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Learning Piano

5 Bad Habits Holding You Back as You Learn Piano

Learning Piano

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

 

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

1. Practicing scales mindlessly or with bad technique

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

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

2. Memorizing music completely with muscle memory

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

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

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

3. Not breathing well, combined with bad posture

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

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

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

4. Unruly hand position

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

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

5. Not learning to read music correctly

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

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

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

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

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

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Map the Music

Feeling Stuck? Try This Fun Piano Exercise [Printable]

Map the Music Piano Exercise

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

 

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

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

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

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

Wonka's Welcome piano exercise

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

Now Let’s “Map the Music”!

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

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

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

Map the Music – Draw the Melody & Harmony

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

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

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

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

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

Map the Music – Mark the Details

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

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

Map the Music – Extra Tips

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

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

Map the Music Piano Printable Worksheet

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

 

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

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

Photo by m kasahara

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The 10 Minute Music Practice Challenge for the Busy Student

A 10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge for Busy Students

The 10 Minute Music Practice Challenge for the Busy Student

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

 

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

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

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

1) Create a Unique Practice Space

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the piano exercise!

10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge – Overview

10-Minute Piano Practice Exercise

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10-Minute Piano Practice Challenge – A Closer Look

1 min: Breathing and Visualization

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

2 min: Review Notes

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

5 min: Work on Targeted Assignment

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

2 min: Review Previously Completed Song/Exercise

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

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

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

How to Really Improve Your Piano Skills

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

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

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

Photo by Tuan Hoang Nguyen

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Visual Intro to the Keyboard

How to Read Piano Music Faster: Intro to the Keys

Visual Intro to the Keyboard

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

 

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

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

Half Steps

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

Half Steps

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

C Major Scale Half Steps

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

Whole Steps

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

Whole Steps

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

Chromatic Scale

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

F Chromatic Scale

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

Enharmonics

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

Enharmonic Notes

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

Sharps and Flats on the Piano

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

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

Double Flat

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

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

How to Read Piano Music Faster - Visual Intro the Piano

How to Read Music Faster & Improve Your Sight Reading

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

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

Next up? Check out my other visual tour, and learn how to read piano sheet music!

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

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

Photo by mararie

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Off the Keys

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

Off the Keys

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

 

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

Off the Keys — Piano Practice Tips for Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a visual to recap these tips…

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

 

Off the Keys — Piano Practice Tips for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also try this fun “zombie” exercise…

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

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

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

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

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

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

To recap…

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

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

Photo by rhodesj

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Fun Improvisational Tips for Pianists at Any Level

4 More Improvisational Tips for Piano Players at Any Level

Fun Improvisational Tips for Pianists at Any LevelWe’ve covered how to improvise on a piano before, but there’s always more to explore! Learn about four more piano improvisation exercises to try in this guest post by Long Beach, CA piano teacher Lynda A...

 

Improvisation is the technique of making up music on the spot. Most music students think piano improvisation is only for advanced students and professional players, but everyone has the ability to create music spontaneously. I’ve seen many beginner piano students come alive with a little structure and guidance using some of the simple ideas below. I have also observed students who blossom more from improvisational learning than from music reading and lesson books. In any case, I think it is important to have a balance between musical exploration and fundamental keyboard skills to become a well-rounded piano player.

1) The Beauty of One Note

This is a very simple exercise. Start by playing one note with the pointer finger of either hand. Hold the note down, and listen until it fades away. Then, choose another key to play. Continue to freely play notes one at a time, slowing down or speeding up at will. Remember, there are no wrong notes!

2) Create Some Clusters

Beginner musicians learn how to play piano with both hands by forming a five-finger position, like C Major for example. This exercise uses both hands on the piano. Place your hands on the keyboard, and play all 10 fingers at the same time wherever they fall on the keyboard. You do not have to play keys that are next to each other, just play all 10 fingers and create clusters of tones all around the keyboard. You can also play one finger at a time, going from lower to higher pitch, or vice versa. Feel free to make music that sounds great sometimes and maybe has more dissonance at other times. You may accidentally play something that you love and eventually work that into your own piano composition.

3) Create a Black or White Key Song

I often start my first lesson with a beginner student with a black-key, four-hand improvisation. This simply means that we both jam on the black keys at the same time. It’s one of my favorite exercises. The black keys create a pentatonic scale. Even if you don’t know what it means, just know that everything you play will sound great. In a duet, I play chords in the low end, and the student will play a melody that fits with my rhythm and pattern. At home, the student can experiment on his or her own, creating chords or melody or trying to do both. The beauty is that there are no wrong notes!

The same exercise is great with the white keys, too. The white keys represent the first key we all learn on the piano, C Major. Although a little more complex than the pentatonic scale (seven notes versus five notes), you will soon learn what notes sound great together. Use your imagination while playing piano by ear, and don’t worry about making mistakes.

4) Explore Tones with the Sustain Pedal

Try any of the above piano improvisation ideas with the sustain pedal. The sustain pedal creates a beautiful echo when notes are played and offers the opportunity for students to enjoy this wonderful sound. Start with the “Beauty of One Note” exercise, and listen to each note as it fades away. Create some clusters to hear how the notes clash or create a pleasing sound as you let your hands fall spontaneously with a big echo. Applying the sustain pedal to your black or white key improvisations is fun, too. Create space between your notes or chords, and enjoy the resting as much as the action of playing.

Lynda A.

Lynda A. teaches piano, guitar and singing lessons in Long Beach, CA. She earned her B.M. in Music/Business from DePauw University and her B.S. in Recording Arts from Ex’pression College for the Digital Arts. In addition to her private lessons, she has also performed music internationally and has release multiple albums. Learn more about Lynda here!

