Seven Secrets to Play Better and Have Fun in Piano

Introduction

As teachers, we all want our students to do better. Music teachers are not different out of which, the piano teacher faces the hardest challenge.

Why are piano teachers different from other music teachers?

Well, to begin with, it involves both hands and all the fingers. Other instruments have only one line of music to play.

Then there is a wide range of keys to tackle; all other instruments have a limited range.

And of course, the size of the instrument! While the wind and string players can be easily in a group class, piano players can’t.

How to have fun learning music

Students who learn wind or string instruments, can take it to anywhere and practise; but piano practising cannot be done like that.

The worst is, if you are living in an apartment, the neighbours could complain about the noise!

The piano player especially has to overcome many hurdles to keep the focus and interest.

As teachers of the piano, how can we help our students to play better and enjoy it too?

I have come up with seven secrets!

1. Correct Posture

Students may ask: so what? It doesn’t matter how you sit at the piano as long as you play well!

What they don’t realise is that you can’t play well if your body is hunched and as a result, your hands are not relaxed because you are not breathing well.

Posture is the most important aspect of a long successful piano playing life. With wrong posture you will not be able to be relaxed at the piano and play your best. To get the best effects of the piano and the music, it is important to have the correct posture because, fundamentals of piano practice has much to do with it.

Why is posture so important?

It is important for many reasons.

blog9c piano posture

The Correct Posture

i) Correct posture will allow the student to practise without pain and will give him a long life of enjoyment. 

ii) Correct posture will relax the muscles and protect his body from tension-related health problems, especially in the spine, arms and wrists. If the proper technique is not used, it can cause strain injuries while practice, just like in any other repetitive activity. This is most apparent in the field of sports. 

Treatment for injuries due to repetitive music playing is a new field in medicine.

iii) The player will create the best sound with freedom of movement which the proper posture can make. The body movements helps to make the best effects from dynamic and tempo changes.

What are the implications of wrong posture?

i) It causes back aches because it is a strain on the spine

ii) Results in breathlessness as it compresses the chest and the lungs

iii) Causes chest pian

iv) It can slow the blood flow to the brain and cause fainting

v) Fatigue due to poor circulation

vi) Stomach aches due to hunching

I tell my students about the correct posture and make them sit properly and show them how to place their hands on the keyboard. I do this every time  I notice it because, correcting a bad habit is hard.  Adjusting the body every time could be a nuisance, but stress the importance of it to my students. 

Get used to the correct way and you will never have to think about it again!

The benefits are much more too. The posture has much to with the craft of piano playing.

Correct hand position

There are so many aspects to consider about the correct posture:

The height of the bench, the distance it is placed from the piano, how you sit; the spine, how feet are placed,  the shoulders, the arms, the hand posture, and of course the head.

The bench height is should be such that your feet can be firmly placed on the ground; in the case of little children a stool is placed for them to rest the feet. 

Well, piano playing is about being a well balanced pianist

pain

Posture at the piano; keeping the spine straight

You will experience pain, when the body is not relaxed at the piano. It could cause injury too.

We’ll look at each point separately, the basic elements of piano posture; it is in no particular order of importance as every one of them is equally important!

A. The bench 

i) The distance between the bench and the piano should not be too far in order to avoid extending your arms and bending your back to play.

ii) The distance between the bench and the piano should not be too short either. You should not have to lean back to play.

iii) The height of the bench should be such that you sit upright and you are able to keep your arms at 90º in  order to be able to play comfortably

Height adjustable piano bench with storage

Height adjustable piano bench with storage

The optimal height is when your sit, your knees touch the bottom of the keyboard and your feet are at the pedals at an angle,slightly more than 90º.

If you have others using the bench (like at home) then, mark your position with a duck tape so that you don’t have go through the whole process of re-adjusting.

Having the proper posture is the key to a long-term piano playing.

iv) Sit on the front half of the bench

blog9c piano seat2

On Stage KT7800 Plus Padded Keyboard Bench

Borrowing an idea from  About home; “your back is free to flex back and forth, and your torso can provide momentum for your upper body during strong dynamics and long octave spans.”

The  height and the distance of the bench should be that, you read music at the eye level.

Here is a video with  instructions correct seat height; http://youtu.be/fe57D8HxuvUB

Keeping the back straight is the most important thing in the posture in piano playing. A slouched back will first of all will result in back pain and also affect the breathing. Improper breathing and a back pain is the key to ruining the pleasure of playing the piano. 

Keeping the neck straight should go along with the back.

Correct posture at the piano

Correct posture at the piano

C. The arms and hands

To have the arms and hands at the correct position, the shoulders must be relaxed. They shouldn’t be tensed and up but low, straight but relaxed.

The upper arms should be straight down not hugging the body allowing free movement.

Hand position

Hand position

The forearms must be parallel to the ground. The height of the seat and its distance should be adjusted until your arms are at the correct position.

Here is a useful video instruction on this topic; http://bit.ly/1sKpJub

The wrists should be flexible in order to provide free movement of the hands.

The perfect hand position would encourage finger strengthening as it is paramount to technique of piano playing. Keep in mind that flat fingers or slightly sagging hand stops surrounding muscles from building up strength.

The other important point to remember is the strengthening of the 4th and the 5th fingers. In daily life these two fingers are not used much and therefore, they tend to get “lazy”. A good hand position always helps to strengthen all the fingers.

The wrists shouldn’t be too high as it creates tension and rigidity on the fingers. They should not sag either. They should be in a low relaxed position.

