Using OneNote as a Tool for Tuning and Teaching

When I first got my laptop for college, there was a widget that allowed you to put virtual sticky notes on your desktop screen. I LOVED that widget and used it all the time. Now it is 8 years later, and with Windows 8, that isn't an option. However, Microsoft does have a new tool that way surpasses those little sticky notes: OneNote. 

With Microsoft OneNote you can write yourself notes, turn them into to-do lists with little check boxes, and neatly organize data or lists. You can also draw on your lists (which is more helpful if you have a touch screen). OneNote will sync with any device you have, and you can share your notebooks with other people. (That's just a quick description. If you want more info, check out this link: The best part that I love about it is that you can open up a new page, click to write anywhere, and then move your text boxes around with ease. It's just like using little sticky notes, but now you can have tons of them, archive them, and see them anywhere (as long as your devices are synced)!

OneNote has seriously changed my note taking system, and makes life easier on a daily basis. I use it to keep track of my tuning clients and tuning history, to write down to-do lists so I get things done, to keep track of where my students have been and where they are going, to plan out meals (and then I open up my list at the grocery store and just cross things off), to sync to-do lists with my husband, to plan out blogs..

More specifically, here's how I use it for Tuning and Teaching.


My tuning course said to use cards for each piano and take these with me. This system is seriously outdated and was not working for me. Now I have a "notebook" for all my business related things. In that notebook, I have a section called "Tuning". In each section you can have different pages. I have a calendar page first, and then a page for each client. On the calendar page I list out every month and list clients under the specific months I tuned their pianos so I can see it at a glance. This tells me the months I don't have many clients, when to call people to remind them about upcoming tunings, who missed a tuning, etc.   

For the client pages, I list the piano make and serial number. Then I list the first time I tuned their piano. After that I write my notes for each tuning, and the date of each tuning. I add each new tuning at the top of the page so I can see the most recent one first. I then organize the pages alphabetically (I wish OneNote would do this for me, but the drag and drop feature isn't too hard). These notes sync with my phone, so when I go to a client's house, I can simply pull up their page and add any new notes. 

As I write this, I realized I don't have a page for my piano! So, here's what a page looks like, using my piano as an example. I haven't transferred over all my notes from my note card yet. I'm not even sure I still have it. I don't remember when I first gave my piano a proper tuning, but I just recently tuned it again. It's had too many practice tuning to even count! 


I use OneNote similarly for my teaching. I keep a purchase lists section with notes of books I need for the future so I can snag them when they are on sale. 

I also have a section called "Piano Planning" which I use for planning out studio events. I used this extensively when I was planning for the 40 piece challenge , since I needed to keep track of a huge list of books and pieces for each student!  I actually wound up changing how I structured my challenge from my original idea, but you can see the planning process here:

Finally, I keep notes on each student I teach. It is hard to keep extensive notes on everything they've learned so  I try to keep it as a quick review. I list:

  • Books they are currently using
  • Current struggles I need to remember to work on
  •  Books completed (so I can know where they've been)
  • Concepts learned (this one is really hard to keep up with!)
  • When they began lessons
  • Future music ideas

I got this idea of at-a-glance student notes from Joy Morin at Color In My Piano.  I do keep week to week lesson plan records, especially for my beginners, in my teaching binder. Those eventually get thrown out, but these digital notes help me keep long-term goals in mind.  


Disclaimer: Microsoft OneNote doesn't even know I wrote this post. This is just what I think, and an attempt to help you learn about the technology options out there for your business. 

Why I love Piano Safari for beginners

I've been using the Piano Safari method for beginning students for three years now. I don't have a very busy studio, so that doesn't add up to a lot of students, but I still love it all the same. Here's what I like:

Rote Pieces: 

The Rote pieces worked into the method allow students to play harder music before they can read it. It encourages good listening and observation, good musicianship, and lots of movement. I don't worry about my students thinking they will always play in C positions. These pieces also get both hands involved right away!

No Hand Positions:

All the songs in the first book start on landmark notes. However, that doesn't mean they stay stuck in C position. The students play all around those notes, learning to identify and remember them first, and finding everything else by interval. They also move by octave relatively quickly. I've found that for beginners, all octaves are the same to them, so it is easy to move around the keyboard.


There is a strong emphasis on learning to read by interval (the distance between two notes), instead of just by note name. This is HUGE because this is how they will continue to need to read for life. I don't name notes in my head as I play, but I automatically connect note names and lines and spaces together, paying more attention to how far away things are than what the actual note name is. 

