Blog Piano Sheet Music For Beginners Resources

The Top 11 Sites for Public Domain Free Sheet Music

Part 1 of 3 in a Series on Finding Sheet Music for Students

Part 2 – Where To Find Easy Sheet Music Arrangements

As a music teacher, it sometimes feels like an endless struggle to find sheet music for your voracious roster of students! Obviously there are commercial online stores as well as the library, but there’s also an entire history of free written music available online. I’m talking about public domain music.

Public Domain Music

This is music where the copyright has expired. Bach? Beethoven? Mozart? These are all hundreds of years old and you can definitely find everything written by these composers online for free.

Modern Editions of Public Domain Music

You can find very nice editions of Bach’s inventions or Beethoven piano sonatas in every music store that are not copyright free as the publishers have added value by making editorial decisions to the work. It may not be note changes, but they may add tempo markings where there were none or dynamics, etc. For example, most music from the Baroque period was quite sparse in directional markings. Seeing a piece from the 1500’s by Palestrina with crescendos and other dynamics is most certainly the work of a modern editor. This can be useful or not. Does it add value? Or is it just an editor trying to impose his/her stylistic preferences?

Finding Free Sheet Music

Finding sheet music that is free and public domain can be tricky. Different countries have different laws regarding copyright especially in the length of term. If you are searching for something that is older than 100 years old, then you are generally safe to assume it’s copyright free. But I’m not your legal counsel. If you are using music for commercial use, you should definitely consult a lawyer. The music business is a lawyer’s playground!

In no particular order, here are 11 sites for public domain free sheet music:

  1. IMSLP
    The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), also known as the Petrucci Music Library after publisher Ottaviano Petrucci, is a subscription-based project for the creation of a virtual library of public domain music scores, based on the wiki principle.
  2. ChoralWiki
    CPDL was founded in December 1998, ported to ChoralWiki in August 2005, and incorporated in May 2010 as a U.S.A. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. Here you will find free choral/vocal scores, texts, translations, and other useful information.
  3. Musopen
    Musopen is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on increasing access to music by creating free resources and educational materials. They provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Their mission is to set music free.
  4. Mutopia Project
    2,010 pieces of music – free to download, modify, print, copy, distribute, perform, and record – all in the Public Domain or under Creative Commons licenses, in PDF, MIDI, and editable LilyPond file formats.
  5. Musicalion
    A subscription-based online library offering over 27,000 compositions, including both public-domain and self-published works. Over 11,000 of the compositions are available in MusicXML format. Compositions are available in a mix of PDF, MusicXML, MIDI, and original source formats.
  6. Sheet Music Online
    Online since 1995: Now in their 21st year recommending the best sounding arrangements in print!
  7. Sheet Music Fox
    Download hundreds of thousands of free public domain sheet music titles here.
  8. Free Scores
    We offer contemporary, classical, and educational free sheet music for all instruments. is a free and legal platform for composers, arrangers, and publishers. There may be restrictions on the use of the music so check that out on the license page.
  9. Public Domain Sherpa
    This page lists resources for free sheet music that’s either in the public domain or free for certain uses.
  10. University of Virginia Library
    This site lists many links to other great free libraries of sheet music.
  11. Indiana University
    Selected public domain opera and song literature scores, as well as some online sound recordings.

I hope you find these links useful. In a future post, I will explore where to find commercial sheet music, easy beginner arrangements, and how to simplify music yourself.



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.

Resources Technology For Music Teachers

Small Piano For Small Hands?

Martin Guitars At The Metropolitan Museum
Some of the Martin guitars through the ages at the Met Museum

As a music teacher, I’m also on the lookout for new ideas, technologies and techniques to help teach my students.  As a guitarist, my hands are rather small, and I love the fact that I can now buy high quality half and 3/4 sized guitars from makers like Martin, Taylor and others.  The sound quality is amazing and the action and finish on these guitars are wonderful.

