piano leaps

Piano Tips: How to Master Large Leaps on Piano

piano leaps

Are you intimidated when you see a large leap coming up in your piano music? Don’t fret! Take control with these tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...

 

Leaps are one of many piano techniques, but an especially important one because they are common and often challenging to execute; moreover, in learning to execute leaps you will also master other important piano techniques, including preparation, rotation, breathing, and making use of the weight of the hand. The following tips will help you explore and master leaps on the piano.

Think Ahead

Have you heard the expression “Look before you leap”? For piano leaps, I would modify that to “think before you leap.” I encourage students to institute a slight pause during practice right before the leap to mentally organize the concept of which keys you will be striking. You can practice this by pausing, mentally organizing the leap and then not executing it, and then, alternatively, leaping but simply reaching the keys instead of pressing them, and then leaping and actually playing the chord or note. This practice trick works well because it is addressing the most important part of the leap, which is not the fingers pressing the keys but rather the mind telling the fingers to press the keys – that is, which keys, with which fingers, and with which hand shape. The way I work with this in my own practice is that I pause for as long as needed to organize my execution of the leap. If I can’t visualize it clearly in my mind, I don’t move on. This pause becomes shorter and shorter as the mind-body connection strengthens.

Keep Breathing

A leap is one of the most difficult piano techniques, and, whenever something is challenging, a common reaction is to stop breathing and stiffen the body, including the hands and arms. However, this is the opposite of what is needed, especially in a leap where actual movement across the keyboard is involved. To work with this, you can make sure you don’t hold your breath as you work on the leap, even if noticing your breathing means that you initially mess up the leap. I recently read a slogan in an article about perfectionism that stated, “It’s not failure, it’s data.” If you find that you cannot not hold your breath and execute the leap accurately, you could take this opportunity to ask, “What data am I receiving from this experience? Why is it challenging to feel at ease in my body and allow the breath to come in and out and do the leap at the same time?” You may discover a pattern in your body that you weren’t previously aware of; letting go of it may allow the leap to occur more easily and naturally.

Be Mindful of Your Movements

Feeling the weight of the hand is another way to make sure you aren’t gripping the muscles of the forearm, armpit, and hand, but also a way to add certainty and substance to the leap. While you don’t want to hold the body, arm, and hand stiff and without movement, it’s also not desirable to completely lose any sense of tone and substance in the hand. See if you can sense the weight of your hand as it moves through space from one position to the other, and notice the ability it possesses to rebound and spring away from the keys after it strikes them. This sensation of springy weight offers a reference for where you are on the keyboard, where you are going, and how to get there. It’s another source of “data” you can rely on. Lastly, also remember to feel the weight of your torso releasing into the piano bench in relation to sensing the weight of your hand.

When we are leaping at the piano, we generally need to move the whole arm along with the hand. Make sure you are allowing the hand and arm to work as one unit, all originating in the back. Since your arm and hand are obviously physically connected to your torso and back, make sure you are also feeling the energetic connection that exists. Imagine in your mind a line that starts in the low back, travels up the back, out the shoulder, down the arm, and out the fingertips. All of this line functions as one when a leap occurs. Also remember that the arm and hand have an ability to rotate. While you may not need a huge amount of rotation for a leap, sensing a subtle spiraling rotation as your hand and arm fly through the air can give the leap increased momentum and clarity.

Hopefully these tips will help you leap with confidence, poise, and strength. Don’t forget that the skills you are working on with leaps will also help you improve your general piano playing and technique by ‘leaps and bounds’!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

 

 

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4 Valuable Tips for Succeeding at the ABRSM Piano Exam

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Preparing for the ABRSM piano exam? Check out these helpful tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...

 

Piano exams can be an excellent way to challenge your musicianship, set and reach clear musical goals, and improve all facets of your playing. There are many different types of examinations, but one of the most well-established and thorough is the ARBSM piano exam, administered by the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is a comprehensive examination with eight levels, allowing you to progress sequentially through the levels throughout your piano study, and it includes a practical piano performance, scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural tests. The following suggestions are designed to help you with the preparation so you can earn a high score on the exam and progress to the next level. Good luck!

Make a Plan

Perhaps the most important tip of all with regard to the ABRSM piano exam is to make a plan. Because you will want to take at least a few to several months to prepare for each exam level, it’s important to look at the bigger picture as you practice each week. It’s a challenging exam to prepare for because you need to learn three pieces to be performed accurately and at a high musical standard, in addition to being proficient in scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural skills (and theory, which is a requirement in tandem with the piano exam after level 5).

