7 Best Soundtrack Pieces to Play on the Piano

Want to learn how to play songs on the piano from your favorite movies? In this week’s guest post, our friends at Dotted Music share the seven best soundtrack pieces to play on the piano...

Whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned professional, it’s important to have a diversified repertoire to be able to choose music that fits a certain mood or appeals to a particular audience.

It seems obvious that an audience at a jazz club might prefer to hear jazz over classical, teenagers at a coffee shop might want to hear arrangements of pop tunes, and your family at a holiday party might want to hear Christmas carols (or music related to whatever holiday you may celebrate).

Soundtrack music from movies is a genre that fits a variety of playing situations, and the pieces can often be changed and arranged to sound different than the original score.

Below are seven famous soundtrack pieces that are great to learn on the piano, and some tips on what’s behind the music:

1. “My Heart Will Go On” Titanic

Starting off this list of film soundtracks is James Horner’s memorable theme from the movie Titanic.

The infectious melody and romantic lyrics, originally recorded for the film by Celine Dion, are very popular among audiences comprised of people who were teenagers growing up in the 90s, and anyone who may have enjoyed the 1997 blockbuster love story.

Musically, the song creates a lot of interest as it begins in the key of E major, modulates to F minor in the last chorus, and finally ends in the key of Ab major.

It is a fantastic piece to play with an accompaniment, vocal or other instrument, and can be tweaked in some ways to suit your playing ability, such as removing embellishments like the quick scalar descending lines in the opening theme.

2. Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean Theme

The main theme from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, titled as “He’s a Pirate,” is a progressive piece that is instantly recognizable for its catchy melodies and dynamic contrast.

The original score in the film features a full orchestra, but playing this piece on the piano alone is a surefire way to get an audience excited about your playing, especially if there are kids in the audience (who doesn’t love a good pirate adventure?).

Due to its quick pace, a good practice method to help tackle this piece is to start slow and gradually raise the tempo as your right and left hands can work independently.

3. Yann Tiersen’s “Comptine d’un autre été”

Comptine d’un autre été : L’après midi is Yann Tiersen’s piano piece written for the French film Amelie.  It is a somber sounding piece in the key of E minor.

The first section begins with a beautiful motif in the right hand, and changes to a quicker syncopated right hand part in the second section, while the left hand continues the ostinato of the chord progression (i, III, v, VII or Em, G, Bm, D).

The piece is in binary form, which means that it is comprised of a A and B section. The B section occurs when the whole piece is repeated, with the right hand being played one octave higher.

4. The Godfather Theme

Perfect for fans of the classic gangster movie The Godfather, “Speak Softly, Love,” was composed by Nino Rota, with lyrics written by Larry Kusik.

Layered with intricate harmonies due to the use of accidentals, triplets in the left hand, and octave movement with syncopation in the right hand, a piano arrangement of this beautiful song is best attempted slowly, like the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, due to its complex nature.

The song has been translated into many languages including English, Italian, Sicilian, French, Spanish, and Ukrainian, so you can really get creative by arranging a variation featuring verses in multiple languages.

5. The Pink Panther Theme

Arguably the most widely recognized theme on this list, The Pink Panther theme was written by Henry Mancini for the 1963 comedy The Pink Panther.

While notated in the key of E minor, Mancini uses chromaticism to create the interesting harmonies in the theme, which evokes a sound like the blues scale.

The theme can be easily recognized at first by its signature perfect 5th chromatic slide to the E minor harmony (though omitting the third to keep the perfect 5th) in the left hand.

While you practice this piece, try breaking it into four measure sections as you bring the right and left hands together, so you do not overwhelm yourself reading the accidentals and syncopated rhythms.

6. “Concerning Hobbits”

“Concerning Hobbits,” sometimes referred to as The Shire theme, is Howard Shore’s acclaimed piece from the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, which is a film adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy novel of the same name.

“Concerning Hobbits” is a recognizable theme used throughout the films (especially the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring). Set in the key of D major, this piece is great for pianists of all skill levels, as it can be reduced as necessary to accommodate.

A beginner player could, for instance, simply play the main theme in the right hand and hold whole note chords in the left hand. On the other hand, a player who is more comfortable with left and right hand independence could arpeggiate the harmony in the left hand, as written and as heard in the opening of the piece.

7. John Williams: “The Imperial March”

This simply would not be a popular soundtrack list if we did not include an example from Star Wars.

