piano scores

Crafting Piano Scores | 3 Tips to Get Started

piano scores

Want to learn about writing your own piano scores? Find out how to get started in this guest post by New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...

 

Being a pianist comes in very handy–and not just at family holiday parties when your in-laws are bellowing “Deck The Halls” in your ear as you try to keep some sense of rhythm. The piano is a versatile instrument that allows even the most novice composers to explore a full spectrum of dynamics, textures, and pitch range.

No matter what you’re composing for, the foundation is always based in enhancing the experience. Piano scores, for example, are pieces of music that are written to enhance a moving image, whether that’s a film, a commercial, or any other type of video. To get started, we’ll take a look at a few key elements that will shape your process:

1) Do you have video to work with, or just a concept? If you have the video in its final version, then you have some limitations regarding the tempo. You may need to emphasize a brand’s logo as it appears, or you may want to pause for a punch line. Working backwards and timing your piece from key moments is often the easiest way to set your tempo. If you do not have a video to work with, you have a bit more freedom to write a piece of music that will fit the creative direction your client has given you.

2) Do you have a creative direction? The creative brief is often the most important conversation you can have as a composer with a new client. I look at being a composer as a way to help the director, producer, or agency tell their story. Here are my three key questions that I always ask a collaborator if they don’t have a specific idea of what they want:

  • What are 5-10 words that you would use to describe the story, the video, the feel, and the vibe of the piece? As the composer, you can then act as translators, taking their words and sculpting them into the final piano score.
  • What do you want your viewer to feel or do? Feel inspired? Be so excited they go out and buy something? Feel nostalgic? Your score can help lead to these desired results.
  • Are there any songs or genres of music that have been in the back of the creators’ minds that could work? Anything that would definitely NOT work?

3) Will your score be for piano only, will it be written for other live instruments, or will you be using computer software to create most of the body of the music? (My favorite composing software, and an advertising and film industry standard, is Logic X.) Here are a few considerations for each of these options:

  • Writing for piano only, you will want to see how much dialogue or voice-over is in the video. If there is quite a lot of talking, you won’t want the middle range of the piano (the typical range of a speaking voice is from about middle C to A 440) to compete. You can also use an equalizer in the mix to mitigate any competing frequencies, but that’s a whole other article.
  • If you are writing on the piano initially, with the knowledge that you will be arranging your piece for other instruments, make sure you know the range of each instrument you’re writing for. It’s always a drag to get to a live session, pass out your sheet music (I use Finale to transcribe my pieces) and have the cellist tell you their instrument can’t play the notes you wrote.
  • Writing “in the box,” as in, using mostly or all software instruments, is the option I use most often. It is the fastest way to get a track completed from start to finish. When working with piano in a software system, you can play in all your parts, and then assign each part to a software instrument of your choosing. This process has the added task of mixing so that it sounds authentic and “non-synthy.” Giving each instrument space (by panning, EQ-ing and working with reverb and compression) is key to writing ear-pleasing piano scores. (Again, I could go on for days about this.)

Once you have a strong grasp on the video’s concept and story, the musical creative direction, and your choice of instrumentation, you get to start the fun part: composing! It’s a privilege to provide a creative service that also allows someone else to express their story, their brand, or their ideas, all while crafting a purely enjoyable experience for future viewers and listeners.

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!

 

 

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5 Tips to Accessorize Your First Piano | Beginning Piano Lessons

beginning piano accessories

Before you can start beginning piano lessons, you’ll need to have the right equipment–yes, that means more than just a piano or keyboard! Here, New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E. shares five helpful tips to keep in mind… 

 

Getting your first piano is an exciting time! It’s like meeting your first pet, finding a new roommate, or buying the most amazing piece of furniture you’ll ever own. My first piano was a 1950s Henry Miller upright I bought for $200 in Manhattan. It sits in my Harlem apartment against a living room wall. I was also given a family friend’s 1980 baby grand Steinway when they were downsizing and it is placed in a separate “parlor” room where I teach lessons.

