Takeaways from 88 Creative Keys 2019 Workshop

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What do you get when four teachers from two different countries and 3 different states meet for the first time at 88 Creative Keys Keyboard Improvisation Workshop? Each gets a creative buffet customized to their personal and studio needs!

Leah Drake, Linda Poelzer, Mindy Rawlinson and Marie Lee, friends from the private Facebook group Group Teaching Blueprint, met for the first time face-to-face and happily refer to themselves as The Blueprinters. Each woman is in a different phase of teaching, some teaching a mixture of private and group piano, some just starting their studios, and some having taught for many years, and each took some time to share their top takeaways from the workshop.

Linda Poelzer at www.leadingnotemusicstudio.ca

Linda blowing pretend bubbles—a great way to help students become more mindful of breathing at piano lessons.

Linda blowing pretend bubbles—a great way to help students become more mindful of breathing at piano lessons.


If there is one thing I know about myself, it is that I am not spontaneous.  Therefore, my decision to attend 88CK Workshop was carefully planned, based on what I would be able to glean from the presenters and how that would benefit my students.  Without a doubt, the 88CK Workshop more than met my list of expectations and so much more! 

Linda holding up her jumbo-sized music infographics.

Linda holding up her jumbo-sized music infographics.


Improvisation: Currently we do a lot of Improvisation but this upcoming year, I plan on raising the bar. With Forrest Kinney on the presenter list, my bags were close to packed. However, as we know, Forrest was not able to attend. Through his generosity, we were given a number of his amazing books and watched several of his training videos. For me this was very good, as I will now be able to access them as home. I found as the workshop went on, my idea bank for improvisation just kept building.

Lead Chart Reading and Chords: Without a doubt Leila and Bradley presented their own tricks for teaching and implementing chords with a wide variety of student levels. This element of the workshop was exactly what I was looking for. Once again, my personal storehouse of ideas was added to.

Music Eras: This year I am formally introducing music history throughout the studio. I’m not going to lie…learning to dance a Minuet was a HUGE take-a-way. We will be dancing our way through the coldest month of the year—January 2020 and I will bring it back for a brief appearance in our year –end recital. Thanks, Leila, for the smooth moves! And thank Bradley for crushing the Bach Minuet for us!

[Get your Music Infographic files here to make your own worksheets, banners and posters.]

Mindy Rawlinson at mindyrawlinson.com

Mindy smiling for the camera sitting next to Andrea West, Ms  88PK graphics  guru

Mindy smiling for the camera sitting next to Andrea West, Ms 88PK graphics guru


The 88 Creative Keys workshop surpassed all of my hopes and expectations! I loved the intimate setting, the many opportunities to actually be hands-on (both in teaching activities and on the keys), and the melding of so many creative minds. It was worth every sacrifice to be there!

Of the many takeaways from this workshop, I have already been able to implement Bradley Sowash's Magic Improv Pyramid and Leila Viss's “What did you eat for breakfast?” improv activity. So many great easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement quick ideas!

Bradley modeled great pedagogy! I was consistently surprised by how easy it was for me to learn something new because of the many small steps he created to help me arrive at the big picture. I will definitely work on thinking backward to move forward (i.e., taking the skill I want to teach and breaking the process of learning it down even further than I currently do as I work with my students). I know it will help them feel more successful and understand what I'm teaching even better.

My list of things to implement this year in my studio include

1) Introducing units in my studio that we can repeat year after year, each year building on what we did the year before.

2) Using kinesthetic activities to help my students learn and experience rhythm.

3) Helping my students develop their creative muscles by giving them shorter leashes and creating boundaries for them to create within. We will definitely incorporate Leila's 3-2-1 challenge!

I am thrilled that so many of these activities can be easily adapted to a group or a private lesson setting, as well as adapting to various age and ability levels. How many other conferences can I say that about? (Answer: none.)

A huge round of applause for the 88 Creative Keys workshop!

