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In the Pits: How to Succeed as an Orchestral Pianist

Successful Piano Training Being a piano player may seem like a very solitary way to go about learning an instrument. As a piano student, you may yearn to make music with others, and if you’re naturally drawn toward group music making, it may be that you already study an orchestral instrument, or sing with a choir. You may also have extended your piano training to accompany some of your friends for concerts or exams, or explored the wide variety of chamber music repertoire available involving the piano. However, had you considered the sheer quantity of orchestral music that requires a piano, aside from the obvious concerto repertoire?

Orchestral Works with Piano

Your piano training to date has no doubt included not just standard scales and finger exercises, but solo piano repertoire as well, ranging from stand-alone pieces to complete sonatas. For more advanced students, your teacher may have introduced transcriptions of famous symphonic works for you to play together as duet material. However, many late romantic and twentieth century orchestral works employ the piano as an instrument in its own right.

A famous example is the last movement of Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (also known as the “Organ Symphony”), where the piano adds color to the string statement of the main motif.  In the clip below, you can clearly see the positioning of the piano in the orchestra.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with other orchestral keyboard instruments, too; celeste parts are very common, for example. Many Prokofiev symphonies have a prominent piano part, and the increasingly popular symphonies of Bohuslav Martinu all require an orchestral pianist.

Operatic Works with Piano

The life of the orchestral pianist isn’t limited to the concert platform; many operatic works incorporate a piano into the pit orchestra, or even require a pianist to be onstage as part of the action – an excellent opportunity for the more outgoing performer, but not so much fun for the player used to hiding behind the keyboard. Britten’s village comedy Albert Herring requires a pianist for the recitatives, and Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss) and Dialogues des Carmelites (Francis Poulenc) make use of the piano not just for orchestral color, but as an important instrument on its own. Celeste, harpsichord, and even glass harmonica parts are very common, and all demand an experienced and accomplished orchestral keyboard player.

What to Study to Become an Orchestral Pianist

The skills you need to become an orchestral pianist are slightly different from those you’ll need to play as a solo pianist, or even to accompany one or two musicians or take part in chamber music. If a career as an orchestral pianist and keyboard player interests you, your piano training will need to incorporate some very specific disciplines.

You will need to be able to:

  • Follow a beat – As a soloist, you can set your own tempo. An orchestral player, on the other hand, will need to accurately follow someone else’s speed.
  • Learn to watch rather than listen – You are likely to be 20 feet or more away from the conductor, perhaps even buried in or behind the percussion section. If you make the mistake of listening to the orchestra to know when to come in, you may end up behind the beat.
  • Accurately count many bars rest – This may seem like a simple skill, and wind and brass players almost seem to be born with it. However, it’s not as simple as it seems. You may be resting for most of a movement, yet have to play a brilliant and exposed solo toward the end. Don’t get distracted when you’re counting!
  • Interpret dynamics in relation to texture – You will need to identify whether you are providing orchestral color (and therefore you shouldn’t actually be “heard” as an individual instrument), or if you are providing a specific piano effect.
  • Read an orchestral score – Your piano training will benefit strongly from learning how to read full scores, as you will learn how your part fits in with the rest of the music.

The Life of an Orchestral Pianist

Although the life of the orchestral pianist isn’t quite as lonely as that of the soloist can be, you will still find yourself with a lot more time off than your colleagues, and you may not feel that you are “part of things” in the same way the string or woodwind players are. As with all musical disciplines and career paths, it’s important to build interests and relationships outside of work. Many musicians find that an active teaching practice, for example, helps them to refocus.

Music isn’t always easy or necessarily financially rewarding – however, that’s not why we do it! Have fun exploring the different avenue of piano training, and see what interests you the most!

 

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4 Songs That Every Classical Pianist Should Learn

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Which classical piano songs should you have in your repertoire? Check out four of the most well-known pieces here, as complied by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...

 

This is simply a list of four of the most time-tested and beautiful classical piano songs of all time. If you don’t know how to play these yet, you should learn them right away!

