Buying a Keyboard or Digital Piano

The Mac Meridian Logo

We get asked all the time what keyboard parents should buy for their child.  It’s not a wonder parents can feel overwhelmed when looking for a keyboard—there are so many out there!  There are many brands, models, features, sizes, and terms that probably feel foreign to many parents.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way first—buying a piano is better that buying a keyboard.  But, and that’s a big but, it needs to be a quality piano that has all working keys, can stay in tune, and has good tone quality. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive, but you will need to know what to look for.

With that out of the way, there are still many parents who will choose a keyboard, usually for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They don’t want to make the investment in a piano until they know their child will stick with it
  • They don’t have room in their house for a piano
  • They want the extra capabilities that come with a keyboard—ability to plug in headphones, recording or midi options, etc.

When buying a keyboard, you will want to consider how much money you will want to spend. In Let’s Play Music class at The MAC Meridian, we use mainly the lower end keyboards.  Always use a keyboard that has full-sized keys, meaning the keys are the same size as piano keys.  When your child does transfer to a piano, this will allow for an easier transition because he/she will not have to relearn hand-spacing, which could be very frustrating.  Most keyboards do have full-sized keys, but those that are considered more to be toys than instruments may not. You will also want to have at least 61 keys on your keyboard. If a keyboard has less keys than 61, there is not enough room on the keyboard to play many pieces/songs, and your child will outgrow it very quickly.

We like the Casio brand for the lower end keyboards.  You can often find bundles that come with a stand, power cord, and headphones on Amazon.   We like this Casio CTK2400

Of course, you don’t have to buy a bundle. You may be thinking, “I have a table to put the keyboard on.” And maybe you do!  Keep this in mind—the correct position for a child to sit at the keyboard is at a height that will allow the forearms to be parallel to the floor and the elbow to be at a 90 degree angle.  For a young child, this would mean you need a very low table. A keyboard stand is adjustable, and will allow for you to raise the level of the keyboard as your child grows.

The 61-key keyboard will get your child through Let’s Play Music, or about 2 years of piano lessons.

If you are wanting a keyboard that will last longer and be a more quality instrument, you will want to move into the digital piano area, meaning the instrument is designed to closely mimic the feel and sound of a traditional piano. We like the Yamaha P45.  This digital piano has 88 full-sized weighted keys. An instrument with weighted keys will require more finger strength from the child.  This is a good thing!  It will build their muscles!  Your child will also be able to learn to control the volume of his playing with the touch of his fingers. The softer a child presses on the keys, the softer the sound.  The harder a child presses, the louder the sound.  It does have a volume dial, which will also help control volume.  This digital piano does not have a lot of the fancy keyboard options, but is an excellent keyboard for a beginner student to have the feel that mimics a piano, and a parent who wants the flexibility of a keyboard. It is a heavy instrument, so make sure you have the double x stand or a furniture stand.  A single X-stand will not be sturdy enough to support this digital piano.

For those parents wanting to spend more money and have a digital piano with more options and capabilities, we like the Yamaha DGX660.  We did a lot of research on digital pianos in this price range.  We liked this one for its GHS weighted action keys, 128-note polyphony, PureCF sampled piano, and USB/recording capabilities.  It has many more options that these, but these are the ones that has us sold on this model.  This digital piano is LARGE! It is not easily portable and will definitely need a furniture stand to sit on. We have owned this digital keyboard for just over 2 years and are still extremely happy with its sound and performance capabilities.

A quality instrument will do wonders for the excitement your child feels for music lessons!  This cannot be stated more firmly or importantly.  If you want your child to enjoy lessons, make the investment!

The Mac Meridian LogoLet's Play Music logo

Let’s Play Music Third Year Graduation Recital

The third year of Let’s Play Music is very fun and very full—jam packed with learning to play scales and chords in different keys, learning to improvise and transpose, learning to count music properly in different time signatures, and the coup de gras—composing an original piece to play at the recital.

Students begin thinking of ideas for the composition in January when Orange Roots semester begins.

Let's Play Music logo

We talk about inspiration and what they, the student, gets excited about.  We talk about how music can tell a story, just like a book can, and how music follows patterns, just like books do.  We explore different sounds on the piano, e.g “What would it sound like if it was raining outside?” “What does an elephant walking sound like on the piano?”

