Lesson Plan Ideas Music Lesson Piano Lesson Teaching Methods

Why Is This Called The Icky Chord?

A funny piano lesson plan for kids

This story/idea came about when I noticed the fingering of the first inversion of the V7 chord.  In the key of G, this would be the D7 with the F sharp in the bass.

It looks like this on the staff:

Screenshot 2016-03-03 14.12.58

And the fingering looks like this:


I mentioned that it’s like you are picking up an icky tissue.  My students never laugh so hard!


So, it’s now become known as the icky chord.  Which is a lot easier to say than the V7 in the first inversion.

By the way, this can be used for any V7 chord in this inversion in any key.


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Technology For Music Teachers

Making Music With Computers and Apps

An Overview for Music Teachers

When people talk about creating music using a computer, it can mean a few different things: composing music or producing music, or both.  In this article, I’m going to give you an overview of the types of software used in creating music. There’s another category of software for editing sound and music, but I’ll leave that for another article.

The Two Mindsets of Music Creation Software

There are two mindsets of using software to help in the creation of music:

1) Producer mindset, in that you are capturing recorded music – a song or demo for perfecting or even as a final mix.  

2) Composer’s mindset, where you are capturing written notation – sketching out ideas on electronic score paper and then printing out sheet music to try out with live musicians.  

The two worlds have started to merge and collide with faster computers so pretty much all modern software can do both.  The difference is in their original design and can affect your workflow.

Composer’s Mindset

One has a composer’s mindset, starting with notes on a page, ideas written down, phrases manipulated by inversion, transposition, etc.  This is more like a word processor for a composer, getting the ideas down in written notation.  The software for this began as a way to quickly output easily affordable high quality sheet music. It is called music engraving or notation software and began in the 1980’s when personal computers started to arrive.  Before this, only major music publishers could afford to print sheet music using mechanical and plate engraving and then moving to lithographic printing presses.

As modern computers have begun to get faster with larger hard drives, some of these software packages are now able to record high quality scores using sampled instruments.  As a result you can easily start a composition, hear it back with samples and even output to a full high resolution mix. 
Today there are a few options in this camp.

Modern Engraving/Notation Software and Apps

  • Finale – It’s robust, deep, and professional, but expensive
  • Finale Notepad – I found this one fun, but limited
  • MuseScore – Windows only and open source so I haven’t tried it
  • Sibelius – It’s more user friendly than Finale (in my humble opinion) and similarly pricey, but it’s the one I use most 
  • Noteflight – This one is accessible online through your web browser!  It’s great and allows you to share compositions online and even host your entire studio.  I bought it for all my students.
  • PreSonus Notion – This looks super cool and is featured in an Apple commercial.  It will take some time for me to really learn this, but I do have it on my iPad now.

Producer’s Mindset

The other mindset is from the producer’s view, recording music without much thought about the written notation.  It’s all about capturing the sounds and editing and thinking along the lines of a music producer or even a movie director/editor.  It’s all happening “in the mix.”

Music Sequencing

Back in the day, 1980’s, there was music sequencing software, and it all began with Atari home computers.  Basically, it was a way of composing music by programming a sequence of notes and chords to play via electronic instruments that were connected via MIDI.  The music sequencer was a big part of early electronic music and all rap and hip/hop.  It was available as software computer programs and then dedicated sequencer machines.  

Early Atari home computer with a midi keyboard setup. Image from Wikipedia

Over time, the sequencer was able to not only control instruments, but also record digital audio along with the sequence of notes.  Today, the sequencer is now part of a full digital audio workstation (DAW) and these are both available as computer software programs you install as well as dedicated machines with sequencing and recording abilities built right in.

A peculiar thing I noticed was that so many of these software companies originate from a small area of Germany.  When I was a guest speaker at a film festival in Frankfurt, I asked my hosts: “why is all this software and why are all the great composers (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.) from Germany?” *See below for their answer.

Top DAWs on the market now

  • Logic Pro X (Apple) – It used to be called Emagic Logic and this is the one I use and love
  • Cubase (Steinberg) – I started on this in the 90s and it remains a leading DAW
  • MOTU Digital Performer – It is very popular and has great features, but I was already on LogicPro
  • GarageBand – This is free from Apple and it’s amazing that you can use it on an iPhone!
  • Reason – There are many fans of this, but I’m not a fan of the interface
  • Pro Tools – This one started as a sound editing package and now has sequencing
  • iMaschine 2 – My son has spent hours creating tracks on this iPhone app. It is amazing and only $6.

Fun fact:  I started college at NYU in 1983 and attended the first ever MIDI conference sponsored by Yamaha.  They were showing off a hot new item, the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer with full MIDI capabilities!

The groundbreaking Yamaha DX7

The modern DAW (digital audio workstation) even has the ability to notate sheet music. However, because of the mindset/paradigm of this software interface, it is not an ideal solution for creating sheet music.  It can be a great way to record high quality backing tracks for your students to practice along with at home or make recordings as part of your songwriting class.

As a teacher, I find it super powerful to be able to fire up Sibelius and write out a quick simplified notation for my students.  Sometimes, just removing a note from a chord or making a left hand part a single bass note instead of a chord enables the student to make it through and retain all the enthusiasm and excitement music should have!

How do you incorporate computers/apps into your music?
I hope this helps you understand the wide world of music software.  What tools are you using?  Do you have a favorite?  Any tricks to share?  Would you be interested in a video tutorial using one or a few of the above software? Please comment below.  

*They surmised that it could be the language.  German is so precise with so many ways to say very specific things – much more than other languages!  If language is the operating system of the mind, then maybe we should all learn German?



