3 Summer Activities And How They Help Your Child Grow (Piano)

3 (Fun!) Summer Activities That Help Your Child Grow [Infographic]

fun summer activities for kids

Summer is here! With school out and the temperatures rising, no doubt your kids are excited to play. But beyond the summer camps, sleepovers, bike rides, and water balloon fights, stealthy parents know how to encourage activities that can actually help kids grow and learn!

Don’t worry — that doesn’t mean workbooks or summer homework. We’ve got three fun summer activities in mind that kids will be excited to participate in, and ones that will build confidence at the same time.

  • First up? Music lessons! If your son or daughter loves to sing along to songs when you turn on the radio, music lessons are a natural fit. And there are so many different lesson types to consider, from piano to guitar to saxophone.
  • For the more introverted or bookworm types, learning a language — like Spanish or French — might be a great choice. Of course, your child won’t become fluent over the course of one summer… but it can be a fun introduction to new cultures! Plus, it’s easy to find fun games and apps that support language learning.
  • Finally, if your child can’t stop moving, sports like soccer and softball are a great way to keep him or her busy. They’ll never know they’re actually improving their teamwork and goal-setting skills!

Here’s a recap of all the surprising stats you need to know about these fun summer activities for kids.

3 Fun Summer Activities That Help Your Child Grow [Infographic]

Whether your child is athletic, musically inclined, or interested in learning another language, summer is the perfect time to enroll them in classes and nurture a new hobby. And knowing your son or daughter is also growing and learning, you can sit back and relax this summer — just as the season was intended for.

Ready to get started? Search for fun summer activities, classes, and lessons near you!

Photos by Philippe PutDark Dwarf, and l. c.

 

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Introduction to Ragtime Piano - 5 Iconic Pieces to Learn Today

Introduction to Ragtime Piano: 5 Iconic Pieces to Know

Introduction to Ragtime Piano - 5 Iconic Pieces to Learn Today

Curious about ragtime piano music? Read on as music teacher James W. shares a quick introduction to the genre, and the 5 iconic pieces you should know! 

Ragtime piano music is characterized by its syncopated rhythm, which simply means that the accent is unexpectedly placed on the off beat, like the 2nd beat and the 4th beat in a 4/4 time rhythm. This “offbeat” style became famous at the turn of the 20th century with songs written by Scott Joplin like “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag”, which influenced many ragtime composers with its harmonic patterns and melody lines. Ragtime is considered to be “the American equivalent of the minuets of Mozart, the mazurkas of Chopin, or the waltzes of Brahms.”

For aspiring young piano players interested in ragtime piano music, here are five iconic pieces to learn today that are a wonderful introduction to the genre.

1. “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin

We are lucky this even exists. It is from a “pianola” roll played by Scott Joplin himself, found by chance years ago in the wrong box! With this song everyone stopped what they were doing and a craze for the piano style was born. The emotional impact is unstoppable, and was strong enough that leisure time activities after that often included ragtime piano. If you played this style in the 1970s revival, you were the “rock star of the day.” Its melody and rhythm are infectious and timeless.

2. “The Entertainer” – Complete Works of Scott Joplin as played by Richard Zimmerman

A treasure trove of Joplin goodies. If you listen only to the first three bars of this song, I bet you’ll be hooked for life on the style. It is so inviting…

Bonus: Learn how to play “The Entertainer” here!

3. “Top Liner Rag” by Joseph Lamb

This delightful little ditty from 1916 should charm anyone young or old. The 2/4 timing draws the listener in. It makes us want to play it faster and move around the room. A surefire hit.

4. “A Ragtime Song Medley” by Max Morath, a.k.a. “Mr. Ragtime”

Check out the video below to see Max performing his favorite tunes. Here we send ragtime uptown and make the storytelling more important and accessible to the New York society folk.

5. “Charleston Rag”/”Wild About Harry”/”Memories of You” by Eubie Blake

This is a rare treat featuring this piano master playing live in Berlin, Germany in 1972. “Wild about Harry” in particular is notable (forgive the pun) as it became a standard, meaning everyone played it everywhere. Eubie himself reaped the rewards of royalties after joining a performing rights organization. His style adds a “cool” flavor and aims to please.

6. Bonus Track: “The Sting Soundtrack Suite” by Marvin Hamlisch

An accomplished piano virtuoso, Marvin Hamlisch was top of his game back in the 1980s and 1990s, playing all over the world, wearing white gloves to protect his hands. He played the Scott Joplin tunes for the movie The Sting, which helped to create the ragtime revival of the 1970s. Hamlisch’s touch on piano was rivaled only by Billy Joel and Elton John. Worth every bit of your attention, he was a modern master — so listen carefully and you will learn a lot.

How to Play Ragtime Piano

Feeling inspired? If you want to learn how to play ragtime, let your piano teacher know! The syncopated rhythms can be tricky to master, so your teacher can help you with specific exercises to improve your skills.

You can also find additional information about ragtime here:

Readers, what ragtime piano pieces are your favorites? Let us know in the comments! 

Sources:
H. Wiley Hitchcock, “Stereo Review”, 1971, page 84, cited in Scott Joplin: Black-American Classicist, p. xiv.
Scott Joplin: Black-American Classicist
Scott Joplin: Black-American Classicist

james-walsh-150x150Post Author: James W.
James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!

