Reactions to 88 Creative Keys Workshop and What's Next

Bradley Sowash and I just finished our fourth 88 Creative Keys Denver Keyboard Improvisation Workshop. It's one of the most gratifying yet equally exhausting events of my life. I believe Bradley would agree. After taking a breather, we've begun to think about what's next.  Before I share what's on the horizon for 88 Creative Keys, it's time to express our gratitude for those who attended and for the honest feedback offered in the completed surveys after the workshop.


The groups we hosted at both tracks and the record turn out for our very first ever Saturday Pedagogy created a dynamic bunch. Bradley and I were thrilled and exhausted and then recharged by everyone's energy and enthusiasm!

If you want to know the details of our workshop, we made every effort to stick to this IMG_0586schedule allowing ourselves the freedom to improvise when necessary.

We were extremely honored to hold this year's 88 Creative Keys workshop at Colorado Christian University thanks to Steven Taylor, Dean of the Music Department.

In addition, our attendees were privileged to learn from group improvisation expert, Debra Perez--a world-class teacher and wow, does she know her Clavinova!

What follows is an unexpected and unsolicited "bonus" from Marie Lee . She carefully compiled comments made by some of  this year's 88 Creative Keys attendees.

Disclaimer: Marie Lee--friend colleague, extraordinary group teacher and one who is always thirsty to learn more--collected these comments and wrote some of her own without even a nudge from yours truly.  I do hope you will take the time to read her "coast to coast" collection.

The comments reveal what's on the hearts and minds of the population of teachers we reach at 88 Creative Keys--from California to Connecticut . It could match your heart and mind as well and nudge you into joining us next time and look into what we offer between workshops.

Stella Lootens from Colorado


I was amazed at what we were able to accomplish in four days under the gifted, high-energy, supportive leadership of Bradley, Leila, and Debra. I now feel confident about leading my students through the steps of creating their own compositions and then improvising on them.  

Bradley’s “That’s Jazz” series is great!  

Leila showed us so many excellent apps to explore, and engaged us in fun activities to explore rhythm and notation.  

Love those paint bucket drums!  

Using the Yamaha keyboards to create an orchestral arrangement of a song was such a satisfying way to apply all of Debra’s sessions on improvisation.  

Meeting and sharing with other teachers over delicious lunches was certainly a bonus!

Lindsay from Nebraska


The first three days were focused on developing our personal musicianship, creativity, and improvisation skills.

One of the days, we broke up into three groups to arrange/orchestrate a piece with the digital keyboards. Our instructions were to be creative and use the improvisation skills we had been learning to come up with 4 parts from a piece of music that only had 2 parts! This gave us an opportunity to experiment with some of the features of the Yamaha keyboards in the piano lab at Colorado Christian University!  

By far, one of the best parts of the workshop was when Bradley would play for us!

The last day was focused on teaching creativity and improvisation. Bradley taught a whole session on "Drumming for Teachers." He showed us a number of different patterns and talked us through how to accompany our students with some extra "rhythm!"

"Bucket Drumming" with Leila showed us lots of ways to incorporate fun "off-the-bench" rhythm activities into our lessons.

Leila brought more manipulatives, teaching tools, and ideas than we could talk about or look at in the 4 days!  She is so creative, and loves to re-purpose and recycle ordinary items from around the house for learning in her studio!!

I am so excited to share some of the fun new ideas and games with the students this year!

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to learn from and be challenged by Leila, Debra, Bradley, and other colleagues attending from all over the country.  

(These are straight from Lindsay's own blog. Check it out here.)

Delyth from Connecticut


Bravo to Leila Viss , Debra Perez and Bradley Sowash for this creativity at the piano pedagogy course .

I am fairly new to piano teaching but at no time was made to feel inferior or dull in comparison to other teachers on the course. I am a trained school teacher myself from the UK. I understand how tricky it is to pace a lesson, to differentiate the lesson so that all levels of ability feel a sense of accomplishment, and to keep the audience engaged and interested at all times. I believe that all the above teachers succeeded in this aspect.

