How to Measure the Success of Your Child’s Piano Lessons

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Piano lessons for kids are an investment — so how do you know your investment is worthwhile? Here are some tips for checking in and making sure your child is learning piano at the right pace, courtesy of Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T

 

If your child has recently started taking private lessons, there are certain benchmarks you can follow to assess musical progress as he or she is learning piano. Many parents are unaware of how to track and measure their child’s musical abilities. These guidelines will help you understand what level of theory comprehension and performance standards your child and his or her teacher should be striving for in the first year of piano lessons.

First Month

Students should begin learning piano by focusing on the right and the left hands, with their correlating numbers for each finger (1-5). Students should begin reading music with these numbers only. This will help train them how to read music and play the piano comfortably at the same time. Students should practice both the left and right hands, starting with 1-3, their thumbs on middle C, playing the white notes on the keyboard, and then using their 4th and 5th fingers.

Three Months

Now that your child is comfortable with identifying their fingers with numbers, they should be moving on to learning the actual note names on the staff paper. They should be familiar with the lines (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge) and spaces (FACE) in treble clef and the lines (Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always) and spaces (All Cows Eat Grass) in bass clef, to quickly identify the notes. Students will also start to interpret simple rhythms, such as half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, and so on.

Six Months

At this time students will be introduced to scales, starting with the easier scales (C, G, F). Learning these scales will also help your child become familiar with the accidentals (sharps and flats). The combination of analyzing the correct note names and rhythms will help students learn simple songs to play.

One Year

At this time, students should be comfortable with reading the notes on the page and practicing their scales. This is also a good time to introduce chords, playing multiple notes in the chord triad in the right and left hand. It may take a while for your child to learn chords, depending the size of their hands. Some students love hammering down on the piano playing chords, while others can be intimidated!

 

All students have different learning styles and paces. Depending on the age of your child, these timelines could vary. Some students may hit these target goals months before the average student is expected to comprehend these subjects, while others may need a few more weeks or months to develop their skills. I wish your student all the success, and if you want to make sure your student is on the right track in their piano lessons, find a great teacher today at TakeLessons!

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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7 Qualities to Look for in the Perfect Ballroom Dance Partner

Whether you’re a veteran dancer or you’re just beginning to learn ballroom dancing, every dancer needs a partner. If you haven’t already found your perfect partner, keep your eyes peeled for these seven winning characteristics.

1. They’ve Got Smooth Moves

Your perfect partner doesn’t have be Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, but they should know how to ballroom dance well. Ideally, you and your partner should be dancing at about the same skill level. The best dancers tend to be the most sought-after partners, but other factors also come into play. A dancer with great skills but a terrible attitude will soon find himself or herself unpopular on the dance floor.

2. They Put You at Ease

You’re going to be getting close to your ballroom dance partner, so be sure to choose someone you feel comfortable with. The perfect partner knows how to keep it light, even when you feel like you have two left feet. If your partner has the lead, it should feel easy to follow, and not as if you are being led on a military march. If you’re the one doing the leading, your partner should float with you, intuitively following your direction.

3. They Can Teach You a Thing or Two

A ballroom dance partner who can teach you a new step on the fly from time to time is always a joy. Learning new steps will help keep your passion for dance alive. If you can, be sure to return the favor and teach your partner a step or two every now and then.

4. They Are Fun to Talk to

The perfect dance partner should also be a wonderful partner in conversation. Look for someone with a good sense of humor who you truly enjoy talking to. Great conversationalists listen as much or more than they talk because they understand that it’s not all about them. Communicating with your partner should be fun and easy.

5. They Are Not Stinky

You don’t want a partner who smells unpleasant, or whose cologne gives you a headache. Be sure to freshen up yourself before you hit the ballroom. You don’t want to be known as the stinky partner either!

6. They Don’t Put You Down

Dancing with a partner can be intimate and, at times, intimidating. As you learn how to ballroom dance, you will experience moments of insecurity and self-doubt. Your partner should help support you as you learn, and you should do the same for them. Great partners want to help each other succeed. Don’t stick with a partner who bullies you or makes you feel bad about your dancing.

7. They Truly Love to Dance

Your partner loves to dance and it shows! They bring an enthusiasm and sense of fun to each dance. Their passion is contagious, and you find they can get you excited to dance even on your worst days. If you find a perfect ballroom dance partner like this, don’t let them go!