Most children who study violin or other classical string instruments begin with tiny 1/4 sized instruments.  But one thing has always been missing, a quality piano experience with smaller sized keys.

I love visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where they have a whole room dedicated to musical instruments, mostly pianos and harpsichords through the centuries.  And you can see for yourself, the makers were experimenting with all different sizes and designs.



One of my students with a Baby Taylor guitar
One of my students with a Baby Taylor guitar

So I’m thrilled to have discovered that there is a movement to make high quality 7/8 sized keyboards for pianos.  The new (Sept/Oct 2015) issue of Clavier Companion does a great job explaining how we got stuck with this arbitrary standard sized keyboard.  Ah, blame it on old white guys from Europe!  (I’m kidding, but it’s true)

Well, the good news is that you can go to Steinbuhler’s website and either just order the action (the keys) for your grand or upright piano or a full on upright with this 7/8 keyboard made by the Walter Piano Company for about $10,000.

There is a movement to push for more acceptance of alternate sized keyboards.    You can get involved at this website.

A Walter Piano with a smaller size keyboard.

Where To Find Free Sheet Music Online – And Paid Too

It’s 2pm and you haven’t finished prepping for your afternoon music lessons!

Suddenly you realize you need to get that easy version of the classic Journey Song, “Don’t Stop Believin’.  You break out in cold sweats, your heart starts to palpitate as you envision yourself scrambling to transcribe and write out a hand-drawn lead sheet for your best student.

As you scribble furiously in your manuscript notebook, you remember someone saying that they found a beginners version of this song online.  You look at your watch, it’s now 2:14pm.  Darn!  Where to go?

Relax.  Take a cool drink of your iced tea, and fire up your web browser.  Here’s a great list of places to find most of what you need.  And if it’s not here, you can always go down to the library…remember that place, the big giant stacks of books with funny numbers on the spines…


Please note, some of my links contain an affiliate code for which I may earn a small commission from purchases made.

Public Domain Sheet Music

  1. IMSLP (
    This is called the Petrucci Music library. It boasts 96,398 works · 324,269 scores · 36,507 recordings · 12,988 composers · 338 performers as part of it categorized works.
  2. Choral Public Domain Library (
    This particular site focuses on choral freeware and has over 20,000 available scores.
  3. Mutopia (
    This site has mostly classicalcomposers but a few contemporary as well. There are over 1900 pieces of music now available to print or download from the site.
  4. Celtic Scores (
    The focus of this public domain site is for the preservation of celtic music. It includes over 300 selections for the bagpipe along with many other traditional pieces.
  5. Library Of Congress (
    This is the Library of Congress access to public domain music that they have in their records.
  6. Harvard Loeb Music Library (
    Scanned images of rare and unique musical scores from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  7. Art Song Central (
    Sheet music for singers and voice teachers. An emphasis is placed on standard classical and traditional repertoire. Scanned PDFs, also some MIDI and MP3 files available.

Paid Online Sheet Music

  1.  Online Sheet Music (
    We provide the music industry’s most extensive selection of fully licensed legal digital sheet music available online.
  2. Music Notes (
    I use these guys way too much.  Very convenient in a pinch.  Sheet Music and Guitar Tab Downloads for nearly 300,000 Arrangements.


Offline Music – Sheet Music Delivered By Post

Sometimes you really want to have the highest resolution sheet music in a book right on your stand.

  1. Sheet Music Plus (
    Over 1,000,000 sheet music titles — from beginner to professional, bestselling Pop music books to hard-to-find Classical editions.
  2. Music Room (
    A selection of sheet music, books about music, tuition books, music software, and musical instruments & accessories.
  3.  JW Pepper (
    A large selection from over 110,000 pieces of music for band, choir, orchestra, piano, voice and guitar.

What’s your favorite sources for sheet music?
Please comment below with your favorite places/websites/blogs for sheet music.  I’ll update this list as I hear from you.

