Spring Piano Recital: Why?

Each year, about this time, music teachers around the world prepare their students for recital and Shelly Davis Piano Studio is no exception.  The question is WHY?

I can’t speak for other teachers but I’ll use this post to explain why I think a formal spring recital is important along with more details about the way my studio reBraithwaite Recital Hallcitals are conducted.

First the why: I believe one of the best reasons for a recital is simply the enjoyment of music.  We often listen to music passively while driving in the car or working on other projects, so to set aside an hour to give our undivided attention to music is a gift, not only for the student, but also for each audience member.

In addition to celebrating the beauty of music, a formal spring recital is just that – formal.  It provides an opportunity to reinforce all the manners parents want their children to learn and practice as civilized human beings.

  • Sit still and quiet while others are performing.
  • Give your full attention.
  • Encourage the efforts of others.
  • Applaud their efforts.
  • Say ‘thank you’ with a bow when the audience compliments you with applause.
  • Put away the cell phone for a while.

One final ‘why’ is for the student.  Preparing for a recital increases their attention to detail.  They work harder to master their piece to be able to perform it as accurately and musically as possible. Students often experience butterflies in their stomach leading up to a public performance.  I believe this is healthy and that it’s good for them to learn how to deal with that feeling of being nervous in this smaller, supportive environment.  They will find themselves in many similar situations as they grow up and I am happy to give them tools to not only manage their anxiety but to overcome it and use that heightened awareness to help them succeed.

Where and when is the recital? The recital is held in the University of Texas at Tyler’s Braithwaite Recital Hall with their lovely Steinway grand piano. SDPS annual spring recitals are conducted on the first Monday and Tuesday of May.  The 2016 recitals will be May 2 and May 3 starting at 7:00 pm. With each student performing one piece, we start with the youngest beginning students and progress up to the more advanced students.  (Younger performers are welcome to sit with parents after their performance.) I do encourage students to memorize their recital piece but memory is not required. At the conclusion of the recital, a short awards presentation will take place.  Students will be recognized for their achievement in various piano activities throughout the year.  The whole event will be concluded by 8:30 pm.

Who can come to the Spring Recital? Anyone! SDPS uses the beautiful Braithwaite Recital Hall (pictured above) on the campus of UT Tyler.  The hall seats 161 persons so there is plenty of room to invite friends and family.  The more people students have in their fan club, the more secure they will feel on the stage.

What should my child wear to the recital? Please, parents and students, dress in your “Sunday Best”.  A formal recital deserves more formal, dressy attire.  A word of caution, however, the wood floor of the recital hall is a little slippery.  Students should wear sensible shoes and they should practice once or twice wearing whatever they will wear at the recital.  Higher heels or a suit coat could cause unnecessary restrictions of movement at the piano.

How can I help my child be successful at the Spring Recital? Parents, you are your child’s biggest cheerleader. Tell them how much you enjoy hearing them play.  Tell them what your favorite part is in their recital piece. Skype or Facetime Grandma and Grandpa – they are excellent sources of encouragement! Create a mini home concert where your student dresses in their recital clothes and performs their piece, including a bow before and after they play. Record them performing their piece; the awareness of a recording simulates the same jitters as the actual recital.

While the spring piano recital is, I’m sure, only one of many events your student has on their calendar, I hope you will agree that is an important one.  I’m looking forward to celebrating your student and their beautiful music at the upcoming recital!




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Piano POP Concert: This ain’t your grandmother’s piano recital!

What do you get when you combine piano students with popular music, drums, bass, guitar, and a local BBQ joint?  A fun night of music making and loads of great memories!!

The Idea

I first saw the idea of a pop piano recital/concert on Facebook.  Kristin Yost with Centre for Musical Minds and Stephen Hughes with Musical Accents have done these concerts in their studios several times.  They were both very gracious to answer my questions and offer suggestions for hosting my own concert.  Once I mooched information from them I was ready to add my ideas and put the plan into action.  Lesson learned: dream big and don’t be afraid to fail.  According to my son’s poker strategy – you just might win!

The Venue

There is a local barbecue restaurant in my area that has a stage and a dance floor and hosts lots of local bands on Friday nights.  My husband and I enjoy going there fairly often and I thought it would be a perfect place for my pop concert.  I met one of the owners when we were eating there, handed her my business card and asked her about sending a formal proposal for the pop concert.  She seemed slightly interested although a bit confused about having piano students play on her stage.  Once she got the proposal, however, she was completely on board with the idea and not only allowed us to use their restaurant and their stage but she allowed us to use their sound equipment and provided a sound man to run it.  Lesson learned: don’t let someone’s first reaction deflate your goal. Give them a chance to warm up to the idea.

