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7 Qualities of the Best Piano Players

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

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

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

1. Excellent Work Ethic

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

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

2. Attention to Detail

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

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

3. Diligence

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

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

4. Commitment

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

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

5. Eagerness to Learn

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

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

6. Willingness to Practice

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

7. Dedicatation

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

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

 

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Science-Backed Rituals to Calm Your Nerves Before a Piano Recital

Tips On How To Calm Your Nerves Before A Piano PerformanceDo the butterflies in your stomach seem to turn into bats before each and every piano recital? You are not alone. Millions suffer from performance anxiety, or “stage fright,” from actors to professional athletes. But you don’t have to let this anxiety prevent you from letting your talent shine for the world to see!

Is anxiety affecting you before your piano recital? Look for these signs:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Trembling limbs or voice
  • Dry mouth or difficulty speaking
  • Cold, sweaty hands
  • Nausea or feelings of unease
  • Vision changes
  • Poor sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating at school or at work
  • Irritability

If you recognize those symptoms, you’re not alone. But you can calm piano recital jitters with these scientifically proven tips:

Lean on a friend.
Phone a friend for a laugh or support before your piano recital. Multiple studies have shown social interaction boosts relaxation and decreases stress, helping you feel more confident and calm by enhancing your feelings of social stability and belonging.

Warm your ticklers.
A Yale study showed that wrapping your hands around something warm, such as a cup of tea, increases feelings of calm. Why? Stress triggers your body’s fight-or-flight response, drawing blood and heat from your limbs to your core and sending signals to your brain that are interpreted as a sign of distress. Warm them up to switch the signal — and increase feelings of safety and comfort for your piano recital. Bonus tip: Black tea was found by a University College London study to lower cortisol more than placebo brews.

Exercise.
The endorphins produced during exercise are proven calm-inducers, according to research from Harvard Medical School. Bonus tip: Exercising outdoors in nature before your piano recital can boost that serenity.

Cut the clutter.
Physical clutter equals mental clutter. A Princeton study showed cutting clutter and organizing your surrounding environment boosts your sense of calm and order. All that clutter in your visual field overloads your brains neural pathways, increasing stress.

Don’t overlook the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Sleep affects not only your physical health, but anxiety and stress. Too little and it can make subsequent nights of restful sleep difficult to achieve, creating a vicious cycle of sleep problems. Make sure to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep for a few nights before your piano recital.

Smile.
Smile, even though your heart is racing… Research suggests smiling and laughter can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Ditch the donuts.
Research suggests sugary and processed foods can increase symptoms of anxiety. Kick your cravings and opt for nutrient rich foods, especially those packed with Vitamin B, which improves mental health; omega-3s, which help reduce depression and anxiety; and whole-grain carbs, which help regulate the “feel-good” hormone serotonin.

Be prepared.
Since most fears involve making mistakes, one of the best ways to beat piano recital anxiety is by knowing your material inside and out. In addition, prepare yourself beforehand by laying out clothes, keys, and any other necessities to prevent any additional anxieties associated with running behind schedule.

Tune in.
Research from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden showed that music lowers blood pressure and stress hormones. However, not every song is a cure-all, so find the tunes that resonate best with you to reap the greatest rewards.

Meditate.
Scientists have discovered meditation increases grey matter in the brain, essentially rewiring the body to stress less. Meditation has positive effects on anxiety, mood, and stress symptoms, helping us analyze how our mind generates stressful thoughts and distance ourselves from them.

Goof off.
Kids and animals can easily play without ruminating on the things they “should” be doing. Playtime is not frivolous –in fact, experts say a variety of playtime activities can reduce stress.

Go silent.
Alarms and interruptions of all types, as well as persistent, even low-level noises can boost stress levels. Completely disconnecting from the radio, TV, alarms, cell phones, and internet (gasp!) can have a dramatic effect on stress and anxiety, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Don’t let your nerves run away with your piano recital. Rein them in with these proven tips, and you’ll be well on your way to performing and having a blast!

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How to Transition from Classical Pianist to Jazz Pianist

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

D minor-G major-C major-A minor

Here’s a video of how to play it:

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

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

Here’s a video of how to play it:

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

chord chart

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

Blues Scale

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

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

 

 

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How Pentatonic Scales Can Help With Piano Improvisation

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Curious about pentatonic scales? Learn the basics of how to incorporate them into your improvisation in this guest post by Austin, TX teacher Tosin A..

 

Have you ever heard a great solo? I mean a piano solo that practically hurts your feelings because it’s so good? You think things to yourself like: They can’t be that good. What kind of scales are they using? Are they a wizard?

The honest truth behind it is the brilliant use of pentatonic scales.