“The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is sure to please audiences spanning many generations – which makes total sense as the original Star Wars trilogy was released in the 1970s and 80s, the prequel trilogy in the 90s and 2000s, and Disney’s recent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015.

Williams composed the piece around a recurring theme (leitmotif) associated with Galactic Empire, Darth Vader, or the dark side of the Force. It is heard, in full or in part, throughout the original trilogy, prequels, and as a very brief adaptation in The Force Awakens.

The March is set in the key of G minor, and beginner pianists can get started by just learning the leitmotif, which can be broken into five shorter ideas.

Hopefully this list gets you started learning a few famous soundtrack themes that you can dig into regardless of your proficiency on the piano.

If you have any favorites that we missed, let us know in the comments!

Guest Post Author: Jack McCarthy
Jack McCarthy is a featured writer for Tomplay interactive sheet music app; pop and classical scores for piano, violin, and more, accompanied with real recordings by professional musicians. Jack is also a singer and songwriter, based in Philadelphia.

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piano lessons

10 Things That’ll Happen When Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

piano lessons

Are you considering enrolling your child in piano lessons? In this week’s guest post, our friend Doreen Hall from Piano Parents lists 10 reasons why your child should start piano lessons…

I have taught hundreds of piano students over the course of my 30-year teaching career. It never ceases to amaze me when I see the positive impact that piano lessons have on kids.

If you’re considering piano lessons for your child, here are 10 great things that you can expect to see as your child moves forward on his or her musical journey.

Research shows that children who study music do better on standardized testing and in school overall. After all, music and math are very much intertwined.

2

Practicing every day teaches kids discipline as well as patience. Oftentimes, the disciple it takes to learn the piano spills over into other areas like school and other extracurricular activities.

3

Learning to accept constructive criticism will help your child build self-confidence. What’s more, being able to do something special, like playing the piano, helps kids feel good about themselves.

4

Of course, participating in piano recitals and concerts helps kids feel less self-conscious. However, talking one-on-one with a teacher also helps children feel better about speaking with others.

5

A great deal of my students make friends with one another. Your child will also make friends with other music students by playing in groups, accompanying other music students, or just having fun singing with friends.

6

Studying music makes kids into musicians. This applies to all areas of music, not just the piano. Almost all of my piano students participate in band, orchestra, chorus, or musical theater.

7

Reading music is a skill most people don’t have. People who can read the treble and bass clefs required for piano playing can read music for almost any instrument.

8

TV and video games are fun for kids, but playing the piano is much better for young minds.

9

Concentration is something one must build. At first, your child may only be able to concentrate for 10 minutes, but as he or she advances and the music becomes more difficult he or she will learn to concentrate for an hour or more at a time.

10

It is a well-known fact that playing music reduces stress. What a great positive way to deal with life’s difficult moments.

Piano lessons are great for children. There are so many benefits to learning the piano from developing life skills to creating a lifetime of memories. If you’re a piano parent congratulations, you are giving your child a wonderful gift!

Photo by Miki Yoshihito

Guest Post Author: Doreen Hall
Doreen Hall is the creator of Piano Parents, a website that provides support and encouragement to the parents of piano students. Doreen lives in West Palm Beach, Florida where she is a piano teacher, composer, and freelance musician. She is also the creator of Paloma Piano, a website featuring reproducible piano music for students. 

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piano love songs

15 Piano Love Songs That’ll Melt Your Heart [Videos]

piano love songs

Do you want to learn some new romantic piano love songs? Below, piano teacher Liz T. shares 15 piano love songs that’ll make anyone’s heart melt…

Are you looking to add a few piano love songs to your existing repertoire?

Today, there are many well-known pianists who are able to transform a movie theme, classical piece, jazz standard, or pop song into a solo piece for the piano.

Below, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite piano love songs from a variety of styles. Try learning these piano love songs on your own or simply create a playlist you can enjoy.

15 Piano Love Songs That’ll Melt Your Heart

1. My Heart Will Go On: Titanic


This is a heart wrenching piano love song that will surely make you shed a tear. This is a great song for practicing a wide range of dynamics and phrasing. Start simple with the melody in the right hand, then incorporate the left hand.

2. Liszt “Love Dream” Lieberstraum

This classical piano piece by Liszt truly makes you feel like you’re inside a sweet dream. Appropriate to play at formal events, even children emotionally feel connected to the piece.

3. All I Ask of You: Phantom of the Opera

This romantic piano song by Andrew Lloyd Webber touches everyone’s hearts. The piano melody is stunning in the right hand, and the constant motion in the left hand keeps the piece driving. The range of notes in the low and high octaves on the piano make your emotions want to soar.

