NCKP 2017 Friday Sessions

Conference, Misc., Tips

Strike a Chord Showcase 

The first showcase of the morning that I attended was by Elyse Weakley who developed an app called Strike a Chord. I met Elyse several years back at an MTNA conference. At that time Strike a Chord was brand new so I was looking forward to seeing what additions have been made.

Strike a Chord is an iOS app where students are learning and playing chord symbols that guide them through improvisation and composition projects that they can record. If you want some hands on creating along with theory application, Strike a Chord is an easy and fun app to explore.

Currently, there are 9 lessons (many of them have a part A and a part B so it’s really more than 9 lessons) included in the app. They cover note names, intervals, triads, accidentals, Major and minor 3rds, triads, 7ths, and inversions with more lessons to come. In additon, there are support videos on YouTube.

Elyse used Strike a Chord recently when she taught a group class with some high school students. She gave some suggestions in how she used Strike a Chord outside of just having the student explore with the app…

  • After recording the song, take it to the piano and you play the left-hand chords while student creates an RH melody with notes in the key. Start with just a couple note options and then expand.
  • Once experimented all the way to the 5th, have students compose a short motive. 4 notes in whatever rhythm they want. Repeat the motive while the teacher does the chord progressions.
  • Use during group lessons. She had them work in teams of two. (Had 10 kids and 5 iPads.)
  • Alphabet games: forwards, backward, intervals of a 3rd or 5th.
  • One iPad: Each student plays 1 chord/element, class is scored as a group
  • Multiple iPads: Class can play at the same time, scores are individual.
  • Team #1 plays with the teacher and then team #2 etc…
  • Final project- Each team of two can choose either mostly Major or mostly minor chords. Using 3 of either group and just one of the other, composed a section of the class song.

Strike a Chord does not currently have the ability to use MIDI but Elyse said that MIDI connectivity is coming. Yay!

The pricing structure will change in September so grab the Premium version which includes all the lessons and future lessons for only $4.99 while you can! A steal of a deal!


Effective Communication of Practice Expectations: Send them home with tools for success by Dr. L. Scott Donald

Scott’s presentation was one that I walked away feeling that I am doing the right things when it comes to my students’ practice. Scott began his presentation with asking us some questions about what we do in relation to our students’ assignments and practicing. He then shared results from a recent survey from other teachers he did.

Survey results of how teachers send home practice tips or strategies…

  • 89% have a notebook with written assignments
  • 75% write info in notebook
  • 81% write in musical score
  • 25% pre-printed
  • 81% tell them verbally

Do you include other forms? 65% yes

  • Video- 48.7%
  • Audio 34%
  • Other 51% (Other: Email/text reminders to parents, parent writes assignments, students write down their own assignments)

How specific is the practice info that you send home?

  • Survey results: 1- 41%, 2- 32% (1- being very specific)

How closely do your students match the practice instructions?

  • Survey results: 55% 3-4 (somewhat)

The survey is still open if you are interested:

Here are a few tips shared from this session…

  • A Clear strategy for the type of practice that should occur with all assigned music.
  • How the teacher communicates practice information can determine the likelihood that the student will follow through.
  • Establish the foundation of deliberate practice.
  • If the student feels successful and understands what to do, they are more likely to practice.
  • Use the art of repetition through games.


Teaching Demonstrations by Jani Parsons and Courtney Crappell with Moderator, Robert Duke

First I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the teaching demonstrations. I missed Thursday’s demonstrations because I was swept up in the exhibit hall but THIS is exactly what I envisioned the first time I heard the term Master Class. This is what I always wanted a master class to be. To be a “fly” on the wall and get a taste of what it looks like when a master is teaching. I loved every moment. After we were able to get a taste of Sara and Jovanni’s teaching styles, Robert sat them all down to ask questions on what we saw. And then it was open to audience questions at the end. So awesome!

Jani’s student was a cute 7 years old boy. He walked up to the stage wearing shorts and a t-shirt on. Can I just say how much I loved that? It helped me feel that I was actually observing a typical lesson. His t-shirt said something awesome about being Epic and I wish I had gotten a picture of it because it was perfect. (If anyone remembers what it said or has a picture let me know!)


A wanted to share a few quotes that Jani had said during their “lesson” time so you can be a little “fly” on the wall too…

“Can we make more of a big deal about that? It’s a special moment…”

“What do you think of this being a little more like a conversation? (Adding words, where did you go?)”

“What’s a tool we can use to make it feel like a question? (Student answers: Smoother, tempo,) How about dynamics? What could be our answer? (Adding words, I do not know?)”

“How can we make sure the answer sounds different than the question (softer on the answer)”

“That’s starting to happen!”

“Hearing a bump”

“Move slightly early- a secret move. Ninja- right where it needs to be.”

“Relax at the end of the decrescendo. If I were dancing, I would know it’s a spot I could take a little rest (breath).”

“Can you still love it and play it a little bit less?”



Courtney Crappell was the next teacher and his student was also 7 years old.

Courtney’s first step is to check in on practice. Hear her play. Set up practice for the next week. He asked, what was the practice goal for the week? His student then plays through the goal sections first.

