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11 Tips for Improving Your Conversational Spanish 720x300 (1)

11 Tips for Improving Your Conversational Spanish [Infographic]

conversational Spanish lessons + tips

Whether you’re learning Spanish for business or just for fun, your end goal is most likely to communicate with others — not just stare at a textbook! And to do this, you’ll need to practice listening and talking with real people. Here, Spanish tutor Joan B. shares some tips, and where to find conversational Spanish lessons… 


Ready to start speaking in Spanish with confidence? The following tips include creative ways to practice your Spanish in social settings and in your community, with native and non-native speakers.

If you’ve been studying Spanish but feel your conversational skills are lagging behind your understanding of grammar or your reading abilities, use these tips to make rapid, consistent progress while simultaneously having fun!

Note: These tips work for any language you’re learning. From Spanish to Japanese to French, conversation practice is key.

11 Tips for Improving Your Conversational Spanish

1. Attend social events geared toward Spanish speakers.
This could be a cultural event, a local gallery opening of Latin American art, or a community meeting regarding an issue affecting the local Spanish-speaking community.

2. Listen to material that is casual and conversation-based.
It’s great to listen to newscasts, but if you’d like to converse in Spanish, you can improve your comprehension of spoken Spanish by listening to podcasts and other recordings that reflect common usage of Spanish, rather than formal spoken Spanish. (Our Spanish podcast picks here!)

3. Combine your passions.
It can be hard to find time to improve your language skills when you’re balancing work or school, friends, and other hobbies. So, why not combine them?

If you like traveling, consider choosing a Spanish-speaking country, where you can practice your conversational skills and gain new ones. You could also consider doing volunteer or paid work in your field that would expose you to Spanish speakers. If you enjoy dining out, go out with a few friends who speak your target language — and try to go the entire meal speaking in Spanish!

4. Find a language exchange partner and work with a tutor.
Language exchanges are an excellent way to practice conversation, make a new friend, and learn all about the cultural aspects of speaking Spanish. This is a unique way to challenge your conversational skills, as language exchange partners are usually fluent, native speakers.

Keep in mind, though, if you’re making grammatical mistakes, your partner may not provide corrections. Because of this, it’s smart to balance your study by also working with a private Spanish tutor. Don’t let the word “tutor” scare you off — the great thing about private lessons is that you can set your own specific goals! If you’d prefer to spend the majority of the time practicing conversations, just let your tutor know! Many teachers specialize in conversational Spanish lessons.

5. Chat with a friend who is also learning the same language. 
If you’re more comfortable with someone familiar, try chatting with a friend who is also learning the same language! Even better, take a class together. Even if you don’t live in the same city, online group classes are a great way to learn together and get structured conversation practice with others.

6. Use online forums and communities to your advantage.
The internet is full of helpful resources for language learners! The TakeLessons Blog, for example, features articles and guides from professional language tutors like myself. You can also check out forums, like WordReference.com. If you can’t find the answer to your question, you can post it and get answers from native speakers and other in-the-know Spanish speakers.

7. Set specific goals or niches you’d like to focus on.
Is there a certain topic that you would like to excel in conversationally? Identify what interest you, then look for resources (or ask your tutor) to help you build a specific set of vocabulary.

For example, if you like to discuss politics, you could read the newspaper in Spanish, follow Spanish and Latin American politicians on Twitter, or join a community political activist group where Spanish speakers are active. Soon you’ll find yourself conversing easily on a variety of topics in your niche interest!

8. Supplement real-time conversations with language-learning apps.
Language-learning apps are great to use on your own and during your downtime. Some apps focus on pronunciation and conversational skills. Others include fun games that can drill vocabulary and grammar rules that you’ve worked on with your tutor.

Here are some of our favorite apps for supplementing your conversational Spanish lessons:

9. Watch films and telenovelas. 
Watch classic films or catch up on your latest telenovela to hear how Spanish sounds, what vocabulary is used, and how people express themselves. Try watching with subtitles to add another layer of reinforcement and understanding!

