Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Greetings from Nolan Feeny

Nolan Feeny, a young pianist from Okemos Michigan, performs "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" at River Terrace Church in East Lansing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Technical Warm-Up Exercises for the Pianist

Borah Han, an undergraduate piano performance major at Michigan State University and a student in my class in piano pedagogy, demonstrates and describes technical warm-up exercises that she recommends for the developing pianist.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Teaching Keyboard Geography

Stephen Armstrong, an undergraduate piano performance major at Michigan State University, demonstrates a lesson plan and game for teaching keyboard geography to a young student.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Teaching Blues Piano

Daniel Bachelis, an undergraduate piano performance major and a student in MSU's undergraduate class in piano pedagogy, shows how to introduce simple blues improvisations to your students.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Beginning Piano Students at the Keyboard: Introducing Large and Small Muscle Groups

Justine Sasanfar discusses how to introduce the fundamental physical mechanisms that allow a student to healthfully and successfully make sound at the keyboard. Justine is a Master's Degree candidate in Piano Pedagogy and Collaborative Piano who played a stunning voice recital last night with works by Beethoven, Wolf, Debussy and Britten. I hope you enjoy her concise and refreshing instruction on the physical aspects of beginning piano technique.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teaching 6/8 Meter to Young Pianists

Peter Liu, an undergraduate piano performance major and a student in MSU's undergraduate class in piano pedagogy, describes his preferred method for teaching 6/8 to a piano student.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preparing The Body For Practice

Allie Nisbett is back demonstrating stretches and exercises that can be used by pianists to promote health and prevent injury. Stay tuned for more videos on topics in piano pedagogy from my students at MSU.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Guest Blogger Allison Nisbett writes about a game she created for Kalil Olsen to help him with pitch and key identification. Allison is a Sophomore majoring in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy at the Michigan State University College of Music.

This is a memory game to help Kalil match the notes on the staff with notes on the keyboard. Kalil enjoyed the game, and it is a helpful way to practice away from the piano, not to mention a fun way to learn with other piano students. The game can be simplified, matching only one clef card to the keyboard card, or made more challenging, such as matching treble clef, bass clef, and keyboard cards all at once. To make the game more creative, once the game is over, students can use the notes on the cards they won to make up a melody. The goal of the game is not to name the notes, but to strengthen the student's correlation of the staff to the keyboard, and thus become a better music reader.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Improvisation and Creativity in Lessons

Kalil Olsen, the student I've been chronicling over the last few months on this blog, continues to blow me away with his natural musical and pianistic instincts. At almost all of our meetings, Kalil with play something for me that he has composed in the past week. Kalil's ability to synthesize so many of the concepts we have been working on into these piano improvisations is remarkable. I try to work a bit of simple piano improvisation into each of our lessons. Watch Kalil and I jam in a minor mode:

I try to integrate many "unspoken" musical concepts into our improvising. In this clip, I try to get him to respond to harmonic changes, changes in mood, and formal elements. As you can hear, he's really listening!

Composing and improvising are Kalil's favorite activities on the piano. I spoke to my piano pedagogy class the other night about the importance of making each and every moment of a piano lesson a musical and engaging experience, and they have worked hard to create this for Kalil. We occasionally get so swept up in explanation and details sacrificing sheer joy in music making. I keep Kalil hooked with weekly moments like this.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Technique Talk in Holland Michigan

I'm giving a talk this coming Monday evening at Hope College in Holland Michigan on teaching tone production to small children.  If you're in the West Michigan area on Monday, I would love to meet you and discuss this important piano teaching topic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Capturing the Sound

Thomas Moss, a student in the Seminar in Piano Pedagogy at the Michigan State University College of Music, leads a pitch matching game that might be called "capture the sound."  Our students just love this activity, and we've found that it has significantly refined their ability to differentiate between high and low sounds, as well as smaller differences in pitch level.  Watch this brief video for a demonstration, and notice the sheer delight on the faces of our young students!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Piano Pedagogy Blog featured on MusTech.Net

The Piano Pedagogy Blog is now listed as #88 on a list of Music Education Bloggers featured on Check out this great site!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Studio Recital Inspiration!

My studio's recital on Friday night was a rousing success! The performances that my students gave were truly inspired. It's such an honor to be working with young musicians who understand the payoff of hard work at their instrument.

I use studio recitals as an exciting opportunity for my students to share the pieces they've polished with their peers, friends, and family in a safe and supportive environment. Without fail, these events prove to be excellent inspiration that leads to hard work and dedicated practice.

Please enjoy a few highlights in this brief video:

I try to arrange the order of performances in such a way where all levels of piano playing are mixed together. In this program, performances from my students at Michigan State were interspersed with younger students who might not be as experienced with performing. Kalil Olsen, the young student that my undergraduate pedagogy class has been teaching, performed right after two experienced pianists who played major works by Chopin and Schubert. I find that my students and those in attendance enjoy the variety and diversity of performances.

How do you format your studio recitals?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Studio Recital

My studio is presenting a recital this Friday evening. If you are in the area, I'd love to have you join us. All levels of pianists will be presented playing interesting and thought-provoking musical selections. Please click on the following facebook event for further information:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moving Through The Sound

Rachel is a very talented student of mine with a very natural and very strong physical approach to the piano.  In a recent lesson, Rachel and I worked on the concept of "moving through the sound," that is, being sure that each note, phrase, and every movement at the instrument has an organic fluidity in the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, and the even the entire torso to create sounds that are bold, but also singing.  Please watch her first attempt at some of these concepts.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bartok Redux in Undergraduate Piano Pedagogy

Here's Kalil, from just a few days later, playing "Imitation and Inversion" one more time for Stephen Armstrong, an undergraduate piano performance major at Michigan State University.  Notice how his sense of phrasing and line has improved---one of the goals my piano pedagogy class set forth for him during our last class.  

