Tag Archives: piano

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.

Piano lessons and music lessons over the internet

Piano

I’m happy to announce that I’m now teaching piano lessons and general music lessons via the internet. Please pass the word on to all you know.

I mainly teach piano lessons, but I am also available to teach Composition, Music Theory, Sibelius 7, Reaper DAW and Native Instruments Komplete 8 (with the various software like Absynth, Battery 3, FM8, Guitar Rig 5, Kontkat, Massive and Reaktor). For piano I teach all levels of experience and all styles. For Composition, Music Theory and Sibelius 7, I teach all levels, from beginner to advanced. For Reaper DAW and Native Instrument software contact me for details. If you are interested in organ lessons via the internet, let me know.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase

I’m using Skype with video to teach lessons*. I have a webcam with high quality video setup to show my hands at my keyboard and one to show me. I can alternate between the two. I also have the ability to share my desktop. On the desktop I can show various material to supplement the lesson. Of course, I can also speak to the student. This makes it almost like me being in the same room with the student.

All that is required of the student is the ability to use Skype near where they are playing the piano or for other lessons, wherever they want.

Being able to see the piano student’s hands and their keyboard is preferred and is almost essential for beginners. But, if a video connection is impossible on the student’s end, then audio will also work. For other non-piano lessons, audio is sufficient although being able to share our desktops with one another would be desired.

For a limited number of new students, lessons (of any type) are ABSOLUTELY FREE through the end of 2012. After that, I will charge half price through May 2013, then go to regular price.

For general information about piano lessons, either in person or via the internet, visit my Piano Lessons Page and then use the Piano Inquiry page to contact me.

Don’t forget, we have over 400 free sheet-music titles available on our website for FREE! All we ask is that you consider making a donation to help the effort.

*My Skype name is: “JamesGilbertMusic” (all one word, without the quotes). Go ahead and give me a call. NOTE: I can also teach lessons via FaceTime but the experience will not be quite the same as described above.

Piano Teachers and Professional Organizations – yes/no?

Professional organizations for Piano Teachers

I ran across a Piano Pedagogy book that got me thinking. I won’t mention the book’s name because, frankly, there are too many assertions in the book with nothing to back them up. The first part of the book has some comments and assertions about professional organizations and piano teachers that I’m not sure I agree with. I’ll also add that I would think a Pedagogy book would include lists of curriculum appropriate for those students who have moved on past beginning method books, but it does not.

The book asserts that a good, professional piano teacher will be actively involved in at least one, if not more, local professional organizations. These might include local music teacher’s associations, guilds, music workshops and the like. It also asserts that a truly professional teacher will continue to attend education courses. The book gives no convincing reason why any of this is true. For that matter, it doesn’t give much of any reason why these assertions are true.

Supposedly, the book suggests, only by being actively involved with such an organization will a piano teacher have the skills, knowledge and ability necessary to teach piano students. This assertion is never explained with sufficient detail. I would expect most teachers would never be convinced to join such an organization based on this book. Also, it is supposedly only piano teachers who enter all or at least those ready to do so in annual competitions sponsored by these professional organizations that are any good as teachers. Again, no sufficient explanation is given as to why this is true.

My Experience

I’ve been teaching piano lessons, albeit not full time, but continually since the 1980’s. I’ve worked in an urban/suburban area of slightly less than 2 million people and in a similarly sized area with less than 250,000 people. I’ve been members of organizations that dealt with music education, church  music and pipe organs. If I had known in the 1980’s I’d be writing such an article, I would have kept statistics to prove my assertions, but I’ve not yet learned to predict the future.

One organization did nothing but have a one-week summer workshop. At least 90% of the classes offered were taught by members from within the 2,000 or so member organization. While it was a nice social event and a nice opportunity to perform with other professionals, there was nothing being done by anyone that was ever of any help to me. With so much of the course content coming from within the group, I never felt that I was being exposed to what was going on in the rest of the world of music, only what that group did. After a few years, I found the workshop to be a nice vacation and a nice ego boost but little more than that. It and the courses available became predictable and boring very quickly.

