccato/legato in each hand simultaneously using motor movement skills  
    4. Multiple notes exercise learning to play 2, 3, and 4 notes together.
    5. Dynamic exercise for learning control in playing with different volumes and velocity (firmness) of the key – This is another unique drill that is critical to learning to play with dynamics.
  • 60 original songs in the C position to create a sight-reading skill in this position

Easy to follow steps

After book 1, the first chapter reviews the previous books so that the intermediate student can start with books 2, 3, or 4 without missing essential information needed.  

The late beginner/early Intermediate Student

Here is what you’ll find in book 2 for the early intermediate student not found in most method books:

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2
  • Rhythm drills for the eighth note and rest, dotted quarter note (explaining the formula for the dot), the tie, and the 6/8 meter
  • Theory 
    1. G and D scales in multiple octaves
    2. remaining notes on the staff with multi worksheets
    3. diatonic intervals from 2nds through the octave with multiple worksheets for learning at sight (this helps in sight-reading)
    4. dynamic markings and musical symbols, including the pedal and a drill for how to use it
  • Exercises 
    1. intermediate level exercises played at a faster tempo 
    2. grace note exercise teaches how to play the grace notes with a quick and light touch
    3. diatonic interval drills using every finger combination – this unique drill teaches the student how to “feel” each interval with every possible fingering without looking and prepares the student to play songs outside the 5-note hand position
  •  60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught

The mid-intermediate Student

Here is what’s included for the mid intermediate student in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3” not found in most method books:

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3
  • Rhythm drills for the sixteenth note and rest, dotted eighth, and the eighth, sixteenth, and quarter triplets
  • Theory
    1. major scales A and F in mulitple octaves 
    2. minor scales Am, Em, Bm, F#m, and Dm
    3. explanation of relative minor scales and accidentals
    4. chromatic scale
    5. whole and half steps
    6. chromatic intervals and how to name them
    7. the four kinds of triads
    8. three kinds of minor scales
    9. Picardy 3rd
    10. dissonance and resolution
    11. phrases
  • Exercises
    1. finger pedaling to learn how to hold one note while playing other notes simultaneously
    2. embellishment exercise needed when playing Baroque and classical style music
    3. left-hand drills show the typical left-hand movement to play without looking
    4. chromatic intervals with every finger combination – this repeats the previous diatonic intervals, except for playing the chromatic intervals, which completes EVERY finger combination when moving from one note to another
    5. chromatic scale
    6. consecutive 3rds – this is a challenging drill that is essential for playing intermediate and advanced level repertoire
    7. arpeggios – which are great as a drill and to learn all the triads’ inversions
    8. repeated notes and held notes while changing fingers – this is an essential skill to fingering
    9. left-hand bass jumps without looking – this skill is needed when the left-hand moves from bass note to chord
  • 60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught


Choosing a repertoire for the intermediate student has its challenges, whether using a method book or not. You want to make sure it’s the right level, not too challenging or too easy, and interesting for the student. Using the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series is easy because the songs are specifically written for the chapter’s level, skill, and information taught. No more wondering if the repertoire is the right fit for the intermediate student. And the songs are written in various styles, giving the student exposure to them, from classical, pop, ragtime, jazz, and folk styles. When the student plays songs using what they’ve just learned, it creates deeper learning and understanding.

Late Intermediate Student

And finally, for the late intermediate student in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4”, here is what you’ll find:  

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4
  •  Rhythm – odd meters and counting the 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8 in big beats, triplets with 2 against 3 and 3 against 4
  • Theory
    1. Scales B flat, E flat, G minor, and C minor
    2. triad numbers for major and minor keys
    3. improvisational tools
    4. music terminology
    5. circle of 5ths
    6. adding the 7th, 2nd, sus 4th, and 6th to triads
    7. blues scale
    8. 7th chords up the scale.
  • Exercises
    1. working on the 4th and 5th fingers, which are the weaker fingers
    2. playing multiple notes while holding a note (a great skill needed for intermediate and advanced repertoire)
    3. independence of fingers when you want one or more notes played louder than the others within one hand
    4. thumb exercise
    5. dominant 7th arpeggios, which is another arpeggio exercise for both skill and learning the dominant 7th chords around the circle of 5ths
  •  60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught

Go to the next level!

Everything is taught in an organized, step-by-step way that anyone can learn. Finally, there are piano method books for intermediate students that will help them excel to the next level!

I hope this tip makes you the BEST music teacher ever!

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Method Books for Intermediate Students? Read More »

Performance Practice

How To Do a Performance Practice!

You spend hours practicing a piece to get ready for a performance. But is there a difference in practicing in the final stages? The answer is YES! Tip #8 is part three of my practicing series on how to do a performance practice!

Before the Performance

Tip #4 was how to practice, namely spot practicing troubled areas. However, there is a different strategy for practicing in the final weeks and days before a performance.  

I used to think once I had worked through all the troubled areas in a piece, I was ready to perform it. However, after several poor performances, I realized that knowing the piece didn’t necessarily mean my performance would be flawless. Indeed, the better you practice and work through all the troubled spots, the better your performance, but other factors also play into it. Here are practice strategies in the final stages before a performance that will help keep your performance smooth. These are things I wish I would have known this in my early years of performing.

#1 Record yourself and listen with a critical ear

After fixing the troubled spots, record yourself. There’s a vast difference between listening while playing and listening to a recording of your playing, where you can listen with a critical ear. As you’re listening, circle areas that you may need to go back and spot practice.  

#2 Play the piece without stopping as in performing

Once a piece is learned, and troubled spots fixed, play the piece without stopping as though you’re performing it. Play THROUGH the mistakes, and resist the urge to stop and fix them. As the saying goes, never stop while performing, so you should practice it this way. As you play, imagine an audience is listening to you. The more times you play a piece through without stops, the more confident you’ll be when performing, and the more confident you are, the better you’ll perform!

#3 Play the pice “cold” for a performance practice

The final step to preparing for a performance is how you play the piece “cold,” how you play before warming up. Playing this way is how you will be performing it, so it’s good to practice it this way. It’s also a true test for how well you know the piece. If you still have troubled areas, return to spot practicing.  

During the Performance

#4 What you think about while performing matters!

Performance Psychology
Performance Psychology

When we learn a new skill, we use the frontal part of our brain, which means we cannot have any other thoughts while doing the task. Remember learning to tie your shoes or driving? You probably couldn’t think about anything else until you had it mastered. Once we’ve mastered a skill, it then goes to the back part of our brain, where we do it without consciously thinking about it. Once you’ve learned a piece, it leaves your thoughts open during a performance, like the fact that people are watching you or not making mistakes. I’ve had performances where I began playing perfectly, but as soon as I thought, “Don’t make a mistake,” is when I DID make one.  

Train your thoughts to ONLY think about the music you’re playing and not care that people are watching you. Concentrate on how you’re enjoying playing, and you’ll give the performance of a lifetime!

I hope this tip makes you the BEST music teacher ever!

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How To Do a Performance Practice! Read More »


Bad Piano Techniques and How to Fix Them!

Tip #7 – Singing or playing an instrument requires proper technique.  Improper piano technique can prevent the pianist from attaining their potential and may cause injury. I will be highlighting bad piano techniques and how to fix them!

#1 Sitting Too Close and Too Low

Most pianists, even professional pianists, often sit too close and too low to the piano. Sitting this way causes the hand, wrist, and arm to be in an incorrect position, possibly causing pain and tiredness after prolonged playing.

Correct Piano Technique: Knees at Edge of Keys 

Your knees should be aligned with the edge of the keys and your elbows in front and not beside your body. For the height, your waist should be level with the keys. For children, have them sit on something (a phone book is perfect for this). The wrist should be flat, not lowered, making your hand, wrist, and arm level. Having a low wrist puts pressure on it and makes the fingers do all the work, causing them to tire quickly. A lowered wrist may also cause carpal tunnel, pain, and numbness in the fingers. Sit tall (don’t slouch) at the front edge of the bench, which gives you a forward angle that helps when needing to play with force, using gravity to assist in playing. Sitting on the edge of the bench doesn’t apply to children if their feet cannot touch the floor.

#2 Fingers too Flat or Too Curved

One bad piano technique I’ve seen is the wrong positioning of the fingers, from being too flat to having too much of a curve. Some method books describe the position of the fingers as though you’re holding a ball. The problem with this concept is the fingers will be naturally tense.   

Correct Piano Technique: Relaxed and Rounded Fingers

Your fingers should be as relaxed as possible. For a beginner, relaxing is not the easiest way to play, but it gets easier with skill. The simplest way to having a correct finger position is to place them palms up on your lap and let your fingers relax. That is the EXACT way to hold them on the piano. Imagine the rainbow curve, which is the exact curve needed. Play using the pads of the fingertips, not above the first joint (too low) or the part just below the fingernail (too high). Also, keep the first joint from bending. Unfortunately, pianists can never have long fingernails; otherwise, it will hinder playing at the correct part of the fingertip. 

#3 Moving Hands and Arms Too Much

If you’ve ever watched someone playing piano on TV (which we know they’re not really playing), they will usually move their hands and arms way too much. Moving unnecessarily may cause you to play incorrect notes, especially when playing quickly, and tire more easily. Moving the hand up and down is never needed. A technique called “rolling the wrist,” is where the wrist is lowered for stressed notes and raised for lighter notes. This kind of motion, in my view, is unnecessary and may make it difficult to play quickly and accurately.  

Correct Piano Technique: Little to No Movement

The goal of playing the piano is to keep your arms and hands as still and “quiet” as possible. The composer Mozart was known for placing a coin on the student’s hand while playing, with the goal to keep it from falling off. I’ve had fun doing this with my students as well. The fingertips should be “glued” to the keys, only going down and using the weight of the fingers to play the keys.  

With that said, there are some movements that help when playing. One movement is pivoting left or right towards the notes you’re about to play. Another is positioning the hand towards the back of the piano to accommodate the black keys, especially when the shorter fingers (the thumb and pinky) play the black keys and longer fingers play the white keys. And finally, another movement that is an exception to the fingers staying glued to the keys is raising the entire hand for staccato and accented notes or playing loudly. Raising the hand to play the keys gives momentum and strength.  

Good Piano Technique is Critical!

Having good piano technique helps the pianist play the very best. It also helps with the physical aspect of playing the piano to prevent tiredness and pain. You, the piano instructor, can help your piano students play well, not despite their technique, but because of it.

I hope this tip helps you be the best piano teacher EVER!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Bad Piano Techniques and How to Fix Them! Read More »


Teaching A Music Transfer Student!

Tip #6 – Teaching a music transfer student, someone that has taken lessons previously, is probably the most challenging of students for a music teacher. You don’t know what they know or, more importantly, what they don’t know, and they will compare you to the previous instructor. This tip will give you great insights into making a smooth transition for the transfer student and can apply to any instrument.

Be Prepared

Before the first lesson, ask the student or parent what curriculum they used or music they played with the previous instructor, as well as any notes the instructor had written. Take the time to read and become acquainted with the information they give you. Knowing their background will help you determine their skill level and style of the previous instructor. If possible, try and continue with their curriculum, especially at the beginning, to keep a smooth flow into your teaching.  

Establish a rapport with the music transfer student

The first lesson is the most critical and will set the tone. Start by getting to know the music transfer student and letting them get to know you. Spend a few minutes to let the student know your training background and experience. Then take a few minutes to ask the students questions about their past piano experience and what they are interested in learning. Knowing this will help you plan the best path for the lessons. It will also help the student be more comfortable and let them know you care about their interests and goals. 

