Reading Notes

Reading Notes

One of the very first things you need to learn is how to read notes.  You have to identify notes in the music, and where those notes are on your instrument (in this case, the piano.)


I made a video explaining the way that I teach note reading to young kids – who are just learning to read.  It is very visual, and doesn’t require spelling, like “Every Good Bird Does Fly”.

Watch the video HERE


In the video, I offer a free download of my cheat sheets for reading notes on the staff.   You can download those HERE.


I have twenty sets of flashcards that I use at my studio to teach students to read the notes.  By the time they have completed all twenty, they REALLY know their notes!!  I put all my flashcards, cheat sheets, instructions, and even some flashcard game ideas into a book which is available on Amazon.


You can find it HERE.


Happy Note Reading!!


Connie Cullum –

Taking piano students from Plinking to Performing!

Facebook:  The Piano University



Practicing: Where?


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Where should a student practice?

Obvious answer – at the piano.  Ha ha ha.


But the more difficult issue is where should the piano be located in the house?  It’s kind of a balancing act.  You want your child to have a practicing environment free from a lot of distractions.  But you also don’t want to send them to the far corner in the basement where they will feel isolated.


If you have an acoustic piano, your choices might be limited.  So try to provide an environment that is free from a lot of distraction, and at the same time is within ear-shot of you and the family.  So you can give encouragement and praise!  If it’s in the living room – enforce a “No TV” policy during practice time.  If you have more kids, it could be homework or reading time for the others, while the one practices.  Then set up a rotation if more than one takes piano lessons.


Speaking of rotation, that’s how I run lessons at my studio!  And one piano-mom said she copied my format for home practicing.  She has them practice in three stations – the piano, theory workbook, and then flashcards/ tablet theory games.  She had amazing results.  She said the kids loved it, and sometimes even wanted to practice longer!


The rotation idea could include several kids who are taking lessons, so the “WHERE?” question could be more in the center of the home, since everyone could be focused on practicing.


Happy Practicing!

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Connie Cullum, The Piano University

Facebook:  The Piano University


P.S.  Leave a comment to tell me where your kids do their practicing, and if it works well or not.

Practicing: What?

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What should your child be practicing?


Only NEW music counts as practicing.  I know it’s fun and easy and comfortable to play over pieces they already know and enjoy.  That is called “Reviewing”.  Not “Practicing”.  It’s important to spend time reviewing, as well.  Maybe at the beginning or the end of a practice session.

It’s good to review because it helps a student remember the pieces they can play well.  It also builds up a repertoire for performances.  Over time, it’s like a roadmap of their progress.  I have my students keep a repertoire binder of pieces they love from each level they pass off.


But the most important thing to get out of a practicing session is to make progress in learning NEW things.  You take on something that is a challenge.  It’s hard to play.  You can’t even do it at first.  So you practice – you use all the tips and practice techniques that you have learned (both from your teacher, or from me).  And gradually the challenge becomes easier and easier.  By the end of a week of truly practicing every day, you can easily play the very thing you couldn’t do at all.  Then it’s time for a new challenge.  You go to your lesson and get a new assignment that starts out the same way – it’s a challenge.  It’s hard to play.  You can’t do it.  So you practice…


If you’d like free resources for piano theory and practicing tips, Click Here.


Here is a fun practicing tip that makes students want to practice even longer!


Happy Practicing!

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Connie Cullum, The Piano University


Facebook:  The Piano University

Practicing: WHO?

blue question markWho? Who should be practicing?  The student, obviously.

But practicing can get frustrating, boring, and ineffective when kids are left to do it all alone.
You don’t have to spend every minute with them, or even time every day.


Be their cheerleader!  Praise them for improvements.  This way you are acknowledging that things weren’t as good as they are now.


By the way – Mistakes are a necessary part of getting better.  If you always just say they sound wonderful, it won’t mean much.  So be honest – but look for any improvement you can find!

Find ways to make practicing fun – games, challenges, and being a part of it sometimes so your child won’t feel lonely.


Want some ideas and resources for piano lessons and practicing?  Click here for my FREE Piano Resources.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!!


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Connie Cullum, The Piano University

Facebook:  The Piano University


Practice Blocks

Practice Blocks

Sometimes it’s fun to shake things up a bit – maybe mix them around.  The complaints I hear most from students who don’t like practicing is that it’s too hard, or it’s too boring.  Here’s a solution for both!


They aren’t really blocks like the ones we played with as kids.  They are small sections of your practice assignment.

Take your overall weekly practicing assignment and split it up into smaller sections, called “Blocks”.

For example:

Technique:   Most students have technique to practice.  This would be things like scales, 5-finger patterns, and hand or finger exercises.

Theory:  This is usually written worksheets.  It’s everything you need to know about how music works.

Review:  I think it’s great for students to regularly go back over old pieces they have passed off.  It keeps the music fresh so they can perform it when they want to, and it also acts like a marker for how far they have come.

