by Tamsyn

November 11, 2016

This "Where to Begin" series is written to answer the most common question members ask me- "Where do I start?"  This has especially been an issue as we have added so many new materials this last year.  This mini-series is the first post to help you see a path among all the trees.  This post is especially for Piano Teachers

Materials especially for Piano Teachers

You deserve to know, straight up, that all I have to offer at this point is primarily targeted for beginners through early intermediate levels, most of it ideal for beginners.  Fair enough, it is what it is.

Before I became a Mom, I was a poor college student, not starving because I lived with my parents, and paying my way through school through summer work and a modest piano studio.  I loved teaching piano, and it was from my years in the trenches compelled me to improvise and create my own materials.  Those students were my first guinea pigs, their parents the first brave souls to give my eclectic ideas a chance to test the waters.  So, piano teachers, I love you and hope I can provide you with something to make your job a little more enjoyable and productive.

What are you looking for?

piano teachers

There are three broad categories of piano teachers my site is best suited to aid:

  • Those who teach very young children.
  •   Piano teachers who already have a favorite curriculum and/or teaching methodology.  They are simply looking for something to put in their toolbox for off-bench activities.
  • Those who are looking for a new approach for teaching.  Maybe they have a special needs student, or a student who is struggling with "traditional" lessons.  A piano teacher ready to think outside-the-box will get the most out of our materials.

Let's take a quick look at how I can help each.

Piano for Preschoolers

color-coded piano insert closeup

Regardless of how ready a very young student is for formal lessons, I would not want to spend a 30 minute period with a preschooler on the bench.  No matter how gifted, I would strive to engage the child with hands-on, off bench activities.  I would be singing with the child to help them develop their inner, musical ear.  I would spend roughly half of that piano lesson playing at the piano, and spend the other half doing other activities.  For more information on how our materials are best applied for preschoolers, take a look at "Preschoolers- Where to Begin".

Toolbox Goodies for Piano Teachers

You are rocking the method books you are using, not really interested in shaking things up.  What you would really like is something fun to pull out of the hat when your student starts spacing out during the lesson- wishing they were somewhere else.  Something to reengage the student who starts to fidget.  Something hands-on, off the bench to keep things interesting.  Every piano teacher needs a tool box.

music with origami

Well, I'll tell you upfront, our full membership is probably not the best deal for you.  No, I would point you to our "Adventure Packs". Most notably (no pun intented), #2, "Teacher's Friend" will suit you best.  5 activities devoid of our color-coding system, designed especially with piano teachers in mind.  Our number one printable, the one more people have shared, commented on, asked about, is our "Piano Chord Wheel".  The "Crafts and Games" Adventure Pack is also a great, generic collection.  Perfect for any music teacher's toolbox, regardless of the instrument you teach.

Our Broader, Color-Coded Approach to Piano

You know, of all of the things on our website, the thing that makes us most unique is the way we use color to teach relative pitch.  There are many music programs that associate color with specific pitches, and that's great.  In fact, we absolutely love a few such programs, such as Little Musician, Preschool Prodigies, and Piano Wizard.  Not to mention the fun we have sword-fighting with Boomwhackers!  Certainly color-coding music is anything but new.

color-coded piano insert closeup

Even so, we do have something new to add to the table, and that is applying color to RELATIVE pitch.  "C" is not always red here, "Do" is, as used in a movable-Do setting.  So if you are living in a country where the violins are tuned to "La", not "A", do yourself a favor and steer clear of our system because it's going to be confusing.  Sorry about that.  Can't cater to everyone, hope you'll understand.  Of course, you could adapt the system by simply referring to the colors as scale degrees if you feel inclined.  🙂

color-coded piano insert closeup

However, if you DO tune to "A", Movable Do is going to rock your world.  Your piano students will be able to transpose their songs into any key.  How?  Simply by sliding the insert to reflect the new key, matching the colors as they play.  My children have been able to do this as young as 3, and as a result NO key signature intimidates them.  Instead, black and white keys are regarded as equals, they are able to tackle both head on.  Helping them put their fingers in the right place is easier.  They intuitively put their fourth finger on B-flat when I slide the insert to F-major, their third finger on F-sharp when the insert is in D.

