Posts

Prepping For a Piano Level Test Your Timeline for Success

Preparing for a Piano Level Test | Your Timeline for Success

Prepping For a Piano Level Test Your Timeline for SuccessWhether playing for pleasure or as a professional, there is likely to come a time when you will be faced with a piano examination, such as the ABRSM piano exam. Like any exam, preparation is key. But when the time comes, how can you make sure that everything goes according to plan?

Before the Exam

  • In the weeks leading up to your exam, this is when you will want to increase your rehearsal. Focus specifically on the pieces that you will be playing on the day. It can be easier (and more satisfying) to only go over the pieces that you find easier to play. In your piano lessons, your teacher is going to notice the pieces that you are struggling with. Don’t be afraid to tackle them head-on. Working on the toughest parts is going to make you feel more confident on the day of your test.
  • Also, do a mock version of the exam, so you know exactly what to expect and what will be required of you. The more familiar it feels, the less nervous you are likely to be on the day. Do a run-through of what will happen on the day, under exam conditions.

On the Day of the Exam

  • If you have never been to the place where your exam is being held before, leave plenty of time to make the journey. Being late and turning up flustered is going to throw your focus. Remember: early is on time and on time is late. Aim to be at least 10 minutes early. Keep the phone number of your piano teacher and the address of the exam venue handy, because no matter how much you prepare, sometimes things do happen outside of your control. If you’re likely to be late, call ahead of time.
  • Make sure that you have something to eat. A great breakfast or a healthy lunch on exam day will improve your focus. We all know that it’s difficult to concentrate if you’re hungry, so even if it’s just fruit, do try to eat something.
  • This isn’t one that many think about, but avoid wearing something that is going to hinder your playing or be a distraction during your exam. Wear something practical and comfortable — leave the loud bangles at home.

During the Exam

  • Get your instrument ready before you go in. Whether you’re at a grand piano or an upright, it is key to make sure that you are comfortable. Take time to adjust your stool if necessary and play a few scales, to get you in the zone to play at your best.
  • As you likely know what to expect by this point, take a few deep breaths and pace yourself. Try not to worry about pausing between pieces. If you would feel more comfortable doing the exam in a different order, that is usually fine as long as you ask your examiner.
  • Don’t panic if you make a mistake. You won’t be the first or the last. Carry on as best you can from it. It is never as bad as it seems at the time. If your examiner stops you during a piece, don’t be alarmed — it may be because they have heard enough to determine the mark.

If the thought of a piano exam is overwhelming, remember that it is just a chance to show off what you and your piano teacher are already sure that you know. The time goes by much faster than you would think and the examiner is rooting for you. Try to enjoy the experience. Good luck!

Need help preparing for a specific test like the ABRSM piano exam? Check out our tips here.

About the Author:
Freya is an avid pianist. Along with her love for cooking, she also deals in piano sales & write in her spare time.

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Yuliya Nemova

piano competitions

4 Ways Piano Competitions Make You a Better Player

piano competitionsWhat do the best piano players have in common? Most of them have participated in piano competitions, exams (like the ABRSM), or recitals. Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. explores the benefits of piano competitions…

 

Competition of all kinds gets a bad rap nowadays. In dozens of counties and hundreds of schools across the country, competitiveness is under fire. Students and young athletes are being told that participation and team building are all that counts, and therefore, game scores are not kept. And in even more places, music competitions have become music festivals, in which groups or soloists are graded individually and places like first, second, and third are not given.

Well, in my opinion, competition is what often drives humans to succeed. This is especially true when it comes to musicians, and more specifically, to pianists. Here’s a list of ways that competing makes you a better piano player.

• Pressure to practice

Perhaps the most immediate benefit of piano competitions is not necessarily the pressure to perform, but the pressure to practice. To have a clear and concrete deadline in front of you is quite motivating when it comes to practicing toward that goal.

Knowing that strangers will be looking for both the good and the bad of your art is a whole lot better than being told simply to practice in order to improve in a general way.