Pentatonic Scales 101

A pentatonic scale, as the name suggests, is five notes. There are major, minor, and dominant pentatonic scales that use the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th note of that scale.

For example, C minor pentatonic is:

• C
• Eb
• F
• G
• Bb

While C Major pentatonic would be:

• C
• E
• F
• G
• B

The beautiful thing about these types of scales is that these five notes will fit into any progression in most modes. You can put money on the fact that every blues solo you’ve ever heard used a heavy amount of relative minor pentatonic scales.

Using Pentatonic Scales in a Solo

So how do you use these five magic notes to create a solo people will love?

First, you have to know which scale to use. And that depends on what type of song it is. The general rule is to use the pentatonic scale that matches the key of the song. For example, “My Funny Valentine” is in C minor, so you would use the C minor pentatonic for solos.

There are exceptions, though.

In blues and country songs you can use the minor pentatonic scale even if the song is in a major key. You also don’t have to use its relative minor. Pistol Annie’s “I Feel A Sin Coming On” is part of the F minor pentatonic scale (F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb) with the occasional A, but the song is in F.

Then the question is which notes do I use when?

If the chord progression stays diatonic (no modulations or complicated passing chord changes), you can use any of them at any time. This is why they are so crucial to improvised solos–you have five notes that you know will work for 90% of the solo. That gives you time to think about other notes to play.

An advanced technique to try is matching the notes to the chord progression.

Sticking with F minor pentatonic scale: If the chord is F minor, then the Bb wouldn’t be the best choice. It would work, but any of the other notes work better. Same thing if the chord is C–you may want to stick with C or Eb.

The most important answer to the question above is whichever notes sounds the best. Never forget, all the rules can be broken if it sounds good.

Pentatonic scales are used everywhere. From the long vocal runs you hear your favorite pop stars sing, to the best jazz and blues solos of all time, they all heavily rely on the use of them. Of course, this article is just an introduction to playing pentatonic scales, but it gives you some of the secrets of great musical improvisation and soloing. Chat with your piano teacher if this is something you’d like to learn more about in your lessons!

TosinATosin A. teaches piano, music theory, music composition, public speaking, and various academic subjects in Austin, TX, as well as through online lessons. He has been playing piano for 14 years, and currently plays for his church and 3 bands (La Vida Buena, Savannah Red and The Blueberries, Jackie Venson), and for Improv Comedy Shows around town. Learn more about Tosin here!

 

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4 Tips for Learning Jazz Piano Chords

5858866114_719df8d4e8_bReady to spice up your piano practice? Learning jazz piano chords is a great way to explore new genres and styles on the keys. Here, Tulsa, OK teacher Chris F. shares a few tips to get started…

 

Jazz piano can be a fun but difficult thing to learn. The trick to becoming a great jazz pianist is mastering jazz piano chords. Here are four tips to get you playing jazz chords with ease:

1. Know your theory: In order to even think about jazz piano, your music theory has to be strong:

  • Practice playing major seventh, dominant seventh, minor seventh, half and fully diminished seventh chords in root position across the keyboard.
  • Practice major ii V I chord progressions (ii minor 7th, V dominant 7th, and I major 7th) and minor ii V i chord progressions (ii half diminished, V dominant 7th, and i minor 7th) in all 12 keys.
  • Be aware of all the possible chord symbols: Major 7ths (Cmaj7, C△, CM7), Minor 7ths (Cmin7, C-7, Cm7), and half-diminished 7ths (Cmin7♭5, C∅). Luckily, dominant 7ths and fully diminished 7ths only are notated one way (G7 and G° respectively).

2. Know your voicings: The root position chords above are great to familiarize yourself with the notes, but don’t smoothly connect the harmonies.

In C:
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To make these chord progressions smoother, move the least distance to the next chord.

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Often with smooth voice leading, 7ths in one chord resolve to the 3rd of the next chord. There are many unique sounding jazz voicings to experiment with. Use your ear to be the judge. To experiment, here are some possible voicings to try out with both major and minor ii-V-I progressions.

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3. Know your extensions: Chordal extensions are harmonies added to 7th chords that add texture, color, and a characteristic jazz sound. In fact, 7th chords are rarely played plain, but with one or more of these added notes.

As a general rule:

  • Major 7ths, minor 7ths, and dominant 7ths often come with added 6ths and/or 9ths. A 9th is just a 2nd an octave up. The 7th is almost always included in any chord, regardless of what extension is being added. When a 6th is added to a dominant chord, it’s always added above the 7th, creating a “13th” interval. Thus, a 13 chord is a dominant 7th with a sixth added above the 7th (see below). Also note that a plain 9 chord indicates a dominant 7th with a 9th added.

