piano moving

How to Safely Store or Move a Piano | Caring For Your Piano

piano moving

When you own a piano, moving takes a bit more planning. Should you hire a professional, or do it yourself? Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares what to keep in mind to make sure your instrument stays safe and sound…

 

Many years ago, when my family relocated, the expertise for moving our household grand piano was delegated to professional furniture movers. Three piano legs and the pedals console were removed and wrapped in blankets. The moving parts for the body, including the music stand, the keyboard cover, and the hinged top of the grand piano were secured. All this was wrapped in thick blankets and put into a piano case.

We thought all was well, until the piano arrived in our new home… with a huge bolt driven through the piano case. When the case was opened, we discovered the bolt was driven through both the piano and the soundboard. If you have ever considered hiring professionals for your piano moving, this is probably your worst nightmare.

How to Safely Move Your Piano

For cross-town relocations, a professional piano mover is usually your best bet for a grand piano. In long-distance relocations, it’s best to have a professional who deals exclusively with pianos to disassemble your piano and pack it carefully before involving furniture movers. Some piano companies will also move the piano for you. This may mean that two separate companies are involved in packing, and it’s a good idea to check the paperwork to be sure who will be responsible for delivering the piano in the same condition it left.

Although upright pianos have fewer moving parts than grands, and don’t require disassembly, it’s still a good idea to find a piano mover. Many pianos are much heavier than they appear and, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you may appreciate having help loading it into a rental truck.

Considerations for Storing Your Piano

If you need to store your piano during your move, there are extra things to consider. Since many important parts of the piano are made of wood, which is subject to expansion, the temperature extremes can ruin the instrument. Store your piano in a conditioned space, away from damp places. Don’t even think about putting your piano into a metal storage shed! It may be better to sell a piano in excellent condition, and just put that money away to buy another piano in the future.

Before your piano comes out of storage, think about where you will want to practice and play music. Look at the windows, walls, doors, and floor. Despite having insulation, an exterior wall is not the best choice for a piano. Look for an interior wall, with conditioned rooms on both sides. And, although it’s nice to have light from a window, take care that the piano will be protected from excessive heat, drafts, and rain.

Pianos in basements and garages may seem like a good idea to parents who are tired of hearing their kids practice. However, consider whether this is a good choice for an investment that can range in value from a few hundred dollars for a used spinet to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new top-of-the-line grand piano. Consider placing a rug under the piano, particularly if the piano will be on a cold surface like tile, and definitely avoid putting your piano on a bare concrete floor.

Getting Back to Playing

Now that you know where your piano will be placed, it’s time to call in the piano moving professionals! Grand pianos will need to be reassembled, and your piano will need to be tuned; pianos can’t be expected to hold their pitch during relocation. It’s a nice idea to pencil in an annual appointment with a good piano tuner to keep things sounding good.

So, now that you know about storing and moving pianos, what happened to that piano I mentioned in the beginning of the article? Well, fortunately my great-grandfather was a piano tuner, and my dad was pretty handy with tools. My dad took a good look at the crack left in the soundboard by the bolt, bought several bottles of wood glue, and borrowed an amazingly huge wood clamp and a book from the library about piano rebuilding.

Watching as my dad glued the piano together and tightened the clamp, our family prayed for the resurrection of our beloved grand piano. The piano stayed clamped together for about a week while we refinished the exposed, cosmetic woodwork to a painted, antiqued look. My dad took apart and reassembled that piano piece by piece, learning how a grand piano is put together and tuned. Finally, in a suspenseful moment which seemed like an eternity, with our family as his audience, he carefully unscrewed the clamp. It held!

Although this is very unlikely to happen to you, it’s an example a worst-case scenario during piano moving. Don’t worry too much — make sure you hire a professional piano mover, and good luck with your piano adventures!

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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3 Step for Reigniting Your Child’s Interest in Piano Learning

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Is your once-enthused child suddenly losing interest in the piano? Read on as Oakland Gardens, NY teacher Ophelia T. shares three steps to take before it’s too late… 

 

“I don’t want to learn piano anymore! It’s boring! I always have to practice the same thing over and over again! I’m sick and tired of it!” an 11-year-old boy shouts to his parents.

This is a common case scenario for many parents and children who have taken piano lessons, and it can be due to several reasons. A common one is when parents want their child to learn an instrument, but the child was never interested in it to begin with. Another is when the student loses motivation and interest midway into their piano learning. If your child is beginning to fight you, take the following steps to help him or her get back on track for enjoying learning.