Photo by Professor Bop

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Learning Piano

5 Bad Habits Holding You Back as You Learn Piano

Learning Piano

Are you not making the progress you were hoping for in your piano lessons? Read on as piano teacher Nadia B. explains some of the common bad habits that may be holding you back…

 

When you’re learning piano, you’re busy mastering a variety of skill sets — note reading, rhythmic competency, independence of the hands, musicality, and so much more. It’s easy to focus so much on these things that you might be developing bad habits… without noticing. Read on to learn more about the five worst habits for piano players, so that you can make sure you avoid them!

1. Practicing scales mindlessly or with bad technique

You should definitely pat yourself on the back for practicing your scales, one of the most important components of learning piano. But once you see the value of practicing scales, it’s important to make sure that your scale practice is helping you improve and not reinforcing bad habits. It you find yourself slogging through scales, not really paying attention to what you’re doing, or if your hand position is awkward and not well-coordinated, then you might want to re-evaluate your scales practice routine. Try for precision, correct fingering, ease of hand position, and fingers flowing onto the keys, even if it takes a little longer and means you do fewer scales. With scale practice, it’s definitely quality over quantity.

Tip: Bored with scales? Try these four fun ways to practice scales!

2. Memorizing music completely with muscle memory

Pianists have a long tradition of performing music from memory, and the pressure can be on when it’s almost recital time and your piece still isn’t memorized. Pianists often resort to playing the piece they’re trying to memorize over and over until they can play it in their sleep. The only problem? That type of rote memorization can go terribly wrong if there’s a moment of distraction, or if the pianist messes up and tries to restart where he or she left off.

The way to avoid this bad habit is to leave plenty of time to memorize piano music by analyzing the score, listening to and playing along with recordings, and practicing intelligently and consciously, instead of relying on muscle memory to commit the song to memory.

Tip: Here are some additional strategies for memorizing piano music from music teacher Joy Morin.

3. Not breathing well, combined with bad posture

Breathing and posture go hand in hand, since our ribs attach to the spine, and excessive compression in the torso can severely limit breathing. If you find yourself hunched over the piano, with your head pulled forward to see the music better and your breathing is shallow, your posture is compromised. Believe it or not, this will affect your music-making.

To solve this bad habit, take a few moments in between practicing sections of a piece to notice your sitting bones releasing into the piano bench, allow your spine to uncurl from any compression, and send your head away from your spine, allowing it to balance easily right on top of your spine. You should feel more spacious and have more flexibility for ease of breathing.

Tip: Here’s a wonderful infographic explaining piano posture, from Hoffman Academy.

4. Unruly hand position

Perhaps one of your fingers sticks up in the air, or your thumb hangs low, below the keyboard. Whatever your habitual hand position, finding a comfortable, flexible and coordinated hand position can change your entire relationship with the piano. You will make better contact with the keys, have more control over dynamics and coloring, and play technical passages more easily and smoothly. Having an uncoordinated hand position can hold you back in a variety of ways as you’re learning piano, so make sure this bad habit isn’t one of yours!

Tip: Check out this infographic for an easy exercise to improve your hand shape for playing the piano.

5. Not learning to read music correctly

Do you find yourself struggling to read piano music correctly, over and over? Or perhaps you struggle with playing in time and with correct rhythm. It’s important to learn to read and interpret all aspects of the music correctly, so that you can play with correct notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulation, and phrasing. If you’re struggling to recognize all the various symbols and positions of the notes on the staff, try going through a music theory book and/or note speller.

If you work to avoid these five worst habits for piano players, you will be a more coordinated and skilled pianist who can confidently learn new music, practice efficiently, and perform well. It’s worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to incorporate the strategies to combat these bad habits, as you’ll see a great improvement in your musicality, technique, and fundamental keyboard skills.

Tip: Here are some fun online games for learning piano notes!

Think you’re avoiding these bad habits? It’s always a good idea to check with your piano teacher, who can give you expert advice and help you continue to practice piano like a pro!

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia 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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Map the Music

Feeling Stuck? Try This Fun Piano Exercise [Printable]

Map the Music Piano Exercise

Struggling with a particular piano piece? Don’t stress. It may just be time to take a step back and get your bearings. Read on as Spring Lake, MI piano teacher Val L. shares a piano exercise to try…

 

So you’ve been trying to learn a challenging piece of music for an upcoming piano recital or event, but there are still some parts that just seem to fall apart. If you are following the typical routine of playing it over and over, and making the same mistakes over and over, why not try a new approach?

Think of your song as a map. You have to get from point A to point B without any wrong turns that could result in you getting hopelessly lost and giving up! It’s time to take a step away from the keys and get out your markers, colored pencils, and a nice big piece of paper. It’s time to map the music!

Let’s give your brain the clues it needs to make it through the dense, foggy areas and avoid the potholes and pitfalls. Every piano song has its challenges – that’s what makes it interesting! Creating a visual tool, like a map, will help you navigate your way through a challenging piece of music.

As an example, here’s what my student came up with when we mapped out “Wonka’s Welcome Song” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (sheet music here).

Wonka's Welcome piano exercise

Following the steps below, this piano exercise will bring out the most important elements of the piece, helping you remember the details and internalize the melody and harmony. But the most fun part of the exercise is that you have the freedom to get creative! Your drawing may be similar to my student’s example above, or it may not — it’s up to you!

Now Let’s “Map the Music”!

First, you’ll want to make a copy of your music. This is legal if you bought it and are using it only for your own study. Next, answer the following questions before you begin:

  1. Is there an intro? A bridge? Transitional measures? A coda preceded by a cadenza?
  2. Have you identified the main theme? The secondary theme?
  3. Are there sections that repeat?

