- Who is this artist? A who, what, where, when, why question about the performer.
- Who is the composer? Same questions come to mind.
- What instruments are performing?
- What style is the music? Baroque, Hip-hop, Classical, early jazz, Rock, Heavy metal, Grunge, experimental, etc. If you are not sure dig in and do some research.
- If there are lyrics, consider transcribing them by ear and writing them down. This is an illuminating experience if the music is in a style you do not normally listen to. Or never listen to.
- Now let us go deeper into the piece. Can you pick up the form? If it is classical is it in Sonata form, Rondo, etc. If pop is it: intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, chorus and out. If jazz is it in 32 bar AABA or blues form?
- If it is modern pop, does it have a four-chord cycling progression?
- If it is classical, what is the time signature?
- Is there improvisation?
- Is there a score available online? If so, you might try your hand at it.
Listening to an unfamiliar piece of music can be pleasurable, baffling or even annoying. Here are some steps to consider making it a deeper experience.
Depends on your goals.
If you would like to plunk out a few melodies, with minimal left-hand accompaniment, it is not too difficult. I would say a few months to a year you will be on your way. Factors that are important to consider though.
If you would like to play Classical piano at say grade 8, or early advanced level. Give it a decade from a standing start. In addition to the points above I would add the following: learn to love every aspect of the game. Do not skip a step: technique, repertoire, ear training, theory, history, etudes, etc. There are no hacks or shortcuts.
If you would like to play Jazz piano in a band, assuming you have already reached level 8 in abilities, give it a couple of years. All the points above are valid with the addition of a few other steps.
If I can help, please call.
How many hobbies can one-person juggle?
Depends. I juggle one. I had two, but Covid19 put an end to that.
I’ve students who try to juggle 3 or more while holding down jobs, spouses, children, and life. They often looked stressed. How do my less stressed students do it? Here are some tactics they follow:
Do you remember why you were attracted to piano in the first place? Put up a post it note on the piano to keep it front of mind.
If I can help you, please call and reserve a future spot. I am now taking reservations of summer 2020 and fall 2020.
"Have a plan, work the plan" Sage advice
A plan is great if you can find your materials when it's time to practice. A plan is great if you can have some quiet alone time to focus and have fun.
Here are ten tips on one aspect of success: an organized workspace.
Have a productive session.
A wise teacher said, “we are who we listen to”. Another slightly more jaded teacher asserted that all students want to play want they hear in their heads. And unfortunately, they already do. Ouch
Building your repertoire of sound possibilities come from repeated listening to the same tracks over an extended period. How much time? Until you find yourself humming along.
PS: as you can see the screen shot above shows a combination of younger and legacy players.
Before the current crisis about 1/3 of my student body had their lessons online. Now it is everyone.
I've lost 3 students. Two lost their jobs, one didn't like online lessons. We all look forward to resuming once the virus moves on and they get back to work. Five new students have been added in the same timeframe.
I now meet my music coaches online now as well. Today with my "classical coach', last week with my "jazz coach". Every week with my drum coach.
I believe a number of students will remain online after the crisis lifts and the others will resume as they were.
If I can help you,
An Ideal Practice Session
How does the teacher practice?
Good question. So, here goes.
I do the following things on a regular basis:
How do I practice in my studio?
If I can help you, feel free to call me.
Parents are dusting off their rusty piano skills and now playing daily with their kids. What a opportunity the lockdown has given them.
Some of them are one finger players, so they play whole notes with one finger.
Some of them were accomplished musicians, their playing reflects their growing confidence as skills return.
Most are somewhere in between.
This situation will be over soon enough, the opportunity will be gone. I say take it, it will bring added joy to your life and fond memories.
Here is a video of a parent getting ready to accompany their child at the upcoming Zoom piano recital.
Piano at the bench
What to practice and why
Finally, be patient, enjoy the process.
If I can help, call me.
Practicing in the times of the Covid-19 outbreak is going to be a challenge for some.
Some lucky people will use the extra time to jump right in. For this group I suggest ramping up practice amount slowly to avoid injury. The book, “The Musician’s Way” suggests increasing practice time 10% per week to avoid problems. Warming up before hand with a short cardio and stretching routine will also be beneficial.
