Tuning in

Sometimes I feel like I need to be a psychic at my weekly lessons. Sometimes I feel like I should just go see one. I will say this: if you don’t understand what’s going on in the mind of your student and even their parents you are probably going to be in for some ugly sounding static coming your way.

I love to tell stories. This one has NOTHING to do with piano teaching and EVERYTHING to do with good service.

When I was in my 20’s I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by a sales representative back east who represented a fortune 500 company. I earned this seminar as part of being an outstanding salesperson in a small company I worked for. This speaker was very…..charismatic. She came bustling up to the stage in a leopard skirt and heels, with a portable microphone and proceeded to campaign at full stadium volume for at least three hours. I had a pounding headache by the time she was done yelling at us about good service, closing the sale, overcoming the objection and smiling while we answered telephones (because people can hear you through the phone line you know.)

I did take notes, and I tried to pay attention. I eventually lost the notes and I really can’t remember anything but her outfit and one important message. Thankfully it made all of my listening worth it.

“Everyone you meet, ” she repeated “in someway or another (yes even your three-year old) is tuned into a radio station called w.i.i.f.m.” I was a bit puzzled, but I kept listening. “That’s right ladies, it’s called w. i. i. f.m. radio. Just pretend it’s stamped right across everyone’s foreheads.” Now that had me intrigued.

W. I. I. F. M. stands for “What’s in it for me?” Clever, huh. It almost made my migraine worth it. I have used this over and over. For years. It works, believe me. Please humor me while I give you an example.

Let’s say you have a new student who is a bit stubborn. Suppose she is sitting across from you with a remotely repulsed expression on her brow when you introduce her to a lovely chorale from Bach. Just at that very moment, you happen to notice (because you too are a clever person) that her father is wearing an Elton John T-shirt. “My my,” you comment.  “did you know that Elton John composed over half of his songs around Bach chorales?” “You’re kidding,” comments Dad as he sits up and looks surprised.  “No, I’m not!” you say. Suddenly his daughter perks up because she knows Dad likes Elton John.  Maybe Dad’s not a nerd after all…… ?     “There’s a great show about Elton John and his music on You Tube”, you add because you have done your homework.

This may be a slightly ridiculous example, though I’ve really had this conversation!  Notice what happened here. My student suddenly found something useful in the Bach piece I played because I took the time to bridge a gap between her Dad’s musical experiences and her curiosity. I gave her something to connect with. What’s in it for Dad? Time to share with his daughter. What’s in it for me? Something else to teach about. I went on and taught this student how to play ‘Yellow-Brick road’ AND we learned the four chords in the piece, plus we learned a Bach piece.  That’s a win-win.

We have to ‘Tune In’ to the situation , the individual, and to ourselves as teachers. What does this student need from me today? Help with last weeks music? New music altogether? A hug? Am I even LISTENING to this student?  Do the parents know exactly what to expect from you in your policies?   Last but definitely not least, are your needs as an educator being met?  Does everyone know what you need from them?

Tuning in is about noticing . Let others know you care and understand that they have needs and you will know them better as people. That’s what’s in it for you.

~Piano Mastermind.

For one-on-one-help  connect by email.


Changing the game

Here we go again.  Another lesson starts with my 9 year old student Matt, who blurts out before I can say hello that he’s had an awful week of practicing because he’s been playing a lot of video games this week.

“Really?” I ask.

“Ya, so my wrist really hurts.”

‘Interesting’ I thought. Not even ten minutes this week to learn something creative, something he can point to in the “3D” world and say….. “LOOK! I did that” to me or his parents later on.  Matt chose to spend his time where he felt comfortable and safe.

Next came Gabby and her brother Nick.
“How was your week?” I asked.

Gabby went first. “I learned one song to pass off. ”

“Did you enjoy it?,” I asked.

“Kinda” she offered.

“Let’s hear it!” I challenged!

Gabby played well for me. We corrected any errors, I complemented her as I began to see a pattern here. She confessed she spent 10-15 minutes a day playing what she liked and knew. Gabby spent about 5 minutes a day working on the new assignment.

Then Nick had a turn. “Here is a note from my mom.”