The first lesson

Once you’ve made the student feel comfortable with you, have them play a piece that shows their highest level. Upon hearing them play, you can tell their strengths and weaknesses. Asking them specific questions about the piece they played is a good way to determine what they know and don’t know. 

Make Changes Slowly

You may be tempted to make multiple changes from the start, but be careful to present changes slowly and incrementally. They will need time to adjust to your teaching style and personality, and that alone may be overwhelming at the beginning. The most challenging changes are bad habits or wrong technique. Start with complementing the student on what they do well, then make changes one at a time. However, it is good to offer some information or changes in the first lesson to show them you can take them to the next level.  

Be Careful Commenting on the Previous Music Teacher

Whether the music transfer student had a positive or negative experience with the previous instructor, it’s essential to keep your comments at a minimum. Keep the focus on the direction between you and the student. Telling the student they were taught incorrectly may cause frustration and a sense of wasted time and money. It may also cause a division between you and the student. 

Not every student-teacher is a match for the music transfer student

Be realistic that you may not be the right instructor for all music transfer students since they may have specific interests you cannot fulfill. If that is the case, be honest with them. They will appreciate and respect you for your honesty. If you can, recommend another instructor who can teach their interests. If this happens, don’t be discouraged; there are plenty of other transfer students that will fit your teaching style and personality.  

It Gets Easier

While you may feel like you’ll be the “new” instructor forever, before long, you’ll be their new favorite! Just like any relationship, it takes time to establish. Be patient, and soon you’ll be the instructor they compare others to!

I hope this tip helps you be the BEST music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Teaching A Music Transfer Student! Read More »

Sight-Read Sheet Music

Sight-Read Sheet Music

Tip #5 – Sight-reading sheet music on the piano or any instrument is technically reading “at sight,” or the ability to read fluently, without counting the notes.   Learning to read music can be as complex as learning a new language and takes time and repetition to master. However, in time it will pay off, and soon the student will read music as effortlessly as reading words! Here are steps in the process of sight-reading.

Knowing The Logic of the Written Music

The written music as we know it today began around the 9th century in Italy (which is, by the way, why the terms are in Italian). Imagine the task of writing down the music you hear? It has evolved over the centuries and looks different today than their original writings, but the “logic” of the notes are still the same, ascending and descending on the staff. Unfortunately, today’s students are taught mainly by acronyms like “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” This way of teaching the notes is ineffective for sight-reading sheet music in two ways: 1) it doesn’t show the staff’s logic, and 2) counting to identify the note is too slow to read fluently. If you teach your student the logic of the notes ascending/descending right from the beginning, they will remember them better.

A Small Number of Notes At a Time

Learning to read music can be overwhelming for a student, so it’s best to start with a small set of notes in order on the staff at a time. Repeatedly reading songs with the same set of notes will instill a visual memory of each note to create fluency. Our series “Drill & Excel On the Piano” takes five notes per chapter, with 20 songs using just those sets of notes. By the end of the chapter, the student can sight-read these notes with ease!

Rhythm in Sight-Reading

For many students, the rhythm is often the weakest part. However, if the rhythm is taught early on in the student’s training, they will play correctly automatically. I use rhythm drills at the start of lessons with a beginner, playing the rhythm without notation on one note while counting out loud. Repeatedly playing the rhythm creates fluency. For challenging rhythm in a song, you can have the student play the rhythm on a single note. Melody Music Publishers sells “Rhythm Workbook 1” and “Rhythm Workbook 2” for beginners to late intermediate. By the end of each book, a student can read the rhythm fluently!

Don’t Look At Your Hands

I’ve seen students look back and forth between the sheet music and their hands while playing. This way of playing creates two problems: 1) it stops the flow of reading, and 2) it hinders the student from remembering where the keys are and feeling the notes’ distance. On the other hand, when the student keeps their eyes on the music, it creates a smooth reading and a feel for the keys.  

Read Ahead

Another essential point to sight-reading is reading one beat to one measure ahead. As a “trick” question, I ask my students if they should “think” about the note they’re playing. If they say yes, I’ll say, nope, too late. You have to know the note before playing it, so reading ahead of your playing will ensure playing correctly and fluently.  

Interval Reading

Since music is a set of intervals, the distance from one note or set of notes to the next, identifying intervals by sight is another way to sight-read. This way of reading is called “interval reading.” The “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series has interval worksheets for the student to write the intervals without counting to know them at sight.  

Sight-Read Takes Drills and Repetition

Just like learning a new language, reading music fluently takes time and repetition. Many methods claim a student can read fluently in a short amount of time. That is not realistic. Letting the student know it will take time to be fluent will help them not to be frustrated. However, let them know that once they’re reading fluently, they can play a new song with ease, and reading music is no longer a chore but FUN!

These books are an excellent curriculum for home-schoolers too!

I hope this helps you be the best teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Sight-Read Sheet Music Read More »

How to Practice a Song on the Piano

Tip #4

In my previous blog, I talked about how to motivate a student to practice. Now I want to talk about HOW to practice a song on the piano. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. The amount of time doesn’t automatically mean improving. A lot can be done in a short amount of time if practicing correctly. Practicing incorrectly may do more harm than help.  

What Practicing is NOT

Playing a song from beginning to end is not a practice; that’s called a PERFORMANCE! Here are ways to practice a new song.

First Step

The student should begin each practice with exercises and warm-ups. Doing this helps to get their mind and fingers ready. For a new piece, let your student play it from beginning to end, mistakes and all, to get acquainted with the song.

Spot Practice on the Piano

After playing through the song, it’s time to spot practice the more challenging parts. It may be a few notes, a measure, or an entire line. 

1. Play notes without rhythm

If the notes are the problem, play them without rhythm or steady beat. The student can start with hands separate, especially the hand that may give them the most trouble. If the notes jump around, have the student play them without looking to “feel” the notes’ distance.

2. Play rhythm without notes

If the rhythm is challenging, have the student play the rhythm on one note and count out loud. This way of playing is what I call a rhythm drill. The student can start with hands separate and then both hands to learn how the rhythm lines up.

3. Alignment Practice

If the student plays hands separately well but can’t play them together, I suggest alignment practice. Have the student play the notes with both hands VERY slowly, with no rhythm or steady beat. Notice where the notes line up in each hand and how it feels to play them together. When the student can play the notes together, play with the rhythm at a very slow tempo. And finally, increase the tempo incrementally until it’s at the desired tempo.

4. Repeat section immediately until learned.

When the student plays the troubled spot correctly, have them immediately repeat it until it’s solid. The sooner the student repeats the area when it’s still fresh in their mind, the better the retention. Once it’s learned, have the student practice a measure before and after several times to ensure it’s smooth going into and out of the troubled area. The gauge to having learned the troubled areas is how they play it cold at the next practice. If the student makes the same mistakes, they will need to repeat the spot practicing steps.

5. Record the student

It may be difficult for the student to listen to themselves while playing, so recording the piece is an excellent way to critique it. Listening to the recording is much different from listening while playing. The student may want to circle the parts they may still need work on and then go back to spot practicing those areas.

Now Play the Entire Piece

Once the student has untangled the challenging areas, they can now play the song from beginning to end. When the student has played the notes and rhythm correctly, this is an excellent time to focus on dynamics and phrasing.

6. Final Practice on the Piano

The last step to finalizing a piece is to play it without stopping. If the student is unable to, they may need to go back to spot practicing certain areas. If the student will be performing the piece, a week or so before performing, have them play the piece without stopping, even playing through errors. Being able to play it all the way through without stopping will give the student confidence when performing.

I hope this tip helps you to be the best music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How to Practice a Song on the Piano Read More »

Music Student

How To Motivate The Music Student to Practice

The second greatest challenge a private music teacher has after attendance is getting students to practice. However, your job isn’t to make a music student practice; it is to make them want to practice. When you look at it from this perspective, it may help change your approach. I’m not talking about an occasional week where the student was out of town or too busy to practice, but a student that perpetually doesn’t practice. The responsibility for the student’s motivation to practice comes primarily from you, the music instructor.

Does Brow Beating Work?

If a student has a track record of not practicing, your “browbeating” or “guilting” them into it is NOT going to work. All this does is make the student feel bad about the lessons and may cause them to quit. If a student tells me they haven’t practiced this week, I tell them it’s ok and focus on practicing more the following week. Your negative comments won’t change the past. So music and piano teachers, let’s stop doing this, ok?

But How Do You Motivate Them to Practice?

The first step in motivating a student to practice is finding out why they’re not practicing. This kind of thinking takes discernment on your part. Here are some possible reasons and solutions for a student’s lack of practice.

Problem: Too Busy

Being too busy is probably the biggest reason for a student not to practice or at least the biggest excuse. For children whose parents put them in so many programs and school functions, their (lack of) time is your biggest competitor, not only for practicing but also for getting music students. Adults have so many responsibilities that it’s difficult for them to put in the time to practice.  

Solution: Schedule Practices

Since a week can go by without practicing, having the student schedule a time to practice will help make it a routine. I suggest practicing before or after homework, school, or dinner for kids. Or practice at the same time as the lesson itself. For adults, it could be before or after work. Whatever time works the best when they’re fresh and have undistracted time. Also, tell the student to practice even if they only have 15 minutes sporadically. Multiple 15-minute practices can add up to sufficient time and are better for a beginner student.

Problem: Confused about What to Practice

I believe this could be why students do not practice, even though they may not admit to it. This reason may be the most challenging to discern. Some students will assume it’s their fault for not understanding and may not ask you questions. Others might be afraid to ask you questions if you had already explained it. Another reason a music student may not understand is a lack of clear and concise assignments. 

Solution: Ask a Lot Of Questions and Give Clear Assignments

The most important thing you can do as a music teacher is to let the student know they can ask ANYTHING of you, even if you had already explained it. Never let the student feel intimidated to ask you questions or feel they’re not smart enough to understand. I tell my music students I will explain something a million times if needed! And to make sure they understand, I always ask them questions after explaining a new concept. Also, make sure your assignments are written down and are clear and specific. After writing down the assignments, again ask them if they have any questions. Asking them questions will give you more insight into their thinking. And it sets the tone that questions are good, making them more at ease to ask you questions. 

Problem: Non-Realistic Goals

I’ve heard teachers (and parents) tell a beginning student to practice an hour a day. That’s unrealistic and will cause the student to fail ultimately. The discipline of practicing is something learned, just like learning the instrument itself. The beginning student not only doesn’t have the discipline, but they also don’t have enough information TO practice for that length of time.

Solution: Short Practices Done Often

For the beginning music student, the best way is multiple, short practices. For ages 4-8, I recommend 10-20 minutes at a time. This time frame doesn’t sound overwhelming to the beginning student. As the student progresses, the longer they can practice. The beginning of each practice is when the student is the freshest and gains the most improvement. I tell my students to start each practice with the most challenging parts.

Problem: Family or Personal Problems

Life is messy at times, and you may have a student going through family or personal problems. I don’t recommend asking personal questions since you’re there as a music instructor only. But what if their problems continue and hinder their practicing and learning?

Solution: Be a Good Listener

Without asking personal questions, you can ask the student how they’re doing. I usually start a lesson by asking how their week has been. By showing them you care may be enough to have them focus on the lesson. However, if the student is troubled, asking how they’re doing may help them open up. I don’t suggest giving your opinion on their situation, but sometimes listening is all that’s needed, and giving them your empathy. Giving them the gift of music may be the help they need and may encourage them to practice.  