1) Identify the reason.

Music is a channel for creativity and passion, so learning piano should never be dull or boring! Instead, music should be the aspect that sparks one’s interest, since it has an unlimited amount of possibilities and there’s always so much to learn! If you find that your child is losing motivation and interest, there must be a reason. As a parent, you should try to identify what the reason is.

2) Find the spark!

Motivation stems from interest. Sometimes children lose motivation and interest because piano lessons become so stagnant in their lives and nothing new comes from it. It’s a common stage for all piano students. As a student of piano myself, I can testify that this was once a struggle for me. As I practiced piece after piece with my teacher next to me nodding her head, I found that there was no major challenge. I mastered how to read the notes and it was just a matter of slowly sight reading and putting it together with my hands. Piano lessons became boring and irrelevant to my everyday life.

However, I soon came to realize that although piano may not be relevant to my everyday life, music definitely is! As I incorporated music I liked to listen to, like popular music, R&B, jazz, and blues in my piano learning, the lessons became fun again. I asked my piano teacher to teach me new styles of music in addition to the classical pieces that she assigned, and soon I looked forward to the challenge of accomplishing new pieces every week.

3) Reignite!

Speak with your child’s piano teacher about adding new elements for more challenge and something fresh. For example, if your child has not learned music theory, ask your piano teacher to incorporate it in their lesson plan. Music theory is fundamental to piano learning and getting familiar with it will make your child an overall better musician. In addition, oftentimes children start off learning classical pieces. Take this as a good opportunity to ask his or her teacher to explain the musical form of the piece and/or go over the history behind the piece or the composer. This makes the piano lesson much more interactive and interesting, and allows your child to “get to know” the piece and build a personal relationship with it. After all, encountering a new piece of music is like meeting a new friend and it takes time to learn what they are like, what they don’t like, and their personal story.

Finally, enjoy and have fun!

Whatever the reason may be for your child’s loss of interest, identify the problem first, and then communicate with your piano teacher to figure out ways to solve it. When in doubt, reintroduce them to piano lessons as simply music: something to enjoy and get creative with. Don’t pressure him or her into thinking it’s another type of schooling. Music is a form of art and is best learned and developed when your child is interested in it, having fun, and then creating their own form of art in music.

OpheliaTOphelia T. teaches piano and tutors in math, English, reading, and language in Oakland Gardens, NY. She is a Hunter College graduate with a B.A in Music with concentration on Music Performance and Music Theory. Learn more about Ophelia here!

 

 

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4 Easy Steps to Playing Piano By Ear

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Want to try playing piano by ear? Follow these four simple steps from Newport Beach, CA teacher Patricia S. and you’ll be playing your favorite songs in no time…

 

Ear training doesn’t need to be difficult or boring. You can have fun, learn techniques for playing piano by ear, and learn a little bit about music theory all at once! And you need to know very little about the piano to do it.

To start, find a song with a good melody, and one that isn’t too fast. Pick a slow song or ballad. It’s best if you have some kind of a media player, like an iPod, iPad, or even YouTube handy, to play the song while you are working. You’ll need to know how to stop the track you are listening to and rewind sections of it. Oh! And, of course, have some kind of a keyboard or piano to play on.

Don’t worry if you’ve never had a piano lesson. If you have two hands and at least four fingers you can do this.

Step 1: Listen a LOT to the melody of the song. Then, listen only to a small section. As you listen, poke around on the keys to find notes that sound like they belong in the tune. Enjoy the process of discovering your song. Don’t forget the black keys! The melodies to most songs fall right in the middle of the keyboard. That’s a good place to start hunting. Be sure to listen in small sections, or you might become frustrated. Finding the notes in a song, alone, is an excellent way to start training your ear.

Step 2: With your right hand, play your song without listening to your media player. Uh-oh! Which fingers do you use? While learning to use efficient fingering is a skill to be learned later, we aren’t too concerned about that right now. Here’s a tip: place your hand so that the lowest notes in your song – those toward the left side of the keyboard as you face it – are closer to your thumb. Reserve the higher notes – those toward the right side of the keyboard – for your pinky finger. If most of the notes go much lower, or much higher, adjust the position of your hand accordingly. Or, you can just play through your melody with one finger for now.