In mid-February we are ready to begin putting notes down on the manuscript paper. Students (and parents) often feel apprehensive about beginning a composition. But, after meeting one-on-one with the teacher to begin their composition, they leave their lesson feeling excited about going home and adding to what they just wrote.

beginning composition

Students spend the next few weeks making changes and adding new ideas to their composition. Once again, there is a lesson, one-on-one with the teacher, at the end of March where students will put the finishing touches on their masterpiece.

final composition

Then they begin practicing for the recital.  Parents are often surprised that a student will need to practice something they wrote themselves.  Let’s Play Music students are often able to write and play music that is beyond their ability to read music, so practice is necessary.

The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music recitalLet's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

The recital is truly a time of celebration! Each student has progressed at their own pace, but we celebrate where they are right now!

Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Parents are an integral part of the Let’s Play Music program.  This program is successful because of dedicated parents who come to class with their child and follow up with practice time at home.  Sometimes practicing is not fun and life gets in the way, but LPM parents are truly the best! Why? Because they have committed to helping their child through this wonderful program and have given them the gift of music. At the recital we always take time to honor the parents and their contribution to the child.

Let's Play Music at The MAC MeridianLet's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Let’s Play Music graduates are ready to enter private lessons and be successful. They have been given the tools for a strong musical foundation and been taught successful practice techniques.  They have learned to intelligently listen to classical music and recognize classical form. Their ears, eyes, fingers, and voices have been trained to help them decipher and play difficult music passages.  But, most of all, they have learned that they can do hard things, and for this, we celebrate!

IMG_5094 Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Sound Beginnings and the Do Pentatonic Scale

Sound Beginnings and The Pentatonic Scale

We are in the Silver Buttons semester of Sound Beginnings this spring.  Many parents are curious about the Do Pentatonic Scale and why we use it.  It seems strange to skip over a note, doesn’t it?  Why don’t we sing Fa? Why not leave out Mi or Re?  Well, there actually is a good reason why we are teaching the Do Pentatonic Scale this semester.  Keep reading and your questions will be answered.

The DO Pentatonic Scale is a five-note scale: DO, RE, MI, SOL, LA. “Pente” is Greek for “five” and “tonic” means “tone”. These notes are not consecutive and the half step is skipped over, putting a beautiful minor 3rd at the top of the scale. As we have been learning in Sound Beginnings, the minor 3rd is the first interval young children can hear and imitate correctly. Think of the Sol-Mi songs we sing in music class–these songs are all using the minor 3rd interval.

The Pentatonic Scale (Pentatony) The Pentatonic Scale (Pentatony)


Due to its simplicity, the pentatonic scale is the basic scale for folk songs. The folk song genre grew out of natural human expression using the voice. Since two sets of minor 3rds are inherent in the scale it has a natural and instinctive sound and is easy to sing and imitate.

Nowadays it is no longer necessary to explain why it is better to start teaching music to small children through pentatonic tunes: first, it is easier to sing in tune without having to use semitones (half-steps), second, the musical thinking and the ability to sound the notes can develop better using tunes which employ leaps rather than stepwise tunes based on the diatonic scale often used by teachers”


Kodaly – the creator of this scale – fully embraced its use when teaching young children. He taught that “it is easier to sing in tune without having to use half steps”. Kodaly continues that it is easier to ‘hear’ the notes and sing them in a melody that employs leaps rather than stepwise tunes. His philosophy further teaches that the beginnings of music education must be made in the pentatonic scale because it is the wellspring of all music.

Everything from ancient music of the Eastern world, to Gregorian chant, to 20th century composers like Debussy have at their core the pentatonic scale. In addition, the pentatonic scale carries with it an endearing, simple, lilting, carefree quality which characterizes childhood itself.

In music class this semester, we are singing the song, “Mary Wore Her Red Dress.” This song is comprised completely using the Do Pentatonic Scale.  And you thought we were just singing about clothes…

After we know all this of course we are going to use the Pentatonic Scale!

sound beginnings logo

Want to know more about Sound Beginnings? Come to The MAC for a free sample class! This FUN curriculum is specifically designed for children ages 2-4 years old and their parents. By providing a solid music and preschool foundation, Sound Beginnings prepares students for success in Let’s Play Music and Kindergarten! The curriculum is organized into four non-sequential semesters each lasting 4 months and provides experience with important music concepts and skills through songs and games. Classes include singing, movement, games, stories, and activities, focusing on different concepts each semester.

