Blog Music Lesson Piano Sheet Music For Beginners

10 Secrets How To Make Simplified Sheet Music For Kids

Part 3 of 3 on Finding Music For Teaching Kids

See Part 1: The Top 11 Sites for Public Domain Free Sheet Music

See Part 2: Where To Find Easy Sheet Music Arrangements

I have always felt comfortable rearranging sheet music and stripping out elements that are not completely necessary to get the song across. As a composer/arranger, I have a comfort level that not every music teacher has, but I want to show you that it is not as hard as you think.


You can use these to simplify any piece of music. Whether you are writing out the notation by hand or using a software package, the same rules will apply. These guidelines are from my point of view in teaching children. Many of these can apply to teens and adults as well.

1. For piano, strip out octaves in the left hand. Most young children cannot stretch an octave!

2. Consider shifting the key of the song. Many songs are written in keys that are scary to read but when shifted, become rather simple. For example, a piano song like Ray Charles’ Hit The Road Jack was originally in Bb minor because of the horn section. But it is much easier to read in A minor. On guitar, the capo makes transposition so easy!

3. For piano, consider block chords in the left hand and a single note melody in the right hand. Many pop song arrangements divide the voicings of chords between left and right hands. This is pretty difficult for young learners.

4. Simplify the rhythm. I think rhythm is probably the biggest opportunity to simplify a song. You can see some pop songs where the singer is obviously adding inflections and improvisations that are then notated exactly in the melody line. This makes for a very complex rhythm notation! And it’s completely unnecessary. It’s similar to notating jazz with dotted eighth and sixteenth notes – it makes it overly difficult to read. Just indicate swing eighths!

5. Limit the range. My students want to sing and play along to many of the songs they want to learn. But because the range is so wide, it makes it impossible. You can judiciously choose alternate notes for the high notes or see if you can shift the whole key to better accommodate your student. Guitarists really have it made with the use of a capo! For some of my students who have digital pianos/keyboards, I will often suggest a transposition using the electronics of the keyboard. This enables them to play the song in the way they have learned it but then be able to reach the vocal notes.

6. Change the meter. Many pieces of music are written with speed inherent in their choice of meter. The use of sixteenth notes can be intimidating to a beginning music student. By changing this to an eighth note, it somehow makes it easier. For younger students, I’ve made eighth notes into quarter notes.

7. Format the page with natural breaks. If you have a song with 4 measure phrases, try to keep that all on one line. You can also help students understand structure by paginating the piece so that each page contains a full section: A A B A, etc.

8. Use a larger staff and note-heads. I use gigantic staves for my preschool students learning to read music. An 8 measure song can be on two full letter-sized pages. As my students get older and able to read more, the sizing diminishes.

9. Use English rather than Italian. For tempos and dynamics, you can decide where and when to introduce these terms. But if you’re creating your own arrangement, you can decide to use more naturalistic language like, “getting faster” or “getting quieter.”

10. Use notation software on a computer or tablet to make it easier to reuse and edit for corrections. It will also look cleaner and more legible unless you have beautiful hand notation skills! There are many modern notation software systems that range from super easy to complex but powerful. I will be writing a separate article on this in the near future.

I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to forward and share this article with your colleagues.


Music Lesson Piano Lesson Piano Sheet Music For Beginners

Where To Find Easy Sheet Music Arrangements

Part 2 of 3 In A Series on Finding Sheet Music For Students

Part 1 – Top 11 Sites For Public Domain Free Sheet Music

“Can’t we play this song by Taylor Swift?”
“Well that’s a bit too hard right now.”
“But I LOVE her!”

Song Requests

I get requests for pop songs, Broadway shows, cartoon themes, film scores, and video game music almost on a weekly basis. Whatever is “hot,” I will surely hear about in a matter of weeks. I find out about a lot of new music through my students these days.

How to Handle Requests Like These?

I always honor song requests. It may be a huge reason why I retain most of  my students 4, 5, 6 years and more. I have found that matching the content of the lessons with student interest is the best way to ensure continued enthusiasm for music lessons. There’s never a big fight to practice when the student is self-motivated to learn their favorite song! I usually begin by searching for easy arrangements.

Finding Easy Arrangements

I search online for song arrangements that are in the easy category as they usually have been thought through from a beginner’s standpoint, but even then, sometimes they are just out of reach conceptually and technically for your passionate student.