Step 3: Now we get to the music theory part. To harmonize your song, or add body and fullness beneath the melody, play chords with your left hand. You will play these with your thumb, your middle finger and your pinky.

The notes in the chord need to be evenly spaced. Look at your keyboard — we’ll build a chord starting from the note “C” to get you started. Find a patch with two black keys – not three black keys. The “C” is the white key just barely to the left of the two black keys. To help you find “C” there is another white key to the left of it. Place your pinky on “C” and keep it there. Skip a white key and put your middle finger on the next white key. Skip one more white key and put your thumb on the next white key. Now, play all three notes at once. You have played a C Major chord!

Most songs can be harmonized with major and minor chords. Look at the C chord you just played. Including black keys, notice the number of keys between the notes you are playing. In a major chord, there are three other keys between your pinky and your middle finger, and there are two other keys between your middle finger and your thumb. That configuration makes a major chord. If you change the shape of the chord, so that you have only two other keys between your thumb and middle finger and three between your middle finger and thumb, you will make a minor chord. Try it. Play the “C.” Skip only two keys of any color. You will be playing a black key with your middle finger. Then, skip three keys. With your thumb you should be playing the same note you played in your major chord. Now, play them all at once. You have played a minor chord.

Step 4: Play your melody and add some chords with your left hand. Experiment with lots of major and minor chords to see which ones fit.

Don’t worry if you aren’t 100% successful at playing piano by ear at first. Keep at it. You’ll be learning, whether or not you work out your song completely. Try playing the melody to a familiar nursery song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to start. It might be easier to find chords for a simpler song.

Remember to have fun with your experiment. Piano should be fun. And it doesn’t hurt to exercise our minds with a little bit of music theory. Happy playing!

Patricia SPatricia S. teaches piano, singing, music performance,and more in Newport Beach, CA. Patricia S. has taught voice for Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory, Crestmont Conservatory of Music, and the California State University Dominguez Hills Music Conservatory. Learn more about Patricia here!

 

 

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How to Practice Piano Arpeggios | Tips and Exercises

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Don’t forget about piano arpeggios when you sit down to practice! Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares her tips for playing and practicing them…

 

One of the great masters of 20th century piano showmanship was Liberace, otherwise known as the Elvis of piano performance. Liberace’s trademarks were wildly ostentatious outfits, candelabras atop the piano, and dramatic, finger-tangling sweeps across the keyboard of a grand piano. Those dramatic sweeps, known as arpeggios, are available to any aspiring pianist who has the patience to learn the art.

Arpeggios are also an amazing way to create sound effects on a piano. The rapid tinkling of pianissimo major seventh arpeggios in the high notes can sound angelic, like tiny drops of the first rain in spring that evoke the image of an impressionist painting. Mysterious and dark, a slow forte diminished arpeggio in the base notes has a familiar yet foreboding sound, like the soundtrack to suspenseful parts of a scary movie. The full range of arpeggio sounds can produce a practically unlimited combination of effects… no synthesizer required!

Introduction to Arpeggios

An arpeggio is a series of three or four notes played, one after another, that sound good together. Learning how to play arpeggios is one of the first steps for understanding the science of how to create beautiful harmonies on the piano keyboard. Playing piano arpeggios well is an art as well as a science.

One-octave arpeggios come in many different styles and flavors, and all of them are based on chords. The most common are three- and four-note arpeggios. Three-note arpeggios are a great place for beginning students to start. These are:

  • Major
  • Augmented
  • Minor
  • Diminished

Perhaps the simplest example is the C Major arpeggio, which contains the notes C, E, and G, played both forward and backward: C-E-G-E-C. Start with the right hand, using fingers 1-3-5-3-1 (finger number 1 is the thumb), and using the fingers 5-3-1-3-5 with the left hand. After you can do this with both hands separately, try playing both hands together. This will be a little tricky, so remember when one hand is using finger 5, the other hand will use the thumb (finger 1 ).