Learn a new section:  I encourage my students to learn their new music in small sections (usually 2-4 measures).  Learning one section well should only take a few minutes.

Memorization:  Always be memorizing.  It keeps a piece ready for performance, and it strengthens your “memorization” muscle!

FREE CHOICE:  Sometimes students want to learn songs outside of their assignment.  They can also take some time to compose, improvise, and just play around to have fun at the piano.

Here are some ideas for how to use these Practice Blocks.


  1.  Spend only 5 minutes on each block.  Set a timer if you’d like.
  2. Write the name of each block on a piece of paper, and fold them up in bowl.  Draw a piece of paper and then practice that block for at least 5 minutes.  This way, the order is random.
  3. There are 6 blocks (you can substitute, or add more).  Roll a die.  This makes it completely random, and you will probably end up repeating some blocks, and not getting to others.  Maybe you could have a 10 minute “make up” time at the end of practicing if you think you’ve missed too much, or didn’t get enough time on one of the blocks.
  4. Divide practice time up.  This works well for younger students.  Set a time for each block (3, 4, 5 minutes?).  When they practice, they only choose two blocks – or draw them out of a bowl, or roll the die.  Then they can go do something else.  However, they will have to practice at least three times a day – but for much shorter times.


Dividing up practicing into sections can add variety, and unexpected randomness so kids don’t get bored or overwhelmed.


Happy Practicing!


Connie Cullum





Ten Uncomplicated Ways to Have More Patience With Your Kids

Patience with Clouds

1. Give Yourself Empathy. Let’s face it.  Who gives empathy to Mom?  Usually no one.   So if you don’t learn to give yourself empathy, you may never get it.  It looks like this:
“I’m feeling _____________________, because I need ____________________.

Here’s some Prompts.

Feelings:  Frustrated, Angry, Hysterical, Overwhelmed, Disappointed

Needs:  Order, Respect, Appreciation, Comfort, Rest

Just identifying these feelings and needs can shift your energy.  Try it!
2. Re-Energize As soon as you can, create a quiet time.  Even if the kids won’t nap, give them something to do so you can lay down, rest, or meditate for even a short time.   Suggestion:  Have a special activity (game, story book, coloring book, video game, etc) that they can ONLY use during these special “quiet times”.  It will hold their attention better if it’s not something they get to play with regularly.
3. Check Expectations  Maybe you were hoping to get more done today.  Maybe you wanted the house or the kids to look a certain way for visitors, or pictures.  Although your expectations may be reasonable, and you have every right to them, stress and anxiety are what happen in the space between our expectations and reality.  I’m not saying you should completely close the gap, but if you can’t change reality, the only thing you can do is change your expectations.

I’m reminded of a bumper sticker I saw years ago… “I Feel Much Better Now That I’ve Given Up Hope”.  If you laughed, it means you can relate!   But short of giving up hope, shift your expectations.
4. Plan Eisenhower said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”   This isn’t your first day as a mom.  Take a look at your plans for the day.  What could possibly go wrong?  I know you can think of a few things, because they’ve probably happened already.  When you know what the worst possibilities are, you can have a plan for them.  Not a hope, just a back up plan.

5. Smile Not one of those stretchy-faced fake smiles.  I know I’ve had my share of those.  But relax the muscles in your face.  Take your mind to a happy thought.  Even if the only happy thought is that someday the kids will grow up and this will all be over.  (Sometimes we’ve all been there!)    When you smile with a true, natural, happy smile, your emotions shift.

See?  I know you just tried it.  Now practice it when you feel yourself losing patience with your kids.
6. Take a Picture However big the mess is, it will be good for a laugh one day.  Perhaps even bribery.
7. Breath The navy seals learn “box breathing” to help them remain sane in life-threatening situations.  Maybe we can give it whirl here, too.  Imagine a perfect square.  Visualize going up the left side of the square as you inhale through your nose to the count of 4.  “1…2…3…4…”  Then hold your breath while you keep the same steady count of four.  Visualize going across the top of the square.  Now down the right side as you exhale through your mouth to the same rhythm.  Wait to inhale again until you complete the square across the bottom.   Two or three box breaths can help.
8. Remove Yourself Maybe you just need a time out.  If your kids are old enough to be alone in the other room, take it!
9. Chocolate Enough said.

10. Hug Them Maybe you can wait until after #9 for this one, but hugging them and holding them close releases endorphins for both of you.  Maybe they won’t be in the mood for a hug, but I’ll bet they would rather have a hug than the huge explosion that could occur otherwise.
Good luck!  Please let me know what worked… what didn’t… and other ideas you have.


Two Crazy Simple Ways to Learn Notes

I love using apps in my studio.  I have the students use them as an off-the-bench activity.  I love them because:
▪ The kids really enjoy them.

▪ They do basically the same thing that computer games did, but much less expensively!