If you’re wondering how to set up your piano and what supplies you’ll need, I’ve found these five tips helpful:

1) Your biggest “accessory” is the piano’s location: Ideally, the piano should be placed close to an inside wall to keep changes in temperature and humidity to a minimum. This will not only keep the piano in tune longer but also help lengthen its life. You will want it to look natural with the room, and most likely have it be the focal point of the room. Upright pianos tend to go up against a wall, though you can also use it as a room divider. Grand pianos are generally placed so that the player has some line of sight to people sitting in the rest of the room. Visit my Pinterest board on piano rooms for some inspiration!

Also, resist the temptation to put your piano centered on a carpet or rug (unless you live in an apartment building and need to dampen sound). The natural way to listen to orchestral instruments, including a piano, is on hard floor. The ear simply wants to hear the reverberation off hard surfaces–this dates back to the baroque and romantic eras of classical music where all concerts were payed on ballroom floors and large stages, all with bare floors around them.

2) Lighting: Table lamps on pianos often cause glare and get in the player’s eyes. I’ve found that a standing light to the side or slightly behind the player is ideal for seeing the keys without casting shadows. Natural light is always a favorite, and overhead lights can also be pleasant for the player and others in the room. Resist the urge to put (and light) candles on your piano! Even if you never light them, the wax is NOT your piano’s friend.

3) Other accessories: I tend to keep my piano clutter-free. No vases, picture frames, or other things on the piano, especially the grand. I like the option to open and close the top for both pianos. Upright pianos are easier to accessorize, though, since they tend to have more flat surface to play with and you are less likely to open the top.

4) Walls: Putting art on the wall, centered above the piano, brings attention to the area and can inspire the player. Choose something you will enjoy looking at as you sit and practice! You can also paint the piano wall a bold color, making it an accent wall within the room and drawing the eye to it.

5) Bench: The bench can be a part of the piano’s style and your design expression. Reupholstering it to add a colorful cushion or painting the top can add a burst of character to the piano room without altering the piano itself.

Whether you’re taking beginning piano lessons or you’re playing at a professional level, trust yourself in what feels right when you are sitting at the piano. If the placement, accessories, lighting, and bench inspire you to play more, than you’ve done the perfect job placing and accessorizing your piano!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!

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How Pentatonic Scales Can Help With Piano Improvisation

keyboard

Curious about pentatonic scales? Learn the basics of how to incorporate them into your improvisation in this guest post by Austin, TX teacher Tosin A..

 

Have you ever heard a great solo? I mean a piano solo that practically hurts your feelings because it’s so good? You think things to yourself like: They can’t be that good. What kind of scales are they using? Are they a wizard?

The honest truth behind it is the brilliant use of pentatonic scales.

Pentatonic Scales 101

A pentatonic scale, as the name suggests, is five notes. There are major, minor, and dominant pentatonic scales that use the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th note of that scale.

For example, C minor pentatonic is:

• C
• Eb
• F
• G
• Bb

While C Major pentatonic would be:

• C
• E
• F
• G
• B

The beautiful thing about these types of scales is that these five notes will fit into any progression in most modes. You can put money on the fact that every blues solo you’ve ever heard used a heavy amount of relative minor pentatonic scales.

Using Pentatonic Scales in a Solo

So how do you use these five magic notes to create a solo people will love?

First, you have to know which scale to use. And that depends on what type of song it is. The general rule is to use the pentatonic scale that matches the key of the song. For example, “My Funny Valentine” is in C minor, so you would use the C minor pentatonic for solos.

There are exceptions, though.

In blues and country songs you can use the minor pentatonic scale even if the song is in a major key. You also don’t have to use its relative minor. Pistol Annie’s “I Feel A Sin Coming On” is part of the F minor pentatonic scale (F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb) with the occasional A, but the song is in F.

Then the question is which notes do I use when?

If the chord progression stays diatonic (no modulations or complicated passing chord changes), you can use any of them at any time. This is why they are so crucial to improvised solos–you have five notes that you know will work for 90% of the solo. That gives you time to think about other notes to play.

An advanced technique to try is matching the notes to the chord progression.

Sticking with F minor pentatonic scale: If the chord is F minor, then the Bb wouldn’t be the best choice. It would work, but any of the other notes work better. Same thing if the chord is C–you may want to stick with C or Eb.

The most important answer to the question above is whichever notes sounds the best. Never forget, all the rules can be broken if it sounds good.

