Tag Archives: piano lessons

The piano is dead?

Just an article to get the mind thinking. I’d love to hear some insightful comments on this subject.

Are people learning to play the piano enough to keep the piano going as a popular instrument? Is it becoming like the pipe organ or electronic keyboards/synthesizers, all instruments played by a small percentage of musicians?

Is the future of music in technology? Is music moving to the point where one uses a midi controller (either a keyboard like instrument or a drum pad like Maschine) to produce a loop that is then played by pushing a button on a machine or computer (like an iphone/ipad)? Most music heard today by the majority of people is electronic based music. You may love classical music or live music without processing, but that’s the minority. Even if there is a live guitar player, it is unlikely that it hasn’t been processed by something, whether through an electric guitar amp or a foot pedal or computer based effects. Most TV & film music uses electronic samples (recordings) of instruments. Most live performances, like the large big-name touring artists give have pre-recorded elements as part of the performance. Even the voices are manipulated to make the singer stay in tune. One can half-way learn an instrument, record the bits and pieces, manipulate it in a computer and make it sound like a virtuoso. They then go on stage and play that recording – which I give them credit is something they created – while playing very simple parts. Is the need to learn an instrument really necessary?

If you can put together decent sounding material and play it back through a decent sound system while appearing to perform (like a DJ does), is that not sufficient? Over time as you create the raw material you would naturally become more proficient in your instrument. It would take much longer than in traditional lessons, but you’d still learn. Besides, you can rely on the technology to present a product that people like and that’s what matters.

I ask this because my main livelihood is as a piano teacher, apparently a career that is going the way of the dinosaur. I was shown an article in an actual printed paper (Gainesville, FL Sun 1/3/2015 issue) that said that Piano sales are way down and that fewer & fewer parents want their kids to learn piano. The reasons apparently vary between the appeal of learning computers and technology (eg video games) and the, in my opinion, misguided idea that team sports is preferable to music. I’ve lost many a student to sports and it always seems to be the ones that really should stick in music that go off to sports. It makes me wonder if I should switch to teaching how to use drum machines, music notation/composing software, home recording, etc? Would parents or potential students be more interested in that?

I could write volumes on why team sports is not as good for kids in the long run as taking music lessons. I can’t help but think of the quote from “1984” that goes “Films, football, beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult….” I would paraphrase that to say “Entertainment, alcohol, gambling and above all else, sports captured everyone’s attention so controlling and manipulating, misleading, spying on and taking advantage of society was easy.” (Entertainment being things like Films, TV, YouTube, twitter, etc.). But much better authors than me have pointed out the fallacies of focusing on sports for children. Unfortunately, the parents making the decisions about music lessons don’t listen or don’t care about those facts.

Even if sports were not a big distraction for children & parents, would the side of technology that makes it far to easy to produce music that sounds good be sufficient reason for people not to take serious music lessons? What should a piano or music teacher do if the field of learning a specific instrument is dead or dying?

Comments, ideas? Please share.

Tips for Practicing The Piano – Intermediate to Advanced level

Another look at practicing the piano. This time for intermediate to advanced level students.

This is one approach to practicing the piano. It is by no means meant to be the only way. Use this as a supplement to other ways of practicing.

Before You Play

  • Look through the piece of music and look for anything that might be different than what you are use to.
  • Do you know what all the terms (eg. morendo), and symbols (eg. accents, fermatas) mean? If not, learn them first.
  • Make sure you are positioned comfortably and use good posture.

When you play

  • While you may not need to keep every finger curved and the wrist level all the time in more advanced music, don’t forget that a good hand/wrist shape will help you play better.
  • Scales, arpeggios and other technic exercises: Start SLOW and gradually speed up. Use them to focus on how you play – position of wrists, fingers, fingering, and volume/intensity of each finger. Take your time. Don’t rush through them just to say you’ve done them. Always practice them with precision.
  • Use the correct fingering on scales and arpeggios. If you have any problems with the fingering, start over this time SLOWLY. Wrists should remain LEVEL throughout the entire scale. (A slight leaning to the right when ascending or a slight leaning to the left when descending is okay). This includes when fingers cross over/under or when playing the thumb or 5th fingers. Keep your elbows in the same general position and avoid letting them stick out when crossing your fingers.
  • Look ahead several notes, or even several measures as you play. Adjust your fingering accordingly.
  • As you are learning a piece, be sure to count with precision. No pausing or hesitating should be allowed. If you are hesitating anywhere in a piece of music you need to work that section AND slow the entire piece down until you can play the entire piece at the same speed. You MUST count when learning a piece of music. Keep the tempo steady and precise. Add rubato later. Use of a metronome can be helpful.
  • Fingering: Use standard fingering for scale, scale-like, arpeggio or arpeggio-like passages. Don’t invent your own fingering. The simpler the fingering and the less motion of the hand, especially the less crossing of fingers over/under, the better. You should almost NEVER slide from one note to the next using the same finger (when playing just one note, with chords & harmony it is okay).
  • Where you have problems, work – slowly – just that section, then increase to regular tempo. Then add a measure or two before and after – slowly first – then a whole phrase, then the whole piece.
  • Understand the theory behind what you are playing. What chords and chord progressions are you playing? What is the relationship between the chords and the key of the song? What is the key? What is its relative major or minor key? Look for scale like passages (ie. 4 or more notes in a row) and figure out what the scale is (or might be if it had all 7 notes).
  • Phrasing. Pay attention to slurs. At the end of a slur, let your fingers breathe similar to how a singer or wind instrumentalist does. Don’t change the tempo, but rather shorten the last note of the phrase a slight amount (eg. make a quarter note 0.9 beats long instead of 1.0 beats).
  • Rhythm. In addition to basic counting to keep the tempo steady, double check the length of individual notes (or chords) and make sure you are playing them the correct length. Use of a metronome can help to insure that you are playing all the notes correctly. Look at the rhythmic relationship that exists between the hands. In some songs, for example, there are passages where every beat will consist of 1/8th notes, but not necessarily in both hands. Use the rhythmic flow of a piece to help you in playing the rhythms correctly.