The content of the course was relevant, upbeat and totally do-able. Their professional delivery of the content of the course more than exceeded my level of expectation, left NO room for disappointment and sheer value for money! The warmth that these teachers exuded filtered into the entire group attending .

After one day, everyone was chatting, swapping piano pedagogy ideas and making friends!

It was a delightful experience from day one, right up until the last day .

I haven't been back long from attending the course and have begun already to implement many of their ideas, which have been very successful.

I will be attending future courses with Leila and Bradley and what a dynamo they make. If you as a teacher need inspirational intervention then look no further, these are the people for you.

Janice from California

The workshop was organized to provide a full day of learning along with making friends and having fun. I feel much more comfortable working with the blues then I have in the past. I feel like I have a formula to work with to allow me to be more creative.

image 3 - Copy

Working through the Creative  Chords and Bradley's jazz books, I can now do a better job teaching students chords and improvisation with these resources and more confidence.

Leila provided an overview of a plethora of apps to be used by individuals and group classes. Her creativity shines through in the games and activities she shared.

Leila, Bradley, and Debra provided a comfortable environment for learning and creating.

Breakfast and lunch were beautifully presented and the food was wonderful, thank you Brittany!

My personal meeting with Leila:

Leila did a fantastic job reviewing and providing feedback on questions I have regarding teaching students pop music. Leila provided suggestions for me to work with the students on the particular songs requested, apps I can use, and suggested left hand accompaniments. Leila also worked with me on my pop skills. I will continue to explore and work with my students on the pop songs they request and utilize the suggestions and techniques provided by Leila.  Thank you!

My personal meeting with Debra:

Debra consulted with me on my plan to move into a commercial lease for my own music studio. She was forthright with suggestions on how to move forward and also areas I need to review further and question. I am proceeding with moving forward after following up on the suggestions Debra provided. The meeting provided realistic expectations on my part what will work and the areas requiring attention. Good business meeting!

My personal meeting with Bradley:

I would love to increase my confidence and skills with improvisation. Improvisation is an area I have not been comfortable with and want to improve and have the ability to “play by ear” as I am a total sight player. Bradley asked what areas I wanted to work on and I brought a piece performed recently with a concert band requiring piano. I wanted to ensure the chords I was playing were correct and the style appropriate to the music.

It was great to have feedback and suggestions on this piece should I need to perform it again. Bradley asked what I wanted to work on next and improvising and playing by ear are areas I want to work on. I was able to get the right hand part by ear on the song we selected and Bradley took me step by step through left hand chords, then changing the left hand rhythm and chord structure, finally adding some improvisation.. I took away my notes and will continue to work on this piece as a model for other songs to begin my ear and improvisation journey.

Kellee from Iowa


I can't thank your team enough for all the time, effort, and care you put into the Creative Keys conference. I was blown away by your passion, expertise, and how you cared for us by what you deemed important enough to share with us both during classes and individually afterwards. Thank you for being available.

Thank you for taking up the standard of a new path for musicians to learn both eye and ear knowledge. I personally would not have changed a thing about the time there, and I came home with pages of notes and a head full of ideas. I can't wait to utilize those ideas this year. And now I can even (sort of) play my daughter's djembe AND a toebourine at the same time! Who knew! Blessings to all and again, many thanks!

Marie from Nevada


After following Leila and Bradley around last year at NCKP, I’d been anxiously waiting for almost one year to participate at 88CK in Denver. It’s always a wonderful thing to attend conferences and listen to speakers but it’s quite a different experience to be “in the moment” and learn hands-on! I came home with very few notes in my notebook because most of our learning was taking place right at the pianos -- the very best place to learn!