Pentatonic scales are used everywhere. From the long vocal runs you hear your favorite pop stars sing, to the best jazz and blues solos of all time, they all heavily rely on the use of them. Of course, this article is just an introduction to playing pentatonic scales, but it gives you some of the secrets of great musical improvisation and soloing. Chat with your piano teacher if this is something you’d like to learn more about in your lessons!

TosinATosin A. teaches piano, music theory, music composition, public speaking, and various academic subjects in Austin, TX, as well as through online lessons. He has been playing piano for 14 years, and currently plays for his church and 3 bands (La Vida Buena, Savannah Red and The Blueberries, Jackie Venson), and for Improv Comedy Shows around town. Learn more about Tosin here!

 

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5 Steps to Prepare for Piano Lessons in Your Home

in-home piano lessons

Getting excited about your first piano lesson? If you’ve opted for lessons in your home, there are certain ways you can prepare your space beforehand. Continue reading for the checklist from St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...

 

You’ve found the perfect piano teacher. You’ve found a great time slot for lessons that works for everybody. Your piano teacher is prepared to come to you. But how do you prepare for piano lessons in your home? Follow these simple steps, and piano lessons at home will weave their way into your family’s lifestyle seamlessly.

1. Pick a room.

If you have a piano, then you know how tough it is to move. The room that your piano is in will become your lesson room, unless you’re willing to hire piano movers or you’re training for the Iron Man competition! But if you have a keyboard, then you’re able to choose the room in which you’d like the lessons to take place. It’s best to choose a room that’s away from loud distractions and noises, but for parents, consider a room close enough that you’re readily accessible for your child or teacher.

2. Get your piano or keyboard ready.

If you have a keyboard in your home, then be sure that its cables, plugs, and outlets are working safely. Play each key to make sure all of the keys are functional. If you have a piano instead, call a local professional piano tuner for an annual or semi-annual tuning. He’ll also make sure that the sound board, dampers, and strings are in good shape.

3. Parents, talk with all of your kids.

Ideally, every parent would start a family discussion about the importance of respecting the space and time of the young pianist’s lessons. It can be difficult for kids not to jump up on the piano bench with their siblings and start banging the keys. For all they know, it’s just another day of play. Explain to everybody that it’s just like school, only it’s one student and one teacher.

4. Prepare to organize.

My most successful and un-stressed students are those who’ve designated notebooks, binders, and other supplies for piano lessons. Your teacher might have his or her own list of specific supplies to purchase. It prevents valuable lesson time from being wasted by looking through school stuff. For parents to provide a little extra motivation for your young pianist, it can be fun to decorate the lessons binder or notebook with music stickers or drawings.

5. Schedule practice time.

After your initial lessons, your piano teacher will most probably let you and your child know how often he or she’d like to see the student practice. To prepare for piano lessons, sit down and look at your or your child’s schedule and begin to block off time specifically for piano studies during the week. Setting this time aside beforehand is so much better than scrambling and stressing after piano assignments are handed out.

It’s easy to prepare for piano lessons in your home. Just by looking ahead and taking these simple steps, you’ll find that your family will be ready for all the fun and the challenges that come with learning the piano.

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

 

 

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piano music

9 Steps for Writing a Hit Song on the Piano

piano music

What’s the secret to writing beautiful and awe-inspiring piano music? Learn the steps in this guest post by St. Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L...

 

Music industry legend has it that Lady Gaga, being a classically trained musician, writes many of her songs on the piano first. She’s undoubtedly not the only pop, or country, or rock star to use the keys to compose. And if you’re studying piano already, you might be itching to try your hand at your own songwriting.

Allow me to preface by stating that what follows is an old-fashioned method of writing with a pencil, piano, and staff paper. In this day and age, a songwriter has dozens of forms of technology to assist him or her. You can create music with computer software alone, through a keyboard connected to a computer, and even through free or low-cost apps.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about writing piano music like it’s magic—and sometimes it is, but usually it’s pretty simple. As you grow as a musician, you’ll develop your own unique process of songwriting, but here’s my personal process.

1. Decide on a general song idea.
What I mean is to decide on a theme, or perhaps an audience. For instance, you’d think, “I’ll write this one to my husband about our wedding,” or “This song will be centered on the political unrest in Africa.”