Climb the Mountain-A Perspective on a Child’s Music Lessons

In 2004 I was living in Arizona.  I had recently started jogging, but since any form of exercise is not my forte, I was still struggling to run a 12-minute mile after months of exercising.  My brother, who was born with my share of the athletic genes, invited me and my sisters to come to Idaho and run a half marathon with him.  He said, “Part of it is uphill and it gets steep sometimes, but it’s not bad.  Just train with the treadmill on an incline.”  Naïve exerciser and marathon runner that I was, I bought his bag of lies and agreed to come, as did my 3 sisters, who were (and still are) in much better shape than I am.

On a side note, the half marathon is called “Robie Creek” and is considered the toughest half marathon in the Northwest. 

As we arrived to the start line for the race, my brother looked nervous and began to pace.  It was then that he told us the first 8.5 miles were all uphill. Up a mountain. A steep mountain. All. Uphill. Ugh. Lucky for him, we didn’t truly understand what he was telling us, but it was too late for all of us to back out and we forged ahead.  The race started and it wasn’t too bad.  We wound around a neighborhood and into the foothills.  At first the path was paved and smooth, but soon it turned into a dirt trail with rocks and divots and I had to look down constantly as to not trip and fall.  At first, there was very little incline, but after a mile or so, the trail became more and more steep.  The steeper the trail became, the slower my pace became until I was merely walking, and not running at all.

My brother took off and pulled ahead of us soon after the race started. Two of my sisters who were fitness instructors at the time, held back and we stayed together for the first few miles. And then they left me and my youngest sister behind.  By the time we made it to mile 6, every muscle in my body was screaming at me to stop.  Just sit down. You hate this. Curse Craig (said brother). It was not long before I began to share these desires with my remaining sister.  She would say, “see that tree up there? You can make it to that tree.” When we made it to the tree, she would say, “there’s a water station up another 100 feet, you can make it to the water station.” This continued until we reached the top of the mountain.  She never stopped telling me I could do it. She never let me stop and sit.  She knew and I knew that I would never finish if I stopped.

At the end of every semester, at Station Day, I have an opportunity as a Let’s Play Music/piano teacher to visit one-on-one with the parents of my students.  I always ask them how it’s going at home.  Do they have any concerns? I often hear stories of frustrated students and “I’m at the end of my rope” parents.  What to do?

I tell parents that learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain.  It starts off so fun and easy.  The excitement of learning something new gives the child the desire and incentive to practice because it is just so fun.  In other words, the path is paved and smooth and not much effort is needed to accomplish what the teacher is asking the student to do. Then as time goes on, the music begins to get harder, the practice time isn’t as fun, and the child must start working.  There may be rocks and divots in the path. That’s when the complaining starts. That’s when they begin to fight practice time. That’s when the child starts saying things like, “I hate this,” “It’s too hard,” “I can’t do it, “I want to quit.” You know what I mean.

So, as a parent, how do you support your child while he or she climbs the mountain? Do you give them small goals and celebrate when the goals are achieved? Do you say, “See this measure? You can play this measure.” And then give lots of high fives and praise when they play the measure? Do you keep encouraging and keep gently pushing and let them know they can do it? There are countless ways to support your child and be the encouragement that they need.

I love the lightbulb moments and I see them happen at different times for each student.  You know what I mean—the moment where everything clicks.  Their fingers, their eyes, their brains, all begin to work together and what was once hard now becomes enjoyable and fun again.  They usually run into class with a huge smile on their face and want to show me how great they are at playing ___________.  I love this moment and I love to celebrate with them and exchange knowing nods with their mothers.

Interestingly enough, the lightbulb moment is not when the growth was happening.  The growth was happening during the pain, during the tears and the frustration.  That’s when the student was growing and learning. It was hard to see then, and it is next to impossible to feel it when you are in the middle of it, but that’s when it was happening. If they had stopped when it was hard, they never would have experienced and seen the fruits of the growth.

Learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain, there will be tough times, hard times and it will hurt.  You may even think that you should quit because there are times when it is hard and painful, but if you keep pushing through and keep moving and working, no matter how slow that movement is, you will eventually reach the top of the mountain where everything suddenly becomes a little easier and more enjoyable. It is then that you can reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.

There will always be another mountain to climb.  Some will be small hills and some will be so large they will seem impossible to climb, but there is always another mountain and that keeps us moving forward. Don’t sit down, don’t stop. One step at a time.