1. Moonlight Sonata

This has withstood the test of time, considering that it was composed by Beethoven in 1801. The part of this sonata that everybody knows is the first of the three movements, Adagio sostenuto. The full name for the entire work is The Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2. “Quasi una fantasia” translates as “sonata in the manner of a fantasy.” So, how did the name “Moonlight Sonata” stick with this composition? A German critic named Ludwig Rellstab commented that the first movement gave the imagery of moonlight on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. By the late 19th century, “Moonlight Sonata” became the universally accepted title. Here’s Wilhelm Kempff, one of the greatest piano players of all time playing it:

Free sheet music can be found here.

2. Fur Elise

It seems Beethoven was good enough to make it onto this list twice! The full name for this piano piece is Bagatelle 25 in A minor, Op. 59. Fur Elise was composed in 1810 and was finally published in 1867, which was long after Beethoven’s death in 1827. Music scholar Ludwig Nohl discovered and published the composition. The title in English is “For Elise”. But, as to who Elise was, no one is really certain. There is even a chance that Nohl could have mistaken Elise for Therese, who was a close friend and student of Beethoven’s. Here is the great Ivo Pogorelic playing this classic:

Free sheet music can be found here.

3. Ave Maria

Ave Maria has been performed extensively with many different lyrics and arrangements. You might have seen it in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. The full name for the work is Ellens Gesung III, D. 839, Op. 52, No. 6. It was composed by Franz Schubert in 1825 as the sixth of seven songs that were based on the epic poem The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott. A little over 10 years later, Franz Liszt wrote three arrangements of the piece for piano. The incredible pianist Lang Lang can be seen giving a very moving performance of it here:

Free sheet music can be found here.

4. Clair de lune

The French title translates to “moonlight.” This is the third of four movements from The Suite Bergamasque by Claude Debussy. Debussy actually started composing the suite in 1890 and later finished and published it in 1905. The work was inspired by the poem of the same name by the French poet Paul Verlaine. Here is a clip of Angela Hewitt performing the piece:

Free sheet music can be found here.

It’s easy to see how these classical piano songs are still popular today. If you haven’t yet worked on them in your piano lessons, you’ll probably run into them at some point! I hope you enjoy learning and playing these wonderfully composed classics!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!

 

 

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5 Famous Piano Songs You’ll Instantly Recognize

Classic Piano Songs The piano is a beautiful instrument, capable of playing a wide array of sounds, from soft or staccato to broadly lyrical and even grandiose and rhapsodic. The ability of a composer to create such a huge range of emotions and portray a large variety of settings and ideas on the piano goes a long way in explaining why certain famous piano songs have stood the test of time and are still instantly recognizable to listeners. This also explains why these famous piano songs are often used to accompany scenes in movies, commercials, and television shows, or are often performed at recitals and weddings. These five pieces below are just some of the most beloved songs that form the soundtrack to our lives.

1. Ludwig van Beethoven, “Moonlight Sonata”

There is no classical music composer whose music better exemplifies emotion and heart than Beethoven. As one of the earliest great Romantic Era musicians, Beethoven bore his emotions openly, and his music is expressive, brooding, and full of feeling. And, as many know, his music is made even more amazing when we know that he lost his hearing in early adulthood and was completely deaf by the time he wrote many of his masterpieces! His expressive spirit is exemplified in the famous “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, No. 2″ (nicknamed the “Moonlight Sonata”). The first movement, marked Adagio sostenuto, is the most recognizable, with its smoothly moving triplet motive in the right hand and the heavy, pedantic melody in the low bass line. True to the adopted name of the piece, the tune offers a beautiful mental image of a melancholy moonlit night.

2. Claude Debussy, “Clair de lune”

French composer Debussy is the epitome of the Impressionist style of music. His pieces are soft, light, and dreamy, suggesting seascapes and tranquil natural settings. The famous “Clair de lune” (which translates to “light of the moon”) is actually the third movement from his larger piano composition “Suite bergamasque”. “Clair de lune” has been used in countless movies and television shows to depict a soft and dreamlike state and is loved by classical music fans for its gentle beauty. The pianist is able to use the higher end of the keyboard and use a certain lightness of the fingers to musically imitate twinkling and soft moonlight.

3. Frederic Chopin, “March Funèbre”

Whenever movies and television shows need music that instantly makes people think of morbid settings and ideas of death, they often turn to the second movement of Chopin’s “Piano Sonata No. 2″, aptly marked “Marche Funèbre” (“funeral march”). This instantly recognizable melody is slow, heavy, and oppressive, mimicking the feeling of marching slowly through a street while carrying a casket.