2. Choose a key and a tempo.
Each key and each tempo can affect listeners differently and are essential elements in what kind of atmosphere or mood that your song possesses. Play scales and chords in the keys that you’re comfortable with, then choose a key that feels like it fits the theme of what you’re conveying. Pick a tempo that matches your general song idea. Does what you’re saying call for high-energy, high-tempo music in the key of E (bright and cheerful), or does it call for a serene, slow ballad sound in the calm key of C?

3. Learn the I-IV-V-vi chords, if you haven’t yet.
This means the root chord (the chord that shares your key’s name), the dominant (the fifth chord above the root), the subdominant (the fourth chord above the root), and six chord (a minor chord). Some progressions, called the Nashville progression or the pop progression, consist of these. Let’s say that you’ve picked C major for your song. You’d play C, G, Am, and F. Play with fingers 1, 3, and 5 in both hands at the same time.

4. Play the chords in different orders.
Play four beats for each chord in the key and tempo that you’ve chosen, going from one chord to the next in different orders. For instance, play C for four beats, then G for four beats, then Am, then F, then C again. Go slowly and listen carefully. Mix it up and change it around! Start with Am, then F, then C, and end with G. You’ll eventually find a progression, or order, that appeals to you and fits the song’s theme.

5. Write down your progression and keep playing.
Take note of the order that you like best and then play it over and over, thinking about the theme that you’ve decided upon. If you’ve dedicated the song to your mom, then keep her image in your mind, or better yet, have a photo of her on your piano. Listen carefully to the chords and concentrate, and you may be able to “hear” lyrics begin to pop up in your head.

6. Jot down everything.
Every word, every phrase, every chord change should go down on that staff paper, even if you think they sound silly or they don’t sound good together. Something that sounds terrible today may sound great next week, or maybe even in another song that you find yourself working on down the road. Think of yourself simply as a reporter, jotting down what you’re hearing.

7. Think of your song’s lyrics as a box within a box, within a box.
One helpful tip for songwriting, which I learned in an online course from a professor of songwriting at the Berkelee College of Music, is to think of a great song unfolding like a small box that’s found within a larger box, which is found in a larger box still. The first box, or verse, that you open should give a general view of the world that you’ve created in your song. You can open with something general, just like you’re beginning an important conversation. In the second verse, reveal more. If you’re writing a song about a current issue or political statement, then the second verse could mean articulating your views more emphatically and clearly.

8. Build the bridge.
Now, remember, not every song has to have a bridge. Many songs don’t. But I think that it can be a useful element. It can break up a song if you’ve chosen to change keys for it or simply change the progression. But more importantly, the bridge can be the very climax of a song. Think of a ballad from a great singer, such as Whitney Houston or Carrie Underwood, and you’ll probably remember her big high note at the end of the bridge. This moment may be what takes your song from being pedestrian and simplistic to something really memorable. To build the bridge, try playing only the six and fifth chords, or the four and the second chords with two beats each.

9. Make a final draft.
Some songs may be written in a matter of minutes, like John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”, but most take a few days or weeks to polish. Over time, making notes and changes on the original staff paper, a final version will come together. Make a final draft on a new sheet of staff paper with lyrics.

Finally, remember that songwriting is a creative art. While I’ve laid out a formulaic method for how to do it, it’s important to know that it’s a method that’s meant to be bent and broken. The most important step of all in writing piano music is the K.I.S.S. idea: “Keep it simple, silly.”

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

 

 

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digital pianos

Too Many Piano Key Neckties and 14 More Problems Only Pianists Understand

No matter how much you love playing the piano, it can also drive you crazy! Can you relate to these common piano problems?

1. When you’re practicing and you need to turn the page.

Someone please invent a way to turn the page without having to stop playing! Luckily, if you own an iPad, a music app like forScore can help organize your music and turn the pages while you play.

2. When your fingers won’t listen to you.

Sometimes you know in your head exactly what you need to do to play a piece, but your fingers won’t cooperate. Take a deep breath and try again. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.

3. When you’re trying to play with cold hands.

When it’s cold, your fingers can feel stiff or even numb, which doesn’t do your piano technique any favors. If you practice in a cool room, or you’re performing in a chilly venue, bring a hot drink to hold before you play, and wear a pair of fingerless gloves. Warming up before you play is even more important when it’s cold, so keep those Hanon exercises fresh!