Where To Buy Sheet Music?

You can buy sheet music online at several places. This is especially good when you have to find new music that is still on the charts.

Older Collections of Sheet Music

There’s always better value for money if you buy a song folio or collection of songs. There’s some great ones that cover the 1980s or Modern Broadway Show Hits or the greatest hits of…Taylor Swift.

  • Amazon
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Your local library – I am a huge fan of libraries in general and my local Brooklyn Public Library has a massive collection of scores that seems to be the best kept secret.
  • Your library network – did you know you can request books including sheet music from many area libraries?
  • Your alma mater library – depending on your college or University and your alumni (donation) status, you may have access to a treasure chest of goodies!

Free Sheet Music at Public Domain Libraries

There are many places to look for music in the public domain. This is going to be anything that is about one hundred years or older. My last post was about finding free sheet music.

Good Arrangers For Beginners

In my search, I’ve discovered a few arrangers better than others at simplifying piano songs for my students. There are several easy piano arrangements by Dan Coates, which work really well.  Nancy and Randall Faber (of Piano Adventures fame) have a bunch of great Funtime books as well as Popular Repertoire in their graded system. These are usually spot on.

Using Guitar Tabs

Many times, you can find chords to songs quicker and easier using “tab” sites. These are websites that offer chords and lyrics of popular songs, usually submitted by the users, and some offer tablature notation. Because the content is user generated, it is usually not 100% accurate. E-chords seems to have a consistently high level of quality. The chords and lyrics can be used for piano too.

Ukulele Sites

I have found that a few ukulele sites are surprisingly well done.  And you don’t have to just use it for ukulele. The chords are usable on other instruments like piano or guitar.

What if the Easy Arrangement is Still Too Hard?

If I can’t find the perfect arrangement for my student, I will usually purchase the easy arrangement and begin making modifications. If I can’t find one at all, I may just start transcribing my own notation (a lot of work!) or use guitar tabs or ukulele tabs as a starting point.


In my next post, I will give you 9 Simple Rules for Simplifying Music Arrangements.


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.

Music Lesson Resources Teaching Methods

Teaching Kids How To Read Music Using Solfège, Hand Signs & Kinesthetic Learning

Teaching young kids to read music is quite a challenge.  I approach through a long process of micro-steps.  It’s the reverse of peeling an onion.  It’s a layering technique of building up from tiny kernels of understanding, expanding outwards.

The first lessons are always performance focused – get them excited about playing a song!  It’s fun and within reach to play a song in 5 minutes!  That is so awesome! Then over the course of many lessons, we explore basic concepts of music theory through a series of games.

[button link=””]Get Solfege Curwen Signs Cards[/button]

One of these “games” is learning solfeggio (Italian pronunciation), also known as solfège (French pronunciation).  This is the system of pitches with words that was created in the eleventh century by a Benedictine monk, Guido de Arezzo.

To make it easier, I always look for ways to engage other learning modalities besides visual or aural.  In this case, an Englishman by the name of John Curwen did this work in the 1800s by creating a system of hand signs to go with the solfège system.   This engages the brain to have another way of remembering these pitches.  Kids love it and it certainly is fun! Another great educator (and composer) the Hungarian Zoltan Kodàly took these hand signs and made it easier by associating a height with each sign to correlate the rising of the pitch with each syllable. In my lessons, I teach my students using 2 hands to make it even easier as it balances both left brain and right brain.  Plus it’s easier and more fun!  Did I mention that fun is important? I created a printout for my students that features…them(!) – to help remember these.

[button link=””]Get Rhythm Fruit Cards[/button]
Solfege-Curwen-Kodaly poster with kidsHopefully we’ll all be singing and signing at our next recital. Here’s a video from another teacher (who also produces wonderful educational tools which I use and heartily recommend.)   After internalizing these pitches and then connecting them with notes on the staff, reading music becomes connected with the aural, visual and kinesthetic.  It has become much easier to move into any standard method book after a few weeks of this.

Blog Music Lesson Teaching Methods

Glenn Gould’s Finger Tapping Exercise for Piano Technique

Many of you are struggling with playing cleanly and smoothly. This simple technique can help you to relax your fingers to pay more fluidly. Developed by Glenn Gould’s mentor and longtime teacher Chilean pianist Alberto Guerrero, it aims to retain a relaxed muscle memory. You can learn more about this in the wonderful documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould.