4. Ludwig van Beethoven, ”Für Elise”

Beethoven’s piano music is so universally well-known and beloved that he deserves a second mention in this list! The full name of this piece is “Bagatelle in A Minor” but most people will recognize it more under the name “Für Elise”. This music is famous both because of its beautiful lyrical melody and because it is a standard repertoire piece for young or beginning piano students who are starting to learn more substantial piano music. The right and left hands play constant eighth note lines that weave in and out of each other to create a beautiful and smooth texture.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Rondo alla turca”

Everybody knows the name Mozart and recognize him as one of the greatest composers and pianists in all of music history. However, not as many know that he was a child prodigy – composing music and touring all of Europe as a performer at the age of five! – and also quite an impish and mischievous jokester throughout his short life. He also lived during a time when Eastern influence, especially from Turkey, was incredibly trendy in Western Europe. All of these elements combine beautifully in the third movement of his “Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331″, marked Rondo all turca (“Rondo in the Turkish style”). The music is fast, energetic, playful, and rhythmic. The ornamentations that emphasize the half-step interval that is indicative of Eastern music and the quick flourishes mimic the flash of cymbals and bells.

These five famous piano songs are just the beginning when it comes to the wonderfully expansive world of gorgeous piano music that is out there just waiting for you to explore. The first step in learning how to play these beautiful pieces is signing up for private piano lessons. Your teacher will help guide you through the process of learning this music and developing the skills you need in order to perform these famous piano songs with mastery. Good luck!

 

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10 Incredibly Talented Animals Playing The Piano

They say that music soothes the savage beast. If that’s true, these amazing animals are miles away from savage. Get ready for some seriously cute material, and check out these four-legged pianists!

1. Nora The Piano Cat

Can you even talk about animals playing the piano without mentioning Nora the Piano Cat? According to her bio, this talented feline observed her owner giving piano lessons and decided to take matters into her own paws. Nora reportedly practices the piano daily and recently performed live via webcam in a “Catcerto” with orchestral accompaniment.

2. Tucker The Schnoodle

Another dedicated pianist, Tucker the Schnoodle, practices his craft three to four times a day according to his humans. Not content with merely tickling the ivories, Tucker sings to accompany his playing.

3. Peter The Elephant

This pachyderm loves playing the piano with the tip of his trunk! Peter lives in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand where he is free to explore his musical talent. He even dabbles in playing the clarinet!

4. Otters

Otters are known as the curious and playful puppies of the sea. So naturally, when this group of otters at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo were given the chance to try out a keyboard, things got a little loud.

5. The Bunny

Of course, some performers are divas. This house bunny plays piano, but not without the promise of tasty treats from her human.

6. Thimble The Pig

Speaking of divas, Thimble the Pig is in a class all her own. She has her own instrument, fabulous costumes, and don’t forget the treats!

7. Keyboard Cat

A true pioneer in the field of animals playing the piano, Keyboard Cat was originally filmed in 1984, well before the rise of YouTube. Although Keyboard Cat, AKA Fatso, has long passed away, he continues to inspire the next generation of piano-playing animals.

8. Bella the Dog

Okay, Bella isn’t technically playing the piano, but with assistance from a human friend, this still makes for a pretty hilarious video.

9. The Hedgehog

The hedgehog’s piano composition starts with a walking bassline, and keeps moving all the way up the keys.

10. Shaeffer And Norm

For the grand finale, a puppy duet! These two make a great pair, and their rendition of “Happy Birthday” is sure to make you smile.

What do you think? Which animal plays piano the best? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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How to Make Learning Piano Scales Easier

Piano Scale Learning Made Easy Learning an instrument can be a challenging but also rewarding pastime. If you’re a student of piano, learning piano scales can help lay the foundation for developing your skills as well as give you a better understanding of music, since most songs are based around the movement of scales. Learning piano scales can even get you started composing your own songs!

Scales, chords, and related piano exercises are a fun and useful addition to your daily practice ritual. The primary scales are the 12 major and 36 minor scales (natural, harmonic, and melodic). Learning piano scales will help you develop finger awareness and muscle memory, keyboard familiarity, confidence, technique, and an understanding of music composition.  With a thorough knowledge of the scales, developing a high level of proficiency on the piano will be much easier!

