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Do You Need a Better Keyboard? | Signs It’s Time to Upgrade

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If you’ve been playing keyboard or piano for a while, you might be wondering when the right time is to upgrade your instrument. Learn how to proceed in this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L

 

There comes a point in every pianist’s life when he has to take one very important action: get a better keyboard, or maybe, buy a piano. It’s a special step in your journey that shows how hard you’ve been working and, frankly, how hard you plan on working in the future. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be getting a new instrument. On the other hand, sometimes a family decides to buy a better instrument in the anticipation of a family member’s upcoming piano lessons.

Over the past decade, out of the dozens of times that I’ve walked into a home for a first lesson, I almost always hear, “The piano’s old,” “It needs to be tuned,” or “We’ve had this forever and we know nothing about it.”

The great news is that it’s easier now, more than ever, to find pianos and keyboards online on sites like Craigslist and eBay. If you live near a military installation, you might even find one for free. Families who plan on moving due to military assignment or deployment need someone simply to take the instrument off their hands. If you’re willing to pay to move it, then they’re often willing to hand it over free of charge.

Another option is a brick-and-mortar instrument shop, or even a big box store like Best Buy. One great bonus is that many music instrument retailers will take your old keyboard as a trade-in toward the purchase of a new or used keyboard.

But the question remains: Do you need a better keyboard?

There are two primary reasons why you’d need to upgrade your keyboard:

1. Your keyboard is old, worn out, or both.

If your keyboard’s over five years old, or gets a lot of play, it probably has some evidence of extra wear and tear. Mid-range keyboards are like most washers and dryers nowadays; they’re just not meant to last forever. Look for cracked cables and cords, and if your keyboard has a lighted display, look for a faded or striated appearance. Now, keyboards may not go out of tune, but sometimes the keys’ tones start to sound buzzy or hollow. A piano is a different story. Have a professional like a local piano tuner inspect it. He should look for a sound board without fractures or breaks, and strings and hammers that aren’t overly worn. Do some of your keys stick? Sometimes, a professional repairman will be able to fix the problem, but that depends on the age and current condition of the instrument.

2. Your keyboard doesn’t fit your musical goals.

Let’s say that you’ve been playing keyboard for a year, and now, your new songs have notes that are higher or lower than your keyboard has. You might need a full-sized keyboard. Let’s say that one of your goals is to audition for a magnet arts program for piano studies. You might need a keyboard with better action, a more “piano-like” feeling. Let’s say that your band is beginning to get calls for more and more gigs. You might just need a newer, more portable keyboard.

You can find beautiful, state-of-the-art keyboards for $2,000 to $3,000, but at that price, you could buy a decent piano instead. Go to a local brick-and-mortar piano store, if only to inspect the quality and feel of different brands. Remember, an investment in your instrument is an investment in your future achievements.

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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How to Become a Piano Technician | Skills and Demands

What Skills Are Required To Fix Your Piano If you have a natural curiosity for how things work, then you’ve probably spent more than a few moments’ thought on not just the general maintenance of your piano, but also piano tuning. Unlike a string instrument, where a few pegs allow you to tune your instrument, piano tuning requires a professional.

What Does a Piano Technician Do?

A piano technician doesn’t just tune your piano; he or she will carry out repairs and maintenance to allow you to get the best out of your instrument, and even extend its life. Like anything with a working mechanism, parts of your piano will wear out over time and need replacing. Your piano technician will replace worn out and broken strings, and also carry out a process called “regulating,” which means making sure that all the moving parts work properly. This helps keep your piano in good shape, and also ensures you can use your piano with proper technique! Regulation should be done around every five years or so to make sure that your piano is operating properly.

What Skills Does a Piano Technician Need?

Although an electronic tuner will tell you in the most clinical way whether the strings are in tune or not, the most essential skill for a piano technician is a good ear, and the ability to tune correctly by listening. Perfect pitch isn’t an advantage for this job, as the adjustments required for equal temperament in piano tuning can be off-putting and make the string sound “out of tune” to you. You will also need to be reasonably dexterous, as some repairs and replacements — such as gluing new felt onto hammers or replacing strings — can be quite difficult. Another skill you need is a good memory; it’s likely you’ll build up a relationship with individual instruments over a number of years, and if you can remember their individual characteristics in between piano tuning and repair appointments, you will not only find your job easier, but the end result for the instrument and your client will be much better.