For this reason, I encourage my students to write out a written timeline of goals, with a weekly practice itinerary to meet those goals. For example, a typical week might include: practice and memorize x number of scales and arpeggios (and/or review or increase speed of scales and arpeggios already learned), work on specific sections of each piece as determined with the guidance of your teacher, and sight read at minimum x number of pieces. You will almost certainly need to adjust your timeline and goals as you go along, but the most important part is to create it, implement it, and then adjust it as needed. Also make sure to consult with your teacher and the exam criteria to formulate your plan.

Practice in a Variety of Ways

Another challenge of preparing for the exam is working on difficult repertoire for an extended period of time. While there is plenty to improve upon, there is also the danger of falling into rote memorization, muscle memory, and a musical rut. This not only takes away the freshness and creativity of music-making, it also jeopardizes your ability to perform well on the exam. When exam conditions are different from what you expected and nerves are interfering, performing something learned through rote memorization means that a small mistake could throw you off and leave you unable to recover quickly.

So, to challenge your musicality and strengthen your exam preparation, keep your practicing novel – practice with the music, without it, with your eyes closed; break the music down into each hand or voice within the harmony; use different rhythms to drill challenging passages (ditto for scales and arpeggios); and try to infuse each practice run-through with unique musical expression and ideas. This will ensure that your performance in the exam is inspired, assured, and distinctive.

Be Proactive About Nerves

Nerves are something else worth addressing and working through when undertaking the ABRSM piano exam. My approach with my students is two-fold. First, I encourage them to perform as much as possible prior to the exam. This could be for family and friends (in which case you could also employ some of them as mock jurors), at your piano studio’s annual recital, or as a volunteer in nursing homes or similar facilities. The other thing I recommend is to remember that nerves represent a type of energy running through your mind-body. The thoughts and sensations are your body’s reaction to an increase in energy. You can harness that energy within your body to create a greater awareness of your self, your environment, and the music. Feeling nervous is actually a positive thing that tells you that you are alive, engaged in the process, and full of energy that you can apply to your musical performance.

Get Extra Help

For the aural and theory components, don’t hesitate to seek out extra help. If you’re finding it difficult to address all the exam components with your teacher in the timespan of your piano lesson, schedule a longer lesson, or have separate lessons for aural and theory. They are valuable skills for musicians that deserve sufficient attention and preparation.

 

As you get ready for the ABRSM piano exam, remember to enjoy the process; it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn some incredible repertoire of the piano, gain new skills, and develop as a musician. The rewards are plentiful!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

 

 

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4 Easy Ways to Make Piano Practice Fun and Productive

7021749525_2dd3801b47_oBored of the same routine when you sit down at the keys? Try out these piano practice tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...

 

Practicing piano can be challenging and sometimes laborious as you aim to improve, learn, and break down hard passages. While learning piano does require time and effort, it should also be fun and engaging. The following piano practice tips will ensure that your practice time is both productive and fun.

1. Pick music you enjoy

One of the best ways to make piano practice fun is learning and playing music you enjoy. While this may seem obvious, I often find students playing certain pieces because they think they should, instead of finding the pieces that truly interest and inspire them. While some pieces can be fundamental to the repertoire or useful to work on a certain technical skill, playing music you like will allow you to improve more quickly and even perhaps enjoy playing pieces you previously found difficult upon returning to them with a higher skill level. If you’re not sure what kind of music would be most appealing to you, use that as motivation to listen to a variety of music, both recorded and live. As you learn what you like, you will also improve your ear and your knowledge of the repertoire in the meantime!

2. Play with a purpose

Another way to enliven your practice routine is to play with a purpose. Some of my students like to perform small, informal “recitals” for their family members at the conclusion of practice sessions to create a sense of pleasure in performing and sharing the music they are learning. Or perhaps your purpose might be to play as expressively as you can one day, as cleanly as you can the next day, and with as much awareness of your body as you can manage another day. Your purpose can change to match your goals and your mindset, so that you’re always engaged, learning, and having fun.