What do you think? As you learn how to ballroom dance, what would your perfect dance partner be like? Tell us all about them in the comments below!

 

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Subdivision: The Easy Trick for Reading Rhythms Right

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As you’re learning to read music, you’ll come across complex rhythms at some point. Here, Saint Augustine, FL music teacher Heather L. offers some helpful tips to help you get through the tricky parts…

 

Have you ever found yourself sitting in a big concert hall, or in your room, listening to a soloist play a practically perfect rhythm? Almost all of us have, and almost all of us have asked ourselves, “How do they do that?” Their secret is subdivision.

You might be just beginning with learning to read music, or you might have been reading for decades. Either way, chances are that you agree with many musicians that reading pitches is one thing, but reading rhythms is quite another. Rhythm can be what separates some of us from believing in our sight reading abilities.

Learning Your Note Value Family Tree

As you learn to read music, subdivision is the key to understanding what every note means, rhythmically. You could think of subdivision as a sort of X-ray vision for rhythm, allowing you to see the inner structure of each note. You see, every single note is made up of smaller, or shorter notes.

Note Value Family TreeWhat you see here is a simple drawing of the hierarchy of notes, if you will. In a way, it’s kind of a note value family tree. At the top, you see a whole note. A whole note is made up of two half notes. Each half note is made up of two quarter notes. Every quarter note is made up of two eighth notes. Each of those eighth notes is made up of two sixteenth notes. If you were to count all of the sixteenth notes at the bottom, then you’d find sixteen of them. There are sixteen sixteenth notes in a whole note. Got that?

Writing Counts Into Your Music

Okay, below is first line of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, only underneath each note you’ll see that I’ve written a combination of numbers and plus signs. Each number and each plus sign represents an eighth note. Count out loud, saying, “One and two and three and four and…” If I were to sing this, then I’d sing the same thing on the appropriate pitches.

Ode to JoyBy steadily counting every eighth note as you read the music, you’re instantly more accurate. You’ll no longer be guessing at how long to hold each note. This is especially important when it comes to something like what you see in measure four above. Instead of thinking to yourself, “That dotted quarter note is one and a half beats,” you’ll think to yourself, “That dotted quarter note is three eighth notes.” Instead of thinking to yourself, “That half note is two beats long,” you’ll think to yourself, “That half note is four eighth notes long.”

When I have a really tough song to learn, I’ll write the counts underneath, just like I did in “Ode to Joy” above. What’s really cool about subdivision is that it can be used in music that has even sixteenth and thirty-second notes! Counting sixteenth notes means saying, “ONE-ee-and-uh-TWO-ee-and-uh…” Every note has a specific number of sixteenth notes “inside” it. Just count as many as you need.

Though all this may sound tedious, it actually makes learning to read music so much easier. Instead of a vague feeling or intuition about how long or short notes are, you’ve got a solid understanding of how every single note is constructed. The mystery of rhythm unravels, and suddenly, you’re no longer intimidated by it. You can see right through 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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3 Ways Your iPod Can Help You Get Better at Piano

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What’s the easiest way to get better at piano? Break out your iPod and find out in this guest post by Brooklyn, NY teacher Julie P...

 

One of the best ways to get better at piano is to listen to other pianists. This is true no matter what genre of music you play and it means that you can use your iPod to improve your piano skills. Do want to be able to play pieces by Chopin or Brahms? Listen to concert pianists play pieces by those composers. Do you want to play in a pit orchestra on Broadway someday? Listen to the soundtracks of your favorite musicals. Do want to play keyboard in an alternative rock band? Listen to the keyboard players of your favorite groups. Here are a few ways that listening to music on your iPod can improve your piano playing.

Incorporate Style

There are so many different genres of music, and one of the most important things you can do is make sure you play each piece of music in the appropriate style. There are lots of tiny factors that contribute to a song’s style, including tempo, note lengths (legato vs. staccato, or anything in between), note attacks (accented or not), pedal use, rhythmic feel (straight, swing, disco, rock, etc.), and use of rubato. If you don’t play with the correct style, your favorite song from “Phantom of the Opera” could end up sounding more like a Ben Folds Five anthem.

As you listen to music on your iPod, pay attention to the elements listed above and see if you can replicate them. Are you holding notes for the right amount of time? A classical Nocturne by Chopin will likely need to be played more legato than a disco tune by Abba. If you play the Nocturne too detached, the melody won’t sound very beautiful, and if you play the Abba tune too legato it will lack the energy of disco music.