This will give you a basic understanding of how the music is laid out and an outline to follow as you work through the piece.

Map the Music – Draw the Melody & Harmony

For each section you will want to identify the important details. Use different colors to draw the melody, the harmony, and the chord progression.

Draw a treble clef to show where the right hand plays. Use a different color to draw a bass clef that shows where the left hand plays. Think of these symbols as road signs in your sheet music to alert you to a change or a new pattern. This is especially helpful when the hands switch clefs.

Drawing the melody is as simple as doing a “dot-to-dot.” Draw a line that follows the same pattern as the melody – just connect the dots! Use your finger to trace the notes before drawing it on your map. Pay close attention to the following:

  1. Are there skips?
  2. Is there a sudden change in the direction of the pattern?
  3. Does the pattern repeat anywhere else in the song?

Start by writing the letter name of the first note (keynote) and then draw the line going up if the notes step up, down if the notes step down. Use an X to represent skips and draw longer lines for bigger leaps. If there are groups of notes that repeat, draw a line with a number above it showing how many notes repeat. Using different colors for melody and harmony will show parallel and contrary patterns.

Map the Music – Mark the Details

The next step in this piano exercise is to hunt for the obscure details that are easily overlooked

  • Time Signature – Is it cut time? Does it change anywhere in the piece?
  • Key Signature – How many sharps/flats? Does it change anywhere in the piece?
  • Accidentals – Don’t forget to mark the most common culprits for tripping you up!
  • Rhythm – Where are the rests? Don’t ignore them!
  • Note Values – What is the shortest note value? (Eighth notes? Sixteenth notes?) Use them to establish your steady rhythm! Take the time to write and clap the rhythm.

Map the Music – Extra Tips

  • Focus on the tricky measures – Make note of the measures that have been the most difficult.
  • Color code – Use different colors to circle or highlight the details. Maybe it’s the rhythm, or an accidental, or a fingering that has been giving you trouble.
  • Illustrate – Use your imagination to draw the melody or use a simple picture to sort out the fingering.

Ready to try it with your own piano music? Here’s an even-simpler breakdown:

Map the Music Piano Printable Worksheet

Want to download the printable version of the worksheet? Get it here: Map the Music Printable PDF

 

By simplifying the music and creating a visual that makes sense to you, the process of learning and/or memorizing will be much more manageable. The goal of this piano exercise is to give your brain a “snapshot” of the piece so you can easily recall where you are at if you get lost. Be creative, use your own ideas, and consult your piano teacher to make stronger connections with the music. Good luck!

Val LPost Author: Val L.
Val L. teaches piano lessons in Spring Lake, MI. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from William Tyndale College and has been teaching piano for more than 10 years. Learn more about Val here!

Photo by m kasahara

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The 10 Minute Music Practice Challenge for the Busy Student

A 10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge for Busy Students

The 10 Minute Music Practice Challenge for the Busy Student

We’ve discussed how to practice the piano before… but what if you don’t have 30 minutes or an hour to commit to practicing every day? Answer: Condense it into a 10-minute quick-practice! Read on as Austin, TX piano teacher Aimee B. shows how to make this piano exercise work for you…

 

No doubt you are busy. On top of a full day, you have an inkling to learn the piano.  But how do you fit it into your day? You know the importance of regular practice, but if you find the idea of sitting and studying for 30 minutes entirely too daunting, you’re not alone.

In fact, many adults use being busy as an excuse to put off taking piano lessons. But the truth is, even if you don’t have 30 minutes to commit to practicing every single day, you can still make some progress. There is a powerful and productive way to think about practice in small, incremental steps. Visiting the piano for as little as 10 minutes a day can reinforce new material and create a ritual that becomes an integral part of your life.

Before I break it down, I’d like to offer two important piano practice tips:

1) Create a Unique Practice Space

Choose and prepare a specific, music-friendly practice space in your home. Whether it’s a certain corner in the living room or an entire music room, see that the area is clean and free of distraction. Make it your creative space and decorate it as such by hanging a picture of your music idol to inspire your practice or lighting candles to encourage calmness.

Leave your practice space ready with your books and metronome, and keep your keyboard lid open! Do not let the articles of your everyday life, like papers, backpacks, or groceries intrude on this space. Maintaining a clean and ready piano practice space invites you to sit and make music.

2) Practice With a Side Salad… Or Set an Alert

The key to practice is first designating a set time. Instead of leaving your piano practice time floating ambiguously in the ether of “later,” try coupling it next to an activity you already do daily, like eating or brushing your teeth. Ten minutes directly before or after dinner is an easy target practice zone.

Also, use your calendar and alert systems on your computer and smartphone to their full capacity. Set an alert to remind you. Let technology support your practice. With time, you’ll develop your practice habit as a daily ritual instead of a chore that gets pushed to tomorrow.

Now, on to the piano exercise!

10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge – Overview

10-Minute Piano Practice Exercise

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10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge – A Closer Look

1 min: Breathing and Visualization

Before you begin this piano exercise, approach the keys with a calm and positive mind. Take a minute to breathe deeply and visualize yourself actualizing your musical goal. Feel your feet touching the ground and your body lengthening from the bench. Place your hands in a middle C position and, if possible, visualize their movement while reviewing your music with your eyes. Try to maintain a “can-do” attitude and dismiss any harsh criticism of yourself. Remember, learning how to play the piano is a process!

