At The Curious Piano Teachers, we’re very excited to announce that Professor Rena Upitis will be the author of a 4-week blog series about Cadenza, starting this week!

Rena Upitis (Ed.D. Harvard), a Professor of Education at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), is the Principal Investigator for the research and development of a project called Transforming Music Education with Digital Tools.

In this 4-part blog series, Rena will tell us all we need to know about Cadenza – a free online resource that has been known to help students practice more frequently and more effectively.

Here are the topics and publication dates for Rena’s 4-part blog series:

#1 Cadenza: What is it and why would I use it? (today’s post)

#2 Cadenza: How do I set it up? (published Friday 25 November)

#3 Cadenza: How do I create a lesson with my student? (published Friday 2 December)

#4 Cadenza: What can I expect to charge when I start using this tool? (published Friday 9 December)

Rena writes…

For centuries, private instrumental teachers and their students have performed an extraordinary task. With only one short lesson each week, students learn to play their instruments. It seems nearly impossible, when you think about it. Between lessons, the student has to manage with only the instructions provided by the teacher and the memory of the lesson itself. Compared to learning at school, where students see their teacher for many hours, every day of the week, it is clear that private music tuition faces enormous odds. No wonder we lose some of our students.

Not only do students have to understand what is taught at the lesson, they also have to be motivated to practise their instruments with confidence, skill, and joy for an entire week before seeing their teacher again. And they have to carve out time to practise when other activities compete for their time – sports, homework, friends… the list is a long one.

What if we could make the time between lessons more fruitful? More enjoyable? More motivating? Music tuition has not changed significantly since the Victorian era. But it could. We now have the capacity to create online tools to bridge the great divide between one lesson and the next. And Cadenza is one such tool.


Cadenza is an online notebook that replaces the traditional pen-and-paper notebook and provides additional tools that capitalize on digital technologies (ironically, the same technologies that often keep students from their practising!).

Using Cadenza, teachers record practice expectations during the lesson itself. They might also provide students with links and attachments relevant to the material they are studying. In recording practice expectations, the teacher assigns a task, such as learning to play a Bach Prelude and Fugue, along with a checklist of sub-tasks to be completed at each practice session. The teacher also assigns weekly targets for each task, whether those tasks involve repertoire, technique, sight-reading, theory, or improvisation.

In the example below, the teacher expects the student, Sally, to practise the Prelude and Fugue five times between lessons. Sally has practised the Prelude and Fugue once since her lesson, as indicated by the filled-in blue bubble. Other tasks that the teacher has assigned include a Mozart Fantasia, some scales, sight-reading (“4 star”), and improvisation. We can see, at a glance, that Sally has already practised the Fantasia twice.

When Sally now clicks on the right pointing arrow associated with any of the tasks, she sees the detailed directions that the teacher created during the lesson, and begins practising. When she finishes her practising, Sally can choose an emoji to rate the practice, and write a comment or reflection, if she wishes, for her teacher to see. When Sally exits the practice space, Cadenza records the length of the practice.

The image below shows the practice space for the Mozart Fantasia. Sally is now 6 minutes into her practising session. When she finishes, she will mark the checklist as done, and then save her practice and choose another task from the list on the left. When she saves the practice, the target will change from 2/5 to 3/5. These changes will be visible to the teacher as well, should she wish to monitor Sally’s progress during the week by logging in to her teacher account.


More sophisticated tools are available during practice for the student as well. For example, Sally can upload a video of her practising using the media annotator or the related Notemaker app. The teacher can comment on the video, pointing out exactly where something is working well or needs improvement. One of the great things we’ve found is that students typically practise something that they’re planning to video many, many, times before they actually upload it. Even though it’s only their teacher who will see it, there’s something about creating a video recording that raises the practising bar!

There's something about creating a video recording that raises the practising bar - Rena Upitis
Tweet quote

In the first image below, the video camera icon next to the fifth practice session shows that a video has been uploaded, and the comment icon shows that the teacher has added a comment. When Sally clicks on the fifth session in her practice log, she sees the Mozart Fantasia video that she uploaded earlier, as well as a comment from her teacher indicating that she has annotated the video. When Sally clicks on the video link, she can see where her teacher has made comments, hear herself play, and read the comments at the precise place where her teacher had something to say.

Enlarged image 1 – click here 

Enlarged image 2 – click here

Enlarged image 3 – click here


Students tell us that they love using Cadenza – that it’s fun – and this is a good thing. But ultimately, we don’t want students to fall in love with a digital tool, we want them to fall in love with music. All signs indicate that this is the case. Teachers and students report learning more quickly with Cadenza and experiencing satisfaction as musicians.

As musicians, we know the term “cadenza” refers to a short instrumental solo passage, which shows off both the virtuosity of the performer and the instrument. Cadenza, the online music tool, gives a nod to that term – the tool provides a way to build musicianship, showcasing the growth of the student musician over time.

Learn more about Cadenza – CLICK HERE

Or jump right in and try it – CLICK HERE


Coming up next week…

“How to set up Cadenza for yourself and your students”

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