Problem: Not Interested In Music

The lack of interest is the most challenging of all and may not have a solution since music is not everyone’s cup of tea. I once taught a little boy for one year. No matter how much I tried to make the lessons fun, he hated it. His mom was diligent in making him stick with it. However, after a year, I asked him if he liked to play the piano. He said no, of course. Then I asked if he liked the “sound” of the piano, and again he said no. That’s when I let his mom know after a year that I didn’t think it was in his DNA to play the piano.

However, I wouldn’t have suggested he stop after only a few months of lessons. A beginner’s first 6-12 months is the most challenging and can be the opposite of fun. It’s good to remind the student to give it time, and the better they get, the more fun it becomes. However, if a student is still not interested even at the intermediate level, there may be different approaches you can take before giving up.

Solution: Different Path

The late beginning to early intermediate music student is an excellent time to show them different styles or songs or ask what they’re interested in. You can add these to the regular assignments or change the entire lesson. Or, if your student has only played by reading music, you may want to change to by ear and improvisation, or vice versa.

A Final Note

Finally, I don’t tell my students to practice; instead, I give them assignments. During the lesson, they either pass or don’t pass them. I’ve noticed that students want to do well to pass, motivating them to practice. Their reward is my accolades when they’ve done well and get to move on to the next assignment. For the young student, I give points when passing each assignment or practicing five times in a given week, with a prize after so many points. You’ll be amazed at how the music student will have time to practice when there’s a prize involved!

I hope this tip helps you to be the best music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How To Motivate The Music Student to Practice Read More »

Music Student Attendance Critical – Tip #2

Tip #2

The most critical part of keeping a music student long-term is attendance. With everyone being so busy these days, that’s a real challenge. However, when lessons are frequently canceled, it can hinder the learning progress and may cause students to cancel early on.

Make Sure You Attend Each Lesson

You, the instructor, set the tone for the lessons. So if you’re not committed to the schedule, neither will the student. With exceptions to unavoidable events, it’s critical to attend every lesson.

What If The Student Cancels?

The student’s attendance is a whole different matter. What do you do when a student consistently cancels? And worse, EXPECT you to reschedule or give them a credit? Offering make-up lessons cause you to use another time slot you’re not getting paid for. If you have plenty of openings, that may not be a problem, but what if you have a booked schedule?

What Is The Solution?

Having a clear policy on cancellations is critical. I’ve heard many extreme policies. Some will have a 24 or 48-hour rule where the student is guaranteed a make-up or credit. But how is that fair to you when you reserve that block of time expecting to be paid? And if the student isn’t held accountable for their cancellations, there’s no incentive for them to attend every lesson. Without consistency, the learning progress is slow to none, and the student may lose interest. On the other hand, policies that NEVER offer make-ups may be too harsh, causing you to lose students.

The Best Policy

I believe a happy medium is the best policy that is fair to you while offering some flexibility. Here is my policy in a sentence:  For student cancellations, there is no credit, and make-up lessons are not guaranteed; that is up to the instructor’s availability.  This policy lets the student know they’re accountable for attendance and doesn’t obligate you to make it up while giving some flexibility.  

To Make-Up or Not Make-Up?

When deciding to reschedule, consider the student’s track record. For the student that rarely cancels and gives advance notice, doing your best to make up the lesson is a good thing. If you don’t have any other times available, extending the following lessons is the easiest way. However, for students that cancel regularly, I recommend NOT giving a make-up lesson, even if you’re able to. Continually rescheduling perpetuates their lack of commitment. When I have one of these kinds of students cancel, I politely tell them I’ll see them next week with no mention of a make-up. If they ask for one, I tell them I have no openings. By not making up the lesson(s), the student will either attend each lesson, knowing they’re paying for it, or cancel, and you can replace them with a more committed student. Either way, you’re better off! And by the way, even if you DID make-up every lesson for this kind of student, I guarantee they will not be long-term.

I hope this tip helps you to be the best music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Music Student Attendance Critical – Tip #2 Read More »

Choosing The Right Method Book Tip #1

The most important decision you’ll make when starting a new student is the right curriculum or method book. It will determine how they learn and how you teach!

Since most piano method books are merely a book of songs with little information, you, the instructor, may have to use multiple books, requiring you to explain everything. Not only does that make more work for you, but it can also be confusing for the student. This also requires the student to use and bring multiple books to the lessons.

What if there was one book that made teaching SO easy, you’re hardly teaching at all! That’s exactly what the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” method book series does!

Only one book Is needed! Each book includes everything a student needs, from written worksheets to learn the notes, intervals, triads, and chords, to rhythm drills, exercises, scales, and 60 original songs per book to help the student sight-read.

When I started using these books on my students, (I called them my guinea pigs), I noticed right away how they improved in their playing and sight-reading skill, even passing songs they played the first time.

I hope this tip helps in your teaching. Thank you for your dedication and passion to music education.

Please leave a comment to let other music teachers know what you think!

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Choosing The Right Method Book Tip #1 Read More »

Piano Songs Sheet Music Download

Piano Songs in Hand Positions

If you’re a piano teacher, I’m sure you’ve taught students that needed more piano songs in hand positions. What do you do? In my 35 years of teaching, I never met a piano method book that gave enough songs in one hand position to learn how to sight-read. Sure the student can “muddle” through each piece, but this won’t be enough for students to play piano songs like reading a book! To help, some teachers will use multiple books in one level to give the student more songs in that hand position. I call those “sideways books.” This way of teaching causes your students to bring three or more books to each lesson! And it still may not be sufficient for sight-reading a specific hand position.

Download Piano Songs

My piano method book series “Drill & Excel On the Piano” includes 20 songs for each hand position per chapter. I’ve found that 20 songs are a sufficient number of songs to sight-read, even for the slower-paced student. But if you’re teaching from another piano method book and don’t want to change, I now have the perfect solution for you. Melody Music Publishers now offers sets of 5 piano songs in a single hand position you can download for only $3.50! There are eight parts in each hand position with five songs each, totaling 40 songs in keys of C, G, F, D, B flat, A, and E flat!

Beginning to Intermediate

There are three levels: beginningintermediate, and late intermediate. The beginning level stays within the five-note hand position. The rhythm includes quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests. The intermediate level also stays within the five-note hand position but adds the eight notes and rests. The late intermediate level expands slightly outside the five-note note hand position using the same rhythm as the intermediate level.

Original Songs

And the best part, these songs are all original! Most method books brag about the songs being familiar. However, if the student knows the song, he or she may play more by ear than actual reading. Since our songs are original, this ensures the student is reading every note and rhythm.

New Songs Continually Added

New songs will be continually added to the site. If you need more songs for any level, hand position, or key signature, click the Request More Songs link at the top of each level to send a request e-mail to the author/founder, Kathi Kerr. You will be notified when the songs you have requested are added.

Plenty of Piano Songs In Hand Positions

No more running out of songs for your student to practice! Download songs for any level and position for immediate access and help your students become excellent sight-readers!

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers
Kathi Kerr – owner Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Songs in Hand Positions Read More »

Drill & Excel On the Piano

Piano Method Books That Make Teaching Easy!

Hey fellow piano teachers, what if there were piano method books that made your teaching job so easy, you feel you’re hardly working at all? That’s exactly what the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” book series does! Click any book to watch a movie where the author goes through each page with commentary. Most piano method books are songs with little information included. This means you have to explain in detail every new concept. And since piano method books don’t include every part of the lesson needed, you have to supplement books for teaching exercises, scales, theory, note naming, and rhythm games to improve their reading ability. Having multiple books also makes it challenging in the lesson for both you and the student.

Everything in one book

At Melody Music Publishers, the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series has everything in one book. Each book is in 3 chapters and includes multiple note reading and interval worksheets, rhythm drills, exercises, and special exercises for specific skills, scales, and 20 original songs per chapter (totaling 60 songs per book)! Since the author, Kathi Kerr, writes the songs, a student has to read the notes and not rely on their ear to play. Most method books brag about having songs students are familiar with. However, if reading music fluently is the goal, a student can trick the piano teacher when playing a song if they rely on their ear instead of reading the notes.

Easy Steps to follow

Teaching from the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series is nice because it lays out the information in an easy to follow step format. Without a book to guide the teacher and student, it’s easy to forget about important steps the student needs. However, with these books, the piano teacher can relax and know each critical step is included, taught straightforwardly with examples, drills, and exercises. The repetition given ensures the student fully understands each step before moving on to the next one.

Written Worksheets

Why are writing assignments so important? I believe writing the information is the first layer of understanding and retaining the information. When a student repeatedly writes the names of the notes or intervals, they’re more likely to retain the information. With the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” books, there are multiple worksheets to help students learn and remember notes. No acronyms are taught, like “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Instead, the staff’s logic is shown, and five sets of notes are taught at a time with multiple worksheets per set of notes.

Rhythm Drills

Where’s the rhythm in most method books? Most piano method books may give the value of each kind of note, but nothing else. I have found rhythm is the most neglected part of piano method books and lessons. A student needs more than just shown each note’s value. To read rhythm fluently requires playing multiple rhythm drills. In “Drill & Excel On The PIano,” the note’s value is taught with multiple rhythm drills for the student to play. Playing them with a steady beat, and counting the beats out loud is recommended.


As mentioned earlier, most piano instructors will use a separate book for exercises. However, many exercise books are not suitable for the beginning student when the pattern includes more than a five-note hand position. In “Drill & Excel On the Piano” books, the exercises correspond with the chapter’s songs and skills needed. For example, in chapter 1 of book 1, only five-note pattern exercises are given that go with the songs. As the hand position expands, the exercises do as well. There are also “special” exercises that go along with the skills needed for the songs. In book 1, chapter 3, an exercise to teach the skill of independence of hands is given. This helps when playing the songs with one hand louder than the other, and one playing staccato while another playing legato. A student first learns the skill in the exercise before applying it to a song.


Another supplemental book piano teachers often use is scales. In “Drill & Excel On the Piano,” each chapter has one key signature (except the recap chapters), and all the songs, exercises, and scales will be in that key. This makes everything they’re learning correspond to each other and creates a clear path for learning. Also, most scale books show the scale by notation. Playing scales by reading the notes may not help the student remember what sharps or flats are in each scale and key signature, or even understand them. In the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series, the student plays scales by knowing what’s in each key signature. This helps the student have better retention and understanding of the scales, which is the foundation for learning music theory.


Intervals are taught beginning in book 2, chapter 3. The emphasis in book 1 and book 2, chapters 1 and 2, are reading fluently and exercises to acquire the skill of playing. Chapter 3 of book 2 starts by showing the staff’s intervals in the key of C (C/D, C/E, C/F, C/G, etc.), with the interval number beneath. However, it doesn’t stop with merely explaining intervals. There are multiple worksheets for the student to identify the interval number without counting. Once a student can identify the interval at sight, this helps in sight-reading. Without repetitive written assignments, most students are not able to identify them at sight.

Songs, songs, and more songs!

And finally, the best part of “Drill & Excel On the Piano” are all the beautiful songs written by author Kathi Kerr. As mentioned earlier, the songs correspond with the chapter’s key signature. Written melodically, a student will find themselves singing the songs apart from playing them on the piano. Starting from book 2, each piece is in a different style with a commentary written by the composer. And best of all, they’re fun to play!