For those too stressed to practice and/or focus try these tips:
“How good do you want to be?” Start with this question followed with: “how should I spend my time?”
Success will depend on the depth and breathe of your practice. My most successful students have made peace with time and possibility. Yes, time counts, but patience and realistic expectations count for more.
Learning has piano follows a well trodden path. You just must follow it to succeed. There is no secret. Just time and hard work. We must be realistic with the fact that course correction will be needed regularly. Life is messy.
Call me, I can help.
I've got happy students who practice more than an hour a day, others who practice an hour a week. Because their time matches their realistic expectations, they are happy. Could they all practice more? Of course. I could too.
In short progress, you can learn, it will be slow and steady. Learning to play is a journey. I’m 45 years in, you’ve just started. Welcome.
Tips to keep the journey moving along
My thoughts this week.
Composer Igor Stravinsky said something to the effect of: we find inspiration through work, not the other way around.
Amateurs wait for inspiration to work; professionals get to work knowing inspiration will follow. Good advice when sitting in the practice room waiting for the muse to strike before beginning.
Even though Bach left us with this, in performance there are nuances to consider. Tempo will one modifier of what we see above.
Check out this article from Strad Magazine for further details and explanations.
My decades old copy of Opus 821 by Czerny. Still on the piano.
When I want to work on my tone, I go here. When I want to work on the different physical moves required in piano performance I go here.
This work covers all the keys in very short 8 measure exercises. I'm able to work on finger independence, arm weight, rotation, octaves, staccato, legato, portato, drop, thrust, dynamics, balance, and tone.
Last weekend I attended the National Ballet of Canada's performance of "etudes". It is a 45 minute ballet of bar moves and set pieces to the etudes of Czerny. It was fun to recognize many of the pieces. It was instructive to hear the music interpreted by the dancers.
Click here for a free copy: https://imslp.org/wiki/160_kurze_Übungen,_Op.821_(Czerny,_Carl)
What to practice? Hal has some great thoughts. Twelve minutes of wisdom from a modern master.
If you are a classical artist, substitute classical sounds for jazz sounds. It's all the same.
"art is supposed to teach yourself something about yourself you didn't know" Hal Galper
My go to podcasts. I listen in the car on my way to classes. One reason I bounce through the door on arrival.
The 7 circles to mastery. The following is taken from the YouTube video below. I am riffing on the ideas.
7. Finally, Practice at the instrument
Hearing: Good old-fashioned ear training. This is often an overlooked component in learning. Traditionally Classical piano students avoided this until a week or two before an exam. Not a great idea. It takes time to develop your ears. Well developed ears are of the greatest benefit because I believe we can only play what we hear.
· Melodic playback for Classical students
· Transcriptions for Jazz Students
· Chord identification
· Chord progressions
· Rhythm clap-back
Imagination: A tough one to teach. I believe a teacher must help the student trust their musical instincts. And, treasure them. Musical instincts are a result of the prior musical experiences of a student among other things.
Expression: Expression marks in a score are not suggestions for the novice. Be sure to work on them from the first reading. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can add them later after you “learn” the piece. Consider this, we all play like we practice. So, under stress (in an exam or performance) you will revert to your initial way of playing. Why? This is the way you learned it, spent the most time on. You perfected the piece in a monochromatic way. Flat and boring.
Technique or what is called the fundamentals: Change your attitude. Think of them as the FUN-damentals. I use them as a form of meditation. A chance to slow down and practice playing beautifully. Beauty is that combination of touch and time we learn through repetition and reflection.
Theory: Oh boy, another area most students practice the fine art of avoidance. The musicians we admire know what they are doing! If you want to have any chance of joining them, you need to understand what is going on. Form, harmony, melodic structure, intervals, historical context, the list of knowledge goes on and on. It all helps. I promise.
Analysis: applied theory and the cornerstone of memorisation.
Practice: Learn to practice, read books on the subject, what YouTube, listen to your teacher. Learning to practice like a pro will save you years of fiddling around. And, it is way more fun because progress is faster.
Please watch the video below. A wealth of knowledge.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student of the drums.