2018 MTNA Pedagogy Saturday Highlights (Part 1)


Pedagogy Saturday is something I look forward to at MTNA. If you aren’t familiar with pedagogy Saturday, it is an extra option you can register for.  Classes are divided into what they call a track.

This year the following tracks were offered:

  • Musician Wellness– this year focusing on the mind and body.
  • Recreational Music Making– this year featured practical applications and fun creative tips to make teaching more effective and fulfilling. RMM is mostly for group teaching but many of the ideas can be adapted to fit your studio.
  • Teaching Artistry and Technique– this year focusing on sound as it is produced at the piano.
  • Young Professionals– focusing on musical careers and running a business.

While you are able to jump tracks (MUCH easier to do this year since the schedules lined up with each other), I found myself mostly staying with the RMM track and only jumping once.


The RMM Opening session kicked off with “Coffee and Conversations” (included was hot chocolate too, which made me happy). The room was divided into 4 different “stations”. Children and Teens, Adults, Materials and Marketing. Every 10 min we would change to another station. We only had time to participate in 3 of the 4 stations.  If I had known we wouldn’t have time to jump to all 4 stations, I might have chosen a little differently, but that’s okay. Each station had a moderator who shared what they did within that main topic and encouraged others to share what they did or ask questions. When the bell rang, it was time to switch.

Here are a few highlights from each group (I missed the marketing group):

Children and Teens-

  • Be very specific when giving instructions.
  • Moving around so constantly changing is good.
  • Play Games
  • About 6 kids is a good size
  • Multiple levels within a group- playing together as an ensemble- offer different options such as play just the right hand, just left hand, together, etc…


  • Don’t start from scratch- latch on from your community with what is there.
  • A place that has leisure programs- utilizing the university or community college lab when it wasn’t being used.
  • Email an FAQ question to inquiries
  • How to match the different levels-
    • Adults are open to hearing and re-learning, don’t be too concerned about repeating and reviewing too often.
    • Hybrid option- first half is to practice together 2nd half practice on own (instructor can walk around and help)
    • Or together- watch the medium, not fastest, not slowest) and pace the class based on the medium person in the class.
    • 3 to 4 options- RH only, LH only, etc. One of the options are for the easiest person to be able to do. Do not need to master during the class. Tap, tap and play.
  • Rules- have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously.


  • Piano Fun for Adult Beginners- Brenda Dillon (8 chapter book- note reading and chords)
  • RMM for Adults- Debra Perez
  • Can offer themed classes- Beatles Bonanza, Romantic …. (to do before Valentines) and so on.

Fun fact: 11% average HS take music classes. (Not enough!)

After I kicked it off with RMM I switched over to the Artistry and Technique track so I could hear Marvin Blickenstaff’s present.


Marvin Blickenstaff

Marvin begins, “We teach little eyes to read, little hearts to express, little ears to hear. What do we want little ears to hear?” Pitch, Rhythmic, dynamic relationships, shaping of phrase, etc…

We teach students to listen in the first lesson.

Lesson #1-  (first lesson)

  • Listen for high/low sounds.
  • Up to the right, down to the left
  • Long/short sounds
  • Favorite game- Play a note, student closes eyes, open when they can’t hear the note anymore. (listening to the diminuendo of a note- teaches for future listening in phrases)
  • Loud/soft sounds
  • Fast (sfz)- louder sound Slow (rounder phrase)- softer sounds
  • Play 3 sounds, soft, medium, loud
  • Can say 3 syllables like growing loud or fade away
  • Emphasize in lessons that making sound and listening to sound is very important.

4 gestures-

  1. A pianist favorite letter is a capital U- arm weight goes down in the key, the sound is created on the way up.
  2. 2-note slur (drop-lift)- Stay long in the bottom of the key that matches the diminuendo sound on the lift.
  3. Rotations- rock the hands to play the skips. Different rotations between different fingers. Rock the hand then fade away. (2 and 4, 3 and 5)
  4. Scratch on a key (staccato’s). Pull on fingertip to create a quick sound.

It all goes back to the ear, listening. The arm and hand, sound is guided by careful listening. Listening for crescendo and diminuendo are very important.

Matching sounds- an important part of our vocabulary. Good for a warm up drill.

TERRAC- Each lesson plan should have the following elements:


E– Expression

R– Reading

R– Rhythm

A– Aural awareness

C– Creativity


“This is the sound of middle C”

When Marvin teaches a student, from the beginning he wants to teach them how to listen and really train their ears. One of the ways he does this is he teaches them the most “famous” note on the piano- middle C. He tells them to find where middle C lives in their throat. And has them touch their throat and sing, “this is the sound of middle C” in pitch. Throughout their lesson, he will randomly call out “middle C” and they are to sing, “This is the sound of middle C” in pitch. Eventually, the pitch is so engrained that they can’t miss it!

