Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Major Key Signatures

First year piano students will most likely be playing in only three keys, the C major, G major and F major. One approach is to teach the order of sharps first and then teach the sharp key signatures. Next teach the order of flats, then teach flat key signatures.

A second approach is to teach the key signatures as they come up in the music literature for the level of playing that the student is currently studying. It is also a good idea to teach the associated scale to be played for one octave the first year. The student will already have been introduced to playing simple sharps and flats in the literature and learning the associated scales should be possible for most students.

Theory workbooks to learn to identify key signatures are usually presented beyond the first year.

Key signature flash cards are useful for drills both at home and at the lesson.

For more information about piano lessons in the Millington area, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sharps and Flats

Modern literature often recommends that the order of sharps and flats be taught so the student is prepared for naming key signatures. Traditional literature introduces sharps and flats in the key signature starting with C major, G major and F major. I see no reason for introducing the 14 accidentals to beginning students first without relating it to the keyboard sheet music. I prefer the traditional method that first teaches the student to read the time signature, read accidentals in the music, and then read accidentals in the key signature and applying the sharp or flat to the corresponding notes in the music. Then introduce the idea of a major happy sounds and a minor sad sound as we progress through the literature. Much later, I will introduce the concept of a key as applied to the entire composition.

To learn all key signatures, I teach the poem for sharps Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle. Flats are the reverse order of the same poem. Then, by repeating verbally the order of the sharps and flats the student will begin to learn their sequence somewhat by ear.

I also have no problem teaching the Circle of Fifths and Fourths by demonstrating the order of sharps and flats on the piano. Piano students of any age find this a logical approach to understanding the relationships of accidentals and their keys.

For more information about piano classes Bedminster area, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Intervals Training

It's important to include ear training drills when students learn intervals. First have the student play and sing intervals at the piano. For example, sing 1-3, 1-5, and so forth. Then have him try to recognize intervals played by the piano teacher. Use familiar songs to recognize intervals. The first two notes of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" for a fourth, the first two notes of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" for a sixth, and so forth.

Flash cards are great to use when teaching intervals. Students can work with flash cards at home and also in class.

Intervals can be explained easily as the difference in tone (pitch) between two keys (notes). Melodic intervals are individual notes (relate to the "melody" of a song). Harmonic intervals are two notes played at the same time.

A second moves from a line to the next space or a space to the next line on the staff. A third moves from a line to the next line or from a space to the next space on the staff and it skips one musical letter. A fourth move from a line to a space or a space to a line on the staff. It looks like a second but it skips two musical letters. A fifth moves from a line to a line or a space to a space on the staff. It looks like a third but it skips three musical letters.

For more information about piano classes in the Bedminster area, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five-Finger Positions and Chords

The Major keys can be thought of as four groups of similar finger positions based on the tonic triad. If the student learns the pattern of black and white keys for each group they will be a step ahead. The student can create a picture in his mind of the groups and learn the chords by the shape of the white and black key patterns. Then he can practice finding them on the piano with his eyes closed.

Group 1 - These keys have all the white keys in their tonic chords:

C Major
G Major
F Major

Group 2 - These keys have a black key under the middle finger and white keys on either side:

D Major
A Major
E Major

Group 3 - These keys have a white key under the middle finger and black keys on either side:

Db Major
Ab Major
Eb Major

Group 4 - All of these fingerings must be learned individually.

Gb Major
Bb Major
B Major

For more information about Bernardsville area piano lessons, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beginning Music Theory

A first year theory program should include the following:

  • Major 5-finger positions and major tonic chords
  • Dominant seventh chords (inverted positions)
  • Intervals
  • The order of sharps and flats
  • Major key signatures
  • Minor 5-finger positions and minor tonic chords
  • Subdominant chords (inverted position)

Ultimately, the piano student should know how to identify the key of the piece, understand the harmonic changes, and have some understanding of the structure of the composition. To get there, piano instruction should include theory from the beginning as an integral part of the piano lessons.

