As we wrap up another wonderful year of music lessons, I thought it would be fun to share a glimpse into our lab time projects that we tackled throughout the year. If you’re hearing a little extra AC/DC or Cyndi Lauper in your household, lab time may be the reason behind the 80s hits blasting away! Or perhaps the kids started inquiring about the music as they watched “Home Alone” or “Elf” during the holiday season? Yep, that was probably due to lab time as well. Read along about all we studied…

Music Through the Decades: 1980s

In past years we’ve gone through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, so this year we followed suit and moved into all things 80s! Students have watched music videos and listened to all the artists listed in the infographic below. Along with working through Google slide shows of each genre, students also filled out worksheets like “Rate the Rock” and “Crack the Code” that I had great fun creating. In “Rate the Rock” students got a chance to voice their opinions on songs and artists, and some had pretty strong opinions…especially regarding 80s hair styles! I wonder how their opinions would differ without the visual effects. “Crack the Code” required students to go on a detective hunt to find things within the music videos which would help to figure out an 80s saying: “Yo, that’s tight!” No student thought that saying should come back around.

Once the worksheets were finished, we scooted over to 80s music playlists on Spotify while working on puzzles I created in Have a little fun and try out this CROSSWORD PUZZLE on all things 80s or try to solve this ” Eye of the Tiger” JIGSAW PUZZLE.

Why study decades of music? I believe that if students are exposed to all types of music, they will find their own authentic voice and have a broader palette for appreciating all styles of music. It brings me great joy to put together these units because I’m passionate about my students getting a well-rounded music education. Many teachers see merit in teaching music history from centuries ago…that’s nothing new….but I think it’s equally important for students to learn the stages of popular music development over the last century (and I believe it’s way more fun!)

Music in Holiday Movies

During the month of December we learned about Christmas movie soundtracks, film scores and the composers that create them. We studied music such as “Somewhere In My Memory” from Home Alone, “Christmas at Hogwarts” from Harry Potter, “Christmas Medley” from Elf, and “Suite from the Polar Express.”

How did John Williams create the music for Harry and Marv to sound like burglars in Home Alone? Listen to Jim Carrey’s version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and then listen to Tyler the Creator’s version. What are the similarities and differences in the production of the two? Which do you prefer?

After a couple lessons on music in holiday movies, students created their own art project of a Christmas album with original cover art work and song titles. I’m always amazed at the creativity of youthful minds! Younger students worked on listening glyphs of the songs “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride.”

Music Apps, Apps and More Apps!

We use apps to solidify concepts learned in lessons including rhythm, note reading and music theory. Every student has a Google document that tracks their progress in each app to ensure we continue to move forward. As students move through levels or ranks, they also collect music money to spend in the AJs store!

  • Ultimate NinGenius covers essential music concepts and helps to master notes, rhythms, and music theory. Students work to collect new belt colors working all the way to their black belt.
  • Piano Maestro is basically a video game that listens to the student playing pieces starting from a single note to advance repertoire. Students collect stars and ranks as they master sight-reading, rhythm and technique while playing through their songs.
  • Rhythmic Village allows students to work through totem poles as they progress in their rhythmic development. I especially enjoy this app because it works with aural skills as students listen to a rhythm and have to decipher what they have heard. This app is a favorite in the studio.
  • Rhythm Swing has three modes: learn, practice and play. I appreciate the scaffolding in this app as it’s very carefully thought out and applied. Students that work their way through this app show significant improvements in their rhythmic skills.
  • The Most Amazing Sheep Game is simultaneously used as a fun brain break AND as a way for students to tap to the rhythm of the music. You can’t work through the game without being on the beat or else your sheep falls off the screen!
  • Rhythm Cat is used after the completion of Rhythm Swing as it travels quickly into harder territory with difficult rhythms and two handed coordination.
  • This list just touches the surface of apps we use. Other apps include Musical Fox, Staff Wars, Note Rush, Flashnote Derby, Hop To It, Musical Paint, and the list goes on and on….

Grant earning his stars in Piano Maestro!

Who is….? Who was…? Book Series

Sometimes a little quiet reading time does us all some good. I like seeing kids cozy up with a good book. This year students had a choice of reading books about Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift or David Bowie. To coincide with the books, students filled out Who Is….Who Was worksheets and book summaries.

And on and on the list goes….

Students also had the opportunity to learn from the following resources and activities:

  • Digital Music Escape Rooms
  • Boom Cards
  • The Full Scoop On Chords videos with corresponding clip-it quizzes
  • Use of Canva to create sheet music covers for their original compositions
  • Theory books and worksheets
  • Disney shows on Broadway project
  • Etc, etc, etc!

A Final Thought

Students often work on lab projects while listening to Spotify playlists. I’m happy to say that multiple kids now request for me to set their playlist to 1980s music! Mission accomplished.

Good practice habits are crucial to the development of music students. Most other activities have practice built in with multiple hours of training per week. Learning a musical instrument is unique in that a majority of practice happens at home away from the teacher. Therefore, parents are asked to help facilitate the practice sessions.

Here are a few tips to help students have productive practice time at home.


