by Leila Viss

So you say, “I’m all in with this lab idea, but I could use more advice.”  Here is more information about software you can use and other assignments you can give.

With the basic equipment and online music games mentioned in the last article you have the tools to implement a sufficient lab with your lessons. (You may also want to review the first article about why a lab is a great idea.) However, there are many more options to consider as you feel the urge to develop beyond the basics. Keep in mind that all the software and websites generally fall into these categories–those that offer:

A: Lessons or Tutorials that Teach
B. Games that Teach
C. Drills to Master
D. Features that promote Creativity
E. Listening and Reading

Software: 

Certain software programs are reliable and necessary as you develop your lab. Here is a list of some of my “staples” with only a very BRIEF overview of each. At the end of each description, the letter A, B or C, etc, appears indicating my categorization.

  • Groovy Shapes, Groovy Jungle and Groovy City: This series of programs is one of my and my students’ favorites. It is hard to aptly describe how students engage with this program. It is something to be experienced. Each program is targeted for a specific age group and teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch and composition by exploring and creating with images. The programs feature a unique opportunity to create which is not unlike laying tracks in Garage Band but, the programs are intuitive for young musicians. Students are always thrilled when it’s “Groovy” day. (A, D)
  • Auralia: It is hard to think of a more comprehensive ear training program than this. It boasts hundreds of exercises in 41 topics–it would be difficult to master every one in a lifetime. Auralia is easily customized to fit individual needs and even supports syllabi for AP exams and more! (Mostly C although lessons (A) are offered “textbook” style.)
  • Musition: This is Auralia’s visual counterpart and provides comprehensive, interactive theory training and testing. It too, offers exam syllabi in preparation for exams. (Mostly C although lessons (A) are offered “textbook” style.)
  • Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory: At times a tutorial software program is the perfect companion to support lesson instruction. This program includes narration of concepts, animated exercises, ear training and review tests. It does correlate with Alfred’s Essentials of Music Student Book but it is not necessary to use the book in order to benefit from this program. (A, B)
  • Children’s Music Journey Vols 1-3: Make sure to have a keyboard and MIDI connection for these three volumes. The diligent efforts spent sequencing concepts and designing graphics that teach and inspire young children make this a series another staple to add to your software library. One of my favorite features–every 5 lessons, the young lab student enjoys a new “teacher” to provide instructions. These teachers include Beethoven, Clara Schumann, Scott Joplin. Students listen to many classics of each composer when using the software. Note: this is available by CD-ROM or Download. (A, B, D)
  • Music Ace Maestro: When in need of a tutorial program that instructs with interactive lessons and games, this is a standard. The kwirky “Maestro” leads students through concepts of fundamentals with a clever twist. It offers capabilities to organize syllabi for students and provides progress scores. It’s claim to creative fame is the Doodle Pad–students love creating with this.  (A, B, D)
  • Home Concert Extreme: This unique MIDI score following program AND iPad app provides a perfect accompaniment to your students favorite solos. It follows the tempo choice (or choices!) of the student and even turns the pages. This enhances performances immediately and provides terrific sight reading exercises.(C, E).
  • Not mentioned but recommended: Alfred Theory Games (B), Piano Wizard–always a student favorite (B, C),  Alfred Interactive Musician (C)

Additional Assignment Ideas: 

As mentioned in the first article, there can be drawbacks to adding technology to your daily teaching, the biggest drawback: system failure. So, when a glitch occurs, you need to be prepared with plan B. To be honest, it is refreshing to furnish assignments away from the computer and students never seem to mind.

  • Practice Room: My dreams came true about 10 years ago when I purchased my Yamaha C6 grand piano affectionately called “Bella”. Bella lives upstairs in my living room and students are thrilled to try out performance-ready pieces on “her”. Generally, I have to remind students to come back down to the studio as they would happily spend the 30 mins playing upcoming recital pieces.
  • Recording Session: As recital dates loom, I will work with one student upstairs on Bella and ask the other pianist to practice on the Clavinova and aim to nail a “perfect” recording. This challenge keeps them playing until they have a “keeper”–it usually doesn’t happen right away so this is a great strategy to fit in extra and intentional practice.
  • Coloride: Students may learn aurally or visually but some benefit from the use of color and touch. This unique book drills theory elements with a tactile twist.
  • Written Work: Theory pages are important but my students tend avoid them. If assigned during the lab session, they will be completed.
  • Hal Leonard Flash Cards–I continue to design ways to use these dry erase staff cards. Students love drawing with dry erase markers. This is a great way to practice notation of scales, chords, five finger patterns, inversions…
  • The PianoTeacher’s Resource Kit provides ample reproducible games, crossword puzzles, worksheets for a number of levels. Always a terrific back-up for reinforcing concepts.
  • Library Books: Through the years, I have collected books about practicing, (I am a huge fan of Phillip Johnston’s The Practice Revolution!) the piano, composers, etc. Lab time provides an opportunity for students to do something old-fashioned and read from a real book.
  • Piano Explorer Magazines: With years and years of issues, I decided to create notebooks for favorite Piano Explorer articles. After they are carefully ripped from the magazine, I place a favorite article in page protectors.  Information of various composers, etc are found easily thanks to dedicating a notebook to each time period–Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century. Another notebook houses important theory concepts, while another is dedicated to artists, instruments, etc. If a student is playing Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”, it is easy to find an article about Scott Joplin, find a Ragtime playlist in my  iTunes library and students enjoy reading about and listening to this favorite American style.
  • iPad: This device is a cross between a laptop and an iPhone–not quite a replacement for a computer but VERY close. Music apps continue to appear and I am astounded by the capabilities of these sleek machines. Click here for the list of apps I currently have which feature note name drills, sight reading exercises, music history and more. Would love to hear of your favorites.

One of the benefits of adding a lab to your lesson is time. You are free to do anything (using technology or not) that enhances your students’ progress so take advantage of this opportunity. I cannot emphasize that enough, lab time means so much more than computer time. Next time, learn how to assign lab activities that are level and age appropriate for each student and how to streamline your lesson plans with creative themes and units.

Questions, comments?  Post them in the comments! I’ll be happy to answer.

See also…

Adding a Lab to Your Lessons #1 – Why?
Adding a Lab to Your Lessons #3- More Advice


Leila Viss owns an independent piano studio which features a tech-savvy lab. She seeks to create innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player of any age to stick to the bench for life. She holds a Masters Degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Denver and has presented at local, state and national conferences. She adjudicates at local, state, regional and national piano and composition competitions. She serves on the Keys to Imagination Advisory Board and holds a full-time church organist/pianist position. Leila posts regularly on the MusicTeachersHelper blog. Visit her studio website.