piano instructor

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 But in recent years, many music teachers have stopped teaching them, thinking they are outdated and boring.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

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Piano Songs at Melody Music Publishers

Easy Piano Songs
Easy Piano Songs

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

Late Beginning Level Piano Songs

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


Intermediate Level Piano Songs

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


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

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


Late Intermediate Volume 1

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


Late Intermediate Volume 2


Late Intermediate Volume 3


Our Youube Channel

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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.

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Teaching A Music Transfer Student!

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

Be Prepared

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

Establish a rapport with the music transfer student

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

The first lesson

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

Make Changes Slowly

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

Be Careful Commenting on the Previous Music Teacher

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

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

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

It Gets Easier

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

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

Melody Music Publishers

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

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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.

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Choosing The Right Method Book Tip #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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