In March, I had the chance to go to the Music Teacher’s National Association Conference in Atlanta. I had been to an MTNA conference one other time, back in 2008, and I was really excited to return in a completely different stage of my career.

Last time I went, I was finishing up my Masters in Piano Pedagogy. I was teaching in a few different settings between schools, some private students and at my university. At that point, everything at the MTNA conference was new and exciting. I was full of new ideas and ready to launch my independent teaching career equipped with all kinds of new tools, books and inspiration.

This time around, I had to carve out time to attend the conference from running my studio where I work with 100 students and 8 pedagogy interns each week. Things feel much more established now than they did in 2008, so I was definitely looking for different types of inspiration and ideas than I was when I was first getting started.

I spent 3 solid days hearing wonderful lectures on all kinds of topics from improv to business to memorization and so much more. I loved meeting so many teachers from around the country. As soon as they introduced themselves and shared a little bit about their teaching, I could instantly relate, no matter where they came from.

One of the things that struck me the most at the conference is just how innovative and creative piano teachers are! The conference was buzzing with creative energy and the expo hall was my favorite place to visit because it was where all of the most brilliant and creative teaching minds were hanging out. I made a point to have a face-to-face conversation with every single vendor to learn more about what they had created and how it could help our students and advance piano teaching.

I learned SO much and it’s really hard to pare down all that I learned into a short blog post. But, I wanted to make a point to share the top 5 things that I can’t stop thinking about since returning from the conference.

Piano Box Games

As soon as I stepped up to the Piano Box Games booth, I fell in love with everything they had to offer. But, I was also so amazed by Jodie, who runs the business with her mom. She was there with her 3 week old newborn and talked about how she just loved what she does so much she couldn’t imagine not being there. I feel the exact same way about what I do and I have so much admiration for other moms who can balance being with their kids and running a creative business.

I picked up 3 games from the Piano Box Games booth: 88 Keys, Vivace and Left On! Right On!. All of the games come with all kinds of interesting pieces and gadgets.

I’m slowly rolling out the games with my students. So far, they have fallen in love with playing 88 Keys and I love how flexible it is to use with a mix of ages and levels. The board is a full keyboard with all 88 keys and the game pieces are nicely made from cut-acrylic.

We’ve tried Vivace just a few times and it has also been a hit. My students are so intrigued by the music symbol pieces. Once we dive into this one more, I’m excited to learn all of the variations of how to play it.

I was specifically looking for more games and activities for my beginners and Jodie recommended Left On! Right On! for them. The magnetic board is made to go on your piano rack so you can play this right at the piano.

I’m definitely keeping an eye on Piano Box Games when it’s time to add more games to our collection.

My Melodies

It was so fun to meet Brock Chart and learn about his music from My Melodies. I love what he’s doing with pop, rock and jazz music in the pedagogy world. These genres can be tricky to teach because historically, they just haven’t fit nicely into the traditional pedagogical boxes. But, he’s created tons of really great books that keep in mind the exact skillset of a beginning to early intermediate piano students and gets them playing music that satisfies their interests.

He has Books 1 & 2 of each of the 3 styles – jazz, pop and rock. There are also play along tracks recorded by real musicians. I always try to give my students chance to play with play-along tracks because they help them learn to play musically and efficiently.

Piano Pyramid

Meeting Dorla from Piano Pyramid was such a delight! I was blown away by her innovative Piano Pyramid approach that was designed for mulit-level group piano classes. There has always been a huge need for more creative ways to include multi-level students in the same class.

Dorla’s books come in 5 progressive levels. All of the books have the same music, so each student works from the book that match their own level. It’s easy for students to level up at their own pace and join in with the group at a higher level.

I was completely amazed by Dorla’s approach and all that she has accomplished. I wanted to come right home and start teaching with her material immediately! Since my studio is pretty established these days, I need to be strategic about making big changes like that, but I did buy a couple of individual pieces to teach some of my groups in camps this summer.

Piano Music Database

My hat is off to William Perry with Piano Music Database! I had run across his site a couple of years ago and it was great to meet him and hear from him about it’s latest updates.

William has taken on the huge task of organizing pedagogical piano music into an easy-to-search database. As piano teachers, we spend a lot of our time searching for just the right music for our students. The Piano Music Database makes it really easy to browse music, see an example of the notation, watch a performance video and get quick bullet points on all of the pedagogical features of the music.

My spring recitals almost always follow a certain theme and having a resource like this makes it so much quicker to find specific music that fits my them and works for my students.

Little Gems for Piano

I had heard about Paula Dreyer’s Little Gems for Piano for years and I made a point to attend her presentation on the first day of the conference. Paula has a really whimsical and expressive approach to the piano and all of her music is designed to be taught by rote. She puts a big emphasis on helping students to reach the fullest potential of sound from the piano as soon as possible, rather than waiting until they can read more complex music.

I’ve always been a fan of rote teaching and Paula’s books were just what I was looking for to bring more creative exploration into lessons.

There’s obviously way more to share about the MTNA conference than will fit here. A few other highlights were:

  • Hearing the keynote address from Tim Topham.
  • Meeting Aaron Garner from Piano Marvel (we’re huge fans of his Classical Showdown around here).
  • Meeting the creative team behind Keys to Imagination (several of their games came home with me).
  • Meeting Nicola Canton from Colourful Keys (we’ve collaborated online years ago and it was great to meet in person).
  • Meeting fellow piano blogger Amy Chaplin from Piano Pantry.
  • Hearing another fantastic presentation from Bradley Sowash; I’ve heard him several times and each time I learn a few more tidbits to bring to my teaching.
  • Having dinner with fellow ComposeCreate fans and Wendy Stevens. Wendy is a former colleague of mine and I’ve loved seeing her composing career blossom. It was great to catch up with her!
  • Running into my grad school pedagogy professor, Dr. Sylvia Coats.
  • Meeting Laura Chu Stokes and making the E-Z Notes transition official.

I came home from the MTNA conference with SO many new great ideas, resources and contacts. It’s always a sacrifice to carve out the time and money to travel to a conference, but I highly recommend making it work.

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