Are you playing in the correct rhythmic feel? Music by Count Basie doesn’t sound right without some swing, while classical music would sound incorrect if you added in that same swing. What kind of attacks are you using on your notes? An upbeat Broadway number will likely need a punchier sound than a quiet ballad by your favorite singer-songwriter.

For all of these elements, try playing along with the recording to see if your playing matches what you’re hearing. Or, take turns with the recording, first listening and then playing it yourself. It’s likely that you’ve already incorporated some of these elements in your playing, but the more things you pay attention to, the more authentic your playing will sound.

Diversify Your Playing

As you learn to play with stylistic accuracy, you’ll be able to branch out into new styles. If you can replicate what you hear, there’s no limit to the number of styles you can play. If you’ve always wanted to be able to play in a jazz band but have only ever played classical music, check out players like Count Basie and Ahmad Jamal to get a sense for how the piano functions in the jazz idiom. If you’re unfamiliar with how to play piano in a rock setting, check out Billy Joel or Ray Charles.

For learning new styles of music, start by listening to music on your iPod, away from the piano. Get a sense for the elements discussed above and think about how they’re different from styles with which you are already familiar. Once you have a handle on the new style, gradually start trying things out at the piano. Try to figure out the introduction to a song, or how to play part of a solo. Play along with recordings or transcribe new music using your iPod.

Quickly Learn New Songs

If you have new sheet music you’d like to learn, grab your iPod and listen to the piece a few times before attempting to play it. Even better, follow along on the sheet music while you listen. Rhythms that might have tripped you up are a lot simpler once you have the tune in your ear. Listening to music is the best way to get a sense of new songs in terms of style, rhythms, tempo, melody, and rhythmic feel.

Listening to music on your iPod is a great way to get better at piano. In addition to learning about musical styles from great piano players, you’ll also learn more about how other instruments approach various genres of music. This will make you a more well-rounded player with a greater depth of musical understanding. If you’d like to further learn how to use your iPod to improve your piano playing, find a teacher in your city through TakeLessons.com.

JuliePJulie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!

 

 

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TakeLessons Community Shout Outs – Week of 11/24/14

Each week, TakeLessons students and teachers send us their shout outs. We’re thankful to be a part of this positive and thriving community, so we’d like to share these messages with you. Here are the shout outs we received this week:

Heather W. in Abingdon, MD, wrote, “Way to go, Hana! You’ve mastered the Premiere Piano Books 1A (Lesson, Performance & Theory)! You are now ready to tackle the Premiere Piano Books 1B! Keep up the good work and keep on practicing!” Great job, Hana!

BJ M. in Seattle, WA, wrote, “Last weekend, I hosted my first ever Studio Jam session. My beginning students got a chance to experience the feeling of playing music with others violinists and playing with a band of guitars, piano and drums. It’s not an easy thing for any beginning student to come into an unfamiliar situation to learn and play new music on the spot. My students were up to the task and contributed wonderfully to this new experience of the Studio Jam Session. We tackled every thing from pop to roots music and even included a beautiful rendition of Pachabel’s Canon in D. All in all it was a great success and it’s an event I’m looking to put together on a regular basis. Audio clips can be found directly on my website as well on my TakeLessons profile.” Congratulations to all the students who participated, and thank you BJ for making this event possible!

Share your good news with the TakeLessons community by sending an email with your shout out to GoodNews@TakeLessons.com. Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Google+ to keep the conversation going!

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How to Improvise on Piano and Keyboard | Exercises for Beginners

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Forgo the sheet music and try your hand at improvising! Get started with this exercise from Tucker, GA teacher Linda L...

 

Improvising, in music, is making up your own music on the spot. It is truly “playing with” music, in the more common sense of the word “play.” It’s fun, creative, and, well, playful.

When it comes to piano improvisation, I tend to think of jazz, blues, and rock. But one can definitely improvise in any musical style.

There is a lot you can learn when it comes to how to improvise on piano, and there is even more to explore on an electronic keyboard. For this article, I’ll focus on the latter. With an electronic keyboard, you can use the built-in rhythm and auto-chord features to give you a virtual back-up band, which leaves you free to focus on melody line improvising. Of course, you can improvise on an acoustic piano just as well, and you can improvise melody lines without listening to rhythm and chords. But for beginning pianists, or those new to improvising, having the rhythm section and chords playing in the background gives you a starting point and framework. Also, you can set your keyboard to sound like other instruments, if you wish. Having a vibraphone, trumpet, or synthesizer sound can inspire you to play different sorts of melody lines and musical styles.

