The Lasting Benefits of Percussion Study

May 4, 2017

by Chris Eagles

Drum and Percussion Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As a music educator, it is unreasonable for me to expect each of my students to pursue music as a career. However, through regular drum lessons and a good practice routine, I fully expect to equip each student with a skill set desirable in every industry. Music serves as a practical means to learn these skills in a fun, and challenging environment.

Each of my students will learn music fundamentals, rudiments and practical knowledge when it comes to percussion, this goes without saying. However, problem solving is inherent to each of these topics. It is the single most valuable aspect of percussion study, and maybe of music studies in general. Students who learn to flex their problem solving muscle will inherently  have a great deal of perseverance. In an age where “googling” can solve most any problem, it is easy for students to get discouraged when faced with a difficult issue. In music study, there is no easy solution. It seems strange to say, but the study of music is a great way of realizing just how much of an effect hard work, and persistence, with this comes a boost in confidence.

 

Playing percussion is a physical endeavor, possibly the most physically demanding of any instrument (of course this could be debated). Percussion forces students to be mindful of their physicality, many lessons will start with light stretching, or simply by checking in to see if the student (or the teacher) is holding any unwanted tension. This often forces the student to be aware how they are using their bodies in their daily routine, not just while playing percussion. Bad physical habits that arise while playing, can often be traced to something that is non music related giving further insight into a better, more effective use of our bodies.

Compiling a full list of extra musical benefits to taking private lessons (with any instructor on any instrument) is a task far too great for a short blog post, these were only a couple. I encourage you all to ponder them and consider enrolling your child, or yourselves in lessons to reap the lifetime of benefits. You won’t regret it.

 

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Bow Care: Tips for an Efficient Set-up and Proper Maintenance

April 5, 2017

by Summer Lusk

Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Whether you are a beginning student or have been playing for a while, taking a few minutes before playing to ensure that you have a good set up is extremely beneficial in having you sound your best, and also, avoid potential injury. Playing violin or viola comes with certain complexities and technicalities, between both the instrument itself and the bow, that often seem to escape recognition. So here, I want to discuss bow care in particular, and the sort of things you are going to need to keep tabs on in order to ensure that you are setting up your bow correctly and efficiently before playing, as well as maintaining it properly over time.

Bow Tension: How Much?

One thing in particular that I notice among many violin/viola students is that they might neglect or just simply forget to check their bow for the proper amount of tension prior to playing — with the bow either too loose or too tight. This can have consequences from the very first note played.

Having a properly-tightened bow is crucial to producing a good tone and reducing any extraneous movement that might possibly hinder you in practice or performance. A bow that is under- or over-tightened will be that much harder to control.You can easily avoid this by making it a habit to check the bow tension before playing, every single time.

 

I have noticed that there is a tendency among newer players, regardless of age, to over-tighten the bow. This creates too much tension, which can lead to over-stretching of the bow hair (meaning you will have to rehair your bow more frequently), and might actually cause the bow to snap at the head (not a cheap fix).

So what is the proper amount of tension?

 

 

 

 

If your bow is tightened correctly, you will be able to slip a pencil just between the bow hair and the stick.

 

You can use your pinky  too. The tip of your finger should just should just be able to fit.

For another visual cue, watch the stick as you tighten. It should look a bit concave towards the tip and and towards the middle. If the stick appears like it is curving outwards, then it is definitely too tight, and you will need to readjust.

 

 

Proper amount of tension — tip

 

 

Perfect amount of tension — middle

 

 

Too much tension

— tip

 

 

Too much tension

— middle

 

Rehairing Your Bow: How Often?

In terms of long-term bow maintenance, it a pretty good idea to get your bow rehaired

at least once a year, although more advanced players setting aside many hours a day for practice/performance will need to get theirs done more frequently. If you are not sure, a good way to tell if it is due time for one, is to take a look a horsehair near the frog. If the horsehair is dark and grimy, and it is pretty near impossible to get a smooth, clear sound in the lower half of the bow, then chances are, you will probably need to take your bow in for this crucial bit of maintenance.

 

Other indicators that a rehair is necessary:

  • If you have to continuously apply more and more rosin in order to produce a quality sound. This shows that the hair is simply worn out and has lost its grip.
  • If the bow is losing hair frequently — before, during, and after playing.
  • If if the hair appears stretched or shortened and/or you find yourself unable to tighten or loosen or bow. Changes in humidity can cause this, especially during cold, dry months. NOTE: Any unnatural stretching of the hair may be potentially dangerous for the bow, as the strain at the tip could cause it to snap.

 

Rosin

Although it depends on how frequently you are playing, you should definitely be putting rosin on  your bow at least once a week.  Every few days is ideal. You want to use a generous amount — enough to coat the horsehair and provide enough friction again the violin strings — but it can be easy to go overboard. If you find that playing becomes more like a powdery explosion, make a few taps with the stick against the back of your hand. Continue along the whole length of the stick. This will shake some the excess rosin off the horsehair.

