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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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How to Make Learning Piano Scales Easier

Piano Scale Learning Made Easy Learning an instrument can be a challenging but also rewarding pastime. If you’re a student of piano, learning piano scales can help lay the foundation for developing your skills as well as give you a better understanding of music, since most songs are based around the movement of scales. Learning piano scales can even get you started composing your own songs!

Scales, chords, and related piano exercises are a fun and useful addition to your daily practice ritual. The primary scales are the 12 major and 36 minor scales (natural, harmonic, and melodic). Learning piano scales will help you develop finger awareness and muscle memory, keyboard familiarity, confidence, technique, and an understanding of music composition.  With a thorough knowledge of the scales, developing a high level of proficiency on the piano will be much easier!

The Major Scales

The major scales are usually the first ones you’ll learn. To begin, work on a single octave, up and down the scale and focus on the fingering of each note first using your left hand, then the right. Once you’re comfortable, extend the range to include a second octave, and then practice using both hands simultaneously.

The major scales are all created using the same formula. It is:

WS = whole step      HS = half step

WS – WS – HS  - WS –WS – WS – HS

Starting on any note and using this formula will give you the major scale for that note.  When practicing scales, use the Cycle of Fourths. This is a pattern of moving root notes the interval of a fourth to the next scale.

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Begin playing the C major scale, move to F major, then Bb major through the cycle.  Next, reverse the pattern and the cycle counterclockwise (C major, G major, D major, etc.) to master the Cycle of Fifths!

Fourths and fifths are strong intervals found throughout Western music. By working on these scales in patterns of fourths and fifths, you will begin to develop your ear and recognize the intervals in any music you are playing.

As you’re playing the major scales, listen to the notes. Because they are built using the same formula, they share the same sound relationship. This is the “intervallic” relationship of the major scales.

Minor Scales

Mastering the major scales will then help you as you learn the minor scales. There are three variations: the natural, harmonic, and melodic. The natural minor is also called pure minor. The harmonic and melodic minor scales are variations built from the natural minor.

The relative minor scale is the minor scale sharing the same key signature as its related major scale.  The relative minor is formed from the 6th degree of the major scale and shares that major’s key signature.

C MAJOR SCALE:  C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Counting the first C, the note A is the 6th degree of the C major scale. A minor is the relative minor for C major.

C MAJOR RELATIVE NATURAL MINOR SCALE – A MINOR:  A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

This is the formula to determine the natural minor scale for every major key. There are two variations on the natural minor scale, the first being harmonic minor. The harmonic minor scale is based on the natural minor with the 7th degree raised 1/2 step.

A HARMONIC MINOR: A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A

The third minor scale variation is called melodic minor. The melodic minor scale consists of the natural minor with the 6th and 7th degrees raised 1/2 step when playing up the scale; when descending the 6th and 7th degrees are lowered 1/2 step, so you play the natural minor scale descending.

A MELODIC MINOR ASCENDING: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A

A MELODIC MINOR DESCENDING: A-G-F-E-D-C-B-A

Learning piano scales is an important part of your practice. You will develop technique,and finger control by memorizing them. Slow methodical practice can help you to memorize these scales and develop muscle memory. Begin by working on and memorizing the major scales, then use the formula to figure out the related natural minor scales. It can also be helpful to get some manuscript paper and write them down. Keep the major and related minor scales together to reinforce their connection.

Of course, if you study privately, you can ask your piano teacher for help. They’ll be thrilled that you’re showing an interest in the building blocks of Western music! Your teacher can also offer you tips for learning piano scales, variations on practice patterns, and more based on what they’ve learned through their own studies. Now… get to work!

 

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6 Celebrities Who Play the Piano | Test Your Knowledge

Did you know there are an array of famous celebrities who know how to play a piano? We’re not talking chopsticks here, folks. From actors to politicians and beyond, there is a long history of pianists that have gone on to spectacular careers.

Are you familiar with these high-flying celebrities who know how to play a piano?