4. The horrible feeling of guilt when you miss a day of practice.

It happens to the best of us. Life gets busy and suddenly it’s the end of the day. As your head hits the pillow you realize you didn’t get a chance to practice. Forgive yourself, once, and vow to play tomorrow. Daily practice is the best way to improve!

5. Always wishing your fingers were just a little bit longer.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have hands that span an octave on the keys, there will always be challenging pieces that require more of a stretch. If you’ve got smaller hands, stretch your fingers out before you play and incorporate larger interval reaches, such as octaves, ninths, and tenths, into your warm up.

6. When you memorized a piece last night but forget it in the morning.

How does this happen? Sometimes when we are over-tired or simply aren’t practicing with enough focus, new pieces can slip our minds overnight. The good news is, if you learned it once you can definitely learn it again!

7. And when you nail a piece in practice but mess up at your lesson.

You play it perfectly all day, but the instant you start to play for your teacher your fingers turn into Jell-O. Try to stay relaxed at your piano lessons and take time outside lessons to practice playing in front of other people. We tend to make more mistakes when we’re nervous, just as we play more beautifully when we are relaxed.

8. When the key signature has five flats.

Take deep breaths and proceed with caution! Some keys are trickier than others, but with patience and perseverance you’ll master those tricky sharps and flats.

9. When someone is playing the piano in a movie…

…and you can’t help but criticize their technique. If only there had been a piano teacher on set!

10. When you own all of the piano key neckties…

white-microfiber-piano-keys-printed-tie-229982-505-800-0

Piano shoes…

Cattle-cattle-hand-painted-shoes-canvas-shoes-low-velcro-cow-muscle-outsole-women-s-shoes-lovers.jpg_350x350

Piano mugs…

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…and piano everything all the time. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and your heart just happens to be a piano. Whether you got these piano items as gifts or you buy them yourself, you can’t help but notice you are surrounded.

11. When you visit someone’s house and you notice they have a piano.

“Do you mind if I play for a minute… or an hour? You know what, if you need me, I’ll just be here with your piano.”

12. When your piano gets out of tune.

Suddenly, nothing sounds quite right and your practice time becomes increasingly frustrating. Getting a new piano tuned four times a year for the first year and twice a year following that should keep the off-key blues away. Some pianists recommend having your piano tuned when seasons are changing, as changes in temperature and humidity can affect the tune of your instrument.

13. When you’re transposing difficult music.

Transposing can be tedious work! Keep your Circle of Fifths handy and give yourself plenty of time to work through the music.

14. When you have to move your piano.

Pianos are big and heavy, so moving your baby is a serious chore. Whether you’re rearranging your house or moving across the country, moving your piano can be quite a headache. It’s best to avoid moving your piano if you don’t have to. If you must move it, hire a professional mover to make sure nothing gets damaged.

15. When you realize you can’t live without piano!

In spite of all these piano problems, you love your instrument. You’ve got a true passion for tickling the ivories and you wouldn’t have it any other way!

Is there anything we missed? Tell us all about your piano-playing problems in the comments below!

 

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Comparing Piano Teaching Methods | Bastien Piano Basics, Suzuki, & More

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As you search for local piano teachers, you might notice some teachers listing specific teaching methods on their TakeLessons profile. Here, St. Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L. explains what each really means…

 

Over the length of its history, American piano pedagogy has changed dramatically. In its earliest days, when families and communities braved the broad frontier of our continent, music was written on animal hides and skins. Only families who were wealthy enough to afford a keyboard instrument, or lucky enough to have a local schoolhouse or neighbor with one, had the opportunity to take piano lessons. For many years students were taught to curl their fingers drastically when they played, as if they were holding a small ball. Now, we teach to curve naturally and softly.

Other aspects of piano teaching methodology have grown and developed, as well, and several have come about in the last 60 years. The following is an introduction to the most popular teaching methods of the last decade that I’ve seen as a piano instructor.

Suzuki Method

“I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”
—Shin’ichi Suzuki

The late Japanese violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki created the Suzuki method, one of the most popular methods for teaching instruments, especially to young children. He believed that every child could become well-educated and that every child could learn how to play a musical instrument in the same way in which they learned language. For Suzuki, it was all about learning from your environment. If the pedagogical steps were small enough, a positive and encouraging environment was nurtured, and the instruments were scaled down to a child’s size, then any child could learn to perform at a very high level. Within the past 50 years, piano teachers began instructing children in the Sukuki method.