The other often-overlooked skill you’ll need as a piano technician is to have a good head for business. Many piano technicians are self-employed, and although most of your work will be through word of mouth and personal recommendations, knowing how to carry out even basic self-marketing and networking will help you build a client base. It may be worthwhile taking an evening class in basic business skills alongside your technical training.

It takes a long time to train as a piano technician, and although there are courses and even guilds you can join, a great way to learn is to find an existing experienced technician who is happy to take on an apprentice. You may even wish to — as car-mad apprentice mechanics do — find a “beyond repair” piano and bring it back to life while trying out your new skills!

How Does a Piano Technician Find Work?

We discussed marketing a little above, and also that most of your work will come through word of mouth. An apprenticeship will ensure that you get to learn on the job, but what happens when you want to branch out on your own?

Your major sources of employment will be schools, music shops, and individuals who need their pianos maintained and tuned on a regular basis. In terms of home piano tuning, it’s worth considering some kind of loyalty scheme to encourage regular business, or a “refer-a-friend” discount for both existing and new customers.

As you become more established and experienced, concert halls and recording studios are worth approaching. You can also join the Piano Technicians Guild, which will help you keep your skills up to date and give you further employment leads.

If you are currently taking piano lessons, let your teacher know that this is one of your interests. He or she may be able to provide valuable advice, and put you in touch with people who can advise you further. Good luck!

 

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Pianist Spotlight: Billy Joel, The Modern-Day Piano Man

Billy Joel

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man.
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feelin’ alright

If you’ve ever visited a piano bar, you may understand what Billy Joel is singing about in his legendary song, “Piano Man”. For a piano man, sheet music is not always part of the equation. Lounge patrons often call out the names of songs they would like to hear, and the pianist is expected to quickly comply and keep the patrons happy and in a celebratory mood.

For Billy, the song honors his time working as a lounge pianist after his first solo album was a bust. Fortunately, he worked through that and became one of the most popular recording artists in the world, having sold over 150 million records.

Who is Billy Joel?

William Martin “Billy” Joel is a pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer. He was born on May 9, 1949 in the Bronx, New York and raised in Hicksville by his Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a classical pianist, and his mother insisted he take piano lessons when he was just four years old, although Billy was resistant. His mother knew that professional lessons were the key to learning the piano, especially at such a young age.

The piano lessons paid off, as  Billy quickly showed a talent for music and the piano. By the time he was 16, he had already been in three bands. While still in high school, he put his piano lessons to further use and took a job at a piano bar to help his family make ends meet. Little did he know at the time that this would be the start of his musical career.

Billy’s Music Career

Inspired by a performance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, Billy devoted himself to becoming a rock star and producing his first solo album, “Cold Spring Harbor”. The album was released in 1970, but unfortunately, it was not as successful as he had hoped.

This could have been where his career stalled, as happens for many musicians, but Billy instead used his training and experiences to his advantage. He moved to Los Angeles and landed a gig working as a lounge pianist at the Executive Room, and wrote about his time working under the pseudonym Bill Martin. “Piano Man” became his first hit, and even today, young pianists enjoy learning the “Piano Man” sheet music.

Check out the music video for “Piano Man” here:

By the 1980s, Billy had several hits, including “Uptown Girl”, “Tell Her About It”, and “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. He performed all over the world, and with many other musicians, including Cyndi Lauper, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Elton John.

Although Billy retired from recording in 1993, he still continues to tour today.

Awards and Recognition

With 33 Top 40 hits, and six Grammys (including the Grammy Legend Award), Billy has received the recognition he deserves. Some of his other awards include:

  • Induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Johnny Mercer Award (2001)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame star (2004)
  • Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (2014)
  • ASCAP Centennial Award (2014)

Feeling Inspired?

If you are interested in learning the piano, you’ll need more than just the “Piano Man” sheet music. You’ll need to take a lesson from the modern-day piano man himself and invest in professional instruction! Private piano instruction was what gave Billy the skills he needed to become an accomplished pianist.

Even though he is now a world-famous recording artist, Billy Joel is still a Piano Man at heart. Throughout his life and musical career, he has used music to inspire, motivate, and bring happiness to people all over the world. When we’re in the mood for a melody, he’s got us feelin’ alright.