There are times when you have to put the thumb under the wrist to reach a note or another finger- mostly the 2nd, 3rd or the 4th over to reach a note.

This can be easily done when the wrist is relaxed and flexible. 

Beneits of playing scales

Beneits of playing scales

The other important factor to this is the proper fingering. Proper fingering will result in efficient usage of the hands and effective playing.

Here is a video tutorial on fingering and hand position by James Berry;  http://youtu.be/oNQqe7mGlyQ

And another; Piano fingering: Which finger goes where and why by Duane Shinn; http://youtu.be/YTM2mdzhYN0

An efficient way to train fingering is to learn scale fingering. Learning to play scales is a good way to get all fingers to play effectively; they will teach you how to  make the thumb go under the wrist, fingers to go over the thumb, the speed, the tone and the intensity etc. 

However boring it is, playing scales has its benefits! 

Here’s something for you to enjoy; Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A major D.664 performed by Vadim Chaimovich; http://youtu.be/0SZ5KqDEnwU

D. Legs and feet

Your knees should be at a relaxed position- normally, bent between 90º and 120º.

Position of legs and feet

Position of legs and feet

Your feet, should be resting directly in front of the pedals, if you are not pedalling.

If you are pedalling, your feet should rest on the pedals.

Keeping your legs and feet in a relaxed position helps you to be comfortable on the bench which is the ultimate for playing the piano.

Now, for you to enjoy something from the YouTube: Frederic Chopin, Piano Sonata No 2 performed by Arturo B. Michelangeli; http://youtu.be/Gw7UDd7r7fI 

2. Show how to practise

Daily routine of honest bit of practice done over the years, will give any player, the confidence to play and enjoy the piano. Such a person will acquire the skills necessary to fully express him/herself.

Teachers and parents always tell the pupil or the child to practise. 

Have we noticed any child running to the piano to practise? We all know the answer!

Why is practising so boring and tedious? How can the teacher make that a better exercise for the pupil?

Showing how to practise the piano is as important as showing them how to learn it.

I have a few tips:

A. Practise little at a time

This goes well with most of my pupils. It suits the younger pupil very much as a young child finds it difficult to sit for about 30 minutes at a time to practice.

My blog post on How to Motivate Your Child to Enjoy Pracitsing His Instrument looks deeply into this area.

It keeps the focus and the interest alive and practising doesn’t become a bore.

A few bars at a time; about 4 perhaps.

Focus on difficult, tricky parts until you play it well.

About 10 to 15 minutes at a time but throughout the day, until the whole section is covered.

B. Teaching the rhythm

Rhythm is important just as much as notes. Without the rhythm, there is no tune. To be able to know the correct tune, one must know the rhythm well.

Know the two main types of rhythms: simple and compound

The simple timing is easy to understand but many get confused with the compound rhythm. To avoid this confusion, I focus on elementary rhythm with the beginners.

What’s the difference?

Simple and Compound Rhythms

Simple and Compound Rhythms

In simple timing, a note is divided into two equal parts as shown in the image below.

Counting rhythms

In compound timing a note is divided into three equal parts.

A pupil who has a good understanding of the rhythm tends to always play well.

It is a tedious procedure especially when there are a mixture of note values like from semiquavers to semibreves.

I show my pupils how to count from semibreve down to semiquavers. By the time they come to demisemiquavers, they are fine and you don’t come across it often up to about intermediate level.

Being thorough with rhythmic variations gives the confidence to practise ( you know what the tune is like) and sight-read as well.

How Music Works 2-Rhythm-Part 1, uploaded by Timegrinder gives a good overall explanation on rhythm; http://youtu.be/c_jEkNiYFNc 

This series goes up to Part 5 and it is a great way to learn about the rhythm.

Enjoy this famous piece by Johan Srauss II on simple triple rhythm; http://youtu.be/IDaJ7rFg66A

The image below explains compound rhythm further.

More information on compound rhythm

More information on compound rhythm

Enjoy Beethoven’s Sonata No.23 in F Minor Op 57 (Appassionata) played by Daniel Barenboim, on compound quadruple rhythm; http://youtu.be/QA25-a-dRp8

I show my pupils how to count in a simple rhythm notation chart.

Have I given you a fair idea about rhythm? Hope I have.

Using a metronome during practice will give a sense of keeping time though, it should be done slowly at the beginning.

Do hands separately first, and put them together at a comfortable speed. 

You don’t have to buy a traditional metronome. The metronome on the App Store is handy and fantastic.

And the Mobile Metronome for the Android is versatile.

Take small sections; learn slowly, and when you are confident, use the metronome to see how you fair at the correct speed.

 

Practise with a metronomes.

C. Linking bars

The main reason why the transition is not smooth from one bar to the next is not practising linking them. I have noticed ( and I have done too as a pupil) pupils learn and practise the bars separately which is a good thing but don’t practise the transition.

When I stress on practising small sections, I explain the importance of smooth transition from section to section. If that is not there, the whole effect is lost and the time spent on practising is lost.

This means, that when your child practises, he must practise connecting the bars.

Supposing he has learnt the first four bars of his piece and now moving to the next four; he must start from the fourth bar and practise the next four bars.

Bars 1,2,3,4 and next bars 4,5,6,7,8 and the next set would be, bars,8,9,10, 11, 12 etc. This way it is easy to maintain the continuity.

D. Identifying musical patterns

Most classical pieces have patterns resembling scales, arpeggios and other melodic and harmonic patterns. I help my pupils to identify them which makes practising easier.