The best advice I can give about practicing is to play the piano every day and try to play correctly. If you skip days between playing the piano, it will slow down your progress.

Chords – Part 3

Part 3 of our ongoing series about chords is now available on YouTube.

In this video we talk about Augmented and Diminished chords.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOVHzQ9Ggos?hl=en&fs=1]

You can think of Diminished chords as minor chords with a flat-5th.

You can think of Augmented chords as major chords with a sharp-5th.

When adding 7ths to diminished chords, in order to get the correct spelling, the chord must be spelled, from the bottom up with every other letter. For example: a C diminished 7 chord (fully diminished) is C, Eb, Gb, and Bbb (double flat, which is the same as A).

Check the video out for the rest of the story.

Introduction to Chords – Part 1

I’ve started a new video series on my YouTube channel. The first part of an introduction to chords is there.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmezVWK0Ex8?hl=en&fs=1]

The major and minor chord charts shown in the video are available for download in the Free Titles section of the music catalog: www.jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php

There are also some other chord related files there that will be applicable to future videos.


Why are Piano Lessons so expensive?

My opinions on the matter…

As a piano teacher, I wonder sometimes how people can afford lessons. But when I see the cost of cell phone plans, cable tv, eating out, I wonder how people can afford those things too. I think it is a matter of priority. If the cost of lessons is such that you really, really can’t afford them, then ask what is more important, cable tv or piano lessons; eating out or piano lessons, etc.? Maybe you can make some adjustments so you can afford lessons.

Unless your piano teacher is someone — a housewife, teenager or college student are the most obvious examples – who is teaching just to make some extra income, then the piano teacher is probably making the bulk of, if not all of their income from teaching lessons. This means, in most cases, that they are self-employed. Unlike a typical 40-hour a week employee, a piano teacher has to pay 100% of their social security/medicare taxes, has no benefits (like health care). They will also be spending time away from lessons on administrative tasks (like tracking attendance, keeping track of payments, scheduling, etc.) that they deserve to be paid for too.

Although I have known a few teachers who had around 60 students each week (1/2 hour lessons) most teachers do not have that many. Even with that many students, that is only 30 hours a week, not full-time. So, unlike a typical employee, they are working fewer hours which means in order to make a full-time income, they have to charge more. From a teaching perspective, I would not want to teach 80 students a week. It is too hard to keep track of who is doing what and how well. Plus, how many students could I expect to get between 9:00 and 5:00p on a weekday? It is doubtful anyone could get enough students for full-time work. Even if they started later and ran later, working that type of shift is not ideal and not good for any sort of personal life (eg. families).

Playing the piano is not a skill that everyone has. To have the experience and ability to teach is a skill that even fewer people have. In addition to paying for a teacher’s time, you are also paying for their skills and experience. The more a teacher has been playing and the more they have been teaching, in theory the better a teacher they should be, at
least as far as all the ‘tricks’ of the trade go. So, the uniqueness of a teacher’s skill raises the price.

All of this to say that teaching piano is a business. I suspect that if enough students wanted to take lessons from a live teacher (as opposed to the very questionable online or video lessons that are available), then the cost would go down. Certainly if I had 50 students I could afford to keep the rate lower than the market rate for a bit longer before raising the rate.

Please avoid the temptation to shop around for the cheapest teacher, you probably will get what you pay for.

I teach lessons in Gainesville and Micanopy (close to Gainesville, Williston and Ocala, Florida). I’ve been teaching here for over 10 years and have been playing the piano since I was 8 (a long time ago). I currently have openings in Micanopy. (July 2011).