June 2014 Group Piano Lesson: The Romantic and Modern Eras

Romantic Period Composer

Felix Mendelssohn: Romantic Period Composer

Modern Period Composer

Aaron Copland: Modern Period Composer
















Flynn Piano Studio’s latest group lesson focused on the closest musical periods to us, the Romantic and Modern Periods (follow these links to see other group lesson details: Classical Period Group LessonBaroque Period Group Lesson). I found this lesson from last Saturday to be the most fun and rewarding, personally.

Performances are the standard beginning to my group lessons, so we started with my students playing some pieces they have been learning during one-on-one lessons.

I printed out a handout to show students (found here: Handouts about the Romantic and Modern Periods), after which we briefly looked over a section from the Romantic Period handout, “Romantic Music is…” Another resource I used while discussing the Romantic Period is a website which describes the Romantic period with simple terms. I found the quote below quite good:
Romantic music has all features of music from the classical period, but with much more of it! This means:
  • The tunes get longer and stronger.
  • The louds get louder and the quiets get quieter.
  • The mood changes are much bigger and happen more often.
  • The orchestras get bigger.
  • The music goes on for a longer time.
  • There is more music with the same names as music from the classical period. So there are a lots of symphonies, sonatas, and concertos. There is also music with some new names, such as symphonic poems.”

As far as the Modern Period goes, I told students that Modern music uses notes that sound unusual together (I mentioned the word dissonance but didn’t use the term much throughout the class time, especially considering some of the students were quite young).To illustrate the Modern and Romantic eras, I played a bit of Bela Bartok and also a snippet of Mendelssohn’s song, “Sweet Remembrance.” The students weren’t convinced which era Bartok was from, but I only played a short section of Mendelssohn when students were confident that it was a Romantic Period piece. I played a snippet of Chopin as well and asked students what the mood of the piece was since Romantic music tends to have one mood in particular for each piece.

Have children spell words that can be found on the grand staff. Use medium sized buttons.

Have children spell words that can be found on the grand staff using medium-sized buttons to delineate the words.

Use buttons to depict notes.

Use buttons to depict notes.








The musical spelling game reinforced note-reading. I found it went smoothly and everyone got involved. The idea of spelling words on a keyboard is not original to me, but I modified the ideas I’d seen to suit what I wanted to do. The photo above is a treble and bass clef which I drew the night before the lesson using a permanent marker. I also used medium-sized buttons (7 is plenty) for students to delineate individual notes. The 6 participants all sat on the floor around a small coffee table and I assigned them a word one by one. We started around the circle using the treble clef as the spelling board and then did another round using the bass clef. I wanted everyone to get involved, so when someone would complete a word, I asked others if the word just spelled was correct. I found a helpful spelling word list (Spelling Word List) which I printed only for myself (which saved time and paper since I didn’t create individual cards for each word that students spelled).

While the game was finishing up I played a youtube video of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, particularly the variation of the Quaker song, “Tis a Gift to be Simple” (on this video it is from minutes 20:30-24:00). After the game had finished I turned on Copland’s The Cat & The Mouse. The young girl who plays in this video did a great job and it caught everyone’s attention. Two questions I asked continuously to encourage listening were: “When do you think you hear the cat?” and “When do you hear the mouse?”

A quiz on music periods was a great way to end the lesson. I would play a music clip and ask students what era they thought it was from and also why they thought so. “Classics for Kids” have a selection of various music which uses Naxos recordings, so I used their website for this quiz (Music Clip Links). Below is a list of the songs I chose for each period and also my notes of why I thought a piece sounded like it was from a certain era.

The oldest two participants in this quiz had a more comprehensive understanding of Classical music in general and their ears were better trained, but it was nice to see younger students participating, too. If nothing else, this quiz was a good way to introduce famous pieces of music.

Brandenburg Concerto: trill, various voices
Four Seasons: terraced dynamics, trills, lots going on!

Turkish Rondo: ABA pattern
Symphony No. 8: simple, balanced

Hungarian Dance No. 5: Dramatic, sweeping
The Happy Farmer: one mood
The Peer Gynt Suite: sneaky mood

The Planets: unusual sounds placed together
Children’s Corner Suite: rhythmic, unusual sounds placed together
Hary Janos Suite: experimental (i.e. bells)

Over the summer, some of my blog posts will be about various music games online that can be a help to students’ rhythm, note-reading, etc. So more posts to come soon, God willing.