Often pupils play by reading each note. But what I say is to find a sequence or a pattern in the music, look for clues and it will make it that much easier.

i) Here is a simple example: This MIDI sheet music shows the pattern in the left hand and how the notes are placed.

Google Play to learn musical patterns

Google Play to learn musical patterns

ii) Here is a little more advanced one: 

Musical patterns

Musical patterns

iii) Note the patterns in both clefs in the example given below: 

 This is one of the best examples for sequences, Beethoven’s Fur Elise; it has arpeggios, scales, and chord patterns all in one! 

Fur Elise for musical patterns

Fur Elise for musical patterns

Listen to it here, played by Steven Malinowsky, and follow the musical patterns as he plays; http://youtu.be/o0VwTw1eZ1k

iv) Another example explained by Wikipedia; 

An example of ascending sequence

An example of ascending sequence

Understanding the chord progression is another important aspect of playing music well and practising smart.

What is chord progressionIt is the order of the chords in a piece of music; based on a piano scale.

Here are some examples: 

i) 

Chord progression

Chord progression

 

ii) Here is the ultimate of playing chords! Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No,1 conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with young Evgeny Kissin (17) on the pianohttp://youtu.be/kzoPBj5NKRg

Read an account of it by another famous pianist Stephen Hough.

Opening score for the piano:

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

Having a piano chord chart is always handy as they give all the configurations of  standard chords.

E. Training the eye to look ahead

I always tell my pupils to look ahead or take a glance at the next note especially if she needs to “jump” lower or higher.

Often in music there is a rest or a tied note to help with this.

Trying to locate the note when you arrive at it will cause in delay with the playing.

This is where hand-eye coordination is most come in.

3. Introducing a wide range of music

This is not about sight reading. It is about learning to play a wide repertoire; classical music, jazz, contemporary, pop and folk etc. 

In this blog post, I will be focusing only on classical music on the piano, otherwise, it’ll be a never-ending post as the list of variety of music types is never ending!

It is about developing different styles of playing with exposure to the background on this subject. What do you think about it?

Different types of music

Different types of music

Even the styles of classical music itself, is a vast area, with a huge list of composers. Therefore, I will only focus on the main, and the most popular types  for the piano.

If you come with anything, please add it at the end, for my blog posts are about sharing ideas and knowledge.

There are four main eras in classical music:

1. Baroque period

2. Classical period

3. Romantic period

4. Modern period which includes the present.

Now, I will focus on each era briefly. I look at three composers from each era; around the beginning, middle and end.

1.Baroque Period 

 This period was from about 1600 to 1750 and the music composed during this time is called baroque music;  ; it followed the renaissance period and what came

An example of baroque architecture

An example of baroque architecture

after was the classical period. The main characteristic of this period was the interwoven patterns in music bringing up different voices at different times. 

The same term was used for architecture of the era.

A significant characteristic of this period was using ornaments  in music. Also, dynamics were not used in typical baroque music as it  as played on a harpsichord, as the piano was not developed then, which did not have the ability to have the dynamic changes.

But, some modern editions have added dynamics, perhaps, to assist players on a modern day piano. 

Music on a harpsichord

Music on a harpsichord

The main feature of playing baroque music on a piano is to have high fingers, playing on the tips so as to create minimum vibration.

Let’s look at three famous composers of this era.

i) Claudio Monteverdi (1567 (baptised)- 1643)

He was an Italian composer,a violinist and singer. His work shows a transition from Renaissance to Baroque music. He produced music that belonged to both categories during his long working life which was a revolution of style. 

Monteverdi’s most popular is one of his earliest work, opera Orfeo. He was one of the few composers of that time who was fortunate enough to enjoy his fame.

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio Monteverdi

He was born in Cremona of north Italy.He first studied under Marc Antonio Ingegneri, who was maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Cremona. It is believed that he must have taken private music lessons as there is no record of him in association of the cathedral choir.

He was considered as a child prodigy as he had composed some motets (different types of choral music) and madrigals (a song in part, without accompaniment) in 1582 and 1583.

He produced his first book on secular madrigals in 1587.

Orpheus

Orpheus

There aren’t any music of his for the piano, though some have been adapted. Was my description easy to follow?

Here is one example:Lasciatemi morire uploaded by CaikokatPiano1; http://youtu.be/w34AuSXqNUI 

ii) Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Henry Purcell was an English composer who incorporated his music with the Italian and French Styles. His music is uniquely English Baroque music who is considered as one of the greatest of English composers. 

I chose three of his compositions from the beginning, middle and the end of his composing life. 

English Harpsichord Music

a) Round O, ZT 684 uploaded by cubusdk; http://youtu.be/exdgIOcmHG0

b) Piano Suite on C major performed by Janet Anderson uploaded by Ladies’ Music Club; http://youtu.be/O4ZQgB9m928

c) Minuet in E Minor- Music for Piano Student Series uploaded by David Tisdell; http://youtu.be/O4ZQgB9m928 

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell

iii) J.S. Bach (1685- 1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach  was a German Baroque composer. He was one of the greatest composers of all times. He was not well-known during his lifetime, which

Johann Sebastian Bach

was the case with most composers then, though he was most recognised for performing on the organ.

His cantatas, preludes and fugues are well loved and valued, which are complex as well as sublime. There are more than 1100 works of his which cover all areas of composition except opera.