 

Another good thing to remember is to periodically check the quality of the rosin you are using. Rosin can get overly dry and brittle over time. If you find that it is really difficult to get any powder out of the block of rosin, it is time to toss it!

 

If you are replacing your rosin, it might be a good time to experiment with the various types available to violin and viola players, perhaps enhanced with precious metals such as gold, silver, lead-silver, or copper. As far as the light [summer] rosin vs. dark [winter] rosin debate goes, I advocate for both. In my opinion, there is not much difference in tone quality. However, I would note that light rosin is generally harder and denser than dark rosin, and thus is thought to be better suited for violin and viola. With this said, a couple personal favorites of mine are actually of the dark variety — ‘Jade’ rosin and ‘Pirastro Oliv’ (pictured below) — so I would say, stay open to trying different things. You never know what could end up being a major preference.


In summary, during your time studying the violin or viola, you will need to take some time to making sure you are setting up your bow efficiently for practice and practice, as well as keeping up with long-term maintenance. In doing so, you will gain a better connection with your violin or viola — resulting in improved tone quality, avoid the potential for injury, and ultimately preserve and prolong the life of your bow. So be sure to stay aware of the few things I mentioned here, and the knowledge will serve you well!

A Lesson in Chords and Voice Leading

April 5, 2017

By Jim Simmons

guitar instructor at the lesson studio

Many famous artists have used and much good music can be made from strumming simple chords against melodic lines, vocal or otherwise. Nevertheless, during guitar lessons at the studio, I am often asked by those who have moved beyond a cursory acquaintance with simple chords and strum patterns how to choose more interesting chords, or how to differentiate their part from other instruments, especially another guitar prone to strum the same chords.

Possibilities here are myriad, and some comment should be made on how to navigate these choices, but before that, I want to introduce two concepts which may prove helpful in any and all scenarios from here on:

(1) Chord Scales, & (2) Voice Leading.

While both of these are topics unto themselves, much can be gleaned from their use in the present inquiry. Now, for a brief survey of options for the inquiring guitarist, and how those options will inform and interact with these two concepts above:

 

(1) Using a Capo/choosing a different register/chord shape (CAGED, etc.); (2) Adding or reducing tones;

(3) Doubling tones; (4) Using inversions;

(5) Differentiating strum patterns; (6) Playing a separate part, ostinato; (7) Playing a separate part, melodic; Etc.

~~~

Now for the “how-to” part: I. Chord Scales

Regarding chord scales, begin with root position triadic chords (root-3rd-5th), barring

chords if necessary to locate each root in the overriding scale of the song (or portion of song). In a normal major key, this won’t be that hard, since the bass notes up the neck will complete a major scale (“do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do”). If the portion is in minor, or something more exotic (like a mode), you will need to revisit how to walk up the neck to

complete the scale, and in the case of minor, double-check for options that make minor so interesting (such a raised leading tone on a major V chord; use of the melodic ascending scale, or Dorian, etc.).

Establishing a chord scale (or more than one: (1.) Taking the scale up the neck with the root located on the same string; (2.) Exploring the chord scale across the neck, letting the root move across multiple strings) will provide your hands and ears with a lexicon of

 

options for each chord, each option profiled by its location on the guitar, its register, and its fingering (if it has open strings or not). Doing this is crucial for beginning the search for differentiated guitar parts.

Here I mention the CAGED method for chords and scales, as searching through the neck for other chords will naturally run into the options this technique will present. Simply put, the CAGED method will supply quick landmark options for each chord, which can be accessed either through using a Capo or playing all chords by-hand. I will revisit CAGED shortly, but these two approaches compliment one another very naturally (no pun intended).

One other strong benefit to establishing chord scales becomes important in the next phase: discovering the notes of the melody within accompanimental chord shapes

~~~

Part II: Voice Leading

While this topic sprawls across all of music and music history, I want to limit our discussion of it to two main concepts any guitarist will appreciate: smoothness of chord change, and supporting the melody inside chord shapes.

Regarding smoothness of transitions between chords, two ideas become important: how close each chord is to one another; how harmonically smooth the change of each chord is one to another, that is, in terms of tension and resolution and stepwise motion between chord tones. Let’s say your chord progression involves going from an E major to a B major (I to V in the key of E), a certain amount of block-iness may be hard to overcome, but let’s try and see what happens:

Our first two options involve moving up the neck to the V chord either to the 7th fret of the low-E string (a barred E major-shape), or to the 2nd fret of the A string (a barred A major-shape). Let me say neither of these is “bad” necessarily, so no guilt here, but let’s analyze each option in terms of voice leading: by opting for the barred E major at the 7th fret, we here a transposition of every tone up a Perfect 5th; now, we have the open E string “do” resolving to “ti” in an oblique way (“ti” is on the G string here, 8th fret); again, the fact that it’s oblique is neither good or bad, just neutral, but if the music called for this motion to be heard clearly, the guitarist using this 7th fret choice of a B major could

simply strum only out to this note on the G string, and not provide the other two strings.