• Performance experience

Getting up in front of an audience to speak is one of the most widely feared activities in the world, and that’s only speaking! So getting up in front of an audience to play the piano is even more special, and playing your very best in a competition setting takes the experience to the next level. Performing before judges is nerve-wracking, but very exciting. And honestly, after a competition, a simple recital will feel like a breeze.

• Self-assurance

You have to be self-assured in order to be willing even to enter a competition, and your self-assurance builds as you continue to compete, no matter what the outcome. This helps you to be the kind of pianist who walks into almost any musical situation and says, “Sure, I can do that.”

That kind of attitude can open up the world to you, presenting opportunities that you may never have dreamed of, because you’re saying yes to experiences a less-assured person may have said no to.

• Networking

Networking is typically used as a business term, but it’s also used in the music world. Meeting other musicians and judges and building acquaintanceships at competitions can make a big difference in your piano career, even if you don’t necessarily plan on pursuing it professionally. Making a friend at an event may mean being asked to be part of a festival or being referred for a great gig, or maybe just finding a group of musicians to jam with.

In the end, piano competitions are less about becoming better than other pianists and more about becoming a better pianist yourself. Improving your personal best is the name of the game. That doesn’t mean, though, that the success of others should be ignored. The only great thing about our jealousies is that they can indicate what our desires are. Allow others’ successes and failures to motivate you on your own journey.

 

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Leeds Piano Competition 2015

Photo from http://gb.abrsm.org/

4 Valuable Tips for Succeeding at the ABRSM Piano Exam

Photo from http://gb.abrsm.org/

Preparing for the ABRSM piano exam? Check out these helpful tips from New York, NY teacher Nadia B...

 

Piano exams can be an excellent way to challenge your musicianship, set and reach clear musical goals, and improve all facets of your playing. There are many different types of examinations, but one of the most well-established and thorough is the ARBSM piano exam, administered by the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is a comprehensive examination with eight levels, allowing you to progress sequentially through the levels throughout your piano study, and it includes a practical piano performance, scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural tests. The following suggestions are designed to help you with the preparation so you can earn a high score on the exam and progress to the next level. Good luck!

Make a Plan

Perhaps the most important tip of all with regard to the ABRSM piano exam is to make a plan. Because you will want to take at least a few to several months to prepare for each exam level, it’s important to look at the bigger picture as you practice each week. It’s a challenging exam to prepare for because you need to learn three pieces to be performed accurately and at a high musical standard, in addition to being proficient in scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and aural skills (and theory, which is a requirement in tandem with the piano exam after level 5).

For this reason, I encourage my students to write out a written timeline of goals, with a weekly practice itinerary to meet those goals. For example, a typical week might include: practice and memorize x number of scales and arpeggios (and/or review or increase speed of scales and arpeggios already learned), work on specific sections of each piece as determined with the guidance of your teacher, and sight read at minimum x number of pieces. You will almost certainly need to adjust your timeline and goals as you go along, but the most important part is to create it, implement it, and then adjust it as needed. Also make sure to consult with your teacher and the exam criteria to formulate your plan.

Practice in a Variety of Ways

Another challenge of preparing for the exam is working on difficult repertoire for an extended period of time. While there is plenty to improve upon, there is also the danger of falling into rote memorization, muscle memory, and a musical rut. This not only takes away the freshness and creativity of music-making, it also jeopardizes your ability to perform well on the exam. When exam conditions are different from what you expected and nerves are interfering, performing something learned through rote memorization means that a small mistake could throw you off and leave you unable to recover quickly.

So, to challenge your musicality and strengthen your exam preparation, keep your practicing novel – practice with the music, without it, with your eyes closed; break the music down into each hand or voice within the harmony; use different rhythms to drill challenging passages (ditto for scales and arpeggios); and try to infuse each practice run-through with unique musical expression and ideas. This will ensure that your performance in the exam is inspired, assured, and distinctive.

