6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists
When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!
Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!
“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.
“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.
“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!
I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.
Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!
Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…
“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!
Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.
Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for Read more…
Posted in Music News, Performing, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips
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Posted in Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews
Using Various Technologies to Provide Play-Along Recordings to Students
One of the things I feel very strongly about as a music teacher is developing the student’s ear – early, and often. I’m not just referring to the ear training exercises that most of us probably employ, but also using recorded examples at every possible opportunity.
I could write an entire post on why I believe this is so critical to the student’s success, and why I think audio examples and play-along recordings should be used constantly from the very beginning. For now, I’ll assume that most of you are already on board with this idea, and perhaps just need some ideas for HOW to provide recordings to students. Read more…
Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper
For years, sight reading triggered personal fear and insecurity. I feared I would fail and felt insecure when I compared myself to peers who seemed undaunted by the task of reading new scores.
As I teach out of reaction to my own experiences and feelings, it is essential that my students become strong grand staff readers and overcome their fears of sight reading as I eventually did. Early readers develop solid skills with continual reinforcement; in fact, a great deal of reinforcement that I find dreadfully boring to include during lessons. Oops…probably shouldn’t have said that but it’s true.
Thankfully things have changed significantly since I was a child on the bench. Now methods to build AND teach grand staff reading skills are available on my favorite iDevice thanks to various developers. Yigal and Yuval Kaminka, the master mind developers behind Joytunes‘ latest app called Piano Mania have struck gold. The innovative, musical brothers recognized that humans enjoy winning and took advantage of the addictive tendencies of top-selling video games and paired them with essential reading skills for musicians to master. This combination coupled with appealing music and an elite technical team has created an unbeatable, magnetic AND educational app.
The app offers an elaborate system for building reading skills that benefit both students and teachers. Read more…
Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews
Do you have a list of “go-to” pieces for students that are slipping and you can just feel they are about to quit anytime? Older beginners and busy adult students often fall into this category – they are bored with method books, and want to sound “fancy” right away.
To qualify as a “pupil saver,” a piece has to have some of the following qualities:
1. Pattern based, lots of use of sequences.
2. Relatively uncomplicated left hand.
3. Arrangements of familiar tunes or styles.
4. Uses “impressive” registers on the piano (really high or really low).
5. Sounds harder than it really is!
I have quite a list of such pieces that give “instant satisfaction” to students, and have discovered/rediscovered a few more that I would like to share with MTH blog readers.
1. Jazz, Rags & Blues – Alfred Premier Piano Course, by Martha Mier
Almost anything by Martha Mier is a pupil saver! Her Romantic Impressions are a staple in my Pupil Saver List. This latest series, which forms part of the Alfred Premier Piano Course, is designed to supplement and reinforce concepts introduced in the Lesson Books. So far, there are four books in the series – 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. They contain a variety of styles, including ragtime, blues, boogie, and jazz.
To play anything that sounds remotely “jazzy,” one must assume some sort of background in rhythm and harmony, and it is not surprising that the easiest book in Martha Mier’s Classical Jazz, Rags & Blues series starts with Early Intermediate level. So how do you make a basic five finger pattern that is method book level 1A or 1B sound jazzy? The answer is in teacher accompaniment! I am so impressed with the quality of these accompaniments. They contain so much variety, and are really fun to play! They are not always that easy, either, sometimes with as many as six flats and pretty tricky syncopated rhythm, all of which contribute to the overall sophisticated sound that beginner students love to hear and be a part of.
Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips
I first heard of the AirTurn almost 4 years ago, and finally bought one to use with my iPad in October. I LOVE IT!
What is it: The AirTurn is a wireless, hands-free page turner that sits flat on the floor. You use it with your favorite music reading App (I use forScore) on your iPad. The idea is that you can read your music on your iPad, play with your hands, and turn pages with your foot. I bought the one that comes with a handheld control unit that can be detached from the pedal board.
How much: $129.95. If you do not need the handheld unit, there is a cheaper version. Yes, it is a bit costly, which was the main reason I did not purchase it sooner. I just could not see myself using it enough. I am so glad I finally have one now!
Set up: Another reason I did not get it sooner was that I wondered if it was going to be difficult to set up, and if it was going to become one of those gadgets that sit on the shelf because I do not have time to read the instruction manual. Good news is that it was VERY EASY to set up! Just go to Settings on your iPad, turn Bluetooth ON, and the iPad finds it automatically, like magic! So far I have only encountered one instance where the iPad did not recognize it for some unknown reason, so I read the trouble-shooting section in the manual and the problem was quickly solved. Other than that time, I have not had to touch the manual again!
performing with iPad and AirTurn. Piccoloist – Kate Prestia-Schaub
- If you have never turned pages with your foot, it does take some getting used to. I used to swipe the pages on my iPad with my finger, so when I first started using the AirTurn, sometimes my left hand still turns the page out of habit, then a split second afterwards, my foot presses on the AirTurn as well, and I end up turning two pages instead of one. This is happening less and less as I use the AirTurn more.