 

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Infographic: How to Practice Piano for Your Best Results

piano practiceWhat’s the best way to practice piano? If you really want to become a better piano player, you’ll need to have a plan in place when you sit down at the keys. Here, online piano teacher Crystal B. shares her recommendation for breaking down a 30-minute practice session…

 

Whenever you sit down to practice piano, it’s important to make the absolute best use of your time. For beginners, 30-minute practice sessions are a great place to start! Here are some tips to ensure that your practice time is effectively helping you become a better musician. Let’s break down a 30-minute practice time:

5 minutes: Warm up – Spend this time getting your fingers and wrists loose and ready to play! Your instructor will be able to provide you with some great exercises for this.

Tip: This is also a great opportunity to check for things like correct posture, that you’re sitting centered at middle C, and that you’re holding your hands/wrists in the correct position. If you’re not sure, imagine that you are resting your hand on top of a tennis ball. This is how your hand should look — and make sure to keep your wrists straight.

10 minutes: Technique/Theory – Technical exercises are so important to your development and improvement as a pianist. Unlike the warm-up time, this is the opportunity to really push yourself! I include piano theory during this time because so many times, these things can work hand in hand. For instance, you can incorporate things like practicing scales and chord inversions into this time. Doing this will not only help you solidify your theory knowledge (which is so important!), but you’ll also be working on strengthening your fingers and becoming a more versatile player.

Tip: Make sure you prioritize note accuracy,  correct fingering, and playing evenly over speed while working on technical exercises. You should try to increase your speed eventually, but only after you’re able to play the exercise correctly and evenly.

10 minutes: Song Assignments – If you’re taking piano lessons, most likely your instructor will have assigned you a song (or songs) to practice during the week. These song assignments will usually be given to help reinforce what you are learning in your lessons. If you have been given more than one song, try to spend some time playing each one so that you don’t lose any ground you’ve gained during previous practice times. Typically you’ll be working on songs longer than a week, so remember, just make sure you are making progress and having fun!

Tip: When working on songs (especially if they are difficult), don’t feel like you need to attack the whole song at once. Many times it’s best to work on songs in sections, and your instructor can help you in deciding how much is appropriate to tackle each week. Also, don’t forget you can start with hands separately at first, and then try them together. This will make learning new songs much more manageable.

5 minutes: Free Play – You’ve worked hard, and during this time I recommend playing something just for your own enjoyment. This could be anything from a song that you’ve already mastered to trying to write a song of your own! Doing this is a great reminder of why you play piano in the first place — because you love it!

Are you a more visual learner? Check out this handy infographic to learn how to break up your piano practice for maximum efficiency:

How to Plan Out Your Piano Practice for Success

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CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!

 

 

 

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High View Farmhouse

14 Common Musical Terms All Piano Players Need to Know

As you’re learning how to read music on the piano, you’ll come across a lot of different words and terms that will seem like a foreign language. And that’s because… they are!

Most sheet music terms you’ll see are Italian, or have Italian roots, while others are taken from French, German, Latin, or Spanish. But don’t worry — you don’t need to learn how to speak Italian fluently to be a good piano player. There are many piano terms and symbols, but the 14 listed in the infographic below are some of the most common. If you understand these, you’ll be able to play many famous piano pieces in the way the composer intended — and become a better piano player as you continue learning!

piano terms

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*Special thanks to online piano teacher Crystal B. for her help with these music term definitions!*

What other sheet music terms have you come across? Do you have any tips for memorizing them? Leave a comment with your questions and advice!

 

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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.

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tips for learning piano

3 Other Musicianship Skills You Need to be a Great Pianist

tips for learning pianoOne of the best tips for learning piano is making sure you have a well-rounded skill set! Read on as online piano teacher Crystal B. shares her thoughts…

 

The piano is definitely a unique instrument and playing piano requires a specific skill set. However, there are some basic musicianship skills that every piano player needs.

Timing

When people think of musicians that need great timing, they typically think of the drummer. But it’s equally important for a piano player to have great timing! Many times, new piano players overlook this very critical skill and feel that it’s not as important as other elements. But good timing is one of those fundamental music skills that is extremely important no matter what instrument you play.

A large part of being a great musician is being able to play with the right “feel,” and acquiring this skill starts with timing. Being a rhythmic player becomes even more important if you are playing with other musicians, especially in the studio. In most studio settings, you will be playing to a “click track,” which basically functions like a metronome to keep everyone on the same page rhythmically. So when your music teacher is asking you to play with a metronome, just know, you are practicing a skill that you will definitely use at some point!

Theory

Knowing music theory is probably one of the most powerful tools you can have, regardless of the instrument you play. When you gain the understanding of how music works — why certain chords sound good together and why certain keys/scales have sharps and flats (the black keys) — this unlocks so much potential as to what you can accomplish as a musician. The other great thing about theory, is that it enables you to effectively communicate with musicians that play other instruments. So much about theory crosses over to every instrument, and knowing it also makes learning additional instruments much easier.

Charts

A lot of times when people think of playing by chord charts, they think of guitar players. Some piano players only play by reading notes, but I highly recommend also learning to play using charts. This will make you a more versatile player and will also help you function well in a setting where you are playing with other instruments (especially guitar players). Also, if you decide to become a session player, you will need to learn the Nashville Number System. Charts are a great way to get the basic knowledge you will need to make learning this much easier.

All of these things are useful musicianship skills which will come in handy regardless of the instrument you play. One other thing worth mentioning, I highly advise students to play with others who play different instruments any chance you get. This is one of the best tips for learning piano, because it’s a great way to become familiar with how other instruments work and what skills cross over. It’s a great learning experience and lots of fun too!

CrystalBCrystal B. teaches piano online. She has been teaching all ages and levels for more than 15 years. Learn more about Crystal here!

 

 

 

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