Inspiring Video of the 5 Browns Playing Star Wars

My students still love Star Wars.  It wasn’t just because of the new movie either.  For years, both boys and girls have been asking to learn either the Star Wars Theme or the Imperial March or both.

I’ve made simplified versions of both over the years which is part of a bonus library for my Teaching Fellows in the Musicolor Method training program.

But this video is what really gets my juices flowing – and my students!  Check out the 5 Browns (they’re all siblings!) play this incredible arrangement for 5 Steinway pianos.  My son got to see them at Carnegie Hall and what a show!

Lesson Plan Ideas Mindset Printables Resources

What Kind Of Smart Are Your Students?

Truly Scrumptious:  “Haven’t you noticed?  There aren’t any children. Not one.”

In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on a novel by Ian Fleming (with a script co-written by Roald Dahl), there is a land where children are banished.  They are evil and are meant to be shut away and captured by the Child Catcher – the subject of many a nightmare for me!

The Child Catcher from the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

It’s astounding to realize that developmental psychology and the modern practices of child-centered education are really only in their infancy.  It was only a little over 100 years ago that Dickens was writing of horrific conditions that faced children on an everyday basis.  There was little consciousness of the stages of human development and what was appropriate and possible for a child at each age.

Before educator/philosophers like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and others, children were effectively seen as miniature adults and expected to understand and behave as adults!

Well times have certainly changed, thank goodness.  Today we have many new theories and studies that have proven effective for parents and educators.

As a music teacher, your mission is to transfer your knowledge with sensitivity and to invoke passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm for beauty in music and life.  We, as educators, can better accomplish this by embracing and studying areas outside of just “technique and repertoire.”

In this article I want to give some insights on teaching using the framework of multiple intelligences.

Harvard University developmental psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983 and theorized that everyone has a preferred mode of learning..  When his book was first published, he had identified seven modes of learning, but there are now eight or nine depending on which research you follow.

Here is a list of Dr.Gardner’s multiple intelligences from one of the leading proponents of the theory, Dr. Thomas Armstrong, whose website can be visited here.

The Multiple Intelligences

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

As a music teacher, you can start to see what kind of preferred mode of learning your student has. Ideally, we all have music smart students!  But then again, these are all aspects of all of us.  We are all smart in multiple ways with some areas stronger than others.  Someone who is considered hyperactive and really unfocused may just be “body smart.” Or someone who consistently talks during the lesson may not be trying to be rude or disrespectful, but rather is “word smart” and needs to process by speaking about the lesson.

Here’s a visual chart that can help you get an overview of the multiple intelligences.

Download a PDF here.

Think about your students as you look at this chart. You’ll quickly recognize some of your students and how they fit into one or more of these intelligences.  Keep in mind that we all use each of these in some respects, but we tend to lean more towards one or two in our everyday lives. Knowing the preferred intelligences of your students can really help with your mission to spark the joy of learning and to transfer the skills necessary for learning to your students.

To better understand this, you can take this free multiple intelligences quiz to assess what kind of smart you are.

Number Smart Students

Years ago, when I was sitting in my son’s preschool classroom, I noticed how much structure there was.  They had charts for attendance, the daily routine, and going to the bathroom, etc.  My son loved this!  He would also love to take all the books off the shelf and put them back in order from smallest to largest.  This was endlessly fascinating to him because he loved organizing and sorting.  It became obvious to me that he was number smart.  For kids who are number smart, I have found the use of a practice chart and daily stickers or check marks to be highly effective.

Body Smart Students

I’ve had several students over the years who are obviously more body smart and they struggle to sit long enough to focus.  I end up taking away the piano bench so they can play standing up and they love the kinesthetic learning games we play, such as using Curwen hand signs and moving magnetic notes on my Grand Staff magnet board.

Word Smart Students

I have some students who have been word smart and they are so funny! Everything is discussion and conversation, but if you really listen and ask them questions, they are synthesizing all the facts and you will be amazed by how much they know! They just need to tell it to you. This can be a little hard when you are asking them to just play the piece because they need to tell you everything they noticed or felt or heard first!


While we can do these personalizations in a private lesson, a classroom situation is very different. The challenge of teaching multiple intelligences in the classroom is huge especially given the typical structure of a classroom. Children are grouped, not according to these preferred modes of learning, but by age. A single teacher needs to teach everyone in the same way without losing their minds!  For some teachers, they just give up on those “problem students” and send them to detention or expel them from their class,but those kids could be highly musical as well.

With some creativity (and energy), I’m hoping some of these teachers could see it in a new way.  A simple walk outside with the class to observe the sounds of nature or industrial sounds, perhaps having them use a handheld recorder or smartphone, could be a fascinating and educational activity that would satisfy some of the more body smart and nature smart students in the class.

Schools and Multiple Intelligence

Schools face the challenge of meeting the needs of as many students as possible, but this creates a situation where some students might fall through the cracks.  One of the most articulate and eloquent speakers on the subject of education and its challenges is Sir Ken Robinson. He has written several books on education and his TED Talk is one of the most viewed ever.

I discovered this excellent animation of one of his talks that discusses the problem of our school system, which generally only rewards students who are word smart or number smart.  Additionally, there has been an “epidemic” of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses in the United States.  Here’s a clip that starts at the section about ADHD. I would highly recommend watching the video by Sir Ken Robinson in its entirety if you have time.

I hope this discussion of multiple intelligences has piqued your interest in approaching your music students in a fresh new way.  I welcome your comments below.

We discuss learning styles in the Musicolor Method™ training course – Learn more.