Thursday, November 13, 2014

Piano Method Suggestions

Hello Piano People!

It is definitely fall!  Leaves are falling, rain is raining, holidays are approaching, end of term recital is almost here (and we are almost ready, right?!) :)

I am anticipating winter term. There is no recital until the spring, so I like to devote this term to strengthening basic skills:  Note reading, theory and scales. But for some students, this is a painful process.  So I am going to offer some suggestions for piano materials in this post.

I have my favorite piano methods.  I prefer a classical teaching approach, while supplementing with a variety of music that my students enjoy. But over the years, I have discovered that learning styles vary greatly and different method books cater to these different styles.

The classical approach is a good catch-all system. But some students learn more by ear, watching patterns and repetition.  And some students prefer to be more creative, and improvisational.

While I enjoy supplementing with popular music - hip-hop, rock, jazz, you name it - I still feel like in the early years of building a musical foundation, that a student would benefit from a method book as a "base".  That way, we make sure all the language of music is covered.  There is no hurry, racing through the books. I would prefer that we master the skills before moving on. That is the danger in relying solely on method books - charging through levels!

Music should be savored and enjoyed in the present moment. But I know how impatient people can be in these fast moving times!

I love to supplement lessons with the 12-bar blues. This is relatively easy to learn and requires no note reading! It also strengthens creativity - the student will improvise a melody using the blues scale.

For students who lean toward ear learning and want a fun music experience, the Faber Piano Adventures series is a good choice.

For adult students, or older beginners who prefer fun, recognizable tunes and chords, the Alfred Adult course is a nice fit.

For young students who are serious about learning piano, but still want to have fun, I like the Keith Snell Piano Adventures.

As my students advance, and are interested in learning the classics, Keith Snell's repetoire series is wonderful.

There are also many collections of pop hits, holiday favorites etc.   I provide links with levels on separate posts.

To supplement with special music, ask me and I can help you find a special piece.

A good resource for free (public domain) piano music you can print from your computer, go to: Click on "free piano music" and then browse by your approximate level. Levels vary by teacher and method, so ask me if you don't know what level. Or just print and try it out! I love when students try to challenge themselves.

Another site is You do have to pay for your sheet music here, but they have a feature where you can print a sample page for free.  This site is fantastic for popular music, including movie hits!

Note: Levels are: 

  • Primer (Brand New Beginner)
  • Level 1 - Finished primer, and can play at least a c scale and knows the notes in c major 5-finger position and middle c position. Also a basic understanding of time signature and note values.
  • Level 2 - Finished Level 1 and/or knows at least a C major and G major scale. (Note: I am big on scales, so my students usually know most of their major scales by the end of Level 2). Also, they should have good recognition of all of the notes on the Grand Staff and deeper understanding of time signature, note values, and be learning about musical expression.
  • Level 3 - Finished Level 2 and/or know major scales C through B.  Starting to work on larger works (classical or otherwise).  Uses the pedal, plays with expression, can sight read pieces from about Level 1.
  • Note: I don't usually continue with lesson books beyond Level 2.  But some students enjoy seeing their progress.  Usually after finishing Book 2 in a series, I switch to repetoire. Either picking out pieces that challenge and educate and they enjoy or working through a repetoire book.  These levels are not exact and vary from teacher to teacher, and according to student's learning styles.

Please ask me if you have any questions!

Now, go practice! :)  Teacher Zita

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pondering Practice

My daughter Taylor. She still likes to play the piano! (It was cold in my studio that day, that's why she's got the funky blanky!)

"I didn't have time to practice this week".  "I'm really busy with _____________".  "My brother/sister won't let me near the piano". "My cat threw up on my music book!" I've heard many excuses.  And as a survivor of painful piano lessons from harsh teachers and strict father, I've made excuses myself.  Sometimes I still do! But, being very much older and hopefully a Little wiser, I have learned not to dwell on the amount of time practiced, but the quality of time and enjoyment of the music produced.

I told myself when I became a teacher, I would not be harsh, strict and condemning like some of the "old school" teachers I had experienced and/or heard about. But it is indeed frustrating as a teacher, to have a student come to their lessons unprepared.  

I try to avoid lecturing, but instead fill the lesson with sight reading, and note drills which encourage my students to not come unprepared again! :)  In addition, I try to find a piece of music the student really likes. This is enormously effective.  If someone enjoys hearing a piece of music, they will get a lot of joy from learning to play it!  Often they will work harder and then with pride, want to perform this special piece.  

I used to think having a performance looming would make my students step it up in their practice. It usually does. But often my students practice really hard before performance,playing their piece to the best of their abilities and then lay it down and never play it again!  In a sense, they over practice their piece and then get sick of it, much like an overplayed popular song on the radio.

