Category Archives: music education

Free Music Math Worksheet!

The worksheet is great for students who have done the better part of the Bastien Primer set (through p. 40 of the Lesson Book, to be precise).  I created it in response to requests from my students who really enjoyed this worksheet from MakingMusicFun.net but hadn’t necessarily covered 8th notes yet.

The worksheet includes quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and quarter, half and whole rests.

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Download the pdf here.

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Playing musically through the use of adjectives, metaphors, and imagery

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I.  Summary of recent article and its suggested exercise

I recently read an article that suggested a few exercises to help musicians play with more musicality.  The first exercise involves brainstorming a list of adjectives – at least 100 adjectives so that you (or the person you are directing to do the exercise) is forced to move beyond the more quotidienne adjectives such as “happy and sad.”  Once you have the list, the author suggests that you take five of these adjectives, all contrasting, and experiment with playing  a passage of music in such a way as to evoke those descriptors.  So for example, you might play the opening of Fur Elise hysterically, exhaustedly, furiously, nervously, and sullenly.  When you do this, assuming you are doing it successfully, each iteration of the phrase should be markedly different in shading, articulation, tempo/rubato, and other expressive devices.  For example, a hysterical rendering of the opening of Fur Elise, might be at an allegro tempo with an accelerando feeling and would likely be forte or involve a rather drastic crescendo.  But it could also waver between two emotions very quickly and therefore go from fast to slow, loud to soft, legato to marcato, accelerando to ritardando to communicate that.

By contrast, a rendering of the opening phrase which would communicate exhaustedness, would probably be heavy handed and slow, like a windup doll that was puttering out, running out of steam.

One point the author makes is that, ideally, you would want to try this exercise out with at least one partner.  When playing the excerpt, you would have them try to guess the adjectives which you are trying to evoke.  As the author mentions, if they cannot guess, you need to revisit your attempt.  The author says:

 It’s interesting to note that when the performer’s intention isn’t well-formed or clear, the audience response is invariably inconsistent. On the other hand, when it’s ‘real,’ it’s easy to deduce that emotions don’t lie. They seem to bypass the intellect and leap straight into the music, through the performer to the audience.

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II.  Thoughts on the suggested exercise

I love it to a certain extent although I think it would be best to work on applying different emotions to technique and other exercises.  That way, you can focus on defining one (or a few) emotions for a piece and really work on committing to it.  Plus, it seems best to integrate this kind of work into a routine practice rather than just working on it with the occasional musical passage.

The listing idea is really brilliant.  Many students have not really thought much about a wide range of emotions and certainly don’t have the vocabulary for it all.  Having them brainstorm a list is great because it really makes them explore emotions past the simple “happy, sad, scared, tired” level.

To help students brainstorm their emotion list, ask them to look at the emoticon lists in their phones, ipads, and other devices and attach a word to each one.  That should get them started.  Once they’ve got that list, help them find synonyms (or most importantly, near-synonyms) for their initial list of words.

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III.  Related exercises designed to aid the musician to communicate

In college, my voice teacher used to have these flashcards sitting atop her piano.  On them were written nearly every kind of emotion and attitude I could think of at the time.  While I was vocalizing at the beginning of each lesson, she would randomly draw from the stack and hold up an emotion that I was to portray as I sang.  One of the purposes was to get me to work on the acting side of being a singer.  At the time, I hated it.  I was one of those singers (who had long been a student of piano) that didn’t understand the importance of acting and portraying a character.  I thought all that mattered was hitting notes and phrasing, etc.  I used to cringe with embarrassment when she would pull from the stack.

Now, as a teacher, I think that those exercises were some of the most important that I could have learned as a young singer and a young musician.  A singer must first and foremost connect with the audience on a visceral level – if she sings wonderfully but is stiff and has no stage presence, her performance will not be a success.

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Jolly Stewart, my college voice professor

However, what I also learned from those lessons applies equally to the singer and the instrumentalist.  While stage presence and the ability to effectively convey the text of a song is vital, another perhaps more important benefit of “acting” is that if you portray the proper emotion effectively, much of the work of phrasing and planning appropriate breaths will follow.

This works for the pianist because even young children can understand that there is a difference in how you would play a scale if you were sad or happy.  To understand and feel a musical passage that way – rather than by the gut understanding of musical phrasing and interpretation that you develop, say, through discussions of the conventions of pedaling and listening to professional performances – will oftentimes result in more exciting and original interpretation.

At any rate, I think that all pianists and vocalists alike could benefit from the demands of the emotion flashcard stack and should routinely use it.

One last thought – one of the most effective methods of getting a topnotch performance out of a student I learned as a student myself.  In high school, in a lesson with Frank Heneghan, I was instructed to come up with a story line for the Debussy Prelude “Minstrels.”  The story was non-sensical but full of imagery – certain melody lines were associated with characters and types of personages.  Through this technique, I remember feeling like I really connected to the piece in a new way and my performance was vastly improved.  So here’s the advice, always try to come up with phrase by phrase imagery or story lines.  I often tell students that they should try and come up with a music video for the piece or to imagine a Fantasia-like cartoon to go with it.  That idea, in combination with the training in understanding a broad range of emotions, should produce some truly wonderful results.

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Frank Heneghan with student

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Fantasia is a great model for designing your own imagery

 

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New Bass Clef study: Czerny No. 7 from the Little Pianist

Hi everyone!  Happy Friday!