10. Get out in the community.
Volunteer to help Spanish speakers learn English, and you’ll learn about Spanish sentence structure and expressions by observing the ways in which they try to express themselves in English. Your knowledge of Spanish will also help when they are searching for an expression in English, but haven’t learned it yet.

This is just one of many ways to offer your skills as a volunteer and simultaneously improve your conversational skills. There are many opportunities for volunteering in the fields of law, social justice, nutrition, and more!

11. Host an exchange student or rent a room to a student.
If you have some extra room in your apartment or house, why not host an exchange student or rent a room to a Spanish-speaking student? In addition to making some extra money, you’ll get an enriching experience as you interact with your guest, learn various social customs, and engage in both Spanish and English. Your guest will appreciate your effort to learn his or her language, and you could also request that your guest does a weekly conversation hour with you in Spanish. It’s a win-win!

To recap…

How to Improve Your Conversational Spanish - lessons

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Conversational Spanish can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding activities for language learners. Start with one or two of these tips, and then continue through the list as you improve. Most of all, enjoy the journey as you increase your knowledge, make new friends, and have new experiences.

Want some extra help? Search for a local or online Spanish tutor to get started!

Joan BPost Author: Joan B.
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Learn more about Joan here!

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Techology and online Music lessons

How Has Technology Changed Music Lessons? [Infographic]

Over the past several years, online music lessons have substantially grown in popularity. And it’s no wonder — it’s an option that is convenient and often priced lower than in-person lessons. Plus, you can choose an instructor from practically anywhere!

Advances in technology have made the success of online music lessons possible, but that’s not the only way that technology has changed the way we learn music. New innovations provide fun and creative ways to enhance the learning experience for today’s student. You can find the best online piano lessons, for instance, and then supplement those with apps, games, and YouTube tutorials.

Here are some fascinating facts about how we learn, teach, and promote music online.

Technology and Music Lessons Infographic - Online music lessons

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Teaching Music Online – Additional Resources

Interested in teaching online? These days, you’ve got several options for video platforms to use, allowing you to instantly connect with your student, send files, and record lessons. Learn more about teaching online with TakeLessons here.

Learning Music Online – Additional Resources

Whether you’re looking for the best online piano lessons via Skype, pre-recorded YouTube drum tutorials, or chord charts for guitar and bass, there are so many resources available for students!

Learn Guitar 

Learn Piano

Learn Violin

Learn Drums

Whether or not you take (or teach) lessons online, there are many ways you can use current technology to enhance and supplement the learning experience. If you’re a teacher and need a place to start, online forums are great for sharing ideas with other instructors. The possibilities are endless! And once you start looking, it’s amazing what you can find out there!

Special thanks to online piano teacher Crystal B. for her help with this article! 

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Tips from Teachers How to Get Ready for a Piano Recital

How to Get Ready for Your First Piano Recital [Infographic]

Tips from Teachers How to Get Ready for a Piano Recital

A good piano performance takes plenty of patience, practice, and persistence. And your first piano recital can be nerve-wracking, on top of that! Here, music teacher Liz T. shows you exactly how to prepare…

 

If you’re new to playing piano, your first piano recital is a wonderful opportunity to showcase what you’ve learned in front of family and friends! However, performing can be nerve-wracking for kids and adults alike. Here is a suggested timeline to help you perform at your best!

Prep Before the Recital

3 Months Before

  • Start planning your repertoire (the songs you’ll be performing) with your teacher. Having your songs picked out at least three to four months before your recital gives you plenty of time to practice.

2 Months Before

  • In your lessons, work with your teacher on improving your rhythm, as well as mastering the melody and chords.
  • In between lessons, practice your pieces! Work on the left and right hand separately, then practice with both hands together.
  • Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to learn entire songs in one sitting. Break it down: work on 16 measures at a time, or one page at a time.