Four-note arpeggios are a little more complicated. These are for intermediate students, so if you’re new to piano just skip over these for now. These are the most common versions of four-note arpeggios:

  • Major with Major seventh
  • Major with minor seventh (also known as “Dominant”)
  • Augmented with minor seventh
  • Minor with minor seventh (also known as “minor seventh”)
  • Diminished with minor seventh (also known as “half-diminished”)
  • Diminished with double-flatted seventh (also known as “full-diminished” or just “diminished”)

How to Practice Piano Arpeggios

  • When you’re ready, learn how to play every type of arpeggio in every key. Yes, all 12 keys, and all 10 types. Don’t expect to practice everything in one sitting. Maybe you’ll have more fun learning all the arpeggio types in one key before moving on to the next key. Or maybe there’s a certain sound effect that you’d like to check out in all the keys. However you want to learn, be consistent and keep moving forward each time you are at the piano keyboard.
  • After you’ve mastered one-octave arpeggios, you’re ready for the piano big leagues. Soon you’ll be taking on the entire keyboard like a pro. Here’s the good news: if you can master the second octave, running the length of a seven-octave piano should be a piece of cake.
  • Relax your shoulders and wrists, working with your hands as your thumb and fingers move in a constantly-flowing, over-and-under wave motion. Let your elbows move in and out, going with the flow as your hands rotate gently over the keys. Keep your back straight, and allow yourself to bend side-to-side at the waist if you’re traveling over the keyboard, keeping your shoulders aligned parallel to the floor. If you do it right, you’ll get a great upper-body workout at the same time!
  • Start slowly, using a metronome, and then build up speed as you get more comfortable. That way, you’re more likely to sound like the smooth and suave musician you are, and not like Peter Cottontail thumpity-thump-thumping down the bunny trail. (For more about working with a metronome, read my post “8 Simple Steps for Learning Fast Piano Songs”)
  • Be prepared. After your posture and position are comfortable, the best preparation for pianistic takeover is fingering. Unlike the one-octave arpeggio, your thumb and fourth finger (both hands) will be constantly moving over (fingers) and under (thumb) each other. Be ready to make a move before you’ve reached your third or fourth finger. Word of advice: Don’t wait until you’ve played the fifth (pinkie) finger or you’ll get stuck. You’ll either be tripping over your fingers, or trying to rotate your wrist over to play with the back of your hands. Just don’t do it.

Extra Tips: Tuck the thumb under to play the natural keys, while the fingers are reaching up to play the sharps and flats. Decide what fingers you want to use, and practice the same fingering each time. After you get the hang of them, arpeggios are a great way to warm up your hands before practicing music, just like a sports team warms up before practice.

But Wait! There’s More…

Maybe you want to venture beyond 10 types of piano arpeggios in 12 keys over seven octaves (that’s 840 octaves and 120 arpeggios). Okay, maybe not… but what if you seek additional intellectual stimulation with your warm-up? Try arpeggios in contrary motion; starting with one center note, each hand moves outward from center, and then back. Give it a whirl, it’s a mind-bender. Or, if harmony is your desire, try a different arpeggio in each hand (like c minor seventh with E♭major seventh) The possibilities are endless…

If you’ve followed these simple directions and still feel like a beginner, you’re not alone. Most pianists take many years learning how to play arpeggios with finesse. So, when you’ve reached the conclusion of your arpeggio, whether it’s a simple, three-note glide within a single octave or a fortissimo multi-octave, mind-boggling, finger-tangling adventure, go ahead and finish it with confidence. Use that well-rested fifth (pinkie) finger or, if you prefer, finish up with your choice of any dramatic flourish, fingering, or hand motions. Why not? You’ve worked hard for it. You, too, deserve a Liberace moment.

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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Yamaha piano

Kawai vs. Yamaha: Who Makes Better Pianos?

Yamaha

Getting ready to buy your first piano, but not sure which manufacturer to look into? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares a bit about two of the best piano brands…

 

Two of the first questions that I get from parents of my piano students are “What kind of piano should I get?” and “What are the best piano brands?” The facts of the matter are that our modern piano is a 19th century invention about which many people, even pianists, don’t know a lot about, and the current piano manufacturing industry is always changing. For many families, it’s one of the larger purchases that you’ll ever make for your home. It’s important to devote the same kind of careful research that you’d give to any big buy. Two of the biggest and brightest stars in the piano world right now are Kawai and Yamaha. So in a battle of Kawai versus Yamaha, who makes better pianos?

ThePianoBuyer.com is a great place to start before making your purchase. You can order a free, 280-page semi-annual publication from the website that details both generally unchanging aspects of piano buying and the ever-changing world of piano manufacturing. There’s even a classified section on the website where you can peruse the listings of those both buying and selling electronic and acoustic pianos. Most importantly, though, you can see what piano experts have to say about Yamaha, Kawai, and other piano brands.