How to Get Started Improvising

There are many ways to get started improvising, but my favorite is to start with a rhythm style that you like, at a moderate tempo, and any minor or major chord. (You’ll need to learn how to use your keyboard’s preset rhythm and auto-chord features to do this. Look it up in the owner’s manual, if you don’t already know.) Once you start your rhythm and chord accompaniment playing, it will keep playing until you press the stop button. If you play another note in your auto-chord range, it will play the major chord based on that note. If you want a minor chord, you usually play two notes simultaneously — the note you want, with the note a ½-step above or below your root note. Which note will give you the minor varies among different types of keyboards.

Now, in one of the octaves above the auto-chord range, play the note that is the “root” of the chord you are listening to. For example, if you have set your keyboard to play an “A major” chord, play an “A.” Try repeating that note several times, in different rhythms – longer notes, shorter notes, some rests, etc., but keeping with the beat you have set.

Next, try playing the first 5 notes of the scale that go with the chord that you started on, both ascending and descending. If your chord is A Major, for example, you can play A, B, C#, D, E, and back down to A, OR you can use the A-major pentatonic (five-note) scale of A, B, C#, E, F#, and back down to A.

Keep to the background beat and tempo, but vary the rhythm. Play some quarter notes, some half notes, some eight notes, etc. Put in some rests. Repeat some of the notes.

Now start skipping around within your scale. Add in the rest of the notes of your major or minor scale. Try playing the notes of the chord you’re improvising to, varying the rhythm and the order of those notes. Try adding in some accidentals as “passing notes” – i.e., they will be part of a sequence of notes that lead to a note that is IN the key (and in the chord you’re playing with).

As a beginning improviser, you can try to create musical phrases that end on the root note of your chord. That’s always a safe place to end a phrase. You can also try playing more than one note at once, such as starting with two notes from the chord you’re playing with.

Adding to the Exercise

Your next step is to gradually start adding more chords, which will add more variety to your improvisation. You might try improvising on two chords that alternate every other measure, or a three-chord progression. (Remember, your keyboard’s auto-chord feature allows you to play any major or minor chord with just one or two fingers. As you get more advanced, you can add “7th” chords and other, more complex chords.)

You can also learn the chords to a song you like, and try making up a new melody to those chords. Your new melody might even be a sort of harmony or counterpoint to the original song you’re basing it on. (A famous example of an improvisation on a song that became a whole new song in its own right is Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”, which was based on “How High The Moon”.)

Eventually, you will want to stop relying on the auto-chords, start learning to play the chords yourself, and put both hands to good use! Mostly, you will play chords with the left hand, and melodies with the right. But as you become more advanced, you can play chords and melodies with either hand.

It can also be very helpful to listen to some other keyboardists’ improvisations, in order to become familiar with a variety of improvisational styles. Pick your favorite genre of music, find songs in that genre with piano/keyboard solos, and spend some time listening. If you are able to play by ear, try learning the improvised solos that you like, and then try improvising off of those solos.

How to Improvise on Piano

Don’t have an electronic keyboard? You can still practice improvising on an acoustic piano, starting with the same simple one-note-with-varying-rhythms and scale-based approach mentioned above, either without any chord accompaniment, or by playing simple chords with your left hand (one chord per measure will do for a start, and you can easily look up a basic “12-bar blues progression” if you want to improvise over a series of chords), and melody lines with your right hand. Once you get comfortable doing this, try switching to chords with the right hand, and melody with the left, with the goal of developing equal dexterity in both hands.

Keep exploring! Check out even more piano improvisation exercises here! 

LindaLLinda L. teaches piano, guitar, songwriting, and more in Tucker, GA. She has more than 30 years of experience as a music teacher, for both private lessons and classes. Learn more about Linda here!

 

 

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The Best Piano Competitions for Young Pianists in 2015

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Are you considering entering your budding pianist into a piano competition? There are an array of competitions to choose from across the U.S., many offering the opportunity to compete against top performers from around the globe.

All-Ages Piano Competitions Across the U.S.:

Seattle International Piano Festival & Competition – Seattle, WA

Competing in May (preliminary) and October 2015 (finals) at the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, pianists from all over the world are encouraged to freely select piano repertoire for this bi-annual competition. Numerous cash and non-cash awards will be distributed. Updated information for the 2015 competition is expected to be posted in January, so keep this page bookmarked!

