My students have eclectic tastes. I love it. If you would like join us, call me.
4 hours of practice: All joy, no grinding.
Top 5 tips for practicing any musical instrument
If you would like some help, call me.
4 hours of practice: No Grinding.
Top 5 tips for practicing any musical instrument
General and Jazz Specific Theory
If you would like some help, call me.
Being able to recognize the forms within a Baroque Dance suite, by ear, will be helpful.
This will get you started on your listening journey. Enjoy.
Working through the Four Star Books is recommended. An effective book, but, hardly that exciting.
Sometimes we work out by ear famous Rock era "licks" or motifs from well know melodies.
The famous opening melody uses B, C#, and D. Have a listen and give it a go.
Classical motives are fun too. Opening motif is in C minor, starting on G. Da da da DAAA, da da da DAA
One of my students is working at the early advanced stage of Classical piano. This week Chopin Waltz in b minor and Gnossienne #6 by Satie. Sophisticated music.
She is a retired executive whose career spanned the globe. She is an avid concert goer. As in, more than a concert a week.
At the end of class I complemented her on her playing and knowledge of the music, it's context, and style. She was slightly taken back. She quickly explained that she has friends who are so much more sophisticated and nuanced in their appreciation of classical music. (One wrote liner notes for a major classical music label, one was a critic if I recall correctly as well.)
I pointed out to her that she has learned more than she knew through those friendships. She recalled the after concert socializing where great debates on the merits of the performance.
Furthermore, decades of concert going at the great halls of the world leaves a mark. A significant mark.
Sometime the stress from the pandemic is a bit too much. It can lower our enthusiasm for practice. So, what to do? Assuming you are not suffering from clinical depression, in which case please seek professional help. This is not the place.
But for the rest of us. Try some or all the following.
In the meantime, call me if you would like to meet online. I've dozens of students happily progressing on zoom.
This late elementary piece has been a hit since the day it was written. Lively and energetic it is a thrilling piece for students to master. But there are those annoying last 4 measures which have devilled generations of aspirants.
The student needs to have the following in place:
How I Prepare to Learn Or Teach A New Piece of Music: Haydn Sonata in C And Bourrée in F By Telemann
When I take on a new piece of music of any complexity I will go through some or all the following steps. My goal is to have a clear artistic impression of the piece before I begin.
1. Compare the different scores available to me.
2. Seek out professional recordings.
3. Print the music as I will be marking it up.
4. Study the form and phrasing of the work. Sometimes, as in the Telemann I will mark in the phrasing.
5. I will consider the era in which it was written for clues on possible interpretations.
6. I translate any unfamiliar terms I find in the score.
7. I might consult other sources to explore the style and era of its creation. For the Sonata in C, I enjoyed re-reading the section on Haydn ornaments in the book below.
8. I will listen to multiple professional performances and mark on the score ideas of interest. I often will slow down a recording to hear how the artist plays their ornaments.
9. I might consult with a colleague or my piano coach as well.
In short, I will have a clear set of ideas, those I discovered and my own, to explore as I now start to "learn" the piece. I will share these with my students.
If I can help you discover intriguing world of classical music, please call me.
Will I ever get there?
An adult student is working on the scherzo of Haydn’s piano sonata in F major Hob.XVI:9 A fun work from RCM level 4. It goes fast, it’s light, it’s fun under the fingers. It reminds me of joyful summer memories as a kid riding our bikes as fast as we can go, just celebrating the joy of movement and being alive.
How does one play like that?
Can I ever go as fast?
Another story. I’ve a young teenage student preparing to sit for her level 8 exam later this month. One of her pieces is Solfeggio in C minor by CPE Bach an extremely fast and demanding piece of music. She runs like the wind through it. The power of youth. Can my 61-year fingers play that fast? Nope. Period. It’s as absurd as looking on while high schoolers compete in the 100-yard dash. Yeah, I can still run fast, but not like that.
Moral of the story. Be at peace with it.
Now can we learn to play faster. Of course. Can we ever go as fast? Maybe, maybe not.
Now back to Haydn. Pianists who play well, including fast, have worked patiently in the following areas.
If I can help you on your journey, please give me a call.
“Until it’s comfortable” Benny Greb
Practice tip #1
How many times do I need to repeat a passage?
“Until it’s comfortable” Benny Greb, expert practicer
Most students practice until they get it. Professionals practice until it’s comfortable. I buy that.
Practice tip #2
Why is proper fingering so important?
“Under pressure, a performance, one does not want to train the brain with ineffective or multiple choices of fingering in difficult passages. Under stress the brain will have to decide. It might pick the poor fingering pattern and BOOM! a mistake happens.”