Each book recaps the previous books

Whatever the student’s level, he or she can start with any book in this series, since from book 2, the first chapter is a recap of the previous books—this way, no critical steps, and information are missing. For a beginning student ages 8-adult, book 1 is recommended. If a student has played a little piano, they can start with book 2 that begins chapter 1 with hands together. This book is also great for a self-taught student that plays well but may have missing information or someone taught incorrectly. Book 3 is excellent for the early intermediate student. And finally, book 4 is for the late intermediate student. There are more exercises, special exercises, rhythm drills, and lots of theory worksheets in books 3 and 4. “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 5” is set to come out in late 2021 for the advanced student.

My first experience with this piano method book

When I had finished book 1, I used it on the students I was teaching at the time (I called them my guinea pigs). One of my students in particular had struggled in reading. However, when he started playing the multiple songs in each position, he was so accomplished at reading, he began sight-reading the songs nearly perfectly by the end of the chapter! I remember feeling so at ease and thinking “The book is doing all the work!” It was so much fun to see him go from struggling to sight-reading!

Order today and enjoy teaching

Order your copy of “Drill & Excel On the Piano” to relax and have a great time teaching your students, knowing they’re getting all the essential steps. Using drills and repetition, your students will have a deep understanding of all concepts and play the piano like a pro. It’s exciting to see the students’ progress and growth. If you’re a piano teacher who hasn’t registered, click here to sign up to receive discount codes for free shipping and 50% off your first copy, then free shipping and 20% off all recurring orders! Thank you for your passion and dedication to teaching private piano. We welcome your comments and suggestions to this post.

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers. They offer piano and singing method books using small steps and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Method Books That Make Teaching Easy! Read More »

Piano Method Book for Children

Piano Method Book for Children

Welcome the newest addition: “Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”

“Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too” is the newest addition to Melody Music Publishers. This piano method book for children ages 5-8 is the sequel to “Color It Say It Play It and Create It.”. A student aged 7-8 can start with this book that may be too old for book 1. The beginning steps are taught, so no concepts are missing when starting with this book. It starts with technique, keyboard geography, and exercises, as in book 1. Then it moves onto playing hands together in the C hand position using letter names. As the book continues, it adds rhythm and big notes with the names and rhythm. And finally, the staff’s notes are introduced, starting with the treble clef and bass clef separately, then the grand staff. By the end, the student is playing songs with both hands in the C hand position. And for a bonus, the back of the book has Christmas songs arranged for any part of the book the student may be on at Christmastime.

Copycat Games

Copycat games are In the first few pages of the book. This game teaches the young student to “listen” and hear the notes being played. Listening to notes is a great learning skill and helps develop ear training. When a student is concentrating on reading while playing, it’s easy for a student of any age not to “hear” the notes. The first few songs in “Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too” are familiar songs with no title. The student plays the notes and has to figure out what the name of the song is. This exercise is fantastic to teach him or her how to listen while playing. The second skill learned with this game is creating a steady beat. When the teacher plays a set of notes with a steady beat, it allows the student to “copy” with the same steady beat, saying the note names aloud. And playing without looking at their hands is emphasized right from the beginning to create this good habit.

Why Start With Letter Names?

Most method books for the young beginner jump right into teaching notes on the staff. However, this skill requires the student to figure out the staff’s note name and then what key to play. Studies have shown that young children have difficulty with this process, and may cause them frustration. Thus, it may cause the student to cancel even before getting started. By starting with reading only the letter names, the young student can play more quickly and helps to develop dexterity in their playing. This book even includes exercises using the letter names, which I’ve never seen in piano method books for this age. The songs start with one hand at a time, then with hands together playing the same notes in each hand. Then the final step is playing different notes in each hand. The letter names go up and down, thereby teaching the concept of notes on a staff, without the student even being aware of it. I have found that a student can easily transition into reading notes on the staff after playing with letter names that ascend and descend.


The next step introduced is rhythm using drills and writing assignments. Rhythm is the element that is the most neglected in method books, especially for young students. However, I believe rhythm is the most critical aspect of playing and reading music. I’ve noticed that when the rhythm is emphasized early in the child’s lessons, they have no problem playing the rhythm correctly as they progress. I also emphasize a steady beat and counting, showing how each beat has a unique feel. There are rhythm drills in “Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too” that include clapping to a metronome on different beat numbers. Since rhythm is introduced in a clear yet fun way, it takes the guesswork out of it for the young student.

Combining Rhythm and Note Names

Once they are familiar with the rhythm, the next step is big notes with the rhythm and note names in the center. Once again, the notes ascend and descend to show the logic of the notes on a staff. The student is counting out loud while playing the various notes in the song. By now, the young student remembers where the keys are in their hand position so as to focus on the rhythm. Counting out loud and playing with a steady beat is emphasized, as well as not looking at their hands.

And Finally The Staff

The next and final step is introducing the staff. First, the treble clef notes are taught with worksheets and songs, then the bass clef, and finally, the grand staff. The note names are no longer given in the middle of the note. The first few songs on the grand staff start with both hands playing C to focus on the rhythm. Then the grand staff with random notes but the same notes in each hand with whole notes, then half notes, dotted half notes, and quarter notes. The last and final step is hands playing different notes in each hand, and all the rhythm taught.

Watch Video With Commentary

Songs in “Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”

All the songs except two (“Ode to Joy” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”) are original songs. The purpose in writing the songs is to make sure the student is actually reading. While ear training is critical and included in this book, when playing songs, the skill of reading is most important. I wrote the songs to sound fun, so the student will enjoy playing and learning them. Learning to read music also teaches the concept that reading is essential to playing songs they may not be familiar with.

The Next Step

This book helps the young student to smoothly transition into our “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series. All the important concepts are taught. Students seven or eight can continue with “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2” which starts with both hands in the C hand position. If the student is seven or younger, I recommend starting with “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1”.

Thank You For Choosing “Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”

I appreciate all teachers that order books at Melody Music Publishers. Remember to register if you haven’t already to receive discount codes for free shipping and 50% off your first copy.  Then when ordering for your students, you’ll receive free shipping and 20% off all future orders. I wrote these books from my own experience teaching this age group how they think and learn. My hope is the young student will be excited about learning to play the piano and are given the steps needed to succeed for a lifetime. Thank you for doing the best job in the world, sharing your joy and passion for music with others.

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers. They offer piano and singing method books using small steps and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Method Book for Children Read More »

Drill & Excel Sight-Singing

“Drill & Excel in Sight-Singing Book 1”

How to Sight-Sing is Now a New Addition to Melody Music Publishers

Sight-Singing For Music Majors

If you were a music major in college, you probably had to take sight-singing classes. The problem with most college courses is it’s “expected” that you already know how to sight-sing. If you’re not a piano or vocal major, this skill can be daunting. As a piano performance major, it was always easy for me to sight-sing. However, I remember the percussion majors, and even stringed instrument students, struggling with this skill. When I began teaching voice and sight-singing, I realized there needed to be a book designed to approach it in a step-by-step way. If you’re a young student who intends to make music your major in college, this is a must-need book no matter what your instrument. You’ll be years ahead of your colleagues, having gone through this book.

Sight-Singing For Choir Members

What about singing in a school or church choir? Most choir directors have to take time in the rehearsal to go over parts, especially for the alto, tenor, and bass that aren’t singing the melody. What if each choir member could read the notes for themselves without the pianists playing them? How much more can be accomplished in the rehearsal without taking the time to plunk out notes?

Sight-Singing For Lead/Backup Singers In a Band or Studio Musician

What about lead or backup singers in a band, or studio musicians? This book will greatly benefit them. Time is money, so if a singer can walk in a studio and be handed a lead sheet and be able to sing the notes, he or she will most likely be hired. If a lead or backup singer in a band can sight-sing, it will take less time in rehearsal.

The Singer is in Control

Being able to sight-sing puts you, the singer, in the driver seat. No more relying on an instrumentalist to play your part; YOU can sing it for yourself!

Sight-Singing Takes Time

The skill of sight-sing does take time to acquire. This 128-page book may take students a year or more to finish, however the rewards are great! Order your copy of “Drill & Excel in Sight-Singing Book 1” today and begin to learn the excellent (and fun) art of sight-singing!

Would you like to preview each page of the book? Watch our movie where the author goes through every page with commentary and audio.

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. Then in 2017, she founded Melody Music Publishers, an independent publishers for piano and singing method books, and how students think and learn.

“Drill & Excel in Sight-Singing Book 1” Read More »

Piano Method Books

Best Piano Method for Beginners?

There are as many different piano methods and approaches to teaching piano as there are vehicles. Each method has their own way of teaching. That’s actually good, because everyone learns in their own way. The experts have defined learning into seven categories: 1) Visual (Spatial or “watching”) 2) Aural (Listening) 3) Verbal (speaking) 4) Physical (Kinesthetic, or by “doing”) 5) Logical (Mathematical) 6) Social (Interpersonal or learning in a group setting) and 7) Solitary (Intrapersonal or learning on your own).

How To Choose the Method

Deciding “how” to teach a beginning piano student (or any instrument), can be more challenging than an intermediate student that has already developed a skill and a strong foundation. So how do we know what piano method will be best for each student? It starts with 2 things: 1) being familiar with each method, and 2) knowing how each student learns. In teaching over 30 years, I’ve enjoyed picking the student’s brains and figuring out how he or she learns. One thing I’ve found ALL students have in common; learning to play an instrument is HARD! Even students that have a natural musical talent is going to struggle when first learning. This is the primary reason, I believe, students quit lessons while in the beginning level.

Quick Summary for Method Books

The most well-known and popular methods are the piano method books. There’s probably 10 or more commonly used books. Most method books teach a little note reading, some theory (mostly intervals, I-IV-V-I triads, and Alberti bass), some may include a few exercises, and they all include multiple songs. Most will have several kinds of books within each level, so the student may have 3-4 books at a time. What they all have in common is there is almost nothing mentioned of rhythm, and they have a fairly fast progression. Early in my teaching, I realized they didn’t offer enough repetition in note reading and rhythm to create a fluency in reading music. So I wrote a “Note Reading Workbook” and “Rhythm Workbook” to supplement the method books. This seemed to help, but I found students were still frustrated in learning from the traditional method books.

Suzuki Method

There are also certified methods. Suzuki Method uses the “watch and copy” approach, the #1 style of learning mentioned earlier. This is great for young children who may not have the ability to learn by the other learning styles, which involve more maturity. It creates a quick way for young students to play songs. I think of this type of learning as superficial, since a student may not understand what they’re playing. In my view, it may be great to start a young student with this method, but not a permanent teaching method as the student gets older.

Orff Method and Kindermusik

The Orff Method exposes young students to music and is best used in a group setting. It combines music, movement, drama, and speech into lessons that are similar with how children play. KinderMusik is a group program for the child and adult, based on these principles. They start as young as infancy through 7 or 8.

Dalcroze Method

The Dalcroze Method features interactive games and exercises that help students learn to trust their ideas and develop their own intuitions. While these methods are great to expose the young student to music, it doesn’t teach the skill of playing a specific instrument. However, these methods may be useful to integrate in the lessons. These methods (other than Suzuki) may be best for the kinesthetic or “physical” type of learner, #4 of the learning styles mentioned above.

