Posts Tagged ‘boulder piano 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.


Shenyang, China


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.


Yichun, China



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.


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


Choosing the right teacher for YOU

February 22, 2015


by Heidi Ames

There are so many music teachers out there! How do you even begin the process of choosing the right one for you or your child?  If you don’t have any experience in music this part may seem fairly simple. Just call up your local music studio and have them choose one for you or choose one from their online list. Done. Unfortunately many new students don’t know the importance of taking the time to find the right teacher. Here are some helpful DO’s and DONT’s when selecting a teacher:

DO…interview your teacher. Don’t hesitate to ask about a teacher’s background and experience. It is very important to get a solid foundation from someone who can spot and fix tension issues immediately, otherwise bad habits may become ingrained which are then difficult to correct later on. Also, when you progress on your instrument you won’t need to find another teacher later on or be “passed up” to a teacher with more experience.

DO… sit in on a lesson. In many cases teachers are okay with potential students sitting in to observe their teaching style. Don’t be afraid ask!

DO… a trial lesson or two. This way you can get an idea of how you without making a commitment to weekly lessons. Music teachers are used to doing one-time lessons and there are no hard feelings if you decide it’s not the right fit. Good teachers want what is best for you anyway.

DO…ask yourself what you would like to get out of lessons and express them to your teacher. Having realistic goals in mind before getting started is essential to your success. Music lessons are one of the best investments you can make so spend some time getting clear on what you would like to get out of them. If a teacher doesn’t feel they can get you where you want to be they will tell you, but only if you ask!

DON’T… stay with a teacher with whom you do not feel comfortable. You should feel that you can communicate freely with him/her and not afraid or embarrassed to make mistakes for fear of how they will react. Your teacher should be able to make you laugh at least once during your lesson!

DON’T….study with a teacher who does not have training in the musical style you are interested in studying. If you want to be a jazz pianist and your teacher only knows how to play Beethoven you might run into some problems. There are specialized methods for jazz/rock training that many classical musicians have never studied. However, many of the best teachers in any musical style do have a foundation in classical training.

DON’T….stay with a teacher if you are not learning from them. You should be able to see some results in your playing within a couple of months and feel inspired to practice. Your teacher should be genuinely interested in your success and it will be reflected in your playing.

I hope you found this list helpful! Of course there are many factors involved in selecting a teacher and this list is only a starting point. If you have any more ideas, please comment below.

Heidi Ames teaches piano and voice at The Lesson Studio.

Signs You Might Be Cut Out for a Career as a Musician – or signs your child might be cut out for a career as a musician

November 4, 2013

By Hugh Lobel, piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel , The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel, Piano

1.     You enjoy practicing. This first one might seem obvious, but it’s critical to pursuing a career as a musician. Regardless of whether you want to be a folk singer, a rock drummer, or a classical pianist, you’ll need the chops when you hit the stage and there’s only one way to get there. Professionals spend hours a day practicing their instrument, maybe even seven days a week, and if you don’t honestly enjoy the act of sitting in a practice room working out the finer points of your technique and your music, trying to be a world-class musician can feel like a real slog. That doesn’t mean that you will enjoy every moment you spend in a practice room; to the contrary you’ll often find yourself practicing out of necessity more than desire. But if you don’t enjoy it at any point, the constant effort might not be worth it.

2.      You’re a night person. By this I don’t mean the kind of person that sits up until 2 a.m. playing Farmville on the weekend. No, a musician is someone who doesn’t mind WORKING late into the night. Remember that gigs (see also concerts) almost always occur in the evening, and may start as late as midnight or even later! Don’t forget that the concert might be late, but your job doesn’t end when the gig ends.  There are people to meet, there’s equipment and stage material to strike, and after-parties to attend. If you’re a classical musician these after parties are often formal, and might be necessary to help inspire those donors to keep on giving! If you like the idea of making late nights a regular thing, the world of music might just be right for you.