1 Month Before

  • This is the most crucial time before the recital, so make sure you’re not slacking off!
  • If you feel prepared, try challenging yourself by memorizing your piano pieces.
  • Try recording yourself playing, so you can identify areas you still need to work on.
  • Listen to professional recordings of your pieces.

Week Before

  • Make sure you know the logistics of the recital: What time should you arrive? How should you dress? Will the recital be indoors or outdoors?
  • Put on a mock recital in front of your friends and family.

Day of the Recital

  • Get a good night’s rest and eat a well-balanced meal.
  • Bring extra copies of your music, as well as snacks and water.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Make sure you warm up! Run through some scales and arpeggios, stretch your muscles, and keep your hands warm and loose.
  • Breathe! It’s normal to get stage fright, but imagine your performance going well, and stay positive.

Additional Tips for Your First Piano Recital

  • Besides bringing extra copies of your music, I recommend having a picture of your music saved on your smartphone (as you never know what can happen).
  • I also recommend either laminating your music onto a small board or putting it into a three-ring notebook. This way, you won’t have pages blowing away and falling down.

Got it? Here’s a handy infographic to print out and post where you can see it!

Piano Recital Timeline - How to Get Ready for Your First Piano Recital

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I wish you all the best with your upcoming piano recital. If you would like to map out an action plan for how to excel at your next recital, schedule a piano lesson today and get started!

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

Photo by bnilsen

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Five Fun Ways to Study Spanish This Summer

5 Fun Ways for Families to Learn Spanish Together

ways to practice Spanish this summer

Families: looking for creative ways to practice Spanish together now that summer is here? Read on as Sacramento tutor Allison H. shares a few of her fun ideas…

 

Summer is here, the warm temperatures and sunshine tempting us outside to pools, concerts, and neighborhood barbecues. With so many fun things to do, it’s hard to buckle down and learn Spanish outside your daily activities.

But one of the keys to learning a language is practice, practice, and more practice. Whether you are worried about your student suffering summer loss, are gearing up for that vacation in Mexico, or just want some fun Spanish-language activities for the summer, here are a few ways to practice and learn Spanish that will get the whole family involved.

1. Listen to a song

Music is a window into other cultures and languages, plus it’s good for pronunciation and vocabulary expansion. Listening and singing along to music in another language is wonderful for your pronunciation. Even if you don’t have a clue what the song is about, just singing along will help your mouth start to form the sounds of the language. Listening to music will also get your ears used to the sounds of the language. You’ll be surprised how many words you start picking out once you get started. So pull up YouTube and watch a few music videos from Latin American and Spanish bands. (Here are some great Spanish musicians to start with!)

Extra credit: Write down 3-5 words you didn’t know and look them up!

Here is one of my favorite tunes:

2. Catch up on the news

Listening to the news provides a snapshot of everyday life in the country where it came from. Much like listening to music, listening to the news provides an excellent opportunity for comprehension practice and vocabulary expansion. Each time you listen, select 3-5 words to look up and add to your vocabulary practice. Check out News in Slow Spanish — not only does it provide a newscast in slow basic Spanish, but it also includes a transcript so you can practice your reading comprehension as well.

Extra credit: Discuss what you just heard, in Spanish, with a family member or study buddy!

3. Get cooking

Everyone loves to eat, so why not make it an opportunity to practice your Spanish? Visit Allrecipes Mexico to pick out a delicious recipe, all in Spanish. How much can you understand on your own and how many of the words do you have to look up? Add the words you had to look up to your vocabulary practice. Now prepare and enjoy.

Extra credit: Make your kitchen a Spanish-only zone while cooking the meal. Here’s a great guide to Spanish cooking vocabulary from FluentU!

4. Put a label on it

Make your house the classroom. Label your furniture and appliances in Spanish. The repetition of seeing those labels will help everyone in the family associate the words with the object. This can be helpful for students who struggle with connecting the words in a book to real life.

Extra credit: Only refer to labeled objects by their Spanish name!