I recently asked a few of my most diligent practicing students, “How do you go about practicing each week?” I heard the following responses:


  • I practice before the bus comes to pick me up for school
  • I practice every day when I get home from school after snack time
  • Practicing is on my daily chores list
  • Practicing is part of my homework assignments
  • I have to practice before I am allowed to use electronics after school


Notice that each student has a specific regimen they follow to ensure they practice their musical instrument. Be proactive about setting aside practice time each day.



Create a welcoming, clutter-free practice environment. Students practice space should be close to family and away from distractions.


  • Practice space should be in a pleasing area of the home. Students will not want to practice if they need to go to the dingy basement or a part of the home where they feel separated from family. Keep it close to “the action” but not in the action!
  • Find a place that doesn’t have too many distractions. Trying to practice next to a blaring television is difficult for a student (and makes for unhappy family members trying to watch their favorite show!)



I often get asked, “How much time should my child be practicing?” Instead of focusing on time constraints, I suggest we focus on goals for the practice session.


  • When practicing a part of the assignment, are there parts of the song or technical exercises that are harder than others? If so, slow them down. Lean into the harder parts. Instead of practicing the song 3X a session or for so many minutes, break it apart into smaller sections with a goal; e.g. “play measures 22-23 at 72 beats per minute 5 times without mistakes.”
  • How do we know if certain parts of the song need more attention? Where did we have to slow down? Where did we hit wrong notes and need to start over? Assess. Think about the notes before playing them. Be thoughtful in practice, and don’t let autopilot take over.
  • Double check to make sure all weekly assignment goals have been obtained.



Students spend less than 1% of their week with me. We cram a great deal of learning into our short window of time, but I need help to ensure practice happens at home. How can parents help their child progress each week?


  • Students (especially younger ones) need you to sit along side them. Help them to understand their assignments, go through the music together and listen to the music they are making.
  • Show them that music is valued in your home. Play music while making dinner. Listen to all genres of music. Take your student to live music events including choir and band concerts, musicals and theatrical productions, classical recitals, jazz clubs, rock shows, etc. Exposure to music can inspire your student by showing them what is capable with perseverance.
  • Encourage them to practice. Practice is not always fun or easy, but celebrating the process of making music along with small triumphs along the way will boost your child’s enthusiasm.
  • Attend studio recitals with excitement. Invite friends and family to attend and support your child’s musical growth.
  • Create at-home concerts! Perhaps the concert is only for parents and siblings. Or maybe a small concert is given when the relatives come to visit. I have had students create recital programs to give out, perform the recital and even make post-recital treats for the attendees. Help them to take ownership of their learning and musicianship.



Some families choose to create practice incentives for their students. If they practice so many pieces, play for so many days in the month or pass through a certain book, they will receive a reward. This strategy has proven to work well especially with smaller children. Often families start with extrinsic motivation, but as students progress in their musical training and knowledge their intrinsic motivation takes over. They want to play a certain song they hear on the radio or they want to sound like their favorite musical artist. In later years of lessons students often long to become better musicians as it fills them with enjoyment, pride and self-confidence.


Remember that learning a musical instrument requires a parent/student/teacher triangle of communication and support to ensure the progress and success of lessons. Please reach out to your student’s instructor if you need any help, guidance or extra encouragement along the way. Practice definitely requires effort and attention, but observing the growth of your child’s musicianship is incredibly rewarding!

Energy was overflowing in our latest Group Lessons at AJ’s Music Factory! Piano and Vocal students built  major chords with help from our Ping Pong Chord Game, we learned about rhythms through Rhythm Produce infused with Rhythm Ladders and Rhythm Cups, and we even did the Sid Shuffle to get moving to the beat! Warning: If you hear this song, you won’t quit doing “The Mammy!”

Take a sneak peak into this week’s group lessons at AJ’s Music Factory:


Want to join in the fun? Contact Andrea at 612.275.1895 or to claim your spot today!

Meet Sam.IMG_2862

Sam came to me as a 3 year old that wanted to learn how to play the piano. His mother reached out and said, “He just really wants to play piano! Do you take on preschoolers?” I had heard about the preschool piano method WUNDERKEYS and opted to give it a try with Sam who would be my first preschool student. I admit I was skeptical at first, but my doubts soon morphed into awe and amazement as this little guy grew into a fine young musician right before my eyes. Week after week Sam came into his lesson ready to learn with his Wunderkeys piano friends Thumbelina, Pointer Panda, Middleton Mouse, Ringo Raccoon, and Pinky Pig!

IMG_2874Wunderkeys is an age appropriate program that allows preschoolers to explore music in a playful, creative environment within a structured curriculum. Students play piano, sing, dance, explore instruments and play musical games in a one-on-one environment with the teacher. When presented in such an entertaining manner, Wunderkeys allows preschoolers to absorb the concept of music and math in a creative, nurturing and fun way!

Throughout lessons Sam developed a sense of rhythm and musicality that has set him up for success in his musical journeys that will carry into his life. He also learned how to be in a one-on-one environment with a teacher and how to be a respectful, attentive student. Take a peek at Sam in action 2 years later. Notice his innate rhythm and focus. So proud of this guy and excited to see what his musical future holds!