2 min: Review Notes

Take a moment to recall your last lesson. Read any notes from your piano teacher and identify the specific points you need to focus on for this practice, like counting and dynamics. Limit your focus to one or two items to improve upon. Don’t try to tackle everything at once.

5 min: Work on Targeted Assignment

With these one or two items in mind, approach your current assignment. Write down any questions that arise during your practice to ask your teacher at the next lesson.

2 min: Review Previously Completed Song/Exercise

Reward your focus by reviewing a previously completed assignment that you feel confident in. Have fun playing and realize you are slowly building a repertoire.

NOTE: You can also practice your piano theory away from the keyboard. Try downloading a popular tablet or smartphone app like Music Tutor and visiting notation exercises away from your instrument, while standing in line, waiting at an appointment, or on a lunch break. Apps are also good attention diversions if you need a challenge or feel like your practices are getting mundane.

[Editor’s Note: Here are some other piano apps we love!]

How to Really Improve Your Piano Skills

Decide that you are willing to give this method an earnest try for one week, running through the piano exercise each day. Remember, it’s only 10 minutes! Reward yourself at the end of that week for meeting your goal. Then, reflect on your experience. Is your daily practice coupled with the appropriate daily event or do you need to move it to a different event? Did 10 minutes feel too short, too long, or just right? How did you feel before, during, and after your practice? Do you feel more or less inspired? Look at your experience and evaluate.

By the end of one week you will have achieved 70 minutes of intentional and structured practice. Any music teacher will be thrilled by your report and excited by your commitment to steady progress. Of course, if a burst of inspiration hits you and 10 minutes turns into 20, then great, go with it. The 10-minute piano challenge is a starting point. Good luck!

Aimee B.Post Author: Aimee B.
Aimee B. teaches piano, guitar and music theory in Austin, TX. She earned her B.A. in philosophy and art from St. Edward’s University, has worked as a professional musician for over ten years, and has taught over 100 students as a private music instructor. Learn more about Aimee here!

Photo by Tuan Hoang Nguyen

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Visual Intro to the Keyboard

How to Read Music Faster: A Visual Intro to the Piano

Visual Intro to the Keyboard

When you’re new to playing piano, you might feel overwhelmed by all the keys! But here’s a secret: those 88 keys can be reduced to just seven piano notes, and a few essential patterns. Easy, right? Here, teacher Nadia B. shares a super-easy visual introduction…

 

Did you know the keyboard of a piano is full of tricks and secrets? Music is full of different patterns, and as you become more familiar with them, you’ll learn how to read piano music faster, while playing confidently and correctly. If you want to learn how to read piano notes quickly (and improve your sight-reading skills), knowledge of these basics is essential. Following along with a YouTube piano tutorial might be fun, but it’s not going to help you progress as a pianist.

So where do you start? Some of the main building blocks of music that come in handy with piano are half steps and whole steps, the chromatic scale, enharmonics, and flats (noted as ‘b‘) and sharps (notated as ‘#’). Here’s what you need to know…

Half Steps

Just like the structures of chromosomes make up the whole of a DNA strand, half steps make up the whole of the keyboard. A half step on the keyboard is going from one key to the next one directly above or below it, without skipping any keys. A half step could go from a white key to a black key (for example, G to G#), a black key to a white key (e.g. G# to A), or a white key to a white key (e.g. E to F). See the image below for an illustration of these examples.

Half Steps

You will find half steps in both major and minor scales. For example, in the C major scale, E to F and B to C are both half steps.

C Major Scale Half Steps

Familiarizing yourself with half steps and being able to rapidly recognize them will allow you to decode music more easily, as you’ll be able to see the same patterns of half steps in written music.

Whole Steps

Whole steps are the big sibling to half steps. Two half steps make a whole step, and whole steps are what make up major and minor scales, in addition to half steps. An example of a whole step is from F to G on the keyboard; in between F and G we have two half steps — F to F# and F# to G.

Whole Steps

An example of a whole step in a major scale is from F to G in the F major scale. Similarly to half steps, recognizing whole steps and understanding their function allows you to read piano music faster and also learn how to create major and minor scales using a set pattern of whole and half steps.

Chromatic Scale

Now that we’ve covered the building blocks of any piano scale, we can cover a scale that relates directly to half steps: the chromatic scale. Composed entirely of consecutive half steps (that is, not skipping any keys from the beginning to the end of the scale), the chromatic scale is most often practiced by starting on any note, reaching the same note one octave higher, and then descending back to the original note. For example, we can start from F in one octave, play up to F in the next octave, and return back to the original F.

F Chromatic Scale

A sequence of notes may start on one note and end on a different note — it’s the pattern of consecutive half steps that distinguishes it as chromatic.

Enharmonics

Another fundamental concept of the keyboard is that one key can have multiple names. This can cause a great deal of confusion, but once you understand how it works, you’ll find it pretty simple. ‘Enharmonic’ is the name for this concept. For example, F sharp, which we find by identifying F on the keyboard and then moving up a half step, can also be called G flat, which we find by identifying G on the keyboard and then moving down a half step. We arrive at the same note, F sharp/G flat (F#/Gb).

Enharmonic Notes

It’s good to recognize the dual names of enharmonics because you will sometimes see both names within one piece as the key modulates. Enharmonics allow us to travel to different keys seamlessly and logically.