The Major Scales

The major scales are usually the first ones you’ll learn. To begin, work on a single octave, up and down the scale and focus on the fingering of each note first using your left hand, then the right. Once you’re comfortable, extend the range to include a second octave, and then practice using both hands simultaneously.

The major scales are all created using the same formula. It is:

WS = whole step      HS = half step

WS – WS – HS  - WS –WS – WS – HS

Starting on any note and using this formula will give you the major scale for that note.  When practicing scales, use the Cycle of Fourths. This is a pattern of moving root notes the interval of a fourth to the next scale.

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Begin playing the C major scale, move to F major, then Bb major through the cycle.  Next, reverse the pattern and the cycle counterclockwise (C major, G major, D major, etc.) to master the Cycle of Fifths!

Fourths and fifths are strong intervals found throughout Western music. By working on these scales in patterns of fourths and fifths, you will begin to develop your ear and recognize the intervals in any music you are playing.

As you’re playing the major scales, listen to the notes. Because they are built using the same formula, they share the same sound relationship. This is the “intervallic” relationship of the major scales.

Minor Scales

Mastering the major scales will then help you as you learn the minor scales. There are three variations: the natural, harmonic, and melodic. The natural minor is also called pure minor. The harmonic and melodic minor scales are variations built from the natural minor.

The relative minor scale is the minor scale sharing the same key signature as its related major scale.  The relative minor is formed from the 6th degree of the major scale and shares that major’s key signature.

C MAJOR SCALE:  C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Counting the first C, the note A is the 6th degree of the C major scale. A minor is the relative minor for C major.

C MAJOR RELATIVE NATURAL MINOR SCALE – A MINOR:  A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

This is the formula to determine the natural minor scale for every major key. There are two variations on the natural minor scale, the first being harmonic minor. The harmonic minor scale is based on the natural minor with the 7th degree raised 1/2 step.

A HARMONIC MINOR: A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A

The third minor scale variation is called melodic minor. The melodic minor scale consists of the natural minor with the 6th and 7th degrees raised 1/2 step when playing up the scale; when descending the 6th and 7th degrees are lowered 1/2 step, so you play the natural minor scale descending.

A MELODIC MINOR ASCENDING: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A

A MELODIC MINOR DESCENDING: A-G-F-E-D-C-B-A

Learning piano scales is an important part of your practice. You will develop technique,and finger control by memorizing them. Slow methodical practice can help you to memorize these scales and develop muscle memory. Begin by working on and memorizing the major scales, then use the formula to figure out the related natural minor scales. It can also be helpful to get some manuscript paper and write them down. Keep the major and related minor scales together to reinforce their connection.

Of course, if you study privately, you can ask your piano teacher for help. They’ll be thrilled that you’re showing an interest in the building blocks of Western music! Your teacher can also offer you tips for learning piano scales, variations on practice patterns, and more based on what they’ve learned through their own studies. Now… get to work!

 

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6 Celebrities Who Play the Piano | Test Your Knowledge

Did you know there are an array of famous celebrities who know how to play a piano? We’re not talking chopsticks here, folks. From actors to politicians and beyond, there is a long history of pianists that have gone on to spectacular careers.

Are you familiar with these high-flying celebrities who know how to play a piano?

1.  Clint Eastwood

Clint EastwoodBefore he made it big as an actor, Clint Eastwood was an accomplished pianist who intended to pursue a career in music. He later utilized his composing skills in creating the film scores of several movies he directed, including Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Changeling, and Hereafter.

2.  Hugh Laurie

Hugh LaurieAn accomplished pianist who began learning how to play a piano at the age of six, Hugh Laurie not only has two solo albums, but was also a guest artist on Meatloaf’s 2010 album “Hello Cool Teddy Bear”.

3.  Jamie Foxx

jamie foxxJamie Foxx began learning how to play a piano at age five, eventually playing piano at local church services. He later attended United States International University on a music scholarship, where he studied study classical music and composition. In his Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles in Ray, it is actually Mr. Foxx’s fingers tickling the ivories.

4.  Richard Gere

Richard GereRichard Gere started early as a musician. He played a number of instruments in high school, including the piano, and wrote music for high school productions. In his infamous role in Pretty Woman, Gere in fact composed the piece of music he was seen playing in the film.