I make it a point to each one hour piano classes rather than half hours because performance, technic, theory, and aural training cannot be managed in only thirty minutes. Families with two students cannot always swing this, so I offer half-hour classes to these candidates. Written theory assignments can then be given and the piano teacher can check these in a few minutes during the lesson.

For more information about piano lessons in the Millington area, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chromatic Scales

Playing the chromatic scale facilitates the use of a contracted hand position and therefore is useful in developing broad technical ability. Additionally it helps in learning to read sharps and flats. By reading the chromatic scale and practicing it ahead of time, students will be helped when they come across songs in the first year literature containing little chromatic passages.

Chromatic exercises can be created by the piano teacher starting with just a few notes. Each time it is repeated, a higher note is added. In this way the student learns to play up and down with equal ability.

A helpful book in learning chromatic scales is A Dozen A Day, Preparatory Book and Book One.

For more information about piano lessons, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio in Basking Ridge, NJ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Double Notes Legato Technique

Although first year students won't need much drill on double notes, a few passages containing legato thirds are found in some of the music studied at early grades.

Similar problems happen between playing single legato notes and playing double legato notes; that is, connecting the fingers without blurring. It takes time and patience to apply the legato touch correctly to two notes. The student's tendency is to disconnect the tones. Double note exercises should be devised by the teacher to give the student experience playing them prior to use in first year and second year pieces.

Second and third-year piano students may find that simplified Chopin etudes and piano technique are good pieces to practice legato phrasing and legato thirds.

A good resource for short exercises is the Dozen A Day book series.

For more information about piano lessons Millington area, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Turning Thumb Over or Crossing Over Thumb

Fingering Technic

In early piano fingering systems the thumb was rarely used as a pivot over which the fingers could pass either up or down the scale. The basic principles of modern fingering first became known through C.P.E. Bach. Carl Czerny created an original method of finger exercises in The Art of Finger Dexterity. One of the principal aims of good fingering is to avoid unnecessary hand movement.

Scale playing requires agility in turning the thumb under or crossing another finger over the thumb. There are a lot of opinions regarding the best time to begin teaching scales. Gat states "If the pupil has already mastered small pentachord pieces to the point of sight-reading them he may begin to practice scales."

As for myself, I begin teaching the one octave C major scale with hands separate well before the student learns pentachords. Although the beginner student may not yet be ready to read scales and arpeggios, once he shows some control over playing white and black keys, he can be shown how to turn the thumb under properly.

Although the actual study of scales may be delayed, a beginner can be exposed to scale preparation within the first 6 months to a year of lessons. The thumb should be turned under smoothly without twisting the hand and arm out of shape. When the student first begins to turn the thumb under, hey may start by turning under the second finger. The next step is to turn the thumb under 3, and finally turn under 4. Turning the thumb under 3 and 4 is especially helpful, because this will prepare the student for scale playing.

Crossing a finger over the thumb is just as important as turning the thumb under. The crossing should be made as smoothly as possible, without poking the elbow far out to compensate. The hand should remain quiet at all times when crossing under or over the thumb.

For more information about piano instruction Basking Ridge area, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Down-Up Wrist Motion for Phrasing

Slurs and phrases produced on the piano are dependent on the correct motions of the hand, wrist and arm. The mechanics of producing slurred groups can be taught to first year students when they have sufficient control to produce the proper motions. Constant practice in correct phrasing technique will dramatically impact their ability later to perform classical works from such great composers as Mozart.

Piano instruction can demonstrate the motions used in playing a two-note slur to the student. Show him what it looks like to drop on the key with a slightly lower wrist motion and release the key with a higher wrist motion. Several terms may be used to describe this process:
  1. down-up wrist
  2. drop-release
  3. drop-roll (rolling inwards toward the piano and lifting at the same time)
The lifting of the wrist is the same at the end of a two-note slur or any phrase. When a longer phrase mark is used, it is helpful to relate the group of notes under the phrase sign to a vocal line. If sung, a breath would be taken on the last note of the phrase. At the piano, the hand lifts, the legato line is broken, and the "breath" is accomplished.