The Well Tempered Clavier and Anna Magdalena’s Notebook are the most popular for the young music learner. I learnt Menuet in G, BWV Anhang 116 for my grade four exam with Trinity College. EternalAwait has uploaded this rendition on an electric piano with harpsichord sound:http://bit.ly/X3w5Ko

Menuet in G, BWV Anhang 114 is something that everyone learns! Here is a performance uploaded by TzviErez; http://youtu.be/qTy9mBdvCJs 

Did you enjoy that? 

J. S. Bach's Harpsichord Music

J. S. Bach’s Harpsichord Music

a) The first 24 Preludes and fugues from Well Tempered Clavier performed by Kimiko Ishizaka; http://youtu.be/Zj6wMOySPYQ 

b)This is his famous French Suites No.2 on C minor with Glen Gould on the piano, uploaded by micangess; http://youtu.be/IUQWnfVzM0Y

c) Goldberg Variations; http://youtu.be/UGPJDgp2-9A played by Glen Gould, uploaded by Joris Viqhesnel.

Were you able to pick up the different voices enhanced at different times and the contrapuntal character of the music very clearly?

2.Classical Period

A new style was developing closer to 1800s with refined simple melodic lines along with a harmonic texture. This new style is called the Classical style and the era is the Classical Period. During the early part of this era were the instrumental forms  such as sonata and others like allegro and rondo.

Cristofori Pianoforte

Cristofori Pianoforte

Instead of the binary form that was popular in the Baroque period, now emerge the ternary form ( three part form). This is seen in sonata, concerto, chamber music and symphony. The three parts are: exposition (A), development (B) and recapitulation (A). A B A means, that exposition and recapitulation are similar.

At the onset of the Classical Period, musicians had to depend on the church or wealthy donors. This started changing gradually and by the 1800s and composers started writing mainly for the public.

The piano was developed during this period. It was called the pianoforte, because of the facility to play loud or soft by the pressure of the fingers which was not possible with the harpsichord.

Now, let’s look at three of the most well known composers of this period. You must have guessed them by now!

i) Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

He was a prominent composer who has a large number of compositions to his credit in the Classical period. He started in the development of chamber music with the piano trio which is a composition for piano and mostly,two string instruments. A trio is a composition for any three wind or/and string instruments.

Franz Joseph Heydn

Franz Joseph Haydn earned the name “Father of Symphony” and “Father of String Quartet” for his contributions to musical form.

Haydn spent most of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Esterhazy family, in a remote area, in Austria, where he lived right through.

This life isolated him from other musicians and he was “forced to  become original”. With this, he became one of the most celebrated composers in Europe, by the time of his death at 77.

His works for the keyboard clearly became solely for the piano by the late 1780s, meaning he did not compose for the harpsichord any more. One could notice the change in dynamics as he wrote music for the piano.

How about some sheet music of his now? Given below are three of his famous compositions. Hope you will enjoy them.

a) An easy classical piece for the piano, Kleine Serenade uploaded by maerchenkoenig23; http://youtu.be/ZcXETGl_o2U 

b) Piano Sonata in C major; performed by Steven Lin, uploaded by Concert Artists’ Guild; http://youtu.be/j_PlvjqvNuo

c) Piano Sonata No 59 in E flat major with Alfred Brendel on the piano uploaded by PapaHydn; http://youtu.be/mWF-48jIrSU?list=PLITIib__tskUiUKpvOmCJkOM1R-rZ9lTd 

ii) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

He is an Austrian composer, who is a well recognised as one of the greatest in the history of Western music. He wrote music in every genre which was available

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

during his time and excelled in them. Yet, he wrote music for a selected audience.

His talent for music was discovered when he was as young as three years old, when he was picking up chords on the harpsichord; at four, he started playing short pieces and by five, he was composing!

At six, his musical career started when his father fist took him to Munich to play at the Bavarian court. Then, a few months later he went to Vienna and from then onwards, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made history.

He wrote a wide variety of sonatas, concertos, symphonies, operas and many more for piano, string and wind instruments.

Mozart's Fortepiano

Mozart’s Fortepiano

I am sure, now you would like to look at some sheet music

Now that you have been reading, time you started listening! Given below are three of my favourites for the piano: 

a) This is my top favourite which I still play; Theme from Elvira Madigan, from Piano Concerto No.21; http://youtu.be/CVKpvD3X6EM

b) He was among the first to write piano music for four hands. This is Sonata for Piano in C, K521, played by Zoltan Kocsis and Dezso Ranki;

http://youtu.be/8E4Jmtmok1E?list=PLBvYJAz-PUl6f2dFbE3yYqNT72bbFA3lU

c) His most famous Turkish March played and uploaded by Gagriele Toasello; http://youtu.be/lKdVqD75dm4

iii) Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. He is one of the most influential of all composers and made an impact on the transition from Classical Period to Romantic Period. 

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

He was a master of melody and structure.

Beethoven’s famous compositions are the 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets. There are compositions for chamber music, choral works and songs. His most celebrated choral work is Missa Solemnis;http://youtu.be/r01elSujWfY uploaded by ClassicalMusicTVHD.

Would you like to listen to them?

5 piano concertos uploaded by AbraxasAgitato with Radu Lupu on piano; http://youtu.be/oRq9kEjfXZQ

32 piano sonatas uploaded by  Sam Rothstein with Artur Schnabel on piano; http://youtu.be/qctSDdNmEUY 

16 string quartets uploaded by Sam Rothstein played by Quartetto Italiano; http://youtu.be/WkUsrlDLch8

By Beethoven’s time, the piano was quite advanced and he wrote music for such an instrument. You will notice the wide range and chords and vibration in his music.

