Posts Tagged ‘Piano Instructor’

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


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:

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: 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


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.

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.

Musical Family Gathering

October 4, 2011

by Denise McCoy, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Denise McCoy, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Leson Studio

Denise McCoy

Welcome back The Lesson Studio students! I hope your summer was relaxing and musical! The fall is the start of many music seasons in theaters and concert halls in the Denver Metro Area, as well as local venues, such as the University of Colorado. It is really important for the students and the parents of students to be involved in seeing live performances because not only does it enrich the growing musicians education, it is fun and can be done as a family. Parents who are involved in their child’s musical education are more likely to create positive views towards their study of music and encourage the student to practice. By bringing your child to live concerts, the student can see what it’s like to perform music live. They can see that live performance may have more to offer than recorded music, and the student can see first hand the work that goes into putting together a concert. Practice, hard work and love for music is what makes a performance successful.

Here are a few suggestions for concerts this fall:

Colorado Symphony has a wide range of genres that are performed in an acoustical setting. Here students are more likely to see their instrument performed in an ensemble. This season there are contemporary concerts with performers such as Patti Lupone, Ozomatli, and Jim Brickman. The symphony is also putting together a multimedia performance called “The Planets: an HD Odyssey.” This type of performance integrates different forms of art, to express a theme. On the classical end, Beethoven’s 7th is being performed, as well as Faure’s Requiem, and an all Dvorak program, just to name a few. Renee Fleming, who in my opinion in a famous, real life opera star, will be performing in March. For any young singer, this is definitely not a concert to miss!

If you want to find concerts that are a little more wallet friendly, Colorado University offers a wide variety of concerts throughout the school year. There are student recitals, which are free and can be instrument specific, that are great for a young musician to attend.

The Denver Center offers a massive, and impressive variety of shows that is great for any musician to see. A few to mention are, The Lion King, A Christmas Carol, Wicked, and Hair.  I recommend a concert at the Denver Center, purely because of the wide range of interest that they cater to.

I hope you can take advantage of all this area has to offer musically. There are a lot of talented musicians in the area. I am sure they would like your support and I am sure your kids can really learn from them, and further enjoy music and what it has to offer.

The Vocal Instrumentalist

August 3, 2011

By Robyn Yamada Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada, Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada

It really chaps my hide when someone suggests that a vocalist is not an instrumentalist.  I call myself and my students “vocal instrumentalists.”  We don’t “just sing”, we play our instrument from the inside out.  I am constantly fascinated by the human voice.  Think about it – a piano or horn will not become a better instrument than it was on the day of purchase.  The vocal instrument, however, can go from a cardboard and rubber band instrument to a stravari in a pretty short amount of time.  Through strength and toning, the instrument actually changes.  How cool is that?  Pretty schtinkin’ cool, I say.

Okay, let’s take it one step further.  Think of your body as an acoustic guitar.  The diaphragm is the “point of contact”.  The vocal folds vibrate – a la strings.  The tricky part lies in creating the body of the guitar.  The goal is to get as much space behind the teeth as humanly possible – creating a place for the sound to spin – then opening the mouth to let the sound out.  On a guitar or piano, tone is controlled by how we use our fingers on the outside of the instrument.  Vocal tone is controlled by how we adjust the space on the inside of the instrument.  Hence, the vocal instrumentalist.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned strength and toning.  These words are not commonly associated with music.  As a matter of fact, I hear people often say something like, “sports aren’t my thing – I’m all about the music.”  To that I say, “Ha!” because it takes loads and loads of physical strength to play an instrument proficiently.  The pros make it look so easy – in truth, especially for vocalists, it takes a lot of inner core and muscle building to adapt the instrument so that it will perform at its maximum.  Vocalise can be thought of as “vocal curls”.  Ear training can be thought of as “interval squats”.  Enter the vocal athlete.

In summation, vocal instrumentalists / vocal athletes are often sold short.  In many cases they sell themselves short.  Never, ever, ever call yourself “just the singer.”


August 2, 2011

Paul Perry, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Paul Perry, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Paul Perry

Last night I went on a cleaning rampage in my apartment… It’s funny the things you think when cleaning.  I went for 5 hours without taking a sip of water and, perhaps I was slightly dehydrated, but I was the countless times the countless times (recently!) when my students come to lessons without water bottles.  Personally I feel lost and unprepared without one (no matter what I am doing).  It doesn’t matter what instrument you play, though singers probably feel the dehydration factor first.

 Here are just a few reasons why water is important to you!

1. Water makes up the majority of every cell in the body and makes up our tears, saliva, sweat, etc.,

2.  It is the largest part of our blood/ lymph systems, responsible for bringing food/oxygen to the cells and ultimately helps remove waste form the body as well

3.  It helps control the blood pressure by balances the electrolytes, can help provide trace minerals to the body and washes out toxins from our kidneys.

4. Water moisten the eyes, mouth, lips, throat, and nasal passages…this is HUGE for singers!

It is recommended that you drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. Of course if you are an  active person you need more than this.   Please, Drink more water!!  I know we all know this, but are you really doing it?  I was at the gym last week and realized I didn’t have my water bottle with me and was shocked when I looked about and realized NOBODY had a water bottle with them at the gym…in Boulder!   Carry a water bottle with you at all times. 

Peace! Paul P

Musical Happenings

April 20, 2011

By Denise McCoy, Piano, Voice and Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Denise McCoy, Piano, Voice and Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Denise McCoy

Summer is just around the corner, let the fun begin! Every summer, musicians from all types of genres play for their audience. Boulder has some great venues that are worth checking out with your kids!

Starting May 7th, Chautauqua’s online box office is open, and tickets can be ordered either by calling their number (featured on their website below). On May 9th, the actual box office opens and tickets can be purchased on site. On this website, you can view their entire summer concert season! The tickets are pretty inexpensive, but it’s generally suggested to order tickets in advance in case the event sells out.

In Denver, there is the Denver Center for Performing Arts. At this art center, there is a wide variety of shows to see. Traveling Broadway shows come through this DCPA, and quite a few in the summer. This is a good opportunity to get to see come acting, singing, dancing and the instruments that play in the pit! Tickets can be ordered in advance and be picked up the same day as the performance. If you stick around the side stage door after performance, you might even be able to meet a cast member!

Colorado Symphony Orchestra offers many concerts towards the beginning of the summer that is perfect for the family! Some concerts are geared towards kids and their families and some concerts have an “inside the score” where music students and audience members can learn a little about the piece of music that is being performed.  For those looking for something a bit more contemporary, Boyz II Men and Pink Martini are playing in June.

The summer is the perfect time to enrich your child’s music education. It’s a great way to get the family together and enjoy a concert!

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.