Key Words

Sharon had a great idea for a variation on the word flashcards. Instead of putting the letters on a staff, why not put them on the keyboard as well? Well, here they are. It would be fun to mix the cards together with the other set to really keep students on their toes!

Key WordsKey Word Flashcards





Favorite Programs and Fonts for Creating Games

A question I get asked a lot is how do I make all of these materials? What programs do I use, and where do I find the notation fonts? Well, I will divulge my secrets. Not that they are anything extraordinary at all. 🙂

My mainstay for everything is Microsoft Publisher. I use it for everything. I have tried using Word, but always end up frustrated. I like the fact the Publisher lets me put things where I want them without the trouble of messing with margins. I have a old version, 2000 I think, and someday I’ll have the money to upgrade. If you don’t have Publisher, don’t worry. Any program such as PrintShop, Photoshop, or program along that vein will work fine. Many people also successfully use Word. I am just not one of those people.

For all of the flashcards and rhythm cards, I use tables. I often do 3 columns and 4 rows, or 1 column and 4 rows, depending on what I need. For the rhythms I will “subdivide” the squares into lots of smaller squares. That makes things neat and straight.

There are some free notation font programs that can be found on-line. John from the Yahoo Piano Teachers forum has kindly put these together into one file. (By the way, John is my inspiration. Without him, most of the stuff here wouldn’t exist. Thanks, John!) You can find these in the Files section of the Yahoo Piano-Teachers list.

The music font program I use now is from They sell a package of two fonts for $41. Staffwriter is a font with the notes, sharps, flats, and such on a staff. Keynotes has notes of various values, signs, and so on without the staff. The fonts also come with a great little keyboard map, showing what key produces what symbol. That little map alone is worth the $40. The program works both on PC and Mac. I love, love, LOVE this program. It is the best money I have ever spent, and would do so again in a heartbeat. Check out their website for lots of examples of worksheets and games made with these fonts.

Now for an important note: when using the notation programs, sometimes the lines of the staff look like they are not straight and even on the computer screen. Don’t worry. It all prints out just fine. Also, you will need to increase the font size, sometimes a great deal, do get the look you want.

I find most of the images on-line. I use Google Images most of the time. Do be careful, though. You can get an eyeful from some very innocent key words. Like the time I wanted a picture of soccer balls, and just typed in balls instead of soccer balls. That wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done!

I have a Photoshop-type program I use if I need to tweak the graphic a bit, or add color to the coloring book images. The only exception is the keyboards. Most of them I drew myself in Publisher using rectangles. When I am happy with the image I will copy and paste it into the document where I want it to go. If I ever took the time to use the Photoshop program sitting on my computer to it’s fullest capabilities, I might even find that I don’t need to use Publisher as my base program.

Primo PDF is a free program I use to convert everything into a PDF format. It is a slick little program. When you go to print the document, you select PrimoPDF as the printer. Push print, and viola, you have a lovely PDF document any computer can read.

So, in a nutshell, I use Microsoft Publisher, MacMusicFonts, Google Images, a Photoshop-type program, and PrimoPDF. Most importantly, though, are the ideas I get from my students and other teachers. Very little of what I do is original – I just tweak things and put on paper the great ideas of others.

Happy Creating!

Student Composition 101

Composition is such a beneficial activity for our students. It helps students create and explore music in an exciting and personal way. Composition is also a wonderful tool for assessing student knowledge and understanding. The problem is, it can take a lot of time – and time is often running short in lessons as it is.

To combat this problem, I modified a composition unit I taught when I was teaching general music. It is especially good for students – and teachers – who are unsure about how to go about the whole composition process. Best of all, it doesn’t take up much time during the lesson. I just do one segment at a time over several weeks. This is not the only way I teach composition, but it is a good place to start.