References:
http://www.biography.com/people/billy-joel-9354859
http://www.billyjoel.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Joel

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4 Surefire Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Piano Teacher

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Want to learn how to play the piano? Not all piano teachers are equal — and different students need different things when it comes to guidance. So how do you know if you’ve found the right teacher? Find out in this guest post by San Antonio, TX teacher Andrew F… 

 

When you go about your search for a piano teacher, what things do you consider? A few important things to consider could be location, experience, and affordability. I could not and would not argue against their certainties, but I think you should also consider something else, if you are not already doing so: connection!

Success at learning to play the piano is not entirely reliant on how good a piano teacher you have. Aside from providing guidance for you while you learn to play the piano, your teacher is also there to help you maintain a desire to keep on practicing.

Knowing whether you have a good connection with your piano teacher only requires self-awareness. The following are some questions I suggest you ask yourself when searching for a piano teacher:

  • Do you look forward to each meeting? Unless it is your chosen reason (for whatever… reason) to receive piano lessons, you should not be feeling reluctance about your next meeting with the teacher. The experience should be inspiring and worthwhile. If you are not looking forward to your meetings you will likely not keep up with assignments given to you, jeopardizing the whole experience! Not looking forward to your meetings with your piano teacher could affect the next important concern I will mention.
  • How has your desire to play piano changed since prior to your first meeting with your piano teacher? As I have mentioned, your piano teacher should help you maintain a desire to play the piano. I believe we piano teachers play various roles, including motivator, coach, inspirer, etc. Playing these roles, we help provide nourishment toward completing your goals as a piano player. It is likely that if you are seeing a negative shift in your desire to play, it is (likely) at least partly due to a lack of a good connection with your piano teacher.
  • Do you feel your teacher is giving you enough insight? Part of what you should look for in a piano teacher is insight. You will want to know such things as how to shape your hands while playing, correct fingering when playing scales, and what pieces best suit you.
  • What is your overall contentment with the experience? If you decide there is no connection, it is nothing to feel bad about nor is it something your teacher should take personally. Just like any other person-centered situation, the alliance between student and teacher is so important to improving your piano playing.

You want to get the most out of each meeting with your teacher. You will know if you have a connection with your piano teacher if the above concerns are really not concerns at all for you. Just remember to be invariably mindful of your experience, because it will benefit both you and your piano teacher. As with every situation in which two-plus entities are working together, communication is important. Ask yourself questions such as the ones mentioned above and get connected!

AndrewFAndrew F. teaches piano, guitar, singing, songwriting, and more in San Antonio, TX. He also tutors in a variety of subjects, with experience working with individuals individually and in groups. Learn more about Andrew here!

 

 

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How to Set Up a Piano Practice Schedule for Your Child

piano kids practice schedule

Is your child’s piano practice falling by the wayside? Make sure he or she continues to get the most out of piano lessons with these practice scheduling tips from Saint Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L

 

The concern that I hear the most from my students’ parents regarding their children’s piano lessons is practicing and schedules. A parent will tell me, “She’s just not practicing.” The child then replies, “I had so much/many homework/sports games/club meetings that I forgot.” A piano practice schedule helps to solve this challenge.

If a child sees his piano practice as simply another part of his homework time, or even his chore time, then you might find him practicing much more consistently. A child who practices more consistently will be less frustrated with the instrument, and let’s face it, you’ll know that you’re getting your money’s worth out of the lessons. As a reminder, most piano instructors agree that piano practice should generally happen daily, with one day of the week off.

Setting up a piano practice schedule for your little pianist is simple. Here’s a list of easy steps.

1. Take a look at her current schedule.
If you haven’t yet, write out her schedule as it is right now, including all meetings and extracurricular activities. Look for spots where she could use a creative outlet kind of break. Is there one night during the week where she’s swamped with math homework? Does gymnastics practice on Mondays leave her stressed? Making the piano practice session a little longer than usual on these days may help to take the edge off, since playing music has such stress-relieving effects. Who knows? Your pianist might end up really looking forward to extra piano time!