1.  Clint Eastwood

Clint EastwoodBefore he made it big as an actor, Clint Eastwood was an accomplished pianist who intended to pursue a career in music. He later utilized his composing skills in creating the film scores of several movies he directed, including Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Changeling, and Hereafter.

2.  Hugh Laurie

Hugh LaurieAn accomplished pianist who began learning how to play a piano at the age of six, Hugh Laurie not only has two solo albums, but was also a guest artist on Meatloaf’s 2010 album “Hello Cool Teddy Bear”.

3.  Jamie Foxx

jamie foxxJamie Foxx began learning how to play a piano at age five, eventually playing piano at local church services. He later attended United States International University on a music scholarship, where he studied study classical music and composition. In his Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles in Ray, it is actually Mr. Foxx’s fingers tickling the ivories.

4.  Richard Gere

Richard GereRichard Gere started early as a musician. He played a number of instruments in high school, including the piano, and wrote music for high school productions. In his infamous role in Pretty Woman, Gere in fact composed the piece of music he was seen playing in the film.

5.  Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza RiceCondoleezza Rice began learning how to play a piano as a teenager and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist before pursuing her degrees in International Relations and Economics. She had the opportunity to accompany renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma for the 2002 National Medal of Arts Awards and still plays the piano often today.

6.  Jeff Goldblum

Jeff-GoldblumBefore he was an actor, Jeff Goldblum made a name for himself playing piano in cocktail lounges around Pittsburgh. Nowadays, when he’s not acting, he plays regularly at home, in addition to nearly weekly jazz shows at the LA club Rockwell.

Want to Go Down in Infamy?

Do you or your children find yourself entranced in the presence of pianists and wish you too could learn how to play a piano? Whether you’re looking for a beautiful escape or a long-term career, private piano lessons are a great way to further your interests and improve your skills. Sharpen your life skills and open up new pathways to creativity with the help of music today!

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Photo credits: Heelow, jazztimes.com, Virgin Media, Daily Mail Online, USA Today, New York TimesReviewSTL

Additional Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/is-music-the-key-to-success.html?pagewanted=all
http://parade.condenast.com/211922/linzlowe/did-you-know-10-celebs-who-play-musical-instruments/#celeb-musicians-clint-eastwood
http://musictoyourhomeblog.com/2014/03/13/6-celebrities-you-didnt-know-could-rock-an-instrument/
http://www.playpiano.com/Articles/37-famouspeoplepiano.htm

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Essential Scales for Jazz and Blues Piano Players

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Curious about playing jazz or blues on the piano? Learn about some of the essential scales to learn in this guest post by Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L...

 

Jazz music has been called the only truly American art form, born and raised on this very soil. A combination of the historical music forms of both African and Caribbean slaves and European immigrants, it may be the only way in which the “melting pot” objective was ever successful. To listen to jazz is to listen to America. For pianists, it can be a challenging and illusive genre. Many classically trained piano players never even attempt to learn it, while some would love to try, but just don’t know how. There are essential scales that jazz and blues players should know.

While jazz and blues (considered a sub-genre of jazz) may sometimes sound complex, it’s built very simply from the bottom up, so to speak. Major and minor scales and chords are most certainly used, but some things must be different in order for it not to sound like anything else. Here’s a list of essential scales for jazz and blues piano players. When you read “played over ______ chords,” it simply means to play the scales indicated in either hand while playing a chord in the other. Try different combinations, like playing a chord in the right hand, while playing a scale in the left.

The following scales are best played over major chords.

G blues scale
G Bb C Db D F G

C blues scale
C Eb F Gb G Bb C

Lydian mode scale
C D E F# G A B C

Mixolydian mode scale
C D E F G A Bb C

The following scales are best played over minor chords.

Aeolian mode scale
C D Eb F G Ab Bb A

Dorian mode scale
C D Eb F G A Bb C

The following scales are just fun!

