Tag Archives: Lessons and Instruction

Introduction to Music, Part 1

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship

A quick word or two before we get started

This series is designed to introduce you to the world of music. It is not intended as a music appreciation series for the non-musician, but rather it is intended for those who want to be musicians or want to improve their musicianship. It could be that you’ve never played an instrument or sung before and would like to. Perhaps you learned to play or sing by rote, that is, you copied what you heard and saw but don’t really understand why or what you are doing. Perhaps you’ve reached a point where you just aren’t improving as a musician. Hopefully this series can help all of you.

musical notation example (clef, key signature,...
(From Wikipedia)

There is much in the way of theory and how to read music in this series. If you want to learn to play or sing by ear or in a way that results in you only being able to play music someone else has already recorded or that you’ve heard, there is plenty of other material, good or not, that I would point you to. This series isn’t for you, it’s for the person who wants to be a well-rounded musician. It’s for someone who can read music and understand what they are reading and performing.

If you want to be able to play or sing any music, even music you’ve never heard, and do more than just play notes, actually make music, then you absolutely must learn to read music notation and you need to understand why those notes are there in the way they are there. In other words, learn the theory behind the music. That’s what the series is for. I want you to be more than someone who just copies what they’ve heard. I want you to be a well-rounded musician. This series is a very small step in the long process required to be a good musician.

If you are a musician, each instrument – singers, the body is your instrument – has different techniques necessary to play that instrument. String players have to learn how to bow properly. Guitar players need to learn finger positions. Brass and woodwind players need to learn breathing. Singers need to learn diction. Keyboard players need to use proper hand technique, etc. You can learn much on your own in this department, but the best players, even if they say they are self-taught, have had someone at some point in their career show them the technique of their instrument. A teacher is highly recommended. This series will not discuss technique or how to play an instrument.

For all the examples shown, you can click on the picture to see a bigger version.

Next time, we look at basic notation.

iPad apps for music lessons

Update May 2013. See this followup article

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)

I’ve uploaded a video showing three iPad apps that I find useful as supplemental material when teaching my piano students. When I downloaded them, they were all free apps.

QF Notes is a basic Notation Flash Card program. Plain and simple.

Pitch Invasion is a PG Music app for Ear Training. For kids, but adults will more than tolerate it. The aliens play a note and you have to guess it before the alien captures one of the instruments along the bottom row. Various levels of difficulty.

Finally, one definitely designed for kids, but a few of my beginning adult piano students have found it to be challenging enough to keep them playing it.

The short link for the video.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Ia92GaSrg]

A reminder that if you are looking for some unique sheet music, visit the website and download, for free, any of the over 400 sheet music titles we have available.

For a limited time, I’m offering free music tutoring and piano lessons via the internet. Read more.

I’d love to hear from you about the blog, YouTube, my sheet music, my recordings on iTunes, GooglePlay, CD Baby or Amazon, even if it’s a negative comment.

From arrangement to recording

After considerable difficulty with video cap and editing software, I’ve finally gotten two new videos done.

I decided to make an arrangement. I did it in Sibelius 7 and Reaper. The first video shows the process of making the arrangement. This arrangement was for violin, cello, piano, guitar, bass and drums.

The 2nd video shows taking the MIDI from Sibelius and putting it into Reaper DAW and making a recording.

I welcome your comments and questions, either here or on Youtube.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yKV-GI-5KA?hl=en&fs=1]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dkjmHCHDzg?hl=en&fs=1]

Practicing the piano, some suggestions

One approach for beginning to intermediate level students.

This article contains some suggestions on how to practice the piano. These are geared toward pianists from the absolute beginner to intermediate level. This is only one of many approaches to practicing, but all the suggestions are worth applying to your practice routine.

First a brief comment. I’ve been teaching music in some shape or form for many years. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come to me to take piano lessons and tells me how they’ve been trying to learn on their own but aren’t getting anywhere. I know there are many online sites – I’m tempted to call them scams – that say you can teach yourself to play the piano, often in a short amount of time, without any help besides their latest and greatest video or online lessons or book or whatever. The truth is, you need a teacher to guide you and make sure you are doing things right. If you’ve tried taking piano lessons from a teacher and not been able to learn anything, I’m afraid the honest truth, even with a terrible teacher, it was probably not the teacher’s fault. There are some people who do not have or do not want to obtain the self-discipline and patience that learning to play the piano requires nor are they willing to do the work necessary to learn. Those people also waste their money on ‘learn to play quickly or learn to play by ear only’ type of scams. Now on to practicing.

