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.