Dominant Bebop Scale
C E G B C B Bb A G (then descend) F E D C

Major Bebop Scale
C E G B C B A Ab G (then descend) F E D C

Lydian Dominant Scale
C E G Bb C (then descend) Bb A G F# E D C

Get creative. The real idea here is not just to play the scales ascending and descending, but to improvise using the notes of the scales. The more that you practice these essential scales for jazz and blues piano players, the more comfortable that you’ll feel playing them and the more sounds that you’ll create. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve told me that they “can’t” improvise or play jazz, and while I know that some people have natural gifts, I also know that the best work hard. Oh, and have fun, too!

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint 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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Long-Live the Keytar: 4 Reasons Why This Portable Piano Should Come Back in Style

Keytar Fun The piano is an instrument that will never go out of style. The various forms of electronic keyboards, however, have seen waves of popularity, as technology advances and exciting new features are added to new models. While some keyboardists are content to stay horizontal, a handful of musical trailblazers have been known to work their magic on that most interesting hybrid of instruments – the keytar. Whether you’re new to learning keyboard, or a seasoned expert, the keytar can be a fun instrument to explore.

Check out these four reasons why the keytar deserves its niche in the world of popular band instruments.

       1. They’re more portable for travel than stand-up keyboards.

Some keyboardists are inseparable from their massive setups, with big stands, multiple keyboards, extra controls, and more. However, many touring artists prefer to have less baggage to check while traveling, and the keytar can be the ideal solution for this. Power/speed metal band Cellador is based out of Denver, for example, but their keyboardist and keytarist Diego Valadez flies routinely from Los Angeles to perform with them; sometimes on longer tours, you’ll catch him showing off bigger toys, but mostly the keytar is his lightweight go-to. This is also a useful property when you’re first learning keyboard; a keytar is relatively easy to take to a friend’s house to jam!

       2. They allow you to be fully mobile on stage.

One of the most fun things about live performance is being able to jam out to the songs just like a fan! Many a keyboardist has had to restrain themselves to that knee-and-ankle rock back and forth, but with a keytar, this limitation is gone. Whole-body headbanging, strutting around, and all kinds of other options are opened up with a keytar’s mobility, especially when you make your setup even more efficient and versatile with additions like effect pedals. For those who like to sing and play at the same time, Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes is proof that a keytarist can be a great lead singer as well.

       3. They’re way more fun for fans to watch than traditional setups.

On a regular keyboard, the musician’s hands are typically a little hard for the audience to see. Most setups involve standing up, and the board being horizontal is an issue for fans up front. With a keytar, not only can the fans see your body language as you rock out, but they can get up close and personal with the sheer speed of your keyboard playing. Fans go wild when beloved keyboardists like Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess break out the keytar and show off their skills. Take a look at this video to see what we mean (Rudess starts in at 0:20):


      4. They’re anything but an overdone gimmick.

Keytars sit in a convenient gray area, between the sheer power and audience command of an electric guitar, and the eccentricity of the accordion. Indeed, keytars and accordions appear commonly in good company, with “Weird” Al Yankovic being a champion of both. Keytars are a great way to make a standout statement, without quite going over the edge of oddness. Anyone learning keyboard who decides to pick up the keytar will find themselves in a small but solid crowd of company; other well-known artists who have featured this versatile instrument include Lady Gaga and Prince, as well as the bands Asia, Steely Dan, and MUSE.

For both seasoned pianists and those new to learning keyboard, the keytar opens up a range of new and exciting possibilities. No matter where you are in your life’s musical progression, it’s always possible to benefit from some quality private lessons, so don’t be afraid to seek out a good teacher. There will always be new and interesting hybrid instruments invented, so stay versatile and have some fun exploring!

 

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Your Best Piano Practice Routine: 4 Things to Focus On

4665461114_0619f13b86_bYou know practicing is important – but how should you design your ideal piano practice routine? Check out these helpful tips from Brooklyn, NY piano teacher Liz T...

 

In order to be prepared for your weekly piano lessons, you must spend your time wisely practicing on your own at home! In this article, I’ll review some tips to help you figure out what you should be spending your time practicing.