Leah Drake at www.vibrantvalleymusicstudio.com

Leah soaking it all in

Leah soaking it all in


My favorite activities were those involving ensemble-playing, particularly Bradley's rote blues songs "Lemonade" and "Don't Eat Green Bugs". I know my students will love those! I also really enjoyed the "Loop, Layer, Launch" presentation by Marie Lee which illustrated how to make a group recital finale that will wow the crowd.

I really enjoyed the variety of off-bench activities. Leila has endless educational applications for household items, and she introduced us to many kinesthetic learning activities that I can't wait to try. My favorites were the Dalcroze tennis ball beats and Bradley's boomwhacker rhythmic composing.

As much as this was a workshop about teaching, I felt like roughly half the activities were more exciting for me as an advanced musician rather than me as a teacher of almost entirely beginners. Many activities were simply too complicated for me to give beginners. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed them! Once I came to terms with that reality, I enjoyed myself much more - it was like getting to go to piano camp as an adult!

On top of everything, I got so much out of all the interactions with the incredibly creative teachers in attendance. We spent hours talking about our studios, trading business tips, and sharing teaching experiences. That's priceless. I left the workshop buoyed by everyone's encouragement and bursting with inspiring ideas.

I'd go back in a heartbeat!

Marie Lee at www.musicalityschools.com

Marie on the right with newfound friend, Katherine.

Marie on the right with newfound friend, Katherine.


My biggest takeaway surprisingly isn’t focused on music at all! I hate to say this, but I came to 88CK extremely burnt out, needing a total break from anything teaching related.

In the past 3 years of starting my music school I’ve lost almost all of my free time and gained 20 pounds. Life was out of balance in a big way. Leila’s Free to Focus presentations were heaven-sent. (Read her latest blog for the full rundown.)

I’m starting to feel more in control, knowing that it’s okay to eliminate, delegate or automate.

88CK teachers showing where their freedom compasses are pointing—inspired by the book, Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt.

88CK teachers showing where their freedom compasses are pointing—inspired by the book, Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt.


I’m carving out a bit of time each Sunday to read the book and learn how to use the planner and already I feel better. I’m back at the gym, logging meals into MyFitnessPal app, have assigned some mundane tasks to my teenage helpers (a paid job) and even got this amazing offer from one of my 8 year old students:

note to Marie

One of my favorite parts of 88CK workshop is to be able to return home, armed with an activity to try on my first day back to teaching. Bradley taught us a catchy LH chord progression played to the rhythm of the word “lemonade” and then to improvise with the RH using a minor pentatonic scale. My students have had such fun with this piece the past two weeks and it’s been very easy to adapt to all ages and levels in my classes, including adding in a hand drum accompaniment which Bradley also taught in a separate workshop. Absolutely no music was involved, but it gave lots of room for teaching chord theory, rhythm and creativity in students creating their own pieces.

Bradley’s Magic Improv Pyramid and Leila’s 3-2-1 Challenge have given me a framework for our upcoming 2019-2020 curriculum and well beyond. They’re created to work with all ages and all levels. I’m actually starting by working through both programs myself to build my own improvisation and chording skills and predict these will be the next BIG THING in piano teaching.

A HUGE thank you to Linda, Mindy, Leah and Marie for such kind words about the 88CK workshop and also for sharing their impressions and plans for what they plan to do next at their studios!

To become a “blue printer” teacher yourself, you must check out Marie Lee’s resource: Group Teaching Blueprint. Learn more here.

Join fellow “blueprinters” and find unprecedented support in your group instruction.

Join fellow “blueprinters” and find unprecedented support in your group instruction.


Interested in the 321 Challenge and how it ignites creativity through cool chord progressions? It was JUST released today at an introductory price you won’t find again. Learn more here.

Spark creativity with hip chord progressions and pop-inspired patterns.

Spark creativity with hip chord progressions and pop-inspired patterns.