Kawai

Kawai, as a company, has long spoken out in favor of building pianos with plastic and composite materials, instead of wood, which inherently changes the texture, tone, and touch when played. Kawai also boasts a longer key than is found on most pianos, including Yamaha’s. Their claim is that this aids pianists in the performance of passages requiring great dexterity, in other words, passages with lots of ornamentation or especially fast-moving measures. Unfortunately, though, Kawai’s tone sounds especially dead, metallic, and dark to me. The sound is so utterly clean that in a way it reminds me of a toy piano.

Yamaha piano

Yamaha is known for having a distinctly bright tone, and I think it’s true. It’s so distinct, in fact, that I think that I could pick out a Yamaha piano out of several played if I were blindfolded. The sound, however bright, is still full and well-rounded. Neither Kawai nor Yamaha, as with many pianos made in Asia, possess the kind of warmth that we hear from pianos made elsewhere. But some of Yamaha’s newer models actually sound a little warmer in the treble section of the keys than Kawai’s. Yamaha’s action (the way that the key respond to pressing) and sustain (how long tones last) are noticeably better.

The truth is, you can visit a piano store, play both Kawai and Yamaha pianos, and decide for yourself which sound is more appealing. But in the end, as a piano teacher and parent myself, my final and most important factor in choosing between two piano brands (or two brands of almost anything) is durability. For many of us, pianos come into our homes as part of a long-term plan to be passed down to future generations. For this reason, I believe that Yamaha is the builder of more solidly constructed and longer-lasting instruments. Many institutions, schools, and performing artists favor Yamaha for this very reason. Perhaps you should consider it, 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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Five Movies That Will Change the Way You Look at the Piano

Settling in for movie night? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her recommendations for five piano films every musician should watch…

 

Movies have an amazing way of changing how we look at the world. Every once in a while, some studio will release one that has a tremendous impact on so many of us. After the Cold War fighter jet film “Top Gun” came out in the 1980s, for example, the United States Navy saw a huge increase in recruitments to their aviation program. When a movie about a studio musician who reluctantly takes a job as a high school music teacher called “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was released in the 1990s, music education programs saw a spike in new students looking to become music teachers. Maybe movies don’t change the way that we see the world; maybe they just inspire us to see what was already there.

There’s nothing like a movie about the piano and pianists to feed your own art. Here is a list of five of my favorites.

The Piano (1993)

The-Piano-7051_3Starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and a young Anna Paquin, “The Piano” tells the story of a mute woman sent with her daughter and her prized piano to be married to a wealthy landowner in New Zealand. A romance with another man ensues, but the woman’s most intimate and intense relationship is most certainly with the piano.

The Pianist (2002)

2002_the_pianist_007Directed by the world-renowned Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody, “The Pianist” beautifully details the heart-wrenching tale of a Polish-Jewish pianist who survives the brutal invasion of Warsaw by the Nazi regime. Brody won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role.

Shine (1996)

still-of-john-gielgud,-scott-hicks-and-noah-taylor-in-shine-(1996)-large-picture-1Geoffrey Rush plays David Helfgott, a real-life Australian pianist raised and viciously driven by his father and his teachers to become the greatest in the world. After an emotional breakdown, he eventually finds both his love of playing and the joy of life. Rush won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in this piano film.

The Competiition (1980)

MCDCOMP EC033Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving star as two competitive piano players who enter the same major competition and then just happen to fall in love with each other. The tension and intensity of such an important event both fuels and complicates the romance.

The Piano Lesson (1995)

hqdefaultA Hallmark Channel TV movie set in the 1930s, “The Piano Lesson” is the story of a man who returns to his childhood home in Pittsburgh to sell his family’s cherished heirloom piano and “claim his half.” But his sister wants to keep the instrument that’s meant so much to their family and continues to be such a wonderful part of their childhood memories. The battle over the piano ends in a great life lesson.

The piano is one of the most special objects in many cultures, but especially in the West. Unlike a French horn or a cello, for example, it’s the one musical instrument that many families, even those without musicians, have and share in their homes. Perhaps that’s why so many terrific films have been inspired by it and by the draw and allure that it evokes.

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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Stevie Wonder

Pianist Spotlight: How Stevie Wonder Overcame Blindness to Play Piano

Have you ever wondered if you have the potential to become a famous musician? If so, you probably know that it takes more than just raw talent to break into the music industry.