But first, how much practice? If you are taking a weekly 30-minute to an hour piano lesson, and are serious about sharpening your piano playing and theory, then I suggest sitting down at the piano 3-4 times a week, for an hour at a time. You’ve heard the phrase before, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!” It’s true – the only way you can improve your sight reading, ear training, and performance is by practicing. Now here’s what to practice:

1. Scales and Finger Patterns

Pull out your favorite method book, and practice your scales. Practice them slowly, really fast, piano vs forte, and so on, making sure to get all of the fingering down correctly. Practice until you can play without looking at the sheet music, and you know which scales have which sharps and flats. Practicing scales and tricky finger patterns will help you pick up your finger dexterity and learn to read new pieces faster. (Do these exercises for about 10-15 minutes.)

2. Chords

Next, work out different chord progressions, which is great if you want to play jazz or accompany singers! Start out with your simple chords, and each time you practice, learn a new chord (major, minor, 7ths, 9ths, Sus4), different voice leadings, and inversions. While your scales will most likely be in the classical realm (major or minor), you can also try switching it up a bit and enhancing your knowledge with learning how to play some jazz chord progressions! Feel free to start improvising and practicing your soloing. You may have to do it live someday, and now is the time to get comfortable “soloing” on the piano. (Do this for about 10-15 minutes.)

3. Composition Analysis and Performance

Whether the piece you’re currently working on is Bach, Gershwin, or Menken, first go through the piece and analyze it slowly. Assuming you have previous piano knowledge, ask yourself: What key is the song in? What is the time signature? Is there a chorus, or reoccurring melodic motif? Are there suggested fingerings I should use? Then start to go over just the rhythms of the song, clapping them out. If it’s a tricky rhythm, go ahead and write it into your sheet music.

Then start playing – go through the melody from start to finish with just your right hand, then do the same with the left. It is important that you really get comfortable playing the right hand and left hand separately before putting the two hands together. (Work on this for about 20-30 minutes.)

4. Practice the Tricky Parts

Now that you have practiced both hands separately and then together, go over some of those parts that may have caught you up. Is there a really fast part of the song? Are there some tricky chords? Are the trills or accidentals messing you up? Practice the more challenging parts, and keep doing them constantly, until you get it right! Repetition is key for your fingers, ears, and brain. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Don’t forget it’s okay to take a five-minute break at this point, too; just come back and play the whole piece through again after your break. (10 minutes)

This piano practice routine is a clear and concise way for you to now start practicing more efficiently. Now go forth, practice, and make some music!

LizTLiz 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!

 

 

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Piano Basics: 20 Ways to Instantly Improve

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From piano basics to the more advanced techniques – what are the best ways to instantly improve your playing? Take a look at these 20 helpful tips from Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...

 

Maybe you’re a brand new piano beginner, ready to start your journey. Maybe you’re a seasoned pianist who’s found himself in a state of stagnated growth. Either way, you could use a boost for your skills. Here’s a list of 20 ways to instantly improve:

  1. Stretch before you play. So much pain, and sometimes even injury, is a result of failing to warm up. Stretching lubricates. Be sure to loosen not only your hand and arm muscles and joints, but also your back.
  2. Get an eye exam. This may sound like a strange tip, but so many of my students, young and old, are squinting and straining their eyes and don’t even know it. Often, students then think that they’re terrible at reading, but they’re not. They just need glasses! If you’re overdue for an appointment with your eye doctor, schedule one today. Your sight reading may become a hundred percent better.
  3. Play fun stuff daily. This means sticking really enjoyable songs that you love to play into your set of practice repertory. Try to find the songs that inspired you to start playing piano in the first place. You might reignite your passion!
  4. Shorten your practice sessions. Typically, the brain retains only about the last 15 minutes of what it’s intensely practicing or studying. So, instead of practicing piano for 30 minutes, practice for 15 minutes, then take a break, then practice for 15 more minutes. You’ll probably find that you remember more. Shortening your practice sessions could even help build your endurance and stamina.
  5. Watch and listen to great pianists. Live music is always best, but even if you can only watch a YouTube video, watching great pianists play is inspiring and encouraging. My personal favorites? Mitsuko Ushida and Dr. Pavel Zarukin.
  6. Find a technique book that you like and use it. Hanon exercises are my favorite for ages 12 and older, but for younger players, the “Daily Dozen” series is perfect. The fact is that good and bad technique are sometimes all that separates world-class pianists from unknown players.
  7. Get a good night’s sleep. Okay, so this is a great idea for everybody. But for people who use their brains in intense sessions, like musicians, sleep is incredibly important for keeping sharp. And remember, stress produces a chemical called cortisol, and the best way for cortisol to be “burned off” is sleep.
  8. Teach someone else. Sometimes, the best way to learn something is to teach it. Now, don’t try to teach some Rachmaninoff piece that you don’t know yet. But teaching a beginner a song that you’ve mastered may sharpen your skills through reinforcement.
  9. Brush up on your markings. This means the dynamic, tempo, and articulation markings of all of your stuff. If you’ve been playing a piece at the same tempo and volume throughout for a while, and then you add a crescendo here and a ritardando there, then you’ll hear an instant improvement.
  10. Sing along. The best professional pianists that I know have taken voice lessons, even for a short time. They are irreplaceable for teaching you about phrasing, dynamics, and line. But if stretching your golden pipes isn’t for you, then focus on singing “la” on or humming the melody of your pieces! You’ll learn and “record” the flow of the piece.
  11. Eat better. Once again, this is a suggestion that we all hear all the time. But if you’re finding it difficult to focus as you play, if you find yourself getting distracted easily, then you may be nutrient deficient. Drink more water, take a high-quality multi-vitamin along with fish oil supplement (or chia seed, if you’re a vegetarian), and eat more vegetables and whole grains. You might find that frustrating piece is not so frustrating. (Side note: Omega-3 may not only help your brain, but also may benefit your joints, including those in your piano-playing hands.)
  12. Play make believe. Before playing a piece, imagine the world that you’d like to create, one into which you’d like to invite your audience. It might even be helpful to create one or more characters, perhaps your right and left hands are two. Imagine a story playing out as your song goes on. The audience will be become captivated, not only in the sound, but also in watching your performance.
  13. Listen outside the box. Get into the habit of listening to all kinds of music outside your listening comfort zone. If your music collection consists only of composers from the Romantic period, or 1960s psychadelic rock, or country music, then the depth and richness of your playing will be limited. Once in a while, change your Pandora or Spotify station and listen to something new. You might hear things that you’ve never heard before.
  14. Plan your practice. Please take note that this tip is not simply the suggestion, “Practice.” To tell someone just to “practice” is so vague and general. Many of us were never taught how to practice, or the best way. Consult your instructor for specific steps. If you don’t currently have an instructor, then write down your practice plans. Schedule it, like anything else that you have to do. Plan one thing on which to focus for each session, like the tempo of that sonatina, memorizing that sonata, or simply working on some of the piano basics you still need to master.
  15. Visualize each performance. Before you perform, and even before each time that you practice, visualize yourself playing. Science has shown us that the brain does not know the difference between what it sees in the mind and what it sees through the eyes. This can take tremendous concentration and focus, but if you need help with that, go back to tips seven and 11!
  16. Play with a singer. This is related to tip number 10. Have a friend who’s a singer? Offer to be her accompanist during a practice session. She’ll be thrilled to have the help, and you’ll be learning something quite different from solo piano. It will force you to listen closely and follow two things at once – your notes and the singer’s notes.
  17. Take a long break. If you’ve been working very hard at your piano studies, and you’ve felt frustrated, maybe just with a specific piece, then put it away for a week. Often, we’re so determined to master and perfect a piece that we can burn ourselves out. For those of us who feel frustrated with piano altogether, talk to your instructor openly. If you don’t have an instructor, then take a break from playing for two weeks. You’ll probably come back to it having missed it.
  18. Stop having finger favorites. So often, even the best pianists have fingers on which they tend to put more weight. Usually, that’s our first, second, and third fingers (thumb, pointer, and middle). Treat your fingers like a group of 10 kids. You don’t want to show favoritism toward one or spend more time on another. Land with each finger with the weight of your entire arm and shoulder, and on their tips only. This will often solve challenges, like fingers sticking up on their own as you play.
  19. Sight read everything. Whenever you go by a friend’s house, check out their piano bench, if they’ve got one. Pick out something totally random and try to read it. Don’t stress; you’re not looking to nail it. You’re strengthening your reading skills.
  20. Remember who you are. You’re not someone who’s “trying to be a pianist.” You’re a pianist. Believe in that, and you’ll improve instantly.
HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint 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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piano rock songs