  1. Tell the student that they are going to write a composition. Many a student has given me a “deer in the headlights” type look. I assure them that I will guide them through every step, and it will be no harder than learning that piece of music that once looked so hard.
  2. To begin the composition, have students write rhythms for 8 (or more) measures. This comprises of the A section. Have them write rhythms for 4 (or more) measures for the B section.
  3. Next, we add notes to the rhythm. For beginning students, I tell them to use the notes in the middle C position, or a particular pentascale. If the students have learned the primary triads, or even simply the concept the of tonic, dominant, and subdominant notes of the scale, I have them write a melody in the treble clef using notes within either a pentascale of full scale depending on their ability. I usually do not have students write the notes on the staff at this point. They simply write the letter in next to the note. The A section must end on the tonic, and the B section must end on the dominant.
  4. At this point, I have the student write the music on staff paper. Go to for free, customizable staff paper.
  5. If the student split the melody line between hands, they are almost done. I simple have them repeat the A section to finish off the piece. I often show them how they can vary the section a bit, perhaps by playing an octave higher, adding staccatos, legatos, etc. We also add dynamics if they haven’t already.
  6. For students who wrote a melody in the treble clef, I have them add primary chords to the melody. I have students pencil them in as blocked chords.  If they haven’t reached the point of the full chords, I will have them simple use the tonic, dominant, and subdominant of the scale for the bass clef.
  7. Next, I show the student several accompaniment patters. They discover how different bass patterns change the mood of the piece. They decide what they like, and write it in.
  8. Have them repeat the A section to finish the piece. Sometime students like to change the accompaniment pattern the second time around, or make some other changes as mentioned in #5.
  9. Add dynamics, phrasing, articulations, etc.
  10. Either have the student hand write a final copy of the piece, or have them enter it into a notation program to print. Finale’s Notepad is a free program that works great for this. It is basic, but does the job nicely for beginning compositions. I encourage all parents to download this to their home computers for their children to use.
  11. If you really want to be impressive, have students draw a picture to illustrate their composition, and make a cover for “real” looking sheet music. See this post for more detailed directions on how to do that. I usually print off a copy of all my students’ compositions and hang them on a wall in my studio. They look great, and the students love seeing what others have done.

That’s all there is to it! It is a lot of work, but broken down into small chunks it is quite manageable. Happy Composing!

Composer Posters

Okay, so these really aren’t posters, just 8 1/2 x 11 pictures of composers. I hang the composers of the month for the year in my studio. Your can even splurge like I did, and get frames for them at the Dollar Store. They look great on photo paper, just be sure to set your printer for borderless printing.

Is there a composer would like that isn’t listed? E-mail me and I’ll do one up for you – they take less than 5 minutes to do.

BeethovenBach Barber Bartok Beach Beethoven Bernstein Boccherini Brahms Chopin Clementi Copland Couperin Debussy Dvorak Ellington Elton John Gershwin Grieg Handel Haydn Heller Herman, Jerry Holst Ives Joplin Kabalevsky Kander and Ebb Kuhlau Liszt Mahler Lully Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mozart Pachelbel Palestrina Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff Ravel Rimsky-Korsakov Rodgers, Richard Rossini Saint-saens Scarlatti Schoenberg Schubert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Robert Sibelius Sousa Stalling Strauss Stravinsky Tchaikovsky Telemann Verdi Vivaldi Wagner Webber Williams, John

Musical Alphabet Blocks

Have you seen Natalie’s great post about making scale blocks? Well, we must be thinking along a similar wavelength. I love my scale blocks, but wanted to have more to use in group classes. Unfortunately, the budget wouldn’t allow it. Then I thought back to elementary school and those cool 3-D shapes we used to cut out and glue together. A quick internet search, a bit of finagling on the computer, and here is the result – paper scale blocks! Easy to assemble, and inexpensive enough that the students can even take them home. Use cardstock for best results. Use them for learning the musical alphabet, steps, skips, intervals, scales, chords, and anything else you can think of!

Musical Alphabet Blocks

Musical Alphabet Blocks






Lets Have a Spelling Bee!

This is another of Sharon’s great ideas. I used Natalie’s list of words that can be spelled with the musical alphabet at to make these cards. One side is the word spelled on the staff, and the other side is the word written out. All words are spelled in both clefs. The lines of the staff don’t look perfect on my computer screen, but they print out beautifully.

Line students line up in 2 teams and have students try to say the word before the other team. Another variation is to show the word side of the card and have students write the word on staff paper or a white board. They could work individually, or race against each other. This would be a great game for a group lesson.  To use in an individual lesson, have students play the words that are spelled on the keyboard.  Maybe they could use a couple of their favorite words to begin their own composition.

Post any other ideas of how to use the cards in the comments below!

Word Flashcards

Word Flashcards