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!

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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.

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Piano Method Books’ New Title

Drill & Excel On the Piano Complete

Melody Music Publishers is proud to announce a new title in our piano method book series. The former “Drill It and Kill It” book now has a new title called “Drill & Excel On the Piano-Read Music Like a Pro!”. We’re excited about the name change to enhance a more positive approach. Another change is the original 200 page book is now divided into books 1 & 2. So we now offer 3 books: “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1”, “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2”, and “Drill & Excel On the Piano Complete”.

Drills & Repetition

Learning to play the piano and read music takes hours of drills and repetition, which is not always given in the traditional method book. The “Drill & Excel On the Piano” piano method book series offers the student a comprehensive way of learning with plenty of repetition to fully master each skill. And it’s fun and easy to follow too!

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Complete”

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Complete” is a 5 chapter 200 page piano method book for the early to late beginning student. It begins with keyboard geography, technique, and practice tips. The rhythm drills include the quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes/rests. The note reading written assignments include notes for the C, G, and D hand positions for treble and bass clef. The 3 scales given are C, G, and D (one scale per chapter). There are exercises and special exercises for each chapter that gradually progress in difficulty. There are 100 original songs (20 songs per chapter) written to teach what is given in that chapter. Since the songs are original, the student has to read the notes and cannot depend on how the song sounds. This creates a fluent reader! It also includes assignment pages, note pages, a practice record and point chart, and Christmas songs arranged for each chapter. This is an all-in-one book, so there’s no need to have 3 or 4 books for each student.

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1”

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1” with a new title is a 120 page, 3 chapter piano method book for the early beginning student with no previous experience. It has everything in the complete book up to the first 3 chapters. The scale and songs are in the C hand position. It includes all the rhythm drills and note reading assignments for the C hand position, exercises, and special exercises. Chapter 1 is treble clef only, chapter 2, bass clef only, and chapter 3 playing both hands in the C hand position (left hand playing C-G an octave below middle C). The student can skip to the end of each chapter to play the test song when ready, making it self paced.

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2”

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2” is a 145 page book in 3 chapters for the late beginning student. This is great for the student who has some experience but needs the basics. Chapter 1 is a recap of book 1 for the C hand position (playing hands together), C scale, exercises, and special exercises. Chapter 2 is in the G hand position with all the rhythm, note reading assignments, exercises, and special exercises, and chapter 3 is in the D hand position. There are 20 songs per chapter (60 songs total). The 3rd chapter in the D hand position introduces notes outside the 5 note hand position, so the student learns how to stretch and cross over fingers incrementally.

“Drill & Excel On the Piano Books 3 & 4” are coming soon!

We’re excited about our new books, “Drill & Excel On the Piano Books 3 & 4”! Book 3 is a 3 chapter, 145 page book for the early intermediate student. It recaps books 1 & 2 and includes the A and F hand positions, scales, rhythm, exercises and 60 original songs (no longer in hand positions). Rhythm includes the sixteenth note/rest and triplets. Book 4 is a 3 chapter, 160 page book for the late intermediate student. Chapter 1 recaps books 1, 2, and 3, and includes the keys and scales in B flat and E flat. Rhythm now includes odd meters and 2 against 3/3 against 4. Also what’s new in both books 3 & 4 is music theory and lots of it. It includes intervals, altered intervals, triads, and chords.


I wrote my line of piano method books based on my over 30 years of teaching experience because I was not happy with the method books. Since most piano method books move too quickly without a lot of information, thus causing frustration, I began writing my own books. My hope is to offer books that help students learn each step thoroughly before moving to the next level. Drills and repetition are the only way to master the skill of sight reading and playing the piano! I hope you like the new title for our piano method book series.

I enjoy feedback on my books and blogs, so please feel free to add your comment below or call us at 800-Melody 1 (800-635-6391). Thank you for doing the greatest job, sharing music to others!

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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!

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Book Review by Michael Leppert of Home Schooling Magazine

Reviewed and written by Michael Leppert

“Kathi Kerr, owner of Melody Music Studios and author of a complete line of instruction books, brings her wealth of knowledge to anyone interested in learning and developing keyboard skills in a fun and relaxed way. These books are excellent resources for developing any desired level of competence from a living room Lizt to a full-fledged professional.”

Color It Say It Play It and Create It

“The first volume, “Color It, Say It, Play It, and Create It”, is the launching pad for little students ages 4-8 to become acclimated to the world of the piano and experience the pleasure of accomplishing skill development. As the title states, Kathi incorporates coloring the keys of drawings of white piano keyboards in the book, into the process of becoming familiar with the keyboard. Part of the coloring process is learning the names of the keys being colored. (This is a brilliant application of the scientific fact that information taught through play only requires 10-12 repetitions to imprint the brain vs. 400 repetitions by rote.) Ms. Kerr continues to present more musical information such as rhythm, note and rest values, pitch values and applying these values to playing familiar simple songs.”

“The second volume, “Drill It and Kill It-Read Music Like a Pro!”, addresses in great detail, development of the all-important skill called sight-reading. This is the ability to sit down to a never-before-seen piece of music and within 5-8 minutes of preparation, being able to play it virtually correctly. Professional recording musicians and orchestral players have to possess as strong a sight-reading ability as text reading to an editor or writer. In my opinion, these two volumes should follow sequentially.”

Chords & Improvisation on the Piano

“Third, in Ms. Kerr’s line of excellent instruction books, addresses playing chords and improvising on the piano in her book “Play Chords & Improvisation on the Piano”. These two skills follow those developed in the above two books. Chords are like the scaffolding that melodies are hung upon and learning to play them is built upon the initial note-reading skills and expands one’s sight-reading ability. Songwriters and composers know that our Western ears hear chords progress in a certain pleasing or (intentionally) displeasing manner, called “chord progressions”. After some initial discussions of music theory (the facts of music), Kathi teaches the concept of progressions and provides actual examples that are immediately familiar from hearing decades of popular songs use them. Finally, she teaches chord inversions. Space does not allow for a discussion of this part of theory, but a deep knowledge of using inversions is absolutely necessary for the professional or semi-pro musician and to a purely amateur player who wishes to enjoy playing comfortably without anxiety.”

“The last volume in Melody Music’s line, “Fake It Til You Make It”, teaches the ability to use Fake Books, which are typically, very large volumes of just the melodies of popular songs and a chord shorthand allowing pro musicians, such as piano bar pianists, to take requests at large. This edition is invaluable for an aspiring performer who envisions playing weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events that require a fluid knowledge of hundreds of songs, appealing to multiple generations of listeners and dancers.”

“If your child – or yourself – desires to develop keyboard confidence enough to play for others with joy and ease, possibly even to make a living, please visit Melody Music Studios website and see Kathi Kerr’s excellent line of instruction books.”

*Michael and Mary Leppert are homeschooling parents and co-publishers of The Homeschool Magazine, the largest homeschooling publication in the U.S.

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