4. To a Wild Rose: Edward MacDowell


This is very simple classical song for the piano, featuring a light and airy mezzo-piano feel. It’s amazing how the chords accompany the melody to convey a romantic emotion, without even having to use words.

5. One Hand, One Heart: West Side Story

This piano love song is great to play for a loved one. Originally written for musical theater, the song can easily transition as a classical piece. Try improvising with the melody in a classical context within the solo part.

6. When a Man Loves a Woman: Percy Sledge


This 80’s love song is flirty and romantic. It’s a great song to entertain people with, as it brings back old memories for many people.

7. Endless Love: Lionel Richie and Diana Ross

This pop love ballad gives you freedom to put your own touch. For example, you can add trills, re-harmonization of chords, and play with the rhythm to make this piece sound a little more romantically spontaneous.

8. Con te Partiro: Andrea Bocelli


“Time to Say Goodbye” is a classy, Mediterranean song. The piano makes it sound very affectionate, and will leave you wanting one last kiss! It’s also a great piece to practice key changes.

9. La Boheme: Opera by Puccini

Opera has been touching audience’s hearts for hundreds of years. While the song was  initially written for full orchestra, it still provokes the same kind of emotion on the piano.

10. Corcovado: Antonio Carlos Jobim


This light jazz piano song always puts everyone into a romantic mood. Challenge yourself to see if you can come up with the most intimate chord voicing’s.

11. Sunday Kind of Love: Etta James

This 1960’s lovey-dovey tune is sure to make you want to be with your love on a Sunday. The way the song builds up in each verse, chorus, and bridge will have you on the edge of your seat.

12. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant: Billy Joel


The melody and chords in this piano love song paints a beautiful image in your mind. This song can be played either mid-tempo or as a very slow ballad. It’s also great for dramatic shaping.

13. Crazy After All These Years: Paul Simon

The lyrics in this folk song are very poetic, and you can easily sing along with the tune. This song is not too busy, so you can put in your own arpeggios and melodic phrasing to create the expression you want to convey.

14. Dreaming of You & I Could Fall in Love: Selena

These romantic piano songs from the 90’s would be a great medley put together. Perfect for background music or a performance, these songs will be very popular among young adults.

15. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell

This classic Motown song will certainly put your pop chops to the test, as you passionately play this song. Let your emotions run wild!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed learning about these 15 piano love songs that will absolutely melt your heart!

Don’t be afraid to pour your emotions out on the piano. For more guidance on how to approach these songs, ask your piano teacher for some help!

LizTPost Author: Liz T.
Liz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons 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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MO - 5 Reasons Why Hanon Exercises Are Useless

5 Reasons Why Hanon Exercises are Useless

MO - 5 Reasons Why Hanon Exercises Are Useless

Are Hanon exercises really effective at teaching piano students? Below, piano teacher James F. shares five reasons why he believes Hanon exercises aren’t as useful as many think…

A lot of piano teachers swear by the old familiar Hanon exercises as a great way of teaching technique to their students. I strongly disagree.

I’m familiar with a lot of different ways of developing piano technique, and I think that Hanon is among the least efficient.

Why?

Below I’ve provided five reasons why I think Hanon exercises are useless as well as some much better alternatives.

5 Reasons Why Hanon Exercises are Useless

1. Hanon Exercises Don’t Build Strength

The fundamental component of any good piano technique is strength. Just like strength is the core component of any athlete’s development and technique.

Hanon does next to nothing for strength, because all the student is doing is playing lines over and over again.

Here is an example of an exercise that can be done for even a few minutes a day that will give students better results:

2. Hanon Exercises Don’t Build Much Agility

Hanon exercises could be classified as agility exercises, but low-grade ones. Even just plain old scales are superior to Hanon.

This is true for one simple reason; when you play scales, you’re working the thumb-under and finger-over movements that are often necessary when playing actual songs.

If you want to work on agility, try something like this:

3. Hanon Movements Don’t Translate When Playing Real Songs

In all honesty, real songs played on a keyboard are mostly solid chords. However, you also need to be able to play melody lines.

Once again, even your basic old scales are a lot closer to those melody lines than any Hanon exercise in any of their books.

Jumps do occur occasionally in melodies, but even when they do occur, they are nothing like what you practice with Hanon.

4. Hanon Exercises Are Just Too Easy

Most students breeze through Hanon exercises too easily, and then get “stuck” because they don’t know where to go afterward.