Now let’s compare this option to the second of these, barring an A-shape at the 2nd fret: a similar choice can be made here, taking the strum all the way out to the B string and leaving out the E string. Which of these is easier or better, I leave to you to decide, and they both have advantages and disadvantages, which we will look to presently.

The first of these is that both of these shapes reduplicates the exact same chord tones, except that the 7th fret adds one last tone, the reduplication of the B on the 7th fret of the E string; otherwise, the notes produced (assuming one strums the second option from the A string) are exactly the same (notes given by string, low-to-high):

Option 1:

B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B) Option 2:

 

(F#) – B – F# – B – D# – F#

So, while there is some difference in the timbre of each of these choices (notice the thicker strings resonate a darker quality than the thinner, higher ones), these two options do little to provide any profile between the guitarists. Thus, we may consider another “voicing” of the chord, or even chord shape. Beginning with chord shapes, we might decide to place the Capo on the 4th fret, and use a C-shape chord for our E major (I) and a G-shape for our B major (V). Some very nice changes occur in this scenario: we now

here the 3rd on top of the I chord, and, while we may have a reduplication of the high B on the E string (if Guitarist 1 is using the 7th fret bar for the B chord), we still have some new tones resulting from the G-shaped B major chord.

Guitar 1 (Open)                                                   Guitar 2  (Capo 4, or 4th pos.)

E-shape                                                                       C-shape

E (I):  E – B – E – G# – B – E                                   (G#) – E – G# – B – E – G#

E-shape, barred, 7th                                                                              G-shape

B (V): B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B)                              B – D# – F# – B – D# –  B

As you can see, now we have more harmonic variety, which may be what you’re going for. If it isn’t, then we need to look at our last few options, but at least we see how many more choices are possible with only exploring one other position on the neck.

In terms of the voice leading, we also see that our “do”/”ti” motion is accomplished with much greater ease in the Guitar 2 part (the 5th fret resolves to the 4th fret). Let’s assume one further possibility: the “do”/”ti” motion is actually part of the melody. In this case, the notes of the melody could be synced with Guitar 2’s voicing with much less effort than Guitar 1.

The final layer of considering voice leading in your guitar parts is considering how you can support, or directly represent the bass and melody of your particular piece. In terms of support alone, when choosing a chord voicing, you may want to lean towards voicings which contain the melody note(s) somewhere in the chord. I often try to keep the melody going continuously on the High E and B strings while providing the rest of the chord in the middle strings, and also providing a bass line in the Low E and A strings.

That may be a bit much to bite off right now, but it gives you an idea of what the guitar is capable of, as well as how different guitars can complement one another in musically practical ways, such as one guitar strumming simple chords, while the other supports or provides melodic elements.

