Teaching Bass Clef with Crazy Steps

Crazy Steps Lesson 2 with Emma – Aged 7

single-bunCatch up with Emma in her second lesson in Crazy Steps.

Continuing her work on re with Hot Cross Buns in lesson one, Emma is now discovering the Grand Staff and the Bass Clef. The DoReMi Piano approach is fun, creative and based on Kodály principles so you know that it’s the very best in sound before symbol teaching.

Lesson 2 Objectives

  • Present the Bass Clef and the Bass F line
  • Practise re and its key facts using Hot Cross Buns
    • re is higher than do and lower than mi
    • If do and mi are line notes then re is the space note in between
    • If do and mi are space notes then re is the line note in between

To start at the beginning of Emma’s journey visit the Teacher Guide for Crazy Steps.

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Teacher Guide for Crazy Steps


Crazy Steps with Emma – Aged 7

Emma has been taking piano lessons with Helen for four months and has also attended her monthly group classes. During that time she has worked through and completed Sing and Play.

She is an extremely enthusiastic and excited student. She loves the games and connects with Helen’s puppets and stories. She loves to sing.

Join us as we document her journey through Crazy Steps, the second book in the series be inspired to teach piano the Kodály way.

Through Sing and Play Helen has prepared, presented and practised steady beat and pulse, high and low pitch, rhythm names ta (crotchets/quarter notes) and titi (quavers/eighth notes) and the ta rest. She has also prepared, presented and practised the singing names or solfa do, so, mi and la. Helen and Emma prepared re during their Christmas lesson but it was not presented. Keyboard work has been on the black keys and Emma has mostly been using both hands but with single bouncing fingers.

Lesson 1

hot-cross-buns-rhythm-cardsIn Emma’s last lesson they started to look at the white keys and learnt that they are named after the musical alphabet ABCDEFG. Emma had discovered that she can use the patterns of the black keys to find certain letters. She practised finding all the Fs.

  • Present re and its key facts using Hot Cross Buns
  • Practise ta, titi and ta rest using Hot Cross Buns
  • Practise the Musical Alphabet and find the Fs on the keyboard

Read the full lesson 1 description here

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10% Off New Releases

winter-sale-borderWelcome to Winter! Have you noticed a few changes in the DoReMi Piano shop this week? New editions of the DoReMi Piano books are being published and we’re offering 10% off to everyone who places an advance order! Offer valid until 21st January 2017

sing-and-play-web-a4Putting the music first, our brand new landscape edition of Book 1 is called Sing and Play. It introduced the fundamentals of music, pulse, rhythm, pitch using the Kodály Approach. Every song in the book has a game or activity to go with it. Your students will have so much fun they will hardly notice they’re learning!

lyric-book-for-web-a4To support Sing and Play we’ve produced a beautifully illustrated Lyric Book, perfect for displaying on your tablet or interactive white board.

Introducing stave notation in a creative way we have Crazy Steps. It can also be used as a creative supplement to any other method book without prior knowledge of solfa or the Kodály Approach. Or as a starting point for older beginners.

crazy-steps-web-a4Composing and Exploring Tonality – Each piece in Crazy Steps and its successor Dippy Skips is followed by a composition activity based on the structure of the piece played. This allows the student to explore minor tonalities without needing to explain the underlying theory. They can also explore dissonance, whole tone scales and weird and wonderful accompaniment options.

musicianship-cards-for-web-a4Learning through play is the aim though. So we also have games cards and flashcards to make your lessons even more fun. Your students will love using the snails, dogs and bluebirds to create their own pulse pictures and rhythms. There are three packs of cards: Musicianship Game CardsSing and Play Cards and Crazy Steps Cards.

Autumn Fun

pumpkin-23479_1280So it’s the last week of school this week before the October half term holidays and I thought it would be fun to do some Autumn themed activities.

Rhythm Games

For students who are working their way through Sing and Play I have some pumpkin and leaf stick notation rhythms. There are loads of games you can play with these rhythm cards.