color-coded piano insert closeup

Our Piano Method

While I do start my own children with simple nursery rhymes in C-major, "My First Piano lessons" takes several new keys head on.  And they do it!  Lesson two finds the left hand playing in E-major.  Am I out to torture tiny new minds?  Certainly not!  The truth is, "Do-Ti-La" in E-major is very ergonomic for a young child.  The combination of white and black notes helps them keep their fingers in the right place. 

I don't hit them up with all these different key signatures as a means of cruel torture- I do it because I don't want my students to grow dependent on "C" major.  Throughout the process I introduce flash cards and in time, as they learn to read music they become less dependent on the colors.  In the meantime, while they are learning to read, I teach them to "speak" fluently by using color.

How to use our color-coded system

Right now, our color-coded library is still rather small.  We will be adding new music in the coming months, but right now our color-coded piano library consists of three collections:  "My First Piano Lessons", "Ten Christmas Songs", and "Irish Music".  There are plenty of other melodies in our color-coded system, such as the Finger Plays and our 10 Counting Games and Activities, but these three collections are ESPECIALLY arranged for piano.

The Irish and Christmas songs (10 each) each have a video tutorial and range in difficulty from easy to early intermediate.

irish music
color-coded piano insert closeup

Beyond these songs, the color-coded system can easily be adapted for any piano curriculum IF the parents or piano teachers are willing to take the time to color the music with a box of crayons.  Do it while you watch a movie!  This is exactly what I have done with my own children, what I did for my piano students before devoting my musical endeavors to this website to give me more time with my growing family.  It doesn't take that much time, and the benefits are so worth it.

My favorite piano method is John Thompson (nothing wrong with loving another series like Faber or Bastian, etc!).  This method does move quickly, however.  Faster than most, and even in the first primer, students will be playing in different keys, needing to stretch their pinky for new notes, and by the end of the First Grade book, they will be moving their hands around on the keyboard several times.  This brought on tears of frustration to my students before I started color-coding.  My time with the crayons has really eased these transitions, making them exciting instead of daunting.

color-coded piano insert closeup

Coloring Tips

Color coding a new piano book can be done all at once or one or two songs at a time as the student gets to them.  I personally did the book all at once.  I start with the red crayon.  If a song is in C major, I color all of the C's red.  If it has one flat, I color all the F's red.  Two sharps?  All of the D's red.  Then I'll go through with an orange crayon and color the D's, G's, and E's, respectively. 

I find that this approach is a more time-constructive way of getting an entire book done than coloring one song at a time because I don't have to spend as much time looking for the right color and my eye gets better at spotting the notes I need to color because I don't switch things up as much.  You can even go through and color all of the "C's" red for C-major songs only, followed by the other key signatures if that's easier for you.

Certainly color-coding the music yourself is less convenient and this approach isn't for everybody.  But it works and my students have done very well with it.  It's great for right-brain learning, younger children, and especially students with special needs.  These three categories seem to really love color.  In time, our color-coded library will grow and expand for our wonderful piano teachers.  In the meantime, the sky is the limit on how you can apply this approach if you have the movable-Do insert and a box of crayons.

color-coded piano insert closeup

About the author 


My name is Tamsyn and I love music. I got my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from USU. I spent many years teaching private piano lessons until I had children of my own. I have attended several children workshops on how to teach children music. I really like the Kodaly method, but have adapted a lot of different techniques for my own children.

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  1. My sister would like to enroll her daughter in a piano lesson program because she thinks that this will improve her musically inclined child's skills. Well, I also agree with you that it would be best to apply a color relative speech too. Thank you for sharing here the importance of introducing flashcards to her as well.

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