“Too easy” sounds great, but the problem is that if students aren’t properly challenged during their practice routines it’s going to take them a lot longer to get desired results.

Like me, students have very little spare time, and need to make the most of their limited practice time. Hanon, on the other hand, is guaranteed to have you spinning your wheels for a long long time.

5. Hanon Exercises Aren’t Conducive to Rhythmic Playing

Not all exercises have to be rhythmic in nature, but Hanon pretends to be, which is where the danger comes in.

This is because it is needlessly complex in a dimension (i.e. all the leaps and turns in the more advanced exercises) that has very little musical use.

I always recommend that if you want to work specifically on rhythm, one should start with basic rhythms and then move on to syncopation—the kind of syncopation that actually goes on in real songs.

Below is an example of a highly syncopated rhythm.

Don’t agree? Tell us why you think Hanon exercises are beneficial for students in the comments section below. Or check out this post from piano teacher Heather L. titled, ” 3 Reasons Pianists Should be Playing Hanon Exercises Daily.”

 

Post Author: James F.
James F. teaches piano and singing. He is currently a professor of piano, voice, and ensambles at EMMAT, a member school of the Berklee International Network. Learn more about James here!

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digital metronome app

10 Best Digital Metronome Apps for Piano Players

digital metronome app

Are you looking for a new digital metronome app for the piano? Below, piano teacher Julie P. lists the 10 best digital metronome apps for expert and beginner piano players…  

Metronomes are great for developing a strong internal beat and testing yourself on how accurately you play music. Traditional metronomes, however, can be bulky and a pain to carry around.

Luckily, there are digital metronome apps that you can download right onto your smartphone or tablet device.

Not only do digital metronome apps help you learn how to play piano with a steady beat, but they also provide many benefits that regular metronomes simply don’t.

For example, once you download a digital metronome app onto your phone, you’ll always have it with you. If you need a quick tempo adjustment, all you have to do is open the app!

10 Best Digital Metronome Apps for Piano Players

1. Pro Metronome (Free)

This app has more options than you’ll ever have time to use, including  13 time-keeping options, a visual pendulum, dynamics for accented beats, and tap-in tempo.

While the app is free, you can pay for upgrades, which include vibrate and flash modes, polyrhythms, subdivisions, as well as programmable and shareable playlists.

The price for all the upgrades can add up, and most of the upgrades are more than the typical user will need. Check it out here.

2. Tempo (2.99)

This app also has tons of helpful features for piano players. For example, the app has 35 time signatures (including compound and complex meters), 9 different rhythm patterns, and accented beats.

What’s more, the metronome app has the ability to turn specific beats off, and the widest range of tempo speeds out there: from 10 to 800.

A free version called “Tempo Lite” has a pared down option set that is better for beginner students. Check it out here.

3. Dr. Betotte ($9.99)

Fans of Dr. Beat metronomes will feel at home with this app that specializes in different ways to subdivide the beat.

With both straight and swing feels, dedicated volume sliders for each subdivision of the beat, multi-beat mode and coach functions (gradual tempo changes), this digital metronome app will get you locked into the beat.

However, this is one of the more expensive options out there, and is probably more specialized than most users typically need. Check it out here.

4. Metro Timer (Free)

This is a great basic app for beginner piano students. It has 8 different metronome sounds as well as a visual indicator and a flashing beat option.

It has enough settings to be very useful, but not too many to overwhelm newer players. Check it out here.

5. Steinway Metronome (Free)

From the makers of Steinway pianos, this free metronome app is aesthetically pleasing with 8 different wood finished themes.

It works in both portrait and landscape modes and has an on-screen click wheel for fast tempo adjustments. What’s more, the app has tap-in tempo.

This is a metronome for users with a love for the visual aesthetics of the piano, but it doesn’t have as many useful features as the other apps listed. Check it out here.

6. Real Metronome (Free)

If you’re looking for real simplicity, then this free metronome app is for you. The app can be used with a modern digital interface, or with an old-school pendulum animation.

It has standard time signature settings and 9 different sound options. This metronome has the basics covered, but more advanced players will want more features. Check it out here.

7. Metronome+ (Free)

This is a powerful practice app with tons of metronome features, plus the ability to record music, save set lists, and play tuning pitches.

The app’s metronome practice mode can automatically increase the tempo as you work on difficult passages.

Be aware, however, that in-app purchases can add up quickly if you want to use all the bells and whistles available. Check it out here.

8. The Metronome by Soundbrenner (Free)

This is a regular metronome app at first glance; however, the makers of this app have also designed a vibrating watch that links to the app via bluetooth.