Stevie Wonder is an excellent example of this. Beyond his amazing talent, vocal and piano practice, along with hard work and persistence, were the keys to Stevie’s success. Read on to learn more about Stevie Wonder and how he came to be the musical legend we know today.

Who is Stevie Wonder?

Stevie Wonder and Janelle MonaeStevie Wonder is an American music legend. The singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist was born on May 13, 1950. Although originally from Saginaw, Michigan, he grew up in Detroit after his mother moved the family there after separating from Stevie’s dad. Stevie faced many obstacles thorough his life, but used hard work and dedication to overcome everything life threw at him — most notably, his lifelong blindness.

His Early Life

Born prematurely, Stevie spent the first days of his life in an incubator. Too much oxygen in the incubator damaged his vision, leaving him permanently blind. His total and complete blindness could have discouraged Stevie from pursuing music, but he didn’t let that stop him from fulfilling his dreams.

He always had a great love for music and rhythm, even from a young age. He taught himself to play harmonica by the time he was five, which encouraged his mother to sign him up for piano lessons a year later. At eight, he began learning the drums. When not engrossed in his piano practice, he could often be found beating out the rhythm to radio songs on any surface he could find.

Stevie Gets Discovered

Stevie’s talent and age astounded everyone from fellow musicians to record executives. Ronnie White of the well-known band The Miracles was so impressed with Stevie’s talent that he introduced him to Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown Records. Amazed that such talent was found in such a young boy, Barry promptly signed Stevie on as Motown Records’ youngest musician.

The single “Fingertips” from his first live album, “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius”, hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. An overnight star, Stevie didn’t just sit back and enjoy his success. Instead, he enrolled at the Michigan School for the Blind the following year, and began studying piano professionally.

Stevie Grown Up

Stevie Wonder

Even though Stevie possessed immense potential, he knew he needed training if he really wanted to be successful. He was still churning out hit songs, but that just wasn’t enough. In addition to his continued singing and piano practice, he took classes to improve his songwriting and producing abilities.

By the time he was 21, “Little Stevie Wonder” dropped the “Little” and began going by just Stevie Wonder. His schooling and piano practice paid off, as he began writing his own music, and he even renegotiated his contract with Motown Records for more creative control. Stevie also financed his own publishing and recording studio and continued pumping out hit after hit.

Awards and Recognition

Over the years, Stevie has been showered with awards and recognition. As of 2014, Stevie has won 25 Grammy Awards for his music, and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

In 1998, he was named a United Nations Messengers of Peace. He has also been awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from several organizations, including the Grammy Awards Committee, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the National Academy of Recording. In 2005, the City of Detroit awarded Stevie the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Motown Music Fest and declared September 9th “Stevie Wonder Day,” presenting him with the key to the city.

Even from an early age, Stevie knew that if he wanted to be successful, he was going to have to work hard. In addition to studying, he knew that singing and piano practice were the key to making a life as a musician.

If you’re interested in learning the piano, take a lesson from the Motown child prodigy Little Stevie Wonder. The investment you make in learning and improving your skills can take you far, and a private music teacher will be there to guide you along the way. Good luck!

Sources:
http://www.steviewonder.org.uk/awards/awards.html
https://www.facebook.com/StevieWonder
http://www.biography.com/people/stevie-wonder-9536078

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The Evolution of the Piano: From the Harpsichord to the Modern Grand

History Of The Piano Whether you are just starting out or your piano learning days are far behind you, you may have often wondered how the modern piano came to be. And you may be surprised to learn that although the modern piano is over 300 years old, its look and design has remained largely unchanged over the years.

The piano is an amazing stringed instrument that uses percussion to create a full, resonating sound. Italian harpsichord maker Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori (1655-1731) invented the first piano around the year 1700. Without him, you’d likely be considering either harpsichord or organ lessons instead of dreaming of learning to play the piano.

Cristofori’s first piano was actually called a “pianoforte,” and borrowed quite a bit of its look and design from the harpsichord — which makes sense, since he was a harpsichord maker. Over the years, the designers learned to utilize better materials, but the basic inner workings have stayed pretty much the same.

The Piano’s Older Cousin – The Harpsichord

harpischord

The harpsichord is visually similar to the piano. They are both string instruments with wooden cases, but the harpsichord has two or more sets of strings inside the case, and two keyboards. When playing a harpsichord, you press down on a key, causing a “plectrum” to pluck the strings inside the case. No matter how hard or softly you press the keys, the sound produced will be the same.