Another organization I was associated with planned about 9 concerts during the year. As with the previous organization, the majority of the concerts were put on by members of the organization with very few outside performers. There was nothing in the way of educational classes – either for us to learn more or to learn how to teach. I could have saved a lot of gas money, stayed home and watched a video or listened to a recording of a single performer and gotten as much out of that organization.

Finally, one other organization I belonged to was a music teacher’s organization. The people who attended the meetings were, for the most part, middle-aged or near retirement age housewives who taught on the side in order to make some extra money or because they liked teaching. The meetings were little more than monthly social gatherings where I can’t remember even one discussion on teaching technique, pedagogy, curriculum or the business side of being a music teacher. They did sponsor a once a year music festival where piano students played so that someone other than the student’s teacher could offer comments and suggestions to the student. The “judges” were always from within the organization, the rooms where the student’s performed were barely big enough for 10 people and sometimes the pianos were digital pianos.

Recitals and competitions

Without exception, every teacher I’ve ever known who was actively involved with competitions and annual recitals fell into one of two categories: 1) The competitions and recitals were venues for the teacher to show off how good she/he thought they were or 2) The students spent all of the time between competitions/recitals learning material for the next competition/recital. Few of their students went on to study music in college or go on to work in the music business. I don’t know if any continued to play piano after leaving those teachers or not.

I’ve had quite a few piano students take lessons from me who previously had teachers who were big with competitions and recitals. Of all the transferring students I’ve had, those students were the worse overall musicians. They knew very little if anything about music theory. In some cases, they didn’t even know the letter names of the notes on the staff. (I’m thinking of some book 2/book 3 Alfred basic piano library students). Others had so-so technic and others had obviously had no aural (ear) training.

Whether recitals or competitions, my observation is that students who take lessons from teachers who require their students to participate in such events are being shortchanged. Their sight-reading skills are poor and their general music theory and ear training abilities are sub-standard. That’s my experience.

The Academic Circle

The assertion that a characteristic of a professional piano teacher is to actively take music courses themselves reminds me of the hamster running around in its exercise wheel. I call this the Academic Circle. (I assume the courses would be college level and related to teaching, but that is not said in the book).  While I agree that reading articles about piano teachers, piano teaching, and the use of new materials (not just technology) for teaching is something one should do. But taking college level courses or taking any sort of paid course seems to be nothing more than keeping the Academic Circle going.

It goes like this. A student takes piano lessons from childhood, graduates from college where they paid a lot of money, were most likely classically trained, and performed music that, let’s be honest, very little of the world population has any interest in hearing. They then decide to teach. If they want to teach in the public schools or a university they then have to spend more money to earn a master’s degree. The degree they earn is probably going to be so specialized that unless they are going to teach, the degree is pretty much useless unless they are in the top 5% of musicians. If they are in that category, it really doesn’t matter what their master’s degree is in.

Now, the student has their master’s degree. They can teach in university or public schools. If they perform what they learned in college, they often will do so in their own university or as guests at other academic venues and rarely in non-academic venues. Their university students then pay a lot of money to be exclusively classically trained. Most of that money does not go to the teachers if the teachers are in the public schools or universities. Private teachers, if they are able to get enough students are better off. Now those students of the original students go on to pay more money for master’s degrees that do little more than allow them to say they have a degree and go on to teach. Almost all public school teachers and I would guess most university teachers would be required to take college courses to keep their license to teach or their job.

So, what the first student learns stays within the academic world, for the most part. Then their students stay in the academic world and the circle continues. Once a teacher, they then keep the Academic Circle going by having to take college courses and so on.

Conclusion

I know this may not be the best written article I’ve done and the last section is not as well written as the other sections.

I welcome comments. As I moderate all comments, I will not be approving all comments. If you want your comments to show up here, please provide the hard facts that I don’t have and thus did not include in my post. For example, if you believe that those students who participate in competitions do better than those that don’t, please include hard facts such as documented percentages/numbers, links to websites of those who made a career in music whose websites discuss how those competitions helped, etc.

Thanks

 

O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing

Our latest additions to the catalog at our website consists of the title: O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.

There are two titles available. They are both upbeat, rock/pop adaptations of this classic hymn tune also known as AZMON.