So, when learning, take extra care to follow the fingering in the early stages of learning. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary handicap of poor fingering options.
Time to dream again. Covid-19 will abate this year; the vaccines are coming, spring will arrive. Time to get musically ready to share our music with the world again.
Here are 10 ideas to mull over.
Bach's WTC would be one of the 2 music books I would take with me if I was to be exiled to an island.
Who know hundreds of tunes, in the right keys, at the correct tempo? He never complains, is ready day and night? Doesn't drag or get lost?
Mr. Sunny Bass
Someday I hope to buy him lunch, a small gesture for all the get help he has been to my students.
I took up the violin in early summer 2018. I reckoned I would get a running start on a bucket list project. But let’s fast forward a couple of years, past the commitment of buying a violin and a sustained period of caterwauling that inspired the neighbor’s dog to howl, past the perpetual state of terror at lessons, a wretchedly inflamed shoulder, constant and unending frustration, and perpetual tweaking of violin, shoulder rest, chin rest, bow to find a position where this instrument felt even quasi-comfortable.
Let’s begin instead a few months into Covid lockdown when I reconnected with my violin teacher and we resumed lessons on Zoom. After brushing up my basic skills, I thought I might sign up for the Royal Conservatory of Music program to provide structure to my learning. We embarked on the preparatory level violin curriculum, and emboldened, I booked an exam date.
My available practice time was limited by full time work (on Zoom), which, on some days, wiped me out past even starting the depressing regimen of hit and miss scales. But motivated by a fear of making a total ass of myself in front of an examiner accustomed to 5-year old’s capable of mastering this content, I practiced. I pushed onwards, I stretched, I recorded myself and self-critiqued, I watched superstar violinists on YouTube, and listened attentively, studying how they held their violins and their bows. I practiced with my husband playing the piano or the ukulele, I played to recorded tracks, I sent video-recordings to friends and family. Mostly they were encouraging; a few were incredulous that I would undertake such a project at my age. But why not?
A month before the examination my nerves started getting the better of me, so I intensified my practice time on weekends, bearing down on my scales and arpeggios, determined to get my fingers in the right place for each note. A millimetre up or down the string produced disharmony, yet there are no guiding frets on a violin. I practiced as deliberately as I could: open string bowing, scales, arpeggios, get that fourth finger in place ahead of time! My teacher advised me to focus my attention on one piece at a time, but sometimes I drifted off to picking out tunes by ear or playing old favourites from the early days: Mary had a little lamb, Twinkle, twinkle little star... I decided to do a mock exam with my teacher during lesson time. It was humiliating.
The week before the exam, my pieces were running on a constant loop in my head. I practiced my fingering while I slept, when I slept, which was seldom and badly. I practiced maniacally. I worked out every kink in continual mock Zoom exams, doubling down on the bits I messed up.
Two days before the exam, a curious sense of calm descended. Out of nowhere, I felt that I had learned the elements of preparatory violin, and performance of these basics was up to the vicissitudes of exam performance where, of course, anything can happen. I had memorized my repertoire pieces and, though not necessary, my étude. My scales were on autopilot. I needed to credit myself with accomplishment of this basic learning and damn the torpedoes. I was ready for the exam.
The morning of the exam, I ran around in circles preparing: my violin needed to be acclimatized to the humidity of the basement. The piano and the violin had to be tuned exactly in pitch. Was there enough resin on my bow? My husband and I practiced our simultaneous piano and violin start: an audible sniff, and tally ho. I entered the zoom waiting room nervously. We were being recorded though no one was there.
And suddenly there she was: my examiner presented a friendly face. I silently thanked the heavens above that I had been spared a hangman. Decades of examining graduate theses and dissertations had taught me that best performance in a tense examination situation was facilitated by an encouraging tone and not by a repeat of the Spanish Inquisition.
All the same, my fingers trembled, my sweat glands went into overdrive, and I forgot how to breathe. I did remember to smile and to play with the conviction my teacher had taught me to show. There were to be no faces pulled, indicating disappointment or frustration, and if I made a mistake, I was to make it with pride and immediately move on. I began with my scales, and true to practice, practice, practice, they rolled off just fine. My teacher had told me to sing to my piece called (appropriately), Song: make up words, create a story and tell it in music. She told me to play what I heard in my head not what I produced with my fingers. So, I did. My étude began a little flat but it had spirit. My favourite beautiful slow song scrolled in my head, and I played as if that were me. My fast piece, the last in my program, was intended to be humorous, and it flowed with relief. It was the very final note in the exam that I blew, probably because I knew I was nearly done. I heard the ear test note perfectly but by that time, my flustered fingers just missed the spot. It was almost funny. And the exam was over as suddenly as it had begun. It had taken 7 minutes.