Let’s look at a few other considerations to conclude this brief exploration in creating guitar parts.

~~~

Part III. Other Options: ostinato, counter-melody, inversions, strum patterns

Ostinato

An ostinato is a musical idea that obstinately stays part of a musical texture (ostinato is Italian for “obstinate”). Several musical examples come to mind: think of Ravel’s Bolero, or the high electric guitar from Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the main riff to “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin, or any Ratatat song, for that matter. A great deal of popular music, whether classical, rock, or EDM thrives on repetition (and often transformation) of small musical ideas. Depending on the context, an ostinato may be created that doesn’t conflict with the melody, or even supports it. One favorite of mine is the melodic ostinato  (or riff) that accompanies the song “Release” from Pearl Jam’s Ten record. Another beautiful, but radically different (much “heavier”) version can be heard in “Tempting Time” by Animals as Leaders, at 2:51”.

Counter-Melody

Somewhat similar to an ostinato is a counter-melody, a melody that wouldn’t be considered the primary melody, but that weaves about more independently than a simple harmonization.  In the chorus of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” we here a counter-melody in Slash’s guitar part against Axl’s vocals. Another well-known counter-melody occurs half- way through J.P. Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” in the high piccolo/flute part, against the main theme. Melodic descants are yet another type of counter-melody, When constructing a counter-melody, take care not to step on the main melody too much. Inversions

As you become acquainted with all of the methods above, you’ll find chord inversions lend themselves readily to voice leading, most especially for bass motion. For instance, an E/G# (in the key of E, a I6 ) goes to an A (IV) smoothly, since the bass note only has to ascend a half step (G# to A). Once you’ve mastered your chord scales, experiment with trying them again in first and second inversion (first inversion puts the

3rd in the bass; second inversion puts the 5th in the bass).

Strumming Different Patterns

Quite a lot can be gained simply by strumming similar or even the same chords in an entirely different way. For instance, consider letting one guitar strum eighth-notes in a palm-muted fashion, while another guitar fingerpicks, or strums only on strong beats (like the downbeat of each measure). This method is especially effective when one guitar is acoustic and another is electric, but is useful in almost any situation to create a new texture.

I hope you found this Blog lesson useful! Good luck fishing for guitar parts, and have fun while you’re at it!

The Responsibility Never To Be Bored

March 20, 2017

by Rex Weston

Instructor of cello at The Lesson Studio

I think of the cello as the best toy ever. Part of that is the flexibility of the instrument – it can be used to play any genre of music: classical, folk, bluegrass, celtic, rock and roll, jazz, hiphop. It can make a wide and lively variety of sounds, and it can take up many roles: bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, folk guitar, fills, harmony, and melody.

And there are a lot of fun things that happen when playing. The act itself should be physically pleasurable – as far as the brain is concerned, playing a difficult passage is as stimulating as skiing a difficult mogul run. Playing an instrument lights up an EKG like a Christmas tree.

Making great and weird sounds is fun. Playing a tune is fun. Improvising is extremely satisfying. Playing music with other people is great fun. Being swept away by playing great music is one of the high points of anyone’s life. Writing and improvising music are totally engaging.

But the most important part of the cello for me was the end of boredom in my life. I learned that if I was doing anything, and I was bored, that I needed to STOP, and figure out how to make it interesting. That it was absolutely my responsibility not to be bored. When practicing a piece, the moment I checked out with boredom meant I was no longer learning anything. That I might still be making sound on my instrument, but it wasn’t doing me any good at all, because my brain wasn’t focussing on what I was doing, and that made practicing pointless.

Now the typical response to boredom, and the one I was trained as a kid by television to do, is just to switch channels. The problem with this is that it is the opposite of productive, and just leads to a life of channel surfing. The productive way to deal with boredom, is to analyze the problem and find a way to make it interesting. This requires creativity.

Let’s take a simple problem in practicing a difficult passage in a piece of music. Playing the passage over and over usually doesn’t help. That is because the brain has checked out in the process – if it isn’t interested it won’t help you out. Doing the same thing again and again – sorry, but your brain has left the building. So the way to get the brain back in gear is to look at and play the passage many different ways. Playing the passage in different rhythms is a good start. After one has played the passage in a jazz swing rhythm, a salsa rhythm, a reggae rhythm, a waltz, hiphop, a march, playing the passage straight becomes suddenly simple. Basically you have to have fun to learn something. And the chances are that if you are not having fun, you are not learning anything.

This obviously applies to the rest of your life, too. Instead of checking out when being bored in a classroom, the new response is to look for something in the subject that is interesting, and explore that aspect in depth. It is called self-directed learning, and is the only way we really learn anything that makes a difference. It works in your job, and it works in your life.

After learning your basic chords, what’s next?

February 27, 2017

After learning your basic chords, what’s next? This is a common question that I get when teaching adult students who are self taught or have taken lessons for a few months. In this video, I describe a technique called travis picking and how it can be used to create more interesting arrangements with the basic chords you already know.

 

 

I hope you enjoy this instructional video. If you want to learn more about our program, visit rockpopma.com and http://www.thelessonstudio.com, and contact us if you’d like to sign up for in-person lessons!

Live Music is Worth It!

February 1, 2017

by Ani Gyulamiryan

Instructor of piano at The Lesson Studio

ani_blog_1 Taiyuan, China

In the piano lessons I teach at the Lesson Studio, I often get a first-hand view of how music takes a hold of us. Western classical music, specifically, has gained a universal appeal since its inception in Europe. Countries like America and China have adopted and even continued in their own right to advance Western Classical music, and music lessons are both a staple of education and cultural inheritance. The concert hall is where our cultures diverge; in the West, the majority of classical concert goers are from the older generations, but the audiences in China are predominantly comprised of young professionals, kids and entire families.