Music Teacher Secrets Resources Technology For Music Teachers

Technology & Trends in Music Teaching

This is the second part of an interview with music teacher John Gardner.  John is also an avid technologist and able to be a virtual assistant with music arranging/composing and general office skills through his company Virtual Music Office.  You can see Part 1 here.


Technology for Teaching Music

Andrew: Do you use any technology or software in your day to day running?

John: Yeah, I like that question. I use Skype some when I’m doing the remote lessons. I use Finale notation software. Some students are working on something specific. There is a weakness that they have and I’ll write an exercise for them. I want you to do this or I’ll transpose something for them or for someone else. I use SmartMusic. Are you familiar with SmartMusic?

Andrew: The practice software?0f5129a

John: Yeah, it’s a practice software. We’re trying to get the school to let us put enough subscriptions in that we—see, our school has, every student has an iPad and we’re trying to get the school to put SmartMusic on all the iPads but that’s a subscription. They don’t want to pay for it but I use SmartMusic to, if they’re working on a solo, I can provide them the accompaniment to practice with. Sometimes when they come in to a lesson, I can’t do this with the remote people, but I can on the local level. I can use SmartMusic and we’ll play scales with accompaniment or we’ll practice. It’s got a site reading component where I say, okay, I want to find the difficulty level. I want to find where your brick wall is, then we’ll work from there. Scales and exercises, it’s got rhythm. I like SmartMusic a lot.

Andrew: How much is the subscription?

John: It’s about $40 a year.

Andrew: Oh, okay, not so bad.

John: No, it’s not.

Andrew: But the student has to also pay the same price or the teacher—

John: If they want to have it on their iPad to go home, take it home and do it at home, they have to buy a subscription. Actually, we buy an educator’s license at the school which I think is about $150 or thereabouts and then additional subscriptions. Right now, we have one educator license and four, what they’re calling practice licenses. We can put four copies on computers that we have there at the school, so I can send a student back to play something. One of the things that it will do is we can take a piece of their music that they’re practicing on, put it into Finale, Finale transfers to SmartMusic and then they can go back and practice with SmartMusic and SmartMusic will actually record them including marking for them what they missed.

Andrew: Wow, so you actually can hear what you’re—

John: Yeah, you put them, it comes with a microphone where you use the microphone on your iPad or your Macbook or computer and so if they’re practicing a scale or they’re practicing sight reading—green notes were good, red notes you missed. If you’re slightly off, it shows you that. It’s not 100% so not comfortable sometimes at school using it if I’m actually giving the students a grade because sometimes the software will make a mistake but it’s good for letting them practice and a lot of band music, they’ve got the actual band that compliment and so I can send the kid back there to work on their 2nd trumpet part with the band sound coming at them.

Andrew: And it doesn’t cost more to add arrangements or something?

John: No.

Andrew: Oh, wow.

John: No. That’s all part of what you get, so it’s a good tool for individual practice and I usually encourage my students to do it because then even the remote students, I can give them an assignment, they can record it with SmartMusic and they can send me the file.

Andrew: Wow. You know, I’ve heard about it but I just never explored it, so I’m very excited about that.

John: It’s a fun tool.

Andrew: Does it work with Sibelius as well because I’m on Sibelius.

John: I have not—My son is a music teacher and he loves Sibelius and I know the local university loves Sibelius. The other band director I teach with loves Sibelius. I guess my—you know, I use Finale more because it interacts with SmartMusic.

Andrew: And they don’t do that with the—

John: SmartMusic and Finale are part of the same family. So it’s like two products from the same company. I use it mostly for that. Sometimes I use some online theory programs if I’m working with somebody and I’ll have them go to and there’s exercises. The only downside is I can’t have them do an exercise where I know how they did it. It’s just the kind of thing where I can say go practice, listen to this interval or these intervals.
I use Google docs sometimes for collaboration, communication. I use Google sheet.

Andrew: That’s with the student?