5. Take a walk…. with flashcards

Now that you have all this new Spanish vocabulary, it’s time to practice it. My personal favorite vocab study technique, backed up by research, is flashcards. Research shows that flashcards help with memorization because they appeal to many learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), force active recall (you have to remember the word from scratch without any context to hint at the meaning), and allow for self-directed study (you choose what you need to work on). Walking while you study has also been shown to help with retention, plus it’s more fun than sitting at home. So make up your flashcards and go for a walk.

Extra credit: Take a study buddy and quiz each other!

Here’s a visual recap of these ideas for practicing Spanish this summer:

5 Ways to Practice Spanish This Summer

 

Readers, what other ways do you practice and learn Spanish with your families? Let us know in the comments!

 

AllisonPost Author: Allison H.
Allison H. teaches Spanish in Sacramento, CA. She studied Political Science and Spanish at Warren Wilson College and Spanish Language at La Universidad de Granada. She has been teaching private Spanish lessons since 2011. Learn more about Allison here!

Photo by Nestlé

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Visual Tour of How to Read Sheet Music

How to Read Sheet Music for Piano: A Visual Tour

Visual Tour of How to Read Sheet Music

As you learn how to read piano sheet music, a whole new world opens up! Instead of just black dots on a page, you’ll see beautiful melody and chords right before you. Here, piano teacher Nadia B. takes you on a helpful visual tour… 

 

One of the most interesting things about learning piano is that it’s truly like learning a new language – just as you learn how to decode words on a page to read them aloud, you are learning to unlock the symbols on the page to play music. It’s a whole different world, and this article will help you to more easily understand what all the symbols mean. That way, when you look at a piece of sheet music, you won’t think it’s Greek; you’ll see music!

First, let’s take a look a piece of sheet music; then, read on to learn more about each element:

how to read piano sheet music

1) The grand staff

The first thing to recognize is the grand staff. It is composed of two staffs (or groups of five parallel lines) joined together. The top staff uses the treble clef, while the bottom staff uses the bass clef. In general, the treble clef is where right hand notes are placed, while the bass clef is where left hand notes are placed. Once you know the piano note names, you will be able to read from the two staffs to play the correct notes with the correct hand.

In piano music, you can use different fingers to play a single note. The finger you use will depend on the location of the note within the phrase, as well as the hand position you are using. For this reason, you will often see finger numbers marked in the music to indicate which finger you should use. Finger numbers are an essential aid to playing well, as they will ensure that you maintain a good hand position and move naturally around the keyboard without awkward finger tucks.

2) Key signature

Directly after the treble and bass clef, you will see the key signature: a collection of sharps or flats that indicate which notes to alter within the music, as well as what key you are playing in.

3) Time signature

After the key signature comes the time signature: usually two numbers, one above the other, that tell you how many beats are in each measure and what type of note (quarter, eighth, half, etc.) is equal to one beat.

4) Tempo marking

You will also see a marking indicating what tempo the piece should be played (for example, allegro, indicating lively, or largo, indicating very slow). As you progress on the piano, you’ll get to know these common sheet music terms very well. Sometimes this also includes a specific metronome marking, which is a guideline to understand the range of tempi that are possible.

Then, you will see several things that occur throughout the music:

5) Dynamic markings

These markings tell you how loudly or softly to play the music, and when to gradually increase or decrease the sound. The letter ‘p’ indicates to play piano, or softly, while the letter ‘f’ stands for forte, or to play loudly.

You will see a marking similar to a hairpin for a crescendo, or gradual increase in sound, and a reverse hairpin for a decrescendo, or gradual decrease in sound. The location and length of the crescendo and decrescendo markings show you how long they should last and where to begin and end them.

6) Articulation markings

Another category of markings you will see is for articulation, or the way in which notes begin and end. In the written music, you will see symbols like accents (similar to a forward arrow), indicating to play the note with emphasis, or staccato (a dot above the note), indicating to play the note with space before the next note (slightly shorter than full value). You will also see slurs, lines that slope above or below a group of notes, which signify to connect the notes smoothly together as you play them.