You can use the app to control the watch, and link up to 10 other watches to the same device so that all the members of your band feel exactly the same pulse.

I wouldn’t recommend downloading the app if you don’t have the watch, as it’s best used in conjunction. Check it out here.

9. Practice+ (Free)

This app is way more than just a digital metronome. In addition to a large set of metronome options–such as customized meters, beat subdivision, multiple sound options, and accented beats–the app has just about anything you could want when practicing the piano.

The free metronome app includes a tuner, recorder, archival set lists, and a looping mode for difficult passages. Check it out here.

10. Time Guru ($1.99)

This app can play in odd time meters and has options for a human or robot voice counting in different languages. You can also program sequences of time signatures.

The app also has a randomized beat dropping setting that lets you set the percentage of beats that you want to be left out, which is great for testing your internal sense of the beat. Check it out here.

Choose For Yourself!

There are tons of digital metronome apps available, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the options.

If you’re not sure where to start, pick a simple app and see which features you use the most.

Remember, the metronome is supposed to help you in your practicing, not distract you from it!

JuliePPost Author: Julie P.
Julie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!

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learning piano as an adult

8 Practical Tips for Learning Piano as an Adult

learning piano as an adult

You’re never too old to learn how to play the piano. Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares eight practical tips for successfully learning piano as an adult…

Learning a new instrument is no easy feat, especially as an adult. I’m always amazed by how many people think that learning to play the piano is out of their reach simply because they aren’t kids anymore.

Well, frankly, I believe they are wrong in their beliefs! It’s my belief that everyone can learn to play the piano, regardless of their age.

Furthermore, I didn’t start playing until I was an adult, so I know first-hand that anyone of any-age can learn to play the piano!

You may be wondering, “Where do I even begin?” Well, let’s address that right now. Below are some practical tips for learning piano as an adult.

8 Practical Tips for Learning Piano as an Adult

1. Find a Piano Genre You Enjoy

Are you an avid jazz listener, classical enthusiast, or pop pianist?

Narrowing down what piano style you like best is a critical first step, as it will help you find a teacher who specializes in that style.

Not only that, but it will also keep you interested. If you’re learning music that you don’t even like, it’s hard to stay motivated.

If you’re not sure what piano style you like, check out this article “Ultimate Guide to the 5 Most Popular Piano Styles.

2. Find the Right Teacher

A great teacher will not only inspire you to become better than you ever thought you could be, but he or she will also expose you to new ways of learning, practicing, and refining your skills.

When choosing a piano teacher, don’t just pick the cheapest individual or one closest to you. Take time to evaluate the teacher’s credentials and ask questions.

For example, has he or she taught adults before? What teaching methods do they typically use? These types of questions will ensure that you’re choosing the right teacher.

3. Choose Between a Piano and Keyboard

Determine whether you want to invest in an acoustic piano or a keyboard, as both have their benefits and drawbacks.

For example, an acoustic piano is typically much more expensive than a keyboard, but can be financed with no interest under rent-to-own programs offered at most piano dealers.

In addition, acoustic pianos are very loud, so they aren’t appreciated very much in apartments. Digital keyboards, while less expensive, lack the ‘feel’ of a real piano.

In other words, the keys don’t feel as heavy or as responsive as a real piano, though many keyboard manufacturers claim that they do.

Keyboards, however, do have several benefits such as the ability to use headphones, play with multiple backtracks, change your instrumentation, and so on.

I think that either option works. Though based on the nature of my work, I personal prefer an acoustic piano to a keyboard.

4. Become Familiar with the Musical Alphabet

Learning to read music is very important when learning piano as an adult. If you don’t already know how to read music, there’s no better time than now.

There’s a great app I use with all of my students, called Tenuto, that lets you customize your note reading to make it as easy or hard as you like.

Begin with a few notes on each clef and gradually work your way to reading (and memorizing) more and more notes.

5. Join Ensembles of Any Kind

Ensemble playing is fantastically beneficial in developing your musical ear as a pianist (or any other type of musician for that matter). However, pianists can sometimes struggle to find suitable ensembles.

I recommend checking your local community college to see if they have a non-audition orchestra that you could sit in on or play keyboard-percussion.

I also suggest looking at local studios to see if they have piano bands or groups of keyboardists playing together simultaneously in a band-type setting. Chamber music is also wildly fun for you classical music enthusiasts!

6. Be Patient and Confident

It can be hard to not criticize yourself when you’re learning something new. I find this to be very true when it comes to learning piano as an adult.