One is an MP3 recording and the other is a sheet music transcription for solo instrument. The sheet music version is for solo instrument with piano and optional rhythm section and keyboards. The keyboard part is also made available in parts that could allow you to perform this piece with a full orchestra (with a piano and instrumental soloist).

We try to be versatile with our music and allow for it to be performed with a variety of possible instrument combinations. Much of our instrumental solos, orchestra, instrumental, brass, woodwind and string music can be played by instruments other than indicated in the descriptions. Most, but not all titles include parts for C, Bb, Eb, F and alto clef instruments. (The catalog description specifies which parts are provided).

As with all our music in the past 3 years, it was typeset using the Sibelius notation software program. For recordings, we use the excellent Reaper DAW.

Check out a short YouTube video where you can listen to this title:

 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaoX950jl2c]

Ragtime Music

"The Entertainer" sheet music cover
Image via Wikipedia

We’re happy to announce that we have a healthy sized collection of ragtime sheet music available at the website. Specifically, the favorites of the king of Ragtime, Scott Joplin. These are the original versions. The titles are:

The Entertainer (Joplin)
The Easy Winners (Joplin)
Rag-Time Dance (Joplin)
Peacherine Rag (Joplin)
Palm Leaf Rag (Joplin)
Maple Leaf Rag (Joplin)
Eugenia (Joplin)
Elite Syncopations (Joplin)
A Breeze From Alabama (Joplin)
Something Doing (Joplin)
Sun Flower-Slow Drag (Joplin)
Swipsey (Joplin and Marshall)
The Cascades (Joplin)
The Chrysanthemum (Joplin)
The Favorite (Joplin)
The Sycamore (Joplin)
Weeping Willow (Joplin)

Each of these is available for download in the PDF format and at a reasonable price — below what most music publishers charge.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XoOtljJMsQ?hl=en&fs=1]

The music has been recently typeset to meet modern typesetting and layout conventions. In other words, it’s easier to read than the original printed version.

New titles added to the website

New Titles – December 2011

We’ve added three new titles to the website.

Shake The Duck’s Jaw

A Novelty, Humor recording. It is meant to be silly and funny. Elementary school-aged children seem to really like it. Artist: In The Loft Players

Short Tease At The Fountain

A peppy piece with a nice blending of acoustic and electronic instruments. Loosely (very loosely) based on a hymn tune. Artist: In The Loft Players

Soft And Hard

An MP3 recording. A moderate speed piece consisting of a synth lead with rhythm section. The composition was written by Martin Flanders, one of our staff artists. The recording was by the In The Loft Players.

In addition to the recording, there are three sheet-music versions available

We hope you enjoy these titles. We’d love to hear your comments about any of our music.

The Cat

New Video

I’ve uploaded a new video to YouTube.

The soundtrack is an original piece originally written as a school assignment (years ago) to accompany a section of a cartoon. It has since undergone some revision. The music was written for Flutes (including Alto), Saxophones, French Horn, Trumpets, Guitar, Electric bass, drums and piano. The somewhat odd instrumentation was due to the requirement’s of the school assignment.

The music was originally written using MusicPrinter+ (anyone remember that?), Finale (97?), then converted to Sibelius 6, then Sibelius 7.

The recording of the music used the Reaper DAW for recording & mixing. I used a few Native Instruments products (Kontakt 4, Komplete 7) and built in effects in reaper.

The video part shows some still images put together to make a video of the day in the life of The Cat. The video portion is not as important as the music.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njgeW8iHrsE]
The sheet music and a full mp3 recording can be found at JamesGilbertMusic.com

Questions or comments? Drop us a note.

New additions to the catalog

Some new mp3 instrumentals have been added to the music catalog at http://www.jamesgilbertmusic.com/catalog.php

The two new title are Leoni in Africa and Sweet Feel.

The first is a blending of African drums and Middle Eastern melodic instruments. A considerable portion of the music consists of a variety of African drums.  The melody is added on top of the drums. There is no harmony to speak of besides what is implied in the melody. Take a listen.

The second is a jazzy/bluesy instrumental featuring the piano. It is a combo of bass, guitar, drums piano and solo piano. A catchy tune, it might even count as a pop/jazz crossover. Take a listen.

We’d love to know what you think of the music. Please leave us a comment.

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.