8th Notes:

Some methods wait to introduce 8th notes for way too long. Piano Safari introduces them right away, allowing students to play more complex rhythms right from the beginning. They count using modified Kolday syllables, which are very similar to what most students are taught in school. This allows students to be able to understand and play rhythms without adding more numbers (numeric counting) into the mix.

Technique Book:

There is a technique book that accompanies the repertoire book. This book teaches how to approach the playing piano, using fun animal movements to help memory. I have my students do these exercises over and over each week so that they become comfortable holding their hands the right way, and learn how to make different kinds of sound with different kinds of motions. This is NOT something that is included in all beginner books!

Sight Reading Cards:

There are also sight reading cards that correlate with each unit in the book. These are a way for students to work on being able to play melodies and rhythms accurately the first time.  Sight reading is a skill  that is difficult to teach, but hugely necessary as a pianist down the road. These sight reading cards will set your student on the right path from the very beginning. 

Playing in Lots of  Keys:

Once you get into the second Piano Safari book, students are introduced to many different keys, both major and minor, and do technique work in all of them. This is an excellent way to teach them 5-finger scales, and to have students become comfortable playing in almost any key.  

I could go on, but those are the highlights for me as a teacher. 

The only cons I have found so far are these:

The Skips Alphabet

The only thing I have found that regularly confuses students is the skips alphabet. In Piano Safari book 2, the note names for the whole staff is introduced as the skips alphabet (GBDFACE...) repeating all the way up the staff. This makes sense to me, as a seasoned musician, but I find my students have a hard time handling that many note names at once.  I teach it using the method that authors outline in their blog, but my students always have a hard time with it. In more than one instance, my students revert to the more common mnemonics (FACE, All Cows, Eat, Grass, etc) without me ever teaching them those mnemonics. I'm not sure who introduces them to alternate methods, but they all seem to prefer them. In the end, it doesn't really matter how they are taught all the names of lines and spaces, as long as they eventually learn them. 

No Ear Training

The amount of ear training in most beginner books is dismal. It is thrown in as part of the theory book, but not really enough to do anyone much good. Piano Safari does not have any included in their method, though a teacher could easily add it on their own. The best book I have found for including ear training (and singing intervals) so  far is Celebrate Piano!, which is my second favorite overall beginner method (but my favorite for Pre K and Kindergarten beginners) .

Why I Love Celebrate Piano! for Young Beginners

When piano teachers begin working with students, they usually choose a method series to use to help teach concepts in a certain order. My two favorites are Piano Safari and Celebrate Piano! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name). Piano Safari has been my first choice for a few years, but I recently started a kindergarten student in Celebrate Piano! instead so that she and her brother could use different methods. I was blown away by how well it works for younger beginners (Pre-K and K).

This review will probably make more sense if you read my Piano Safari post first. This post will compare and contrast with that one a lot.

Here are my favorite parts:

Singing Intervals:

This was a big hole in Piano Safari. Not only does Celebrate Piano! teach by interval first (just like Piano Safari), they also include animal songs for each interval. In each unit, the student sings through the interval songs, like "The Middle C song", "Busy Bee" for seconds, etc. Each song emphasizes very clearly the interval associated with it. This way, the student learns to hear intervals before they even learn to play intervals. This is HUGE! (And I'll get to why later). 

Interval Reading:

I'm not going to go into depth on this, but reading is taught using intervals, not just note names.  This is something I always look for in method books, but it isn't always featured.

End of the Unit Ear Training:

Each unit ends with Clap Backs (patterns that the teacher claps, and the student repeats), and Play Backs (similar but with playing), and then Question and Answer. In the Question and Answer section, a short opening melody is written, and the student is instructed to write the "answer", or a conclusion to the melody. The Q&A is unique to this method as far as I know and allows teachers to talk about how to write melodies that sound pleasing and correct (because there is a science to it after all). There is also sometimes a pitch detective part where the student has to notate intervals based solely on hearing. My one student told me this was easy because she just sang her interval songs in her head. <--- And that is why I am so thrilled to have interval singing included!!

Lots of Work Pages:

Throughout the book there are lots of work pages for the students to practice note writing and theory concepts right in their lesson book. No theory book required. For young beginners, the constant repetition is very helpful, and they tend to enjoy the work pages. I'm not sure it would be that same with an older age group. 

Playing in Many Keys:

Like Piano Safari, Celebrate Piano! has students all over the keyboard and playing in many 5 finger positions early on. In book 2a, after a little over one year of lessons, my student already plays using  all 12 major 5 finger scales.  The book also highly emphasizes transposition which is a skill that is best learned early in lessons, but is not always included. 