Additionally, you may feel that you aren’t necessarily able to do something as quickly as you might have thought.

Speaking from experience, learning to play any instrument, especially the piano, is very time consuming. If you’re aware of this, you’ll likely be less self-loathing throughout the learning process.

Make sure that you mentally acknowledge your accomplishments–however small you may think they are–so you don’t become frustrated throughout the process of learning.

Remember, learning piano as an adult is a process.

7. Establish a Practice Routine and Stick to It

Learning to play an instrument is like being on a diet. You have to carefully watch your progress, keep track of what you’re practicing (and when), and maintain your practice discipline daily.

I highly recommend keeping a practice log where you write down what you’ve worked on, for how long, and on what day. Many people are under the false impression that you can cram piano practice.

When in reality, all you need to succeed at learning to play at a non-professional level is 30 minutes to an hour of focused, effective practicing a day.

Practicing in this manner yields results much faster than trying to do 3 hours a day for only one day a week. Check out the sample practice log below.

Date 5/3/2016
Scales C & D Major – 2 hands, two octaves. Practiced for 10 minutes.
Sight-Reading Examples #1-2 in Book 1.

Practiced 10 Minutes

Piece #1 Measures 34-52

Hands Separate for 5 minute blocks, hands together for 15 min.

Practiced 30 Minutes.

Piece #2 Measures 12-40

Hands Together – Making rhythms less choppy.

Practiced for 30 Minutes

8. Learn Melodies by Ear

Playing by ear may not necessarily be super important in a classical setting, but it is absolutely necessary in the jazz world.

If you can “hear” what you want to do in your head before you play it, you’re well on your way to being an impressive soloist.

Practice some of your favorite songs by ear and try to figure out the melody to the best of your ability. If that’s easy for you, try figuring out the accompaniment too!

Learning piano as an adult can be intimidating. Don’t let your fear, however, deter you from learning a fun new hobby. Follow the tips above and you’ll be on your way to success!

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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piano technique

5 Piano Technique Mistakes You’re Probably Making

piano technique

Let’s face it, even the most experienced pianists make mistakes. Below, piano teacher Julie P. shares the 5 most common piano technique mistakes that both beginner and experienced pianists often make…

As a piano player, you’re always looking for easy ways to improve your playing. While there are no fast-tracks to becoming a great piano player, there are simple things you can do to better your skills.

In fact, you’re probably making some simple piano technique mistakes that are holding you back from reaching your full potential.

Below are the five most common piano technique mistakes. If you work on fixing these mistakes not only will you improve your piano technique, but you’ll also open up your ability to make greater improvements in the future.

5 Most Common Piano Technique Mistakes

1. Flat fingers

Many students play with flat or collapsed fingers when they’re first learning the piano. This means that either their finger is extending from their hand in a flat manner and/or their first knuckle is collapsing.

Flat and collapsed fingers slow down finger technique and usually cause tension. Play with your fingers in a curved position, as shown in the video below.

2. Sitting too close to the piano

If you sit too close to the piano, your arms won’t have enough room to extend in front of you. This limits the range of motion for your arms, which causes your wrists to contort in an effort to reach the right notes.

Sit on the edge of the piano bench and move it back until your elbows are extended slightly forward from your shoulders. Check out the video below for some additional tips.

3. Wrists too low

Your wrists should extend straight from your arms and shouldn’t collapse down. If your palms get close to the front of the piano, your wrists will likely collapse.

Wrists that are too low cause tension and strain in your arms and fingers, and also reduce the speed at which you can play.

If your wrists are low, your fingers are probably also collapsing, as discussed above. The picture below shows the right and wrong way to hold your wrists.

piano techniqueImage courtesy of Casio Music.

4. Not using your arm weight

The points mentioned above about arm position are important because we want to use the weight of our arms and torso when playing the piano.

Even though our fingers control the piano keys, students who push down the keys with only the strength of their fingers will not produce a very good tone.

Channeling our arm and body weight efficiently through our arms allows you to produce a wide range of sounds and tone colors. It also reduces the strain on your fingers.

5. Not establishing efficient fingerings

One of the best ways to learn a song quickly and reliably is to decide ahead of time the best fingering pattern.

Students who play with random fingerings that change every time they practice often get into a fingering jam, or have to search for the key they want.

If you know which fingers are playing which notes, and use the same fingerings every time you practice, you’ll know the song more securely and won’t be searching for the keys anymore.