  • matching pairs game
  • Here sits a Mousie – see my previous post
  • Poison rhythms where you select one rhythm to be the poison. Then echo clap a variety of rhythms and if the student echoes the poison one then they are out
  • Post Office Rhythms – you clap the rhythms and leave one out. Each time the student hears a rhythm then they “post” the rhythm into a box or envelope (or just make a pile). See if the one that’s left at the end matches the one you left out

Pumpkin RhythmsLeaf Rhythms

Pumpkin and Leaves Stick Rhythms as pdf

Letter Name Race

For those who have moved onto letter names with Crazy Steps I have a fun racing game on the keyboard. Even my more advanced students enjoyed this game and some weren’t as fast as I’d hoped they would be!

You and the student place a counter on the lowest key on the piano. One of you takes the pumpkins and one takes the leaves. Turn over each card and move up the the next key that matches that letter. It’s a race to the top. You will need to reuse the cards to get to the top. If they are new to letter names they can count up the alphabet. However if they are more confident you should try and persuade them to recognise the keys by pattern, not counting.

Pumpkin LettersLeaf Letters

Pumpkin and Leaves Letter Names as pdf

Practice Guide for Parents

Dear parents,

I get a lot of things land in my inbox that claim to he helpful for parents of piano students. I won’t bore you with all of them. However this week, this popped up from Teach Piano Today. I have to say it’s really useful and I can happily say I agree with all the points.

I know some of you work really effectively with your children. They are well prepared for their lesson, excited to show me their new skills and eager to move on. When they are not prepared they don’t enjoy their lessons as much, they creep out of their classroom with apologies and the atmosphere of the lesson is totally different. When this continues over a couple of weeks they get demotivated, they won’t make progress and they won’t enjoy piano.

During the lessons we work really hard, make good progress and have fun. Without effective practice at home, this is really difficult.

Perhaps you didn’t realise how important you are. Maybe you think because you can’t play the piano you can’t help your child. Well you definitely can. Take a look at this poster that gives some good advice for piano parents.

In particular these phrases jumped out at me

“Sit down with your child immediately after the piano lesson. Ask him/her to show you the teacher notes, demo the newest material, and tell you what was covered in the lesson.”

This is really important. The evening of the piano lesson is the best time to do the first practice of the week. Your child will still remember what we did in the lesson, how the songs sound and the rules of the games or actions. If you wait too long, they will have forgotten the detail. Of course with DoReMi Piano you can always pop along to the audio resources section of the site to listen to the songs if you can’t quite remember them.

“Establish a realistic and predictable practice time that can happen easily every single day… regardless of other family activities”

Everyone’s daily schedule is different so I can’t say when it’s best to practise. In my house, after breakfast but before school is our instrument practice time. Sometimes practising isn’t possible because we forgot to do something for school, or we’re just a bit behind. However, on those days we get a second chance after school. Some days we don’t manage it, but if we aim for every day, succeeding four or five times a week is still excellent.

“Give your undivided attention.”

Gosh, I’m not very good at this with my boys. My eldest is past the beginner stage now and can quite happily get on with his practice without my supervision. Although I still listen out, and jog his memory when he’s playing his favourite piece and neglecting the others! My youngest is not so self sufficient. He will go and bash out something he thinks is quite adequate, but really the teacher wants him to work on more than just banging the right keys in sort of the right time. I sit with him and almost give him a mini lesson as we work our way through the activities for the week and chat about whether he thinks he has made any improvements in relation to that week’s objectives. I’m so busy in the mornings getting everything ready for school that sometimes I just let him bash the keys. However, I know that each time he bashes, it’s not much better than not bothering to practise at all. Bad habits are harder to get rid of.

“Inform yourself of the basic skills you will need to help your child at home. By following along with your child as they learn, you too can gain the knowledge you may need to assist with practice”

Learn with your child. Get them to teach you! And email me if you have ANY questions about the homework, or whether you’re doing it right. I will always be happy to answer.

There are more ideas on the poster. Take a look, and welcome to the world of piano parenting!!

Parents’ Practice Guide

Group Lessons with DoReMi Piano by Jeni Warder

Black CrowI love my job. As an ex-primary teacher, I’m motivated most by seeing children having fun, whilst discovering new things. When I left school teaching and began piano teaching 2 years ago, I never imagined I could end up being even more creative than I was in my classroom.