John: Yeah, sometimes usually with the parent, like this morning right before you called, I’m at home working on a Google doc with the band director who’s over at the school, we’re compiling a list, so we’re both able to type on the same list at the same time. It’s good for that kind of thing but I also use it for surveys and homework. I can use the Google—it’s not Google sheets, I guess it’s Google forms that allows you to create questions, multiple choice, or paragraphing insert, and they do that and then I get their answers back, so I can get various kinds of homework or listen to this piece and I want you to critique it—What did you like? What did you not like? Even themselves, listen to this recording of you playing your solo with the accompaniment and judge yourself on your form and then I get copies of that.

Andrew: Do you actually embed the audio in that form?

John: You can. You can put it. Well, you can put a YouTube link in there. You can do that sort of thing. I do use YouTube for recording and playing back, letting them hear who they’ve done or in the case of marching band, we’ll actually video a rehearsal and let students see that. We use our iPads at school. A couple of years ago, I took the whole—for basketball season, I took all of your basketball music that was in three-ring binders and I scanned it and uploaded it, so they can download it onto their iPads, so when they go into a basketball game now, they just take their iPads and I just say #25 and they punch in 25 and it pulls up the piece of music.

Andrew: Are they actually mounted on a little music holder?

John: We don’t have the official iPad stands but the iPad, it’ll sit on the music stand. You just have to make sure you don’t kick it over but we haven’t lost any of them yet from that way. We thought we would. We thought that it would be risk especially at a ball game but we haven’t had a problem with that.

Andrew: What apps are on that iPad that are being used?

John: When I scan them, I usually just put them in a PDF format and then I post those. Our band has a website, I’ll post those on a page and then they can download the PDF into ibooks in their iPad and when they download it, every title has a number and so I do everything by number because in a ball game, they can’t hear you talk to them. There’s a lot of them there, so I can just pull up a little #15 and they can find that. And then iPads also make it easy in their concert band. We don’t allow students to take their folders home because inevitably they take them home and then they’re sick the next day and their stand partner doesn’t have any music but they can take pictures of the music with their iPads and they can take the iPad home and practice that way. That’s probably most of the technology. With their iPads, they have access to metronomes and tuners.


Andrew: What about when you teach the students, do you keep notes for the students anywhere?

John: I probably should do better at that. I know there’s a trumpet teacher that comes in every week—well, several times a week to work with students and he always writes down everything they do but then he gets it to them. Here are your notes from today’s lesson and he hands it to them and then they’re supposed to bring it back the next week for him to review which is a good thing to do. I don’t do enough of that because I’ll usually just mark some things in their book or make comments but then I have found that if I don’t remember what I old them to do, they don’t remember either. What did I tell you to practice this week? So yeah, taking notes is a good thing.

Andrew: Is that something that you think to be served by some technology that you already have?

John: I could do that with Google docs. I probably should do it with Google docs and share that with the student but I haven’t but now that’s probably a good idea.

Andrew: And then you can probably send it to the parent too just so that they can check it.

John: if they can have access to it.

Andrew: How do you keep your roster of your students? Do you have any kind of way of tracking who’s coming when?

John: Well, I use Google’s calendar and that integrates with my phone, and so yeah, that what I use for scheduling.

Setting Policy For Remote Lessons

I’ve got some requirements before I started working with a 14-year-old girl on Skype, I have a conversation with mama—mother or father or somebody and I ask especially if we’re doing this at their home, that there be a parent there. They don’t have to sit there next to them but—so, I get parental permission in advance but just because of all the stupid stuff that you hear whether it’s in the public school, teachers and students, and you just got to be really careful.
My son administers a school of performing arts that’s actually in a church and he tells me some of the things they go through just to avoid any kind of accusation that there’s something inappropriate going on with—because most of their teachers, they’re in a college so a lot of the teachers or college students, a lot of the students or elementary and middle school kids, so they’ve gone through windows and all the practice rooms. They have a staff member physically walk into every lesson every time. Sometimes during that 30 minutes, somebody’s going to walk in and parents have to sign the students in and sign them out. It’s all about making sure mom and dad know you’re here, they know what you’re doing, they’re here they know what we’re doing, here’s how it work, things like that.
When I used to do lessons in my home, I would strongly encourage a parent to stay. Go sit on my couch and read a book. I’ll take the student to the dining room, not all of them did, but that’s always one of those things, so I don’t do it my home anymore. And that’s part of the reason, other than my Skype lessons, I’ll do those from here. I’m here and there or somewhere else. But I like the Skype lessons where I’m working with a student who’s in a band office because now there’s an adult at the other end or somebody around.