Practice Plan:

At the beginning of each piece is a "practice plan" which outlines steps to take in order to learn the piece, or highlights stumbling points the student may have. For example, it might say 1. Clap the rhythm

2. Name the Landmarks

3. Find where your hands play together.  

This is especially good to teach beginners HOW to practice music.


Things I don't like as much about this method are:

Now let's take a look at some of the things I am finding frustrating. (And note, there aren't very many!)

All the work pages:

I have a love/hate relationship with the work pages and the childish art. They work well for younger students, but not older students. If there was a slightly better balance, I might use this book for all beginners! I think that a mix of Celebrate Piano! and Piano Safari would be perfect for me as a teacher.

Teaching of Note Names:

Celebrate Piano! starts on the staff pretty quickly, but does not introduce clefs for some time. When the student does learn about the grand staff, they learn the usual landmarks (Treble C, Treble G, Middle C, Bass F, Bass C). For a while, that is all. By the time they reach 2a, they have yet to learn the rest of the names of the lines and spaces. To be fair, they encourage using landmarks to find close starting pitches. And my student can decipher them. She has learned the names of the keys on the piano, knows those landmarks, and knows her intervals. Between those three, she can figure out what the names are . But I am uncomfortable depending on just that for so long. I've been following the method to see how it all plays out, but I'm not sure I like this approach any better than Piano Safari's approach. 


If you want to look inside Celebrate Piano!, here's their brochure about their method: Exploring Celebrate Piano!


Here's a final comparison note, and quick summary:

Piano Safari lacks in ear training, while Celebrate Piano! is too childish to use with all beginners, and lacks creative technique and rote learning. 

I find both methods lacking in their introductions of note names on the staff. 

However, they both address rhythm well, teach intervocalic reading, are not stuck in one hand position, emphasis transposition, and move at a slow pace for beginners. That is why I love them for beginners!

A First Group Lesson

At the end of May I gathered my 3 beginner students together for their (and my) first ever group lesson.  The students were super excited to get together and weren't quite sure what to expect. Their parents dropped them off with instructions to come back at the end for a mini recital.

Here's an overview of what we did: 

We started with several rhythm games, keeping it simple so they could feel confident. 

Then we moved to the keyboard and played some more games using the keyboard and some dice and figurines. 

Afterward we talked about performance technique and each student had a chance to play all of their pieces for each other. I had to remind them of proper audience technique as well, because they got a little too excited about what they were doing. 

Then we played some music bingo until the parents came in. They all got Bingo at the same time!

We called the parents and other siblings back in and invited them to sit and listen. Each student took turns playing one piece at a time. Since there were only three students, I had them each prepare 3 pieces. It was just enough to fill about 10 minutes of time. 

When they were all finished, we celebrated with rice crispie treats and lemonade. 

If you are thinking of doing a group lesson for your beginners, here's some of the thoughts that informed my decisions:

Group Lesson VS Recital

I decided to do a group lesson instead of a recital because I don't have a lot of students for a full recital and I didn't want to intimidate my beginners. The students and parents loved it, so I think it was a good decision. It also wasn't a lot of extra work for me. 

Performance Technique

I usually spend part of several lessons before recitals teaching performance technique, but since I had all this time during the group lesson, I decided to use just the group lesson to go over performing. I had them listen to each other and comment on each others performance technique. In the end they didn't remember everything for the final performance, but it was a good start!


All the students had only been studying with me for one year, so I used to games as a way to review everything we had done during the year:

Rhythm: We started with simple rhythm dictation using raindrop cards (shorts) and rainbow cards (longs). I played a short rhythm on the piano and then they had to create it with the cards. Then I let them each take turns creating rhythms. I often had to remind them to keep their rhythms short and manageable!

Musical Alphabet and Keyboard Geography: We played a keyboard race using a big alphabet dice and little plastic figurines. As they rolled the dice they had to find the next key of that name up the piano. The first one to the end of the piano won. In retrospect I think we should have worked from the ends of the keyboard into the middle because they got a little bored halfway through.

Intervals: We played a second keyboard race using another specialty dice to move by unison, 2nds and 3rds. This time I had them choose and end of the keyboard and race to the middle to keep things moving. 

Music Bingo: The last game we played was Music Bingo from Susan Paradis's website. A few of the concepts on the bingo cards were a little beyond some of my students, but I allowed them to work together and used it as a way for them to see some new symbols and talk about new concepts.

I found the group lesson was actually very easy to plan because I many games in my repertoire but don't always have time to play them with my students. I was pleased with how it went and plan on doing many more!