Author Archives: Laurie

About Laurie

Church musician; composer, arranger, co-founder of Glorious Assurance Music

Friday Fun Fact: Piano Keys

I think we all know that a standard piano has 88 keys.

One of my students asked me thus if I knew how many white keys and how many black there were?

I told him he should count this week and let me know.

But I couldn’t wait till next week so I just looked it up.

There are 36 black keys and 52 white keys. Some pianos, known as a high performance grand pianos, actually have 92 keys.

I didn’t know that before! Did you?

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Sightreading Tips for Rehearsals

PianoLast night, I had the opportunity to practice with a group after church. They had been practicing on their own previously, and I was just coming in to rehearse before they sing in church.

I had never seen the music before last night. And they just expected me to sit down and play it!!

(Actually, I love sightreading so this didn’t bother me.)

Even though I’ve been sightreading for years, I still do certain things before I start to play. I thought I would share these “things” with you today:

1. Make sure you have the music open to the correct song. Yes, you would think this would be a no-brainer, but it never hurts to double-check. 🙂

2. Look through the music. When I do this, I look for the following items:

– Key signature – what key do I start in?

– Clef(s) – Do my hands start both in the treble or bass clef? Or are they normal?

– Time signature – Does the time signature change at all during the song?

– Tempo marking

– Repeats, D.C. al Coda, D.S. al Coda, codas, etc. – anything that means I have to jump around. If I have to go back to a Sign, I’ll always locate the Sign so I don’t have to search for it while I’m playing.

– Key changes – I don’t want to get thrown off or surprised by going to six sharps. I’d rather know ahead of time.

– Anything else out of the ordinary (unusual rhythms, notes cut off the pages, a capella sections, etc.).

3. After I look through the music, I ask the leader what they want the tempo to be. They usually will count or beat out a measure for me, which is very helpful.

4. Play away!!!

Don’t feel bad if you take a couple minutes to look through the music. The time you take at the beginning is worth it if you don’t have to stop or fumble through the rehearsal.

What else would you look for? Any fun sightreading stories?

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Patience and Persistence

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Pistol Pete

Last night was a great night of lessons. I got home from work, fed the dogs quickly, changed clothes, and got ready to greet my first student.

Oh, and I put the dogs outside. This is very important.

The students had all practiced very well, so all their songs were prepared and ready. It was an exciting night of lessons because the musical alphabet was introduced. Flashcards were also given out.

Remember, the dogs were outside. Our dogs are normally inside dogs, but they stay outside during lessons so as not to distract me or the students.

We have a lab puppy who is growing bigger every day. And he’s eating a ton of food. Seriously.

We usually give him a bowl of food in the morning, one bowl around dinner time, and another bowl before bed. He’s a very patient dog. But he loves his food. I’ve worked with him to sit by his crate to wait for his food.

So now in the evenings, he will start sitting outside/beside his crate. This is his signal to me that he’s ready for his third bowl of food.

He did this last night several times, but I just wasn’t ready to give him the food yet. When I did give him the food, he sat by his crate and waited for me to put it down. Then it was gone.

Cool. My job was done. Or not…

A little bit later, I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my iPad. Pistol Pete (our lab) went into his crate, grabbed his food bowl in his mouth, and brought me his bowl! I looked at my husband like “is this for real?” and he said to go ahead and give him another small bowl. I did, and again it was gone very quickly.

Then a little bit later, he brought me his bowl again. He’s catching on quickly…

Musical moral of the story: I hope all my piano students will be patient and follow the practice steps I give them. At the same time, I hope they will be persistent in their desire to learn more.

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Lesson Preparation: Assignment Sheets

When I decided to start teaching piano again, I wanted to have a strategy in place to help with lesson preparation. I didn’t want to just “wing it” (aka: turn the next page in the book and see what to assign for the next week).

I sat down and went through the books and made lesson plans for the entire semester.

Yay, score for me.

All right, confession time…I don’t like to hand write. I would rather type any day.

I used to write all the assignments in a spiral notebook, but that took up a lot of time during the lesson, plus…hand writing.

So I searched the internet looking for templates, found some that I liked, mashed the ideas together and came up with my own assignment sheet.

Student Assignment Sheet

Student Assignment Sheet

I used Microsoft Excel to create the form, but you could use Word if you wanted to.

Here are the important components on the assignment sheet:

1. Student information – name, level, date, week and lesson time

2. Easy-to-see blocks to enter daily practice time – I made these big enough to they wouldn’t be missed or forgotten

3. Assignment checklist – here I list all of the books, worksheets, warm-ups, etc. that they need to do each day. I also have the days of the week listed beside each item on the checklist. They are to circle the day that they do each assignment (helping them to remember that they did everything on the list).

4. Comments – I can put any reminders here, including practice steps, important dates, etc.

5. Teacher information – (not on the example); I put my phone number and email on each assignment sheet. I tell my students to call, text or email during the week if they have any questions. I would rather help them during the week instead of waiting till the next lesson to fix a problem or clear up confusion.

I have the assignment sheets already filled out before the lessons. This saves time and keeps me on track. (You can see a PDF of the Assignment Sheet here.)

You can see that the left margin is larger. This is because I three-hole punch the sheet and put it in a 3-ring binder for the student. They bring their binder to each lesson and get a new assignment sheet each week.

