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Teaching Tips: Helping Piano Students Apply New Concepts (Part 1 of 3)

By Melody Bober | April 26, 2017

Teaching Tips: Helping Piano Students Apply New Concepts (Part 1 of 3)

If you took piano lessons when you were very young, you probably remember how exciting—and sometimes a bit scary—it was to begin a new piece of music, each one slightly more difficult than the last, offering new discoveries and challenges. Perhaps it would be a piece that reviewed two-note slurs; maybe staccato vs. legato, introduced accents, simple harmonies, intervals, or even moved around the keyboard a bit. But what if all of these concepts were found in the same piece?

Solo Xtreme is a new collection of three elementary books with pieces that challenge your students to change locations on the keyboard, cross hand-over-hand, play harmonic intervals, accidentals, use pedal to create color and mood, and vary articulation.

Book 1 is the early to mid-elementary level, and the exciting piece we’ll look at is called “Beach Fun.”

(Click the sample above to view "Beach Fun" from Solo Xtreme, Book 1.)

  1. With the right hand, practice 2-note slurs from D-sharp to E in various octaves. Weight the 2nd finger on D-sharp with an upward lift for the E as they progress up and down the keyboard.
  2. Try the staccato articulation by using left hand on the interval of the 4th, from C down to G. When learning staccato, the word “detached” has little meaning to a 5-year-old, so my teacher would tell me to play the keys as if they were too hot to hold onto. Also try this exercise in various octaves.
  3. The connected sound of legato is often the most difficult for younger students to achieve, but if the notes are only a step away, it seems easier to maintain that connected sound. Students should not only practice measures 2, 6, 18, and 20, but also the descending legato line measures 10-11 and the skip pattern in measure 15 for smoothness. And again, try in different octaves.
  4. As the student begins octave movement, a certain note should become the anchor note, a note that the eye sees and the hand moves to easily allowing the other fingers to fall into place. My suggestion is the right hand D sharp as the left hand should be confident finding C from anywhere.
  5. The accent in measures 9-10 and 13-14 should be performed with strength and a distinct contrast to the smooth flow of the measures following.
  6. In order to achieve the level of energy necessary for “Beach Fun,” you must begin the tempo at a quarter note = 70 and proceed upward from there as confidence builds. The piece must be lively, but correct note playing and rhythmic precision are paramount.
  7. Lastly, the best performance will result from memorization. Changing locations, implementing all of the dynamics, and articulation require concentration on total musicianship without having to continuously glance from page to keyboard.

Changing locations on the keyboard, varied articulation, and dynamics give this piece an “X-treme-ly” delightful sound, and the lively tempo guarantees fast-paced fun for your elementary student.

Melody Bober

A composer, arranger, clinician, and teacher, Melody Bober enjoys creating motivational piano pieces that foster her students’ understanding and love of music. She holds music degrees from the University of Illinois-Urbana and Minnesota State University. Melody’s dynamic sessions are enriched by her experience as a studio owner, classroom teacher, and church musician.

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