5.  Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza RiceCondoleezza Rice began learning how to play a piano as a teenager and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist before pursuing her degrees in International Relations and Economics. She had the opportunity to accompany renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma for the 2002 National Medal of Arts Awards and still plays the piano often today.

6.  Jeff Goldblum

Jeff-GoldblumBefore he was an actor, Jeff Goldblum made a name for himself playing piano in cocktail lounges around Pittsburgh. Nowadays, when he’s not acting, he plays regularly at home, in addition to nearly weekly jazz shows at the LA club Rockwell.

Want to Go Down in Infamy?

Do you or your children find yourself entranced in the presence of pianists and wish you too could learn how to play a piano? Whether you’re looking for a beautiful escape or a long-term career, private piano lessons are a great way to further your interests and improve your skills. Sharpen your life skills and open up new pathways to creativity with the help of music today!

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Photo credits: Heelow, jazztimes.com, Virgin Media, Daily Mail Online, USA Today, New York TimesReviewSTL

Additional Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/is-music-the-key-to-success.html?pagewanted=all
http://parade.condenast.com/211922/linzlowe/did-you-know-10-celebs-who-play-musical-instruments/#celeb-musicians-clint-eastwood
http://musictoyourhomeblog.com/2014/03/13/6-celebrities-you-didnt-know-could-rock-an-instrument/
http://www.playpiano.com/Articles/37-famouspeoplepiano.htm

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Essential Scales for Jazz and Blues Piano Players

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Curious about playing jazz or blues on the piano? Learn about some of the essential scales to learn in this guest post by Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L...

 

Jazz music has been called the only truly American art form, born and raised on this very soil. A combination of the historical music forms of both African and Caribbean slaves and European immigrants, it may be the only way in which the “melting pot” objective was ever successful. To listen to jazz is to listen to America. For pianists, it can be a challenging and illusive genre. Many classically trained piano players never even attempt to learn it, while some would love to try, but just don’t know how. There are essential scales that jazz and blues players should know.

While jazz and blues (considered a sub-genre of jazz) may sometimes sound complex, it’s built very simply from the bottom up, so to speak. Major and minor scales and chords are most certainly used, but some things must be different in order for it not to sound like anything else. Here’s a list of essential scales for jazz and blues piano players. When you read “played over ______ chords,” it simply means to play the scales indicated in either hand while playing a chord in the other. Try different combinations, like playing a chord in the right hand, while playing a scale in the left.

The following scales are best played over major chords.

G blues scale
G Bb C Db D F G

C blues scale
C Eb F Gb G Bb C

Lydian mode scale
C D E F# G A B C

Mixolydian mode scale
C D E F G A Bb C

The following scales are best played over minor chords.

Aeolian mode scale
C D Eb F G Ab Bb A

Dorian mode scale
C D Eb F G A Bb C

The following scales are just fun!

Dominant Bebop Scale
C E G B C B Bb A G (then descend) F E D C

Major Bebop Scale
C E G B C B A Ab G (then descend) F E D C

Lydian Dominant Scale
C E G Bb C (then descend) Bb A G F# E D C

Get creative. The real idea here is not just to play the scales ascending and descending, but to improvise using the notes of the scales. The more that you practice these essential scales for jazz and blues piano players, the more comfortable that you’ll feel playing them and the more sounds that you’ll create. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve told me that they “can’t” improvise or play jazz, and while I know that some people have natural gifts, I also know that the best work hard. Oh, and have fun, too!

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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Long-Live the Keytar: 4 Reasons Why This Portable Piano Should Come Back in Style

Keytar Fun The piano is an instrument that will never go out of style. The various forms of electronic keyboards, however, have seen waves of popularity, as technology advances and exciting new features are added to new models. While some keyboardists are content to stay horizontal, a handful of musical trailblazers have been known to work their magic on that most interesting hybrid of instruments – the keytar. Whether you’re new to learning keyboard, or a seasoned expert, the keytar can be a fun instrument to explore.

Check out these four reasons why the keytar deserves its niche in the world of popular band instruments.