Thanks to my angel sister, I did make it to the end of the marathon and only lost 2 toenails.

The MAC Meridian

Let’s Play Music Station Day

At the end of each Let’s Play Music semester for the 2nd and 3rd year students, we have Station Day!

lets play music logo

green turtleshells logopurple magic logo

What is Station Day, you ask?  Well, Station Day is a celebration of everything the students have learned that semester.  Instead of keyboards lined up in rows, the classroom is set up in stations where students will rotate through with a parent and show they what they have learned through the games and activities set up at each station.

Let's Play Music Station Day at The MAC Meridian

This year’s Green Turtles and Purple Magic students are creating rhythms and performing them on rhythm instruments, and are performing puppet shows for their parents to classical music from Strauss, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Copland.

Station Day Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

They are celebrating their new knowledge and skills as they perform from their songbooks, play “Don’t Eat Pete,” and create an original 5-finger melody in C position.

Station Day Let's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

Station Day is one of the highlights of Let’s Play Music and one of the favorite days for students and parents at The MAC.  Don’t forget the “Elf Yourself” bonus station in the lobby!  Merry Christmas MAC families!

The MAC Music and Art Center Christmas

Let’s Play Music is a 3-year music foundation course for children entering the program between ages 4 and 6. Students learn complete musicianship as they learn keyboarding skills, compose, transpose, and complete college level music theory.  We will be accepting new students for the 2017-2018 school year in March 2017.  Please contact us to attend a sample class and add your child’s name to our waiting list. For children ages 2-4 please visit our Sound Beginnings page for information about this fabulous music class for young children.  Both of these music programs are available at The MAC Music and Art Center in Meridian, Idaho

Sound Beginnings Instrument Day

Instrument Day! is always a favorite day in the Sound Beginnings class!

Sound Beginnings is a parent and child music class for young children–2-4 year olds.

sound beginnings logo


This semester’s class was named “White Horses”

white horses logo

and many of the games, songs, and activities centered around horses.  The final class each semester of Sound Beginnings is called Instrument Day.  This is a super fun day when students can bring their parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends to participate in class with them.

Sound Beginnings Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian Music and Art Center

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Each family bring instruments from home—some are professional string or brass instruments, some are children’s toys, and some are homemade.  Whatever the children bring, they are excited to share with the class.  We always make a rhythm instrument to take home and this year it was the jingle glove!

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian


Just find a child’s size glove and hot glue jingle bells on the fingertips for a super fun and easy instrument.  Of course the parents are the ones doing the gluing, but the children are the ones picking out the color of the glove and the jingles.

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

Instrument Day at The MAC Meridian

At The MAC we love to see the joy on the children’s faces as they explore music and share it with their families. Thanks MAC families!

Join us for the next round of classes beginning January 9! Register HERE

The Birth of The MAC

The MAC Meridian family

Micah and Tina have known each other ever since they met as 14 year-old high school freshman. They have always had a love of the arts and cultural activities.  One of their favorite dates has always been to go on an art walk to local galleries, then hit a food truck or small locally owned restaurant for a bite to eat.

When Micah and Tina began having children in 1992, they knew they wanted their children to have a strong art and music background-with an artist father and a musician mother that’s a pretty obvious path!  Raising their children in Mesa Arizona for the first few years, they found many options for music and art for their children’s education, and watched their four children grow and develop their own talents.

boy playing cello

When they made the move to Meridian Idaho in 2005, they saw those opportunities shrink exponentially as they searched diligently for quality and affordable art programs.  They wanted something more than a so-called “instructor” in a room with art supplies on a table and the children left to their own devices.  They also looked for something that was affordable and fun, yet still educational and skill-building.  After several years of searching, they gave up and nurtured their children’s artistic pursuits at home.

Meanwhile, Tina had found a great music program called “Let’s Play Music” and began to teach classes for young children out of their home.  Within 3 years, those music classes were maxed to capacity and it stayed that way for years.Let's Play Music at The MAC MeridianLet's Play Music at The MAC Meridian

As Tina explored the possibility of expansion of Let’s Play Music and the mommy and me music classes called Sound Beginnings into a new venue, adding art classes was an exciting addition.

student art painting

The MAC Grand Opening August 2015

Micah and Tina searched for months for the perfect space for the music classes and the new art classes. Two of their top requirements were that the location had to be in NW Meridian and it had to be family friendly. Finally they found the perfect spot! Located near 2 elementary schools, a daycare facility, and a pediatric dentist, The MAC is nestled right in the heart of where many young Meridian Idaho families live.

student art painting

The MAC Grand Opening August 2015

The MAC is truly a family-run and family-oriented facility.  You will see Tina teaching many of the music classes, Taylor (daughter) teaching many of the art classes, and you will see Sam (son) manning the front desk. The MAC has added a few new teachers in the last 18 months who feel like family!