Each day, Bradley methodically added more steps to help us create our own blues composition. Some of the students even wrote lyrics which were downright hilarious--pieces about their dogs, weddings, gardens or the news. The best souvenir of the trip was going home with a piece that we’d actually composed! Several of us are continuing our studies with Bradley in his online class offerings. This will give me a push to actually practice and continue developing my new skills so I can share them with my students.

Because I’m a group piano teacher, I was very interested in participating in a class taught by Debra Perez, owner of Musical Moments group piano schools in Texas. Debra is every bit as warm and genuine as you’d imagine! We especially got excited as she taught us how to orchestrate a piece, then divided us into groups to try our hand at it. It was funny to find out that each group chose the same piece but orchestrated it in three very different styles.

We had daily drum circles and even learned some specific techniques from Bradley on how to really play a hand drum. Drumming continued with Leila as she brought out her bright orange buckets and let us try our hand at some activities from her [and Marie's!] latest resource.


After attending 88CK, I made it a goal to do an improvisation activity at every class and so far, my students have responded with delight. We’ve also tried our hand at composing with the Connect 4 game (Leila’s idea), keeping the beat with Leila’s croakers and Bradley’s toebourines, and mapping out rhythm patterns with rhythm boards. My pre-teens were all smiles as they orchestrated their own version of the Pokemon Go theme song together.  Next on my list is learning how to use some of the new iPad apps Leila shared.

Besides the yummy, healthy food that Brittany served, one of the best surprises of the workshop was how encouraging everyone was. No matter what level we were at, Leila, Bradley and Debra made us feel like we could succeed. That positivity easily translated into our group and turned us into a bunch of teachers playing ensembles, singing, laughing at our mistakes, performing solos, teaching and sharing pedagogy and business ideas with one another.

88 CK was well worth the year wait! My students and I thank you for re-energizing our studio with creativity!

What's next for Debra?

More book sales and workshops

Debra's Musical Moments  books and teacher training are extremely popular for those looking to teach beginners in groups. She offers regular workshops in her TWO piano stores she owns and operates with her husband Matt in south Texas. I'm not sure she takes time to breathe?

Mentoring fellow colleagues

Believe it or not she recently found time to establish the Music Mentor group with 3 other stellar business women who have built thriving music studios. If you need advice for your future ambitions, you NEED to check out their site.

What's next for Bradley?

Sharing the good news about his recent book release

Make sure to purchase Book 2 in his series Creative Chords. Creative Chords is a comprehensive (theory, reading, technique, improvising...) method book designed for late beginners. It is a multi-style. multi-key, step-by-step approach that progresses slowly and thoughtfully

Online group lessons

If you have always wanted to unlock your improvisation chops, here's an opportunity to learn from an expert along with your friends. Bradley has a unique line up of 8-week online interactive classes for beginner to immediate level improvisers. He's taken what he offers at his studio and online private lessons and compiled lessons plans that you can be a participant or just listen in. Sign up here.

What's next for Leila?

Planning for piano teachers

Need help with your Off Bench activities? Stay tuned for a one-of-a-kind resource that will hold your hand as you integrate technological and off bench reinforcement in your studio. You won't want to miss this resource as a fellow teacher is helping me write it! In addition, I'm eager to add more freebies and products in collaboration with other teachers at Planning Center for Piano Teachers.  Make sure to check out the extremely popular resource, Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers!

Scheduling personal consultations

Every studio is different. In your personal consultation with me, I listen, process and then help you integrate the best tools to help your studio thrive. If I don't have the answer, I'll hook you up with someone who does. An unexpected but wonderful bonus of a consultation is the newfound, lifelong friendship!

What's next for 88 Creative Keys?

More webinars. Bradley and I think you'll love our lineup of timely topics.

We've begun brainstorming the next 88 Creative Keys event and how to incorporate the themes that came to our attention at this year's workshop: Creativity, Business and Group Instruction.

Details coming soon.

What's next for you?

We sincerely hope you'll join us on this exciting creative journey at the keys!

Looking forward...