Sharps and Flats on the Piano

Going right along with harmonics is an understanding of how sharps and flats work. Sharps always indicate a movement up in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the right), while flats always indicate a movement down in pitch and direction on the keyboard (i.e. to the left). It’s important to understand them because you will see flats and sharps in the key signature and as accidentals throughout the music, and you’ll need to apply them correctly throughout the music.

The key to applying sharps and flats correctly is knowing that you are always moving in half steps. A flat indicates a half step down, while a sharp indicates a half step up. Knowing this, you can also apply double flats and double sharps properly. If you see a double flat, that means you should move downward two half steps from the original note, while a double sharp indicates that you should move upward two half steps from the original note. An example of this would be D double flat: by moving from D to D flat and then again from D flat to C, we arrive at D double flat (which is the same key as C).

Double Flat

Using half steps as a means of applying flats and sharps is an infallible method, and you’ll be moving around the keyboard easily once you learn this method.

To recap, here are the four building blocks on one handy infographic:

How to Read Piano Music Faster - Visual Intro the Piano

How to Read Music Faster & Improve Your Sight Reading

Understanding these basic structures at the piano will help you to read piano music faster, especially when you’re sight reading. Viewing a phrase, you will no longer see each note as a separate entity — rather, you’ll see the relationships between them (whole steps, half steps and larger intervals), as well as patterns that make up scales like the chromatic scale or the major scale. Knowing how sharps, flats, and enharmonics work means that you won’t be stymied by an unusual flat, like C flat. Instead, you’ll easily translate it to B natural in your mind. With these tips, you should be sight reading more fluently and accurately than ever before.

Now that you understand the patterns of the keyboard, don’t hesitate to try to find examples of these in your piano music! You will discover a unique language that is logical, organized, and creative all at once, and decoding it will result in many hours of delight making music at the piano.

Need some extra help? A private piano teacher can lead the way! Search for a teacher near you here.

Nadia BPost Author: Nadia B.
Nadia 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!

Photo by mararie

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Off the Keys

How to Practice Piano: Tips for Exercises OFF the Keys! [Infographic]

Off the Keys

We all know how important practicing is for aspiring piano players! But sometimes it can be a challenge to fit into your schedule. Luckily, there are ways to practice your technique while you’re at work, in the car, or practically anywhere else! Continue reading this guest post by Spring Lake, MI piano teacher Val L. to find out how…

 

As you practice piano, taking the time to think about rhythm and technique is a huge challenge! You should always include scales and exercises in your piano practice routine because they are the tools that will provide the muscle development and coordination needed to improve. But what should you do if you’re pressed for time? If you have a tight schedule, you’ll want to use every precious minute you have at the piano to work on your songs. Fortunately, there are also ways you can practice your piano technique… even when you’re not in front of your instrument!

Off the Keys — Piano Practice Tips for Adults

Listening – This one is obvious but easily overlooked. Find a professional recording of each piano song you are learning and make a playlist you can listen to in the car, around the house, or at work. You will reinforce tricky rhythms, changing tempos, dynamics, pedaling, and so on each time you hear it played accurately.

Hand Shape – You should already know the importance of playing with a rounded hand shape, free from tension. If you have a squishy ball on your desk at work, pick it up right now and look at your hand shape. You should be able to see all three knuckles. Each knuckle has an important part to play in good hand shape, but the knuckle closest to your fingernail is the most important. As a rule, that knuckle should never wiggle or collapse. Here are some ways to reinforce hand shape while away from the keys:

  • After observing your hand shape while holding the ball, put the ball down but keep the same hand shape. You should be able to touch the desktop with all four fingertips and the side tip of your thumb. Be sure your wrist is lifted.
  • With that good hand shape, leave your fingers touching the desk and use a little pressure to push into the desk. Release without lifting away from the desk and push in again without letting any of the knuckles wiggle or collapse. Do this without allowing tension to build up in your hands by allowing the pressure to transfer to the fingertips.
  • Now try tapping fingers individually without letting the knuckles wiggle or collapse.
  • For a greater challenge, widen your span so that the thumb and pinky are fully extended, as if playing an octave. Slide the three long fingers toward your palm until only the flat ends of the fingers are touching the desk. Tap those three long fingers on the desk without letting the knuckle wiggle or collapse, together and individually.

Eliminate Tension – If you typically feel like your muscles are all knotted up after you finish a practice session, you are probably allowing tension to build up without even knowing it. Being aware of how tension feels and where you feel it, as well as when you feel it the most, are the first steps toward eliminating it. Wherever you are right now, take a moment to evaluate the tension in your own body.

  • Spine – Start here and think about your posture. Are you hunched over or leaning to one side? With your feet resting flat on the floor, center yourself by straightening your spine from the bottom up. If you are near a wall, stand and let the back of your head rest on the wall. This will establish the feeling of good posture. Go back to your seat and sit quietly for 10 seconds with this corrected posture. With consistent reminders, your posture will improve!
  • Shoulders – Breathe in deeply and exhale. Did your shoulders drop? Do they feel more relaxed now?
  • Elbows – Are they suspended away from your body, causing your arms to ache and fingers to stiffen? Drop those elbows and let them rest at your side.
  • Wrists – You should be able to lift your wrists up and down with a beautiful fluid motion. Rest your forearms on the arms of your office chair and let your hands hang from the wrists. Slowly raise your forearms, bending at the elbows and keeping your hands relaxed, letting them dangle from the wrists. You can practice this while on the phone, reading emails, or during lunch!