The primary criticism of the Suzuki method is that its focus on memorization, group playing, and extensive listening to recordings leads to poor sight reading ability and a virtual absence of personal musical expression. Essentially, critics see it as just a method to churn out little cookie-cutter pianists. In response, Suzuki teachers have incorporated sight reading earlier into their curriculum and re-emphasized the development of individual style. Suzuki piano books are available in 10 volumes.

Bastien Piano Basics

“Never before, nor since, has there been a piano method as easy to follow, as pedagogically sound, as exciting to look at, as musical to play – and as well-designed for motivation, achievement, and success as BASTIEN PIANO BASICS.”
—www.KJOS.com (website of Bastien publisher, Neil A. Kjos)

The Bastien Piano Basics, available from the Neil A. Kjos publishing company, is made up of five levels of learning: primer, for the very youngest piano student, and increasingly more challenging levels one, two, three, and four. Typically, the primer series is used for children aged four and five, but as a teacher myself, I’ve seen its usefulness in the lessons of those who are six and seven. They are filled with colorful, albeit dated, illustrations and fun themes. Each level is completely correlated, which means that each page in the theory book is meant to work on the same concept or technique as a page in the performance book and in the lesson book.

While this is a very popular method, critics hold that both the Alfred (detailed below) and Bastien methods’ emphasis on position playing (that is, placing hands in “C position” or “F position,” for example) results in students who lack a lot of sight reading and technical skills. Your child might end up only able to play pieces that have the hands in a certain position. Real music literature just isn’t set up like that. While I teach the Bastien piano method, I prefer the next one.

The Music Tree by Frances Clark and Louise Goss

Published by Summy-Birchard Inc. and distributed by Warner Bros., The Music Tree emphasizes sight reading, rhythm, theory, and most importantly, intervallic reading. This means reading by recognizing the distance, or intervals, between notes. Learning this way not only helps prepare students for the wide world of real music, but also helps you read faster. The method consists of workbooks, even one for your teacher!

Alfred Piano Method

While this method also teaches position playing, it also dives into intervallic reading, as described above. Many true, albeit arranged, baroque, romantic, and classical piano pieces are featured without a lot of fluff and fanfare. This may be an ideal method for more serious, self-motivated students. The Alfred method is featured in a variety of books, including an all-in-one piano course for children, a prep course, and a basic piano library, completely correlated and presented in progressive levels.

Faber and Faber Method

With this teaching method, Nancy and Randall Faber created a well-liked and approachable series for both young and old beginners to grow with. Colorful graphics and good practice suggestions, like counting aloud, are terrific features of this set. The flaws are, yet again, a focus on position playing and the fact that it takes such a long time for you to get to play classical repertoire that isn’t arranged.

Beware of “miracle methods,” which claim to be able to teach you to play the keyboard in a matter of days. Sure, you’ll be able to play a song, but you won’t be able to read music and therefore learn another instrument or grow as a pianist. They’re also often not pedagogically sound.

The Suzuki method, Bastien piano basics, and the Clark, Faber, and Alfred methods—even though this certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, you’ll see that a variety of piano methods abound. Preferences vary between teachers. Different students respond better to different methods. With the help and guidance of your piano teacher and knowing your or your child’s learning style, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which is best for your studies.

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

 

 

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Can Labeling Your Piano Keys Help You Learn Faster?

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Struggling to remember which key is which on the piano? One common learning strategy is to label the keys. Read on as St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her thoughts on the method…

 

Can labeled piano keys help you learn faster? This is a highly controversial topic and hotly debated in the music education world.

Having come from a high-pressure, formal music college, at the beginning of my teaching career I disliked the idea of any labeling for any age, either on the keys or in the sheet music. And I had previously spent years teaching myself music on the piano, labeling notes on the page with their letter names. It would take me forever to learn a piece of music, because the labeling caused me to focus on individual notes instead of larger chunks of music, like chords. As a young piano teacher, I was afraid that labeling piano keys would handicap my students in a similar way. Over the years, however, the non-academic reality of teaching students of all ages and meeting their challenges has set in.