2. Find daily 15-minute increments.
In the practice sessions of child pianists, less is more. It’s been said that human beings’ attention spans, even at their best, last only about 12 minutes. For that reason, I instruct my students to practice for 15 minutes at a time. If your pianist needs or wants to play more, just schedule multiple 15-minute sessions with little breaks in between. These breaks can give the brain a chance to process what’s been done and commit it to memory. In the end, for pianists 10 and younger, I believe that’s it more effective and efficient to practice only 15 minutes six days per week, than an hour or hour and a half once per week. For pianists 11 and older, that session could increase to 30 minutes, in two 15-minute increments, six days per week.

3. Remind and encourage.
Most children need their parents to remind them of their schedules (though sometimes it’s the other way around) and to encourage them lovingly. This helps their process of learning self-discipline and self-motivated. Setting an alarm clock or your smartphone to begin and again to end the practice session, and yet making the session a time of both focus and creativity, helps a lot. Contrary to popular belief, overbearing and harsh discipline often has a detrimental effect, especially when it comes to studying music. Most of the young students who have quit lessons with me over the last decade have quit because their parents have pushed them to the point of frustration and resentment. I believe in setting a high bar for students, but also in balancing high expectations with compassion. Your children will most likely respond with lots of enthusiasm and joy.

4. Record daily practice.
The most successful and experienced teachers and parents that I know are those who keep a daily record of piano practice. Even if it’s just a simple checklist with stickers for each daily practice session, you’ll find that keeping your little pianist accountable, specifically on paper (which he can’t argue with), can start what one could call a practice habit. And that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

The primary goal of a piano practice schedule for your child, though it may take months, is a self-motivated, self-disciplined student whose piano practice is a part of his daily routine. He takes his practice seriously, and yet keeps it all in perspective. Keep a firm sight of that goal, follow these steps, and you’ll get there together.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint 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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Piano Inspiration: 7-Year-Old Piano Prodigy Set to Release His First Album

Piano Prodigy Jacob Velazques

Photo credit https://www.jacobvelazquez.com/

When seven-year-old Jacob Velazquez sits at the piano bench his feet barely touch the floor, but he doesn’t let that stop him. Jacob has been taking piano lessons since he was just four years old and has been called by many a “child prodigy” and “baby Beethoven.” But how did Jacob become such a skilled pianist at such a young age? It all started with a natural talent and a lot of practice.

Who is Jacob Velazquez?

Jacob is a classical pianist from Pembroke Pines, Florida. After hearing his father play a song on the piano once, Jacob began playing the song himself. His parents were astounded and knew that their child had a special talent that needed to be nurtured, so they began searching for a teacher to give him professional piano lessons. His parents knew that learning piano for kids is best with professional guidance, no matter how impressive Jacob’s natural skills were.

Little did they know that finding a teacher willing to work with Jacob would be so difficult. Many of the instructors they contacted did not want to work with Jacob because he was so young. The instructors usually taught piano for kids much older than Jacob.  Fortunately, his parents did not give up. They finally found an instructor, and after just one lesson, Jacob and his family knew the one-on-one guidance would be worth it.

Shortly after Jacob began playing piano, he was diagnosed with a form of high-functioning autism. He also has a photographic memory, which allows him to memorize the sheet music for any song after viewing it only once. He even learned to play Beethoven’s Sonata in only three weeks!

Jacob’s Accomplishments and Recognition

Jacob has been featured in news media around the world, including “Good Morning America”, “Telemundo”, CNN, and The Huffington Post. Jacob was also admitted into the National Musician’s Guild in 2013. The audition process is quite difficult, requiring applicants to memorize and play 10 classical pieces. Jacob not only passed, he exceeded his parents’ expectations.

His New Album

Jacob has already released two singles online, “Fur Elise” and “Rondo Alla Turca”. He is currently working with producer and songwriter Hal S. Batt on an album that is set to release in early 2015. Jacob’s official website explains that his debut album will blend “popular classical piano pieces with an uplifting electronic dance groove, to timeless piano solos with the accompaniment of a string quartet.” The upbeat musical stylings paired with Jacob’s extraordinary talent promise to produce an amazing album, and a portion of the proceeds will go toward autism research.

Take a look at his first music video, for “Fur Elise”, here:

What Can You Learn From Jacob?

