learn to play piano

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 But in recent years, many music teachers have stopped teaching them, thinking they are outdated and boring.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 MelodyMusicPublishers.com 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.

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.

PianoSongsLateBeginner

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.

PianoSongsIntermediate
PianoSongsIntermediate

“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.

PianoSongsMoodSwings

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.

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol1
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol1

Late Intermediate Volume 2

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol2
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol2

Late Intermediate Volume 3

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol3
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol3

Our Youube Channel

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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.
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

Repertoire

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.

PianoTechnique

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.

PianoPractice

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.

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.

Exercises

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.

Scales

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

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 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.

Rhythm

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 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.
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.

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!