Always have a dynamic plan. For example, when student play a Major 5 finger pattern, at the end 1 5 1 fades away.

It’s possible to sensitize ears at the lesson just as it is to desensitize.

Another exercise- RH play 8th notes/ LH play quarters visa versa. Good drill that helps for future pieces. Can add a bunch of different dynamic plans with it.

In order to find out the whole picture of a key, students learn a major key study. From a 5 finger pattern in RH, 6th degree added with left hand – whole step, 7th half step below.

Other quick tips from Marvin to remember…

The last note of the phrase is the quietest. (The majority of the time)

1 6 4 chords- harmonically, they are important.

Before student plays a playback, they sing it. Then they play.

Do Question and Answer phrases.

Every lesson should start, middle and end with listening.

Sight-sing- moving notation on a board, have students create a pattern, sing then play. Can then play the note and have them do the notation. (Melodic dictation) This feeds into early reading experience.

Head, ear, cheek- Touching those different areas, students sing the words in different tones according to where they are.

Certain tones clue students into marching (low sounds or clapping (high sounds) Ear is telling the body what to do.

Students creating/making up pieces are invaluable. You will be unsuccessful in just telling them to go home and make up something. You need to limit severally in what they use. Ie: only black keys going down to the left. Every piece must have a title. Teacher can give it or student can sometime make it up. Emphasizes the sound the title expresses.

Kids have a lot inside them that needs expression through sound.Provides ownership.

How to get your students to listen to music? In repertoire class, assign different elements to listen to. Thomas listen to articulation, Bethany listen for the B section, Jonathan dynamics, etc…

Every piano lesson should be more of a listening lesson.

After I learned from Marvin Blickenstaff I returned to the RMM track…



This session was divided into 2-parts presented by Courtney Crappell and Mario Ajero


I first saw Courtney at a masterclass at NCKP this last summer. He was wonderful so I was looking forward to this presentation and learning from him. In his presentation, we were able to see first-hand how to engage students in a group lesson environment. He began with a teaching demonstration.

In this demonstration he had 4 “students” (teachers playing as students) line up in a line and follow him behind the piano. He tapped the rhythm “cheeseburger” on the piano and showed them how to tap the rhythm on the piano as well. Once he felt they had the rhythm down, Courtney went to the piano and started to play the piece while the students continued to clap the rhythm on the piano.

Afterwards, it was time for some score exploration.

Courtney had the students sit on the floor by a partner while he passed out their scores and paper pianos. The first group tracked the score by clapping and naming the chords. Then the next group “played” the chords on the paper piano. Courtney would then have them find a chord and then have them check their partner to make sure they have it.

Now it was time to practice the chord position shifts in rhythm. While they are still working with their partner, one plays the chord while one says the chord. Then they switch.

Courtney then takes a set of partners and has them try a pattern (mimic from the teacher) on the piano while the other partners are still on the floor reviewing the chord patterns. Once they go through this activity, Courtney has them shift partner. Someone new from the original group is coaching someone new from the other partner. Once they go through each rotation (different partners), they all go to the piano. 1 person is the rhythm, 1 person the chord, 1 person the scale pattern, another person is the bass groove. Then they all rotate one over.


  • Students as percussionists
  • Easy way to practice rhythm
  • Practice occurs during aural modeling
  • Removes distraction from keyboard
  • Practice away from keyboards (can use paper or wood pianos)
  • Creates movement around room
  • Games are fun (socialization and challenge foster motivation)
  • Broke into multiple small groups- peer interaction and peer teaching
  • Assess your group so you know strengths and weaknesses, plan in advance so right students are paired together.

Avoid butterfly effect (teacher jumping from one student to the other trying to teach mini-private lessons within a group)

  • Plan carefully
  • Prepare sound first
  • Practice away from and at, keyboards
  • Play: multiple activities

Ensemble arrangement ideas:

  • Single line bass note
  • LH 5ths
  • RH improvisation (keep it simple)
  • RH patterns

Working with multiple levels of difficulty:

  • Single line bass note
  • LH 5ths
  • HT Keyboard Style
  • HT Comping


Part 2-

In part 2, Mario shared technological tools to address students of different skill levels

  • Apps with enhanced chord charts or lead sheets
  • Yamaha chord tracker- creates chord sheet from any song in your iTunes library
  • Yamaha Smart Pianist- similar to chord tracker but has the full chord notation. Has an auto-accompaniment style you can use. Can simplify if needed. Connecting to the digital piano for the streaming lights to work is only for the newest version of CSP versions of Clavinova.
  • Social Media Platforms for Performance
  • Facebook and YouTube
  • Closed FB groups to deliver and share content/videos with each other.
  • Uses Classroom Maestro and Screenflow
  • YouTube.com/mariocast- How to create piano lessons videos


Continue on to Part 2 of Pedagogy Saturday 

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