Let’s Play Music and Sound Beginnings are growing by leaps and bounds at The MAC!  Art classes are gaining in popularity and enrollment!  If you haven’t been to The MAC yet, what are you waiting for?

Meet Micah


Micah Gosney artist in the studio

Micah’s art career began when he was a toddler and learned how to hold a crayon.  He would stay up late and draw while the rest of the family went to bed-he always was and still is a night owl!  His creations at that young age consisted mainly of trains and cars-things that had wheels and could go fast.  Not much has changed.  He still loves to draw and paint cars and things with fast engines.

Micah Gosney artist

Fast forward to young Micah in the 6th grade.  Math was not his love, so he compensated by doodling in the margins of his homework-why not?  His teacher did not appreciate that, and wrote him a note stating that art will never get him anywhere and he should focus more on his math assignments.  That did not deter Micah as he continued his middle and high school careers-he took as many art classes as were available to him and started his own t-shirt line in high school that had a large local following.  In high school he registered his trademark character, Goose Brothers, and made that pretty famous in certain circles.

After Micah and Tina married, they decided Micah should pursue his art career and go to art school.  He had just been accepted to Art Center in Los Angeles, and Rhode Island School of Design when he was offered a job at Twentieth Century Fox Animation Studio.  Since this was the type of job he would be looking for after art school graduation, they decided to take the job.  At Fox, Micah met many people who greatly influenced his artistic skills and style-Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, Len Simon, and most of all Richard Heichberger, who became a life-long friend of Micah’s.


After Fox Animation made its decision to begin doing digital animation instead of traditional, Micah continued his artistic pursuits in video game design, graphic design, and fine art.

His most recent endeavors are a new automotive art and design company he founded named Super Six 8 Studio.  Super Six 8 is devoted to everything automotive, especially hot rods, which are Micah’s first love.

Micah is the Art Director at The MAC Music and Art Center.

A Chat with Noterunner

jen - piano                                    Noterunner Logo, The MAC Meridian is a fabulous new website for buying and selling digital sheet music.  Not only do they give composers a great venue to sell their compositions and teachers another venue to find new digital sheet music, but they also sponsor competitions with great prizes for musicians of all ages and levels. I recently had a chat with Jen Butikofer, the mastermind behind Noterunner, and a very accomplished composer and musician herself.

What would you consider your first instrument to be?  Do you play others? What made you decide that was “your” instrument?

My first instrument is the piano.  I dabble a bit on the guitar and love to sing.


What made you begin a life path in music?  What age were you when you started and what was the inspiration that fueled you?

I was raised in a very musical family and have always felt passionate about music.  I remember falling asleep to the sound of my Father singing and my Mom accompanying him on the piano most nights when I was young.   When I was  around 6 years old I decided I wanted to write music.  I hadn’t had any formal training but must have had some exposure from my mother because I knew the names of the notes.  I started writing my own “compositions” on the back of a diaper box using letter names and long and short lines to represent the length of the notes.  I wanted to play in the talent show when I was 7 so I remember figuring out Mary Had a Little Lamb by ear and performing that.  My Mom started officially teaching me after that.   I began studying with Juliette Gamero for a short period of time and trained with Debrah Gamero until I graduated from high school.  I continued to study music from professors at Utah State on the side while pursuing my masters degree in Computer Science .  I have loved piano and singing ever since.  I enjoyed song writing, performing, and competing.


Describe a typical practice week.

