88 Creative Keys Workshop

Professional development workshops for piano teachers

There will NOT be a workshop this year. The next workshop dates are still pending. Please stay tuned.

Small & Immersive

At 88 Creative Keys professional development workshops, piano teachers learn to improvise, use technology, lead off-bench activities, direct group teaching and acquire updated business skills with today’s leading pedagogues. Unlike larger music education conferences, our workshops are limited to a small group of participants in order to maximize individual attention.

“Thanks for your vision to put something like this together, your passion to inspire and equip us, your energy and positivity that infused each day, your flexibility to make adjustments and your generosity in sharing your wisdom, knowledge – and of course your time (and all that you provide through your webinars and websites).” — Joan Hildebrand, Piano teacher

SWING from sessions on building ear skills to sessions on developing better reading skills.MOVE off the bench to master new skills on the bench.ENGAGE in stimulating conversations that may sway the direction of your business or validate your current status.DEVELOP creative skills from the page so you can build more skills off the page.RENEW a sense of balance as a professional musician and teacher; one that is first and foremost centered around creativity and teaching creatively.
“I truly love the energy you inspire in these groups of teachers. You and Bradley make it so comfortable to try new things without the risk of putting us on the spot. Several people that I talked to mentioned that — they weren’t expecting such a fun, energetic group of attendees and said that you and Bradley seem so genuine and real.” — Marie Lee, Group piano teacher

© 88 Creative Keys. All rights reserved.

Tentative Schedule

From Overwhelmed to Organized: Putting Apps to Work for You

It’s easy to accumulate apps yet much harder to integrate them into your teaching and make them work for you.

Acquire a list of top music apps with a number of honorable mentions to consider.

Develop a filter and an assessment plan in which to analyze these apps that helps you select the right apps for the right time.

Gain practical and specific tips on how to implement the apps in your studio.

Polishing and Showcasing Showstopper Compositions: It’s All in the Details

After a composition is coming along nicely, there are snafus along the way to finalizing the end product. Hear ideas on how to:

Build a bridge from section A to B.
Return to section A after section B.
Notate a composition in Noteflight.
Create a colorful cover in Canva.
Upload a video of the performance to YouTube.
Generate a QR code that hosts the video and add it to the sheet music.
Host a recital to showcase the showstoppers.

Get Your Groove On

Using Dalcrozian-inspired activities, learn how tennis balls, scarves, hoops and cool moves can shape your own musicality and that of your students.

Off-Bench Prep for On-Bench Success

Experience how to introduce and explore new repertoire through singing, movement and clever manipulatives to ward off nasty pitfalls during practice. Learn how to:

Pinpoint the new concepts and tricky parts of a piece.
Prepare engaging lesson plans in advance that lay the foundation for new concepts.
Design activities so that students get the tricky parts right the first time.
Lock the piece inside the body so it can’t get out during home practice.

iReal Pro Hacks

Listed on Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2010, iRealPro has revolutionized practice for creative musicians. We will walk through how to use this essential app from basics to pro tips. Unlock the power of this intimidating app so that you can use it with confidence at every lesson!

Speed Dialing Scale Fingerings

Throw out scary charts filled with different fingering required for every scale.

Instead, follow a couple of rules that apply for EVERY scale and equip yourself and your students with the tools to master fingering for any scale.

Self-Care at the Keys

How often do you sit down to play for pleasure?

What goals have you made for your own playing skills?

Are you blinded by the 88 keys when you want to improvise in the privacy of your own home?

Leave the workshop with a set of goals for yourself as a musician and pianist.

Improve Your Groove with Backing Tracks

How to integrate play along tracks into your curriculum including in the lesson, sharing, and customizing.

Eye/Ear Time Management

Strategies for balancing reading and improvising in limited lesson time.

How to Teach Online

From simple to elaborate, discover the equipment needed to teach remotely and how it differs from in-person lessons. Then learn practical tips from positioning lights to addressing privacy concerns from an online teaching pioneer.

Jamming the Classics

Learn to identify and creatively explore the scales, chords, and motifs buried inside traditional piano literature to streamline learning, enhance sight reading, and improve memorization. Help your students go “under the hood” of popular masterworks through analysis and improvisation so that rather than merely reproducing the notes on the page, they’ll understand how they came to be there in the first place.

How to Play by Ear

How do play-by-ear musicians pick out melodies and/or identify the chords? It’s not magic or talent. Learn to do it better yourself and then pass it on to your students.

The Pedagogy of Teaching Creativity

Learn how the philosophy and mindset of teaching off page creativity differs from teaching written music and understand how to integrate the two approaches.

Understanding Chord Symbols

A straightforward explanation of the principles, common practices, and variations in contemporary pop/jazz chord nomenclature.

Drumming for Teachers

In this always popular hands-on session, you’ll learn to accompany your students in a variety of basic styles on a hand drum. No previous drumming experience is necessary.