This restaurant doesn’t have a piano so I contacted Mundt Music in Tyler and asked about securing a digital piano for the evening. They were very supportive and helpful and I was proud to do a little advertising for them at the concert and now in this blog.  Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to ask outsiders for help.  They just might be as excited about the project as you are.

The Band

Next, I needed to secure other musicians to play.  The guitar player was easy; my husband, who is very supportive of my studio and plays guitar (and other instruments) very well.  The bass player and drummer I first contacted play at a local Opry every Saturday night.  They are very accustomed to supporting amateur performers and helping them play their best.  I was all set!…. until the bass player backed out on me two weeks before the show!  Fortunately, through the magic of Facebook,  I was able to hire another bass player who, in my opinion, was an even better fit than the first guy.  Lesson learned: be willing and prepared to be flexible.  Plan A might not be the plan that gets put in to action and Plan B might be better than you realized. (side note about flexibility – my drummer was very late arriving.  I was afraid we were going to have to do the show without him.  He did arrive, finally.  I did not lose my cool, publicly.  The show went off without any other glitches.  The students were none the wiser.)

The Music

Since this was a new venture, I allowed my students to select their own music.  (In the future I want to use a theme like “Classic Rock” or “Music from the Movies” and allow students to choose pieces from a list I provide.) I did guide them to think of songs the audience would enjoy and would have larger appeal.  Some students already had pop books and pieces ready to play.  Some students enjoyed working up songs using YouTube tutorials.  Many students downloaded lead sheets from Musicnotes.com.  What a great opportunity to incorporate music theory and improvisation in a practical way!

I included beginning students too.  They learned the melody line split between their hands and I played the harmony with them.  This gave them confidence to get up on stage since they wouldn’t be alone at the piano and I was able to count or whisper instructions to them as we went.  Did you know you can play YMCA in the key of G-flat with the melody on mostly black keys?  My young daughter did it (with a few minor grumblings from the band members because of the crazy key) and brought the house down.  Lesson learned: get your eyes off the score and enjoy the music. We adapted and edited and learned to play the pop songs in conventional as well as very unconventional ways but we made music.

The Process

As I mentioned above, we gathered music from any resource possible.  Once a song was chosen, the student and I engaged in a wonderful conversation about what the audience would enjoy when they heard it.  Students learned that some songs sound better on guitar or with vocals but don’t translate so well into piano solo.  Just because a song has four verses doesn’t mean we need to play each and every one at our concert. Maybe we should edit out the second bridge after the third chorus.  Will the audience recognize this new techno song or should we choose something that your parents or grandparents have likely heard on the radio?

How can we communicate the song structure to the band members?  We discussed concepts such as length of the introduction (and who will play the introduction? Drummer count off? Guitar intro? Piano intro? Start cold??), how many verses and choruses to play, key changes, tempo changes, how to stop. (Stopping a song can be tricky business when you’re playing with other musicians.)  Once we set the song structure, students helped me construct chord charts for the other musicians that outlined their piece on a single sheet of paper.  I also included notes for the band about the confidence level of each student so they would know to be on guard about tempo, nerves, and such.  In addition to emailing charts, I also created a YouTube playlist of all the songs, in the order they would be performed and sent it to the band.

A valuable resource for rehearsing with the students was an app called AnyTune Pro.  We downloaded their song (from the artist they were covering) from iTunes and imported the song into the app.  With the app we were able to adjust the key to match their music and slow it down to a comfortable practice tempo and gradually build up to performance tempo.  They learned to process the music faster and keep going if they made a mistake; the app wouldn’t wait for them and the band at the concert wouldn’t be waiting either.

A week before the concert, students were invited for a quick rehearsal at my studio with the other musicians.  This was particularly valuable for the professionals to meet the students and get a better idea of how they were going to perform the song.  Not every student was available for this rehearsal but it was a great help to those that came.

Lesson learned: consider your audience and what they will enjoy, consider the other musicians and how you can help them know your plan to playing a song, consider your students and help them to be fully prepared so they will play with more confidence and have more fun.