Even though Jacob was blessed with an exceptional ability to memorize and learn piano, his parents knew that was not enough. Becoming a successful pianist takes more than raw talent. When you take private lessons from a professional instructor, you will learn the basics, like music theory and how to read music. Your instructor will also help you determine how much you need to practice and what you need to work on. Your instructor will offer you a valuable perspective from someone who is experienced in learning and teaching piano.

If you are interested in learning piano or are searching for an instructor to teach piano for kids, our instructors can help guide you or your child down the path to becoming an accomplished pianist. Find one near you and encourage your child to explore his or her talents!

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2414971/Baby-Beethoven-Jacob-Velasquez-5-child-piano-playing-prodigy.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/jacob-velasquez_n_3894108.html<
https://www.jacobvelazquez.com/about.html

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Is it Possible to Have an Eco-Friendly, Sustainably Built Piano?

Tips On Purchasing A PianoWhen you’re looking to buy a piano, your primary concerns are likely to be whether it is playable and suitable for your needs, and if it will fit comfortably into your home. However, if you also tailor your purchasing habits to looking after the environment and keeping your ecological footprint as small as possible, buying a new piano may be something that gives you serious pause for thought.

Digital or Acoustic

If you’re short on space and funds, your first thought might be to get a good digital piano. However, digital pianos don’t last forever, and replacing all those electronic components and plastics every decade or so isn’t very eco-friendly.

A conventional acoustic piano will last a lifetime. Or will it? Keys, strings, and other parts of the instrument may need replacing over its (or your) lifetime, and the energy expended for another frame casting is considerable, not to mention the ecological cost of timber and the at-best-dubious ethics of fitting ivory keys.

So it’s harder to make the decision to buy a piano based on the digital or acoustic argument than you might think. Instead, your best bet is to research how to limit the impact most effectively rather than hope to find a truly eco-friendly and sustainably built piano.

Ivory or Plastic Keys

We’ve discussed the ethics of ivory keys on pianos, and how it may help to bring the demand for poached ivory to an end if more materials were recycled. If you buy a piano now, you’re far more likely to have plastic keys than ivory, and many makers simply will not manufacture them at all, as modern plastics are just as responsive and touch-sensitive as ivory. However, if we’re really talking about using recycled materials to take our planet-saving principles one step further, ivory keys dating from the early years of the twentieth century are worth considering.

Sustainable Wood Sourcing

Another thing to consider is how the rest of your piano is manufactured. Few instrument manufacturers make a point of using wood from sustainable forests when making piano casings, so it’s worth asking plenty of questions about where the timber was sourced from, and doing your research with regard to responsible forestry. It’s up to you, as a buyer, to make an impact here — look for a FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label, which indicates that the wood used has been harvested sustainably. Many musicians have shown their support for the Lacey Act, which bans the import and trade of illegally logged wood and the illegal trade in wildlife.

Is It Just One Big Headache?

The key to being truly eco-friendly comes down to personal responsibility; if we’re using common sense when choosing to reduce packaging on what we buy and how diligently we recycle, we’re already reducing our consumer footprint. In addition, the mantra of “make do and mend” is worth keeping in mind. It’s not unusual for sale rooms to occasionally “give away” stock, and although these instruments are — in their current state — fit for nothing better than a bonfire, there’s a fair chance that some of the piano will be useful for spare parts. For example, an iron frame is costly both financially and ecologically, but a reclaimed frame from a piano at the end of its life is a project perfect for someone who enjoys building things.

When looking to buy a piano, consider going secondhand — there’s a beauty in older instruments that you are unlikely to find within a reasonable price range, and you are reducing the need of the ecological footprint required to make a new instrument. If you go acoustic, and repair and recycle rather than replace, you’re well on the way to doing your part — and looked after properly, your piano will last you a lifetime.

 

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Why Are Piano Keys Arranged That Way?

Piano KeysWhen you look at the keys on a piano, a few things pop out right away. First, there are both white and black keys, and second, there is a distinct pattern that the keys on piano repeat. While most modern pianos contain 88 keys, you can find pianos with a shortened range, and even some that increase the number! But why, exactly, are the keys set up like that? We’ll explore that in this article.

Black and White Keys on Piano

Pianos are arranged with white keys for the musical tones of A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The black keys fill in the gaps for the remaining half-steps, which are notated as sharps or flats as a key signature or accidentals within the piano music.