The Pianoforte Makes its Debut

In Italian, pianoforte translates to “soft loud.” The sounds produced by Cristofori’s pianoforte were an extension of what the harpsichord could do. While similar in looks, the pianoforte was much different inside.

Instead of a plectrum plucking the strings, the pianoforte used a hammer to strike them. This allowed the player to control not only the volume and intensity of the sound produced, but also the length of the sound. The pianoforte became a favorite among musicians because they could express more emotion through the instrument than with the harpsichord.

Modern Pianos Make Their Mark

upright piano

With a full seven octaves represented, the modern piano features 88 keys, made of ivory or plastic, with wool-covered hammers and cast iron frames able to withstand higher levels of tension on the strings. But before then, the instrument had a few periods of evolution:

  • Square Piano – Initially designed in France in 1777 by Sébastien Érard, the square piano wasn’t square at all. It was actually rectangular, with the strings running horizontally along the keyboard. Johann Christoph Zumpe and other German piano designers improved on the square piano design and by the mid-1800s, it was commonly used to play salon music throughout Europe.

  • Upright piano – During the mid-1800s, upright pianos began to replace square pianos throughout the world. The strings of an upright piano ran vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard, which initially made them very tall. John Isaac Hawkins, an English piano maker who lived in Philadelphia, improved the upright design by bringing the strings down to the floor level, instead of having them begin at the keyboard. Due to their original height, older uprights often incorporated elegant designs, but they required quite a bit more space than modern uprights. Less expensive than a traditional grand piano, modern uprights take up much less space than grand pianos, making them popular in schools and homes.

  • Grand Pianos – From the four-and-a-half-foot small grand to the much larger eight- or 11-foot concert grand, the classic look of the grand piano has remained almost unchanged over the years. The strings run horizontally, perpendicular to the keyboard. Prop open the lid and the grand piano offers unparalleled sound quality that is favored for concerts and large performances. In general, the larger the grand piano, the longer the strings and the greater the timbre or sound quality it produces.

  • Digital Pianos – The current digital age brought technology together with the piano to create electric pianos and digital keyboards. From the first inception in 1946 until now, these instruments have come a long way. Modern electric pianos are purely electronic instruments that have high-quality recorded sounds on an internal hard drive. The keys are often weighted to replicate the feel of playing a traditional acoustic piano.

Over the last 300 years, the piano has entranced musicians throughout the world. Curious about other fun facts about the piano? Check out our infographic here! Want to learn how to play this amazing instrument? Browse our piano teachers and find one in your area or online to guide you along the way!

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8 Simple Steps for Learning Fast Piano Songs

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Struggling to get through the fast piano songs you’re dying to play? Here, Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares her tips for success…

 

Piano is an easy instrument to learn. You push a key, and a note sounds. Compared to instruments like the violin, which can take months and months of dedicated practice before a pleasant sound comes out, piano seems like a walk in the park.

But because of this, it’s also one of the easiest instruments to learn to play poorly. Many piano students become so enraptured with the idea of moving forward quickly that the idea of playing piano fast becomes a goal. We want to play fast, to really show we can do our stuff, but often what happens when we take on all that speed is the quality of the playing is compromised. Most piano players don’t learn patience with the process.

If you’re struggling to master songs with faster tempos, you’re not alone. Here are some tips for learning fast piano songs:

1. Be patient… start with the basics, and find the most difficult part of the song. Find out how slow you need to go to play that part accurately. Use a metronome, and set it at that slow pace. If you don’t have a metronome, you can search for one online. I like this one. Play the entire song at that slow pace. Yes, even the easy parts. Play it perfectly again and again.

2. Watch your fingers. Are there places in the song where your fingers are tripping over each other? Even the best pianists need to come up with specific fingering for certain passages. Go ahead and write in the finger numbers like a beginner … 1-2-3-4-5 … and don’t forget the left hand!

3. Don’t practice in front of an audience. If you’re practicing at home and your family listens in while you practice, remember that your song isn’t going to sound anywhere near as good in the beginning as it will in the future.

4. Don’t practice the same mistake twice. Practicing mistakes teaches you to play inaccurately. If you notice you’re having trouble on certain passages, stop and slow down even more. Work on those specific passages, and give the rest of the song (which you play well) a rest. If you practice perfectly, you’ll learn to play perfectly. Yes, even the hard parts.