▪ They can target certain skills – note reading, rhythm, chords, etc.

▪ They make learning FUN!
I have an i-pad, and an android based tablet at my studio so I can utilize the apps available for each of them.  At the moment, there are a lot more for the apple (ios) than the android.
Here are my favorites for note-reading.  It’s kind of odd, but neither of my favorite apps make the top 10 lists among music teachers.  They’re kind of lesser-known secrets, I guess.
For ios – Note Works.

Note WorksNote works screen shot
It has a little munchie guy that goes across the bottom of the screen, and notes that move across the staff on the top of the screen.  Every note you correctly identify will drop down for him to eat.  If a note goes all the way across the screen before you can name it, it catches on fire.  You have to wait till all the other notes have come out before you can douse the notes on fire and put them out to try them again.
The basic version of this app is free.  The upgrade to fill in all the upper levels is $4.99.  There are 21 levels in the complete version.
You have the option of identifying the notes in solfege,  letter names, treble clef, bass clef, grand staff, alto clef, or tenor clef.  For my studio, I only use the ABC letters, and the Treble, Bass, and Grand Staff.
I made a check off sheet so that each student can track their progress and start right where they left off the week before.

Note Works Binder Sheets
For android – Treble Cat and Bass Cat

Treble Cat
These both come in a “lite” version, which is free.  But it has very limited levels.  The full version only goes up to level five.  I really wish it was like double that, but it is what it is, and I really like what it offers, so it’s a keeper.

Treble Cat screen shot
This game has the same idea – notes moving across the screen, and the students have to identify them.  However, the students are only supposed to select certain notes – like C and G – for each section.  The notes vary, and it gets harder as the levels go up.
One thing I don’t really like is that Treble Cat and Bass Cat are two separate apps.
Maybe they make all my dreams come true and combine the clefs into one game and make it about twenty levels.
Hope that helps!  Give the free versions a try – you have nothing to lose!

Connie Cullum

Pianist, Teacher, Creator and Publisher of Color Me Musical Books

She Felt Hopeless…

I want to tell you about a student I had about eight years ago.  A six year old named Zoe. Her mom called me the day after Zoe’s lesson.  I could hear Zoe crying in the background – (wailing, actually).  Her mom Pam, said that Zoe was really frustrated with her new song because she thought it was too hard.  Pam asked if I could talk to Zoe.
Pam put Zoe on the phone.
“Hi, Zoe.”
“Hi, Miss Connie.”  Zoe was sniffling.
“So your song is pretty hard this week?”
“Yeah!”  The tears started again.  “It’s too hard!  I can’t do it! I tried and tried, but I can’t!”
She felt hopeless
“That’s okay, Zoe.  Let’s do something different.”  I had her attention.  “For now let’s forget about the whole song except for one tiny thing.”
“Well, do you think you could just learn the very first note?  And that’s all?”
Zoe sounded confused.  “Just the first note?”
“Yep.  That’s all.  Can you learn just that note?”
“Sure.”  Her voice was cheery and excited as I heard her talk to her mom.  “Miss Connie says I can just learn one note – and  that’s all!”
“Zoe?”  I had to get her attention for one last suggestion.”
“If you happen to get that one note really really good, maybe you can push yourself and add on another note.”
“Sure!  I can do that!”
Pam came back on the phone.  “THANK YOU!”
The next week when Zoe came for her lesson she was BEAMING.  She proudly sat up at the bench and played the entire song for me!
What happened?   That two page song with sharps, hands played together, dynamics, and staccatos was OVERWHELMING.  In the adult world it was probably like receiving a notice that the balance on your mortgage is due – tomorrow!   (I would probably cry, too!)  We pay our mortgages off one month at a time with payments that we can conceive of affording.  Little Zoe could not even conceive of playing that song.  So I broke it down into a ridiculously easy assignment – one note.
It’s human behavior.  Once we have a success with something, we are motivated to try more.  I knew that Zoe would not stop with one note.  I just needed to take all the pressure off and help her focus on one small, very easy task so that she could have immediate success.  And voila!  She learned the rest of the song as “extra credit” with her new-found motivation.
When we all practice, we will have much more success and much more motivation if we break our pieces down into very small, easy to accomplish parts.
Happy Practicing!

Sitting At The Piano 101

Here’s a few simple things to remember when you are sitting at the piano to play…

1. Place feet on the floor, or on a stool. Do not cross your legs or tuck them under the bench.
2. Sit on the front half of the bench.  This allows you to lean forward, and side to side as needed.
3. Elbows should be slightly in front of your side-line of center. (The seam that goes up the side of your shirt.)
4.  Sit up tall and keep your back as straight as you can.
5. Open your shoulders.  Be careful not to hunch up your shoulders as you concentrate.
6. Slightly lift your chin – so your eyes are looking straight ahead at the music.

Hope this helps!

Connie Cullum

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