What are off-bench activities? We get this question a lot. Why? Because we are offering an exciting, 21st century approach to teaching lessons that is unique and new to music instruction.

The traditional way of piano lessons is that the teacher teaches a concept through songs, the the student goes home to practice, and then they return to show what they accomplished…and on to the next concept. Rinse and repeat.

That is not how we do things at AJ’s Music Factory. 

Instead, students come in for lessons and after we learn new songs and concepts, students get to spend time using all of the technology, games, resources, and activities that are available in the studio. They are reviewing their music lesson in multiple domains: sensory, auditory, kinesthetic. Immediately students are using different off-bench ways to retain and review new concepts. And guess what? They are having FUN while learning! 

Traditional lessons can also become quite lonely. Students frequently do off-bench activities together to give a sense of camaraderie within the studio. Seeing their lesson buddies becomes a highlight of the week!

Very few studios use a format like this, but this is why AJ’s Music Factory students tend to love their lessons. The days of “Do I have to go to music lessons?” have been replaced with “When do I get to go to music lessons?!” Our format supports students in their learning and brings fun and excitement into their lessons that is unique to our studio. 

Take a look at a few examples of AJ’s Music Factory off-bench time:

Reading and internalizing rhythm patterns through Rhythm Cups:

Activities from “Rhythm: Make It Count!” Resource. Here we are feeling where different beats fall within a 4/4 time signature through balloons and tennis balls.

Feeling the beat with Bucket Drumming. We even glow in the dark from time to time!

We often review concepts through game-play. Here we combine note names, durations and mathematics in SLUMBERSAURUS! 

Reviewing terms and concepts through Musical Heads Up! 

Want to experience the new generation of music lessons? Contact us at or 612.275.1895.

Last week students of AJ’s Music Factory participated in GROUP LESSONS. Check out our GROUP LESSONS VIDEO HERE. Students learned rhythmic notation and patterns through the use of common candy names (e.g. Nerds = quarter notes, Snickers = 8th notes) and internalized these rhythms through bucket drumming and vocalization. We also honed our listening aural skills to figure out what rhythms were played and dictated them by laying out our different candies in our “measures” made out of Twizzler bar lines. Also featured in the lessons were Musical Bingo, Heads Up and even a glow-in-the-dark drum party (once it got dark out!)

Music learning, making friends, creating memories, gaining confidence and having fun were all achieved in our group lesson! To learn more on AJ’s Music Factory, check out


AJ's Music Factory Bucket Drumming



AJ's Music Factory Music Bingo




Our spring recital featuring piano, voice and guitar students of AJ’s Music Factory is scheduled for May 15th, 2016 @ 1:00 and 3:00. Please join us for a beautiful celebration of music featuring our students! Reception will follow both recitals.

Thank you to all who came out to support our youth in our Shout for Joy concert! Students loved having the opportunity to sing with a full live band and perform for an attentive audience. Every performance that passes allows the growth of confidence in our students…confidence as performers and confidence as they navigate their way through their years of youth into young adulthood. The courage students call upon as they perform extends way beyond music, and we are so honored to encourage this kind of growth in our students. Below are a few moments from our showcase rehearsal and performance. Enjoy!









This is Grace. Grace is an 8th grader that loves current pop music. Her most recent request was to learn “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift. We believe in meeting our students in the middle. Yes, you can play pop music, and how can we learn from this? Turns out, we can learn a GREAT DEAL!

Some concepts taught in the context of pop music include the following:

  • key signature
  • time signature
  • rhythmic patterns
  • melodic ideas and motifs
  • chord progressions
  • harmonic and melodic intervals within phrases
  • phrase structure
  • articulation
  • dynamics

Grace’s playing grew quick momentum when we started learning her favorite pop tunes along with standard piano repertoire. Peek a student’s interest, and they will be more than excited to sit down and practice their piano lesson.


Summer Lessons


Give music lessons a try this summer at AJ’s Music Factory! We are offering an introductory 6-week session to new students this summer to experience the joy of music lessons.

What? Six 30-minute private lessons with instructor.

Voice or piano lessons – Andrea Zimmerman, instructor.
Guitar or ukulele lessons – Michael Zimmerman, instructor.

When? Summer session runs June 12th through August 5th. Choose 6 lesson times within this very flexible session that work for your summer schedule.

Why? Try an instrument on – see if it fits! This is a trial offer to allow your student to experience an instrument without a large commitment. Piano students do not need a piano at home to start up, though they will progress at a quicker pace if they have access to a piano/keyboard to practice. Guitar and Ukulele students will need their own instruments. Contact us if you need recommendations.

How Much? Tuition for this 6-week trial session is $175 which includes a start-up book and other lesson materials or music.

Where? AJ’s Music Factory is located inside Delmonico Dance Studios. We are to the left of “Posh Pooch.”

Delmonico Dance Studios
650 Commerce Drive, Suite 100
Woodbury, MN 55125

How? Click HERE to register for lessons. We will be in touch to solidify details. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Andrea at or 612.275.1895.

We look forward to meeting you and creating wonderful music together!