I thought “Oh oh….. what’s up now!” We’ve all had THOSE notes before, right?

‘Dear Miss Suzanne…. I am really worried that Nick is not passing off enough songs at his lessons . He says he doesn’t understand practicing at home. Please help him fix this. Thanks. Mrs. _________’ Nick showed me his work. He had learned two of his four assignments, hands together.  He said he played these because we had part done at the lesson last week.

I’d be thrilled to fix this….. in 30 minutes without support at home. It might be tricky, but I’ll tell you my game plan…. and guess what!  It worked!

As I began my research for this week’s project and spoke with several other teachers as well; I viewed research on You Tube, Ted Talks, books on Child behavior (New kid by Friday…. a personal favorite!) and then thought a lot. I discovered that our adorable and lovable children and teens have four basic needs and some important brain chemicals at work here. If you don’t know what the game is then how will YOU PLAY TO WIN?

They must feel loved. They need to feel accepted, valuable, heard and successful. I repeat….. they need to feel accepted, valuable, heard and successful. These are powerful emotions generated by the internet and any video game in such a mass amount that the operating system of the brain is basically HI-jacked from the moment they pick up their phone and look at it until the t.v. goes off at night.


Times have changed . I started teaching in 1989. Yes, I’ve been working with several generations of students now. We as rewired teachers must change our strategy or deal with a communication disaster.

This generation of student’s brains are simply wired differently. I like to use the analogy of a crock-pot dinner vs. a microwave. These guys don’t understand the word “harvest” very well if you catch my drift. Not unless they had had the rich learning that comes from investing in some thing they started and waited for.

For the past two weeks, I have offered my students a different option. To actually come to “Piano School”.  Kinda corny sounding, isn’t it.

Come watch, listen, say, know and play. That’s it. Learn it here guys….. then go home and repeat. I dare you NOT to “Play” your piano.  See…. the word “Play ” actually has a very different connotation and vibration (if you will) than the word “practice”, don’t you think?  We learn and study here. We’re understanding and creating and learning together here.

So far, they are all taking the bait. In fact, they may need longer lessons soon because we need more Piano school time to learn it here so they can get it all in. It’s really fun too.  I help them on all different levels because they are literally all different ages. Some are teachers, some are 6 year olds.

The main point is this though:

  • I must teach them how to learn HERE.
  • I must teach them how to practice HERE.
  • I help them learn to love to learn HERE. This is my school.
  • When they come here, I don’t ask “What are you bringing me today?”, I think “What may I give you today?”.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Play with me and I learn. ” Benjamin Franklin.


By the way…. it’s been a real GAME CHANGER at my studio.

If this information helps you and you want to start subscribing to this weekly BLOG then please do!

See you next week!


Recommended Reading: “Who Moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson


Dracula and Injury avoidance…. is your technique a Pain in the Neck?

title drac

Is your piano practicing a PAIN IN THE NECK?
Is your piano practicing a PAIN IN THE NECK?

No Pain No Gain” is a motivating phrase to your average vampire. It’s just an occupational hazard that the pain is someone else’s problem. For a pianist, “No pain no Gain” should NOT BE an occupational hazard… EVER!

We all know that pain is never a good sign when we are practicing, right? Did you also know that it is possible to protect yourself from even the smelliest, strongest, and meanest vampires? You can outsmart them with a secret ingredient! GARLIC!

Here is the recipe:

drac img 3

G: Get your posture correct: get the pain out of your neck. (Every one knows Vampires are a pain in the neck!) Sitting too close too the piano will encourage raised arms and high tight shoulders… a deadly combination for tension headaches the rest of your life… ma ha ha ha ( insert evil laugh here)

Drac img 2

A: Arms out: If your arms are Straight out when you sit down at the piano, you will be assured that you will have plenty of room to play back and forth, and with room to drop using gravity and no tension which causes problems and injuries later.