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  • Dominant chords (plain 7th chords that often function as the V in a ii  V  I chord progression) sound great with many different extensions. In fact, the 5ths and 9ths of dominant chords can be raised or lowered, leading to many unique harmonic possibilities, including 7♭9, 7#9, 7♭5, 7#5, 7♭9#5, 7♭9♭5, 7#9♭5, and 7#9#5.

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  • Often, in jazz lead sheets and chord progressions, the dominant extensions above aren’t specified, but can be added to taste.  This goes for the 6ths and 9ths in major and minor 7th chords. There are almost always extensions added to 7th chords. Many times the 5th is excluded from the voicing, especially if extensions are added. If it sounds appropriate in the progression and leads smoothly to the next chord, it’s probably a great choice.

4. Know how to practice: The easiest way to become familiar with these jazz piano chords is to practice ii-V-I progressions in every key.  Another great resource is playing pre-written arrangements found in books such as Piano Stylings of the Great Standards (Vol. 1-6) by Edward Shanaphy or The Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine. These books provide you with many great voicings that are clearly labeled.  And of course, having a quality hard copy or digital “fake book” full of jazz standards, such as The Real Book by Hal Leonard, is a must for practicing your jazz voicings. Happy practicing!

ChrisFChris F. teaches guitar, piano, music theory, and more in Tulsa, OK. He has been active in collegiate percussion ensembles, marching and concert bands, various choirs, chamber music groups, jazz combos, an award winning jazz big band, bluegrass combos, drum and bugle corps, and private lessons on several instruments, as both a section leader and as a teacher. Learn more about Chris here! 

 

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The 10 Best Piano Practice Tips to Remember

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Not sure where to start when you sit down at the piano? Just remember these 10 piano practice tips from Austin, TX teacher Tosin A

 

All right, students. Relax your shoulders, keep your back straight, and let’s begin our scales. Just kidding. Practicing is the most important part of becoming a piano player. Here are a few things to take your practice time to its highest potential.

1. Set a Clear Goal

If you sit down at the piano and say, “I’m going to play for a bit,” you aren’t going to to learn anything. Instead, set a goal: “I’m going to learn how to play the opening song in Frozen.” Since you set a goal, you are going to keep at it until you reach it. You also have to make sure that your goal is achievable in your practice time frame. If you have only two hours, you probably shouldn’t try to learn the entire “Planets Suite” by Holst, maybe just the pretty part in “Jupiter”.

2. Warm up

Seriously, I know it’s boring, but I’ve had carpal tunnel and tendonitis because of not warming up. I’d rather spend 10 minutes warming up than be in pain for six months. This is one of the most important piano practice tips because it also gives you the opportunity to get into the right mindset.

3. Set Aside Time for Fundamentals

Make sure at least 15 minutes of your practice time is set aside for things like scales, runs, accuracy, and timing. You only gain technical skills by repetition – uncomfortable, annoying, boring, focused repetition. Just build in 15 minutes of fundamentals to every one of your practices and you will be able to play insanely technical pieces.

4. Slow Down

The trick to learning hard songs is learning them at half-speed and then slowly speeding up. Slow down to whatever speed you can play it perfectly. Then, when you can play it perfectly at that speed three times, speed it up a little bit. A LITTLE BIT. “What’s a little bit?” I’m glad you asked…

5. Use A Metronome and Slow Down Again

If you can’t play a song in time, then you can’t play the song. “Flight of the Bumblebee” is played, depending on how you count it, at about 500bpm.

But do not start trying to learn the song at 500bpm. You start at 50bpm. When you can play it at 50, speed it up to 60, and so forth until you can play at the correct speed.

6. In Case You Didn’t Hear it, Slow Down

I cannot stress this piano practice tip enough. I truly believe the difference between average musicians and great ones are people who know how to practice a fast song at a tenth of its speed and slowly start to speed it up.

7. Listen

Name your top 10 favorite pianists. If you don’t have the list, you haven’t listened to enough pianists. You have to know what great sounds like to sound great yourself. Since it’s 2014, it’s a lot easier to discover great pianists and great music – try just a simple search on YouTube!

8. Imitate, then Innovate

After you listen, try to copy great solos you love, and then try to make them better. This is where you find out who you are and what is special about your piano playing. This is the opportunity to go from being great to being unique.

9. Take A Break

You’ve warmed up, spent 15 minutes on fundamentals, learned how to play “Jupiter”, and now you are on to “Mars”. You spent 20 minutes listening and copying Fats Waller solos. What do you do next?

You stop.

… and breathe. Then get back into it.

10. Start and End With Fun

Make sure you play something you love when you start to practice and something you love when you are done, preferably something you are great at playing. This will keep your confidence up!