7) Mood markings

Another marking you may see will indicate the mood of a particular passage. So you may see espressivo (play with great emotion) or appassionato (play passionately) marked in the music, among many others.

8) Pedal markings

One of the most important markings specific to piano is pedal markings. These illustrate where to depress the pedal and, often, how long to sustain it for. You will see this in the music as the abbreviation ‘Ped.; or sometimes as a bracket underneath the line of music.

 

So, the next time you pull out your piano sheet music, don’t feel overwhelmed. Instead, try going on a treasure hunt for these markings and symbols, and see what you discover about the music itself as a result!

Still struggling with understanding how the notes translate to the keys? Check out my visual intro to the piano keys!

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 Joe Shlabotnik

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fastest way to learn spanish

6 Science-Backed Study Hacks for Learning Spanish [Infographic]

fastest way to learn spanish

Learning a second language can be a difficult task. However, with the right study habits and a drive to succeed, it can become a much easier, quicker, and enjoyable process. To help, we’ve rounded up six study hacks that will prep your mind and body for learning Spanish more easily. Check out the tips below for ideas on the fastest way to learn Spanish.

1) Write your notes by hand.

We know you’ve heard this seemingly outdated tip before, but it’s one of the best and simplest Spanish study hacks that exists. Studies suggest that you are more likely to recall information if you hand-write the information, because your brain has to focus on writing out the actual words. So, ditch your keyboard or your iPad, and resort to an old-fashioned pen and paper. If you feel like you have to type your notes in lessons in order to keep up with your teacher, rewrite them by hand when you get home to help you study and retain the information.

2) Exercise.

This might sound like a weird tip, but a 2009 study showed that physical activity can improve brain function, learning, and memory. Try combining the two when you can by listening to a Spanish language podcast while at the gym. Instead of watching TV during a study break, take a jog around the block. Leading an active lifestyle will help you recall Spanish better.

3) Chew gum while you study.

A recent study showed that those who chewed gum while they learned had higher accuracy rates when recalling information than those who did not chew gum. There is also a potential link between level of focus and gum chewing. So, the next time you’re struggling to concentrate, pop in some minty-fresh gum, and get back to studying!

4) Immerse yourself in the language.

A 2012 study shows that students who immerse themselves in the language instead of only learning in a classroom setting are more likely to absorb it. Furthermore, the study suggests that immersion can help the brain process the language like a native speaker. Try speaking and writing in Spanish whenever possible to better immerse yourself in the language!

5) Say it aloud.

This study shows that people who say information out loud are more likely to remember it than people who read everything silently. This study also suggests that our brain likes to remember oddball information, so you should choose to say aloud the information that is most important, not all of the facts that you have in front of you.

6) Don’t stress; get some sleep.

Even though cramming for an exam or your trip to Spain might seem like a good idea, studies have proven that sleep is more beneficial than extra hours of studying. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep in the days leading up to your exam or trip will help you to better recall information.

Here’s a recap of all these Spanish study hacks in one handy infographic:

6 Science-Backed Study Hacks for Learning Spanish

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So, what’s the fastest way to learn Spanish? You’ll find by using these study hacks, alongside the expertise of a qualified Spanish tutor, you’ll learn the language quicker than you might think! Good luck!

Ready to start learning? Search for a tutor near you!

Bonus:  Learn about the budget-friendly options for learning Spanish!

Photo by kathryn

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3 Summer Activities And How They Help Your Child Grow (Piano)

3 (Fun!) Summer Activities That Help Your Child Grow [Infographic]

fun summer activities for kids

Summer is here! With school out and the temperatures rising, no doubt your kids are excited to play. But beyond the summer camps, sleepovers, bike rides, and water balloon fights, stealthy parents know how to encourage activities that can actually help kids grow and learn!

Don’t worry — that doesn’t mean workbooks or summer homework. We’ve got three fun summer activities in mind that kids will be excited to participate in, and ones that will build confidence at the same time.