When you do return to the keys, incorporate these important piano practice tips into your routine. Eventually your body will form natural, healthy habits that will greatly enhance your musicianship! (See also: The Healthy (& Happy) Pianist: A Guide to Stress & Injury Prevention)

Here’s a visual to recap these tips…

How to Practice Piano... Off the Keys - Adults

 

Off the Keys — Piano Practice Tips for Kids

Kids can be even more resistant to piano technique exercises — but the more fun the exercises are, the better kids typically respond! Here are some of my methods…

Rhythm – Keep rhythm instruments handy (claves, djembe, bongos) and try to change it up from week to week. Move away from the piano and sit at the table, couch, or even outside, and play rhythm patterns together.

Parents can be involved with rhythm practice at home. Lots of household items make good percussion instruments. Try taking two plastic bottle caps with some “Sticky Tack” inside. Little fingers can develop fine motor skills by tapping the bottle caps together. Buy a set of rhythm flashcards and tap two to three rhythm patterns each day. Or let them create their own rhythm pattern, record it, and then try writing it. At their next lesson, their piano teacher can listen and give feedback on how accurately they wrote the rhythm.

Eliminate Tension – Young students will understand the meaning of tension by using a squish ball/animal. Kids can use them to practice a relaxed, rounded hand shape. The rubber animal face expands and contorts when they squeeze, which makes them giggle and helps them understand how much our muscles dislike tension! When they relax, the animal face returns to normal and the student remembers the feeling of the relaxed hand shape versus the tense hand shape.

Additionally, here are some ways for children to become aware of tension in other areas of their body:

  • Spine – Student should stand near a wall, letting the back of their head rest on the wall. This will establish the feeling of good posture. Have them return to the bench, facing away from the keys and sit quietly for 10 seconds with this corrected posture. Be sure their feet are resting flat on the floor or on a stool of proper height. It helps to show them 10 seconds on a timer before they begin so they know how short this resting time will be!
  • Shoulders – Student should breathe in deeply and exhale. Did their shoulders drop? Do they feel more relaxed now? Have them pretend their tummy is a balloon and after they inflate the balloon, they let out all of the air. It’s fun to actually blow up a balloon while they breathe in and let it deflate when they exhale. But some children will be more distracted by the balloon and may not focus on the breathing exercise. If time is available, demonstrate with the balloon first and then put it away.
  • Elbows – Student should lay their fingertips on the closed lid of the piano or a table of about the same height and check to see if their elbows are suspended away from their body or if they are lowered and relaxed at their side. Many students love to imagine a monkey swinging on their elbow. Let the monkey swing two or three times and come to a resting position.
  • Wrists – Students often struggle with the concept of bending their wrists, but this should be developed during the early years of learning piano. Try having your students use their three long fingers to “paint” a group of three black keys. (They may even want to choose a color.) Have them “paint” those three keys with a smooth, slow stroke – curling the fingers as they slide from the back to the front of the keys. Encourage them to lift their wrists up and down with a beautiful fluid motion. Demonstrate first!

You can also try this fun “zombie” exercise…

Have students face away from the keys and do a “zombie pose” (arms straight out in front, hands dangling from wrists).

Do a “zombie wave” (flop hands up and down).

Now have them lower their arms and bend at the elbows, continuing to do the “zombie wave.”

Next, have them drop their hands like dead weight, and then let their wrists lift their arms back up while hands continue to dangle.

Have students focus on their wrists at all times. It’s important that they don’t get so caught up in the zombie fun that they miss the point of the exercise!

Pedaling – Student should turn away from the keys and read through their music doing only the pedaling. They could also listen to a recording of their music while practicing just their pedaling. This can be done from any chair — or for an element of fun, lying on their back with their foot on the wall! Beginners can simply practice keeping their heel on the floor while lifting their toes up and down. Isolating and practicing these simple movements is the first step toward developing their musicianship!

To recap…

How to Practice Piano... Off the Keys - Kids

Val LPost Author: Val L.
Val L. teaches piano lessons in Spring Lake, MI. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from William Tyndale College and has been teaching piano for over 10 years. Learn more about Val here!

Photo by rhodesj

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YouTube piano tutorial

Learn 8 Easy Piano Songs With These YouTube Tutorials

YouTube piano tutorial

No matter what kind of music you’re interested in — be it rock, pop, jazz, heavy metal, or anything else — there are certain famous songs and melodies out there that you will instantly recognize. Even if you can’t immediately name the composer, those first few notes will catch your ear.

You may have heard it at a wedding, in a plot-twisting movie scene, in a commercial on TV, or you may even hear hints of it hidden within contemporary songs (including Dave Matthews and Weezer songs!). As a new piano player, you may be interested in learning these famous piano songs. After all, with these popular piano pieces memorized, you can sit down at any set of keys and instantly impress everyone around you. If it’s not the limelight you’re after, it’s still a super-satisfying feeling to know how to play the songs you’ve grown to love ever since you saw Disney’s Fantasia as a child.

So what’s a piano player to do? You could sit down and try to figure out the song by ear… or find the sheet music online. But if you want to learn the piece quickly, YouTube piano tutorials can be a great resource!

While not all of the songs below are the best options for beginners, the best video tutorials will break down the piece into easily-digestible sections, helping intermediate players learn it faster. Without further ado, here are best piano tutorials on YouTube for eight popular songs — enjoy!

How to Play “Ode to Joy”

This is a fantastic piano tutorial from YouTuber Bruce Siegel from DoctorKeys.com. After playing the piece in entirety, Bruce then demonstrates how to play each hand, slowly, along with a visual representation of which keys are being played. Watch and follow along a few times, and you’ll be ready to show off this easy piano song!