The most important thing to remember is that all this hard work gives you the ability to entertain, uplift, and touch people with your talent. It’s also way more fun playing piano when you are great at it. Now go make some beautiful music.

TosinATosin A. teaches piano, music theory, music composition, public speaking, and various academic subjects in Austin, TX, as well as through online lessons. He has been playing piano for 14 years, and currently plays for his church and 3 bands (La Vida Buena, Savannah Red and The Blueberries, Jackie Venson), and for Improv Comedy Shows around town. Learn more about Tosin here!

 

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

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

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

Musicnotes.com

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

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

Piano Street

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

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

8notes.com

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

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

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

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

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5 Things to Try Once You’ve Mastered Scales on the Piano

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So you’ve mastered and memorized all the different scales on the piano – what now? Here are some awesome musical ideas to try next, courtesy of Corona, CA teacher Milton J...

 

You’ve likely come a long way from your very first piano lesson, a nerve-racking beginning to what is sure to be a lifelong love for these 88 keys of joy and wonder. Maybe it’s been a few lessons and you’ve finally completed a goal – you’ve mastered major and minor scales! From C major to Eb minor, you’ve got the fingerings, crosses, and two-hand synchronization down. So, what’s next? Here are five new steps you can take after your scales on the piano are committed to memory.

Interval Training For Your Ear with Familiar Tunes

Everyone has that favorite song they are dying to learn how to play on the piano. And there’s no time like the present to use that favorite song to start teaching your ear to listen for intervals and recreate them on the piano. This skill is fundamental to understanding how harmony functions within melodic and chordal procedures and is essential to your piano-playing development. And all of this can be achieved with Here Comes the Bride and The Simpsons theme song.

This video from Home Studio Essentials shows some popular songs and rhymes that are utilized for interval ear training:

Reading Sheet Music Using Favorite Songs

Have you ever passed through you favorite music store and seen the books of music featuring your favorite artists? Well, now’s the time to pick out one of those books and bring it with you to your lessons! You can also ask your teacher if they possess the songbooks in question, which may save you a step and some cash. These songs will provide a fun way to further introduce you to reading musical notation, and you will most likely start to make parallels between the intervals and scales on the piano you’ve learned and the melodies used in your favorite song.

Writing Musical Stories

The creative process is a wonderful thing to behold. It begets the great art we’ve enjoyed for centuries, and it allows us to create even more for ourselves and for others. Why not utilize that creative spirit in creating something of your own? One of the most liberating ways is to set original stories and/or poems to music. Whether this is set to scales or music you have already learned or original melodies altogether, this could be a great way to get those creative juices flowing. Ask your teacher about making this a project for you, and maybe you can collaborate with them or even your musical friends!

While fully orchestrated instead of merely on the piano, this example of “Pickles and the Bully” from Pickles’ Adventures can give you an idea of creating musical ideas set to a story:

Need For Speed

Now that you have all these scales memory-banked, what else can you do with them? Well, you can turn them into speed drills! One way is to target a specific note and try to get to that note as fast as possible. For example, take the five-finger scale and try only going one direction and see just how fast you can reach your target note. Pay no mind to initial mistakes for now, as long as you play that target note strong. With even more practice, those mistakes in the middle will disappear! From there, change it to playing as light as you can. The lighter you play, the faster you can play. So, try not to push at the notes. Instead, grab at the notes and let your fingers produce a full tone, not your arms. In no time, you’ll turn those scales into speed racers!

Nate Bosch of PianoLessons.com shows an example of this and other exercises here:

Back to the Blues

Did you know that some of our favorite classic songs are built around a blues scale? Take “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream. That introduction scale is a blues scale. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin? Sure enough, a blues scale. How about on the piano? Blues scales are in some of the most beloved and popular jazz standards in America. Learning blues scales across all the keys you learned in your major and minor scales will open up more improvisational possibilities, enabling you to become an even better pianist!

Steve Nixon from freejazzlessons.com gives a great video tutorial with an accompanying sheet of blues scales here:

There you have it, budding pianists – five things to try out after you’ve mastered your first scales on the piano. Remember, with great talent comes great responsibility – the responsibility to have fun!

MiltonJ Milton K. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

 

 

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In the Pits: How to Succeed as an Orchestral Pianist

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

Orchestral Works with Piano

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

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

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

Operatic Works with Piano

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

What to Study to Become an Orchestral Pianist

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

You will need to be able to:

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

The Life of an Orchestral Pianist

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

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

 

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4 Songs That Every Classical Pianist Should Learn

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

 

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

1. Moonlight Sonata

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

Free sheet music can be found here.

2. Fur Elise

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

Free sheet music can be found here.

3. Ave Maria

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

Free sheet music can be found here.

4. Clair de lune

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

Free sheet music can be found here.

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

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

 

 

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