Be Proactive About Nerves

Nerves are something else worth addressing and working through when undertaking the ABRSM piano exam. My approach with my students is two-fold. First, I encourage them to perform as much as possible prior to the exam. This could be for family and friends (in which case you could also employ some of them as mock jurors), at your piano studio’s annual recital, or as a volunteer in nursing homes or similar facilities. The other thing I recommend is to remember that nerves represent a type of energy running through your mind-body. The thoughts and sensations are your body’s reaction to an increase in energy. You can harness that energy within your body to create a greater awareness of your self, your environment, and the music. Feeling nervous is actually a positive thing that tells you that you are alive, engaged in the process, and full of energy that you can apply to your musical performance.

Get Extra Help

For the aural and theory components, don’t hesitate to seek out extra help. If you’re finding it difficult to address all the exam components with your teacher in the timespan of your piano lesson, schedule a longer lesson, or have separate lessons for aural and theory. They are valuable skills for musicians that deserve sufficient attention and preparation.

 

As you get ready for the ABRSM piano exam, remember to enjoy the process; it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn some incredible repertoire of the piano, gain new skills, and develop as a musician. The rewards are plentiful!

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo from http://gb.abrsm.org/

531666027_eb788d32f5_o

7 Qualities of the Best Piano Players

Qualities Of The Best Piano PlayersWhat do all of the best piano players in the world have in common? If you take a close look at what they’re doing, you’ll find a handful of similarities. All of them have incredible work ethic, attention to detail, and practice diligently everyday. On top of that, the best piano players in the world have studied with private instructors for years, taking advantage of an experienced player’s point of view.

All of these qualities of the best piano players are interrelated. It’s hard to practice diligently on a daily basis without having the work ethic to focus on the task at hand. And without attention to detail, diligent practice is almost always inefficient. Studying with a private instructor can help you stay focused, which aids in your attention to detail, and in turn keeps you motivated, which helps your work ethic. As an aspiring piano player at any level, these qualities can be learned and acquired.

Whether you view piano playing as a hobby that you do in your spare time, or a career path to performance on the world stage, these qualities should be carefully examined. As a casual piano player, maintaining all of these personal attributes can help you get better with minimal frustration. And as an up-and-coming maestro, efficient use of practice time can keep you moving forward and playing at your best!

1. Excellent Work Ethic

Every single piano player knows what it’s like to face challenges. What separates the best piano players from the rest of us is that they persevere through these challenges. Having the personal fortitude and work ethic to look at any difficult passage, and practice it until it’s perfect, is an attribute that you can learn, but will need to be cognizant of every day.

Work ethic doesn’t just stop with piano playing. It requires you to be focused on your work around the clock. Whether you’re a student or have a full-time career, make sure that your other obligations are taken care of to give you enough time to practice often.

2. Attention to Detail

Paying close attention to detail goes hand in hand with having a great work ethic. As you will need to be able to perfect those difficult passages and tiny issues with your piano playing after recognizing them, it does no good to have a fine-toothed comb and find small mistakes without the work ethic to fix it.

All of the best piano players are able to recognize the small intricacies of each passage on their own, and correct mistakes as they arise with diligent practice. If your experience level is not quite at the same point as professional pianists, this is where working with a private piano teacher is important!

3. Diligence

All of the best piano players realize that without consistent practice, their piano playing will not improve. Along with practicing, they play with a purpose. When practicing scales and arpeggios, they connect the work with the pieces that they are currently playing. Everything they do during each practice session has a distinct reason, and they focus on that. Without a purpose, the exercises and drills can easily become sloppy.

Along with the exercises prior to playing each piece, the best piano players focus intensely on each passage within the piece itself. Going back to the first two qualities, each piece requires incredible attention to detail, to make sure that the difficult passages are perfect, and if not, the work ethic required to make them perfect comes into play.

4. Commitment

You might think that the best piano players in the world had no need to have any private instruction to achieve greatness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every great musician, whether pianist or otherwise, has committed to studying with highly revered instructors prior to becoming who they are today. Private instructors can help to mentor you as a musician, and help you recognize the small details that you might overlook on your own.