3. Learn more about your music

Do you know about the life and motivations of the composer who wrote the music you’re playing? If not, do some quick Internet research to learn some basic facts that may amuse, delight, and inspire you. Understanding what the life of the composer was like can breathe new life into your music-making and also make it uniquely expressive; you and the composer will have a distinctive musical bond that ties you closely together, even when centuries separate you. Delight in this ability to share such a personal musical experience with a historical or current figure. Another way to allow your practice time to be more connected is to play along with recordings. This is not only useful to improve your style and technique, it allows you to have a joint music-making experience, right in your home practice studio.

4. Notice things you’ve already learned

Perhaps the most dreaded piano practice element is practicing scales and technical studies. While technical studies are helpful, you can often get the same benefits by intelligently practicing technically demanding music you like. As you work on a piece you enjoy, notice what elements make up the piece. Perhaps some passages work on the same elements that you would find addressed in a technical study. While learning that particular piece, notice what elements of technique are fundamental and applicable to everything you play so that you can maximize both the fun and the learning as you practice music you enjoy.

With these piano practice tips, you should start to look forward to sitting down at the piano to play music you love with a clear purpose and a desire to improve, all the while sharing it with someone who would most definitely appreciate your efforts – the composer!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

 

 

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3 Tips for Raising a Piano Prodigy

3564092909_d1db752125_b (1)Think you have a child piano prodigy on your hands — or simply want to encourage your son or daughter to explore music and art? Here are some tips for providing encouragement from Aurora, CO piano teacher Jon F...

 

Parents, I know what you are thinking: people who play piano are either born with a given talent, or none at all. I believe that is simply false, because whether you’re a genius or a simple person, piano is one of the best activities that everyone can learn.

I come from a family of (mostly) musicians. My father was a pianist before me, my sister and grandfather played trumpet, and several other family members had career training as musicians as well. People say that “it’s in my blood and nature to want to play piano, because so many other people in my family play an instrument,” but I believe that natural skill, and indeed, becoming a piano prodigy can be something developed over time.

Expose Your Child to Music

Some people will tell you that as early as before a child’s birth, it is imperative to play music for a baby in the womb. (Moms – this means you allowing dad to put some headphones on your big baby belly.) Doctors and scientists have confirmed that babies respond to the sound provided through the headphones. Let’s say a dad wants to play classical music for the baby; once the baby is born, chances are higher that the baby will respond positively to that sound because he or she experienced it while maturing in the womb. What’s that? Your baby is throwing a tantrum? Well throw on some upbeat jazz tunes to lighten the mood!

Another great lesson to music-loving parents for encouraging a young prodigy is early exposure to LIVE music. Symphonic concerts (and even the occasional rock or jazz concert) are what I highly recommend. Giving your child a chance to hear other live musicians and draw creatively from what they have to offer is crucial to becoming more able in his or her own playing and learning. I know I was grateful for all the times I got dragged to a theater for a live performance, even if I had to wear my finest clothes, which were uncomfortable and itchy. It all made it worth it once the symphony would launch into a wonderful concert filled with works from famous composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. As an adult I know I lean the most toward Romantic Era works by composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, and Berlioz.

Encourage Your Child to Perform

Do your best to inspire your child to want to perform. If your child seems shy, come up with interesting ways to motivate and challenge him or her in a way that isn’t putting them in the limelight. If you think you have a true genius on board, give them small tests to see what he or she responds to. Most students respond positively and enthusiastically to challenges when they know it will further them in some way, whether by doing better in school, or knowing they’ll have more friends that share the same musical passion. Talent shows and music competitions are a great way to challenge a child who wants to “show off” what they know. Just look at some of the artists in today’s world, like Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, and other musicians that broke onto the music industry scene. Giving children examples of other musicians will inspire them and give them interesting and fulfilling desires to sound like their music idols.

Listen and Be Supportive

Listen closely to what your child likes and dislikes and work off of that. Be supportive, even when your child is frustrated or discouraged. (My father certainly was for me.) Make sure your child is happy with their learning, teachers, time spent practicing, etc. If your child feels they are not being challenged enough (as most child piano prodigies will be), find new ways to test them. Keep raising the bar. But most importantly, love your child for who they become. Whether or not they pursue musical passions and apply it to their intellectual abilities, be proud of them for what they do at every chance you get.

As the great Bono from U2 stated: “Music can change the world because it can change people.” Make you and your child that change.

Jon

Jon F. teaches classical guitar, classical piano, music theory, and percussion in Aurora, CO. He received his Bachelor of Music Education from University of Northern Colorado, and has been teaching students since 2010. Learn more about Jon F. here!