You’ll get to know the keys on piano as you practice scales, to begin with. The C scale, for example, is played without any sharps or flats. That means that all of the notes are played only on the white keys. Other scales include some of the black keys, depending on how many sharps or flats are in the key. For instance, the key of D has two sharps in it, F sharp and C sharp, which are played on the black keys.

Octaves on the Piano

Pianos were first designed based off a harpsichord layout, which had five octaves. Then piano makers increased to six octaves and later to seven full octaves, at the request of composers who wanted to use a larger range when writing piano music. The standard 88-key piano was created in the late 1800s, adding four keys to the layout that you can recognize on any full piano today.

The pattern of black and white keys on piano is repeated every 12 notes. This includes seven white keys and five black keys. This pattern is called an octave. On a standard 88-key piano, there are seven octaves plus a few more keys at either end. If you consider an octave to begin at C, then there are three keys in the “zero” octave at the very low end, and one key in the last octave at the high end.

While most pianos have 88 keys, there are many practice keyboards with fewer than seven full octaves. A shortened keyboard may only contain five or six octaves. There are also piano makers that have extended the range to over 100 keys! In either case, the middle C note sounds exactly the same; the octaves are simply shortened at the low or high end.

Why would you want to have fewer or more keys than standard? If you want to have a keyboard to practice on between your piano lessons, but space is limited, a shortened model gives you the opportunity to practice without taking up quite as much space. Conversely, some piano pieces are written for a greater range than the standard layout, which requires a piano with more than 88 keys.

There is some speculation that pianos could have even more than the current limit, but that comes at a cost — both a monetary cost, as well as a limitation on the range of human hearing. With 88 keys, a piano already hits close to the extent of the human ear. More keys can increase the range of the composition, but may test the limit of what the audience can actually hear.

If you’re still curious about the way the keys on piano are laid out, feel free to ask your piano teacher at your next lesson. He or she will likely have a lot of knowledge about how a piano works — and the more you know about your instrument, the better musician you’ll become!

 

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lyrics for piano music

How to Write a Song on Piano | 6 Tips for Writing Lyrics

lyrics for piano music

Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan, and Elton John — all amazing musicians who are known for playing the piano and writing heartfelt lyrics. Want to try your hand at it? Read on as Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares her tips for how to write a song on piano…

 

So you’ve learned to play piano and you’ve created some original sounds. Maybe you’d like to learn how to write a song on piano along with great lyrics, and you’re stumped. You’re not alone. Before one of the most famous songwriters of the 20th century came up with lyrics, one of his beautiful love songs was stuck with the abysmal rhyme “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs.”

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1) Don’t worry if your song doesn’t come together quickly, or even if some inane phrase is stuck in your head. See what you have to begin with. Is it a few chords? Perhaps a melody line? Or is there a nice rhythm you’d like to build upon? Maybe you have a story to tell about love or dancing or something you just want to sing about.

2) Take a good listen to what you like the most about your starting point, and what needs a little help. Notice those parts where words and music come together easily, even if it’s only a short phrase and melody. Jot it down on a piece of paper so you will remember later, and keep a pen and paper where you can reach it quickly at night. Often the perfect rhyme is in your subconscious dreams, so don’t be surprised if you wake up with the answer.

3) What if you have music and no ideas at all for words? Many successful songs are the result of two-person collaborations, where one person writes the music and the other writes the lyrics. Consider taking on a partner for this task, particularly if you know someone who’s good at writing poetry.

4) How about if you don’t have the music for a song yet, and you’re looking for poetry or other songs for inspiration to get things started? Unless the lyrics are in the public domain, it’s a good idea to get permission from the writer, even if you don’t plan to “go public” with your song.

5) On the other hand, public domain poetry is a marvelous and largely untapped resource to use for lyrics, usually with no permission required. I like Public Domain Poems, where I found this great potential song lyric from the poem “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Shelley: The fountains mingle with the rivers, and the rivers with the oceans. The winds of heaven mix forever with a sweet emotion.

6) Decide what you want the style and speed of your song to be, and also the message you wish to deliver. Is it a love song played slowly atop beautiful harmonies? Or is it a fast-paced dance song, with punchy chords in the right and a deft riff in the left hand? Is your preference a simple country ballad combined with a surprising or humorous observation of life? Maybe you like hip-hop and strong rhythmic motifs shared between the bass and treble?