Lately, I have been pleasantly surprised to have a few of my students that have been with me for many years and are now teens really practicing and genuinely interested in the music they are learning! Wow! This is why I teach! I love that enthusiasm! One in particular had liked a Beethoven sonata I played for him.  But he said, he really wasn't "into performing it, but just wanted to learn it because it was cool".  I told him he could make the choice to just study it and not perform it, although I really liked performance because it was a way of sharing with others and the challenge of playing before others makes us stronger and more confidant.  But I honored my word not to pressure him. He is 15. I've been teaching him since he was about 6.  This seems to have set him free. He is practicing, really engaged and interested.  His sensitivity to phrasing and dynamics has recently moved me to tears.  I've realized that he does love music and enjoys playing, but especially at this age, is wanting more control over decisions in his life. Since his parents pay for lessons, they like seeing him on stage. I did check in with his mom and suggested we just let him study and take away they performance requirement.  She reluctantly agreed.  And now I really look forward to our lessons, which he obviously does too. Last week he told me he had practiced for two hours the day before!

If your child is resistant to regular practice, perhaps he/she has begun to think that practice is painful, just another chore. My own daughter Taylor was very resistant to practising. This was especially distressing since I was a teacher!  Out of desparation, I discovered a few solution.  I used to ask her to play me some "dinner music" on her viola while I was cooking dinner.  I told her it made me happy. She would bring her viola into the kitchen and play for me. I would also sometimes just sit at the piano with her and we'd try to play songs she liked from the radio.  I'd play, she'd sing.  I have many fond memories of those times.  Taylor still likes to sing and play the piano.  It is not her career, but it brings her great joy.  

Talk to your kids. Listen to them.  Practising is a solitary activity. Many kids don't like to be alone. Just knowing you are there, listening in a nonjudgmental way can be supportive. Ask if she/he has a piece of music she really likes to play. It is always frustrating learning something new, but if they love the music, perhaps they will learn that regular practice will move them toward the goal of being able to play this piece. This beats thinking of practising a chore, or suffering and torment! :)

Back to Piano!!!

Hello Piano People!

Summer is speeding to a close - I just wish the hot weather would speed along with it! (I will be the first to admit that I LOVE the rain!)
So... I am fine tuning my fall schedule.  Most of you have a spot reserved. If you are desiring piano lessons this fall and are not on my schedule, please contact me. I have a couple of spots remaining.


  • I am taking Monday through Friday, 09/01 through 09/05 off as a mini vacation. (My daughter Taylor got married this summer. It was a beautiful, glorious event! But I think I need a bit of down time to breathe and relax before the busy fall season begins.)
    Taylor and Mike's Wedding!

  • Fall term for private lessons will begin Saturday, 09/06. 
  • I will be teaching at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Saturdays this fall. The church is located at SE Powell and 54th.  
  • I will be teaching in student's homes in Portland this fall on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  I will begin those lessons on Monday, 09/08.
  • Fall term at the Community Music Center begins 09/29/2014.  I have decided to focus on continuing, intermediate and advanced students. I will only be teaching group classes at CMC on Fridays beginning this fall.
  • The Winter Piano Recital is scheduled for Sunday, December 14th. The 4:30 time will be for younger students. the 6:00 p.m. time will be for older, more advanced students.
  • I will be teaching weekly lessons again.  I've adjusted to commute from Salem to Portland quite nicely and weekly lessons do keep students motivated.  However, some of my students are very self motivated and have many activites scheduled.  I have some times available for students who would like less frequent lessons. :)
  • I am still offering discounts for prepaying of tuition.  This helps my planning - I get a discount for buying multi-ride tickets from Amtrak, if I purchase a packet of 10 in advance.  So if you are able to prepay the month or the term, let me know!

    And most important of all: Thank you all for being such wonderful students. I feel very lucky to be your teacher.  Your enthusiasm and love for music makes my work very meaningful.
    Happy Back to School!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Funny Student Story

Funny student of the week goes to 9 year-old Jacob! I was teaching piano at his home yesterday. I started with little sister Sasha. She had a very nice lesson, so I was letting her look at my sticker collection. Then I told her "good lesson, now go send in your brother". I heard some commotion in the other room and then a voice said, "There's a problem!"

Suddenly Jacob came running to the piano in handcuffs! 

He said, "if I am to have a lesson today,  could you help remove the cuffs?"

 "I have the key", he said. 

Mom came in just about then and said, "Perhaps next time we should handcuff you to the piano, Jacob!"  

(They gave me permission to repeat this story.)

Never a dull moment as a piano teacher! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Group Piano Lessons

I just spoke with the Community Music Center office staff.  I have a few openings remaining in my following labs for this summer.

A piano "lab" class is like a mini private lesson. Usually 2 or 3 students per class.  Each student has a headphone and a digital electric piano to practice on while they wait their turn with me.  We do a little bit of group activity, like playing for one another, but mostly it's one-on-one.  

I have openings in my Thursday 5:15 class,
Friday 4:15, 5:15 and 6:00 p.m. class. :) 

To register, please call the Community Music Center at 503.823.3177. 

Teacher Zita :) 

Summer Piano Lessons - Going Once, going twice....