You’ll see that I put that on the website. I require a conversation with the parent. Now I don’t, with this high school because I’m dealing with a teacher who’s working with this student and I’m working with them but when I have someone that I don’t know contact me and want to do something, I do make sure I have a conversation with the parent. I make sure I have at least some kind of an email interaction back and forth where I’ve got something in writing from them. Here’s what’s going on and it’s just a protection. I mean, you got to be so careful because in today’s world, you don’t have to be guilty. You only have to be accused.
And you could be ruined. My son tells me about one of his teachers who is a college student and it wasn’t one of the lessons in his school of performing arts. It was a guy giving lessons at the college to, I think he said, she was a middle school student accused him of touching her. Well, the university kicked him out. They expelled the kid and then a month or two later the girl confessed that she made it all up but in the meanwhile, here’s a kid that’s lost his college education. And so the university there now requires their students who are giving private lessons, video of the lessons which is an excellent idea.
Every once in a while in the summer time at school, I’ll have some students who want to come in for lessons and there’s not a lot of people in the school building. Once I make sure mom knows where they are and I have a lesson out in the big ensemble room when I open the door—there’s always somebody in the building, a custodian or somebody walking through, just try everything you can do, just try to eliminate the possibility that somebody can say something.

Trends in Private Teaching

John: The positive for private teaching is that a lot of public schools are cutting. They’re cutting budgets, they’re cutting personnel, some are actually cutting music programs that seems to happen more in the elementary school where they’re completely cutting something out or they’re cutting it way back but even in some public schools where they’re cutting it, the school of performing arts that my son works with, that has helped them thrive actually because the parents in the area where the schools are cutting back are saying, “Well, we still want music education and so they’ll work with that. That’s probably the biggest positive or in rural areas where there’s no teachers around for Skype lessons or Facetime or some remote way of doing things.
You have on your list one of the biggest threats—the two biggest, the safety issue that we’ve talked about, have to deal with not getting yourself in a position where you can be accused of doing something improper with a teenager or even a child, somebody starting lessons. It’s just something that you have to be really careful about and I think some parents, I’ve never had somebody tell me but I just wonder are there parents who won’t let their kids study privately and that’s part of the mix. I’m not going to let my kid get—because if you’re doing private lessons, with instrumental lessons, a lot of times you’re in the music library and the door is shut or in a practice room and the door is shut. And there’s not always going to be a lot of people around. I think some parents, whether they admit it or not, that’s a little bit in the mix and then the other big threat at our area is just the economics of it. I can’t afford it. I can’t afford lessons. I can’t afford to get my kid step-up instruments. Some won’t even get their kid’s instrument repaired. No, we bought that instrument—I’m dealing with high school kids that are playing on the instrument they got in 6th grade that was designed for 6th graders. Now that trombone student needs a bigger trombone, not the little peashooter that they started on and the parents are like, “We already bought him one. We’re not going to buy him another one.” Economics are an issue.

Andrew: Do you see anything about the change in how much interest there is in music lessons?

John: There’s a lot more competition for kids, a lot more opportunities for them to be involved in different things. Some of them tells us that, I want to be on the tennis team and I’m doing this with the honor society and I’m on the math competition team and so mom and dad just say that’s enough, I can’t do something else.”

Andrew: I mean, that probably has been not always the case, right? But is it increasing or decreasing?