Before you start playing

Get comfortable

Adjust the piano bench so you are in the right position – the bench parallel to the piano, centered around middle C and not too far or too close to the piano. Make sure you have enough light to read the music. If using a keyboard, don’t just set it on the bed or a kitchen counter, get a stand that’s at the same height as an acoustic piano and use a standard size (height) bench.

piano fingers

Curve your fingers, level wrists, relaxed shoulders

Hold your hand, palm up, as though you are trying to hold a small ball in your hand. Note the natural curve. Turn your hand over, keeping that same shape not letting the ball fall, and place each finger (which in the piano world includes your thumb) on a different white key. Your wrist should be level with your fingers. Don’t let the wrist sink below the curved finger heights. Don’t let it rise above the curved finger heights. Your shoulders should be relaxed. Don’t let them push up from their normal standing or sitting positions. The picture shows the extremes, one wrist is a bit high, the other is a bit low and because the fingers are on the black note in the LH, they can’t be as curved as in the RH.

Think about what you are going to do

Don’t let other things or people in the room distract you. At least for brand new beginners, I recommend that you focus on all the things I’ve mentioned so far before you start to play. As you get ready to play keep thinking about these things at the same time you focus on other things.

Do you know the terms and symbols at the start of the piece?

Finally, before you start playing, do you know the terms and symbols at the beginning of the music? Is there a 4/4 or 6/8 or 3/4 at the beginning? What does that mean? (Time signature). Are there sharps or flats just before the time signature? What do those mean. What is the tempo? You should know those terms before you play. The composer or arranger put them there for your benefit so you should take advantage of them.

While you are playing

For the most part, keep all your fingers, including your thumb on the keyboard

As mentioned before, all your fingers should always be on the keyboard (including the thumb) and in a curved position with a level wrist. As you play there may be some movement of the wrists up and down, but at least for a  beginner, there should be very little up and down motion.

Listen as you play

Do you like what you hear? If not, maybe you are playing something wrong. Double check the printed music and make sure you are playing the right notes and rhythm. Sometimes what you play may not sound right to your ears even when you are playing the correct notes. So, before you change something just because it sounds funny, make sure you know why you are changing.

Slow down

Too many beginning and intermediate pianists (and a few professionals I know) want to play a new piece at the speed indicated in the music (the tempo) even when they are not capable of doing so. It always acceptable to play a piece of music slower than is marked when you are learning. This is sometimes essential to learning the music. So, slow down, learn the piece properly.

Always look at your music, not your fingers…

…Or so you’ve probably heard people who play piano tell you. I believe it is acceptable to sometimes look at your fingers, but only sometimes. The reality is that music moves by so fast that you don’t have time to read the music and look at your fingers. Being aware of what notes your fingers are on without looking at the keyboard even if you move your hands is a skill you need to learn.

Play by intervals but also know the letter names

Learn the distance between the notes on the music and how that relates to your fingers (the intervals). If you play a note with your second finger and the music goes up one line from the line it is on, the next note is played with the 4th finger. You don’t need to know the note name. Sometimes this is faster than trying to figure out the note, then figure out what finger you need to play it with and then play it. However, you can’t play by intervals alone anymore than a well-rounded pianist can play just by ear. You still need to know what note(s) to start on so you absolutely must learn the names of the lines and spaces in the treble (RH) and bass (LH) clefs.

Keep the tempo steady, don’t stop at the end of a bar

When playing a piece of music, you should keep the tempo steady, almost with a machine like precision, at least to start with. Those vertical lines in the music, the bar lines, do not mean stop, pause or wait. The only thing they are there for is to tell you where one bar (aka measure) ends and another starts. So, don’t stop at the end of a bar. And remember that the first beat after a bar line is always beat one.

Articulations

Are there slurs? Are there staccatos? Are there accents? Those are collectively known as articulations. If so, be sure to observe them. Watch out if one hand has slurs and the other doesn’t. In those situations, it is sometimes easy to make both hands slurred or to forget to do the slurs in one hand.

Rhythm and counting

Rhythm is the relationship of the value of the notes to one another. A quarter note should always be the same length throughout the piece of music. A half-note is always twice the length of the quarter and the whole-note is always four times the length of the quarter. This is true throughout the song. You need to count the beats in a measure. The 4/4 at the start of a piece of music tells you there are 4 beats per measure and that a quarter note gets one beat. As you play through a piece of music, count the beats in the measure – keep the counting steady – and play the notes on the beats they are supposed to occur on. The beat should be as steady and consistent as the flow of time is steady and consistent. Time never stops, nor should the beat.

Are your fingers curved, wrists level and shoulders relaxed?

By the way, are your fingers curved, wrists level, and shoulders relaxed. If not, go back to the beginning and re-read this.

The unfortunate truth about becoming a good, well-rounded pianist is that it requires work, dedication, commitment, self-discipline, patience, time and work. Did I say it takes work and time, lots of time? I hope these suggestions help you as you practice the piano. Don’t give up. Keep with it and the rewards will be far more than the effort it took you to get there.