Beethoven showed his talents in music from a very early age when his father started teaching him. Later he was to study with Mozart but met Joseph Haydn and began studying with him in Vienna.

Beethoven's Piano

Beethoven’s Piano

Later his hearing began to deteriorate and in the last decade of his life he was almost totally deaf. When he composed his famous 9th symphony, he was totally deaf.

There is so much to listen and learn about this brilliant composer. 

Do you like to try to play a piece? Then here is Beethoven free piano sheet music @ ALL PIANO SCORES, where you can listen to a piece before downloading.

Here are three completely different types of piano pieces by Beethoven: 

a) Here is Minuet in G major which has delighted many a young piano learner, performed, and uploaded by Chris Fleischer; http://youtu.be/rdbw5MoE7RQ

b) Piano Sonata No.15 “Pastoral” ( I did this for my Advanced Certificate of ABRSM) performed by Daniel Brenboim, uploaded by Pakito Palote; http://youtu.be/IblxeFAcqrc

c) Concerto No.1 performed by Lang Lang uploaded by kinor65 ; http://youtu.be/gQpEZ0ODNDw 

3. Romantic Period

The Romantic period was from around 1830 to the 1900s. The compositions became emotional, expressive and inventive. The composers of this era, drew inspiration from love, sometimes supernatural and even death, while some took to history and native culture.

Main features of music of this era were, the richness of the tone and harmony; dynamics and pitch had a wider range. The tempo was interesting too in that rubato tempo became popular and added an aesthetic value to the composition.

Have you got an idea of rubato tempo? This video, uploaded by LivingPianoVideos explains it well; http://youtu.be/YAWCSDbt2rQ

The orchestra improved greatly and the piano went to a different height that was not experienced before, as it underwent many changes with the range and quality.

Let’s look at three composers of this era around beginning, middle and end.

i) Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Carl Maria was born to a comfortable family. His father was a musician and a soldier who had a small travelling theatre company. His whole family was involved

Carl Maria von Weber

Carl Maria von Weber

in music and theatre. Carl was a sickly child who was born with an irregular hip which caused him to limp throughout his life. As he started shown talent in music, his father sent him to study under Michael Haydn who was the brother of Joseph Haydn.

He was a brilliant musician so much so that his music influenced composers like Mendelssohn.

Weber was the first Western composer to use an Asian melody into his music. He used a Chinese melody for his incidental music 

(music is music used for dramatic performance), in Turandot Overture which was Schiller‘s translation of Gozzi‘s Turandot.

You might be curious to listen to Turandot Overture! Here it is with the piano duo, Luca Ciammarughi and Danilo Lorenzini, uploaded by Danilo Lorenzini; http://youtu.be/uB4teUV9Kls 

“Invitation to the Dance” is one of his best loved pieces; listen to it here with the orchestra, uploaded by milijkmi; http://youtu.be/Cwsd4Cy2QNs 

I still play the piano version of it. 

Invitation to a Dance

Invitation to a Dance

Now it is time to listen to three pieces which are different forms: 

a) Sonatina for Four Hands performed by Chenyao adn Chendi, uploaded by Irina Gorin; http://youtu.be/Kr5wPOWq92E

b) Piano Sonata No 1 in C major performed by Claudio Arrau and uploaded by gullivior; http://youtu.be/QKAOjLIU7Mw

c) Piano Concerto No.2 in E-flat major performed and uploaded by Vadim Chaimovich; http://youtu.be/5rhXC2VH0J4

ii) Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

Bet you have heard of him! He was Polish, born in Warsaw, where he studied music. He wrote beautiful music mainly for the piano. His professional technique could not be matched by anyone in his generation. Chopin was a child prodigy. He left Poland when he was 20.

Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin

He settled down in Paris at 21. During the last 18 years of his life he gave about 30 public performances because he preferred to perform in a salon which is a private gathering where it was partly for amusement and partly to increase knowledge of the participants through conversation.

His waltzes, and nocturnes are beautiful and loved world over.

He supported himself by selling his compositions which were highly in demand. It is believed that he died of tuberculosis.

Here is a fantastic combination! Rachmaninov plays Chopin waltzes (complete), up loaded by Mark Farago;http://youtu.be/8Xxxbu-75fc 

This is Chopin’s complete works of Nocturnes performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy, uploaded by GilPiotrhttp://youtu.be/A3AyxdFKsl0

And now some ballads and scherzi played by Vladimir Ashkenazy,uploaded by Abraxas Tremelo; http://youtu.be/RbXMUul8z5k 

You could be interested in sheet music. There are some sites which have free sheet music of Chopin among the others. You can also listen and pick the piece you want, which I think is really a good idea. 

Chopin's Piano

Chopin’s Piano

Below, are three of my favourites by Chopin; hope you’ll like them too.

a) Nocturne in C sharp Minor, performed by Jan Lisiecki uploaded by Rupert Jones; http://youtu.be/FxibkvfXWIo?list=RDFxibkvfXWIo I played it for my Grade 8 Trinity exam all those years ago! I did go wrong once or twice!

b) Etude in E maj Op 10 No.3 performed by Enzo uploaded by Lorenzo Medei; http://youtu.be/Q00Cd8Iz2mQ

c) Fantasie Impromptu, Op 66 performed by Yundi Li and uploaded by the paulonaise; http://youtu.be/tvm2ZsRv3C8

III) Sergei Vasillevich Rachmaninov (1873- 1948)

He was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor. Sergei Rachmaninov is considered one of he finest musicians of his day and one of the greatest in romantic and modern compositions.