In the summer of 2016, I completed a month long tour across China with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. I performed in a multitude of majestic concert halls, which have cost China billions of yuan to build in the past couple decades. In every concert of the fourteen cities we performed at, there was row after row filled with bright, enthusiastic, curious children. And they were part of an audience of young men and women, students, professionals and entire families that attended our concerts in order to be exposed to Western music (performed by an American orchestra). It was very moving to see how receptive and appreciative the near capacity audiences were in every city we toured throughout China.

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Shenyang, China

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Chongqing, China

Colorado has also continued to expand and grow its musical education. There are more music studios in every county than there were just a few years ago. They are doing better each day because of the growing interest in music education and awareness. However, students often seek lessons to become musically aware, instead of becoming proficient in an instrument. Although music lessons can be any student’s introduction to great music, artists and venues, eventually they must grow to become ‘plugged-in’ with the current music scene themselves. As a piano teacher of ten years, I have noticed some trends in the music lessons at private studios and various education centers. One growing trend in private lessons is a focus on music appreciation within the framework of individual lessons that dismisses its importance outside of the lesson and the private teacher’s influence.

As a piano instructor, I often tell my students about the composers they study, their adventurous and rebellious lives, and the intended meanings behind their masterworks. However, it is rare for these students to have experienced live performances of the works they study. The music scene today is vast, and performances at local concert halls offer a great exposure to the masterworks of classical music, but many music students remain largely unaware of these events.

To gain a broader exposure and appreciation of classical music, I encourage students of classical piano, orchestral music, jazz, or any instrument to explore their community and find the best performances in their area. Check the local library for amazing performances coming up, search on university and music schools’ websites for their upcoming concerts, find the season schedule of local orchestras. Attend some of these live concerts in order to develop your own musical taste! Western classical music is more varied in style than the number of different genres of music, so there is much variety to enjoy.

Music appreciation occurs not only in the classroom or during a music lesson, but also outside of it in the ever changing and rich world of the concert and recital hall. Attending a live concert will develop a student’s ear, make them more aware of the musical culture, enable them to become more musically educated, and aid in their personal musical growth. Hopefully every student can remember a concert they attended that made a powerful impression upon them, inspired them to continue, or was possibly the best musical experience in their life so far.

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Yichun, China

 

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Tangshan, China

Photo Credits: Roger L. Powell

 

The Ergonomically Correct Pianist

March 19, 2016

by Ashley Pontiff

Instructor of piano, flute, and voice at The Lesson Studio

An ergonomically correct pianist = a happy, healthy, exquisite performer!

 

Natural Mechanics: The Piano and the Human Body

By understanding how the natural mechanics of the human body work, and aligning our natural mechanics with the natural mechanics of how the piano is made to respond, we can attune to more precise performance techniques. These precise performance techniques can be applied to every genre of music and help bring out the nuances that only natural playing can, as well as prevent injury caused by improper use and unnatural movements. Just like athletes, musicians must maintain their health and do everything in their power to prevent injuries if they are to excel and be successful. Unlike most athletes, the motion musicians use to play is largely repetitive. Repetitive motion can put strain on your joints, ligaments, and tendons. The only way to combat the weakening of joints and tendons is to utilize numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments (particularly stronger, larger ones) as your mechanics for playing as opposed to isolating smaller ones.

 

Dorothy Taubin was a piano teacher who revolutionized piano technique by studying human body and piano mechanics, and aligning a piano technique that utilizes both in its most natural and ergonomic form. When playing a single note on the piano, the action should come from the forearm, and not the isolated finger. The action built in to the piano, should serve as a springboard to lift the arm and hand back up after playing. The more lift you have before you play, the greater the spring from the keys you will obtain. If there is no initial lift, there is no spring. Think of jumping on a trampoline. The higher you jump up initially, the bigger the bounce you will get in return.

 

As an experiment, try playing one note repetitively for 1 minute by isolating the single finger from the other fingers when playing. Which muscles, ligaments, or tendons are being used when you isolate one finger from the rest? How tired or sore do your finger, hand, and wrist become? They probably become pretty sore and tired, or will eventually. Then, try playing one note repetitively for 1 minute by using the forearm muscles to gently lift and lower your wrist, hand, and finger to play the note. Use the spring from the piano to bounce the arm back up as you prepare to play again. Notice that now you are using more muscles, ligaments, and tendons and the action is being distributed across more areas of your arm and hand than in the first trial where you isolated only one finger. Also, by allowing your arm, wrist, hand, and finger to work together, the piano’s natural mechanics (springboard action) are being utilized and are now doing some of the work for you. With this technique, you are no longer pulling or lifting to bring your finger and arm upwards. Once you initiate the first preparatory lift, gravity does the work in allowing you to play the note, and the piano action does the work in spring boarding your arm, hand, and finger back up out of the keys. By allowing your arm, wrist, hand, and finger to work together in one fluid motion, the workload is distributed to various muscles, ligaments, and tendons in order to accomplish a task. By learning this technique, your body is now operating naturally and in sync with how it was designed.

 