When I became a member of The Curious Piano Teachers last summer, the community and training focused me on improving my practice, challenged my creativity, and really began a snowball of self-evaluation. This led to lessons becoming more varied and child-centred, with more learning taking place away from the piano in practical activities and games. However, the more I have endeavored to make learning purposeful, musical and enjoyable, the less satisfied I have become with traditional tutor books. They seem to be at once limiting and intimidating, with musical value compromised but musical skills (such as time keeping and hearing pitch) assumed to be present from the start. I then discovered Helen’s DoReMi Piano! In this book, the structure and resources are there, but it allows me to be creative both at and away from the piano, and provides me with lots of support through the teacher book. It also follows the principle of ‘sound before symbol’, which I am becoming ever more keen to follow. I should say here, however, that I have no Kodaly training. I understand the basic principles, and would love to know more.

As I suggested earlier, I have been finding quite a few gaps in musical awareness at beginner level, so in January this year I took this matter in hand and set up my first pre-piano beginner group. I contacted three year 1 children from my waiting list and invited them to come along for half an hour a week of fun! (When I say fun, I actually mean aural training, keyboard geography and basic theory, but they don’t realise that!) We sing, play games, listen to music and really do all the things from the very beginning stages of Sing and Play. After Easter, and a lesson arranging Easter egg pictures to represent high and low notes in a song, I decided they were ready to start looking at notation and the first few pieces from the book.

image2One of my most popular activities with all my young students is walking the ‘floor stave’. (A metre of felt-backed pvc table protector fabric from Dunelm Mill which I cut into five 5cm-wide strips. When using it as a complete stave I use black rope to create the right clef.) I thought this would be a great resource to use for the pre-piano group’s first introduction to notation, except, of course, we would only need two of the lines. As we were working on ‘High low, Black Crow’, I thought I’d use an appropriate picture to represent the sounds on the floor stave, so I created a note head shape with a bird picture in the centre. (I’ve shared these as a resource just I case you’re ever after some quick crow notes!) After listening to the song, counting the high notes and low notes, how many times I sang the word “low” etc, and then singing it themselves, the children then took it in turns to place a crow on the right line to represent the movement of the song. Of course, when I then presented them with the sheet music they were keen to get on the piano as they understood exactly how it worked. I simply had to point out which note to use for high, and for low. (We have also talked about how line-line uses next-door-but-one notes as it ‘skips’ the one who lives in the space, we will talk more about this using the floor stave soon.)

In the lesson following, the children all performed the song confidently on the piano. No two children used the same fingers/hand/position and there was obviously a huge lack of technique, but that’s not what they were learning. Instead, I’m thrilled that they understand how the sound relates to the dots on the page, and that they are being creative in their communication of this. The children also went on to use sticky foam circles on two lines to compose and perform their own pieces in the same way.

image1We won’t be rushing on to the next piece, as I’m happy (and they’re happy) taking time to explore all the new concepts I am introducing. When we do start to ‘Bounce like a clown’ however, there will be some clown notes appearing….(and I’ve shared those with you too)!

Huge thanks to Helen Russell for her inspiration and skill, and also for allowing me to share this with you.

Download Crow Images as pdf
Download Clown Images as pdf

[Jeni used the original edition of DoReMi Piano which came with a single-teacher studio license. This allowed her to print individual pages of the book for her students. This edition has now been replaced with Sing and Play which also has the option of a single-teacher studio license]

Three Time with the Three Little Pigs

PigI was working on three-time or triple time with two brothers this morning and I thought I’d share some of our activities. The boys, Dylan and Thomas, are nine and seven years old and have completed Dippy Skips. Thomas is working through June Armstrong’s Toy Box and is about to play Sail Boat. I want him to have a really good sense of three beats in a bar before I show him the piece.Sail Boat

Pulse First I sang a song familiar to them, Bells in the Steeple from Dippy Skips. I asked the boys to show me the pulse softly on their laps while I sang. Once I’d sung a few times they took it in turns to sing or tap the pulse. Both boys achieved this easily. Remember, they already know the song.

I offered them one of two pulse strips which I’d printed and laminated. One was hearts and one was pigs! They both chose the “three little pigs”! I didn’t mention the significance of the three, and they didn’t comment. They took it in turns to tap the pigs while they sang Bells In The Steeple. The first time Thomas tapped, he paused on the dotted minim. I didn’t comment but he did it again but this time correctly. I was just deciding whether to comment or leave it and he looked at me puzzled. “I ended up on different pigs the second time!”. “I know why!” exclaimed his brother. “Ok, I said, hold that thought while we see if Thomas can spot what happened.” I showed him two different ways of tapping, one was correct and one was incorrect. Thomas knew immediately which was correct and explained that he hadn’t kept the pulse going on the held note.