 

 

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5 Exercises for Relaxing Your Hands at the Piano

7713388466_eb22fd9716_kMastering the proper hand position while playing the piano is one of the most important steps for your success on the keys. Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares a few exercises to keep your hands relaxed and agile…

 

I happen to know from experience that playing the piano can be a real pain in the hands. I’ve struggled with hand and forearm pain, caused by several factors including piano, for about 10 years. Each hand has 35 muscles, not to mention all those connected muscles in the forearm. Poor technique, failing to stretch before playing, and simple nerves can cause a ton of tension and discomfort in those 35 muscles, and in turn, a ton of frustration.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It was true when Benjamin Franklin said it, and it’s still true today. A commitment to exercising your hands before playing the piano every time means longer, uninterrupted, and easier practice sessions and lessons, and may prevent serious conditions and medical treatment. Here’s a list of five exercises for relaxing your hands at the piano.

1. Wrist Bend

Extend your right arm out in front of you. Place your left hand underneath your right hand’s fingers and gently pull them back. Breathe deeply, and hold for five seconds. Release, then push those same fingers down and toward you. Breathe deeply again, and hold for five seconds. Repeat this exercise exactly the same way with the left arm.

2. Make a Fist

Make a fist with your hand, wrapping your thumb around your other fingers. Squeeze until you feel tightness, not pain. Hold for five seconds, breathing deeply. Release the fist, stretching your fingers outward, apart from each other. Hold the stretch for five seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat this exercise exactly the same way with your other hand.

3. Finger Lift

Place your hand flat, palm down, on a table or other even surface. Gently lift each finger, one at a time, for five seconds before lowering it back down. Then, lift all fingers at the same time for five seconds, keeping the palm flat, for five seconds before releasing. Repeat this exercise exactly the same way with your other hand.

4. Wrist Rotation

Rest your forearms on the arms of a chair so that your wrists are supported by the ends of the chair’s arms and your fingers hang free. Bend your wrists back, lifting your hands up toward you, and then lower your hands back down. Repeat the lifting and lowering five to 10 times. Next, try some rotations. Keep your elbows in place, and rotate your forearms so your palms are facing upward. Hold for five seconds, and then rotate again, turning your palms back over.

5. Thumb to Palm Touch

Touch the tip of your thumb to the base of your index finger, and hold for five seconds. Release and stretch all fingers outward. Then, touch the tip of your thumb to the base of your pinky finger, and hold for five seconds. Release completely and gently stretch all of the fingers wide.

Please follow these rules when practicing these exercises: breathe evenly, stop when there’s pain, and be gentle. Otherwise, you risk injuring your hand, and that means even more pain than you were trying to prevent in the first place. Remember, your goals are more flexibility, injury prevention, and establishing a firm foundation for building your technique. Ultimately and long-term, I believe that practicing daily with a proven method, such as Hanon’s exercises, is the best way to achieve those goals. These five exercises for relaxing your hands before you begin playing the piano are a great start and a continuing bonus.

 

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

 

 

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5 Easy Ways to Test Your Piano Skills

14174540261_9476f2bbc0_bHow can you be sure you’re progressing at the right pace as you’re learning to play the piano? Learn some ideas for testing your skills in this guest post by New York, NY teacher Nadia B...

 

 

Sometimes it can be challenging to know where you stand with the piano. In daily practicing, you can lose sight of where you started and how much improvement has taken place over time. Testing your piano mastery is not only a way to learn where you stand, it’s also a way to earmark future improvement by identifying areas that can use improvement. Read on to discover simple and effective ways to assess your level.

One of the simplest ways to test your mastery is to play something you already know well. Choose a piece you feel confident with, and then play the piano piece a few different ways:
• from memory
• at a much slower tempo, and at a faster tempo

Playing a piece in the above ways will show you how well you were able to master a particular piece, which most likely parallels your mastery in general of piano performance and practice. If you find that you are unable to play the piece at different tempos, this might suggest that you are relying too much on muscle memory instead of conscious practice. Likewise, if you are unable to play it at a faster tempo, which places a demand on your technical skills, this could be a sign that you could work to improve your technique. Playing at different tempos and from memory takes us out of our habitual practice mode of playing with the music in front of us, and at a certain tempo, and exposes areas that could use more work. It also shows us whether we are practicing intelligently and consciously, which is an important aspect of piano mastery.