April 2014 Group Piano Lesson: The Classical Period

Franz Joseph Haydn

The Classical Period


This month’s group lesson was themed around the Classical Period of music history.  The lesson lasted roughly 40 minutes and it was nice to see two parents attend the lesson and get a taste of what their children’s piano lessons are like during the week.

Performances were the first part of the group lesson, so each child played one or two of their pieces. After the performances, I handed out a colorful sheet about the Classical Period: Handout about the Classical Period (see page 3). The students who came to this group lesson hadn’t attended the lesson on the Baroque Era, so I showed them a video clip of a harpsichord, explaining that in the Baroque Period the harpsichord was popular while in the Classical Period the piano was popular.

After talking about some of the aspects of the Classical Period I played parts of the following clips:
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony Musical Clip (Beethoven, 5th symphony)
Mozart String Quartet Musical Clip (Mozart – String Quartet No. 17 in B flat, K. 458)

Next came a worksheet about the composer Haydn, whom I chose to highlight today (Haydn Fill-in-the-Blank Worksheet). I used the following biographies as helps for talking about Haydn’s life: Haydn Short Biography & Haydn Biography 2Haydn is one of my favorite composers and I really enjoy the surprises and happiness in his songs. I played a bit of a Haydn sonata for the students, sometimes telling them, “there’s a surprise coming up soon!” so they could listen for it.

We talked about how the I  and V7 chord were prominent in Classical music and I did a short quiz, asking which chord I’d played. Afterwards I added an extra challenge by playing the chords in a pattern and asking which patten I’d played (for example, I, I, V7, V7, I).

We also briefly listened to a music clip which demonstrates the ABA pattern which was so popular during the Classical Period. A few of the resources I used while preparing to teach the ABA pattern are found by following these two links: Lesson Plan & Listening GuideTo give an example of music with repeating themes I played some of the video of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra (link: I like that the performers are wearing period clothing. The ABA pattern can be a whole lesson plan in itself, but after listening to the beginning of the piece I asked the students to listen if they heard anything repeat itself. Fortunately the “A” pattern is quite memorable.

We played a game after this, which was a nice change especially for the youngest student. I used the same game from the last lesson which involves finding note flashcards around the room and playing them (see March 2014 Group Lesson Plan: The Baroque Period). Since my students have a range of musical knowledge (varying from a student who is reading pre-staff notation to a student who can read ledger lines) I had the younger students find notes in the scale of C major and the older student find flashcards with ledger line notes so that it was good practice for everyone. Although the youngest student doesn’t know many notes, it was good for him to get more exposure to music notation.

The students had a final taste of a Classical composer when I played some bits of Clementi sonatinas. I noted the left hand patterns which involve a lot of broken chords (I and V7). We concluded the lesson by replaying the note flashcard game once more. I changed up the ledger line notes for the older student to give her an extra challenge and had the older student hide the C scale notes on the other side of the room.

Feel free to use this lesson plan, whether to teach students or just to learn more about the Classical Era for personal study!

March 2014 Group Lesson Plan: The Baroque Period

Learning about music history is so helpful for piano students so I’ve decided to have musical periods as the common theme of group lessons this spring. This first group lesson of the year focused on the baroque period. I’m planning the next three to be about the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Group Lesson on the Baroque Period

Group Lesson on the Baroque Period

Here’s an outline of the March 2014 Group Lesson Plan:

  • Group lessons provide a great way for students to share what they are practicing individually. Students played individual pieces, a duet and a composition. Performance was the first part of the group lesson.
  • Since the theme was about the Baroque period I used related handouts. The first sheet has information about the period in general (paintings, dress, music characteristics). (page 2)
  • I found a website with good quality music clips (by Naxos) of Classical music. The website is called and has some great resources. We listened to some of the clips of Water Music and Four Seasons. I asked students which instruments they heard while listening to the clips.
  • While the music was fading away I handed out a simple worksheet. It has a photo of J. S. Bach and lines to fill in information about his life. The link is: (page 2). I used the following short biography to give students some information about Bach’s life:
  • Afterwards I showed students parts of a video about the harpsichord. The first three minutes showed how the instrument is plucked. I skipped the video to another section (minutes 5:20-7:40) where the presenter gives a nice demonstration of how the harpsichord sounded (this particular harpsichord has a double keyboard).
  • After watching the video we played a game to reinforce note-reading. I used the notes from low to high Do/C in treble and bass clef and hid them while students closed their eyes. The students then found one note at a time and came to the piano, playing the note they had found in the correct octave. For a video example of how to play this game, follow the link and see the 12:45 minute mark: 
  • We finished the lesson off by watching a harpsichord video of Bach’s famous Minuet in G Major ( ) and concluded with another round of the note-recognition game.
  • Another interesting video which some of us watched after the lesson ended shows an example of the clavichord and its sound:

This lesson gave the young people a taste of music history and I hope they will make connections with this lesson when they hear other things about the Baroque period. It was great to have some parents over for the lesson as well and I hope they will provide opportunities for their children to learn more about music history, particularly the Baroque era.

How do group lessons reinforce individual lessons?

Last month Flynn Piano Studio offered its first group piano lesson.  The results were encouraging and more group lessons will be coming on a monthly basis starting in 2014.  At our last group lesson most students played 2 pieces that they have been learning during their individual piano lessons.  Since the majority of my students are beginners I asked two students who have been studied piano for a while to play scales for others to hear.  Another unique piece was a song that a girl made up as part of a composition practice during our individual lesson time.  We also did a group exercise which involved clapping, singing and playing drones (accompaniments) on the piano.  Below I have written some reasons why I am so excited about starting regular group lessons.

A group lesson provides a consistent outlet for students to play their pieces for others.  Most of piano lesson work involves spending time alone at the piano, but group lessons are the exception.  Students who are diligent and quick learners will be an example for new students to follow.  Those who are shy will find a low-pressure performance opportunity with their peers.  Group lessons are also an extra motivation for students to practice at home.  If students are well-prepared during lessons and if students take the time to study at home they should be comfortable playing in front of others.  Rather than occasionally placing them into a performance hall for a recital teachers can ease students into performing through regular group lessons.

Group lessons provide a soundboard for teachers.  In a group lesson teachers have the luxury of teaching a whole group of students something in 10 minutes rather than taking much longer to tell each individual student the same information.  Two topics that I hope to cover in the near future are musical composers and musical instruments.  When a student learns about the lives of people such as Clementi, Bach and Beethoven compositions by these composers will become much more “alive.”  Also, students should know about other instruments because it will give them a broader perspective of music.  A practical application of this is that if a student eventually decides to learn an instrument in addition to the piano they should have some knowledge of how that instrument works rather than simply choosing based on its look or sound.  For example, a student wanting to learn a woodwind instrument should be realize that it requires proper breathing (I’ve heard that playing the flute takes almost as much air as playing a tuba!) and a student who wants to learn strings should know that instruments such as the violin require much dedication if learned well.  Learning how to pick out instrumental sounds when an orchestra in playing is handy as well.  Composers and instruments are simply two subjects, but topics that teachers can cover during group lessons are countless.

A group performance lesson provides an outlet for students to make music together.

A group performance lesson provides an outlet for students to make music together.

A group performance lesson provides an outlet for students to make music together.  Boomwhackers, singing, melody bells, piano duets/trios, etc. are examples of group work which involves students working alongside each other.  More experienced students will grow as they help others; less experienced students will be challenged to improve musically.  Duets provide an opportunity for siblings to practice together at home and perform during the group class.  Working together to make music requires quite a bit of coordination and the teacher should strive for an excellent group performance (teachers must be as organized as possible!) while recognizing that realistically there will be some glitches.  It may take a while for students to get comfortable working with others in a group setting but ultimately it is enjoyable for musicians to arrive at the point of making beautiful music together.

A group performance class enhances listening skills.  If the teacher and more advanced students lead correctly, students should eventually learn how to verbalize why specifically a well-played piece of music “sounded good.”  Students can learn to say things like: “While I was listening I could hear the difference between the legato and staccato sections of the piece.”  Preparation for this listening exercise must occur during individual lessons as students learn to self-evaluate their own pieces.  If students are struggling to find compliments or constructive comments to offer, consider asking the group questions such as the following: “How was the rhythm in this piece?  Steady or shaky?” or “Did the student play forte and piano sections clearly?”  Having to comment on pieces will encourage students to have a more judicious musical ear and an outflow of this will be that students will learn to listen more critically to themselves as they practice.

These ideas only scratch the surface of the possibilities and benefits of group lessons.  Rather than viewing these lessons as an activity which has nothing to do with individual piano lessons, teachers should view this as a wonderful reinforcement to each individual student’s learning!