Strong memorization skills are part of a successful piano career. It’s essential to memorize the letter names of all of the piano keys, eventually. In the meantime, though, for young children up to about age 10, for beginning adult students, and for any student who finds him or herself feeling frustrated over which key is which, labeling your piano keys may help you learn faster.

So, what’s the best way to label the keys?

My professional opinion is that labeling the piano keys with coded colors is superior to labeling with letter names or with images of a note’s location on the music staff. All three kinds of labeling encourage memorization, but with color coding, the labeling becomes not such a big crutch. You still have to remember other descriptions of the note that you’re reading and playing. For instance, if you label your piano keys with color coding (e.g. green dot stickers on all Gs, red dot stickers on all Cs), you have to remember, still, which color means which letter name. That, in itself, is building memory skills. Labeling with images of a note’s location on the music staff, in my opinion, handicaps a student. It discourages the processing of new information in large chunks. Science has shown that people with the greatest memories memorize in that way, so I’d rather my students learn where all of the Cs are, where all of the Gs are, and so on, and not to focus primarily on where each individual note is on the music staff.

Below is an example of how you can label your keys with letter names on simple, blank circle stickers from any major office supply retailer. What you see here, the letters C through C, should be repeated all the way up the keyboard.

labeled piano keys
And here is an example of how to label the keys with images where they are notated on a music staff:

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Yet another way to label is to use only certain letter names. For instance, label only Cs, Fs, and A’s, leaving the rest of the piano keys blank. This further encourages memorizing in groups of information.

Finally, with the guidance of a piano teacher, students can be weaned away from the labels by gradually removing them, perhaps two or three every week. Eventually, the notes will be memorized and reading piano music will become much easier.

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

 

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Play Me, I'm Yours, Day 7 - Jul 01, 2010 - 17

Piano Resources: 7 Piano Blogs We Love

As a student, teacher, or even professional musician, sometimes you need to have an outlet that whisks you away from lessons and routine practicing. After all, it doesn’t need to be all scales and etudes!

The Internet can be a useful tool for this, as it’s a great way to connect with others who share our passions. Whether you simply need a break, some inspiration, or advice on a technique you’re struggling to master—others are out there ready to share, guide, and help. Here are some of our favorite piano resources and blogs to check out:

Color In My Piano

color in my piano

Attention, teachers: this one’s for you! Color In My Piano is hosted by blogger Joy Marin, who is based in Ohio and has been teaching group and private lessons since 2005. The majority of her posts are geared toward helping fellow instructors, offering teaching tips, ways to inspire students, and advice on how to set your studio policies. You’ll also find various piano resources, including printable worksheets, piano app reviews, and repertoire lists.

Piano Addict

Piano Addict

Piano Addict is all about breathing, living, and discovering everything piano! Here, students, teachers, professional musicians, composers, and music fanatics can stay up to date with the variety of articles, news, artist profiles, and more. It doesn’t matter if you are a classical or contemporary fan, this site is for piano addicts of all types!

The Collaborative Piano Blog

Collaborate Piano Blog

The Collaborative Piano Blog is exactly what it sounds like—a blog about accompanying and working with others. As a musician, you won’t always be a soloist—you may be a part of a band, ensemble, or group. Your role may vary, and each atmosphere demands a different skill set. In this blog, piano teacher Scott Foley dives into the world of piano, providing a comprehensive guide to collaborative piano (a potential career for pianists), news, event listings, and more. You can also get access to his free e-book, 31 Days to Better Practicing, which is a great resource if you want to make your piano practice more effective!

Frances Wilson’s Piano Studio

Frances Wilson's Piano Studio

Frances Wilson’s blog is a fantastic resource for students, teachers, and piano enthusiasts. It’s packed full of excellent information, including lesson plans for teachers, song recordings for your listening pleasure, infographics, guest posts and interviews with other piano teachers, and much more! And as if this blogger isn’t busy enough, check out The Cross-Eyed Pianist, her companion blog that covers music, pianism, and culture.