       1. They’re more portable for travel than stand-up keyboards.

Some keyboardists are inseparable from their massive setups, with big stands, multiple keyboards, extra controls, and more. However, many touring artists prefer to have less baggage to check while traveling, and the keytar can be the ideal solution for this. Power/speed metal band Cellador is based out of Denver, for example, but their keyboardist and keytarist Diego Valadez flies routinely from Los Angeles to perform with them; sometimes on longer tours, you’ll catch him showing off bigger toys, but mostly the keytar is his lightweight go-to. This is also a useful property when you’re first learning keyboard; a keytar is relatively easy to take to a friend’s house to jam!

       2. They allow you to be fully mobile on stage.

One of the most fun things about live performance is being able to jam out to the songs just like a fan! Many a keyboardist has had to restrain themselves to that knee-and-ankle rock back and forth, but with a keytar, this limitation is gone. Whole-body headbanging, strutting around, and all kinds of other options are opened up with a keytar’s mobility, especially when you make your setup even more efficient and versatile with additions like effect pedals. For those who like to sing and play at the same time, Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes is proof that a keytarist can be a great lead singer as well.

       3. They’re way more fun for fans to watch than traditional setups.

On a regular keyboard, the musician’s hands are typically a little hard for the audience to see. Most setups involve standing up, and the board being horizontal is an issue for fans up front. With a keytar, not only can the fans see your body language as you rock out, but they can get up close and personal with the sheer speed of your keyboard playing. Fans go wild when beloved keyboardists like Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess break out the keytar and show off their skills. Take a look at this video to see what we mean (Rudess starts in at 0:20):


      4. They’re anything but an overdone gimmick.

Keytars sit in a convenient gray area, between the sheer power and audience command of an electric guitar, and the eccentricity of the accordion. Indeed, keytars and accordions appear commonly in good company, with “Weird” Al Yankovic being a champion of both. Keytars are a great way to make a standout statement, without quite going over the edge of oddness. Anyone learning keyboard who decides to pick up the keytar will find themselves in a small but solid crowd of company; other well-known artists who have featured this versatile instrument include Lady Gaga and Prince, as well as the bands Asia, Steely Dan, and MUSE.

For both seasoned pianists and those new to learning keyboard, the keytar opens up a range of new and exciting possibilities. No matter where you are in your life’s musical progression, it’s always possible to benefit from some quality private lessons, so don’t be afraid to seek out a good teacher. There will always be new and interesting hybrid instruments invented, so stay versatile and have some fun exploring!

 

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Your Best Piano Practice Routine: 4 Things to Focus On

4665461114_0619f13b86_bYou know practicing is important – but how should you design your ideal piano practice routine? Check out these helpful tips from Brooklyn, NY piano teacher Liz T...

 

In order to be prepared for your weekly piano lessons, you must spend your time wisely practicing on your own at home! In this article, I’ll review some tips to help you figure out what you should be spending your time practicing.

But first, how much practice? If you are taking a weekly 30-minute to an hour piano lesson, and are serious about sharpening your piano playing and theory, then I suggest sitting down at the piano 3-4 times a week, for an hour at a time. You’ve heard the phrase before, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!” It’s true – the only way you can improve your sight reading, ear training, and performance is by practicing. Now here’s what to practice:

1. Scales and Finger Patterns

Pull out your favorite method book, and practice your scales. Practice them slowly, really fast, piano vs forte, and so on, making sure to get all of the fingering down correctly. Practice until you can play without looking at the sheet music, and you know which scales have which sharps and flats. Practicing scales and tricky finger patterns will help you pick up your finger dexterity and learn to read new pieces faster. (Do these exercises for about 10-15 minutes.)

2. Chords

Next, work out different chord progressions, which is great if you want to play jazz or accompany singers! Start out with your simple chords, and each time you practice, learn a new chord (major, minor, 7ths, 9ths, Sus4), different voice leadings, and inversions. While your scales will most likely be in the classical realm (major or minor), you can also try switching it up a bit and enhancing your knowledge with learning how to play some jazz chord progressions! Feel free to start improvising and practicing your soloing. You may have to do it live someday, and now is the time to get comfortable “soloing” on the piano. (Do this for about 10-15 minutes.)