Creating Balance at the Piano:

Creating balance at the piano begins with how we sit at the piano. We must make sure we are well balanced and feel comfortable and relaxed in our seated position. If we are not balanced, muscles, tendons, and ligaments tighten in order to hold us in a balanced state, and can create tension in our arms, wrists, fingers, neck, shoulders and other parts of the body. This tension does not allow for free, relaxed movement nor proper natural playing technique. A student that is unbalanced at the piano has to “hold on” somehow. For example, a student whose feet do not reach the floor must hold at the point where they can make contact. So, students in this situation brace their feet against the face of an upright piano and hold on with their fingers to the keys. They often start to lean back to balance themselves on the bench because their arms are extended forward over the keys. This is a very tense, uncomfortable way to sit and injury can result from making the body do something against its own natural mechanics for an extended period of time. We must be stable in order to play without tense muscles. All the involuntary stress that unbalanced playing puts on the body causes mental fatigue, excessive strain on the body, and less than desired musical sound.

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A Few Quick Tips For Creating a Well-Balanced Seated Position at the Piano:

How do I know if my bench is too LOW or too HIGH for me when sitting at the piano?

-Elbows Align with Keys √

 

When seated upright at the piano, your arms should be able to hang relaxed without raised shoulders, and the point at which your elbow naturally lies (when hands are placed on the keys of the piano) should align with the tops of the keys. Wrists should not be bent upwards or downwards from your arm and fingers should be at a natural curve downward toward the keys. To correct this alignment, adjust the bench up or down so that your elbows align with the tops of the keys.

**If a bench is not adjustable, or does not go high enough to achieve this alignment, place sturdy foam garden kneeling pads, books that won’t slide, or carpet squares on the bench in order to raise the seat.

 

What if my feet don’t touch the floor?

-Use a Stool or Propped Up Books √

 

Feet should be firmly planted on the ground to maintain balance. If a student’s feet do not touch the floor, use a stool or prop up books underneath their feet to raise the ground level, so that they feel balanced and stable at the piano. Once this adjustment is made, make sure that the bench is not too far forward causing the student to lean back.

Follow these Ergonomic tips and you’ll soon be on your way to being a happy, healthy, exquisite performer!

 

For more information regarding the Dorothy Taubin Technique, natural playing, and photos explaining proper seated positions, read “The Well-Balanced Pianist” at

http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/bptaubman.htm

 

How will YOU speak through music?

March 12, 2016

By Eric Siegel

Practice, for some, can be harder than playing the instrument itself. Practice is easy when we start simple. Just about everything in music can be broken down into fundamental but little bits that need to be committed to memory. When you confidently know the note names, note values, each fingering, etc., you find that you won’t just be playing the music – you’ll be reading it, too! When you can read music, your vocabulary and ability will increase to intermediate concepts like phrasing, dynamics, and tempo/rhythm change. With enough retention, you might even forget that you’re reading the music at that point. You’ll be back to playing it, but with emotion and a more mature sound. Music really becomes a language.

Is it how much you practice that will make you better? No!!! Practice isn’t always how long you play your instrument. Practice is taking what is learned in lessons and applying that knowledge to your time playing your instrument before meeting again. In a world attached to busy and ever-changing schedules and so many people and things to take responsibility of, take 15-30 minutes of your day to get better at even just one aspect of your playing. Then, commit that to memory. Another day, another dollar.

Air is free, so breathe it all in – and lots of it! Flute, clarinet and saxophone aren’t woodwind instruments for no reason. Woodwind instruments are inoperable without a pair of lungs and lots of air, after all. They possess the clearest sound and tone with air backed up with abdominal (tummy) strength and control. Without an instrument in hand, try putting both your hands on your lower back and take a deep stomach-breath. That’s both of your lungs expanding. We need to use – one more time! – LOTS of air because the air has a bit of a ways to travel!

Have you ever blown air across an empty glass bottle and you’d hear it make a tone? The direction and speed of the air you’re blowing causes the bottle to vibrate fast enough to create a sound. The same principle stands with playing the flute, but optimal sound comes from knowing where to “point” the direction of the airstream, as well as air speed. Unlike the clarinet and saxophone, creating a flute sound doesn’t come from blowing into the instrument with a wooden reed. The speed of the air is what causes the flute to vibrate and, thus, sound. This makes flute tone all the more unique from clarinet and saxophone!

A clarinetist could hold the prestigious role of concertmaster for a world-renowned wind ensemble, but have just as much fun improvising with a big band if he or she wanted to! The clarinet has a recognizable sound that is versatile and uniquely colorful. Part of that is due to its dark wooden body, unlike the brass-bodied flute & saxophone. Whether an instrument is conical or cylindrical also affects what it will sound like; in this case, clarinet and flute possess cylindrical bodies.

Saxophone is arguably the instrument closest-sounding to the human voice. It has the ability to string out the emotions, energy and other characteristics of any genre. It can sound as beautiful to you as it sounds harsh to me, or vice versa! Just as every human being has a voice, every saxophonist has a sound.

How will YOU speak through music?

Creative Processes and Products- Order and Chaos in Dialogue

March 5, 2016

Jim Simmons no guitar

By Jim Simmons

When beginning to write your own music, you will quickly discover the need to record your ideas. Soon after this discovery, another usually follows: namely, the need to make decisions about the ideas that have emerged.