The American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition – New York, NY

In May 2015, students are invited to participate in this competition at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Prizes include scholarships, cash, and special awards. Past winners have been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show. But hurry — mail or online applications and DVD/CD recordings are due no later than January 27, 2015.

Alexander & Buono International Piano Competition – New York, NY

On Sunday, May 17, 2015, winner’s recitals will take place in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie following this annual competition. Application deadline is April 13, 2015.

Piano Competitions for the Younger Crowd:

Cleveland International Piano Competition – Cleveland, OH

May 12-21, 2015, pianists ages 12-18 will compete at Baldwin Wallace University and the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium. Room and board is provided for contestants and cash prizes will be awarded at the end of the competition. The application deadline is December 1st, however late applications will be accepted through the 14th with an additional fee.

Dallas International Piano Competition – Dallas, TX

Pianists born after March 14th, 1980, are invited to this competition hosted by the Dallas Chamber Symphony in partnership with the SMU Meadows School of the Arts. Prizes include cash and a subscription concert engagement with the Dallas Chamber Symphony for the first-prize recipient. Online applications are due December 15th, and the competition takes place March 11-14, 2015,

The First Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition – Fort Worth, TX

Pianists ages 13 to 17 can participate in this new competition on the campus of TCU, which has held adult competitions since 1962. (The Fifteenth Annual Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for ages 19-30 is scheduled for May 25-June 10, 2017.) The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will perform with each of the three finalists. Competition performances will be webcast live June 21-28, 2015. Online applications and submissions of recital videos are due January 9, 2015, so don’t delay!

Kaufman Music Center International Youth Piano Competition – New York, NY

Competing June 2015, pianists ages 7-17 worldwide are invited to compete for cash and prizes, in addition to the opportunity to perform at New York’s prestigious Merkin Concert Hall. Printed applications and auditions via YouTube link are due by March 1, 2015.

Wisconsin Youth Piano Competition – Milwaukee, WI

June 12-15, 2015, The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and PianoArts invites pianists ages 10-16 to compete opposite the PianoArts North American Competition for pianists ages 16-20. Cash, the opportunity to perform with the MSO and its musicians, as well as an array of learning experiences are offered as prizes. Application and CD submission deadline is April 20, 2015.

2015 International Young Artist Piano Concerto Competition – Chicago, IL

June 12-14, 2015, pianists under 20 will compete for cash, classes, and performance opportunities with The New Millennium Orchestra on Chicago’s finest stage, Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center. Application deadline is April 1, 2015.

Need More Time? Plan Ahead for These 2016 Piano Competitions:

United States Open Music Competition – Oakland, CA

The application deadline has passed for this competition, in which local, national, and international pianists of all ages can compete for scholarships, cash, and prizes at the Mormon Inter-Stake Temple in Oakland, California. However, you can plan ahead using this year’s guidelines, and keep the page bookmarked for updated information.

Virginia Waring International Piano Competition – San Bernardino, CA

This competition hosts pianists ages 12-18 at California State University’s Palm Desert Campus. Host-family lodging and local transportation are provided. Thousands of dollars in scholarships and performance prizes will be awarded. Though the application deadline for this year’s competition passed in October, those wishing to participate in the 2016 competition are encouraged to review this year’s application requirements.

The 7th Bosendorfer and Yamaha U.S. ASU International Piano Competition – Phoenix, AZ

Pianists ages 13 and up are invited to compete for cash prizes and a number of concerto performances with The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra in this event. Though the application has passed for the 2015 event, it’s never too early to start thinking about your YouTube audition and application for the 2016 piano competition!

Hilton Head International Piano Competition – Hilton Head, SC

Pianists ages 13-17 can take part in this three-round competition awarding scholarships and cash prizes. Deadline for the 2015 competition has passed, so start prepping for the 2016 competition now.

Tips for Piano Competitions

No matter what event you’re entering, remember that rules are rules, so it’s important to pay strict attention to them when applying for your piano competition! Be mindful of application deadlines and what’s required, such as a preliminary CD or video. Other common items required include proof of age (birth certificate or passport), an application fee, photo, biographical material, letter of recommendation from your piano teacher, and parent permission forms. The first time may feel a little overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to ask your piano teacher or parent to help you through the process – that’s what they are there for!