John: I think it’s increasing. Our high school has now—there are 40 extracurricular clubs for them to be a part of—
There’s a lot of competition for the kids and then more and more of them feel like they have to have a job. They have to get a job because they have to get a car because—and they have to pay the insurance. It’s hard to compete with them sometimes.

Music Teacher Secrets Resources Technology For Music Teachers

Interview with music teacher John Gardner

An interview with John Gardner, band teacher, entrepreneur

John and I connected on LinkedIN and we got speaking about teaching music, the new technologies available, trends in music education and safety precautions when teaching children, both for the child and the teacher. John also has a business supporting other teachers and musicians called Virtual Music Office where he offers virtual assistant services, copying/arranging, marketing and tech support.

John is full of great wisdom from years of experience.  I’ve broken this into 2 parts.

John’s profile on LinkedIN.

John Gardner, talking to the band
John Gardner, talking to the band



Andrew: I saw from your profile that you’ve been a band teacher in high school, is that how you first started in music teaching?

John: I graduated with a degree in music ed and I started in a public school, a small school, rural school. I did that for a few years and then I got out of education. My wife and I were both teachers.
When we decided to start our family, she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t want to go to half income, so I went to work for a fundraising company that did business with me while I was a band director and I worked with them for a few years and then I went off and started my own business which still operates but it’s a little more dormant now, so I was doing sales for 25 years.
And about 11 years ago, the local school system called me, a band director called me because they were cutting staff and he wondered if I’d be interested in helping him part time, just come in for a few hours a day, and so I kind of went at it with the idea that “it’ll be like a hobby.” I’ve got my business. This will be my hobby.
And so I have been doing that for the last 11 years and then for about 15 years, I’ve been teaching as adjunct faculty at a local university. It’s a small school, so they don’t have a lot of full time music faculty. So when they have clarinet or saxophone students come in, I work with them. I play in some of their faculty ensembles and their orchestra and things like that, so I’m still actively performing and teaching individually. I have a few Skype students which is kind of interesting. I’ve learned the hard way you can’t play duets on Skype.

Andrew: Interesting. You said you have a business as well. What is the business?

John: I have a couple. The one that I got out of education for was with a fundraising business, working with schools and daycares, and church groups, and little leagues, selling products to raise money. The people that come to you—chocolates or gift wrap or candles, cookie dough. I’m fundraising distributor and I supply the products and services that go along with that.
That business though, as I got back into the schools, I’ve kind of let that slide a little bit, but what I’m doing more and more of now because technically at the high school, I’m the assistant band director which means, I’m the one who gets to do all the fiddly stuff around the office. All the background stuff and I would say, you know what? I bet there’s other people out there in smaller schools where they’ll have multiple staff even part time. I’ve kind of set myself up as a virtual assistant specializing in music and I can write out parts for somebody or transpose parts, do a lot of the things that happen in a choir or band or office.

Once somebody is willing to say, Okay I can’t get it all done, I’m falling behind, can you help me out. That’s a new thing, still trying to get it going, but I think there’s definitely a need for it if I can find a way to get the word out.
Andrew: Yeah. Is that what you call the virtual music?
John: Yeah. Probably if I started now because I’m actually—more of my work is with non-music people where I’m doing some virtual service work for just a hodgepodge of people, I might have tried to come up with something a little more generic than virtual music office. But yeah, that was my intent, whenever I’ve had enough of public education and I walk away again or they retire me or whatever, we’re always in a flux of who can we cut and what can we do without. I want to have something else that I’ll be able to fall back on and work out of the house.

Andrew: That sounds like a common theme. I was talking to another professor recently. He’s an adjunct and he’s saying there’s so little chance of getting tenured track anywhere.

John: Nobody’s doing that anymore because they don’t have to. There’s enough

people that want something to do that don’t take anything. I know at the local university they’ve even cut people who got doctorates, and they’re saying, “Well, you can do some adjunct work now but you’re no longer full time faculty.”
Andrew: I guess this is what you’re most excited about right now, is your virtual music office.