The class offerings listed here are in rough draft form and are provided to you to help you know if this conference is right for you. Bradley and Leila reserve the right to add to, change, delete, or modify any of the above class sessions for the Workshop.

About 88 Creative Keys


Leila Viss

iPad and “Off Bench” teaching specialist

I enjoy teaching music both “on and off the piano bench” using the latest iPad apps and simple manipulatives like bottles, buckets, boxes, erasers and more. Finding innovative ways to use household items and hip technology makes every lesson an adventure. As a classically trained musician, playing “off page” is a relatively recent acquired skill that has reinvigorated my teaching and personal musicianship. I firmly believe that teaching creatively and teaching creativity go hand in hand. Creativity is contagious and I am passionate about passing it along to others.

Author of The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of AppsOwner of an innovative, tech-savvy, creative-based independent studio in Centennial, ColoradoFull time church organist, pianist, accompanistCoordinator of the Piano Preparatory Program at the University of DenverColumnist for Clavier CompanionBlogger at 88pianokeys.meFrequent presenter and guest artist at national, state and local conferences and associationsMA in in piano performance and pedagogy
Bradley Sowash

Improv specialist

How I wish someone had shown me creative concepts and theory tools like chord symbols, lead sheets, and how to groove in popular styles when I was a student. My teachers explained how to read and interpret written music, but my understanding of how to create my own music was gained much more slowly through experimentation, copying recordings, attending live performances, begging more experienced creative musicians for tips and tricks, and reading everything I could get my hands on about improvising. I enjoy passing along the valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way so that you won’t have to go through the same long process of trial and error that I did.

Touring concert jazz pianistRecording artist of nine albumsOwner of a private piano studio specializing in improvisationAuthor of America’s top-selling, nine-book piano method, That’s JazzPop/Jazz Chairperson for Music Teachers National AssociationCo-Founder of 88 Creative Keys Summer Workshop for improvising pianistsBroadcast credits include seven seasons on the PBS-TV series, “The Piano Guy.”Teaches master classes nationwideWrites for Clavier Companion, Downbeat, American Music Teacher among othersFaculty: Suzuki Music Columbus, Chamber Music Connection, and The Jazz AcademyWinner of a special citation from The American Prize in Composition for “his unique skill in combining classical techniques with popular idioms.”

In 2012, my friend and piano teaching colleague, Leila Viss casually mentioned by phone, “You ought to come out here to Denver and lead a workshop on improvisation.” My reply was, “It’s too big a project to do alone. Do you want to work together on it?” A few polite laughs, something about being so, so busy and we dropped it. A few months later, having discovered our mutually compatible working styles by both serving on the Pop/Jazz planning committee for Music Teachers National Association, the idea resurfaced and this time, we decided to go for it.

An Idea Takes Shape

Dubbing our endeavor 88 Creative Keys, we began generating ideas about how to co-teach the first ever workshop focused solely on keyboard improvisation with tracks for pianists, adults and music teachers. My contribution as a veteran jazz pianist/composer and author of the top-selling That’s Jazz series was to design a creative music-making curriculum. To this, Leila added her incredible organizational skills and keen sense about how to teach groups using visual aids, presentation slides, “manipulatives,” and other “off the bench” activities. Since neither of us had much experience with event management such as logistics, lining up sponsors, registrations, medical/liability forms, logo/branding, and marketing, we just had to figure out the nitty gritty (with a few bumps) along the way.

The Perfect Setting

In July 2013, the day before Denver based workshop began; I walked into the location (a huge, comfortable room in a local church) sort of astonished to see how our idea had become a reality. I knew it would happen but somehow seeing the 16 digital pianos stacked in the corner, a registration table, custom handout binders, dry erase board, drums, boom whackers, visual aids, snack bar, and signage still surprised me.

Six days later, tired and hoarse from teaching and demonstrating, we felt proud and happy to have been able to share a teaching philosophy of balancing the eye and ear in such an intense but fun setting. And we felt grateful for our business partnership ti which we each bring unique skill sets along with relentless energy and enthusiasm for all things related to creative piano pedagogy. unique set of teaching and organizing skills to the table along with relentless energy and enthusiasm for the whole project. But most of all, we were very appreciative of the students and teachers who dared to sign up for this historical, first-of-its-kind workshop to focus solely on keyboard improvisation.

Onward and Upward

Did it happen again? Definitely. Limited by the number of pianos we have available, we’ve sold out every workshop. And we are always changing it up, keeping notes on things to tweak as we progress. For example, participants told us they wished getting food was easier, so we now have a light breakfast, full lunch, and snacks catered. Returning alumni wanted variety so we divvied up our curriculum by ability level and now include a guest teacher. Recently, we added online clinics to our offerings and have been amazed and excited by the response. This is definitely an area we will continue to expand.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,

Bradley Sowash


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