About The Method Blog Lesson Plan Ideas Music Lesson Teaching Methods Video

How To Read Music: Rhythm using Stick Notation

When teaching to read traditional music notation, We highly recommend separating the elements.  Pitch can be taught separately from rhythm.   By teaching rhythm using stick notation, our students can focus on a single element without overwhelm.

Rhythm Using Stick Notation

Stick notation is taking traditional notes and removing the note-head.

The note-head is the round dot at the bottom of the stick.  The dot is placed on the 5 lines of the staff and depending on where it is, tells us which pitch to play.  By removing the note-head, we focus only on the rhythm.

Add Other Learning Modes

The use of hand movements, words and sounds enable us to get the music in our body, mind, eye and ear.  Multiple modes of experience!

Use Fruits?

By using fun fruit names like Lime, Mango, Pineapple and Huckleberry, we can learn to count rhythms with ease – and taste!  Delicious!

Free Printable:  Rhythm Using Stick Notation

(No longer available)

Scroll down to order casino quality printed ones.

The finger signs add another mode of learning to accommodate more learning styles:  aural, visual, kinesthetic.  Next we’ll have a party with limes and mangos to eat along with our rhythms!

A Video Of Students Using Fruit Names, Rhythm in Stick Notation and Hand Signs

Here’s a video I made with the help of 5 year old students Ella and Govind.

Note, I adapted some of these ideas the book Music Mind Games.

[product sku="rhythmfruitcards"]



Blog Music Lesson Teaching Methods

Free Piano Checklist for Beginners

Many of my students have been forgetting some of the basics around technique.  Here’s a handy chart that you can post by the piano or on the first page of your music notebook.  Probably the most important one I’m finding is sitting the proper distance away from the piano.  Many kids like to sit almost with their bellies touching the piano.  This makes it so much harder for their fingers to be in the right shape to play well.   You should be sitting so that your forearms are about level with the floor, elbows bent and shoulders not hunched or lifted.

Curling the fingers can take some time to remember for the youngest students.  I usually tolerate the flat-fingers for a while until they get a few pieces memorized.

You can download this piano checklist as PDF to print out.

Hope this helps.

Enjoy, make music and have fun!


Blog Lesson Plan Ideas Music Lesson Resources Teaching Methods

How To Teach Rhythm to Beginning Music Students

I’ve been teaching how to count rhythm to most of my students using a fun fruity way* of naming note values with easy and fun to say words.

(*Adapted from Music Mind Games)

Fruity Words For Rhythm

  • For example, one beat (quarter note) is called LIME.
  • Two eighth notes are called  MANGO.
  • An eighth note triplet, where the three notes are played in one beat is PINEAPPLE.
  • And four sixteenth notes is HUCKLEBERRY.
This is so much more fun and easier to remember that when I was in school learning, “one -eee- and – ah.”
Practice counting the beats of any song you already know and other new ones as well.  It becomes a much easier task to learn a new piece if you have internalized the rhythm already and can then focus on the pitches and fingering.
This past week, I did just that by having several of my students learn “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” by first counting out the song in this fruity fun way.
Then, by teaching distinct hand signals for each, it adds another level of kinesthetic learning. I played the melody while the student counted out the piece.
The hand sign for 2 eighth notes, also known as Mango
After 3 or 4 times, the melody and rhythm are so ingrained, that playing it on the instrument becomes just a minor technical matter.  It’s already in the body, brain and ear!  The results?  Everyone learned much, much faster and without the stumbling and frustration.

A book I recently read describes the importance of communication using multiples levels of engagement.  Made To Stick, by brothers Chip & Dan Heath, is a NY Times Bestseller and popular among business and marketing types, but is equally usable by teachers and parents.  Anyone, looking to make their ideas “stick” can benefit.  So one of the main principles of the book is the concept of CONCRETIZATION.  By making abstract concepts concrete, giving a physical nature to the abstract, it makes it easier to grasp.  So by adding hand signs to the funny words for each note, we add another layer of concretization.  By saying it aloud, making the hand gesture and using the Rhythm Fruit Cards words and hand signs,  we are creating a unique kinesthetic experience of what was just quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes and whole notes.
And besides, how much more fun is it to say HUCKLEBERRY, GOOSEBERRY, MANGO LIME?
I have a full set of proven tools to help you teach music in a far more effective and fun way.
You can learn more here and download free video training here.