How to Play “Clair de lune”

This tune plays in one of the best scenes in the movie Ocean’s Eleven. While “Clair de lune” isn’t the easiest song to play on the piano, this video tutorial below from JJ Bartley Music breaks it down super slowly to make it much less scary. This three-part tutorial will take some time to get through, but the end result is worth it!

How to Play “March Funèbre”

While you may not recognize the name of this piece, you’ll definitely recognize the tune! This somber piece is demonstrated by YouTuber John Nelson on a keyboard with the note names clearly shown, which can help if you haven’t yet learned how to read piano music. (Tip: John has a TON of other YouTube piano tutorials on his channel, including top-40 songs from Taylor Swift and Sam Smith!)

How to Play “Moonlight Sonata”

This 8-part video series by YouTuber Claude Aylestock— though not the full version of the piece — is a great introduction to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. If you already know your way around the piano a bit, but just need some practice reading along with sheet music, this tutorial is a great option because it shows both the sheet music AND the host’s hands.

How to Play “Ave Maria”

Here’s an easy piano tutorial for “Ave Maria” from YouCanPlayIt.com. As you follow along, you’ll be introduced to the left and right hand parts separately and slowly. Put it all together, take the tempo up a notch, and you’ve got it!

How to Play “The Entertainer”

This piece, performed by Dr. Cory Hall at BachScholar™ in the video below, is more for intermediate to advanced piano players — it’s a tough one! You’ll need to have your sheet music up in front of you for this, as the video is less a piano tutorial, but more an interpretation and explanation of the style and feel of the piece.

How to “Love Song” (Sara Bareilles)

This easy-to-follow YouTube piano tutorial by HDPiano slowly demonstrates the right and left hands, showing you how to play the intro and the verses of this popular piano song. Only the first part of the tutorial is free, but it’s a great way to get started!

(Want more pop tutorials? Check out our extended list of easy pop songs for piano!)

Finally, if you want to be the life of the party, look for lists of the most-requested dueling piano bar songs. These songs are guaranteed to get everyone singing along and having a blast. Speaking of which…

How to Play “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey)

Another fantastic YouTube piano tutorial from HDPiano! In this one, you’ll learn the intro and verse for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”. The syncopation is a little tricky — but the more you practice, the easier it’ll get. And trust us… the minute you start playing this one, everyone around you will pay attention!

So there you have it: eight awesome tutorials for playing the best and most popular piano songs! Of course, these videos should be considered just a starting point — YouTube can be fantastic for learning specific songs and the basics, but there’s a lot more to learn if you want to master the piano.

So what’s next? Working with a piano teacher to learn how to read sheet music, understand tempo and dynamic markings, and more! Not sure you’re ready for that yet? Don’t worry. Start by downloading our FREE piano video series, hosted by one of our awesome piano teachers! You’ll get a taste of what lessons are like, and learn the basics. And when you are ready, we’re here to help you find a piano teacher near you!

 

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Artists like the Piano Guys on YouTUbe

5 YouTube Celebrities Who Remind Me Why I Love the Piano

Artists like the Piano Guys on YouTUbe

Photo from http://thepianoguys.com/

What inspired you to play piano?

Maybe your parents made you take piano lessons as a child, and you quickly discovered how fun and rewarding it was to play your favorite songs. Maybe you can pinpoint that one classical piece that made you first realize how music can affect your emotions and mood.

Or, perhaps you were inspired later in life, after years of listening to artists like Billy Joel and Elton John, or even contemporary artists like John Legend, Alicia Keys, or Norah Jones.

These days, video content has practically taken over the Internet. YouTube stars have become modern-day celebrities, garnering millions of views of their piano covers and original compositions, and building the kind of loyal fan base that every musician dreams of. So it’s no surprise that many musicians have taken to the Internet-stage to share their music and message!

Some artists keep it simple… while others are known for creating elaborate sets and visual effects (The Piano Guys are well-known for this!). What do they all have in common? Artists like The Piano Guys showcase the piano with gorgeous music, and remind us why the piano is such an amazing instrument!

Here are five of the best piano players on YouTube, all worth checking out:

1) The Piano Guys

Yes, their videos are quite a spectacle… and they’re also a TON of fun! Listen through their video playlist, and you’ll hear everything from covers of One Direction and Bruno Mars to original compositions. My personal favorite? Their rendition of “I Want You Bach” — because everyone loves a music pun.

2) VKGoesWild

Remember, playing the piano isn’t just about classical or jazz! And that’s why we love Ukranian pianist Viktoriya Yermolyeva (or VK, for short). Her YouTube channel features piano covers of Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, and the like — all arranged by her. This System of a Down cover is one of my favorites:

3) Kyle Landry

Who says you have to play piano songs exactly as written on the sheet music? We love the video below by pianist Kyle Landry, who takes a simple theme (Pachelbel’s Canon) and improvises the heck out of it!

4) Jason Lyle Black

When I first watched the video below by Jason Lyle Black, I was impressed with his arrangement skills in this mashup-duet… and then… well, fast-forward to 1:04 and you’ll see what I mean!

5) Lara de Wit

Video game music has come a long way since the days of old-school Nintendo, so it’s no surprise that many artists are covering these songs on all sorts of instruments (including full orchestras!). This is YouTuber Lara de Wit’s niche; her channel is full of nods to video games, anime, and films of all kinds. As a Game of Thrones fan, I especially love her violin/piano arrangement of the theme, below:

 

Feeling inspired yet? We definitely are! Who else should make the list of best piano players on YouTube? Leave a comment below and let us know! 