Kids & Keys

Kids & Keys

Dana Rice created the blog Kids & Keys with the hope of reaching teachers and parents of kids learning to play piano. Not only is her blog super-cool and easy to navigate, it’s also chock-full of information to help with motivating, inspiring, and teaching young musical minds, which is not always an easy task! Alongside advice on songwriting, practicing, and performing, you can also find printables to get your creative juices flowing.

The Blue Note Classical Piano Blog

The Blue Note

While Kids & Keys is lighthearted and fun, The Blue Note Classical Piano Blog takes a more cerebral look into classical music. But don’t let that scare you or your student off—you’ll find incredibly valuable content about technique, composers, and issues that arise as we teach and learn the piano. One of the best entries, Opus 10, no.1, talks about the necessity of why you do what you do when you are learning. What do scales help you accomplish? Why should you think small? Sometimes a dissected look into the components of learning the piano can give you an “Aha!” moment as to how it all comes together in the big picture. It’s easy to complain about practicing the “boring” stuff, but just look what that boring stuff will help you accomplish in the future!

Music Matters

Music Matters

Natalie Wickham may have a piano studio in Kansas, but her blog Music Matters reaches a much bigger audience! It’s full of helpful articles, ideas for parents, and piano resources for students. There’s also a huge list of links in pretty much any category you might want to explore, from finding local teachers to finding free piano sheet music.

The Internet has expanded our global connections. It doesn’t matter where you live—you have access to amazing experts and professionals in the music world, whether you’re looking for local piano teachers or simply resources and videos to supplement your learning. These blogs are only a small glimpse into what is available to you. Have fun exploring what’s out there!

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Piano Theory Worksheets: The What, the Why, and the Where

piano theory worksheets

Think piano practice is all about physically practicing scales and exercises? Think again! Piano worksheets can be great “homework” for young students – and as parents, you can use them to help your child brush up on what they’ve learned! Find out more in this guest post from Des Moines, IA piano teacher Mariana P...

 

During the past few years piano worksheets have been getting a bad rap. Many parents and teachers feel worksheets waste time, as they only “teach” what a child already knows; some even consider them to be developmentally inappropriate. However, I believe that the right worksheets can be very beneficial for piano students of all levels. Piano theory worksheets–or those covering whatever topic your child is working on at the time–are an easy, inexpensive, effective, and fun way to introduce knowledge of music terms and concepts.

How to Help Your Child with Piano Worksheets

How can you as a parent help your piano student with worksheets? First, ask your teacher what your child needs help with if they haven’t informed you already. Piano method books are great, but for some students, they might be moving too quickly for them to grasp a particular concept solidly enough and move on to the next one. A beginning student may be struggling to understand basic concepts like finger numbers, dynamics, or note names, while others may be having a hard time with chords, intervals, and transposition.

Luckily, there is a plethora of worksheets available online and at your local music store. I recommend sticking to one subject at a time to ensure the comprehension of the subject before moving on. Learning music is a cumulative process and if one concept is weak, the following ones will be too. (Think of it like trying to learn how to multiply if your addition skills are shaky.)

Where Can You Find Piano Worksheets?

Your child’s piano teacher may assign certain worksheets, or you can search on your own based on what your child is working on. Online is a great place to start looking. Lesson plan marketplaces such as Teachers Pay Teachers, Teacher’s Notebook, and Etsy are all great options. If you find those sites a bit overwhelming, many piano blogs offer free worksheets and printables. Keep in mind that some concepts are universal to all musicians, so if you’re feeling brave, take a look at the blogs of other music teachers besides piano. Last and certainly not least, check out Pinterest! You can find thousands of worksheets and boards devoted to music and piano. Check out my music theory worksheets board here, and take a look at TakeLessons’ board all about piano here!

If scouring the internet for worksheets is not an option for you, head down to your local music store and don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help; remember, they are musicians too! Most music publishers like Alfred, Bastien, and Faber will have notespellers, color-by-note, and other short books with tons of worksheets and games all organized by level.

Lastly, include your child in the search for these piano theory worksheets, whether it be online or at a store. When they see you spending time in order to help them, they will know how much you care about them and their success. You will also show them that their opinion matters, making them more likely to put in the work to improve their skills. Happy searching!

MarianaPMariana C. teaches piano, singing, and Spanish lessons in Des Moines, IA. She has a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Master of Music in Vocal Pedagogy at the Catholic University of America. Learn more about Mariana here! 

 

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