Studio Blog

Keys to Success: Creating an Inviting Practice Space

Monday, July 31, 2023 by Caitlin Gervais | Keys to Success

As adults, we know that a pleasing work environment is a productive work environment. It's no different for students (young or mature). Creating a practice space that is warm, inviting and inspiring will no doubt aid in practice consistency and productivity. I wanted to share some ideas to help you create a practice 'nest' of sorts that students will be sure to gravitate to.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION:  Trying to practice while surrounded by the hurry scurry of a busy family is distracting and certainly not ideal. On the other hand, being sequestered to a dark, cold corner of a basement isn't appealing either. Try to find a location for the piano that isn't right in the middle of everything and not so far removed that going there feels like a 'time out'. With acoustic pianos, you may be more limited as far as location goes, but try to carve out a good time for your student to practice that's not competing with the hustle and bustle of siblings, homework, phone calls, virtual meetings, and the television.  

LIGHTING:  Even though music is something we think of as an aural activity, it's also very visual. Make sure your practice space is well lit – both the keys and the music stand. 

BENCH:  A comfortable bench goes a long way in helping keep a student focused. It's also important that it be at the right height in relation to the keys (if unsure, pop into the lesson and I can demonstrate). Regular dining or desk chairs are generally not the correct height. I recommend purchasing a basic padded piano bench like these ones on Amazon if you don't have one already. If it's within your budget, an adjustable height bench is even better. Also, if your kiddo is still little and their feet don't touch the ground yet, it's a good idea to have one of those low kiddie stools for under their feet. They're the perfect height and you probably already have one still kicking around.

KEEP IT TIDY:  Put away anything that isn't of use (old lesson and theory books, random toys that have made their way to the piano, decorations that take up space and make it difficult for the student to stay organized, etc.). A tidy space is less distracting and less frustrating. As I'm sure you already know well, kids can easily kill 15 minutes just looking for their books (or whatever) when they were right there under their nose! πŸ€ͺ

TOOLS:  Have an easily accessible pencil cup with sharpened pencils, erasers and ideally 5 different coloured highlighters (stay tuned for another post on why). Make a dedicated place to put their CURRENT books so that they're not clogging up the music stand and falling off constantly, and find a different place to store any other books that are not currently in use so they're not in the way either. A metronome – definitely a must-have whether it be a classic mechanical metronome or an app on a device. A timer – rather than leaving yourself open to the constant "Am I done yet?" question, set a timer that's right by the piano so they can see for themselves.  Lastly, a water bottle – maybe not ON the piano, but somewhere nearby. One less reason for them to get up and wander away in the middle of practice. Plus keeping hydrated is ALWAYS a good thing.

INVITING ATMOSPHERE:  A cheerful plant or two, a letter board or whiteboard where you can leave your student (or yourself) inspirational messages or encouragement, sunshine, nice aromas, whatever you yourself would enjoy in a cozy reading nook or study corner.

COMPANY:  We are social creatures, and for some students, practice time may feel isolating. They may enjoy the company of a favourite stuffy, the family pet, or maybe even a visiting family member (my grandmother used to literally bask in the sound of me practicing my technical exercises ad nauseam). While it's not something you necessarily have time to do every practice, mom or dad being in the room once in a while is often enjoyed by your student too – just plan to occupy yourself with a book or some other quiet activity so they don't feel pressured or distracted. Please also don't feel you need correct or give help unless they request it. Unfortunately, in my experience, there are very few kids that respond positively to unsolicited involvement from mom or dad. But don't take it personally, that's just family dynamics and why you send your lovely kiddos to me learn! Compliments and gentle encouragement are always welcome, however. 

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I encourage you and your student to make a project of it together to get them motivated and excited about practicing in their specially curated space! And it's a really positive and meaningful way for you to support their musical endeavours!

Fun and engaging music apps students will love!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 by Caitlin Gervais | Technology

Educational music apps are a great way to supplement practicing at home. No need for boring old flash cards anymore! Apps are fun, engaging, speak the language of today's kids, AND it's proven that students learn and retain concepts better in the form of a game. So download these apps and let your kids have at them — this is worthwhile screen time! The few dollars invested will return tenfold when your kids are super sightreaders and theory whizzes!

The following list are apps that I personally use in the studio and with my own kids. This list is by no means exhaustive and I will continue to update this post as I come across new ones that I like. Please note that all apps that I recommend will always be the full/paid versions. Any of the free 'Lite' versions are just demos that only include a very early level or two. These are only useful for checking out an app before buying it. 

NinGenius Piano

NinGenius is an app that I use in the studio regularly. The studio version may look slightly different that the home version, but the idea is the same. Students master concepts such as note recognition, keyboard geography, fingering, rhythm, and theory while earning coloured ninja belts as they get better and better. It's a progressive game but it can also be customized to exactly what the student needs to focus on as well. This app is a great app to use on the go as you don't need to be at your piano to use it (think: road trips to sports tournaments, vacations, grandparent's house, etc.). If your child plays another instrument, be sure to check out the other apps in this series as well.

Apple and Google Play 

71AAX11n21L.pngNote Rush

Note Rush is a game that I've recently discovered and it has quickly become a studio favourite! This one is straightforward and easy for parents to customize. Students love getting to choose from a variety of colourful backgrounds including limited time seasonal themes. A note is shown on the grand staff and then the student plays it right on the piano. The built-in mic in your device picks up the sound and will recognize if the student was correct or not. The thing I love the most about this game is that I can customize a level card specific to each student that I can send to parents digitally. Students just scan the screenshot on their parent's phone or computer, and voila, the game is set up specifically for them. I'm happy to send a new level card tailored to your child(ren) every week for families that are using this app.  