Ready to apply for what could be the performance of a lifetime? Don’t be afraid to come out of your shell – the world is waiting!

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What Will My Child’s Voice Lesson Be Like? | Tips for Parents

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Has your young son or daughter been begging you for voice lessons? Find out what to expect in kids’ singing lessons in this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL voice teacher Heather L

 

A voice teacher walks into a living room and puts her guitar case down. She takes the guitar out, and as she tunes it, she asks the student in front of her about general music classes at school, hoping to incorporate the concepts being taught into the private instruction. Beginning on a comfortable pitch for the student, the teacher begins warm up exercises — singing a five-note scale on silly, nonsense syllables. Both the student and the teacher laugh. The lesson continues with the do-re-mi syllables, known as solfege, accompanied by their reinforcing hand signals. Voice techniques and concepts are taught in playing games. Phrasing is discovered in pretending to ride a roller coaster. Dynamics (how loud or soft a musical sound is) are understood in terms of powerful, large animals and delicate, small animals. Lip trills are blown and dancing is choreographed.

This is the voice lesson of a five-year-old child. When I began teaching kids’ singing lessons, what surprised me the most was how similar adult and child voice lessons are. Make-believe, movement, and imagination are an inherent element of all of my voice lessons. Granted, there are some really important distinctions, too. Just as there are similarities and dissimilarities between coaching a Little League team and the Boston Red Sox, voice lessons of adults and children share some things and not others.

Staying Focused, Staying Healthy

To begin, children do not have the physical stamina or mental focus of most adults. Their instruments are extremely delicate. It should be made clear that not every music educator agrees that children under 10 should even take voice lessons, and agree or not, not every voice teacher or music school accepts singers who are that young. I, myself, was once told as a high school freshman by a well-respected choir director not to take any voice lessons until I turned 20. What he did not understand is that kids’ singing lessons do not have to be damaging. In fact, it can prevent poor singing and speaking habits and, even more, permanent vocal damage.

Teaching the Fundamentals

The primary purpose of my voice lessons for young children is the establishment of fundamental musical and technical understanding, with the goal of a lifetime of healthy singing. Basic note reading, with an emphasis on sight reading and solfege syllables, basic diction, and basic voice maintenance and care are the three pillars of every student’s individual curriculum. Especially considering the popularity of automated sounds in music today that are made to sound like human singing, it’s so important that children learn the truth about their own voices before they start to imitate computer sounds all the time.

I do not, as a principle, believe in condescendingly “dumbing” concepts down for children. There is a way, though, to explain almost everything in an age-appropriate manner. I admit, though, I do get stumped sometimes, especially when I find myself having to describe how a diaphragm works to a first grader. But there’s always a way.

Creating a Positive Environment

After all of the education-specific talk, perhaps the most important thing to me as a teacher is positive and compassionate encouragement of where the student is today, musically speaking. Embracing and in turn teaching the child to embrace his singing right now is the surest path to a lifelong pursuit of great singing.

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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Do You Need a Better Keyboard? | Signs It’s Time to Upgrade

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If you’ve been playing keyboard or piano for a while, you might be wondering when the right time is to upgrade your instrument. Learn how to proceed in this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L

 

There comes a point in every pianist’s life when he has to take one very important action: get a better keyboard, or maybe, buy a piano. It’s a special step in your journey that shows how hard you’ve been working and, frankly, how hard you plan on working in the future. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be getting a new instrument. On the other hand, sometimes a family decides to buy a better instrument in the anticipation of a family member’s upcoming piano lessons.

Over the past decade, out of the dozens of times that I’ve walked into a home for a first lesson, I almost always hear, “The piano’s old,” “It needs to be tuned,” or “We’ve had this forever and we know nothing about it.”

The great news is that it’s easier now, more than ever, to find pianos and keyboards online on sites like Craigslist and eBay. If you live near a military installation, you might even find one for free. Families who plan on moving due to military assignment or deployment need someone simply to take the instrument off their hands. If you’re willing to pay to move it, then they’re often willing to hand it over free of charge.

Another option is a brick-and-mortar instrument shop, or even a big box store like Best Buy. One great bonus is that many music instrument retailers will take your old keyboard as a trade-in toward the purchase of a new or used keyboard.

But the question remains: Do you need a better keyboard?