Quick and On Line Piano Methods

Then there’s the ever growing “learn to play 3 songs in 3 weeks” type of methods. These methods don’t offer a deep understanding on the piano, but is more of a “quickie” on playing chords and simple melodies. This is actually fine for older students that want to learn to play their favorite song without hours of learning to read music. However, it’s not a serious way to study and learn the piano. There’s also programs that offer a subscription package to learn on the computer. I believe they can be useful, but students that may be excited at first, may drift off when it gets difficult with no one there to guide them. They also do not include a lot of needed information for the student, or watch how the student is playing. This is similar to learning from a video on Youtube, where the student is not being guided by an instructor that can watch him or her play.

Small Steps Using Drills & Repetition

I mentioned earlier that I had written supplemental workbooks to help the student learn to read notes and rhythm. In 2017, I decided to write my own line of piano method books to include everything needed in one book. I also wanted it to have more information and more songs within each level to create a fluency in reading. My approach can be summarized into these words “small steps using drills and repetition”. While these words may not sound “fun”, I have found students enjoy playing when they’re able to master each step. What causes frustration is not understanding and moving too quickly. By taking small steps and using repetition, the student actually ENJOYS reading and playing the piano.

Drill & Excel On the Piano

Piano Method Series “Drill & Excel On the Piano”

This piano method book series is called “Drill & Excel On the Piano”. There are 4 books in this series with 3 chapters each and over 100 pages. Each book takes about a year to complete. Books 1 & 2 have have 7 parts to each chapter: 1) Note Reading and interval worksheets 2) Rhythm drills 3) Scales 4) Exercises 5) Special exercises for specific skills needed 6) 20 original songs per chapter, and 7) Write your own song. The “write your own song” page not only promotes creativity, but a deeper learning. Books 3 & 4 have 6 parts: 1) Interval worksheets 2) Rhythm drills 3) Scales 4) Exercises 5) Special exercises and 6) 20 original songs per chapter.

Why Original Songs?

Why did I write the songs? Most method books boast their books have familiar songs the student will enjoy playing. The problem with that is how do you (as the teacher) know if the student is reading the notes or playing by ear? Since all songs are original in “Drill & Excel On the Piano”, the student will have to read them and not rely on being familiar. Also the songs are written to teach what is taught in the chapter, as well as being fun to play. Books 3 and 4 include a variety of different styles, from classical, samba, boogie, pop, jazz, to rag time. When a student can read music on their own fluently, it makes it FUN to read and play songs. No more needing to have someone play it for them.

Piano and Singing Method Books Coming Soon

Coming soon is “Drill & Excel in Sight Singing”! If you’re a vocal instructor or vocal coach, this will help you teach the art of sight singing so the student can read and SING the notes without them being played. This is great for singing in a choir or the harmony parts as well as classical music. And book 5 of the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” will be available by the end of 2020. This will be for the early advanced student.

Teachers Receive Free Shipping and Discounts

If you register as a teacher, you’ll receive free shipping and the first copy of each book at 50% off!. You’ll also be notified of new books coming out, with a 50% discount for each new book. If you order for your students, you’ll receive free shipping and 20% off. This discount never expires and can be used with each order. It’s my way of thanking you for using my books, and for doing the best job in the world, sharing your passion of music to others!

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers
Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. She also founded Melody Music Publishers in 2017, an independent piano method books written how students think and learn.

Best Piano Method for Beginners? Read More »

Piano Lessons

How To Teach a Piano Transfer Student

Teaching a piano transfer student can be the most difficult type of student for a teacher. This is the student that has had lessons for 6 months or more, ranging from late beginning to late intermediate level. Inevitably, the student is going to compare you to their previous instructor. And since no two people teach the same, you’re going to offer a different style and approach. If the student has bad technique, or wrong or missing information, this can create even more difficulty. So what are the best ways to create a smooth transition into your teaching style?

Be Prepared

Before the first lesson, find out what books the student has been using and ask for any notes from the previous instructor. Take the time to become acquainted with the curriculum if needed, and read the notes if possible. This will also give you insight into the previous teacher’s style and approach, as well as the direction of the student’s past lessons.

Establish a Rapport

The very first lesson is the most critical. It’s important to start out by getting to know the student and letting the student get to know you. Spend a few minutes to let the student know your training background and experience. Then take a few minutes to ask the student questions about their past piano experience and what he or she is interested in learning. The student will feel more comfortable with you and will feel you’re interested in what their interested in. Then have the student play the last song they were studying or their favorite song. Ask him or her a lot of musical questions to find out what they know or don’t know. Even an intermediate student may have missing or wrong information.

Make Changes Slowly

Changing too much too soon for the piano transfer student is usually the biggest mistake made. This is especially true for an intermediate student that has been playing a year or more with wrong technique or information. Changing a bad habit is the most difficult part of learning. Most students want you to validate their ability, so begin by complimenting him or her on anything done well. Even though it may go against your grain to allow bad technique, it’s best to wait until you’ve given several lessons and established a rapport before making huge changes. If there are multiple changes needed, take one at a time so not to overwhelm the student. That being said, it’s also important to show the student you can challenge them to the next level, so give the new student a few bread crumbs of information and things to work on in the assignments.

Be Careful Commenting on the Previous Piano Teacher

Each piano transfer student will have had a positive or negative experience from the previous instructor. With either scenario, it’s important to keep your comments about him or her at a minimum, especially negative comments. First, you want keep the focus on the direction between you and the student. Second, if you tell the student he or she was taught incorrectly, it may cause frustration and a sense of wasted time and money. If the student had a good rapport with the previous instructor, it may create a division between you both. Once you’ve received the curriculum and notes from the previous instructor, keep the conversation on how you will be teaching and the direction you would like to take.

Not every student-teacher is a match

I believe being the right instructor for a transfer student is more difficult than for the beginning student. If the student is an intermediate level, he or she may have specific interests. You may not be able to take the student where their interests lie. If that is the case, be honest with the student, letting him or her know you have THEIR best interest at heart, and kindly refer them to another instructor you may know that can offer what they want to learn. Also, not every personality types are a match. If this should happen, don’t beat yourself up over it. There are plenty of other students your teaching style and personality will be a great fit for.

It Gets Easier

While you may feel like you’ll be the “new” instructor forever, before long, you’ll be their new favorite! Just like any relationship, it takes time to establish. Be patient and soon you’ll be the instructor they compare others to!

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. She also founded Melody Music Publishers in 2017, an independent piano method books written how students think and learn.

How To Teach a Piano Transfer Student Read More »

Intermediate Piano student

Are Piano Method Books Needed For Intermediate Students?

I recently read a piano teacher’s blog that stated the intermediate student no longer needed a method book. His point was there was nothing “new” after level 3 in the method books. He continued, saying the intermediate student only required repertoire to play and practice. But are piano method books needed for the intermediate student? Before six months ago, I would have totally agreed! Most piano method books offer nothing new after level 3 except songs to play. However, after writing Drill & Excel On the Piano book 3 and Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4, I now realize there’s actually MORE skills and concepts for the intermediate student to learn than the beginning student. Here are some of the things I’ve included in books 3 and 4 for the intermediate student.

#1 Intervals

While intervals are mentioned in most of the early level piano method books, they don’t explain the KINDS of intervals. In Drill & Excel book 3, there are interval worksheets for the student to identify the intervals in various key signatures. Then in book 4, ALTERED intervals are introduced, with worksheets for the student to identify the kind of interval (major, minor, diminished, or augmented). Giving the student writing assignments helps the student to learn in a deeper way, rather than simply reading the information.

#2 Rhythm

In teaching rhythm, most method books only show how many counts a note is held. However, in Drill & Excel On the Piano series, there are multiple rhythm drill pages for the student to play on one note and count out loud. This gives the student a lot of repetition in reading the rhythm to create fluency. And in books 3 and 4, the rhythm goes beyond most method books, including sixteenth notes, triplets, and triplets against other notes (even or other triplets). Learning to read rhythm is much like driving a car. It can’t be taught be explanation, but in DOING.

#3 Exercises

Exercises are not included in most method books, even in levels 1 and 2. Piano instructors that want their students to play exercises use a separate book for that. However, the Drill & Excel On the Piano series includes exercises in all 4 books. Books 3 and 4 are especially important, because they offer specific exercises for the skills introduced. For example, book 3 has a chromatic scale exercise, finger pedaling exercises, and repeated notes using different fingers. Not only are these skills added in the chapter’s songs, but is common among other pieces. Another exercise in book 3 is changing fingers on a held note. Book 4 has ascending and descending 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6th, and 7ths. It also includes the “independence of fingers”, playing a triad and emphasizing each note of the triad. These are important skills for the intermediate student to acquire when playing difficult pieces.

#4 Theory

For the intermediate student, theory is especially important. A beginning student has difficulty in just playing and reading to even think about theory, while the intermediate student can understand concepts. And knowing theory helps in the student’s reading skill. It can also help in songwriting and improvisation. The Drill & Excel On the Piano books 3 & 4 include a lot of theory beyond the altered intervals mentioned earlier. It includes triads, triad numbers, and transposing songs to other keys by using the triad numbers. These are important skills and knowledge for the intermediate student to acquire, which may not be understood by simply playing various pieces.

#5 Songs

Since the songs in the Drill & Excel On the Piano series are written specifically with the information and skills taught in each chapter, they’re especially valuable in the learning progress for the intermediate student. Instead of playing random pieces, the songs are strategically planned to teach what is taught. Each song increases slowly in difficulty , giving the student a challenge incrementally as he or she plays them.

To Summarize

So are piano method books needed for the intermediate student? In short, yes, because the intermediate student needs to learn certain skills that may not be taught by simply playing various repertoire. The Drill & Excel On the Piano books 3 and 4 are the perfect books for their continued learning to bring the student to the next level. Check out our books at Teachers receive free shipping and 20% off all orders. Click here to register.

Kathi Kerr - owner Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr is author and founder of Melody Music Publishers. She writes her book based on over 30 years’ teaching experience the way students think and learn.

Are Piano Method Books Needed For Intermediate Students? Read More »

Piano Method Books Offer Poor Technique

Proper technique on the piano (or any instrument) is vital. So many piano method books offer poor technique or no technique at all. There are many great musicians who play well “in spite” of their technique, not “because” of it, as my piano teacher in college used to say.

Here are a list of poor to bad technique I’ve seen over the years and have read in some piano method books:

#1 Lowered wrist

I once watched a keyboardist play in a band with wrists so low they were actually touching the keyboard! He played fairly well in spite of it, but it hampered his ability to move quickly over the keys. Having a low wrist makes the fingers do all the work and may cause them to tire easily. I’ve seen the same poor technique when watching people type at a computer keyboard. When the wrist is lowered, over a long period of time can cause swelling in the wrist. This can cause carpel tunnel syndrome. If the wrists are level or slightly raised, the pressure is taken off the wrist and fingers. This allows the fingers to move more quickly and freely.

#2 Fingers holding a ball

There are some piano method books that will describe the position of the fingers like holding a ball or balloon. The problem with the concept of “holding” is the fingers will naturally tense. That is the “opposite” of what the fingers should do. The fingers should be as relaxed as possible from the knuckles to the fingertips. It’s actually easy to teach a beginning student how to position their fingers by having them put their hands in their lap, facing up, and relaxed. Their fingers will naturally curve in the perfect position on the piano. I like to give the image of a rainbow curve for how their fingers will look when relaxed

#3 Using the wrong part of the fingertip

Here’s a technique almost never mentioned in most piano method books, using the correct part of the fingertip. Having relaxed curved fingers will help. The correct place is below the edge of the fingernail but well above the first joint. There should be no fingernail growth beyond the edge of the finger to avoid playing with a flat finger method. Also the first joint should not bend when playing the piano. Bending the joint causes a delay in playing quickly if needed. It also weakens the ability to play loudly. A good way to strengthen the first joint is to press the fingertips on a hard surface and keep the joint from bending.