Apple and Google Play 

1200x630wa-1.pngNote Works

This was actually the very first app that I started using in the studio. From the developers: "Hungry Munchy is eager to swallow elusive blue notes. Your goal is to help Munchy catch each note as quickly as possible without letting it catch fire." It reinforces quick note recognition, keyboard geography, theory as well as an added Do-Re-Mi option (great for my French language students that learn this way at school). Students can practice notes in Treble, Bass and even Alto and Tenor clefs which are useful for advanced theory and high school band students as well.  This game is progressive, but can also be customized.

Apple and Google Play 

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Piano Adventures Player

For any beginner students in the Piano Adventures method books, this is a must have for maximum fun at home with the pieces students are learning in their Piano Adventures books. From the developers: "The app provides easy access to interactive play-along accompaniments for the Piano Adventures method books — bringing an orchestra, jazz ensemble and rock band right to your mobile device." The app itself is free, but the library of pieces within the app can be purchased one level at a time for just a few dollars. So very worth it!

Apple only at this time.


Piano Adventures Sightreading Coach

Another super handy companion app to the Piano Adventures books. From the developers: "Build confident sightreaders with the smart practice assistant that gives students immediate, automatic feedback—a perfect companion between lessons." It's like having a music tutor right at your fingertips!

Apple and Google Play

RCM Music Theory Apps 

Apple only at this time.

Prep to Level 4: Colourful games and lessons that encourage learning, creativity, and fun!            

Levels 5-8: Concepts are now split into individual apps: Scales, Rhythm, Intervals, Notation, Chords, Melody, Terms, and History. Apps themselves are free but there is a $1.99 buy in for each level of curriculum. So $16 will cover the curriculum needed to cover all 8 concepts in a grade.                 

The Essential Classical Music List for Kids (and parents too!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 by Caitlin Gervais | Music Appreciation

You want your child's musical education to be as rich and beautiful as possible, but like any parent, you're busy, and perhaps you're just not even sure where to begin. So it's easy for the idea to be lost in the sea of good intentions. (Been there - lots!) Finding pieces that your kids will connect with could make or break your child's appreciation for classical music. But fear not! The work has already been done for you! Here is a comprehensive list of the best of the best to get you started! Just hop on your favourite music streaming service, search and enjoy! (Try YouTube or Spotify if you don't have a paid music streaming service such as Google Music, iTunes or Amazon Music, etc.)

Best Classical Music That’s Relaxing

  • Air on the G String – J. S. Bach
  • Polovtsian Dances Prince Igor – Borodin
  • The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Winter – Antonio Vivaldi
  • Adagio for Strings – Samuel Barber 
  • Symphony No. 9, 1st Movement – Dvorak
  • Romeo and Juliet Fanatasy Overture – Tchaikovsky
  • Clair de Lune – Debussy
  • Nocturnes or Preludes – Chopin
  • Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (the 18th Variation is everyone’s favorite) – Rachmaninoff
  • Gymnopedies (3) for Piano – Eric Satie
  • Canon in D – Pachabel
  • Peer Gynt Suite: Dawn – Grieg
  • Unaccompanied Cello Suites, especially the Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G – Bach

Best Classical Music That’s Exciting

  • Flight of the Bumblebee – Rimsky-Korsakov
  • Bolero – Ravel 
  • The Barber of Seville, Overture – Rossini
  • Symphony No. 5 in C minor – Beethoven
  • Peer Gynt Suite, No. 1, In the Hall of the Mountain King – Edward Grieg
  • Etudes – Chopin
  • Piano Concerto in F – Gershwin
  • Rhapsody in Blue – Gershwin
  • Entry of the Gladiators (Einzug der Gladiatoren) – Fucik
  • March for Orchestra, Op. 68 – Fucik
  • William Tell Overture: Finale – Rossini
  • Gayaneh (Sabre Dance) – Aram Khachaturian
  • Swan Lake, Op. 20 – Tchaikovsky
  • Carmina Burana: O Fortuna – Carl Orff

Best Classical Music That’s Beautiful

  • Piano Concerto – Amy Beach
  • Piano Trio, Op. 17 – Clara Schumann
  • Piano Trio in A minor – Maurice Ravel
  • Lament – Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Best Classical Music That’s Majestic

  • The Planets, Mars – Gustav Holst
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra – Richard Strauss
  • 1812 Overture (Festival Overture for Orchestra in Eb Major, Op. 49, Finale) – Tchaikovsky
  • Fanfare for the Common Man – Aaron Copland

Best Classical Music That’s Entertaining (story-like)

  • Carnival of the Animals – Saint-Saens
  • Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev
  • The Cat and the Mouse – Aaron Copland
  • Caucasian Sketches (Procession of the Sardar) – Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippolitov-Ivanov

Best Classical Music That’s Just Great Just Because

  • Water Music (Music for the Royal Fireworks) – G. F. Handel
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik – Mozart
  • Symphony No. 40 in G minor: l. Molto Allegro – Mozart
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra In A Minor Op. 16: Allegro molto moderato – Grieg
  • Variations on β€œAh, vous dirai-je maman” (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) K. 265 – Mozart


Special thanks to Wendy Stevens of for curating this fabulous list.