Today, I’ve decided to share another one of my Czerny rewrites.  This one is similar to the last one – it’s all in bass clef to help intermediate students focus on bass clef reading.

Again, let me know what your strategies are for dealing with bass clef reading.  I have several students who have come to me as intermediate students but with weak reading skills.  These students are particular unhappy with doing easy pieces that would better match their reading level so my solution is to give them these as quick study pieces  – students spend no more than a month on them.

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An incomplete picture – if you want the full piece, you’ll have to follow my link

Here’s the link to the whole piece.  Czerny No. 7 for bass clef.

 

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Free Ear Training Worksheet for Beginning Students

I had my first studio group lesson a while back with a group of girls aged 7- 13.  We had seven of us and had a great time.

Here was my lesson plan:

  1. An introduction game as an icebreaker
  2. An memory game
  3. Musical symbol bingo courtesy of Susan Paradis
  4. Listening worksheet
  5. Beginning learning about the orchestra workbook

I intend to write more about this in the future, but for now, I just wanted to share my listening worksheet.

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You can get the full document here.

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Bass Clef Focus: Czerny Op. 823 Rewritten

I have a few students that struggle with reading bass clef despite being at an intermediate level of proficiency technically. To help the boost their bass clef reading skills, I’ve rewritten this Czerny etude from the Little Pianist in only bass clef.  It seems to be helping.

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Here is a copy of the original etude and here is a link to my adaptation.  It’s just a straightforward rewrite but is time-saving for those who are looking for something like this.

The original:

czerny

 

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You can download the .PDF of this rewrite here.

Other strategies I’ve adopted are having these students learn only the left hand parts of various easier Bach pieces (one is working on Invention No. 13 in a minor, but it is proving a little harder than I’d like).

Do you have any pieces you like to use with intermediate students to focus on bass clef reading? I like them to be easy for them to learn and play (taking no more than a few lessons to master) because the goal is to have them reading often (doing more pieces) rather than getting bogged down in trying to learn something difficult. Any suggestions? For now, I’ll probably stick with rewriting Czerny.

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What’s the Right Age to Begin Piano Lessons

What’s the right age to start piano lessons?

Almost any age is the right age to start piano lessons.  It’s never too late to start, so whether your 6 or 60 it’s a great time to jump in and give it a whirl.  Some folks would argue that students who start in middle school catch up within a year to the students who started in elementary school.  Others would argue that waiting until elementary school is too late.  They believe that starting early – when brain formation is at its most malleable point – is crucial to providing the capacity for being a professional musician.  So how do you decide?

There are a few factors to consider….

Desire. It doesn’t matter what age your child is; if he or she can’t bear the thought of taking piano lessons, it will be no fun for anyone.  On the other hand, if a child has a deep desire to play piano they may be a great student, even at a very young age.  Sometimes people have to try it before they know if they will like it – starting on a trial basis is fine and may take the pressure off of students who are reluctant to commit.

Attention span.  A 30 minute lesson is difficult for some children and adults. It can be a long time to sit no matter how much they love piano.  Others have no problem sitting at the piano for an hour or more.  To get the most out of a lesson, a good thirty minute attention span is helpful.  However, it is possible to work with young children who can’t sit that long.  Breaking up the lesson with musical games, musical toys, or music technology often helps those with a shorter attention span to learn and enjoy the piano.   A fun, enjoyable lesson will make the time fly by.

Reading skills.  A crucial element of piano lessons is being able to learn to read music.  Children who know their alphabet and have some pre-reading skills are far more equpped to begin piano lessons than children who don’t.  Pre-reading skills often begin around age 4, when a child can grasp the concept of symbols and can even begin to read or at least recognize small words.

 Music experience.  Children who have a good background in music, either from a good classroom music teacher or an early music program have an easier time beginning piano lessons than a child who has had no music exposure.  But everyone has to start somewhere, and a lack of experience shouldn’t prevent a student from starting lessons.

Elementary school.  Generally speaking, most beginner piano students start sometime in elementary school.  I’ve taught students as young as 4 and as old as 74. If you think that you or your child would enjoy lessons, have the desire,  attention span, and reading skills than go for it!  It’s never too late to start, and it’s never too early to share a love of music, either.

Come on over, and let’s play!    If you’re not sure if you or your child is ready for lessons, that’s ok!   Please feel free to call or email me with any questions or concerns.  We can even do a trial lesson so you can get a sense of what’s it’s like to take lessons. Realistically, it could take a couple of months to get into the swing of things to know if taking lessons is right for you.  It never hurts to try!  I’d love to show you and your children around the piano, to share music, and to share a lot of fun and laughter, too!   Now is the best time to start!

*Reblogged from https://etudesandencores.musicteachershelper.com/

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major and minor ear training

I always do about 10 minutes of ear training with my students at some point during our hour long lesson.  Usually, we do it first.

For beginners, one of the first things that we cover is the difference between major triads and minor triads.  Students typically are very quick to learn to distinguish the two, but when the minor triad is played in the higher registers or the major triad is played in the lower registers, my students frequently get confused.

Today, I recommended to one student to spend some time listening to Grieg’s Piano Concerto  to get a sense of what minor chords in the upper registers sound like.  The opening of Grieg’s concerto is an obvious example although I worry that perhaps the aggressive sound will make the “ominous”quality of the minor all too obvious.  Well, we see if it clarifies anything anyway.

Here it is, in case you’d like to listen:

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