#4 Rolling the wrists

Another are where piano method books offer poor technique is what I call rolling the wrists. The more movement with the hands and wrists, the more of a chance to play incorrect notes. It also can hinder the ability to play quickly. Rolling the wrist has nothing to do with the actual playing of the key. It looks good, but in actuality, takes more effort to do it. Teaching this technique to a beginning student only causes frustration when he or she is learning the basics.

#5 Raising the hand too high

Bad Technique

This is another poorly taught technique in some piano method books. I recently watched a video from one of the major method books showing an example of playing staccato. She lifted up her entire hand about 3 inches above the keys. This technique makes it impossible to play a quick succession of staccato notes. Good technique should be implemented the same when playing slowly as playing quickly. The proper way to play staccato notes is to keep the wrist stationery with a quick “jerk” with the hand. Only lift the fingers slightly above the key (about 1/8 of an inch), then right back to touching the key. Using this technique, I can play a quick succession of staccato notes easily. The hand should be as still as possible where a coin could stay without falling off and as close to the keys as possible.

#6 Hammer effect

The other poor technique I’ve seen is what I call the “hammer” effect. This is where the wrist is stationery but the fingers are raised before playing each note. The best way to play is to pretend the fingers are “glued” to the keys. Keep the fingers as close as possible to the keys. Raising each finger before playing only takes up time and space, making it impossible to play notes quickly. And it’s not necessary to raise the finger, since the weight alone will play the key. Keeping the fingers close to the keys gives better accuracy as well. When the fingers are already touching the key about to be played, there’s almost no chance of playing incorrect notes. The ONLY exception is for playing notes that are heavily accented. In this case, the entire hand should be slightly lifted to no more than an inch to give a stronger emphasis.

#7 Sitting too close and too low

The first thing I had to do when I went to college was to “un”learn how I was positioned. That was the most difficult thing to do after playing incorrectly for 12 years. It’s important to establish correct posture and positioning right from the beginning for a student. Most students (and even professional pianists) sit too close and too low. The knees should be at the edge of the keys for the correct distance (not the thigh like I’ve seen countless times), and the waist level with the keys, sitting tall and on the front edge of the bench. For a keyboard, keyboard, I suggest having a bench and stand to set it on, not a table, to ensure the right position. A small child playing an acoustic piano, put something on the bench to sit on to be at the right height. If their legs do not reach the floor, have them scoot towards the back of the bench with the back of their knees at the front edge of the bench to be at the correct distance. When his or her legs can reach the floor, then they’ll sit at the front edge of the bench.

#8 Slouching at the piano

Playing the piano is great for teaching students to sit tall, which is not only good for playing, but for most other activities in life. It takes pressure off the back and helps when getting older to have good posture. This used to be taught in schools, so now unfortunately only piano students are taught good posture these days.

Summarize good technique

Piano Student
Piano student

To summarize GOOD technique is 1) the wrist should be level or slightly raised 2) fingers relaxed 3) using the correct part of the fingertip 4) holding the wrist still 5) keeping the hand and fingers close to the keys 6) sitting at the right position and with the correct posture. This helps in playing quickly and with accuracy, and to play longer periods of time before getting tired. I hope this has helped in your playing and in teaching students. The books at Melody Music Publishers offer great technique information as well as reading music, specific skills, and theory and improvisation! Let’s have fun making beautiful music at the piano!

Kathi Kerr Author/founder

Kathi Kerr, author and founder of Melody Music Publishers, writes piano books based on her over 30 years’ teaching how students think and learn!

Piano Method Books Offer Poor Technique Read More »

Drill & Excel On the Piano

Piano method book movies!

Hello fellow piano teacher! Ever feel frustrated when researching new piano method books for your students when looking on line? How can you tell if a book will be the right one when only viewing a few pages? If you buy one of each book to find the right one, it could cost a small fortune! And you still may not find the right one.

At Melody Music Publishers we have the solution for you! We have created a movie for each of our books, along with audio examples and commentary by the author for EVERY page. So not only can you view every page, but you’ll hear directly from the author. Now there’s no guess work involved in choosing the right book for your students!

Click the following movies for a rundown of each book.

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1 Early Beginner. Retails $12.95. Click here to purchase.

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2 Late Beginner. Retails $12.95. Click here to purchase.

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3 Early Intermediate. Retails $14.95. Click here to purchase.

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4 Late Intermediate. Retails $16.95. Click here to purchase.

Color It Say It Play It and Create It A Piano Method Book Ages 4-8. Retails $8.99. Click here to purchase.

Chords & Improvisation On the Piano Book 1 Early Beginner. Retails $12.95. Click here to purchase.

Remember teachers receive FREE SHIPPING AND 20% OFF ALL BOOKS! If you haven’t registered, click here to fill out a short form. The discounts codes will immediately be emailed to you to use for ordering.

Order today and use our unique line of piano method books that teach students the way they think and learn! Thank you for doing the greatest job on earth-teaching music to others!

Author and owner, Kathi Kerr, established Melody Music Publishers in 2017, writing books from her own 30 plus years’ teaching experience.

Piano method book movies! Read More »

Music student cancels lessons

Music Student Cancelled Last Minute..Now What?

I’m sure EVERY private music teacher has come across the student that continually cancels their scheduled lessons. And most of the time, at the last minute! For too long, music instructors have been disrespected, in my opinion. A lot of students have the idea that since music instructors love to each, it’s ok to cancel a lesson and not pay for it. Or the student will “expect” the instructor to go out of his or her way to make up the lesson. And for too long, teachers have caved and will politely say, “That’s ok, you don’t have to pay for the lesson.” Or “Sure, we can reschedule it”. But what message does that send to the student? And how does that effect the private music teacher?

The First Problem – The Effect on the Instructor

The first problem is the obvious one, how it effects the instructor’s time and income. What other job has the hours set, then taken away at the last minute without pay? Who would want an occupation that requires hundreds and hundreds of hours honing a skill, with a high cost of education, only to have that kind of instability? I would say, NO ONE! Yet this has been the practice for the private music teacher for decades. My first “paid” lesson I taught was from a music store when I was 17. I went there all excited to teach, then waited, and waited, with a no show from the student. I walked away with nothing except wasted time, deciding I would never teach another piano lesson! Yet here I am over 30 years later still teaching!

The Second Problem – The Effect on the Occupation of the Teacher

The second problem when music students cancel their scheduled lessons without accountability, is it disrespects the occupation of the private music teacher. Whatever the reason for cancelling, to expect not to bear any ramifications is disrespecting the instructor’s time and income. I understand respect needs to be earned, and by allowing this to happen, doesn’t teach respect for your time and income.

The Third Problem – The Effect on the Student

The third problem is how it hurts the student. You may think that by being accommodating is helpful, but it’s actually hurting the student. Why, I can hear you asking? Because by not holding the student accountable for every scheduled lesson, makes it easy for the student to cancel. And if it’s easy to cancel, the student probably will Attending every weekly lesson is very important to the student’s learning progress. What prevents the momentum in learning, is inconsistency. I’ve seen the trend over and over with students that cancel a lot of lessons, even when given make ups, will eventually quit all together. So you’re actually doing the student a favor by holding their feet to the fire, so to speak.

Problem With Most Policies

Just like any business, there needs to be rules and policies. I’ve heard a lot of policies over the years from studios and private teachers. Some will say a credit can be issued if cancelling before 48 hours. That’s fine, but it still leaves the instructor with a scheduled time without pay, even if the student gives a month’s notice! Others will give a make up for all missed lessons, or an “x” amount of make ups. The problem with that is you’re still not getting paid for that time block and using another block of time that could have been used for a paid lesson. Plus it doesn’t discourage cancellations. I’ve heard other studios’ policy that never give make ups. Well, that may be a little too harsh, since there are times when a little leniency should be given.

What’s the Solution?

So what is the solution? Over the last 30 years In my own teaching and instructors on my staff at Melody Music Studios, I’ve fine tuned my policies by trial and error. I’ve had a lot of students get mad and quit because of my policies. I’ve found those are the kind of students that only think of their side, and are usually not great students anyway. My policy is right off the top, no credit for student cancellations! The only time I would make an exception are for extreme emergency situations. My make up policy is “No guarantee for make up lessons. That is up to the instructor’s availability”. That way the student knows he or she may not receive a make up for every cancellation, and it doesn’t obligate the instructor to do so. For instructors that have plenty of time and want to make up the lesson, can. For instructors that have a full roster, there’s just no way of making it up. And blaming it on your busy schedule is perfect and tells the student your time is valuable.

Choosing to offer make ups depends also on the student. If you have a student that rarely cancels and gives you a lot of notice, it’s best to make up if possible. However, for the student that cancels often, it’s best not to make up, even if you have the time. You’re only perpetuating their bad behavior. If you do give a make up, I have found the easiest way is extending time in the following lessons, instead of rescheduling.


So the bottom line is we need to stand our ground with students and not be taken advantage of. You may feel alone, but there are thousands of private instructors, and we all stand behind you! There may be times to be lenient and understanding, but that should be the exception, not the rule. You’ll either lose the inconsistent student (and replace with a better one), or create a habit of consistent lessons, which is best for the student’s progress. Thank you for doing the greatest job on earth, teaching music!

New Line of Piano Method Books

Author for piano method books

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989. Then in 2017, she opened her own independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers. Ms Kerr has written a unique line of piano method books that offer a comprehensive, easy to follow, format. Her books are written, not from an academia approach, but how students think and learn from her over 30 years’ teaching experience. Teachers can register to receive a 20% discount on all orders!

Music Student Cancelled Last Minute..Now What? Read More »

Piano Method Books

What Piano Teachers Think About Method Books

What do piano teachers think of the current method books on the market? I’ve played piano my whole life and actually started teaching as a child to my friends that begged me to teach them. After college, I began teaching professionally in. In 1989 I founded Melody Music Studios, hiring music instructors for all instruments. I realized shortly after teaching that the method books didn’t help students read music fluently and caused a lot of frustration. So I started writing my own workbooks to supplement the method books, “Rhythm Workbook” and “Note Reading Workbook”. Even with the workbooks supplementing, I was still frustrated because most method books are basically a book of songs with little to no instruction, or a clear step by step direction.

I’m so excited about my books that I want to share with ALL piano teachers. Teachers can fill out a short form to receive free PDF samples and discount codes for 20% off when ordering. My favorite field on the form is the question: “What method books do you use, and why do you like or don’t like them?”. Here are some of the interesting answers I’ve received.

Quotes From Piano Teachers Nationwide!

“I use various method books = Piano discoveries for bright readers, Faber and Faber for the middle of the road student and Music Tree.  I think Faber uses too many finger numbers and Piano Discoveries is a bit hard for the average learner.  I love the Music tree philosophy, but fine their books a bit dry and academic.”

“I like Alfred Premier and Faber.  I think the music is engaging and the concepts are introduced in a clear way.  I’m not a fan of Hal Leonard or Bastien.  I feel they are not the best way to introduce music concepts.”

“I am eclectic, founding something useful from everything since I also teach students learning difficulties and disabilities.”