When they were working on dynamics, to help the diminuendo, Courtney gave it numbers and counted and said 1 loud, then got softer as you went along. He then took his student away from the piano to feel diminuendo. Crouched on the ground for piano. Kneeled for mezzo piano and so on.

To wrap up their “lesson” together, Courtney asked questions on how she was going to practice when gets get home.

If students didn’t remember something there is a reason they didn’t remember. You didn’t make a connection. Find the connection.

Now it was time for some Q & A’s  and comments with Robert Duke, the session moderator.

Robert shared a story frustrated teacher because students aren’t practicing. Solution-  stop teaching as if they practiced.

I loved that story because sometimes we make things so much harder on ourselves. We move on in our lessons because we don’t want to have a repeat of the last lesson but many times that is what is needed (or a variation of what will work better). He shared, that it is weird that we are the only teachers that make homework as a timed assignment versus a goal assignment. They must have a tangible goal that they must be able to discern.

Courtney’s experience is that it takes 2 years to train a student how to practice. Parents need to be part of the lesson experience so they can help with their practicing at home. They are the “teacher” at home. They are the ones that make sure everything happens the way it should.

Joni shared that all her students under 8 years old have parents attend the lessons. They can be in another room where they can hear what is going on and then she calls them in to wrap up what she wants to happen at home. She says, “We are teaching parents to embrace music at part of the family culture.”



Fifth House Ensemble- Soundings, a work by Dan Visconti

Fifth House Ensemble performed Soundings by composer Dan Visconti, who worked closely with the group to create a work that is uniquely representative of the musicians in the ensemble. I was a little late to this session so I walked in shortly before they dumped a bunch of ping pong balls in the piano. I totally gasped out loud when that happened!


Charlie Albright- “Classical Music is Dying… and that’s the best thing for classical music.

I really enjoyed Charlie’s talk. In his talk, he clarified that classical music itself isn’t dying but the rules of classical music are dying. All forms of art have to do with connecting. Communicated where no other media can communicate.

In the 20th century, we have come up with strict rules. When you can’t clap, what you can, when you can play, what you can wear…

Music is human. Live performance is a form of communication. It has become one-sided. There is a glass wall and the audience is spectators. A concert should not be that way today, and Charlie doesn’t think it was that way back then.

Most at a classical concert are classical music appreciators.

It would be great if classical concerts had more of…

  • Speaking (how does the piece relate to the performer, how they are moved…)

It becomes personal and relatable.

  • Applause (loves it when people break out in applause even in between movements. He feels supported and that they are feeling the music.
  • Venues. The design can make a difference in how a performer can connect to the audience.

Pete Jutras- Lessons from Kenya: Connecting the World Through Music

In Kenya, there is no heat or a/c. So imagine what happens to an acoustic piano. Yamaha was able to bring in digital pianos. What a blessing for the people of Kenya!

Peter shared his experience along with some of his college students and colleagues providing lessons in Kenya and online.

We live in a bubble that comes with a lot of pressure and criticism here in the US versus support for the enjoyment of music regardless of mistakes, etc…

Music is joyful. Justification is a challenge.

The impact- The world needs music. Our chances to help. Increased understanding.


Derek Kelli Polishuk- Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life

Derek shared about a festival called, “Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life”. This wonderful festival is sponsored by Michigan State University. It was so awesome seeing how much of a positive impact it was for not only the students on the autism spectrum but for the parents.

Some of the benefits they found were that it expanded their comfort zone. It improved parent perception of the possibility that their child might attend college. Students with autism are capable of using their imagination in tremendous ways.  And it helped them express. You can find out more about the festival here.


Tom Townsend and Patricia Eastman Pianos for People

I had to leave the PEDX sessions a little early, but the last talk was on Pianos for People. Pianos for People a nonprofit that connects underprivileged families who need pianos but also returns good pianos that might otherwise be destroyed to those who desire to play. You can learn more about this program on their website.



Music Alive- Sounds That Move, Pictures That Sing by Clinton Pratt

I really enjoyed Clinton’s session. This was one of those sessions that you really need to see it in person because it is a lot of visual experiences. Music Alive is an interactive, visually stimulating performing experience. One that he has his students work on during the summer and then perform a spectacular and innovative event early fall. He shared that Music Alive is the reason he never has students quit or take a break over the summer because they all want to participate.

He began by asking the following questions…

What does music LOOK like?

  • Colors?
  • Motion?
  • People?
  • Animals?
  • People?
  • What time of day?

What would this scene SOUND like? (Images)

  • Fast/slow
  • Loud/quiet
  • High/Low

What does it feel like?

  • Sound
  • Visual
  • Motion
  • Mood

Music Alive is unlimited choices!

Clinton puts all his students projects on Keynote and makes a presentation. He will change the pictures on the phrases while the student is playing.

Clinton shared his Music Alive notes from NCKP and links to student projects on his website, Piano Sensei.

I would encourage to visit and browse through some of the past Music Alive projects his students have made. This will give you some ideas of what your students can do. Really, the possibilities are endless!


Coming next is NCKP Saturday sessions!

Missed Wednesday and Thursday? Here are the links!

NCKP 2017 Pre-Conference Wednesday

NCKP 2017 Thursday Sessions


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  1. Ruth L Michaelis

    Thank you once more!


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