There are two primary reasons why you’d need to upgrade your keyboard:

1. Your keyboard is old, worn out, or both.

If your keyboard’s over five years old, or gets a lot of play, it probably has some evidence of extra wear and tear. Mid-range keyboards are like most washers and dryers nowadays; they’re just not meant to last forever. Look for cracked cables and cords, and if your keyboard has a lighted display, look for a faded or striated appearance. Now, keyboards may not go out of tune, but sometimes the keys’ tones start to sound buzzy or hollow. A piano is a different story. Have a professional like a local piano tuner inspect it. He should look for a sound board without fractures or breaks, and strings and hammers that aren’t overly worn. Do some of your keys stick? Sometimes, a professional repairman will be able to fix the problem, but that depends on the age and current condition of the instrument.

2. Your keyboard doesn’t fit your musical goals.

Let’s say that you’ve been playing keyboard for a year, and now, your new songs have notes that are higher or lower than your keyboard has. You might need a full-sized keyboard. Let’s say that one of your goals is to audition for a magnet arts program for piano studies. You might need a keyboard with better action, a more “piano-like” feeling. Let’s say that your band is beginning to get calls for more and more gigs. You might just need a newer, more portable keyboard.

You can find beautiful, state-of-the-art keyboards for $2,000 to $3,000, but at that price, you could buy a decent piano instead. Go to a local brick-and-mortar piano store, if only to inspect the quality and feel of different brands. Remember, an investment in your instrument is an investment in your future achievements.

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 to Belt Without Straining Your Voice

Ariana Grande

Curious about how to belt safely? If you flip on Top-40 radio these days, you hear a lot of belting. But just because Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars sound great belting their lungs out doesn’t mean you know how to belt without straining your voice.

In fact, if you’ve ever been to a karaoke bar, or seen a pop star live, you’ve probably heard how strained and painful belting can sound. So, what is belting anyway? And is it possible to learn how to belt without straining your voice? The answer may surprise you.

What is Belting?

The voice has two main registers: chest voice and head voice (also known as falsetto in men). Chest voice is the voice that you talk in (the lower register), while head voice is the voice that Mickey Mouse talks in (the higher register).

The different vocal qualities of head and chest voice are due to a physical change. There are two sets of muscles that control the vocal cords: the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles. The thyroarytenoid muscles shorten the vocal cords, causing chest voice. The cricothyroid muscles lengthen the vocal cords, causing head voice.

Belting occurs when a singer sings higher pitches using chest voice rather than switching to head voice. This results in a louder, more powerful sound than most people can achieve in low head voice. When done wrong, it just sounds like yelling (yelling is a chest voice function).

How to Belt

Now that you know what belting is, you probably want to know how to belt without straining your voice. First, check out this helpful tutorial, then read on for some more tips and tricks!

Mixing It Up

Trained belters (and some über-talented people) don’t force their thyroarytenoid function past where it is comfortable. Instead, they use their cricothyroids and thyroarytenoids together to create a sound that is part belting, part not. This sound has the same power and sound as belting, but lacks the physical strain and danger of cracking. Because it is a mix of head and chest voice, it is simply called a mix.

Mixing is the reason why Broadway stars can “belt” extremely high every night without losing their voices. It is the reason why some singers, trained or not, seem to be able to belt without hurting themselves. But mixing is a fairly advanced vocal technique, and to really learn how to do it, you need to study with a voice teacher. If your dream is to sing “Let it Go” or “Defying Gravity”, you need to learn how to mix. There are very few people on earth who can actually belt those songs without causing serious vocal trauma.

True Belting

In general, pieces that stay under a C5 are fair game for some (but not all) women to belt without straining. Some men can belt up to G4 or even higher without mixing as well. But where some singers can comfortably belt sans mix, other people will be straining and cracking. Part of this is just because every voice is different. Your natural belting capacity may also get higher if you seek vocal training.

There is no hard-and-fast rule about how high you can belt without hurting yourself. If you want to learn how to belt without straining your voice – and aren’t quite ready to learn how to mix – pick a song you can sing comfortably in chest voice right now. If you sound like you are screeching, don’t do it. If it hurts, don’t do it. You can also choose to do a song in a lower key if the original key is too high.

Belt It Out

Put succinctly, yes, it is possible to learn how to belt without straining your voice. But your favorite belters probably aren’t belting at all – they are using a combination of head and chest voice to achieve a healthy but powerful sound. So my advice to you is simple: stick to comfortable repertoire, or find a good voice teacher to help you develop your mix. Your voice (and your neighbors!) will thank you.

ElainaElaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

 

 

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