If you can correct these five piano technique mistakes, you’ll be a much better piano player. Your piano teacher can also help you correct these mistakes as well as any other technique issues you may have in your playing.

Photo via Shalbs

JuliePPost Author: Julie P.
Julie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!

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Family Affair-5 Creative Waysto Enjoy Music as a Family

Family Affair: 3 Creative Ways to Enjoy Music as a Family

Do you want to be more involved in your child’s music lessons? In this week’s guest post, our friend Lara L. at Piano Power shares five creative ways you can enjoy music as a family… 

In a world of earbuds and custom playlists, sharing music as a family “IRL” (or “in real life,” for those not hip to Internet slang) is more important than ever. Car sing-alongs and kitchen dance parties are par for the course.

To help you get more involved in your child’s music lessons or simply have some fun, we’ve outlined five unique music-sharing traditions. Read on for some fun musical inspiration!

1. Have a Family Karaoke Night

Love it or hate it, karaoke can be a true learning experience for kids. Reading lyrics, performing for an audience, waiting their turn, learning to respect others’ performances– there are major lessons to be learned beyond karaoke’s goofy fun.

If you’re not too shy to get onstage, kids can witness your own love for music, and see that mom or dad makes mistakes, laughs, and carries on.

(Also, you can introduce them to the amazing, karaoke-friendly world of Bonnie Tyler.)

2. Make it a Musical Game Night

Rather than “Name That Tune,” play a game called “Name That Artist.” The rule: When a new song starts, the first to identify the artist wins. This game presupposes that a.) Music is on at home, and b.) It is actively listened to.

Rather than background noise, music becomes an integrated part of life, requiring attention, memory, and close listening.  

3. Life is a Musical

Rather than speak in conversation, why not sing? This requires a bit of musical spontaneity on the parent’s part, but you can borrow the melody of a tune you both know, or make up something random.

Next thing you know, everyone will be singing instead of speaking in your home.

To discover the last two ways you can enjoy music as a family, head on over to Piano Power.

Guest Post Author: Lara L.
Lara L. is the communications manager at Piano Power, a Chicago-based music teaching group. Learn more about Piano Power here. 

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piano exercises off bench

5 Off-Bench Piano Exercises That Will Transform Your Playing

piano exercises off bench

You don’t have to be sitting at the piano to sharpen your skills. Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares five off-bench piano exercises that will help transform your piano playing for the better…

Playing the piano is a very physical activity, and like any physical activity, stretching plays an important role in keeping your muscles flexible and at their prime.

Not only this, but as any practiced pianist knows, the intense mental focus required for a good practice tends to make your body feel tired after a while.

In the article below, I’ll be outlining a few off-bench piano exercises and stretches that will help increase your flexibility and activate your muscles prior to playing.

Some of them are good for your full-body and mental health. Throughout all of these piano exercises, be sure not to over-stretch. Instead, only do as much as feels comfortable without strain.

5 Off-Bench Piano Exercises to Try

1. Arms Out, Palms Up

Simply put your arms out horizontally to your sides and slowly pull your fingers down toward the ground. You should feel this immediately in the muscles surrounding your elbow.

If you don’t feel it, try slowly lifting your arms up and stretching your fingers downwards. I love this piano exercise and do it fairly consistently. It also looks hilarious to anyone watching because it doesn’t look like you’re actually doing anything.

2. Extend Arm Forward, Pull Back on Finger Tips

Place one arm in front of your body with your palm down, take your other hand and grab the fingertips of the extended hand, then slowly stretch your fingers toward the sky.

This stretch helps increase flexibility of the forearm below the wrist on the palm-side. Repeat for both hands.

This piano exercise is similar to the “Arms Out, Palms Up,” but works different muscles. Rather than stretching the elbow and lower forearm, this exercise stretches the upper forearm.

3. Go Swimming

Seriously, this is probably one of the best exercises a pianist can do. Not everyone has access to a pool, but if you do, (and have a few extra dollars laying around), pick up a buoy.

You can use the buoy to make your legs float and focus solely on swimming with your arms. This is excellent for stretching your arms out before or after some intense piano playing.

Swimming works nearly all upper-body muscles, which makes it ideal for pianists. Additionally, a great workout may substantially increase your ability to learn faster. Check out this article for some insight.

4. Try Rock Climbing (Every Once in a While)

Rock climbing is really great for building strong hands and fingers. This is especially important for composers, like Brahms, who often composed music with big chords, octaves, and so on.