let go drac blog copy

R: Relaxed and Right positioned Rists! 
(wrists ha ha)     If I've experienced one painful place more than another, 
(and fixed one more often than another) it's those tight or dropped wrists. Just keep 
them supple, bendable, and return them to a level keyboard position when in use. You 
will save your self tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arm pain, weird aches and other comments at Festivals from well meaning Judges. PROMISE!
L: Let go:   I always ask my students, “Why are you still holding on to the 
keys? “ after they have already played the notes. “Let your foot do the work for 
you”, I remind them. “You have a sustain pedal”. Or, maybe the notes don't need to be sustained at all... just LET GO and keep moving. Holding on to every thing in a stretched out tense position is an un-natural position for anyone's hand and can be pain 
producing after an hour or two of practice.
I: Ice Cream Cupcakes...... Yummy! What on earth does ice cream and cupcakes have to do with injury avoidance and vampires? Absolutely nothing. I do 
like to eat them when I take a break from practicing and feel like being lazy! I 
recommend chocolate with Reese's peanut butter mixed up inside. :) 

 C: The Curve of your arch in the hand is last, but not least. It is so 
important to maintain support throughout the hand. 1. All of the fingers round out to become the same length and therefor produce a nice even tone on the keys. 2. Rotation becomes much easier and you can play scales and fast chord patterns much easier, 
and use your forearm to do the work for you!

and vanquish yourself of PAIN, INJURY and 
VAMPIRES when you perform on the piano!

~Piano Mastermind.


Easiest Scale Fingering you’ll ever find!

Make your scale playing EASY!


Free Printable….. Complete Scale fingering charts

These are the easiest fingering charts in the world…. ever. Promise!  🙂


A “Twist on Practicing Perfect”

A “Twist on Practicing Perfect” I think practicing is very much like a recipe. Add your ingredients in the wrong order and the entire dish is a disaster. For instance, what if you were to add too much of one ingredient and not enough of the other… like one of those German Pancakes that is supposed to be 10 inches tall? Have yours ever turned out an inch tall and much like a Frisbee? Mmmmm hmmmm. I thought so. Take heart,  I too have experience in this department.

I also have experience in the “perfect practicing” AND the “not-so-perfect-practicing department.”  Here are some guaranteed ways to keep your students practicing, succeeding and having fun while they do it the right way the first time!!

1. The Triple A list. I developed a way to incorporate older repertoire and still keep up on the new weekly assignments. Insist on a day off. That’s right…. a vacation day once a week from practicing. Your students will be shocked, and you will be one step ahead of them. Reward them PROFUSELY for completing this list WELL. The pieces performed must be memorized. They must be passed off previously by you. They must be played once a week because who knows when the whim for an on-demand performance will pop into your creative (and slightly devious) mind! You retain the right to ask for any piece on the list…. at any time. If they fail to perform, you may just have another devious impulse pop into your mind…. like throwing a one inch frisbee their way. I NEVER JOKE ABOUT FOOD DISASTERS.

DOWNLOAD THE Triple A List here.

2. The “crazy twister practice it right roll the dice” chart. Please don’t laugh at my artwork! I made this chart in ten minutes and it was honestly one of the best things I’ve come up with! Your student simply rolls the dice and whatever number they land on is how they will perform the new line they learned today. This chart requires some preparation…. dividing their music into sections ahead of time makes sure they succeed. You will need two dice. Then you are ready to “play” while they “play”! Snap… this job’s a game!

roll and play(Printing out this Jpeg will give you a full size game image.

Piano Mastermind http://ww.poolepianostudio.com

“I want a Golden Goose Daddy”

Waiting for your Golden Goose

You may be asking yourself as a pianist, teacher or student…. what does waiting around for good technique, playing endless Hanon exercises and Chopin etudes have to do with Golden Geese? It’s really quite simple in my mind, just ask Willy Wonka


Golden Geese are special creatures. They require a lot of work, and you must wait around for them to mature…. only then will they start to lay their golden eggs for you!  But you must be willing to do the preparatory work, put in the hours, be patient and accept failures along the way.

When the parents or students are not educated about the amazing things golden geese can do after years of practice and showing up, bad things happen. Sometimes bad eggs happen.  Just ask Veruca……

Truth be told, there is nothing in the law of nature, nothing in the process of reaping and sowing that includes instant gratification. A long term investment is always what reaps the reward of the harvest. There is a waxing and waning period for every moon, and planting and growing season for flowers, and learning and knowing time for every knew skill.