Rhythm They each took it in turns to sing another song, Lavender’s Blue, and clap the rhythm. This time Dylan, clearly determined to show that he can keep the pulse through the high notes, managed a lovely rhythm-pulse combo! It was clear from his face that he realised his mistake and insisted on getting another turn. By the time Thomas came to do it, he had seen his brother do it a couple of times. He confidently clapped it perfectly with a beaming smile.

Writing Rhythm Using a couple of “Three Little Pigs” strips each, they used building blocks to record the rhythm of the first two lines of the song. We then clapped and said the rhythm names. Dylan and I also clapped in canon, something Thomas was reluctant to do, but I did insist he watch and decide if we had performed it correctly.

Still no mention of three beats in a bar but both boys were proving they had the feel for the metre through their performances.Three Time Pigs and Blocks

Rhythm Memory I created a new three beat rhythm, ta titi ta, with blocks on my heart strip and we all clapped it. I gave it some fun words. I explained that the rhythm had the words “Three Little Pigs”. The boys closed their eyes and I changed one of the beats so it became titi titi taI challenged them to record both rhythms on their strips and they came up with their own words for the second line.

Creating Rhythm Each boy then altered their rhythms to create something of their own, with their own rather interesting words! We played around for a while with activities to nurture their creativity and memory. Dylan even asked if he could march the pulse, clap an ostinato and say his rhyme. I watched carefully to see if he created a three beat ostinato. He didn’t, and was quite puzzled. It was time to point out how many pigs we had!

The Big Reveal Dylan realised straight away that there were three beats in each bar or line. Thomas wasn’t so sure. He was confused by the question, he thought I meant how many sounds per pig. Not unreasonable since we’d been focussing on rhythm. My fault entirely! I explained more clearly, giving examples of songs in two time and four time. Then chanted his Three Little Pigs rhyme and tapped the pigs. That was it, he realised it was three.

Practise We then sang as many songs, rhymes and patterns as we could think of while clap-clicking in threes. Clap click click Clap click click. I asked them to clap and click while I played Sail Boat. We will repeat some of these activities next week. By the time we look at Sail Boat in our lesson, Thomas will not only have a really good grasp of the feeling of three-time, he will also have heard the piece several times.

Solfa This session was all about the rhythm but Sail Boat has many patterns that are ideal for singing in solfa. There are repeating s-m-s, m-s-m, f-r-f, r-f-r It does go down to low la, and ti, near the end but otherwise stays within the do pentachord. If we do some work on these motives over the next few weeks then Thomas will find Sail Boat familiar and achievable.

Click Three Time Hearts and Pigs to download the pig and heart pulse strips. They can be cut into two strips or left as a two line page.

Brand new manuscript book

A unique manuscript book designed with Kodály in mind. Suitable for instrumental and musicianship students, the 25 leaf book alternates blank pages with manuscript pages. This enables solfége students to write stick notation, pulse and pitch pictures and more on the left hand page and then transfer to the stave on the right.

Ideal for use with DoReMi Piano Book 2 and beyond as musicianship skills are developed alongside practical performance.

Wire bound, A5 portrait, 6 large staves per manuscript page.

Only £2.50 Buy it now!

DoReMi Manuscript Front Cover

Recital Video – Sing and Play – Matthew

On Saturday some of my students performed their favourite pieces from Sing and Play. I would like to share a couple of clips with you.

Matthew is in Year 1 (age 6) and has been learning music with me since he was a toddler. He started with general music classes based on the wonderful Kodály resource Jolly Music by Cyrilla Rowsell and David Vinden. When he started reception in 2013 we started more formal piano lessons with My First Piano Adventures and continued the Kodály work alongside. However he was struggling a little with notation reading and started to get frustrated. When I launched DoReMi Piano in the Autumn of 2014 he asked if he could start using those books. I agreed and he has made excellent progress since then. He is now confidently playing pieces from Crazy Steps, however for his recital he decided to play his favourite black key pieces from Sing and Play.