A few of my friends at school rock climb consistently and have incredibly strong fingers, which works great for some of the pieces they’re playing. However, rock climbing does cause your forearms and hands to get really tight for about a day afterwards.

If you’re going to start rock climbing to try to build your finger strength, I recommend you only go once, maybe twice per week at most. Anything beyond that becomes counter-productive and results in tight and fatigued forearm and hand muscles.

5. Finger Tips of Both Hands Together

Curve your hands and connect them fingertip to fingertip around an imaginary grapefruit (or softball, baseball, etc.) depending on your hand size. Apply very slight pressure to each fingertip and force your first knuckle to remain firm and not collapse.

Slowly lift one fingertip at a time (for instance, lift both your 2nd fingers off each other) then reconnect them to each other. Feel the pressure on each fingertip.

Repeat this process for every finger on your hand, and eventually start doing two non-consecutive fingers at a time.

This piano exercise is tricky and takes some practice, but the main goal here is to activate the muscles of the hand prior to playing. It’s actually a really great warm up too!

Your Turn!

These piano exercises and stretches are designed to help you warm up or recover from some serious piano practicing. I hope that they help you as much as they’ve helped me!

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions / comments, please feel free to post them below and I’ll respond as soon as I see them!

Photo via Pawel Loj

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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Feeling Bored? 3 Ways to Stay Motivated at the Piano

Are you getting bored or perhaps discouraged with playing the piano? In this week’s guest post, Allysia from PianoTV.net shares three ways to stay motivated at the piano…

We all know the drill with motivation. You listen to a great recording or live performance, and are filled with energy and enthusiasm. You rush to the piano and happily practice every day for a week, a month, or even longer.

But then maybe you get bored, or hit a rough patch, and suddenly you can barely drag yourself over to the piano. Practice seems like a chore, not a joy. Waxing and waning motivation is something that all musicians struggle with.

In today’s PianoTV episode, I wanted to sit down and chat about some solutions on how to stay motivated at the piano. Below are my top three tips for staying motivated. To catch the other five, check out the video below.

1. Find Inspiration

I’m inspired to play music by many things. One of them is probably pretty obvious, but worth saying: Listening to music. There are a few key albums that always fuel me up and leave me eager to get playing.

These albums and musical inspirations are different for everyone, so it’s worth taking note of those truly amazing albums that you  love. That way, if you’re in a slump, you can pull out the album or whatever it is, and remember why you love music in the first place.

Sometimes listening to a radio station is enough to fire me up. I hear a really awesome song, and suddenly I want to run over to the piano and play awesome songs.

But for musical motivation, I think it’s essential to listen to music on the regular, in whatever format you prefer. If you’re learning music, you have to immerse yourself in music to feed the fire.

2. Keep it Fun

Staying motivated at the piano means having fun while you’re there. If you hate doing something, it doesn’t matter how much inspiration you find – you still won’t want to do it. And if practicing is dull and painful, then you have to adjust it to feel fun and rewarding.

Yes, practicing piano is hard work. It’s a lot like exercising. You have to find a way to do it that you enjoy, or else it’ll never stick. For example, I absolutely hate jogging and lifting weights, but I love yoga.

Sometimes the last thing I want to do is hop on my yoga mat, but I’m always glad I did once I do it. Practicing piano can sometimes feel like that – you’re not always going to be happy-dancing to the bench, but once you get going, it should be enjoyable.

3. Build a Daily Routine

Sometimes staying motivated at the piano is simply building it into a habit. If I don’t exercise at least every weekday, I lose steam and fall of the bandwagon completely. It’s an all-or-nothing thing for me. I can’t just do it a few times a week, I need to do it every day.

Beyond that, I need to exercise at the same general time each day (late morning). I do the same thing with piano. If you aren’t practicing daily at more or less the same time each day, you’re working against yourself.

Building specific habits make it much easier to maintain a steady stream of motivation. Without habits, getting yourself to do something challenging (like play piano) can feel like swimming upstream, and on days when you’re not feeling too strong, you’ll probably abandon it entirely.

But habits allow you to run on auto-pilot. If it’s a built-in part of your day, you don’t need a lot of momentum to practice. You just do it.

Your Turn!

Good luck with your piano practicing adventures! If you enjoyed this post/video, you might enjoy my 32-page e-book titled, “How To Practice Piano (and like it!)”. You can find that on the PianoTV website.

Guest Post Author: Allysia K.
Allysia is an experienced piano teacher and creator of PianoTV.net. She’s been teaching piano to all ages and levels since 2005. Learn more about Allysia and PianoTV.net here.

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