To test your skills in a more direct way, try sight reading a piece of music you’ve never played or heard. This will test your coordination, musicianship, musicality, and much more. Are you able to play continuously, within the beat, with the correct notes and rhythms, in a musical way? You can even record yourself sight reading the music, and then listen to your rendition with the music in front of you to identify what you did well and what could use work.

Another way to test your mastery is to make the fundamentals a regular part of your practice routine as you play the piano. Spending time thoughtfully learning the fundamentals, like scales, good technique, and efficient posture, both tests and creates mastery. Seeing if you are able to play your scales at various tempos, without excess physical tension and with good technique, will demonstrate your mastery level of the fundamentals. If you aren’t able to play the fundamentals well, ask yourself what is standing in the way and dedicate more time to this particular area. Skill with the fundamentals guarantees that you will be able to then succeed at whatever you want to learn and play at the piano, by applying your understanding to each unique piece.

Performance is another means of assessing your level. By learning a piece with the intent to perform it, and then doing so, you will be able to evaluate your overall proficiency. Playing and performing with other players also tests important abilities at the piano. Lastly, some students like to enter competitions and examinations as a means of receiving a clear assessment of their abilities.

Finally, one of the most efficient ways to test your mastery is to ask your private teacher for feedback. He or she can offer you specific suggestions for improvement as well as assess your level. Teachers usually spend part or all of your first lesson evaluating your level to create a plan for progress and improvement. So start today, either on your own with the tips above, or by asking your current teacher or signing up for lessons.

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

 

 

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How to Practice Piano When Your Hands, Back, or Arms Hurt

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Should you reduce or alter your piano practice if your hands, back, or arms hurt? Here are some guidelines to follow from Rosedale, MD teacher Theresa D

 

Practicing piano can be a very enjoyable experience for most people, but what if you are in pain or it is difficult for you to play? If you are learning how to play for the first time or if you just want to keep the music under your fingers, regular piano practice is important. But as you get older your body doesn’t always allow you to do so. Keep in mind that you should listen to what your body is telling you. You may want to edit your routine or how you are playing to make practicing more enjoyable. Here are some ideas for possibly eliminating the pain altogether if it is related to how you are playing piano.

If your hands are tired or sore, you may want to check your hand position. Your wrist should be off of the keyboard and not resting on the instrument. Wrist should be straight and relaxed. Your fingers should be rounded as if you are holding a ball. When you play with straight fingers, they will be slower and get more tired faster than if they were curved. A good way to make sure that your fingers are in a relaxed curve is to try holding your hand in the air straight in front of you and relax all of your fingers as if your hand is limp. Your fingers will naturally rest in the best position to play piano.

Stiff arms usually mean that you are either too close or too far from the piano keys. Adjust your seat so that your elbows are about a 90-degree angle (when both hands are placed in C position).

Back issues can be the result of many things, but here are a couple suggestions that you can try if it is bothering you:

  • Sit up straight with relaxed shoulders.
  • Try using a chair with a back, but no arm rests. They will only get in the way later. You can even use a lumbar support if needed.
  • Stand (if you are using a keyboard with an adjustable stand). Raise the stand so that the keyboard is about waist-high, give or take an inch or two. As mentioned before, if you stand, make sure that your wrists are straight and relaxed.
  • Take a stretch break. Get the blood flowing in your arms, shoulders, neck, and back. Sometimes we tense up when we are playing without realizing it, making our bodies feel tired or sore. Try rolling your shoulders, bending down, or even twisting from side to side.

Breaking up your practice into shorter times gives your body a chance to relax between practice sessions. Instead of practicing for an hour at a time, try practicing for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, but more often. Remember that it is not how much you practice, but the quality of the practice that matters most.

Using Practice to Help You Heal

If you have a hand injury, one way to heal faster is to increase blood flow. Playing piano exercises like scales or even just the first five notes of the scale can be beneficial. For example: with either hand or both, use the fingering of 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 and repeat. This can also help when trying to relearn how to use your fingers and regaining dexterity after an accident or injury.

If you have physical limitations, you can still play the piano. I taught a student in the past who did not have feeling in his left hand pinky finger. The solution for him was to learn to play only using the other four fingers. We changed fingerings to suit his physical abilities. For example, instead of the scale fingering for the C scale as 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1, we changed it to 4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1.

“Hey Doc, It Hurts When I Do This?”