Whichever style and message you choose, create a diagram for your song. A typical diagram is A-B-A-B. This type of song has two parts:

  • The A part, or the story line, is known as the verse. The words of the verse change each time the A-B pattern is repeated, usually as a rhyme that tells a story. The story continues and progresses throughout the song.
  • The B part, or the message, is known as the chorus. The words of the chorus are usually easy to remember and stay the same with each A-B repetition. A “hook” is a combination of words and melody that gets stuck in your mind. In some songs, a chorus rhymes, and in other songs it will repeat a strong non-rhyming statement like “I Love You,” or a call to action (like “Celebrate” or “Dance”). Deciding whether or not to rhyme is called “poetic license.”
  • In addition to parts A and B, some songs are more complicated, with a C part, or bridge, tossed in the song’s midst for interest.

Now that you have a few parts of your song working well, and you have a diagram to map out the road, it’s time to start writing the rest of the lyrics. Love songs and country ballads can generally have simpler rhymes and more complicated story lines or flowery descriptions. In contrast, dance songs and hip-hop often have complicated rhymes with a simple message. Whether you want to tell a story or show off poetic prowess, a rhyming dictionary is very helpful. I like RhymeZone.

Great songs are not always about interesting story lines or amazing rhymes. Sometimes the rhythm of the words, a simple message and melody, along with very basic rhymes can create a winning combination.

As for that unknown love song about breakfast food, it was magically transformed from mundane to memorable by these everyday words: “yesterday, faraway, here to stay, yesterday.”

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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piano scales

6 Piano Songs to Help You Learn Major and Minor Scales

piano scales

Need to work on your major or minor scales? Piano songs abound by both classical and contemporary pianists that can help you improve your skills. Here, St. Augustine, FL Heather L. shares her recommendations… 

 

Even as a piano teacher, I can be sympathetic to students who find themselves practicing major and minor scales over and over without any variation. Scales are often cited as the least favorite part of taking piano lessons. Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, the best way to learn anything musical is to play real songs, real literature in which the sought-after technique or element is found throughout. Major and minor scales can be so much fun when you hear them in action. This list has six of the most fun piano songs to help improve your major and minor scales.

• “As Time Goes By” (Hupfeld)


This classic song from the cinematic gem “Casablanca” has beautiful descending and ascending scalar passages throughout. On an interesting note, “Casablanca” was originally a made-for-television movie, a kind of “movie of the week,” which makes the creation of such a lyrical and lasting tune so remarkable.

• Minuet in G (Bach)


Bach’s Minuet in G might be the most recognizable beginner piano piece of all time. A minuet is in three-quarter time, by its very nature, so playing the G major scale section by section in a minuet can be just challenging enough to keep you on your toes.

• “Your Song” (John)


Perhaps Elton John’s best-loved song, “Your Song”, is no bubble gum pop tune. Classically trained John has no problem showing off stellar keyboard skills, and in this hit, he incorporates scalar passages in a great way.

• March in D Major (Bach)


Bach’s March in D not only showcases scalar passages, but also rolling triads. Triads, in many ways, are tremendously important in helping you to learn and understand scales and their structure. They are the root, third, and fifth of a chord, and therefore, the scale where that chord exists.

• “Rhapsody in Blue” (Gershwin)


This piece delivers what the title suggests. It’s rhapsodic. Before the very first line is through, the right hand races to play every key from the F below middle C to the Bb above the treble staff. This idea is repeated throughout, contributing to a dizzying, dreamy, and romantic mood.

• Sonata in D Minor (Bach)


As you begin to learn Bach’s D minor sonata, you might feel as though you’re just practicing scales, only in a little more challenging and a lot more fun way. Bach put in just enough thirds, fourths, and other intervals to keep you from going into autopilot as you sight read.

A lot of Western music (music that comes out of the culture and history of Europe, some of Eurasia, and the Americas) is based on major and minor scales. As you grow as a pianist, you’ll start to see more and more how important they are in making up the framework of your music. Remember, though, that songs like the ones above are no substitute for daily practice of the major and minor scales on their own. You’ll find that being able to play them is a requirement for many of the top auditions and pianist gigs. But nothing says that you can’t have fun playing scales in piano songs, too!

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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