Taking a private lesson on a weekly basis can help refresh your piano playing, and give you a second set of eyes and ears to make sure that your diligent practice isn’t going to waste. A private instructor can also help keep you motivated with different pieces that highlight your strengths, as well as work on your weaknesses.

5. Eagerness to Learn

In order to be a good piano student, you have to really want to learn how to play the piano! While this may seem painfully obvious, it is actually a very important trait. As with mastering most skills, learning to play the piano requires a great investment of your time. You need a true desire to learn piano that will keep you motivated through the hours of weekly practice you will need.

In addition to learning how to physically play the piano, you will also need to learn how to read music. In the beginning, you may only be able to read one clef at a time, but as you grow more comfortable with reading music, you will start to read them simultaneously — with the treble clef indicating what you should play with your right hand and the bass clef for your left. You will also need to memorize a vocabulary of musical terms that indicate the volume, speed, and other features of the music.

6. Willingness to Practice

A book sitting on your bookshelf does you no good unless you open the cover and read the words. Likewise, having access to a piano does nothing unless you are actually willing and committed to sitting down and practicing it regularly. Simply attending a piano lesson each week is not enough to master the skill of playing the piano. If you’re not revisiting the material your piano teacher taught you between lessons, you will likely forget much of what you have learned. Playing the piano also requires a great deal of muscle memory in your fingers, which can only be developed with regular practice over time.

7. Dedicatation

Although it has already been mentioned, it is worth repeating — the ability to learn piano requires a lot of time and practice. While you may have images in your head of a concert pianist performing an exhilarating piece by Beethoven or Chopin without breaking a sweat, this effortless performance is the result of many years of dedicated practice. In the beginning, you might struggle to even pick out simple melodies. There is no shame in being a beginner, but it’s important to realize that you will need to run a lot of drills, scales, and exercises to learn piano techniques that will lead you to more complicated pieces of music. At times, you may feel as though your practice is going nowhere and your abilities do not seem to be improving. Although you may want to give up, this is the best time to persevere!

With time, practice, and these qualities, almost anyone can learn piano. So what are you waiting for? There’s no better time than the present to start taking lessons and developing your skills.

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Philipp Bunge

2699395925_db29157903_b

3 Reasons Why Piano Players Should Also Learn the Organ

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

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

1) The Techniques are Different

Playing The Organ

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

2) Pedals and Keyboards and Stops, Oh My!

organ pedals

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

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

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

organ player

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

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

 

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

 

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Harry Vale, rosefirerising, kennysarmy

learning piano

Do You Have the Skills to Become a Piano Teacher?

learning piano

Did you know that teaching others is one of the best ways to learn piano — as well as continue learning, if you’re at an advanced level? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares what it takes to teach…

 

Being a piano teacher can be tremendously rewarding and fulfilling. The art of guiding a student on a journey of learning is one that comes naturally to some, but can certainly be learned by others who have the right skills.

The phrase “piano teacher” brings to mind different images and memories for all of us. For some people, a piano teacher is a harsh, cruel, and ruthless authoritarian, determined to see results no matter what the means. For others, a piano teacher is a wise, gentle, and caring instructor who gave them some of the most beautiful and lasting memories of their youth.

Before asking yourself if you have the skills to become a piano teacher, and ultimately maintain a successful career, ask yourself what kind of piano teacher that you would like to have. What kind of characteristics would your ideal instructor possess? Do you possess them yourself?

As a child, I never took piano lessons. I had too many friends who’d taken them and had learned not only how to play the piano, but also how to despise it because of mean teachers. I loved the piano too much to see that happen to me. The shame is that if only I’d found the right teacher, I might not have had to spend years in intensive piano training to correct poor technique. Over the years, I was lucky to be instructed by some of the best teachers in America and take note of the skills that made them so effective. I’ve also taken note of the effectiveness of my own and my colleagues’ teaching skills over the last decade.

The following is a list of skills that are necessary for becoming a great piano teacher.