Sergie Vasillevich Rachmaninov

Sergie Vasillevich Rachmaninov

At the early stages he was influenced by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers.  His repertoire is famous for his song-like melodies and the usage of rich, demanding style of music, exploring the piano to the fullest.

There is a vast array of sheet music of his music for piano with some in PDF formSergei Rachamaninov’s  piano music is available in free recordings, sheet music and downloads.

Let’s listen to three of his most famous and popular pieces for the piano.

Rachmaninov's Piano

Rachmaninov’s Piano

a) Prelude in G minor performed by Evgeny Kissin uploaded by adam28xx’s channel; http://youtu.be/mxnL7UrkmY4

b) Sonata No.2 Op.36 performed by Vladimir Horowitz uploaded by xxx; http://youtu.be/-JaY0IZEy90; another classic combination.

c) Sergei Rachmaninov plays his Piano Concerto No.2 , uploaded by bwv1064; http://youtu.be/x8l37utZxMQ

Wasn’t that great?

4. Modern (20th Century to Present) Period

The Modern Period of music started  around the turn of the 20th century. This was a period which challenged the older forms. The organisation and the approach of harmonic, melodic, sonic and rhythmic aspects challenged the general views of the aesthetic quality of music. 20th century music was different.

Dissonant chords, unusual time signatures, and changing it often within a piece, were characteristics of this period, which deified the classical principles. The first to start composing this way was Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Bela Bartok. They moved beyond the classical norms in music, even though musical approaches were different. Often there were violent responds to their music from the audience because “the music didn’t sound like music”!

Rather than entertaining with music, the modern composers used music to express political unrest, war and other restrictions to life. 

The video here explains about modern music; http://youtu.be/MFLy8WcpG8Y

Are you ready for some modern music? We’ll take three composers from earliest, middle and latter part of the period.

i) Claud Debussy (1862-1918)

Claud Debussy was a French composer and was a prominent figure, along with Maurice Ravel, with Impressionist music. He was one of the most influential

Claud Debussy

Claud Debussy

composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A feature of his music was the use of non- traditional scales and chromaticism which had a considerable influence on the composers to follow.

“Debussy’s music is noted for its sensory content and frequent eschewing of tonality, which is organising music around a central note namely the tonic. The French literary style of his period was known as Symbolism, and this movement directly inspired Debussy both as a composer and as an active cultural participant.” 

Debussy's Piano

Debussy’s Piano

Download sheet music easily for his music which I enjoy very much.

Let’s relax with Debussy’s music.

a) This is the most famous piano piece of Debussy, Clair de Lune, performed and uploaded by Andrew von Oeyen; http://youtu.be/lEwh1JsJwRk  

b) Debussy plays his own Golliwogg’s Cakewalk from Children’s Corner; http://youtu.be/XMrdhgWR9Zk. Wasn’t that marvellous?

c) Prelude pour le piano.flv performed by Arthur Rubinstein uploaded by 2799anthony ; http://youtu.be/hIbqQjQgUPE

ii) Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Born in Hungary, Bela Bartok is considered as on of the most important composers of the modern period. He incorporated folk modes and irregular rhythmic

Bela Bartok

Bela Bartok

pattern into Western music. His skills as a modern music composer are very much shown in his album Microkosmos. His string quartets Nos 1-6 are masterpieces. 

Bartok’s childhood and youth were in various towns in Hungary. He studied music first with his mother and later went on to many teachers. At the age of nine, he started composing small pieces, mainly dances. At the age of 11, he played for public which included his own compositions.

He took professional studies in Budapest at the Royal Academy of Music. There he became more a pianist than a composer. In 1902 he became enthusiastic about composing after he discovered Richard Strauss’ music.

I like to listen to his music when it is quiet so that I can focus on the style.

Bartok's Piano

Bartok’s Piano

There’s plenty of sites offering sheet music of Bela Bartok. 

Now for the three pieces! Have you been waiting for it?

a) Bartok “for Children” (volume 1) uploaded by valter zanardi; http://youtu.be/vKy5rK5WSYM

 b )Six Dances in Bulgarain Rhythms performed by Jeno Jando; http://youtu.be/NPrZkZNS7T4 I did this for my Advanced Certificate (ABRSM). Each one is so different from the other, it was not funny!

c) Piano Sonata, Sz. 80 performed and uploaded by Stanislav Khristenko; http://youtu.be/58AnxdAok4Y

iii) Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Dmitry Shostakovich was a Russian composer and a pianist; a prominent figure in the modern era music who became famous in the Soviet Union.

He was greatly influenced by Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, and developed a mixed style which is apparent in his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk Distict

Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

(1934). It was like a centre of trends which showed the influence of neo-classical (new classical) style of Stravinsky and post- Romanticism of Gustav Mahler. Shostakovich’s music is characterised by the sharp contrasts and elements of bizarre music! 

There is a variety of ways to access his music:

Dmitry Shostakovich

You can download free sheet music and print instantly. Also free downloads MIDI.

Did you guess it? Yes, now for the three pieces.

a) Piano Works- Short Piece performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy uploaded by bill K ; http://youtu.be/klSAbT7KeYk

b) Piano Concerto No.2 in F major Op 102 performed by Martha Argerich uploaded by Dmity Ovodov; http://youtu.be/4MzZs6RD5pE

c) Shostakovich plays Shostakovich- Lullaby for Piano uploaded by pticonful; http://youtu.be/2lLBqerxWDY

Well, it’s been a long section. And it’s only the 3rd secret! I will be short and sweet with the rest.