” Faber, it has a lot of jazz, pop tunes. I love the progression.”

“Faber Piano Adventures.  I am content to use them, but after so many years, a change of approach may be helpful.”

“Faber and Alfred–I like the multi-key approach, fun pieces, and the emphasis on correct technique.”

“Alfred,  Faber –  getting stale”

“Faber Piano Adventures (mostly)  Logical order, enjoyable content”

“The ones that I have used with my students, I like them.  “Color, Say it, Play it”, and Drill It and Kill it.  It helped my students learn how to read notes with ease and made it more fun.  Drill it also helped with their sense of rhythm.”

“Faber, Bastien, and Music for Little Mozarts. I like the way Faber introduces the notes on the staff and how the hands aren’t always in the same position. On the flip side, I like Bastien for some students because it does stay in one or two positions in the beginning. Sometimes I will start students in Bastien and then switch them to Faber.”

“Faber (technique, pacing); Celebrate Piano! (reading approach, theory/ear training, creative pieces)”

“Succeeding at the Piano, The Music Tree, Piano Safari, Piano Pronto”

“Alfred Premiere Piano Course. Upbeat pieces, concepts in stepwise, logical order, good explainer boxes.”

“I use a variety of methods from Piano Pronto to Piano Adventures to none depending on the needs of the student.”

“Faber Piano Adventure, I like this method but open to learn new approach. Thank you!”

“I like what I use but am always looking  to improve.”

“I use Piano Safari and Music Tree.  I like that they offer intervallic reading, and with Piano Safari, also do Rote teaching so students can experience more complicated pieces before being able to read them.”

“Bastien piano books- I like how they correspond with each other so that the child can feel like he/she is receiving more than one book around the same level that each teach a different technique and strength”

“I use Faber for children and generally both Faber/Alfred for adults.  I think the method books move a little too quickly for a lot of adults which is why I use 2 separate ones.”

“The only one I use with all levels/all ages is Mikrokosmos volume 1 by Bela Bartok.   For suppliment.”

Main theme about current method books

The main comments I’ve received seem to be that most piano teachers use an assortment of method books. I understand that, since each student is unique and different students may require different books . However, it seems like teachers use an assortment of books mostly because one book doesn’t have all the aspects of teaching they want. One book may have great songs, while another uses more theory, while another has an easier step by step learning.

Inspiration For a New Line of Piano Books

One day as I was teaching, I got inspired to write my own method book that would include everything a student needed, all in one book. So 2017 I started writing “Drill It and Kill It-Read Music Like a Pro!” This 200 page book includes the note reading and rhythm drills from the workbooks, but also exercises, special exercises for specific skills, scales, theory, composition, and 100 great original songs that include what is learned in each chapter. It’s not just a book of songs, but a text book, theory, and a history book. Finally one book for the traditional lesson that teaches everything, and lasts for a year or more. t’s so easy to use in a lesson because of the comprehensiveness and easy to follow step by step learning. I also love watching my own students learn how to sight read any song!

Learning Chords & Improvisation

For an older child or adult that just wants to learn chords and improvisation, the “Chords & Improvisation on the Piano” is the perfect book. Along with teaching scales, key signatures, triads, and inversions, it also includes assignments for the student to play what is learned with improvisational patterns. Then there’s the older student that wants to play their favorite easy song without a lot of hassle in learning to read a full score. My “Fake It Til You Make It” book includes just the treble clef notes and chords for the left hand, so the student can play fun songs from a fake book. If you have a student that just needs a little extra help in reading notes or rhythm, the “Note Reading Workbook” and “Rhythm Workbook” gives drills and writing assignments to have the student reading professionally. No Every Good Boy Does Fine is taught in the note reading workbook.

For the Young Students

There are a lot of books written for the preschool age, but this 50 page book for ages 4-8 called “Color It, Say It, Play It, and Create it” starts out as a coloring book for the 7 keys using the 7 colors of the rainbow, and includes drills, fun children’s songs, assignments for rhythm, and composition. It stresses rhythm, counting, and how to keep a steady beat, which a lot of books do not offer for this age. There is also drills for the student to listen and copy for ear training. The staff notes are not introduced, but the notes ascend and descend as though it’s on a staff, making it easy for the student to learn to read notes after completing it.

I would love to share my books with you! To order, simply go to the store and use your discount codes for 20% off! This is not a temporary discount, but a permanent discount for you to use each time you order books for you or your students. I appreciate your dedication and giving a gift for a lifetime to each of your students! Please feel free to comment below, so others can read and learn from your experiences. Thank you.

Kathi Kerr/owner and author of Melody Music Studios and Melody Music Publishers

.Author for piano method books

What Piano Teachers Think About Method Books Read More »

Learn to sight read

Sight Reading Piano Music

What is sight reading? Sight reading piano music is the ability to read and play a new song with ease. Learning to read music is as difficult as learning to read a new language. Most people will take piano lessons for years and never acquire the skill of sight reading. It’s laborious and painstakingly slow to read every note. And when finished, the song may not even sound like the song at all! Unless a student decides to make music their career, most students will eventually give up on learning to read notes fluently, and thus playing piano all together.

That’s a shame of course, because most people dream of playing the piano for their own enjoyment. I’ve spoken to hundreds of adults throughout my over 40 years of playing and performing, that dream of playing their favorite song with ease. What happened in their piano lessons or learning on their own that never got them to the place of reading music fluently? The following are a list of mistakes most students (and even professional pianists) make when learning to read music.

Don’t look at your hands

Students make the mistake of looking at their hands. I guess it makes them feel safer to look. However, there’s two problems with looking: 1) Your eyes stop reading the line of music 2) You never learn to “memorize” where the keys are. If you were reading a book, would you constantly look away from the words as you were reading? That would take three times as long to read a book and would be choppy reading. And since we rely on our sight more than any other sense, looking at the keys hinders the brain from knowing where the keys are. Playing the piano is like a blind person walking through their living room. They know exactly where everything is laid out, so they can effortlessly walk through without walking into anything. Some of the greatest pianists in the world have been blind. To name a few, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and my all time favorite jazz pianist, George Sharing. This proves that “looking” is not necessary, and actually stops the flow of reading and in the long run, accuracy when playing.

Too much information at one time

Most method books give too much information at one time and move to the next step too soon. If you think about learning to speak as a child, you only spoke a few words at a time. Adults would speak to you using simple words until you understood those, then slowly increased to more difficult words and longer sentences. The same should be done when learning to read music. I also compare reading music to eating a steak; one bite at a time with each bite fully chewed. The best way to learn to read fluently is taking a small amount of notes and rhythm at a time. The student should then play multiple songs within that set of information before progressing to the next level.

Common sense in reading

The monks in Italy were the first to take on the task of “recording” music in the 6th century. Up until then, music was handed down from generation to generation. Today we play composers of the past because of their genius ideas. It has evolved over the centuries, but the premise is the same. The notes on the staff simply ascend by line-space in alphabetical order. Students are often taught the lines for treble clef using the phrase Every Good Boy Does Fine (with variations on this). Then it’s followed up by the spaces which spell the word FACE. The student, in my opinion, will not read fluently since they’re not taught the logic of the staff. This method can also become a crutch. Rather, if the student is taught from the beginning how the notes ascend on the staff, he or she will understand and this may help in quickly identifying the notes.

Reading by intervals

Another aspect of sight reading is noticing the distance between the notes, called intervals. If one note is on the first line, and the next note is on the first space, the student simply plays the next note on the piano. Intervals are a great way to quickly read one note to the next even if the name of the note is not quickly remembered. When the student is taught how the staff works, it helps them to read by intervals as well.

Time and be patient

Let’s be honest, learning a language or reading music takes time. Anyone that claims you can learn to read music fluently in 10 lessons is fooling you. It’s just not possible, because sight reading means it becomes automatic. And being automatic means repetition….and lots of it! I let my students know to expect at least a year to be a fluent reader. It’s good to be realistic on how long it takes to lessen the frustration level. But the good news is, once reading is automatic, he or she can play a new song with ease. And when a student or pianist gets to that point, it’s actually FUN to sight read!

Piano method books

As I mentioned at the beginning, most method books offer too much information at one time and move too fast. In the 1990’s I wrote two workbooks to supplement the method books I was using, the Rhythm Workbook and Note Reading Workbook. Although my workbooks helped the student learn to read the notes and rhythm, I was still not happy with the progress students made…until now! In 2017, I wrote my signature book called “Drill It and Kill It-Read Music Like a Pro!”. I came up with the idea of having one book that would include rhythm drills, note reading, scales and exercises, and multiple songs within one set of notes and rhythm. This is the only way a student can successfully master each level before moving on to the next one. I’ve been so excited to see my students have the ability to sight read a new song well enough to progress to the next song in my lessons.


To summarize, get in the habit early in your playing to not look at your hands. If the student has been playing that way for a while, stop! This not only helps in following the music, but also trains your brain to remember the keys and the distance between them. Start out taking a small amount of notes and rhythm at a time, and drill them until it’s automatic. Don’t expect to learn overnight, but allow at least a year to sight read. And finally, choose the right method book that will help you best in your journey. At Melody Music Publishers, we offer books that are easy to follow, taught in the way students think and learn. Once you’ve learned to read music, the rewards will be great, and you’ll have the gift of playing the piano for a lifetime!

Sight Reading Piano Music Read More »

Piano Student

Teaching a beginning piano student long term!

So you just signed up a new beginning student. That’s great! But if you’ve been a piano instructor for more than five minutes, you know the most difficult part is keeping a beginning piano student long term!! An intermediate student is rooted, so you don’t have to work to keep them, however there’s challenges for that level as well. It’s often difficult to teach a beginning piano student long term through what I call the “beginner’s hump”, the first 6-9 months of lessons. Since the student has no skill, learning the piano can be frustrating and the opposite of “fun”. There will always be students that will stay no matter what you do because it’s in their DNA to play the piano. Conversely, there are the students who will never learn (or desire to learn) the piano. So let’s leave those two type of students out of this discussion. The majority of students will be in the middle; they’re probably not going to make music a career, but have a love and desire to play the piano. This can apply to both children and adults.

So what are the do’s and don’ts for keeping the majority of the beginning piano students long term? In over 30 years of teaching, I’ve been able to teach most students for a year or more, and some for multiple years. Here’s a list of what I’ve found that help keep the beginner student motivated through the difficult beginning stage.

Be fun and encouraging in the piano lesson

As the piano teacher, you create the environment. If you’re frustrated or bored, the beginning piano student will feel that from you. This can hinder their motivation to learn. I believe a lot of piano teachers make the mistake of teaching ALL students the same, no matter their level. However, a beginner student needs a lighter approach and not the intensity you may have with an intermediate or higher level student. The beginner may be nervous about playing and making mistakes. Being encouraging is very important. They will believe in themselves if they feel YOU believe in them. Let the student know it’s OK to make mistakes, and that it’s part of the learning progress. You may also want to let them know you made mistakes when you were a beginner. This approach can be used for all ages, not just the young student, as the older child/adult needs encouragement the same (maybe more?). And giving the student accolades is not only for their confidence, but also instills playing correctly, as he/she may not even know they played it correctly! This approach is especially important when correcting the student. Keep the critique comment to their mistake only and how to correct it, never a brow beating comment. Most of all, just have fun with the beginner so they enjoy learning and associate piano and music with something that can be enjoyed.