The speed of his success with DoReMi Piano is down to the excellent foundations that were created using the activities from Jolly Music and it would be a dream come true if all young children had the opportunity to study music in this way prior to starting formal instrumental lessons.

The pieces he is playing in the clip are:

Woof Woof – my own composition and a favourite with all my students, regardless of their age! Unlike most of the pieces in the book, it starts on the lower of the two pitches and also introduces the student to the idea that two pitches can be played at the same time, creating a chord.

See Saw – a highly popular song with Kodály practitioners and is included in Jolly Music. In DoReMi Piano we use it over and over to not only introduce the singing names “so” and “mi” but also work on steady pulse and the introduction of rhythm and rhythm names.

Here Sits A Mousie – my favourite of all of the songs in Book 1 and so versatile. We revisit it in Book 2 and there are so many different ways we can play with this song, both on and off the piano. Here is another article I wrote about this wonderful song.

Cloud of Starlings Teaching Tips

The approach behind DoReMi Piano is one of sound before sight. Before students are introduced to the score of a piece they have already completed a number of aural activities and games. In Going Wild there is a piece called Cloud of Starlings that introduces simple hands together work. It is the first piece, apart from sight reading exercises, that has no lyrics. Since there is no “song” to pin the activities to, how do you approach this with a student?

Some of my confident students can take this piece and, with a bit of help, sight sing it from the score. This can be quite challenging for other students and it’s important that we don’t frustrate them. Here are some activities for those students. These can be spread over a number of lessons depending on the ability of the student, so make sure you plan ahead and start working on them in good time.


I have created a set of flashcards of melodic patterns, broken into single bars. Included in these six patterns are those that will be found in the piece. I print two sets of the cards and we can play a number of different games with them. The only limit is your imagination, or that of your students since some of the games I play have been suggested by the students themselves!

Prepare the patterns

  • As always, start by singing some solfa echoes. Build them up from so-mi to do-re-mi-so-la and always include the patterns from the piece.
  • Next take out one set of flashcards and help the student to sing them. Start with the easiest.

Play the Game

Lay one set of cards face up and hold the other set in your hand (easiest first). Show the student the first card, and sing it. The student must echo, and then find the correct card from the set laid out. The student is using their aural and visual skills to find the matching card.

  • Extension 1 – if the student is confident reading solfa, they can sing straight from the card without help
  • Extension 2 – just sing without showing them the card so they have to rely on their aural and reading skills and not just matching the visual patterns
  • Extension 3 – the student becomes the teacher, they select the card and sing it and you can find the match

Other Games

You could lay the cards face down and play a Memory Game, either visually with two sets of cards, or aurally where you just sing the pattern. Alternatively Kim’s Game where you take away one of the patterns and they have to identify which is missing.

Do let me know if you think of any other games you or your students think of. The most important thing is that the student sings the patterns, whatever the game. Our aim is to prepare the patterns in the aural memory of the student so that when they come across them in the piece, they are familiar and comforting.


The student can create their own sequence using the two sets of flashcards. Ask them to place their favourite patterns in a line across the floor. They have composed their own melody! Ask them or help them to sing it. Do they like it? Would they like to change anything? Do they need to create a “final note” such as do to finish? A quick snap with an camera, tablet or smartphone can record their work to be sent home. If you have time you could get some manuscript paper and either write it out or use circle stickers.

Single Line Score

Cloud of Starlings WashiThe single line score removes the Bass Clef and any hands together work and just looks at the melody. Once the student has composed their own piece, you can tell them that someone else has composed a piece using the same patterns. It’s called Cloud of Starlings.

At this point we’re still trying to get the melody of the piece into the students inner ear, and not trying to play it on the piano.

  • Sing the patterns in solfa and, using the flashcards if necessary, ask the students to find the patterns on the score
  • Using colouring pencils, post its or washi tape show how the patterns make up the piece.

In this picture my student has used coloured washi tape. When we move onto the full score in Going Wild they used the same colours to mark out the piano score. Once the melody was confidently learnt, we removed them to show all the notes and the bass clef notes were added.

And that’s how to prepare a piece with no lyrics. The only limit to the activities is your imagination so get creating and share your ideas with us!