3.      You’re patient. Very VERY patient. Astronomically patient. If you want to be a world-class musician you have to think long-term. No one becomes a success over night, and for that matter, no one masters a difficult piece of music in a day! There will be goals that can be achieved in a day, such as getting a certain scale a little bit faster, but some goals will take a week, a month… possibly even years! Making it to fame could take decades, and often does! But for the true musicians amongst us, these things don’t matter as much. We can keep working away in those practice rooms, taking those gigs, enjoying our successes where we get them and keep pushing forward. There’s always something bigger to achieve, but the day-to-day achievements are important steps. Keep your eyes out for those, and that patience won’t be so hard to find.

4.      You’re a perfectionist.  Remember how I mentioned that you’d be in a practice room a lot, and that patience is important? Here’s where those two things come together. A musician greatly benefits from perfectionist tendencies. You’ll be in that practice room a lot, working out some incredibly difficult techniques and figures, and it helps to really want each moment of a piece to be exquisite. After all, what’s the point of running through the first three beats of that one measure two hundred and thirty six times if you don’t really care whether you hit each of those notes at just the right time with just the right amount of volume and just the right intonation? Perfectionists have to deal with extra stress: we worry that everyone hears every microscopic imperfection that comes out when we play in public and judges us for it. We bite our nails, grind our teeth, and pull our hair out over what other people think of a three minute song (and no this is not healthy,) but we also find nobility in striving for something outstandingly good, and nothing satisfies an audience quite like a performance that blows them away.

There are more signs I could go over… possibly in a future post, but these are all requirements for a career as a musician. If you don’t find that you fit all of these requirements, DON’T SWEAT IT! You can still learn an instrument beautifully, and play to your heart’s content for family and friends. You can carry your skills with you through your entire life and share your love of music with everyone around you. But if you are thinking of making a career out of being a musician, think about these necessities, and talk to your teacher more about what it takes. You just might be cut out for it after all!

Practice Tips and Strategies

July 10, 2013

by Ricardo de la Torre, Piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

Your success at the piano is greatly determined by the way you practice. More important than how much time you spend sitting at the piano is how you spend this time. Quality means a lot more than quantity here.

It’s a good idea to make a plan to know exactly what you will cover in each practice session and what goals you want to achieve. When you don’t have a lot of time to practice, you need to make the most out of it. Having some strategies to make the process more efficient will help a lot.

Here are a few tips:

• Remember to practice in small chunks. You can take a section of your piece and break it down into smaller sections. Make sure these sub-sections make sense musically (they are phrases or parts of phrases that have a clear beginning and end). Work on one section at a time and then put them together. Reintegrate them into the whole by starting a little before and stopping a little after the section you want to improve.

• When things seem too hard at first, always simplify your task. There are many ways to do this (i.e. play hands separate, slow the tempo down).

• Consistency is very important. Try to make practicing every day a habit and stick to it.

• Don’t always start practicing at the beginning of the piece. This approach almost always results in a performance with a solid beginning and a shaky end. Try a different spot every day or start with the most difficult parts.

• By the same token, if you only practice the parts you like or can play well while neglecting the more difficult spots, the integrity of your performance will suffer. Have priorities and spend less time with the parts you can already play well while devoting more time to the harder sections.

• Make your goals attainable and realistic. If you are too ambitious you might feel overwhelmed and frustrated. By making steady progress with smaller goals at a time you’ll actually get the results you want faster than trying to get too much done at once.

• Only repeat a passage once you have it right (in terms of notes, rhythm, dynamics, articulation and fingering). If you’re unsure, it’s better to wait and ask your instructor. Practicing a mistake will fix it in your memory and will be very difficult to undo later.

• Use your ear! Practicing is mostly about self-assessment. Stop frequently and evaluate what you just did. Always have a purpose for repeating a passage. Mindless repetition is not very useful.

• Remember: playing through your entire piece from beginning to end several times in a row is not practicing! (Unless of course you’re in the final stages of preparing for a performance).

Ricardo de la Torre, Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Ricardo de la Torre

Practice Makes Perfect (or Does it)?