Numerous exercises for slurring can be created by the teacher. The first note of the slur should be slightly louder and the last note should be slightly softer. The student may be told to "float off" on the last sound from the slur ending to the first note of the next slur.

Many first year solos have multiple touches--staccato, legato, and slurred groups. Have the student say aloud the hand motions used. Say "up" for staccato, "down" for long notes or phrases, and "off" for phrase endings.

Great photos of phrasing motion can be found in John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano First Grade book and John Thompson's Junior Hannon book.

For more information about piano lessons in the Basking Ridge area, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Arm Drops

Teaching Arm Drops

Consider having the piano student use the large muscles first, then concentrate on the smaller motions used in coordinating finger action.

Supporting a finger and dropping with arm weight will give the student a feeling of security at impact, and it will give him the correct concept for holding his fingers in a curved position later when the support is not used.

Later, when learning chords, tell the student to prepare the chord in the air and drop on the keys, keeping the fingers well-curved. Fifths, sixths, (octaves later) may also be played like this.

Legato Touch

The legato and staccato touches in are taught in the first year of learning keyboard technique. Legato touch requires the student to play a key, hold it, and release it when the next key is played. It requires some finger coordination and can take time to develop. This is the most basic task of teaching technique to the beginner.

Legato can be explained as a person walks, one foot comes down, the other comes up, and the process is repeated over and over. This is like walking on the keys when one key is played and held until the next key is played, then the first key is released.

Staccato Touch

Have the piano student separate the tones so that they sound short. Another explanation is having the student bounce his finger on the key when a dot appears over or under a note. Some students will need to differentiate between a staccato dot and a dotted note dot. A bounce is not unlike that of a bouncing ball when the upward bounce is the result of the downward movement. To produce this on the piano, the student must imitate the upward bounce consciously.

For more information about piano instruction Basking Ridge, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beginning Piano Technique

Technique is the method or details of procedure essential to expertness of execution in any art.

Within the first year of piano lessons, the pianist should begin to learn matters of the singing touch of legato, the hammering snap of stacatto, two-note slur phrasing with a graceful, swan neck-like wrist, and finger coordination with combined mastery of black and white notes, whether in arpeggios, close finger dexterity, rolls, or accurate two-octave notes.

These are essential concepts for first year piano classes:

Posture and hand posture
Arm drops, large muscle motion
Legato touch
Staccato touch
Balance of melody and accompaniment
Down-up wrist motion for phrasing
Turning the thumb under or crossing over the thumb
Chromatic scale
Double notes

Posture and Hand Position

The student must sit toward the front of the bench (not all the way back nor in the middle) and lean (not slouch) slightly forward over the keys. The feet are planted squarely on the floor, not crossed nor tucked under the bench. The back, legs and feet support the body, never leaning on one hand or the other on the bench. The hands, wrists, and forearms should be held in a straight line; the fingers should be well-curved.

In the beginning, triads and five-finger positions are helpful for shaping the fingers and developing the correct hand position. Playing triads requires curved fingers. Additionally, the hand easily forms the correct position with the bridge of the hand held up with the knuckles protruding. In the beginning the student will need to concentrate on the arched position of the hand and will have to work at maintaining firm, curved fingers.

The tendency is to cave in at the first joint on the second, fourth and fifth fingers. The little finger is particularly weak, and in addition to caving in, it often plays on the side, falling over.

The beginner will not perfect these basics within the first year, maybe not even in the second year. But over a period of time matters of posture, hand position, curved fingers, and so forth can be repeatedly corrected by the teacher (and observant parent) until these become natural.

For more information about the area of Basking Ridge piano instruction, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

First Year Piano Lessons - Learning Notes

When teaching the names of lines and spaces, it is helpful for the student to see how notes relate to each other on the entire staff, not just part of it. Note names can be learned by relating all the lines or all the spaces on the staff. The student learns one landmark for each clef and relates the other notes from this point.