It is amazing that one small thing can affect so much. For instance, changing a pair of shoes can eliminate a pain in your back or neck. Just by having the right support you can save yourself a lot of other issues. Pay attention and remember… If it hurts when you do something, don’t do it. Find another way and don’t give up.

TheresaD

Theresa D. teaches piano, guitar, percussion, and more in Rosedale, MD. She has been teaching for the past 18 years. Learn more about Theresa here!

 

 

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5 Contemporary Songs to Learn How to Play Piano by Ear

Can your favorite contemporary songs help you learn how to play piano by ear? They sure can! Check out how to get started in this guest post by Corona, CA teacher Milton J...

 

Recently, I started teaching a new piano student who simply wanted to play his favorite pop songs by both ear and sight to not only become a better pianist, but to be the life of the party for his friends. I loved his goal and made sure he knew about the great ways of learning how to play piano by ear using the popular songs he heard every day. To help you achieve your similar goal, here are five songs you’ve most definitely heard that can be easily learned and turned into the next groove when you reconvene with your friends and family!

“Stay With Me” — Sam Smith

This song is one of my favorites this year and it’s not at all hard to play. When you want to slow the tempo down and learn something that sounds soothing, you cannot go wrong with this tune.

“Radioactive” — Imagine Dragons

This song was everywhere last year, and is still a song with a wonderful melody that I personally love to play. With this version, you’ll learn the chords and melody, and you can feel free to add in your own rhythms that deviate from this version if you want it to sound more like the original.

“All Of Me” — John Legend

This is a wonderful ballad for learning how to play piano by ear. It’s not that difficult to play the chords and melody together, and as your proficiency level increases, you can then switch to John Legend’s original piano composition for added fun!

“Rude” — MAGIC!

We’ve all been there, right? That song that stays in your head and you find yourself humming or singing it without realizing it? That was me with MAGIC!’s “Rude” for a good month. Because of that, I felt I had no choice but to learn it on the piano. Luckily, it’s a wonderful melody with a pretty cool rhythm that I’m sure you will enjoy learning!

“Happy” — Pharrell Williams

2014’s most popular song is ready for you to learn on the piano! The very simple but incredibly infectious “Happy” took America by storm with its decree to oneself – just be happy. Surely you will hold to that ideal when you learn this one. You can even have someone with you tap the drum beat as you play for added fun!

Now that you’ve got some piano songs under your belt, it’s time to warm up those fingers and share your talents with the ones in your life! Happy playing!

MiltonJMilton K. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

 

 

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5 Piano Exercises That Target Your Left Hand

Using Your Left Hand While Playing The PianoAs you’re playing the piano, does it feel like your left hand just can’t keep up with the right? Here, Corona, CA teacher Milton J. shares a few piano exercises to add to your practice to target this common struggle…

The dreaded left hand. The hand with a mind of its own, the hand that lags behind the right, and the hand that does not seem that smart. While all of these conjectures are common, it stems from a lack of detailed attention to developing the accompanying left hand in conjunction with the melodic right hand. Here are five piano exercises that will help make your left hand stronger, faster, and ready to move with the right!

I Can Play with One Hand Tied Behind My Back

With this exercise, practice playing the melody that you’d normally play on your right hand. What would seem like an easy task is not as easy if you’re not used to utilizing the left hand like this, so this will be a nice challenge for your less-dominant left hand.

A Slow Burn

Now, you should slow things down to make sure you’re being accurate and allowing your hand and arm muscles to memorize the movements and placements for your piano exercises and songs. As you repeat the same motions, muscle memory will begin and you’ll be able to eventually speed things back up a tempo. However, be sure not to rush it!

The Hanon Effect

Did you know that even many seasoned professional pianists haven’t fully master all 60 Hanon exercises? I know your follow-up question after this answer, however – “What are the Hanon exercises?” They are piano exercises created by pianist and teacher Charles-Louis Hanon over 100 years ago and are still just as useful today. These exercises work on building finger and hand speed, dexterity, coordination, agility, and strength.

Play. Compliment. Repeat.

This exercise is mostly a simple extension of the exercises you’ll already working on. The difference here is giving yourself a momentary pause after completing an exercise correctly, lifting your fingers off the keyboard, and complimenting yourself with a repeated phrase or gesture (like saying “Great job, Milton!” or patting yourself on the back).