Truthfully, I wasn’t always the best at practicing properly.  In the beginning I was faithful about it and practiced 30 minutes every day.  As I got older, I would practice harder before competing but had times where I focused on school and other interests and my practicing wasn’t hot.  But I always kept at it and the goal was 30-60 minutes a day.  I participated and graduated from the AIM program in Utah.  I also did federation, recitals and monster concerts and other events throughout the year which gave me incentive to hustle and catch up on my practicing.  But even when I wasn’t officially practicing, I was always playing.  I often got in trouble at lessons for making up new parts and not playing what was written.  Although, not a tactic I would necessarily recommend, it helped me gain a love of composition.  I had a group of close friends and we got together almost weekly and would sing and rotate who was accompanying the group.  I was the church choir accompanist, organist and school choir accompanist and outside choir accompanist throughout high school and college.  I also earned money by accompanying for individuals and voice teachers.  I bring these things up because even when I thought I wasn’t always perfect at practicing my official lesson, my life was filled with incentives that kept me playing and growing without thinking of it as work.


Are there any practice tools you feel you have learned and would share with others?

A couple tricks that help me are:

1)  Identify “bug” sections.  Then play those sections several times a day perfectly.  You can go as slowly as you need to but you should have no mistakes and no restarts.

2)  Have goals in your practicing.  Without goals, the practicing isn’t as efficient or effective.  I like to have things to work toward like recitals, competitions or accompanying.  It makes me focus and helps me take my practicing to the next level – even if I don’t win.

3)  Practice only as fast as your weakest part

4) Learn the art of the performance flow for accompanying.  Pay attention to your deadline.  Notice how much progress you make and set goals.  Then, if you can see you are not on track to make your goal, figure out how to “cheat.”  So, for example, if you are accompanying for a choir and have one week to get the piece ready and there is a measure that will take you three weeks, adapt your piece so that it flows.   This may require dropping some parts and focusing on essential notes.


When you are learning a new piece, how do you begin? Do you analyze the chord structure, identify the hardest part and practice that first? Play from beginning to end without stopping? Etc.

What should I do or what do I do?  I typically play through it to get a feel, then identify problem spots and drill.   Ideally, it is best to divide the piece into sections.  Each section should be small enough that you can play it perfectly within a few days by repeating it several times perfectly.  You may not necessarily get to all the sections on day one but will have learned the piece right the first time.

What type of music do you feel most inspired by?

I love so many kinds of music!   I love music that makes me feel something.  In classical music I like the Romantic Era.  I love pop and have a special place in my heart for the 80’s.  I love country, classical, musical theatre, you name it.  I’m not a big fan of most rap or heavy metal.  If it makes you dance or helps you feel something, that’s what makes me tick.


How important do you feel ear training and composing are to musicians?  How have you developed a musical ear? Do you compose your own pieces? Enjoy improvising melodies? Write your own arrangements of familiar pieces?

I think ear training and composing are helpful to musicians in that the musician can more easily identify patterns in music that make a piece quicker to learn. Since I love to sing, it is also nice to be able to change the key of a song or create my own arrangements when necessary.  I enjoy arranging and composing my own pieces.  I call composing my “bliss.”  When I am composing, everything else in the world stops and I am consumed in the process of expressing and being in the moment.  I usually have a digital recorder with me at all times so I can catch the melodies that come into my head.  The best time seems to be 1:00 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep!

I first learned to play by ear through experimentation – probably when I should have been practicing!  I would listen to my favorite songs and try to figure them out.  Playing by ear can be helpful in your lessons if you haven’t practiced! : ) I still remember sitting at the piano when I was 11 listening to Richard Marx sing “Right Here Waiting” and trying to pick it out.  As I got older, I was involved in AIM where I was taught specific ear training skills that helped increase my capacity to hear the music.  The reflections program also helped foster a love of composing.


Who is your favorite composer and why? How has this composer influenced the musician you have become?

Rachmaninoff!  My favorite part of music is the dynamics.  Rachmaninoff’s compositions have such an emotional and powerful component.  I love the chord choices that he uses.

Growing up I also listened to a lot of artists similar to John Schmidt and Rachmaninoff.  I find my new age compositions are very influenced by their sound.  I love 2nds and 7ths!


Where can people see or hear you perform?

I perform singer/songwriter style with a children’s choir around the valley at events such as MADD, fallen police officer memorials, the Festival of Trees etc.  I also perform at community and religious events with Malinda DeBry and my family.


Do you teach private or group music lessons?

I teach in a limited capacity right now as I am focused on my children at night and my new business www. during the day.


If music is not your first profession, how do you balance your other life and profession with your music career?

I would say my first profession is a being a mother to four beautiful children.  I enjoy working on NoteRunner because I can do it from home during the day and still be available for my children in the evening and also have the flexibility to help out with their classes during the day.