5. Celebrate your accomplishments with feelings of confidence. While practicing your “fast” piano songs at a snail’s pace, you’ll slowly and surely become more confident about all the little details of fingering, dynamics and, yes, specific notes. You will become enlightened about those complicated places, and before long they will become easy. When you can play smoothly and slowly, you’re ready for the next step.

6. Let your metronome be your best friend. By now, you’re used to that tick-tick-tick and keeping a slow pace throughout the song. Now, push the metronome speed up one notch. You probably won’t notice you’re playing any faster, because metronomes are calibrated to very small increments. If you can play the song at that pace, push the metronome speed up one more notch.

7. Continue working on speed, one metronome notch at a time. If you start going faster than you can play accurately, move the metronome speed back down one notch. Work on smoothing out those hard parts, and then playing the whole song at that speed.

8. Set your goal speed, using the metronome. Slowly work up to that goal speed, one notch at a time. You’ll know you’re ready when you’re at your goal speed, and playing accurately and confidently.

Now you’re ready to perform that fast piano song. And remember: your audience didn’t sit in on your practice sessions. Nobody but you (and maybe your family) will ever know how hard it was for you to learn that fast song. If you can make all that hard work look easy, then mastering your fast piano songs will be easier than ever.

Good luck!

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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3 Reasons Why Piano Players Should Also Learn the Organ

There are many reasons why a music student may find themselves learning to play piano on a keyboard rather than on a baby grand: cost, space, or simply lack of access, for example. Versatility on a range of keyboard instruments is also an extremely useful string for any pianist to have to their bow, and can lead to greater practice and public performance opportunities, and even excellent opportunities to earn a little money on the side.

The organ, although not the most prevalent or popular musical instrument, is a great option for pianists looking to expand their skills. Here are three reasons why you should consider learning this fascinating set of keys:

1) The Techniques are Different

Playing The Organ

Many piano players make the assumption that their skills on one keyboard will transfer directly to another, and that they will be able to play the organ with the same level of skill instantly. However, this is a dangerous assumption to make, especially if you are engaged to play the organ somewhere, and haven’t honed your skills already. Whereas the touch on the piano is all about the attack, the organ is all about the release, so using the same weight on the keys will not necessarily produce the desired outcome. This is where students who have been learning to play piano on a keyboard will have a small advantage — unless you’re using an expensive clavinova with weighted keys, an electronic keyboard will require a similar attack-and-release technique as an organ.

2) Pedals and Keyboards and Stops, Oh My!

organ pedals

If you’ve played the organ, you probably have vivid memories of the first time you were faced with a model with dual keyboards, pedals, and stops! It was probably pretty terrifying. Remember all those hours you spent making your hands properly independent and equally agile on the piano keyboard? You’ll have to develop an entirely new technique for the organ, where you will be negotiating stops and a dual keyboard at the same time. Also, your piano has a measly three pedals at most, so your footwork will have to become extra-fancy to negotiate the organ pedals.

It’s worth finding specific exercises to help coordinate your hands and feet to ensure that you can transfer your dexterity at the piano to the organ. Again, if you have been learning to play piano on a keyboard, you will find yourself at an advantage, as you may have had to manipulate buttons to get different effects. As for those stops, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the sound and function of each before you play, so that you can become fluent quickly.

3) There’s a Whole New World of Playing Opportunities Out There

organ player

While you may have found the odd source of extra money playing the piano at a restaurant, or perhaps giving an occasional piano lesson to a beginner, even if you don’t plan on a career as a professional musician, being able to play the organ will open up a whole new sphere of music jobs to you. Many older churches have large manual organs, and although most will have a regular organist, it’s worth introducing yourself as someone that they can call on when needed. Even smaller churches typically need a keyboard player of some kind, so you may find occasional opportunities to perform.

Church organ music isn’t the only source of extra repertoire, however — just as there are significant orchestral piano opportunities, the organ is often required, too. This includes not just for works such as Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony (which also has a spectacular piano part!), but many choral works, including Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and the most common favorite of choral societies worldwide, Handel’s Messiah.

 

While the organ does have some similarities to the piano, keep in mind there are several separate skills involved. If playing the organ interests you, it may be worth finding a private teacher who specializes in the instrument once you’ve learned the basics of the piano. Working with an expert who can guide you along and teach you the correct techniques is a big part of your success as a musician. Whatever instrument you choose to learn — have fun!

 

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