4. Having a clear mind

This would be a little difficult to explain to a student. Therefore, I will try do explain it briefly and what is relevant to a student so that he would be able to have a general idea of it in order to be able to use it.

Mind over matter

Mind over matter

To have a clear mind, first one must have a calm mind. Dealing with anxiety is the key to having a calm mind. As a music player the anxiety is most with performances and exams and preparations for those. In my blog post How to Prepare Your Chid for a Brilliant Performance I have explained how to deal with anxiety.

Keeping the focus is important.

How do you do it? We’ll look at the steps that are relevant to a music player:

i) Look after your body

Eating healthy and exercising is most important to keep your focus. When your body feels good, it helps the mind to stay focused.

Find a suitable regime of exercise for you. A workout in the gym, Pilates, yoga, walk or any set of exercises that suits you. But it must be done at least four to five days a week.

If you are working-out at home, you don’t have to do it all in one go. Break it up to short sections and do it as you please. You can combine it with watching TV as I do.

We all know what it is to work when we are down with a flu. The moment the body is not at its peak everything slows down— even the mind.

Healthy food for a healthy mind

Healthy food for a healthy mind

But remember, not to indulge too much in the breaks that it affects your progress.

“Feeling lazy” is not the case!

ii) Clearing the clutter.

Did you think about your room?!

One must learn to control the thoughts. Don’t let your mind run amock; bring it back to where it should be. This is so easily said than done!

Don’t entertain hateful, angry thoughts. Divert your attention from such thoughts to pleasant thoughts.

Relaxing your mind does not mean that you let your thoughts run riot!

Clear clutter in mind

Clear clutter in mind

Think of the things that make you happy.

It is better to listen to calming soothing music rather than pop music when you are thinking of relaxing your mind.

Here is 8 Hours of Relaxing Music uploaded by TheHonestGuys; http://youtu.be/qrx1vyvtRLY

iii) Living in the present- Mindfulness

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” (the Buddha)

Today, people are realising the value of being aware of the present, more than ever.

We are so involved in thinking about the past and the future— especially, the past. But think of the moment. What you are doing now; how you feel now.

Be aware of the present moment. It helps you get rid of the clutter in your mind and stay focused. 

Practising mindfulness

Practising mindfulness

What are the benefits of mindfullness?

a) Improves well being

b)Improves physical health

c) Improves mental health

Meditation fosters mindfulness. The idea is to cultivate mindfulness in daily living.

This is what I tell my students, especially when they are preparing for an exam: “The mind is happy to wander around; it is happiest to go into the past for that is what it knows. Realise that your mind is wandering, and bring it back to where you want it to be.”

Don’t let the mind control you. You control the mind. They understand this simple line.

You must realise that only you can help yourself.

iv). Breathing properly 

This is one area of playing music is generally ignored even though it is so important.

Yoga for proper breathing

Yoga for proper breathing

Correct posture helps breath properly. Proper breathing is necessary for a good circulation which will take more oxygen to the brain which in turn helps focus.

Breathing properly helps relax both physically and mentally. It also, prevents injury and sickness.

Here is a video to show the importance of breathing properly whilst playing the piano, uploaded by Sonnys Pianos; http://youtu.be/1ZopRmQRj3A

v). Meditation

Here, I will underline what is relevant to a student.

This doesn’t mean that you have to always sit cross legged in a quiet place! You can do it while driving, taking a shower, going on your walk etc.

Meditations don’t need to be complicated long sessions. Take them in the simplest form and it will suit everyone. 

Meditation Techniques for Teens

Meditation Techniques for Teens

This is my simple meditation that I try to do while doing the things, like household chores, that doesn’t involve thinking.

” Loving kindness, peace, joy and gratitude to my (whoever/whatever)”. Could be your house, the neighbours, a person, your dog, your car etc.

The main thing is, you must feel it in your heart. Only then will it make a difference to how you feel.

Meditation is the best way to relieve stress. It would be a great advantage when preparing for exams.

5. Motivate the pupil

As Barbara Davis writes in Tools for Teaching, “Students respond positively to a well-organised course.”

Therefore, the structure of the course is very important just as much as teaching methods. These two aspects greatly affect the motivation of a pupil.

A basic framework of expectations and guidelines will make a student feel responsible and accountable. Do you agree?

The next I do is to show the benefits of music education

Coordination, motivation, and dedication are some of the benefits that music education brings. There is scientific proof too to support this. The piano lessons that you took during your childhood comes into aide later, even if you haven’t played it for decades.

Motivating the pupil to learn piano, not only helps him to play the piano well, but it comes with educational benefits too. The underlying thing is to motivate your pupil to practise.

So what do I do as a teacher to motivate them? There are so many ideas for motivating piano students, but I will show you what works for me mostly.

i) encourage and appreciate 

Giving positive comments is something I certainly do. With all the rest of the things the pupil has to do, it is necessary to give the moral boost.

I am not critical all the time. Firstly I appreciate his good work and praise him. Then I point out the areas that they need to work on and show how to do it.

I firmly believe that, as a teacher one needs to recognise a pupil’s hard work and praise him for that, as the abilities vary. Positive comments, encouragement and appreciation will drive them to do better.

ii) Competition

This may not work for every pupil, but nothing works for every pupil anyway!

blog 9c quoteSome of them who are up to it, work hard and focus on winning. For the ones who are not so competitive and ready to give up, I show child prodigies on YouTube at the piano. I showed Yuja Wang to a pupil of mine who is sitting an exam and she is set on becoming like Yuja! Well done, I thought.