In the academic sphere in which I work, I am not a fan of examinations, which create a ceiling as easily as a floor and encourage parroting of known standards rather than innovative thinking. But I was surprised by the excitement I felt taking a preparatory level violin examination. Learning the violin is qualitatively different from the cognitive learning I work with. Playing the violin is deeply embodied, requiring the player to learn precise physical skills to communicate with an instrument. There is no music without mind, body and instrumental medium working in concert.
My mark—not yet received—now seems immaterial. I sensed that my performance was a pass for this level of accomplishment, and I could now pursue the next level of play. The basics I so fervently argue against in public education (which has developed over the past 200 years past the horse and buggy era) indexed something else in violin: an ability to perform skills enabling me to proceed to more complex embodied music making. I could now move into level 1 learning.
And that is where I am now: learning the D harmonic minor scale and playing 2 octaves of the G major scale. Woohoo!
I was the proud accompanist for Heather, my wife.
Links: Sound Ways of Knowing: Music in the Interdisciplinary Curriculum : Janet R. Barrett Claire W. McCoy Kari K. Veblen : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Know more than the notes. Exploring the questions of sociological context, compositional techniques, recorded history and more will add depth and sophistication to your playing and security to your memorization.
Click on the picture for more, or for the "science" click the link.
Here is a simple example:
1st Movement of Sonata in F minor op. 1
Who created it?
Beethoven, German Romantic era composer 1770–1827
When and where was it created?
1795 Vienna Austria
Why and for whom was it created?
Dedicated to his teacher Joseph Haydn. Apparently it was his first publicly published work.
What does it sound or look like?
Dramatic opening rocket type theme of the tonic, then dominant chord announces that there is a "new kid in town". Great dynamic contrasts throughout the movement keep us focused. A composition of a young man.
What kind of structure or form does it have?
Classic Sonata Form
What is its subject?
The interplay is between the 2 main themes in the exposition and their development through many key centers.
What is being expressed?
Youthful exuberance, drama and compositional skill demonstration of the classical era style.
What techniques did its creator use to help us understand what is being expressed?
Group activities will be back. In the meantime we will all practice, stay safe and continue our lessons online.
I'm going to check out Yann Tiersen today. An artist I'm not familiar with. This book is a favorite with many adult students.
Restarting piano after a 4-decade hiatus? How to get started.
The hands will be slow. But they will improve. Patience is the key here. An analogy: You were at 18-year-old track star back in the day. You buy a pair of expensive running shoes, the kind that promise speed, endurance, and youth. First day out, you run 10K. It is glorious, next day you can’t move. Shoes go in the closet; you are back in front of Netflix. Oops, you’ve made a tactical mistake. Try this instead.
Have fun, if I can help, call me.
I'm 15 or so, I've been playing a year or two. I "practice" in quotes all the time. She is cute, she sings, she needs an accompanist for the church strawberry social. I step up. I'm waaaaaay over my head. But keen to impress.
We practice, I survive. But I am about to learn the difference between the practice room and the stage. In hindsight I imagine it is like the difference between basic training and real combat.
It's a beautiful day, they haul a small piano outside on the grass. The back of the piano faces the singer and the audience. We step up. I am soooo nervous, so underprepared that my right leg starts to bounce uncontrollably, audibly, banging the underside of the piano. People are looking around for the source of the noise. I'm deadpan behind the piano.
It mercifully ends.
1. "Superbia et ante ruinam" Pride goes before the fall. But the show must go on.
2. Never underestimate the power of shameless audacity in a show biz career.
3. It's harder than it looks. The magic of the performing arts is the illusion it is easy.
Bach - The Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Arthur Grumiaux
1. Phrasing: Notice how the performer tapers each 2 note slur
2. Chords: Notice how the performer "strums" the chord from the bottom to top note
3. Dynamics: When the music goes up in pitch so does the intensity and vice versa. This is a very common effect in classical music performance.
4. Dynamics part 2: Phrases which rise start softer and crescendo.
1. Broken chords that ascend on a 7th chord and resolve in the opposite direction. Measure 4, beat 3
2. Enclosures in measure 2, beat 1 around the note C. Measure 5, beat 3.
3. The use of chromatic approach notes to chord tones in a broken chord in measure 3. Mozart likes these types of figures as well. See Fantasia in D minor measure 10.
Bach - The Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Arthur Grumiaux
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted student and teacher of the drums.