Time and Place

Last Updated on 2022-11-27 | Originally Posted on 2022-03-10

Introduction

Time and place have more to do with practice than any others. For some, they are tightly linked, but for others, they may not be. If you’ve been finding it difficult to get a practice routine established, or your old routine doesn’t work any longer, make this powerful combination your best friend.

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Track Your Practice Time

Last Updated on 2022-11-27 | Originally Posted on 2022-01-05

Introduction

You’ve decided to learn piano, but do you have a practice goal? I talk about how to Set a Practice Goal in a separate blog post. Once you set a practice goal, it can be helpful to see if you’re meeting that goal. I can guarantee that you won’t be able to meet your goal without sufficient practice. I’ll start by showing you how I track my practice time.

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Terrific Technique

Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2021-10-25

Introduction

What is terrific technique? It’s an aspiration for any pianist at any level because it makes playing easier. What’s not easy is talking about it. I realized there must be a reason that I hadn’t covered this topic previously in my Practice Corner articles. Is it because technique is a given, and doesn’t merit discussion? Or is it just a harder topic to flesh out? I think it’s both!

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Going the Second Mile

Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2021-09-19

Introduction

I remember seeing this expression on a motivational poster decades ago, where a runner is shown in full stride with no one else in sight. The others gave up before going the second mile. I’ve known both mid- to long-distance runners, and most of them wouldn’t bother to lace up just to do a mile. But what the expression originally refers to has nothing about recreational runnning.

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Train Your Ears

Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2021-09-18

Introduction

Ear training isn’t something that I do enough with my students. It’s really difficult trying to fit so much into a half-hour lesson, which is the length of time that most of my students choose. I use the phrase train your ears, because I’m going way beyond the discipline of listening for intervals. It also involves listening to styles of music. You need to use different types of articulation. Hearing with precision is an important part of playing with precision. Let’s get the dissonance out of the way first!

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Sharpen Your Pencil

Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2020-07-25

Introduction

One of my memories of public school is whether the teacher required a pen or pencil for class. Once you got past early elementary school, pretty much every class except for math required a pen. So it’s always been a surprise to find that kids don’t bring either to lessons. In case your kids missed the onboarding notice, here’s the announcement once again: Sharpen your pencil!

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Feel That Beat

Last Updated on 2022-11-16 | Originally Posted on 2020-03-01

Introduction

I was tempted to call this post Hear the Beat, not Feel That Beat. See the pullout quote below if you’re unfamiliar with the lyrics of the title song of the musical 42nd Street. However, there’s a big difference between hearing and feeling. When you hear good musicians, you can feel that beat because they do, too.

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Sight Reading Is a Priority

Last Updated on 2022-11-16 | Originally Posted on 2020-02-04

Introduction

When I write my practice corner articles, I typically think about my students’ struggles in their learning. In many cases, I struggled with the same issues when I was a piano student. However, not in this case, since sight reading always came easy to me. Rest assured I struggled in other areas of playing like technique, sound projection, and memorization.

Definition

What exactly is sight reading? It’s the ability to quickly grasp what’s important in a musical score and translate that to the piano on the first try. It might be slow, a few notes played incorrectly, and there may be some hesitation here and there. However, the result resembles the piece in some way. A parallel would be how well a student can read a written passage and summarize the main points after a first reading. Both in music and literature, it’s important to get the gist while not getting bogged down by details.

Sight reading in music is just a first step to the finished product. It’s great to grasp what’s on the page quickly, but making music is another thing. Often, there are technical difficulties to be worked out, plus lots of nuances that only practice can work out. Plus, sometimes only the bare essentials are notated in certain playing styles, like jazz and pop. Some extra work might be needed to add the details. Successful sight reading gives the student a good foundation.

Older Methods

It’s important to step back to discuss a bit about the old ways of doing things. Many methods popular decades ago, what I call the dark ages, because I grew up then, used a middle-C-based approach. These methods, which I consider inferior, stuck around for a long time, but are hard to find these days. If you remember your thumbs constantly fighting to play middle C, you learned piano in that type of book.

The problem? You’d get good at playing by finger number from line notes F in the bass clef to G in the treble clef. In order to go past that, your teacher would drill using mnemonics like Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines and the acronym FACE for the spaces on the treble clef. When you needed to move away from those nine notes in the middle of the piano, it would be really difficult!


Mnemonics Is Not A Dirty Word

Mnemonics, pronounced with initial m silent, refers to any device or trick to aid in memory. I use the skips alphabet from Piano Safari to map the notes FACE and GBD to the lines and spaces. It’s one tool along the road to aid reading, but it shouldn’t be the only one.


Newer Methods

Music educators agree that using landmarks (memory notes) and intervals to be superior to the old fixed-note methods. Most of the methods that are popular today use these tools as the primary way to train note reading. Piano Safari, the method I use, goes beyond that to make sight-reading a regular part of the curriculum. Their sight reading cards are so good that I sometimes use them with transfer students who come in using other method books. They help develop good note-reading techniques, and the student learns to read the entire grand staff and then above and below it.

From Sight Reading To Score Reading

I also have a student transpose certain pieces from time to time. Once she plays a piece in one key, I ask her to play it in several different keys. What I don’t tell her is that she is simultaneously learning how to read new clefs! That’s helpful since we as pianists often have to play with other instruments. To read some parts in concert pitch, like trumpet and clarinet, you need to transpose. The viola primarily uses alto clef, and the cello occasionally uses tenor clef. You can’t work at your best with other musicians if you’re stuck trying to determine whether every good boy does fine!

Can You Hear It In Your Head?

Another benefit of being a good sight reader is to hear music without playing it. When I open a score, the music pops off the page. This has enormous implications when learning new music, shopping for scores, or determining which pieces to work on next. I can quickly find pieces that will work for a particular occasion by scanning them with my eyes, not needing to sit down at a piano.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, you’re convinced that sight reading should be a priority. It’s one of those skills that every teacher needs to nurture and remediate when necessary. As a teacher, I can only do so much to instruct note reading. It’s up to the student to practice the skill on his own. If a student is young, it’s beneficial when the parent helps the student establish the skill. Note reading isn’t everything, but it is a huge thing!

Law of the Farm

Last Updated on 2022-11-16 | Originally Posted on 2020-01-01

Introduction

Sometimes it pays to relate the complex world that we create for ourselves to simple principles. Stephen Covey did this when he discussed the Law of the Farm in his manual on life, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Learning a piece of music is not much different than planting a tomato. You have to be attentive from the beginning to the end of the process. I’m sure you’ve seen the difference between a tomato that is scrawny and one that is a spectacular celebration.

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Memory Magic

Last Updated on 2022-11-23 | Originally Posted on 2019-12-01

Introduction

Gotcha! There is no such thing as memory magic. Yet, some students often treat memory as something that’s just going to happen because it always has before. As pieces get longer, they also get more complex, which naturally means they’re harder to memorize.

Students typically rely on tactile (muscle) memory, and to a secondary degree on aural memory. It helps fill in the gaps when tactile memory fails. The best approach is to sharpen both of those skills, plus introduce visual and conceptual memory for extra support.

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