For example, G is on the bottom line of the bass clef. A skip up from G on the next line is B (skipping A in the space). Each line note is named by going up a skip. The student will be able to name any line note on the staff by thinking skips up from these notes. Jingles such as "Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always" are not lasting tools. They do not teach students to think and reason. If the jingles are forgotten, so are the notes along with them.

For thorough drill, direct the student to write the line notes four times a day. After the student has worked with line notes for a week or two, he may be given the space notes to write. Teach the space notes in the same way as the line notes.

A lot of drill must be done in the first year of lessons on learning the notes. Aids to learning individual note names include:

  • Flash cards
  • Singing note names
  • Writing note names
  • Numbering the lines and spaces of both clefs
The student should name the note on the flash card and play it in the correct location on the keyboard. For first year students a few minutes of each lesson should be devoted to flash card drill. Singing note names establishes good sight reading. The student should name each note aloud thinking directionally up or down, skip or step. Most theory books contain note drills. Note spellers provide additional work on individual note recognition.

For more information about NJ piano lessons, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

College Coursework for the Piano Major

Piano classes for the keyboard major include:
  • applied keyboard study
  • history of music literature
  • accompany and ensemble performance
  • chorus
  • functional piano
The student will be exposed to a broad range of piano literature. Insight into various styles, an understanding of performance traditions, interpretative depth and sensitivity toward music are areas that are developed. The piano student should have at least a listening aquaintance of these composers, be able to identify the periods based on the style heard, and to be able to play increasingly difficult selections from each:

  1. Representative seventeenth and eighteenth century works by D. Scarlatti, Couperin, Handel
  2. A cross section of J.S. Bach's keyboard works
  3. Familiarity with important sonatas, concertos, and other solo works of Haydn and Mozart
  4. A representative sampling from each of the three periods of the Beethoven sonatas, as well as acquaintance with the concertos and variations
  5. A cross section of such nineteenth century composers' works as Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schubert, Liszt, Brahms
  6. Familiarity with representative impressionistic works of Debussy and Ravel
  7. An examination of representative pieces of twentieth century figures as Scriabin, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev, Copland, Schoenberg
The piano teacher should be able to analyze technical problems, and over an extended period systematically guide the student toward ever greater physical ability at the piano. Exercises alone, introduced with the usual arsenal of scales, arpeggios, etc. will not be adequate preparation for virtuoso playing. The teacher must also be able to explain how to use the playing mechanism, what to do with the arm, wrist, and fingers as in keyboard phrasing, how to produce certain effects, how to go about unraveling a technically difficult passage, etc. Without correct technical training, the result can be lost time, sore muscles, and tight, poor playing.

The piano student learns to make his own interpretative decisions - especially in regards to keyboard dynamics - to gain even greater technical security, and able to produce finished results without the teacher's prompting. In short, he becomes an artistic entity in his own right.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Teaching First Year Piano Students

To begin thinking directionally, have the student play skips and steps on the keyboard. Explain to the student that a skip skips a finger and skips a letter in the musical alphabet. A step plays the next finger and is the next letter in the musical alphabet.

Directional Reading

Reading by shapes and contours is a helpful mechanic in reading notes. Relationships such as up, down, same, repetition, equal distribution in the tonic chord, or unequal distribution in the dominate seventh chord should be seen. Explain to the student the three movements possible on the staff: up, down or the same. Also, there are three types of distances possible on the staff: steps (seconds), skips (thirds or larger intervals), or repeats.

Use interval terminology from the beginning. The goal is to teach the student to think and reason directionally from a given note.

Drills can be taught easily without keyboard sheet music. The student can close his eyes while hearing the directions. Experiences such as playing 5-finger positions and chords prepares students for reading notation. It is helpful to create written drills which work with the concept of direction only, writing pairs of notes in any given direction, up, down or repeat.