These two problems have many solutions, and that is a good thing, because as you grow in your craft, so too, will your craft change. Even stranger is the fact that your creative process will also undergo its own changes and life cycles. Let me give an example:

Genesis used to write all of her chords down on paper, with the lyrics underneath, but now that her guitar technique has improved beyond simple chord playing, she’s found it difficult to describe what her guitar accompaniment is doing with words, letters, and symbols on paper. After trying to notate riffs and ideas simply by labeling them as they occurred (idea 1, idea 2), she became frustrated at never quite remembering what she had played. So, then Genesis began to video herself playing the ideas.

Now, what could some of the hidden difficulties be in the new approach? Perhaps our song writer still has the necessary and difficult task of sifting and choosing before her, and this may not just apply to different sections of the song—perhaps, she’s discovered there are two versions of a section that seem equally satisfying, and she can’t choose between them.

I have recently been undergoing certain changes in my own creative process, similar to the ones described above. I want to offer a few encouragements to any creators out there who’ve struggled with such challenges.

First of all, your song, project, piece, whatever it is—it doesn’t have to be the end-all-of-all perfect artistic/musical statement that you make. So, don’t feel the need to put all of your ideas into one song/piece/etc. Hopefully, you’ll write more in the future, so leave something else to say for later projects. Secondly, if you have differing versions of a musical section, that may be a good thing, since deliberate variations often lend interest to the listener. Regarding creative process, remember that just because it’s a “process” doesn’t mean it has to be systematic. It’s true that sifting through videos, audio recordings, lead sheets, and other sorts of sketches can be a chore, but such work will always bear fruit. Even if you wind up creating “too much” material, you may eventually use some of the leftovers to get you started on another work.

Lastly, creativity is, in my mind, more a way of life than a means to an end. It’s true that an artist should seek to share their work with others, and that it’s a shame when an artist never gets their ideas out of their head. But, similarly tragic is an artist haunted by perfectionism and the fear of failure. As good as you (and I) want that song, or piece, or project to end up sounding, creating music and art are values in-and-of-themselves. So, on one hand, be passionate about the quality of your finished product. But, on the other hand, be free, messy, methodical, imperfect, and committed to the chaotic, ordering process of creativity.

Here are some videos documenting a piece as it grew. I was sick at the time, and not very concerned with my playing technique, so some of the notes sound pretty bad, and some of the videos end with me more frustrated than satisfied, but I am so glad I can now reference these for the new version of the piece that is now underway.

 

Happy Creating!

Jim Simmons

 

Part 1

https://youtu.be/yV2omIwbb6w

 

Part 2

https://youtu.be/ImQ7S7SCTkM

 

Part 3

https://youtu.be/mAmsnKcG0f4

 

Part 4

https://youtu.be/myDghjcYWUc

 

Part 5

https://youtu.be/a4ACWH5A2IM

 

Part 6

https://youtu.be/0J0FYVyhJqI

 

How to maximize lesson impact and keep your child growing as a musician, with the help of The Lesson Studio

March 29, 2015
Hugh Lobel , The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel, Piano

by Hugh Lobel, instructor of piano, theory, and composition

The following post is inspired by an article titled “Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and how Parents Can Prevent It) by Anthony Mazzocchi. The original article can be found on the website “The Music Parents’ Guide” at the following URL: http://www.musicparentsguide.com/2015/02/17/students-really-quit-musical-instrument-parents-can-prevent/

I recently stumbled upon an article that resonated deeply for me as a music educator. The article, titled “Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument”, is a thoughtful exploration of the student-parent-teacher dynamic and how parents and teachers can work together to keep children interested and engaged in music.

The article focuses on public school music programs, and notes that over half of the students who join a music program quit within one or two years. The author, Anthony Mazzocchi, (or “TONY” in the article) lists the real reasons why students usually quit, and how parents and teachers can combat these problems together.

Tony’s observations are wonderful and I strongly recommend the article to every parent of a young aspiring musician. After reading the list, it dawned on me that our studio provides MANY ways of keeping students engaged so they don’t want to quit, while simultaneously maximizing their musical growth potential!

For this blog post, I’ve decided to re-visit Tony’s “quit” list, addressing how parents can work with teachers and the studio to make sure that your child stays encouraged to make meaningful progress! Again, this list comes from a public school educator with a long history of experience. This list items come from Mr. Mazzocchi; the comments on each item are my own.

  1. Parents don’t treat music as important as other subjects.  It’s easy to treat core school subjects as the most important part of a child’s studies; those grades and test scores are a constant reminder of future expectations. But don’t forget that there are wonderful skills to be developed with learning a musical instrument: complex reasoning, hand-eye coordination, the value of studying another ‘language’ (and music is definitely a language!), and the reward of learning a craft.

Teachers at The Lesson Studio can come up with and endless list of ways that learning music helps a young mind grow, and science agrees! Just look at this article: http://health.heraldtribune.com/2012/09/13/learning-young-to-play-a-musical-instrument-can-have-a-lifetime-of-benefits/ If learning music has so many benefits, then we really should treat our practice with the same importance as studying for those exams! Remember, if you have any questions about music’s importance, just talk to your child’s teacher or any other instructor at the studio.

  1. Students don’t know how to get better.  This one is really critical. It surprises students and parents alike that we all need to practice practicing our instrument! There are many exercises and methods of thinking about our practice sessions that can keep us focused and growing. Many teachers (myself included) spend a good part of every lesson working on showing a student exactly how to practice to get the most out of their lessons and the most out of their time. It’s critical that our parents understand something about this as well!