April 30, 2013

by Ron Troester, Voice and Piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

How to be Successful in Practice and Reach Your Goals in Musical Performance:

1. Be careful to find a time that works well for your practicing that isn’t interrupted by other activities, even if for only 15 minutes. Focus your energies to that time on getting better!

2. Choose a different point of focus for each day, and set aside a day for a fully coordinated practice session or rehearsal that assimilates what have been your points of focus earlier the week or in the previous few days. The pursuit of success requires you to cultivate a commitment to consistency. Quality practice time is essential to amount of success you will receive.

3. Use the approach of: generalization, specifics, generalization, details, generalization. Take time to look over the piece from beginning to end, and get a good sense of the time signature, style and the form. Recognizing sections that repeat can greatly reduce rehearsal time.

4. Do something to warm up your voice or fingers—scales, patterns, a familiar song. It begins the focus on what you are going to do and gets muscles ready for action.

5. Now be more specific. Take time to learn notes correctly—vocal line, or each hand on the keyboard, so that you have the patterns in your hearing and muscles right. It doesn’t matter how much time you take for this, but it greatly reduces re-learning parts that weren’t correct at the beginning. Use the syllables to find pitches and intervals that are difficult, fingerings that work best, and then write them in the music! This will remind you of what to do next time, without so much review time. And then review it often!

6. Pay attention to details. Find the trouble spots and isolate them—take great care to really get these comfortable. Then put these sections back into the song to get consistency in the whole piece. Be careful you are always thinking of the tempo, dynamic and phrasing markings.

7. Think of performance details as well during these times—are you rehearsing as you would perform it? For vocalists, this includes knowing the text, what it is saying, and how you can convey it in the best and most interesting manner. This is part of the rehearsal process.

8. Put the piece back together—from beginning to end. Now evaluate your work thus far. See what you can do successfully with the piece, and where to go back and detail specific sections again.

9. Don’t always start at the beginning to run through a piece—start at the back, or in the middle, then keep adding sections toward the beginning of the song and run to the end. It is common for everyone to start at the beginning and then the end sections don’t get rehearsed as well, and it sounds weak or not as comfortable.

10. Run the piece from beginning to end, thinking of performance level as you do. Don’t let just one time influence your rehearsal. Do it several times, and it will show more and more improvement and confidence. Muscle memory is the key—repetition, repetition, repetition!

11. Life happens – the unexpected or unthinkable shows up as Murphy’s law takes you to court. Sometimes you have too much on your plate or there’s additional stress, and you find it difficult to focus. So, you have to cut back on rehearsal time Then, what rehearsal time you have suffers because you’re exhausted or distracted. When the time comes for that special live performance gig you’ve been dreaming of, you stumble and fumble your way through, and it doesn’t go the way you would like. Change up the routine, take a couple days break, ask for another opinion or evaluation—then go back to your normal routine again.

12. Discipline is vital to your arrival, survival, and potential for thriving in the pursuit of being a better musician. Realistic pacing and realistic goal-setting are both key to helping you stay disciplined and keeping your commitment to consistency. Manageable goals are important—don’t expect it to all happen at once. Enjoy the small successes as well as when you reach bigger goals!

13. As you consider your performance on a piece of music, focus on showcasing your strengths and the ability to communicate your passion and interest in the music selection. In other words, what would you like your audience members to feel, think about, or even want to learn more about? These objectives in how your music can serve others will help you with choosing material for your song sets as well as selecting stories to share that resonate with your personal passions and your desire to make a difference. Music has the ability to inspire, encourage, entertain, enlighten, and educate. And most of all, you should enjoy this—HAVE FUN!

14. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to not push your skills. Take a moment to sight read something quickly—see how you do. Don’t make every piece about getting it all perfect. It is good to be able to know that you can learn quickly, as well as taking the time to work out more difficult music.

15. Ask yourself who has had an impact on your success. What specific qualities have they had a hand in developing or encouraging? What impact have they had on feeding your passions and objectives in the pursuit your musical success? Give thanks for the opportunities that will come as a result of your desire to be your best and do your best. Consider the impact that your being served has had on how you strive to serve others. Write down their names of those who have inspired you to serve, and thank them any way you can.