For more information about piano instruction NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Music Education College Major

For the pianist who wants to be a piano teacher in either a university or public school setting, only two general types of degrees have proper credentials: the Bachelor of Music degree and the Bachelor of Music Education degree.

The student earning a Bachelor of Music with a major in piano with the goal of teaching on the university level will also need to pursue graduate studies. With the glut of pianists competing for jobs in the teaching field, a masters is absolutely essential to stand even a slight chance of winning a university position. The exceptions are those individuals who exhibit extraordinary professional achievements, such as concert performers, recording artists, prize winners, etc. Increasingly, an earned doctorate for the performer, usually the Doctor of Musical Arts degree, is becoming mandatory for successfully competing for the better positions on the university teaching scene. The young pianist is strongly advised to not only attain degrees, but achieve as much professional concert experience as possible.

The Bachelor of Music Education degree with a heavy piano concentration is a must for those who want to make teaching music in the public schools their career. A person obtaining a Bachelor of Music Education degree will have to teach other musical subjects and know other instruments besides the piano. Although the student might want to ultimately pursue a master's degree, this is usually not mandatory for at least landing a first job, as it is in the university market.

Students electing to specialize in music education more heavily than in piano performance can obtain a Bachelor of Music degree stressing this area. Even though this type of program will not have as large a concentration of actual keyboard applied study as the straight Bachelor of Music in piano, it is useful to those intending to go on to the graduate level.

For more information about piano classes NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pre-College Piano Development

One of the most valuable pre-college experiences is the senior high school recital which can serve as preparation for both the college entrance audition and the ultimate graduation recital. A typical program might include one or two of the easier preludes and fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, a Haydn or Mozart sonata, a group of nineteenth-century works of the level of the Chopin waltzes and nocturnes or Schumann's Fantasy Pieces opus 12, and possibly closing with an impressionistic or twentieth-century group of the difficulty of Debussy's Pour le Piano, Copland's Cat and the Mouse, or Bartok's Allegro Barbaro. Even at this level, though, an effort should be made on the teacher's part to expose the student to as wide a range of musical periods and styles as possible.

A common error in the pre-college training is the assigning of pieces that are overly difficult both technically and musically. The experienced teacher will develop the student's playing gradually so that proper attention may be given to all areas of musicianship.

The prospective piano major should not only have acquired a degree of competency in performance, but should also be well-grounded in technique (scales, chords, arpeggios, etc.), have a thorough knowledge of theory, and have some knowledge of the literature. Supplied with an adequate pre-college background, the student will be well prepared to meet the demands of the college music department as a piano major.

At California State University at Los Angeles, for example, the Bachelor of Music degree is a rigorous curriculum for students who wish to prepare for a professional career in music or for those who wish to reach a professional caliber of music attainment. Within the Bachelor of Music degree program, students may pursue specialized study in vocal, instrumental, or keyboard performance; composition; jazz studies; and music education.

For more information about LA piano teachers Calabasas area, contact Piano by Julie.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When is a Child Ready for Piano Lessons

Not every young child will be ready to begin piano instruction. The maturity level of young children varies greatly. Girls generally are better coordinated and exhibit better dexterity than boys at an early age. Before rushing headlong into piano lessons, parents should ask themselves questions concerning their child's readiness level:

1. Does he show an interest in learning to play the piano? Perhaps he tries to pick out melodies on the piano, or perhaps he sings well. He may also just enjoy listening to music.

2. Is his attention span long enough to practice at least fifteen minutes at a time?

3. Does he have fairly good coordination of his small muscles? If a parent has taught him to draw letters, numbers, or to write his name, is he able to handle a pencil fairly well? A parent who has taught a child any of these things probably will be willing to help him practice.

4. Does he take instruction well from the person who will be helping him at home? This could be a parent or an older sister or brother.

5. Does the child receive a great deal of satisfaction from learning new things? Is he eager to learn?

If a significant number of these prerequisites are missing, it is recommended that piano lessons be started later when conditions are more conducive for learning. The readiness age will vary with each individual child.

For more information about how to learn piano, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.