 

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classical piano composers

Test Yourself: 10 Classical Pieces Behind Modern-Day Songs

Don’t care for classical? You might be surprised at how many modern-day singers and bands have borrowed from famous classical composers, and how many classical songs you’ll instantly recognize because of it! Read on as Chicago, IL piano teacher Erin W. shares a few examples…

 

Regardless of your musical background, you may be more familiar with classical music than you think! Throughout the centuries, composers have created timeless works of art that continue to capture our hearts and minds to this day. Below, we are going to explore 10 examples of modern artists of various genres who borrowed ideas, chords, motives, or direct quotes from classical piano composers. Can you hear the similarities?

1. Dave Matthews – “Love of My Life”

In 1999, Dave Matthews teamed up with Santana to write “Love of My Life” for the album “Supernatural.” It’s a hauntingly beautiful and inspirational melody borrowed from the 3rd movement of Johannes Brahms’s “Symphony No.3″ (1883). Matthews and Santana changed the rhythm a little, but the resemblance is clear. Skip ahead to 22:04 of the second video for Movement III.

2. Perry Como – “Catch a Falling Star”

Speaking of Brahms, those of you working through the Piano Adventures series for adults may recognize this piece. Many of my students have asked me about the origin of this song, and I give them this answer: singer/songwriter Perry Como wrote “Catch a Falling Star” in 1957, which borrows a melody from Brahms’s “Academic Festival Overture Op.80″ (1880). The whole piece is worth a listen, but if you skip ahead to 4:22, you will find the part that Como borrowed.

3. Disney’s “Once Upon a Dream” from “Sleeping Beauty”

A few years later, Disney released the film “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), for which most of the music was borrowed from The Sleeping Beauty Ballet (written in 1890 by Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky). Below is a sample from the ballet where you can clearly hear the inspiration for the beloved song, “Once Upon a Dream.” Skip ahead to 0:32, and you can almost sing along!

4. Nobuo Uematsu – “One-Winged Angel”

Film composers and pop artists are not the only ones borrowing ideas from classical works. We can also find examples in video game music! One of the most famous pieces of video game music has striking similarities to an early 20th-century ballet. The villain’s theme “One-Winged Angel” by Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu from “Final Fantasy VII” (1997), borrows chords from the “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (1913). Listen to the first few seconds of each clip for the similarities.

5. Billy Joel – “This Night”

Billy Joel once said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” He could just as easily have said “no matter what culture or era we’re from.” In 1984, Joel borrowed the themes from Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” (1799) for his song “This Night.” Listen to the chorus of the song (0:59), then listen to the beginning of the second movement of the sonata.

6. Elvis Presley – “Can’t Help Falling in Love”

There have been many versions of the song “Fools Rush In” throughout the 1900s, but perhaps the most famous version is “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (1972) by Elvis Presley. Did you know that the original melody can be traced all the way back to a French love song from 1784? Listen to “Plaisir d’amour” by Jean-Paul-Egide Martini, and you can’t help but hum along!

7. Robin Thicke – “When I Get You Alone”

The next three examples are recent pop artists who basically built their songs on top of classical pieces. The first is Robin Thicke in his 2002 song “When I Get You Alone.” He used the famous motive from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (1808). He wasn’t the first artist to “modernize” Beethoven’s 5th, though. Thicke actually got his inspiration from Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” (1976). Murphy’s take on this classic has shown up in several movies and dance recitals.

8. Evanescence – “Lacrymosa”

While Beethoven has inspired many modern artists, we can’t forget about the beloved Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In 1791, Mozart began writing his final work, the “Requiem Mass in D minor.” Though incomplete before his early death, his Requiem has stood the test of time. In 2006, Evanescence used the eerie “Lacrimosa” movement in her aptly name song, “Lacrymosa.”

9. Weezer – “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”

This next one uses a very familiar melody. The hymn “Simple Gifts” can be traced all the back to the mid 1800s, though it was made famous by Aaron Copland’s use in “Appalachian Spring.” Fast forward to 2008, the rock band Weezer varied the melody slightly for their song “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.” The “Simple Gifts” melody shows up at 18:10 in this clip of “Appalachian Spring.”

10. Vitamin C – “Graduation (Friends Forever)”

Finally, modern artists have reached all the way back to the late 1600s for inspiration. The famous and highly recognizable chord progression of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” (1680) has inspired many artists throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. Some examples include “Forever Young” by Alphaville, “Hook” by Blues Traveler, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis, “I’ll C U When U Get There” by Coolio, “Basket Case” by Green Day, “Cryin’” by Aerosmith, “Let it Be” by the Beatles, “Push” by Matchbox 20, “Sk8tr Boy” by Avril Lavigne, “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance, and “With or Without You” by U2. Perhaps the most obvious example is “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C from 1999.

Implementing ideas from classical piano composers is a great way to honor the greats of the past and add a unique flair to their own repertoire. Perhaps you can borrow ideas from your favorite composers in your own work!

Erin W.Erin W. teaches in-person piano, singing and music theory lessons in Chicago, IL. She earned her Master’s degree in vocal performance at North Park University, and lived in NYC as a singer, actor and arts instructor. She has performed in many theatre productions, including “Phantom of the Opera in Concert” in NYC and “Into the Woods” in Chicago. Learn more about Erin here!

 

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Feature image by Autumn Welles