The Big Night

I designed the music around two sets of about 45 minutes.  One set would start at 7:00 pm and the other at 8:00 pm with a 15 minute break inbetween.  I informed my students which set they were performing in and had them make reservations with the restaurant accordingly.

The band and I opened and closed each set; I figured this would help put the students at ease so they wouldn’t have to go first. Plus, I wanted to join the fun!!  We opened the first set with Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and closed with Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”.  The second set opened with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and closed with “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night.  I invited the audience to sing along and they did, with gusto!

I had considered hiring a piano dad to emcee for me but ended up emceeing myself.  Since I knew the kids and how they had prepared for this night, I think I was, again, able to put them at ease while giving the audience a little background tidbits about each student.  There were also printed programs to help students know when to perform. I like to keep programs as souvenirs and figured other moms enjoy that too.  For fun, I placed an open area on the back of the program for autographs.

The overall atmosphere couldn’t have been better.  The audience was filled with friends and family who were there to cheer their performer on.  They attend other events too, of course, but in this case they were free to whoop and holler, whistle and applaud; things generally frowned upon at formal recitals.  Even other guests at the restaurant, not associated with my students, were there to enjoy live music and were pleased to encourage such young musicians. Lesson learned: once all the work is done, don’t forget to breathe and have a good time!

The Money

I did charge my students a nominal fee to participate in the concert to help cover costs.  Notice I said ‘help’, it didn’t cover all the expenses.  I’m sure other teachers might be able to think of a way to not only cover costs but also make a profit from this venture by selling tickets to the concert or ads in the program.  My mind isn’t automatically wired that way so I chalked up the experience as a great one for my students and any additional expense as business related.  Here are some of the costs I incurred for this event:

  • Guitar Player
  • Bass Player
  • Drummer
  • Meals for musicians and their families
  • Programs
  • Photographer/Videographer (more on that in the next paragraph)
  • Pro version of AnyTune app
  • Music from books or musicnotes.com

Lesson learned: some things aren’t about making money; they are about making memories.

One last thing…

I knew I would be too distracted to take pictures so I hired a photographer and her husband videographer for the evening.  They were able to capture some beautiful moments that I will treasure always.  Enjoy!

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Thank you TylerPaper.com!!!

I’m very grateful to Richard Hall with the Tyler Newspaper for doing such a special feature about our area piano students.  There is too much bad news in the world; thank you for sharing some great news!


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10 SDPS students participated in the 2014 TMTA Convention

Enjoy this short video of East Texas Music Teachers Association students preparing for the TMTA Convention in Houston, June 2014.

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February – Rhythm of the Heart

All this year, my students have been earning beads to add to their collection on a string which is kept on display in my studio.  Students will take the string of beads home at the end of the school year.  These strings are becoming a type of history for each student, documenting their progress throughout the year.

Students receive 1-5 ‘regular’ beads each week based on their preparation for the lesson; in addition to those beads, I’ve offered various incentives to earn special beads.  For example, in the fall they earned one football bead for every 100 minutes of practice. We also did a big Christmas challenge where they earned golden beads.  (I’ll have to share more about that in another post.)


beads Oct 6

For the month of February, we are working to earn heart shaped beads. ♥♥♥  Each week, students will spend about 5 minutes of their lesson playing the Piano Maestro app on my studio iPad.  If you aren’t familiar with Piano Maestro, you can learn more about it on their website at JoyTunes.  This app challenges students with both sight reading as well as rhythm.  Get it?  Rhythm… Heart beat….Valentine’s Day… 🙂

Students are able to create their own account and advance through the game at their own pace and their own level.  Intermediate students are able to skip ahead a few chapters if they pass the advancement challenge.  Each time they are promoted to a new rank, they add a heart bead to their collection of beads on a string.

Here are some things I like about the app itself:

1.  The initial app is free so my students who own iPads can download the app and use it at home.

2.  As a teacher, I was able to purchase a studio subscription.  This allows me to email each student a link to their personal account and they can continue to advance (aka practice) at home!

3.  The app is not stagnant, in fact, the developers are adding content regularly.  The newest popular tunes are available for even beginning students to play along.

Here are some things I’ve noticed with my students:

1.  No matter how many times I ask them to count while they play, they rarely do it with as much interest as when they are playing this game.  After they miss a few notes and don’t get the score they want, they realize that keeping the pulse of the beat is the key to playing the notes on time.