Also, when they know that their peers are doing well, they want to do as well. Children are competitive and want to win.

Having recitals help too. They want to do their best to impress the audience.

iii) Expect their best, not yours

The ability to do well in any field depends on the person. Same applies for piano pupils too. Of course, as a teacher I must realise who is not doing much work and find out why. Such pupils need encouragement and need to be patient with them.

I strongly believe that pupils should not be compared with one another. I tell them what I expect of them and show them that I am impressed when they have practised. I let them know what they are capable of and I want to see it. 

I make it clear that I don’t expect them to be perfect but that they must give their best.

iv) Caring for the pupil

This is not only about being nice and asking how the weekend was! It is about how much I care about my pupils faring. I show that I care about their learning and achievements.

Do they believe that I care about whether they achieve their goal or not? There are some teachers who don’t; do the job and get off! This sort of attitude does not motivate a pupil to learn anything, not only the piano. 

Finding out about the grey areas, showing them how to practise, solving problems, and having patience will show that the teacher cares about them achieving their goal.

I allow them to record my instructions, contact me on the phone or by email, whenever they need help.

This not only motivates the pupil to do well but it also helps build up a good rapport with the teacher which is vital for motivation.

What are your comments and ideas on this?

6. Teaching according to the ability

When everyone is not the same, the abilities are also, not the same. Some take longer than the others to grasp a concept. It many not be a learning difficulty as such but it’s just that they need a little more time.

Some steps that I follow with my pupils:

a) having patience; taking as long as it needs for the pupil to understand a concept. Sometimes you need to explain well more than twice even but it is important to keep calm.

b) repeating the lesson; Being in a hurry to complete the course will not help the child. What I ask myself is, the purpose of a piano lesson to the child. Fulfilling the purpose is the aim; the pupil must benefit by the lesson. Therefore, if it takes more than twice to explain, then it must be done.

c) different methods of teaching and using material

Just like one size doesn’t fit all, one teaching method  or same material does not suit all pupils.The same type of book doesn’t suit everyone. Different books have different methods of instruction. I had two pupils who started on a particular book and didn’t like it. But when I changed the book, they just took to it like duck to water!

Top Ten Piano Brands

Top Ten Piano Brands

There are some children who can sit through a half hour at the piano but some can’t. I break up the lesson into different activities with the ones with short attention span.

There are some children who can sit through a half hour at the piano but some can’t. I break up the lesson into different activities with the ones with short attention span.games, bit of theory with colouring, and using flash cards or teaching something from another source is effective. There are times that they don’t want to play from their usual book. With such pupils, I find material of the same or similar standard and it had worked every time.

Failure, Frustration and Keys to Success

Failure, Frustration and Keys to Success

Also, teaching a song that they know, without a book, works as well.

Then, the other thing I do is, I get them to count or say the names of the notes while I play their piece. This way I make sure that they know their notes and counting.

The other method that I am compelled to mention, even though I don’t follow it is, the Suzuki method which is very popular and effective. Watch this video; http://youtu.be/dQoxwcJ8u5s

7. Element of Fun

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki-

Q. What is the ultimate goal in learning to play the piano?

A. It is of course to enjoy— playing for yourself or for others.

Then, it is important to make the lessons enjoyable to the pupil. This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the nitty and the gritty.

The proper technique, the rules must be learnt and music practised are a must. The element of fun does not come in otherwise.

It is a process of enjoying with productivity.

The pupil and his parent must understand that there is no instant gratification. You cannot simply copy and paste!

It’s an art that takes time and effort to accomplish. All good things take time, even cheese! 

Fun with music

Fun with music

Having said that we can make the lessons enjoyable and practising not such a bad task.

As I have mentioned about how to practise I shall not focus on it here.

My focus here is how to make the lessons interesting— especially for the young ones.

Some ideas:

i) Split the lesson into different areas;

This is good for the young ones whose attention span is short.

I have a colouring/theory session after sitting at the piano which would be about ten minutes.

Firstly I get them to draw their hands and number the fingers which they enjoy.

ii) Repition of the lesson is always good with the young ones.

It helps them retain and they are thrilled when they remember it from the previous lesson.

Encouragement, and appreciation of their good efforts always is enjoyed by the pupil.

iii) Finger patterns

I teach little finger patterns; first with the 3 sets of black notes and then with C,D, and E.

Then I show them how to play ” Hot Cross Buns”.

Then I take them up to the first five notes- one for each finger.

With this I teach them ” Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

Fun with piano

Fun with piano

I get them to play the same tune on with the left hand.

It’s always good to have access to other music as playing from one book can become tedious and narrow.

Piano Lessons for Young Beginners Book1 uploaded by Learn To Play Music Inc; http://youtu.be/yQE5uEOwoR8

There are many piano sheet music for beginners too.

And for MusicReader-digital music stand software display sheet music on Tablet PCs, laptops or desktops. 

Also, there are excellent iPad apps for teachers

There are free sites with many options to download.

Here is MIDI sheet music for Android Apps on Google Play.

iv) Accompany pupil

The young pupils alwys enjoy when you accomplany them. Some music has it written out but some don’t. But either way, it sounds much nicer than the playing it alone.

You also download interesting pieces of sheet music for duets.

I have twins coming over and sometimes I get them to play together- they play the same thing but enjoys and are careful not to make mistakes. It’s a great way to teach the rhythm.

Let’s Play Music has free sheet music and printable theory which is  handy especially if you are looking for resources for theory.

Well, hope this blog post was useful to you. And, did I miss anything? Please let me know.