1. Compassion
Some may think of compassion as an emotion, but it can also be thought of as a skill to be learned and cultivated. It’s vitally important in the art of teaching, but most especially in the art of teaching on an individual level. Often, it’s what’s most lacking in the most disliked piano teachers. Students will not only fail in small and large ways, but they’ll also be defiant and mean-spirited at times, too. These are the moments when compassion is essential for the sake of the single lesson, a long-term relationship with the student, and the growth of the student as a pianist.

2. Organization
One of your goals as a piano teacher will probably be to acquire a busy schedule. That busy schedule, combined with having a limited amount of valuable time in each lesson, means it’s so important to be able to keep student information, sheet music, and future assignments straight. If you’re naturally methodical and organized, this will come much more easily. Organization skills are also integral to the process of “mapping out” a student’s short-term and long-term goals.

3. Sincerity
Most students, especially children, will pick up on any sugar-coating or false praise almost immediately, and sometimes not even on a conscious level. A student will usually just begin to distrust the teacher, not really knowing why. Pretending to be greatly interested in mundane elements of a student’s life or trying to create deep connections will soon have him looking for another piano teacher.

Being honest and forthright in your observations during lessons and assessments of performances not only establishes trust, but also prevents wasting time. It would be as if a plumber came to your house to fix a sink, but just stood there telling you how beautiful your bathroom is. Your job as a piano teacher is to observe, diagnose, and solve challenges in each student. You must be able to do this every day in a clear and straightforward manner.

4. Flexibility
Teaching lessons one-on-one can be very unpredictable and malleable in terms of scheduling. Students might cancel a lesson a few days, a few weeks, and sometimes a few hours before it. You’ll be in control of your own cancellation and rescheduling policies, and as long as you’re organized (see skill number two), you’ll have made them clear to all of your students and parents. But being flexible with students’ rescheduling and last-minute conflicts is essential to keeping your students, not to mention your own sanity.

5. Self-awareness
You must be aware of your own limitations as both a piano player and instructor. Students may come to you with challenges that you may be too inexperienced or ill-equipped to handle. Conversely, students will come to you, grow as pianists, and then get to be so good that you must know when it’s time to find the student another teacher capable of teaching at that student’s level.

6. Positivity
The best-liked and most successful piano teachers that I’ve met are utterly positive people. You don’t have to be as perky as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, but optimism is infectious. That optimism may be all that a student needs to get past some of her challenges. Besides, if you don’t feel positive about a student’s eager willingness to learn the piano, then teaching it is probably not the job for you.

The best piano instructors are individuals who relish both the learning journey and guiding others on journeys of their own. If you have the key skills to be that guide, you’ll find that teaching is one of the best ways to continue learning piano even at an advanced or professional level. Teaching the piano may be the perfect career for you.

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Edgar Rubio Rodilla

3377653789_75108e9bd1_b

How to Transition from Classical Pianist to Jazz Pianist

3377653789_75108e9bd1_b

Piano music doesn’t have to be all classical, all the time! Here’s what you need to know about getting started with jazz piano chord progressions, courtesy of St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...

 

Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Duke Ellington are just a few of the great jazz piano players. What beautiful and fascinating sounds fill our ears when their names come to mind! The seemingly illusive progressions and spontaneous elements, like syncopation and improvisation, sound virtually like magic. To those of us who were trained in the classical tradition only, the journey from classical pianist to jazz pianist may seem like a long one. But it’s not be as difficult as it seems. By learning basic blues scales and jazz piano chord progressions, you’ll be taking the first important step in transitioning to jazz piano.

For those of us who’ve learned Hanon exercises, there’s an excellent resource called “Hanon to Jazz” (published by FJH Music Company Inc.). Specifically written for classically trained players, its fun and brilliant exercises and songs are a terrific introduction. They’ll have you playing the blues in no time. It’s a great map for your journey.

For those of you who’ve yet to learn Hanon exercises, Dariusz Terefenko’s created a great workbook, “Jazz Theory: From Basic to Advanced Study”, published by Routledge. I also recommend Tim Richards’ “Exploring Jazz Piano: Volume 1″, published by Schott.

One of the first stretches of road on your journey is learning jazz piano chord progressions.