If you compose music, where can people view and purchase your compositions?

I have sheet music available on and am adding to it regularly.  I have primarily recorded for contests with a singer/songwriter style such as Nashville Star or the Tyler Castleton/Jenny Phillips songwriting competition.  Most of my music is in my head or recorded. I am currently in the process of making more available in sheet music form.

“I Believe in Christ” is a CD I produced with Malinda DeBry who plays the fiddle. Our arrangements are available on CDBaby, itunes and  Sheet music for those is coming soon.  You can find other singer/songwriter style music through my facebook page.


If you could go back to when you were a new music student and tell yourself anything, what would it be?

I would have told myself to practice a little harder!  Music has brought so much joy into my life.  The initial road can seem monotonous at times, but once you get over the initial wall of drudgery, your whole world opens.  It can also be an avenue for income that works with raising a family.


Do you have any great memories of music as a child?

More than I can count!  One of my favorites is my Dad laying in the hallway between the room of my two brothers and my room and singing my grandmother’s Mexican folk songs to us.  His voice is still one of the most beautiful voices I have heard.  It made me “feel” the music.   I still sing those songs to my children today.


What else do you want people to know about you or your organization?

We regularly hold piano and vocal competitions for cash prizes and welcome anyone interested to watch for the NoteRunner Piano Jam contest coming in spring 2016!  We also welcome new composers who write music and teachers who have created music helps or curriculum to be part of our NoteRunner community.  On our site composers and music teachers can create their own store and sell from the site for great commissions.


Thanks Jen! I’m sure will soon be a go-to resource for music teachers and composers alike!

Jen with kids group jen - piano

Learning a New Piece

Your child comes home from his piano lesson with a new piece of music from his teacher.  What is the best way to practice this new music? How is the best way to learn that new piece-do you start playing it from the beginning and keep playing until the end and do this 3 or 5 times each day until the piece is learned?  This is what most students do, but if your child practices that way, most likely they will never polish the piece and there will always be a spot or two where the tempo slows WAY down and they struggle. Do that enough times- teach the brain and fingers the wrong way to play the piece and it becomes very difficult to change.

A better way:

  1. Visually look at the piece-your child probably did this at the lesson, but maybe not. The teacher doesn’t always have time to go over everything in a 30-45 minute lesson.  It doesn’t ever hurt to do it again if he already did it with his teacher.  Are there any new notes that he might need to identify and find on the piano? Are there any sharps, flats, or naturals (aka accidentals) you might need to be aware of? Any tricky rhythms? Repeat signs? Coda or first and second endings? Basically you are looking for anything new or tricky. You will also want to go through the piece and identify the time signature, the key or position it is written in, the intervals, the chords, etc.  Look for patterns.  Does the bass clef use a repeated pattern or ostinato? Does the right hand repeat the melody? Don’t be afraid to mark the music and write in clues to help your child.
  2. Find the hardest rhythm, chord, or notes and play that first. Play only that-isolating that spot. Usually this will be with hands separately, not together.  Then find the next hardest spot and isolate that. This is called blocking – isolating the trouble spot and working through it.
  3. Often, a student will look at a piece of music and be overwhelmed. This does not just happen to beginning students-it happens to seasoned ones as well.  Another form of blocking is to break the music into manageable chunks of 2-4 measures and focus on only that section.
  4. Practice hands separately until you are comfortable with each hand and then put them together.
  5. Use a metronome to help keep a steady beat. Yes, I know just about everyone hates the metronome and there’s a good reason for that, but it is a great tool to keep the beat steady and avoid deviations in tempo. Many beginning students don’t know they are slowing down the hard measure(s) until the metronome tells them they are. Often the easiest measures are the ones not in tempo with the others-the student speeds up and doesn’t keep the beat steady.  Students needs a metronome to teach them.  Use it in small doses because it can be a frustrating tool.
  6. This process will take place over several practice sessions, and maybe over several weeks, depending on the difficulty and length of the piece.
  7. Once the entire piece has been learned using the above techniques, put everything together and play from beginning to end at least once each practice section. Students need to feel the flow and momentum of the music. This should never be the primary focus of practicing a piece, but is used mainly when polishing a piece for completion or performance.
  8. Blocking practice is a great tool, but it must be used correctly and varied often. Read this post for a varying practice style.

Have you found any other tools to help your child learn a new piece of music? Share them in the comments below.

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