John: Yeah, getting to work with individuals. I really enjoy getting to work with individual student too. Around in the high school, I’ve got a couple hundred band students but they’re coming in, in droves, you get 40 or 50 of them at a time coming into class but getting to work with them this time of year, we’re almost done with that. I’ve been working with them doing their college auditions and trying to get into music schools and applying for scholarships, all kinds of things, that’s pretty much done. We’re coming to the end of our school year.

Andrew: Is that something you do as part of your job at the school or is that like you do separate private lessons?

John: Both, both. I have with people at the school and then I have always had a private music studio. Students, they just study with me, they have—the only difference is now instead of doing it at my house, I’m doing those one on one lessons either at the high school or over at the university where I’ve got a room or a studio.cropped-VirtualMusicOffice

Andrew: How many students do you have individually though?

John: I’ve never let it get more than 12, 15. Fifteen is probably the most I’ve ever had at a time where I can still do all the other things that I’m doing but those are people who’ve come to me or people that I think, “You could really be good” if somebody were kind of a combination of giving you some higher level advice and keeping your feet to the fire because they’re pretty intimidated if they come for a lesson and they’re not prepared. I’m not very easy on them.

Andrew: Tough love.

John: Well, when I was in high school, I had a guy that taught me clarinet lessons, I couldn’t afford him, so he made me a deal where I would basically—he was an older guy—he had a bad heart, I took care of his yard, I tend his grass, I shoveled the snow. I was kind of his on-call—whatever—and his deal with me was you do those things for me and I will give you clarinet lessons until the day you show up here unprepared. That was like, “Wow, okay” but I learned from that. I could blow this on any given week. I could blow this whole deal and so I know what that did for me, so I kind of do that with someone my students. I fired some students before. Sometimes they come back a whole lot better after they realized, you mean, you’re not just going to take my money? I’m not going to waste your time or mine. If you’re not going to work, I’m not going to work with you.

[box] “I will give you clarinet lessons until the day you show up here unprepared. “[/box]

Andrew: What age group are most of these? Are these high school mostly?

John: Yeah, most of them are high school students. I have right now working with a 7th grade girl. She will be going into 8th grade. I’ve worked with some home school students. In a way they don’t have an ensemble to play in or whatever and I’ve got a few of those where they’ve searched me out. Sometimes the middle school teachers in the county will call me and say they’ve got a student, can I help them out, things that way.

Andrew: How do you get most of your students? It sounds like mostly word of mouth then, right?

John: Locally, word of mouth.

Andrew: Do you do any marketing for that?

John: Not too much. I try to on my website put out that I’ll do music coaching or music critique. Some of the people I work with they’re just wanting to get ready for something specific. They got solo contest coming up in a month and so I’ll spend three or four sessions with them just trying to get that one piece of music ready to go or they’ve got a college audition coming up and they want some special help with that. My preference is to work with somebody ongoing, kind of systematic study, but there are people who will say, “Well you know, I’m not going to do it all the time but I need some special help right now.” I do some of that too.

Andrew: You said you want to cap it at about 12 to 15.

John: Well, while I’m still teaching. If I get out of the public school business, I could probably do more than that although we’re in a town—the community I’m in is not a real big community. The whole county has only got about 30,000 or 40,000 people. The city’s got about 20,000; one high school. There’s not tons of students around.

[box] “It’s a combination of being a decent musician, if they know that you know what you’re talking about. I demonstrate what I’m talking about.”[/box]

Andrew: Why do you think that you’re so successful as a teacher and a music entrepreneur?

John: Well, I think it’s a combination of being a decent musician, if they know that you know what you’re talking about.  I demonstrate what I’m talking about.