Don’t overwhelm the beginner piano student

Out of all the do’s and don’ts, this is probably the most critical part for the first 1-3 months of lessons. Once a student feels overwhelmed and feeling unable to understand or play what’s asked, the student may want to quit. Usually the student will come up with every excuse for quitting EXCEPT feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Most students will blame themselves, thinking they’re just not smart enough. As teachers, it’s easy to give way too much information out of our own passion for music. Also it’s easy to forget how difficult even the simplest of playing can be. It’s important to “think” like a beginner when teaching. The very first lesson is the most crucial lesson in setting the standard. I always tell my staff, it’s better to UNDER give than to OVER give on the first lesson. If you have a quick learner, you can always pick up the pace on the following lessons. It’s difficult to impossible to reverse the pace after the first lesson. To make sure your student understands, it’s best to ask him or her questions. I always ask the student way more questions than they ask of me. I never feel like a student understands fully after only explaining a new concept once. I’ll either have them “do” the thing I just explained, or ask questions. Games and drills are a great way to make sure he or she understands fully, and can also be fun for the student.

Be flexible in the direction of the lesson

I’ve often heard teachers writing a lesson plan for private lessons. I’ve NEVER written a lesson plan for a private lesson. The great thing about teaching privately is you can approach each student uniquely. A lesson may go in a different direction than you had expected. It may depend on whether the student understood the previous lesson (and may just need a review), or a question that needs a full lesson to explain. Some students may want to learn something different than what you’re currently teaching. This happens more with the older child or adult. I do want to make it clear that I believe you, the instructor, is ultimately in charge of the direction taken. You should never be talked into teaching anything you feel is not in the best interest of the student. It may be a song beyond their ability, or jumping ahead to a level that will bypass important steps. However, if it’s within their level and ability, I see nothing wrong with diving into it. Or even better, using a part of the lesson. You may have a student that loves to write songs, which I definitely encourage students to do. So why not use the last 5 minutes to let them play their song for you? It could turn into a teaching moment as well as be a lot of fun for the student.

Learn how to “read” the student

Piano teacher and student

This is similar to not overwhelming the student, but goes deeper than making sure the student fully understands. As lessons progress and you get to know your student, it’s important to make sure you’re sensitive to what may be happening in his/her life. There may be times when a student is having trouble at school or home, or with a relationship, etc. Some students will be outspoken about what is going on, while others will be quiet. I always start out my lessons with “How are you doing?” and “How was your week?”. For me, this is not just a way to start the lesson, but a chance to feel how the student is doing emotionally. This may impact how you teach that particular lesson. I’m not advocating asking personal questions or having a therapy session, but if you feel there may be something bothering the student, it can hinder their learning. If it continues, you may need to speak to his/her parent(s), if a child, or for an adult, let them open up to you if they wish. If the student feels they can be somewhat open with you, it helps to create a bond in the lesson and may help in the learning progress. I do want to make it clear, however, it’s important to keep a boundary between you and the student. Although you want your student to feel comfortable, the student is not your child or best friend, so make sure to keep the relationship professional. This can go for you, the instructor as well. If you’re not having a great day, put your poker face on when teaching, and never let your emotions come into play in the lesson.

Different types of learning

Another aspect of “reading” the student is figuring out how he or she learns. Some students learn by verbal explanation, while others learn by watching. Some only learn when actually playing. There are specific methods for the different learning types, so that may help you decide what method to use. That being said, I think it’s a good idea to teach children the opposite of how they learn after the first 9-12 months of lessons. This may help him/her to learn in different capacities since they may need that skill in a job as an adult. There’s also the learning impaired, such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc. I once had a student with a disorder where his brain processed faster than his motor movement. I tell most students to read ahead, but with him I had to tell him NOT to read ahead and offered a slightly different approach.

Practicing…the #1 reason to cancel

I’m sure you’ve had many students (or parents of students) cancel for a lack of practicing. I’ve actually never had one of my own students cancel for this reason. That’s because I don’t mention practicing to my beginning students under the age of eight. Wait what? I can hear you all asking….don’t talk about practicing? Yes you heard me right! I’m not saying practicing is not critical for a student to learn, because it definitely is! However, I don’t expect a young beginner to practice for any length of time. The young student hasn’t the discipline or enough knowledge TO practice for more than 5-10 minutes. I simply give easy assignments and tell the parents to have their child “play” it for them. For students over the age of eight, I talk briefly about practicing daily for only 20 or so minutes at a time. This is usually the longest time frame a beginning student can handle, and it doesn’t sound like a daunting task! I give clear assignments for the next week’s lesson so the student knows exactly what to play (notice I didn’t say the “p” word). If the student doesn’t play it to my standard to pass in a lesson, I just re-assign it for the following week until it’s mastered. And when a student tells me they didn’t have much time to practice, I tell them, “That’s ok, let’s shoot for a better week next time”.

Piano lessons are never a waste of time!

The words “You’re wasting MY time and your parent’s money” should NEVER come out of your mouth! I believe learning to play the piano is never a waste of time or money, even if the student seems disinterested. There’re so many good things that come from music lessons that can help in a child’s education, and into their adult life. Also, you never know if at some point the disinterested student may suddenly “click” and love learning to play the piano. However, if after a year or more of lessons they’re still not interested, I would put them in the 2nd category of students I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. In that case, politely tell the parent(s) it’s probably not the student’s desire to learn piano. Never feel like it’s an insult to you if this happens.

Time and be consistent

Once lessons begin, the beginning student may realize learning to play the piano (or any instrument) takes more time than thought. I always laugh at methods that tout learning to play the piano in 3 easy steps or learn 20 songs in 20 days! That’s unrealistic and may set up the piano student for failure. I relate lessons to a marathon, not a sprint. Let the beginning piano student know they’ll learn everything in time. And since it does take time, the lesson itself needs to be consistent. If there are a lot of lessons missed, this will hinder the student’s learning progress. There will always be the student that is committed and attends every week. And conversely, there will be the student that constantly cancels lessons. Since you can’t control the student’s attendance, you CAN control yours. Make sure to schedule lessons at a time you can teach every week. Of course life happens, and there will be lessons missed occasionally, but that should be a rare occurrence. If you have a student that constantly cancels, you may need to change the schedule so he or she can attend every lesson. I have seen a trend that when students miss a lot of lessons, they usually cancel all together.

Policy for student cancellations

Some instructors and studios will allow a student to cancel if they give a 48 hour notice with no charge. Or some will guarantee a make up lesson for some or all student cancellations. While that sounds like you’re being accommodating to the student, that actually tells the student that cancelling lessons is OK. At Melody Music Studios, I charge students if they cancel with no guarantee of a make up lesson. This makes the student accountable in attending all lessons, and in the long run, is better for their learning progress. Also allowing a student to cancel without paying is, in my opinion, unfair to the piano instructor who blocks time in their schedule for each student and depends on each lesson for their income (do I hear a collective amen shout from all piano instructors?).

Use the right book

A Complete Piano Method Book for the Beginner

Using the correct book for each student is important. A lot of method books can be confusing and missing important information. At Melody Music Publishers, there’s a book for sight reading skills as in the “Drill It and Kill It” book, as well as books on playing chords and improvisation, such as the “Chords & Improvisation on the Piano” and “Fake It Til You Make It”. Our unique line of method books are written in a comprehensive and easy to follow way on how students think and learn. Drills, written, and playing assignments are given for students to learn in a deeper level.


To summarize, it’s important to be encouraging to the beginner and let him or her know you’re on their side! Make sure to keep the lesson in a clear step by step fashion and realistic to the student’s ability. Listen to the student’s interests and be flexible with the direction of the lesson, as well as their emotional state. Don’t stress practicing at the start of the lessons. Keep a consistency in the weekly lesson and schedule them at a good time for you and the student. Use the right book for each student. And finally, when finishing teaching a student, no matter how long a period it may be, end your time with a positive outlook on learning to play the piano. The ultimate goal in teaching piano is helping the student realize he/she can enjoy playing the piano for a lifetime!

Kathi Kerr is owner and founder of Melody Music Studios, where she hires music and voice instructors across the county. She also is owner and author of Melody Music Publishers, which is a line of piano method books. Check out her books here.

To all piano instructors: we would love your comments and opinions, so feel free to leave your comment below! This is a forum FROM piano teachers FOR piano teachers! Thank you for your dedication to teaching piano and music to others!

Teaching a beginning piano student long term! Read More »

Rhythm piano lessons

Rhythm in piano lessons – the neglected part!

Rhythm in piano lessons is often the most neglected part. This is mostly because it’s the difficult part. Learning the note name is black and white (pun intended), simple, and straightforward. However, rhythm is time that is “felt” rather than seen, making it difficult to teach and learn. It’s easier to pretend it’s not there! That’s unfortunate, because rhythm is the “glue” that holds the notes together, and I believe, the most important part of music. Without timing, music becomes a bunch of scattered notes. Therefore, I like to start a beginner student focusing on the rhythm.

Using steady beat in the piano lesson

Old style metronome

The first step in learning rhythm is to feel the “steady beat”. This can be done by clapping the beats while listening to music or using a metronome. A metronome is a machine that keeps the steady beat perfectly (see picture). Today you can download a metronome app on a phone or tablet for free or at very little cost. For styles, pop and rock are usually the best for clapping with, since it’s based on a perfect steady beat. If playing in a band or accompanying a singer, keeping the steady beat is critical to keep everyone on the same beat. Taking time to focus on the rhythm is important in the overall learning, no matter what instrument.

Beat numbers

The other important factor about rhythm in piano lessons is feeling the beat numbers in a measure (the notes between each bar line). The most common meter is 4/4 meter (counting 1-2-3-4), and each beat has it’s own unique “feel”. The 1 of each measure is what I like to call the “big” beat, because it’s the prominent feel in a measure. It enables the musician to know when the beginning of a measure starts. The 1 and the 3 are called the “down” beats, and the 2 and 4 are called the “up beats”. Normally the lower register notes such as the bass (electric or upright), and the bass drum, will play the down beats. The higher register instruments typically play on the up beats (keyboard and guitar, etc).

Repetition-the key to reading fluently

Most piano method books teach very little on rhythm in the piano lesson, if at all. It may show the time value and name of each note, but that doesn’t help the student reading fluently in a sequence of notes. It’s in the continual reading from one note to another that is important. And since reading the name of the note as well as the rhythm when playing a song, being able to automatically read the rhythm is crucial. In my book, “Rhythm Workbook”, it gives rhythm without note names in a continual reading, therefore helping the student become automatic. It takes hours of repetition to become fluent when learning a language. It’s much the same when learning to read music, which is a “musical language”. Drills and repetition is the key to being fluent in reading, whether it be the rhythm or note names.

Rhythm Workbook

Rhythm Workbook

If you or your student struggle with rhythm in the piano lesson, I suggest using the “Rhythm Workbook” at Melody Music Publishers. Focusing on reading the rhythm and counting out loud without notation will help create a fluency. And this book can be used for any instrument. Using a metronome is suggested to keep the steady beat while playing and counting. Taking extra time to focus on the rhythm will help when reading music when the note names are added in the reading process. And once the student and musician is reading rhythm fluently, it’s actually FUN to read the rhythm. There’s no need to ignore it any longer.

To piano/music teachers: Thank you for your dedication to teaching music to others! Teachers can register to receive a free PDF sample copies of all book and discount codes to receive 20% off when ordering.

I and all other piano teachers would love to hear from you! Feel free to enter your comment below.

Rhythm in piano lessons – the neglected part! Read More »