16. This positive attitude of using your unique gifts to serve others will give you peace and purpose through the rough patches and smooth stretches. It will help you press on past any unexpected stalls and crawls that will creep up occasionally on your journey to true musical success!

Ron Troester, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Ron Troester

The Piano: A One Man Band Instrument

December 12, 2011

by Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada

The improvisational pianist is a complete combo.  For example, inside the heart of every improvisational pianist lies a versatile bassist.  It is  imperative that one is always thinking about where the structural line is going and leading the rest of the “combo” through the changes.  There are endless possibilities in creating a good bass line – the structural foundation, really.  The mid-range of the piano (middle C to high C) becomes the guitarist, i.e. mainly used for comping chord changes over the bass line and creating a basic rhythm.  It’s what I like to think of as the jello that holds everything together.  Also, the drum section happens in the mid range.  The comping of the changes is very percussive in nature and sets the rhythm and tempo of the piece.  The upper register of the piano is used for the color instruments (lead guitar, fiddle, flute, horns).  In short, leads should not be played in the mid-range but above high C.  Lead lines played in the mid-range have a tendency to get muddy.  The melody of the piece should be in the mid-range, with fills and solos moved up for clarity and distinction from the main melody.  This concept remains consistent when working with a vocalist.

In summation, the piano as a solo instrument, when approached with a combo in mind, can be used very effectively.  The bass remains below middle C, the rhythm instruments should be played between middle C and high C, and the color instruments belong above high C.

My Hero, Jeff Buckley: How to “Organically” Build Your Music Style

April 17, 2011

By, Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

Ok, Jeff Buckley is amazing, but he’s not my only- or even biggest- influence/ hero. I chose to write about him because of his process in becoming his own musician. If you aren’t aware of Jeff Buckley or his music, check out his only fully recorded studio album, Grace, or its contents on YouTube. You may have heard his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It is, IMHO [in my humble opinion], by far the most moving iterations of that widely covered song out there. Jeff Buckley’s voice as heard in his album and in live recordings transcends range and race, reaching expansive stratospheres of emotion with nuclear musicality, woven by his elegant balance of refinement and rawness through the medium of that Voice. Unfortunately, he died prematurely by accident in the middle of recording his second album, which is why he has only one complete studio album out. The music world mourns the loss of his potential, yet rejoices in his short-but-sweet contribution.

Enough smoke blown, however, and back to the point. Jeff Buckley was the son of Tim Buckley, a folk-add-jazz musician who gained a cult following and who also died at an early age of 28. Jeff wanted very little to do with his father, especially the music thereof. Because of that huge presence hanging over, threatening to stain his own ‘essence,’ Jeff sought out music scenes in LA and especially New York to educate himself. One year of music school, a reported waste of time, at least opened his eyes to music theory and the rich music of classical romanticists, thus showing him how to play with interesting harmonies. He covered everything: the blues, punk and rock scenes taught him the relevant extremes of guitar-based music; covering folk and jazz music taught him how to songwrite with decent structure and content, while finessing the art of rule-bending; voice lessons came with intense study and emulation of Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, while worship of Pakhistani super-star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan seems to have influenced his supernatural-like vocal acrobatics; and yet, Jeff is just so himself. Google the title song of Jeff’s album, “Grace” [grace jeff buckley] and click on the first video. What do you hear?

How might I apply this? My formal music education lies in a classically based Bachelor in Music during which I studied old to new art song (from Dowland to Faure, Wolf to Lee Hoiby,) and performed primarily opera retaining several lead roles on the opera and musical theatre stage. If you were to hear MY music style (which I’m only starting to realize I’m a baby in my own right) you might hear a glimpse of that, yet more of a folk/ soul / rock amalgamation. Some of my informal music education stems from a younger interest in Frank Sinatra, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Indigo Girls followed by a more mature obsession with Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead all the while enamored by the obscurely fabulous instrumental group, the Rachel’s (I implore you to look them up), and finally an intense devotion to traditional and popular West African music, rhythm and dance for the past 3 and a half years under the masters (Maputo and Mawue Mensah, , Nii Arma Sowah, and Dr. Kwasi Ampene under whom I’ve had the privilege to perform and converse with some great band/ solo musicians including Victor Wooten, check him out. Serious.)