After doing so repeatedly, you may start to realize that your right hand is able to immediately go to your chords and melodies without much thought. Essentially, you’re helping to accelerate your muscle memory within your hands and arms. Continue this exercise through the circle of fifths and keep it going until you’ve mastered it in all 12 keys.

Let It Rest, Let It Rest, Let It Rest

Once you’ve given your left hand a good workout through all those exercises, LET IT REST. More than we often realize, growth also comes when we’re away from the piano. It’s that period in between your practice sessions when the muscles grow and build, which is why you may end a practice session fatigued and not necessarily feeling satisfied that you mastered what you set out to master. However, don’t let yourself be discouraged, as the next time you sit down to the piano, you’ll notice it’s a lot easier to do what you once struggled with. This is essentially the “hump” to get over, as many students tend to give up in this moment, leading to quitting much too early due to the perceived discouragement.

Don’t let this negativity set in. Let your muscles rest, let the knowledge marinate, and return with a determination that you’re going to accomplish all of your piano-playing goals!

MiltonJMilton K. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

 

 

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2 Effective Techniques for Smoothing Out Your Legato

LegatoWhat are the best exercises for practicing legato music on the piano? Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. offers her tips and tricks for mastering the technique…

Legato… a beautiful and mysterious word that brings images of a pair of swans gracefully gliding on the placid waters of a still lake. In the phrasing of the Italian renaissance, the time and place where the language of music was born, legato meant tied, bound, or connected. In terms of legato music, it means this and more. The art of playing legato can be compared to floating serenely across the water of a Venetian canal in a gondola, holding hands with your lover through the tunnel of love. In the romantic language of music, legato is the ultimate in smooth, seductive, sensuous phrasing.

This word is most often found in classical, or “legitimate” music, while piano sheet music will more often use descriptions like “play smoothly.” Regardless of the wording, the artistry of smooth or legato style is as much imagination and imagery as it is technical ability. Before practicing “how” to play legato, an aspiring pianist who wishes to bring his or her audience the tantalizing treats of smooth sound imagery may venture in the ideas of desire. Desire to enter into this styling, and then delve into the practical.

Practice Scales and Arpeggios

So, what is the practical side of legato? What, or how, to practice before schmoozing into that gondola or shape-shifting into that swan lake? Despite the ease with which experienced pianists seem to glide over the keys, the reality is that strength and consistency is just as important as a light hand at the performance.

Practicing scales and arpeggios is one way to start. Practice two ways. First, slowly and deliberately lift and lower each finger using maximum force. This builds musculature in the hands, which you will need for the greatest control. Then, after your hands are warmed up, work on smoothing out the sound. Watch for any weakness, particularly with the fourth finger, which tends to be the most difficult to work independently. Also, look for any clumsiness or “thunking” sounds; often, this will be where the thumb and fingers are alternating.

If you’re working on speed or keeping a steady pace, you can use a metronome, or if it’s simply a legato touch you’re after, your metronome can take a little vacation for a while. Scales and arpeggios will help develop strength, evenness, and smoothness, as long as the only phrases you play are based on bits and pieces of consecutive or arpeggiated notes.

Work on Agility Exercises

More likely, though, your legato songs or passages within a longer piece of music will be more complicated. This is where agility exercises come into play. One of the most well-known and dependable ways to develop agility on the piano is from a traditional exercise book written by a 19th century French composer and piano teacher named Charles‐Louis Hanon. Officially titled “The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises”, this volume is known to initiated pianists simply as “Hanon”.

Like exercises for sports stars, the first few exercises are simple. As the book progresses, the exercises become more difficult. Each builds on the other, and with dedicated practice over time, can create effective improvements in strength, speed, and agility that borderline on miraculous. Like anything worthwhile, dramatic improvements take time, and grand improvements in playing legato music will come with steady practice. However, if you need to learn how to play legato on short notice, even a few weeks of dedicated Hanon drills can help form a foundation of technique to underscore the imaginative artistry of a passable piano performance.

Eventually, those beautiful and mysterious sound paintings will become a gift for your audience, and when that time comes you will know. Because you, too, will feel that cool electricity of excitement rise up your arms as you play; those swans will come to life through the smooth sonic waves coming from your light touch on the keys. When that moment arrives, all at once you will share and experience the magic known as legato.

SylviaSSylvia S. teaches singing, piano, theater acting, and more in Helendale, CA. She comes from a musical family of several generations, and her experience includes playing an electric keyboard and singing vocals in a professional, working band. Learn more about Sylvia here! 

 

 

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