The sales training that I’ve had over the years helps me with communicating with people, clarifying questions, somebody comes in and says I have to quit, why do you have to quit and we kind of go—okay so here’s the real problem, and then we address the real problem. That’s the kind of stuff I learned in sales school or if I’m recruiting or I’m trying to convince mom or dad, your son or daughter needs a better instrument or they need ongoing study, I’m basically selling that and I’ve been trained in sales technique, so that helps me there too. But I think that combination of being a good musician, (I was trained in music ed so I get a lot of the education training), the psychology of learning, knowing how people learn and how to accommodate different styles of learning as opposed to a teacher, here’s how I teach and this is what I’m going to do to everybody.

I‘ve got some students if I were not careful in criticizing them, they break down and cry. I’ve got other students who want me to be hard.
A few years ago, I had an exchange student. He was in the area. He wasn’t at my school but he wanted private lessons. He was from South Korea and I learned a lot from him. He would come into the building with his instrument already assembled and I ask him, “Why do you that?” And it was because, “I don’t want to lose any of my lesson time putting my horn together.”

Okay, “I ain’t thought of that. That makes sense” and then he would leave and he would not take it apart. “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m going home to practice. It’s a waste of time to take my instrument apart and put it back together.” And he would not let me—he almost would not let me compliment him. I use “good” a lot in terms of “okay, that’s better.” It’s not perfect but he wouldn’t let me compliment him, “No, that wasn’t good.” He would disagree with me. You know, I can do better than that and there’s different people whether it’s a cultural thing or their own internal—how they do—their own personalities but learning how to read those and find out, okay, here’s what this person needs, here’s what this person needs—that’s the education training I think, being perceptive and then just being comfortable with teenagers.

 [box] “It’s like, they say animals can smell fear, teenagers can too.” [/box]  

A lot of people are scared to death of teenagers. We have people come in every once in a while to talk to the band and we have 70 teenagers.  Some just can’t handle that. And the kids pick up on that. They could read that. It’s like, they say animals can smell fear, teenagers can too. And if they smell fear, you’re done because they’ll chew you up and spit you out.

See Part 2 of John’s interview

We delve into technology and music teaching, trends and precautions and safety tips.

Lesson Plan Ideas Music Teacher Secrets Resources Successful Teaching Business

Some Advice For New Music Teachers

I’ve been talking to music teachers all over the world to learn and share what their best practices are.  One of my standard questions has been “What would be your best advice for a new music teacher – someone just starting out?”

It’s Just Business

Music teachers are creative folks and artists, so we are sensitive types for the most part.  We want to hear the good stuff and the hard to hear comments too.  But it can affect us.  One of the common pieces of advice that I’ve heard is to take it all in, but don’t take it personally.

I used to fret and worry and feel personally slighted if I didn’t get a response to every single email.  Or I would actually feel like someone was avoiding me for some unknown reason.  Talk about insecure!

Parents are busy.  It’s not that they don’t like you if they don’t respond right away.” says piano teacher Mary Farrell of Mount Kisco, NY.  “They are not ignoring you or mad at you.  They’re just…parents.  They’ve got a million things going on.”  

Mary started out over 30 years ago, as a local piano instructor at a music store, after graduating from Wichita State University with a degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy.  While this was great for finding her first students, after a while she felt the need to branch out on her own.  She negotiated a flat fee per student to the shop owner and started teaching from home.

What Makes Your Student Tick

“You need to figure out what makes your student tick?” says Mary.  “If after asking and trying out different things and they don’t know, just pick a direction for them – they may not have had enough music exposure yet.”

Because I start my students at 4 years of age, I usually just start with my own original compositions which are really exercises in disguise.  They have funny words and are designed to get kids having fun playing and singing while sneaking in the technical and theoretical.  For older kids, I need to start to get a sense of their tastes.   While this definitely creates a lot more work personally, it does have the magic effect of creating instantly focused, engaged and excited students.  After all, they don’t want to take music lessons, they want to play their favorite songs.  And, you can start to collect a pretty great stockpile of songs that other students (current and future) will also want to learn.  So it’s never wasted effort.

Here’s one of my students performing these early “exercises-disguised-as-songs” at a recital.




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.

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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.