I believe the truest education of any kind- be it musical, culinary, artistic, literary, medical/ body- occurs when the student widens his/her variety of influence and truly listens to that which moves him or her. Open exploration with a sensitivity to that which resonates most in one’s heart-mind-body will teach one more about his/herself than any school, one style, or single teacher ever could. I know so many “classical” singers (some professional) who don’t know their own voice, their own style at all, because they only know how to RESEMBLE one or two styles. This is not to say that good technique won’t get you anywhere. Technique is an often necessary tool, which is why you should take lessons and search with discrimination for good teachers. The world, and its increasing connectivity, is your school of style. The more you listen, the vaster variety of great musicians and performers you emulate= the more you will know yourself, what you’re about, and how you might want to express that musically or otherwise. Your heart is a magnet and will take what it likes from what you show it. Now go educate yourself and let the open stages be your practice room, if to be your own musician is what you truly want.

A Positive Approach with High Standards

February 27, 2011

By Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis

In any educational profession it is difficult to strike a balance between maintaining a high standard and being positive and encouraging towards students. In my five years of experience teaching piano and voice I have often thought about this distinction. It varies by student, of course. However, I have discovered some principles which help to sustain what I believe to be a healthy balance.

1. Always allow a student to sing or play through an entire piece before making comments:

As a child I studied with a teacher who stopped me repeatedly in the first three or four measures of a piece. I was never allowed to go on until the piece was perfect linearly from start to finish. This method of critique was not only discouraging, but also enforced a bad habit of stopping and starting after every mistake. When I went to college I found the habit very difficult to overcome. For that reason, I encourage students to go all the way through a piece before doing “spot work.” I want to enforce the performance element in every lesson- “the show must go on.”

2. Always give positive comments first and carefully word criticism:

I feel it is extremely important to begin your response as a teacher with positive feedback. It must be genuine, of course. There is always something positive to say, even if it is small. However, to say something like, “good job,” is not at all specific or helpful. If the student did not practice consistently, then saying that they did well in a broad sense in not genuine. Instead say, “good job with melodic phrasing in the B section,” or “your note accuracy between measures 12 and 14 has really improved from last week.” This feedback is not only specific, but also shows that you were paying close attention.

3. Teach by example and build independence:

A teacher should always illustrate spoken concepts by playing live or finding pertinent recordings, etc. Catering to different learning styles is so important for growth. Teach so that your student will become independent of you. Hopefully they will grow to make their own musical choices and assessments.



Carrie Newcomer

October 24, 2010
Kristin Vredevoogd, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Kristin Vredevoogd

By Kristin Vredevoogd, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

I had the wonderful opportunity this past Saturday to attend the concert of an artist I’ve recently been introduced to.  Carrie Newcomer is a Quaker folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist.  She has twelve albums out, the most recent one called Before and After.

Carrie Newcomer has a warm, relaxed, and smooth voice.  What truly impressed me about Carrie is the authenticity of her voice.  She’s putting herself out there, not at all trying to sound like anyone other than herself.

Carrie’s also an inspirational songwriter. Carrie also gave a writer’s workshop the afternoon of the concert.  I wish that I had the forethought to have gone to that.  Her concert and music definitely inspired me to do more songwriting of my own.

The subjects of her songs are about every day joys and challenges we all face.  Her music is very natural, flows beautifully, and is easy to relate to.  At the concert I bought her album titled The Gathering of Spirits.  The track I’ll Go Too is my favorite.

I had the opportunity to speak to Carrie after the concert.  What an approachable and genuine person.  I look forward to listening to and collecting all of her c.d.’s.

If you’re looking for a refreshing sound and a new artist, I recommend Carrie Newcomer.  Check out her website at to listen to some of her music, find lyrics and choral arrangements of some of her songs, and to see her travel and workshop schedule.