How do you give out assignments in lessons? Do you use a form or handout? I would love to hear your feedback.

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Reflections of an Aunt

Almost sounds like a song name, right?

Today, my sister’s youngest girl turned 2 years old. This would be my youngest niece. (I had to think about that for a second.)

First of all, I can’t believe that I’m old enough for her to be turning two. I love being an aunt, and I love spoiling my nieces and nephews.

My sister’s oldest girl is just learning to play the piano. My sister is teaching her; you can read all about it here.

I went to visit my sister this past summer, and she suggested that maybe I could give Hope her weekly piano lesson. I said it didn’t matter to me either way, but that I would love to do it.

Well, we brought that subject up to Hopey, and she didn’t seem as excited about it. She was worried that I “might not be able to know where she was in her book and be able to catch up.”

My sister and I just exchanged amused smiles and kept quiet. Little did Hopey know that we use the same method books for our teaching.

Now that I’m teaching again back home, I get the privilege of teaching my two oldest nephews. We are having a blast!

Here’s hoping that tomorrow night they practiced their required time so I can give them a piece of candy!

(Oh, and by the way, my sister has this awesome blog called Small Steps, Big Picture – you should check it out!)

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Piano and Cowboy Boots: Follow up

Earlier this week, I asked your advice on wearing my cowboy boots for this Sunday’s Fall Festival service.

Today was the day. I wore my boots and was happy with how they looked. However, I wasn’t happy with how they felt when I played. They weren’t horrible, but they just weren’t comfortable.

I’m used to being able to “feel” the pedal with my toes, rather than my entire foot.

I almost felt like I needed to lift my foot (and heel) off the floor to get the desired pedal sound.

But, I didn’t change my shoes. Since I was able to practice with the boots in choir practice, I felt like I would be ok for the service. And it was ok.

Will I play in my boots again? Probably not until next year.

My boots

My boots

In other news…I just felt “off” playing-wise the entire morning. Maybe I didn’t sleep well, didn’t have enough caffeine, something. I was just plain tired.

I even got the chords mixed up in “Victory in Jesus” during choir warm-ups. (The songbook has it in the key of F, and my fingers wanted to play in the key of G.)

Thankfully, the Lord can use me in spite of my imperfections. The service overall went great, and we had a fun day of afternoon fall festivities.

Now it’s time for bed. Goodnight!

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Keeping Piano Lessons Fun

I just finished giving piano lessons, so I’m still thinking back over how they went. (The students did great, by the way; it’s the teaching part I’m thinking about.)

I always want my students to love music and love playing the piano. I try to make the lessons fun, too. I know that scales and chords can’t be all that exciting by themselves, so I try to explain and give examples of how that element is used in music. (say church music, for example)

I’ve explained to students before how inversions play such an important role in hymnplaying. They look at me like I’m kidding. But then I play a hymn and show them what I mean. Then I say something like, “See? Chords and inversions are so cool! You can do so much with them!”

You can see their eyes light up, either with understanding or amusement at their teacher. But that’s ok. I don’t mind. When they get up to play a hymn in church and use an inversion, they will see how much fun it is.

Our excitement in lessons tonight was me killing a HUGE mosquito with my shoe (while jumping up and hitting the wall) and recording a song using my iPhone.

Yep, fun stuff! (You should try it sometime!)

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Musical Pop-ups: Practice Schedules

Sometimes I’m asked to accompany one special during the course of a month. Sometimes I’m asked to accompany two or more specials during a month.

For the two or more specials, finding time to practice can be a challenge.

Remembering when I said I would practice is also a challenge.

Take yesterday, for example.

During the day, I received a text asking if I could practice that night at church. Of course, I replied. I said I would try to get there early (hence scheduling practice before the service and not after.)

Now, I was raised to keep my word. So if I say I’m going to practice, I need to be there.

Since I’m a busy person, I need all the help remembering what comes next.

To help me, I set a reminder on my phone. I set the reminder to alert me early enough so I could leave the house in time. (I live 30 minutes away from church.)

It worked and I made it to practice on time.

Also yesterday, I received a text to check my email about practice with another group. I checked my email, saw the question about practicing next week, and replied that I could practice at that time.

They replied that I will get another email with more specific practice details. Something to look forward to for next week…

How do you schedule practice times?

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!

Piano and Cowboy Boots

I’m very picky about what shoes I wear to play the piano.

Flats don’t work. Wedges don’t work.

Heels do work, but not too thin of a heel. Not too chunky either. (I’d take chunky over thin, though.)

So, this week I’m faced with a dilemma.

Our church has a special Sunday this Sunday called Fall Festival Day. It’s a day where the service is more casual and somewhat of a western theme.

It’s a day where cowboy(girl) boots are the “in” footwear. And, yes, I do own cowboy boots. And I love them.

My boots

My boots

But I’ve never played the piano in them.

I have played wearing winter boots before, and I didn’t like it. The boots were just below the knee, and when I lifted my foot for the pedal, the boot rubbed against my leg in a very weird way.

I really want to wear my boots. If I don’t wear them, I’m not sure what shoes I would wear.

Decisions, decisions.

What do you think? Would you wear cowboy boots to play the piano? Have you done it before?

This post is part of a series I’m doing this month called “On-the-Go Pianist.” Click here to see all the posts!