Please excuse the jumpy video...I'm still learning how to edit movie clips correctly!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Imitation and Inversion

Kalil is working on selections from Bartok's Mikrokosmos, Volume 1. Kalil, as well as many of my other students, are often fascinated by the analysis required to understand much of what is happening in these works.

Mikrokosmos is a collection of 153 piano pieces arranged in order of increasing musical and technical difficulty.  Generations of pianists have studied these pieces to develop not only technique, but also their musical knowledge of sounds and compositional technique not typically found in beginning piano methods.  Folk modality, pitch combination symmetry and atonality are found in many of these works, as well as irregular meter and other unique rhythmic aspects.  Mikrokosmos is an underutilized teaching method in the contemporary piano studio that contains a wealth of very accessible musical materials that provide so much more than many modern methods.  

In these videos, watch Kalil and I discuss the concept of musical imitation and briefly improvise using this concept.  Also, watch Kalil perform "Imitation and Inversion" (#23) on September 25th.  Stay tuned for a video of his performance of the same piece just a few days later in my undergraduate Piano Pedagogy course.

Further Finger Identification and Independence in Piano Pedagogy Class

As my Piano Pedagogy class continues their teaching of "Pianoissimo" at the MSU Community School, they are realizing that drilling of rudimentary concepts such as finger numbers is an important topic to address a bit each class. Thomas Moss, a Piano Pedagogy graduate student, devised and executed an outstanding finger identification and finger independence exercise that utilizes a simple hand diagram on which our young students wrote their finger numbers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

MSU Piano Pedagogy featured on The Collaborative Piano Blog

The Piano Pedagogy Blog was recently featured on The Collaborative Piano Blog.  This is an excellent resource on all things piano written by Chris Foley from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hand Position and Finger Independence for the Young Beginner in Piano Pedagogy Class

MSU's graduate level class in piano pedagogy meets weekly to plan and teach a group class of beginning piano students.  This class meets on Thursday afternoons at MSU's Community Music School, and is a fun introduction to the piano as well as an excellent training ground for teachers wishing to gain experience teaching very young students in a group setting.

In the first meeting of this semester, Justine Sasanfar, a Master's Degree candidate in Piano Pedagogy and Collaborative Piano, leads a fun activity that effectively demonstrates hand position, finger independence, and rhythm patterns in the span of just 1 minute!

Note Recognition with Kalil in Undergraduate Piano Pedagogy

In week two of piano pedagogy class lessons with Kalil, Borah Han, an undergraduate piano performance major at Michigan State, works with Kalil Olsen on note recognition. As you can see in this video, Borah is an effective and friendly communicator. She's also a spectacular pianist!  Kalil has Asperger Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum that causes him to demonstrate some unique characteristics (  As a possible result of this condition, Kalil exhibits particularly keen music performance abilities while having some trouble with concepts such as note recognition.  His rhythm is very strong, he has a natural ability to create a range of sounds on the piano, and his focus during his lessons (which are observed live by 9 people!) and practice sessions is exceptional.  At the same time, pitch reading has been a challenge that my students have decided to take head on.

This week, my class designed a system of sticker labels to help Kalil make a visual connection to landmark notes on the staff and keyboard.  Using garage sale labels in three colors, my students helped Kalil place red stickers on the G of the bottom line of the bass clef and the A of the top line of the bass clef.  Green stickers were placed on the E of the bottom line of the treble clef and the F on the top line of the treble clef.  Middle C was marked with an orange sticker.  We're hoping that such a system will create a connection of landmark keys with landmark notes in both clefs, as well as reinforcing the concept of distance and interval on the keyboard with the same on the clef.  We look forward to seeing if this works!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


This semester, my undergraduate piano pedagogy class will be team-teaching Kalil, a student who has been studying with me for 2 months.  As you can see from this video, Kalil has excellent musical instincts, strong rhythm, and a beautiful bold sound.  Please follow his progress with us!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Piano Pedagogy Opportunities at MSU

Thanks for visiting.  I want to take a moment to make you aware of opportunities to study piano pedagogy at the Michigan State University College of Music.  

The College of Music at Michigan State University is a premier institution with a track record of creating artists and educators who are making a difference in the musical world.  Our College boasts world-class faculty, many opportunities to hear and participate in performances, and a connection to a prestigious public university.  The undergraduate emphasis in Piano Pedagogy and Master's Degree program in Piano Pedagogy offer opportunities to study repertoire and teaching tactics at all levels, as well as hands on practical experience teaching both group and private lessons.  Graduates of the Piano Pedagogy program at MSU have gone on to be successful teachers in many different arenas including colleges, private studios and in elementary and secondary institutions.

If you're interested in finding out more, please email me at  Meanwhile, stay tuned for proceedings from our seminars in Piano Pedagogy as well as teaching tips and thoughts.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Hello, and welcome to The Piano Pedagogy Blog!  

Stay tuned here for posts from my piano pedagogy students at the Michigan State University College of Music and me about teaching piano.  If you have any questions, please leave comments.