The two, five, one, and six (ii-V-I-vi) chord progression, is one of the most famous and useful. An example is:

D minor-G major-C major-A minor

Here’s a video of how to play it:

The one, six, two, five, and one (I-VI-II-V-I) chord progression is another that could be tried with an improvised melody in the right hand. An example of the progression is:

C major-A minor-D minor-G major-C major

Here’s a video of how to play it:

Next, take a look at the chord chart below. It shows which keys to play together to create each chord. It’s fun to mix and match to make sounds that appeal to you.

chord chart

The second stretch of road is paved with learning jazz scales. Here’s a picture of several blues scales:

Blues Scale

As with the learning of any genre, listening is so utterly important. This is especially true for those of us who are adopting a new style. The best jazz musicians in the world listen to jazz all of the time. Think of yourself as a hungry traveler and that music is your sole nourishment. You won’t get very far without it.

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by sanbeiji

keyboard

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!

 

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by Benny Lin

DIGITAL CAMERA

3 Handy Websites for Finding Piano Notes for Songs | Piano Sheet Music

Where To Look For Piano Song Notes Playing piano doesn’t have to be limited to practicing scales and chords. You can have a lot of fun if you find the piano notes for songs on the radio or classic pop and rock tunes you’ve always liked, and go from there! This is a great way to break up the monotony of rigorous practice, and keep yourself motivated and having fun as you learn how to play.

Finding piano notes for songs isn’t usually that hard, either – you just have to know the right places to look. Here are a few of our favorite resources:

Musicnotes.com

This website has a great selection of piano sheet music available. In addition to the top pop hits you hear on the radio today, you can also find piano notes for songs recorded a few decades ago. In fact, many of their top downloaded songs are from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You can also find pieces based on playing level, ranging from beginner to expert. Be sure to check back often, as there are always new songs being added.

The cost to download the piano sheet music available on Musicnotes varies. Some songs are available for free, while others cost up to $10. Keep in mind that these songs cost money as they are technically property of the songwriter, and for each copy of the music there is a royalty associated with it. You can probably consider it a “get what you pay for” situation, as the sheet music is edited and proofread before it’s posted on the Musicnotes website.

Piano Street

With Piano Street, you have the world of piano sheet music at your fingertips! A membership costs $7 per month or $47 per year, but with that you get access to nearly 3,000 different pieces of sheet music, as well as recordings for most of the popular pieces. Their selection is mostly focused on classical and jazz compositions, so this might come in handy when you’re discussing which classical piece you want to play next with your piano teacher.

Not to worry though – if you need a break from practicing classical tunes, you can also head to their pop music section and search for piano notes for songs with a more contemporary feel. And with the professional members that frequent Piano Street, you can count on every submission being top quality.

8notes.com

Drawing its name from the number of notes in an octave, the 8notes.com website offers tons of sheet music, from classical to contemporary at beginner to expert levels. Best of all, a lot of the music available on the website is free to use!

The “Piano Licks & Riffs” section is also worth checking out, featuring contemporary songs and artists such as Adele, John Legend, and Coldplay. This is an easy way to get started with popular songs, since the majority of pop and rock tunes are based on a few simple chord patterns that are repeated throughout the entire chorus and verse. And once you have the basic chord progression figured out, it’s pretty easy to continue playing it and even sing along if you want!

There is a $20 per year fee to subscribe to the 8notes website, which gives you access to a large variety of full sheet music transcriptions, in addition to the free sheet music and chord progressions. There are also a few other benefits, such as higher-quality PDFs and transposition available.

Of course, before going out on your own to find piano notes for songs, you can also try asking your private instructor for their recommendations. Since he or she has been playing piano for much longer than you have, there may be websites or other sources of music that he or she is familiar with that can provide you with exactly the songs you’re looking for! It’s also a good idea to keep your teacher in the loop if you’re itching to practice different types of music. After all – music lessons are much more effective (and fun!) when they’re catered to your musical interests. Enjoy!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by MaltaGirl

4785211196_7ed7af116b_b

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!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of prescreened teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for safe, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Photo by ldhendrix