Pianists are trained and taught, not entertained and bought.  We cannot master a thing with a new shortcut, without a sacrifice of significance on our behalf. It’s called balance. We cannot have what we don’t give…. which in this case would be discipline and wisdom.  A great student and pianist knows that hours of preparation and perspiration pay the price at any performance, and provide the confidence inside to perform at a peak level, anytime for anyone.

You just know that now is the time you are ready. It’s okay to “want it now” when you’ve paid in advance. Preparation is always worth it’s weight in gold.




How to play “Angels we have heard on high”

Oh Joy! My new 2015 Christmas C.d. is FINALLY done!

I am so pleased with how it turned out, and appreciate literally the hundreds of kind comments I have received from all of you. I forgot how much I missed composing and performing, and I plan to keep at it from now on. I hope you enjoy the music as much as I have, and that it really means something special to you…. the hours of love I poured into this project reminded me that nothing of worth comes quickly or easily yet is always worth the wait.

With much love and Holiday cheer!

~Piano Mastermind

Follow ME on Soundcloud…. Suzanne Elizabeth Poole

How to play “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel”

This is an arrangement for my new Christmas Album I am releasing this season. The album is entitled “Classical Christmas”.

With much love, Enjoy!

~Piano Mastermind

cdcover2015Follow ME on “Soundcloud”.


How to play “Danny Boy/ Tura Lura Lullaby”

Here is an arrangement I wrote for a dear friend.  Enjoy…. and follow other performances by Suzanne Elizabeth Poole on Soundcloud.com


Are you all thumbs when it comes to scales?


When you play your scales, do you feel like you are all thumbs? Or is it comfortable and fluid, like smooth flowing water?  To find out if your fingering method works, take this simple quiz:

1 Do you finger your scales based on your phone number (not including the area code)?

2.  Do you use the caloric value from the package of Twinkies you just ate as your guide (352, then repeat)?

3. Do you look at Facebook first, find your number of friends and add that to your address to come up with a fingering pattern?

Caution!!!!! If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above, you are probably experiencingScaliditory lazineck numberic-itis.  (Definition: You don’t get it.)

Hey … there is hope for you ! Scales might seem scary, but they are crucial to master if you ever want to play Fur Elise or Joy to the World!  Just about every piece of music is built on a scale fragment or an entire scale passage.

Let’s take a look at four important elements to consider:

SIGHT: Scales are built upon formulas, sort of like recipes.  The note pattern is simple…Tonic (the tonal center or key you begin upon), whole step up, whole step up, half step up, whole step up, whole step up, whole step up, half step up.

Sight also involves NOTICING the obvious fingering classes your scales are divided into.  In ‘About Scales… Food for Thought” …… the post I will add next;  a PDF is included with instructions on how to explain scales, what finger does what job and how to make them sound smooth and glide up the keys!

SOUND: How should scales be played? As musically as possible.  They are not cold math.  They are not simply an exercise, but rather a chance to perfect parts of a greater whole.  Scales are the foundational melodies of all Western music.  You will find scales throughout all the great Masterworks.  For example, Romance by Sibelius.  At the very climax of this beautiful romantic piece is an Ab scales the length of the piano in both hands… if done well it sets the stage for the finale of the piece.  Then the theme returns powerful in melody and in octaves.  Scales are exciting and can provide suspense and speed to any piece if done well.  If they are performed poorly, they leave the audience feeling somewhat disappointed in the performance.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Dozens of theories exist about correct hand placement, Yin, Yang, Rotation, correct fashion sense and other thoughts on psychic scale vibrations.  Seriously, it’s not rocket science. Keyboards are flat.  Your fingers and writsts operate in a circular motion. To compensate you form a “C: with the hand, use the wheel and axle principle by rolling the fingers as you twist the arm and ‘wala!’  Problem solved. Check back for more detail and a video next time.

MENTAL MASTERY: Practice smart no hard.  Better yet…. watch the “About Scales… are you all thumbs” video on http://www.youtube/pianomastermind1. Check out the playlists. You’ll see… your thumbs will thank you!

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