5 Rock Songs with Awesome Keyboard Solos

Interested in branching out from the typical classical piano repertoire? Learn how to explore the world of rock with this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...

 

During my past decade of teaching music, I’ve met a lot of students who seem interested only in taking drums or guitar. Why? It’s not because they were particularly well-suited to either of them, or because they loved the instruments, but because they wanted to play rock music, and they thought that the only way to do that is to learn the drums or the guitar. No way! Some of the greatest rock songs of all time are keyboard-heavy. And I mean heavy. Here’s a list of five of the best songs to play on the keyboard:

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles

“Jump” by Van Halen

“Bat Out of Hell” by Meatloaf

“Light My Fire” by the Doors

Edward Van Halen, a man who single-handedly changed rock music in 1978, wrote most of the music for his band on the keyboard. Black Sabbath, perhaps the first true heavy metal band, incorporated several songs to play on the keyboard into their discography. Led Zeppelin, widely considered one of the greatest bands of all time, used piano quite a bit throughout the years. Elton John and Billy Joel, men known for their classical piano training, are now well-respected members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Deep Purple’s “My Woman from Tokyo” and “Highway Star” are two examples of great songs to play on the keyboard.

Piano is an essential element of rock music and its history. Sure, you can write a rock song or two without it, but you couldn’t create the unique richness and depth that comes with the sound of the keys. Piano rocks!

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint 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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15 piano quotes

15 Beautiful Quotes Every Piano Player Will Love

15 piano quotes

It’s hard to put the joy of making music on the piano into words, but this difficulty hasn’t stopped many great minds from trying. To celebrate the beauty of this grand instrument, we put together this collection of wise words and quotes about piano. Which one is your favorite?

1. “The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.” – Maria Cristina Mena

2. “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.” – Thelonious Monk

3. “Pianos, unlike people, sing when you give them your every growl. They know how to dive into the pit of your stomach and harmonize with your roars when you’ve split yourself open. And when they see you, guts shining, brain pulsing, heart right there exposed in a rhythm that beats need need, need need, need need, pianos do not run. And so she plays.” – Francesca Lia Block

million colors

4. “When you play, never mind who listens to you.” – Robert Schumann

5. “Everybody told me this ‘girl on the piano thing’ was never going to work.” – Tori Amos

6. “I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.” – James Baldwin

7. “What has keys but can’t listen to the beauty it unlocks? A piano.
” – Jarod Kintz

never mind who

8. “Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” – Tom Lehrer

9. “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky

10. “Sometimes I can only groan, and suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano.” – Frederic Chopin

11. “One of my biggest thrills for me still is sitting down with a guitar or a piano and just out of nowhere trying to make a song happen.” – Paul McCartney

12. “Without a piano I don’t know how to stand, don’t know what to do with my hands.” – Norah Jones

piano keys quote

13. “I’m an interpreter of stories. When I perform it’s like sitting down at my piano and telling fairy stories.” – Nat King Cole

14. “Sometimes I feel like a melody doesn’t have anything to do with me, but it’s just something that comes, is accumulated from me playing on the piano, and then this little creature just appears.” – Agnes Obel

15. “You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or you’ve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.” – Robert Schumann

Do you know of any great quotes about piano that we missed? Share it with our piano community in the comments below, or tweet it to us at @TLPiano

 

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 Photos by knownaaart_youMichele Ursino, and Luigi Rosa