Posted in Performing, Product Reviews
How to Avoid That Pain in the Neck…Some Tips for Saxophonists
“I’m getting headaches when I play for a while.”
“The back of my neck hurts all the time.”
“My upper back and shoulder blades hurt.”
These are some of the complaints that some saxophonists have said at some point in their playing careers. These pains are not exclusive for beginners; some professionals I gig with have said the same things to me. In fact, I didn’t realize my own headaches were coming from my own neck strap until my colleagues spoke about their own situation.
Many beginning students slump in their chairs because they can’t adjust their neck strap to bring the instrument higher. They end up ducking their chin to try to reach the mouthpiece, instead of bringing the mouthpiece to them. They also slump because it is less painful on the neck, especially if their strap has no padding.
I have always known about the importance of having a padded neck strap; one that helps to take a lot of the weight of the instrument off the neck and right thumb. I have always used them and have recommended them for my students (and still do).
So why doesn’t the padded neck strap alleviate this problem? Not every saxophonist has this issue. The first thing to look at is posture. Are you seated or standing up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, or are you hunched over? When your shoulders move forward, more stress is felt in the upper back and shoulder blades. More weight is felt on the back of the neck as a result. Your shoulders may be back, but are they down and relaxed? Shoulders that are up towards your ears also put undue stress on the neck and upper back, as well as affecting breathing.
Here’s a picture of good seated posture:
The next area to examine is the quality of your neck strap. Many times, when a student rents a saxophone, a stock neck strap is placed in the case. This strap is basically just a strap; there’s no padding at all. This I feel is not sufficient for beginning saxophonists. Read more…
Posted in Performing, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips
I write an annual Studio Report to highlight my studio activities throughout the year, including records of student achievements, my own concerts and professional developments, and new programs/softwares/equipments I have to offer my students. The report is usually done at the end of the school year (June).
This year, I am doing something new. I am doing a Studio Yearbook – a photo book! They say a picture is worth a thousand words!
I am so pleased with the result. Here is how I did it:
1. I went back to all the monthly studio newsletters I wrote in 2013 and decided what events I want to highlight in my yearbook.
2. I searched my photo library for pictures. These include recital pictures, pictures taken at the studio, as well as cute student drawings that I receive throughout the year.
3. I got the Shutterfly Photostory App and spent an afternoon on my iPad.
Making the photo book on the iPad was so easy and FUN! Uploading pictures took no time – you can upload from your photo album or from your Facebook account. There are many templates to choose from, and you can make the pages interesting by using different combinations of layouts, number of pictures per page, text, and different color backgrounds. Read more…
Posted in Product Reviews, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management
I can’t even imagine starting a new student without using Bernard Shaak’s Piano Partners series. This set of three books helps me lay a solid foundation for everything that is to come.
The Piano Partners books were initially developed in the studio of master teachers Bernard and Carolyn Shaak, in Denver, Colorado, as they team-taught for many years until Bernard died unexpectedly. Carolyn would teach the children, while Bernie would teach the parent the same lesson in an adjoining studio, enabling the parent to continue the lessons throughout the week at home, thus truly becoming “piano partners.” The wo nderful parent/child duets throughout the books made this an exciting experience.
Right from the start, book one, the “pink” book, interests the student in the geography of the keyboard. They learn very quickly how to navigate around the black key groups. Peter, Peter on the black keys sends them home from their very first lesson with a real song under their fingers. Soon they are learning verses to I Love Coffee and they are hooked on piano!
Nine rhythm patterns throughout the first book give students not only the opportunity to get these rhythms in their head and fingers, but also provide the perfect opportunity to Read more…
Posted in Music Theory, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips
David Cutler wants to help musicians succeed in today’s world. An accomplished musician and composer himself, he has written one book to help musicians build a career and expand opportunities for income and outreach; and is working on a new book focusing on music teachers in particular.
The first book is called The Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living & Making a Difference, and addresses a broad range of ideas relevant to musicians, such as how to create opportunity, how to make your work stand out, how to create supporting products, marketing yourself in today’s internet world, how to deal with the new paradigm for recording and selling music, how to better work with people, ideas for managing finances, and last but not least, musical ideas for improving your performance skills.
The new book he’s working on is called The Savvy Music Teacher, and seeks to aim music teachers towards an income in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, with vignettes of over 150 teachers – not well-known stars, but hardworking, typical music teachers – who have found ways to put together a workable and enjoyable career. Cutler hastens to point out that the specific income range is all relative – what may seem a lot of money in one place may not be much in another. But the book seeks to offer blueprints for helping readers craft sensible solutions that can add up to a good income.
Let’s take a look at some of Cutler’s ideas for musicians and music teachers, but first, who is David Cutler and where did he pick up on all these ideas?
Posted in Financial Business, Music & Technology, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management