3. Composition Analysis and Performance

Whether the piece you’re currently working on is Bach, Gershwin, or Menken, first go through the piece and analyze it slowly. Assuming you have previous piano knowledge, ask yourself: What key is the song in? What is the time signature? Is there a chorus, or reoccurring melodic motif? Are there suggested fingerings I should use? Then start to go over just the rhythms of the song, clapping them out. If it’s a tricky rhythm, go ahead and write it into your sheet music.

Then start playing – go through the melody from start to finish with just your right hand, then do the same with the left. It is important that you really get comfortable playing the right hand and left hand separately before putting the two hands together. (Work on this for about 20-30 minutes.)

4. Practice the Tricky Parts

Now that you have practiced both hands separately and then together, go over some of those parts that may have caught you up. Is there a really fast part of the song? Are there some tricky chords? Are the trills or accidentals messing you up? Practice the more challenging parts, and keep doing them constantly, until you get it right! Repetition is key for your fingers, ears, and brain. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Don’t forget it’s okay to take a five-minute break at this point, too; just come back and play the whole piece through again after your break. (10 minutes)

This piano practice routine is a clear and concise way for you to now start practicing more efficiently. Now go forth, practice, and make some music!

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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reading piano notes

Introduction to Reading Piano Notes | 5 Easy Steps

reading piano notes

New to the piano? Reading piano notes is your first step to tackling that piece of music – check out these steps from Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T. to get started…

To be able to play the piano proficiently, you must start right away at learning to read sheet music! Follow these simple steps, and you’ll be reading piano notes in no time!

1. We’ll take the treble clef first. This is the staff that shows which notes you are to play with the right hand. If you are learning for the first time, you must familiarize yourself with the letter names of the lines and spaces. On your staff paper, label the white spaces with FACE starting with the first space at bottom of page and going up, then the lines EGBDF, starting at the bottom line going to the top line. There are little tricks to help you remember the names of the lines and spaces – for example, just remember the phrase “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.” Work on memorizing this a bit each day.

Treble clef

2. Now take a piece of music you want to learn, and underneath the music notes of the right hand in the treble clef, go ahead and write the letter names. (Use a pencil, that way you can erase it later!) This isn’t a great habit to get into in the long run, but it’s perfectly fine for just starting out. Or if there is one note you are having a hard time remembering specifically, feel free to just write that one note letter name. Keep in mind we are only focusing on the white notes at first. Don’t worry about the black keys, your sharps and flats, just yet.

3. After you have memorized all of the letter names on the lines and spaces for your right hand (the treble clef), let’s move onto reading piano notes on the bass clef, where the notes on the lines and spaces will be played with your left hand. Practice drawing the bass clef, which will start on the F line. Then with the spaces at the bottom of the page, name your spaces ACEGB (remember “All Cows Eat Grass,” and don’t forget to add your B at the top!). Then name your lines starting at the bottom of page GBDFA (“Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always”). Memorize these notations as well. Now transfer these letter names of the lines and spaces to your piano song from step #2, and name all the notes with your left hand in the bass clef.

Bass Clef

4. There is also another method with numbers that may be easier for you to read. Find a diagram of your hands and, looking at the right hand and starting with your thumb, label each finger with 1, then 2, 3, 4 and your pinky should be 5. Do the same with your left hand. There are many easy piano songs to begin with, such as “Three Blind Mice”, “Hot Cross Buns”, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, and “Jingle Bells” that only use notes C-G or numbers 1-5. Starting on middle C of the piano, put both thumbs on the note, and align both your hands so that your right pinky ends on 5 (G) and your left pinky should land on 5 (F). You can write in the numbers next to letter names, if that helps you out more. Remember to begin with only the white notes.

hands

5. Now, as you read through your song, play and sing the letter or numbers while playing, which will help you memorize the names of numbers of the notes. Once you have practiced this for a while, try erasing the letter names and testing yourself to see if you still remember the playing pattern and tune of song. I bet you will do better than you think!

With these steps, reading piano notes and music will start to become natural to you, and it can even help you to learn other instruments as well as sing! For each piece you learn, write in the letter names or fingers, and then erase them when you get comfortable. Pretty soon you won’t even need to write them in!

If you ever need further instruction on learning to read piano notes, or if you would like to take some beginning piano lessons, schedule a lesson with me today! The earlier you start, the better, but I welcome all students, of all ages and levels!

LizTLiz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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