2. Because the music is active, students quickly learn that a flexible wrist will help propel them to the next note.  This is a challenging concept to describe to young students but they seem to pick it up easily out of necessity while playing Piano Maestro.  It occurred to me that they often do not realize the need for a flexible wrist when playing alone because their music isn’t yet ‘active’; each note tends to be separate from the others.

3. Eager to get a jump on the next rhythm, students are learning to keep their eyes moving forward.  They don’t focus too long on the current note because they will get behind.  They learn that they must look ahead to be prepared for what’s next.

4.  They don’t want to stop!  Students are eager to try a new song or to beat their previous score.  All the while, they are practicing and honing their piano skills.  Yes!

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Music Making!

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Doghouses and Garages

To teach my beginner students the location of the piano keys (keyboard geography), I like to use dog houses and garages. I tell them that 2 black keys are a doghouse (Dog starts with the letter “D” and lives in the doghouse) and 3 black keys are a garage (The word garage starts with “GA” for the two white keys in the middle of the garage on the piano where we park our cars).

A student’s grandmother found a set of six dog figurines at a local hobby shop. I found the Disney Cars in a set of Squinkies Toys.

Depending on the student, this information could be covered all in one lesson or broken down between two lessons with all piano keys reviewed together in the third lesson. One of the favorite games for my students to play after they’ve learned their keyboard geography is what they’ve entitled the “Puppy Dog Game”. We each choose a marker (a dog or a car) and place them at the highest key of the piano. Then, using Alphabet cards, we take turns and race down the piano keys to the lowest key. Whoever gets there first is the winner! Somehow my students always manage to win the game (but I know they are truly winning because they have a firm understanding of the placement of the piano keys).



I really like the fact that we are going backwards down the keyboard to try to avoid having students use the alphabet as a crutch. They learn to jump immediately to the key based on its geography rather than reciting the letters in order.

Since students still enjoy playing this game even after they know the keys, I’ve adapted the game to find intervals. Instead of alphabet cards, we simply roll a die. They learn very quickly that if they roll a 1, they have to stay on the same key!

I hope this helps you introduce piano keys to your students. How would you adapt this game? What other ways would you use the dogs and cars to teach musical concepts?

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Joining the Blog Party


I’ve decided to join the Blog party.

I hope this will not fall by the wayside like so many other blogs (whose clever names were already taken!) or so many other well intentioned projects of my own.

Where to start?…

First, the name.  As I mentioned already, there were several clever names already taken.  Names like TheGreat88, PianoPlaying, and Musicscool.  I wanted something that would convey my view of my 22 year profession; piano is fun!  While I take my job very seriously, I also thoroughly enjoy every minute of it!  I love piano!!  It’s even my email address – shellylovespiano@yahoo.com.

In addition to love, my students and I also laugh and learn together.  They teach me as much as I hope to teach them; and we have a lot of fun.  We play fun songs, make up crazy lyrics to help figure out a challenging rhytym, and we even play games to solidify theory concepts (more on the game thing later).

While piano is very important to me, I also have a life outside of piano; and I know my students do too.  When you consider the small percentage of concert pianists there are in the world compared to the number of children and adults who begin piano lessons, you come to the realization that not every student will find themselves on the great stage of Carnegie Hall.  (Here is an interesting article on this same idea  “A Short Essay on the Life of a Pianist” by Graham Fitch)

So, I don’t teach with a concert goal in mind.  Children are very busy these days.  If I can help them find a balance between their crazy schedules, very often out of their control, and give them a break from the madness while teaching them a skill that could provide years of enjoyment and stress relief in their growing up and adult years, then my work is done.

Now, the motive.  Actually, I’ve already covered most of the motive in the name.  Live.  Laugh.  Love.

Maybe I should add Learn.  As I’ve browsed pages and pages of Pinterest pins looking for other piano teachers who share great teaching ideas, I find that the bulk of them have to do with kitschy games.  Now, when it comes to games, please save me a place at the beginning of the line – I’m a firm believer in the value of teaching a concept in a fun, meaningful way.  My caution, however, is that I maintain a balance between playing games about piano/music and actually playing the piano.

Therefore, my goal with this blog is to hold myself accountable to keep an eye on that balance.  Certainly I will share some of my students’ favorite games but I also hope to share a successful, progressive approach to help students learn to play a large variety of songs on the piano – a playlist that they are proud to share with friends and family; beyond simply passing songs in a method book or learning literature to pass an exam or audition.

And, I hope to learn from anyone who might be interested in sharing with me along the way.

Live.  Laugh.  Love.  Piano.

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