Did you know that parents are welcome to sit in on the lessons? I encourage any parent to join in on occasion. You’re free to sit in just once, or to come in every time. This can help you better understand where your child excels and struggles, and can give you a better insight into exactly what your child should do to get the most out of that valuable practice time. Just ask your child’s teacher if you can join in for a lesson or two (or 10)!

  1. Parents and students think they aren’t musically talented.  As Tony points out, we all have to remember that music is a craft. It takes serious time and dedication to make progress! This is especially difficult in a generation where videogames provide quick and easy reward incentives for situations that can be solved in a matter of minutes. Learning a craft is so different from the reward pace of games, that the slow speed of progress at an instrument can be very discouraging to a young student, possibly making your child feel like s/he simply doesn’t have any talent!

 

Making sure that your child feels a sense of progress both inside and outside of lessons is crucial to helping them see how they are improving. In my lessons, I reward students by playing for them, and by improvising with them at the piano. At home, your child can be rewarded for practicing by giving them “free play” time at their instrument, where they can make up whatever they want! Free improvisation has its own value and teaches a child to explore and learn the instrument beyond the studies in lesson books. Record these improvisations and use them to show your child how much progress has been made, and play back their favorite “sessions” to show them just how creative they are!

  1. Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Over the summer many students stop taking lessons in order to free up time for family travel and summer programs. Cutting out lessons entirely is a huge hindrance to a student’s progress, particularly if their practice schedule disappears with it. As Tony points out, “Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts — the same goes for playing an

Instrument!”

If you’re wondering what you can do about this, remember that The Lesson Studio offers a variety of plans for the summer season. We all care about your child’s progress, and we know that even occasional lessons and practice sessions can keep your child from losing the progress they’ve made over the fall and spring seasons. Although we’d love to see your child every week, we know that it may not be a possibility with your schedule. Just talk to our office about your plans, and we’ll find something that works for your family. Remember that we want to see improvement so that your child can continue to learn and grow and love their instrument!

  1. The instrument is in disrepair.  This one can surprise you with how important it is! If your child’s instrument is worn and damaged or out of tune, practicing can sound bad and can be discouraging. A child may think that s/he’s actually playing wrong when everything else is going fine! Remember that teachers at The Lesson Studio can demonstrate how to keep an instrument in tune and well maintained. Consider asking your child’s teacher to show you these proper methods during a lesson. If your instrument needs professional maintenance, the Lesson Studio can recommend someone to help. You can even leave your instrument with us, and we’ll handle the repairs for you!

An instrument that works, but is missing some of the functions can also be discouraging. A piano student can learn almost every song ever written on an electric keyboard, but a $100 instrument is likely to lack realistic volume control and may not even have enough keys for a student to play their song properly. The Lesson Studio doesn’t sell instruments and we don’t receive any “kick-backs” for recommending specific manufacturers or models. We only want what’s best for your child, and our teachers are happy to recommend something that can fit your price range and needs. This conversation can happen at any point, not just the first lesson. Maybe you want to start with a smaller instrument for a “trial” period, but you’re not sure where to go once you’re ready to invest more. Maybe you’re ready to buy a professional level instrument but you’re not sure what brand or style best fits your own needs. Don’t be afraid to talk to your instructor about these questions and concerns at the beginning of a lesson, or a few minutes before the end. We can point you in the right direction to get the instrument that will help your child have everything necessary to make the right progress.

  1. Teachers don’t create enough performing opportunities during the year.  Well, this might be an issue that Tony finds elsewhere, but this certainly isn’t the case at The Lesson Studio! For private lessons, we provide recitals at the end of every semester, and we encourage students to find their own reasons to perform for an audience.

But we’ve found an even more exciting way to get students performing as a group in our Rock Band ensembles! Playing with a band can be a wonderful experience for anyone wanting to learn music. In a band, students learn to work as a team, learn how to play in fun situations where accuracy and fluency are required, and experience an environment where everyone contributes meaningfully without the additional stress of being a soloist. Our rock bands perform at Boulder festivals and at their own recitals, providing many opportunities for your child to grow and experience the excitement of playing for an audience.

  1. There is not enough “fun”music to practice. This one can definitely feel like the case for a student who is still going through the lesson books. Teachers at The Lesson Studio know it’s important for your child to play music that is fun, but we don’t have the same level of insight into your child’s interests that you do! Look up your child’s favorite songs online; if it’s out there for your child to hear, someone’s almost certainly made a version for your child to play! Bring these songs with your child to the studio and our instructors can add it into the lesson. If you’re not sure what the best online resources are for your child’s instrument, feel free to ask the instructor and we can point you in the right direction. If you ask at the beginning of a lesson, or a few minutes before the end, we can usually even help you look. And if you really want to make sure that your child is playing “fun” music, think more about signing up for one of our Rock Bands. Our bands often play popular and current songs, and we also teach classics from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s!

Practicing an instrument and making progress can feel challenging and frustrating at times. Many children get discouraged and either quit or stop making progress when the issues listed above are not addressed. At The Lesson Studio, our instructors want each and every student to find something meaningful and impactful in making music. By working with the studio and the teachers, parents can really help to ensure that their child continues to grow and to love their instrument.