....I don't want to say gone, summer has just barely begun! :)

Here are my remaining openings.  I like to be a little bit more laid back in the summer. So if you would like to take just a few lessons to learn a special piece, or if you regularly study classical music, note reading, theory and would like to branch off into the blues, improvisation and/or composition, now would be a good time! :)

Summer 2014 Openings

Weekly Lessons
Tuesdays:    10 a.m. 
Thurdsdays: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 
Saturdays:    10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. 

Lessons on Specific Dates (Not weekly)

Friday, June 20th:  4:00, 4:30, 5:00 and 5;30 p.m.
Saturday, June 21st: 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Monday, June 23rd: 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 25th: 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 26th: 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.
Friday, June 27th: 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 28th:  11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

I may also have extra days and times. I am currently interviewing for church jobs in Salem. But if nothing transpires, I will be teaching more in Portland! 

Have a question or an idea? 

Contact me! :)  

Teacher Zita

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Openings for Summer Piano Lessons!

Hello Piano People!

Summer is here!

I am hearing lots of happy children's voices as they finish up the last week.  They are cleaning out the swimming pool at the apartment complex here in Salem. I guess our friend Mr. Duck will have to find another pond to swim in!

Speaking of summer, many of my students are taking the summer off.  They have worked very hard and deserve a break!  Hopefully I wasn't driving them too hard!

But this does open up an opportunity for more students!  I have opened up some morning hours in my schedule for summer term which starts July 7.  I will be in town on Tue, Thu, Fri and Sat.

Additionally, I have two weeks in June that are open. I do not have set hours on those days, but would prefer Thu, Fri and Sat, June 18th, 19th and 20 and June 25, 26 and 27, or Mon, Tue, Wed, June 30, July 1 and July 2.

So if you would like to begin piano lessons, continue or if there is a special piece you'd like to learn or just demystify notereading, let me know!

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Summer Tuition

Summer term runs 8 weeks.  If you want to pay for the entire term in advance, I will give you a discount!

Entire term one student $180
Entire term two students $350

If you think you might be on vacation part of the time, you can pay monthly:

One Student: $90
Two Students$175

Or by the lesson $25 :)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Summertime and the living is easy...."

Triple Falls, Columbia River Gorge. My favorite place to hike!

...but like I always tell my students: Easy is boring!

So if you don't want to be bored this summer, talk to me about piano lessons! :)

I am taking requests for lesson times. Please let me know if you plan on studying with me this summer. I am interviewing for a few church jobs down in Salem to cut back on my commute to Portland.  I love you guys (and Portland too!), but would like a little less time on Amtrak. :)

My schedule for this summer (July 6 - August 30) will be:

Tuesday 11:30 to 5:30 Private home lessons
Thursday and Friday 3 to 7 group lessons at Community Music Center
(I might do mornings on either day, depending on the demand)
Saturdays 11:30 to 5:30 St Marks' Lutheran Church on 54th and Powell.

Now go back to practicing! :) Just kidding, it's Sunday - spend time with your family. :)

Teacher Zita

End of the Year Piano Recitals!

We are half way through spring term, the school year is screeching to a halt!
I've been riding Amtrak from Salem to Portland now for 4 months. It has been an adventure, and amazingly I have not only survived, but I have had many pleasant moments!

One of my greatest pleasures as a piano teacher is watching my students perform.  I am so grateful that most of my students truly enjoy performing and don't suffer the debilitating stage fright that I did as a child.

One key (pun intended), to empowering young musicians is to allow them to select music that they love.  This will inspire them to practice and then give them pride when they perform. Plus, when we truly love the music we play, this energy is transferred through the music to the audience.  We all benefit!

I have three dates scheduled for piano recitals. They will all be held at the Community Music Center as usual.

The dates are:
Sunday, May 11th at 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 25th at 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 15th at 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Note:  The 5:30 session is reserved for more advanced students. Ask me if you are unsure which recital would be a good match for you.

Hope to see you there. Happy Practicing! :)

Teacher Zita

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hooray for Sightreading!

Hi Piano People!

Winter term is almost done, and spring is just around the corner - I can actually smell spring in the air! :) Yay!

I've had a lot of fun working on theory and notereading with my students. But the biggest joy has been introducing sightreading!  Many of my students who dreaded it have actually learn to enjoy it.

I have to admit, one of my favorite things to do, besides sit under a tree with a book all day, is spend hours at my piano with a stack of music sightreading while I listen to the pitter patter of rain on the roof! (Yes, I am a music geek and proud of it!) :)

I've had a breakthrough with several students.  We've been using Mikrokosmos by Bartok.  If you are not familiar with this series, you should consider it.  Bartok created this series for his students. The pieces in the beginning are short and simple. The left and right hand are actually in unison! (Same note, different octave).

I do have them use the dreaded metronome, but once they get used to playing with the beat, it is actually comforting and effective.

Here is a link to the first five books. I recommend starting at the very beginning, even if you don't consider yourself a beginner.

And use the metronome, it is your friend! :)

Happy practicing!