  • First up? Music lessons! If your son or daughter loves to sing along to songs when you turn on the radio, music lessons are a natural fit. And there are so many different lesson types to consider, from piano to guitar to saxophone.
  • For the more introverted or bookworm types, learning a language — like Spanish or French — might be a great choice. Of course, your child won’t become fluent over the course of one summer… but it can be a fun introduction to new cultures! Plus, it’s easy to find fun games and apps that support language learning.
  • Finally, if your child can’t stop moving, sports like soccer and softball are a great way to keep him or her busy. They’ll never know they’re actually improving their teamwork and goal-setting skills!

Here’s a recap of all the surprising stats you need to know about these fun summer activities for kids.

3 Fun Summer Activities That Help Your Child Grow [Infographic]

Whether your child is athletic, musically inclined, or interested in learning another language, summer is the perfect time to enroll them in classes and nurture a new hobby. And knowing your son or daughter is also growing and learning, you can sit back and relax this summer — just as the season was intended for.

Ready to get started? Search for fun summer activities, classes, and lessons near you!

Photos by Philippe PutDark Dwarf, and l. c.

 

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Difference between Spain and Mexico Spanish Header

Spanish in Spain vs. Mexico: What’s the Difference?

Difference between Spain and Mexico Spanish Header

If you are learning Spanish using books, apps, and other materials, you may have noticed some slight discrepancies in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. The reason for this is the difference between Spanish used in Mexico and Spanish used in Spain. The following are several distinctions that you should be aware of when you communicate with Spanish speakers, no matter what proficiency level you’re at.

1. Vocabulary

Learning the difference between Mexican Spanish and Spain Spanish vocabulary will ensure that you are understood. Here are a few important words and phrases to remember:

  • “Glasses” in Mexico are lentes but in Spain are gafas.
  • “Car” in Spain is most commonly coche, whereas in Mexico, you can use cochecarro, or auto.
  • The word for “computer” in Mexican Spanish is very similar to the English: computadora. However, in Spain the word is ordenador.
  • If you notice peaches for sale in Mexico, they will be labeled as duraznos. In Spain, the same fruits are melocotones.
  • “Potato” in Spain is patata and in Mexico papa.
  • “Remote control” literally translates to the Mexican Spanish control remoto. However, in Spain, the same object is called mando a distancia.
  • “Pen” is bolígrafo in Spain but pluma in Mexico — the same word as for feather.

2. Pronunciation

One of the most basic aspects of learning a language is developing the correct pronunciation, and it can be quite confusing to hear the same words pronounced differently by native speakers. One of the biggest pronunciation differences between the two languages are in z and c before an i or e. This sounds like s in Mexico, but “th”in Spain, for example, Barcelona. Additionally, Spanish from Spain tends to be more guttural, due to its Arabic influences, whereas Mexican Spanish is softer.

3. Vosotros/Ustedes

In Spanish, there are two forms of the second-person singular — formal and informal. The formal second-person singular uses exactly the same conjugations as the third-person singular.

In Spain, there are also two forms for the second-person plural: vosotros for informal and ustedes for formal; however, in Mexico, there is no second-person informal — you always use ustedes. Kids learn vosotros in school but never use it for more than understanding things like movies and literature from Spain. This is good news if you are learning Mexican Spanish, as you will have little need for vosotros. However, if you want to speak with people in Spain, you should learn the additional Spanish conjugations.

4. Past Tenses

One last difference between Mexican Spanish and Spain Spanish is the use of the past tenses. Mexicans use the past and present perfect tenses much the same as you use them in English. However, the Spanish favor the present perfect and use it for all recently completed actions.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet for some common differences in Spanish vocabulary:

Difference between Spain and Mexico Spanish

Of course, the best way to avoid confusion when it comes to the difference between Mexican Spanish and Spain Spanish is to learn with a private tutor. A qualified teacher can guide you along the way and provide study plans that can clear up any any doubts you may have. Good luck!

 

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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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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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