Posts Tagged ‘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.

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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 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.

Choosing the right teacher for YOU

February 22, 2015

Heidi

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!

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.

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!

http://www.coloradosymphony.org/

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.

http://music.colorado.edu/

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.

http://www.denvercenter.org/home.aspx

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 world is our stage…

September 18, 2011

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

Garrett Smith, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

I want to talk about performance. Different stages, different levels of performance. Venues, degrees, heights, hysterical to barely audible. Divine to mundane. Terrifying and restrictive to freeing and natural. Red Rocks to the shower. The Met to the cab of your truck. Anytime you tap into that intimate place inside yourself where you encounter your muse and let it out, you are performing. For yourself, for the angels, for your family, to patrons, or to total strangers. To outwardly manifest the phenomena of organized sound, which we call music, you are to some degree performing, as you should. It is healthy to perform. It’s an exercise in letting go, in being natural, in being indeed totally yourself, a divine creature gifted with the capacity of producing combinations of beautiful sound.

We humans are not the only ones to appreciate beautiful sounds. I have two cats. One, Ash, loves to play my guitar (with his tongue, or teeth, or sometimes paws, but mostly his mouth.) Whenever I whistle, sing or play the piano, he’s right there rolling on the floor in utter bliss no matter how loud. The other, Mobius, is a bit more reserved, perhaps even offended by these noises uttering from my interaction with the physical world. The difference seems to be an appreciation of music. If you pay attention, you may notice just as in the Disney princess stories, the birds and squirrels and deer drawn to your music. Even if not such a fairytale scenario, one increases her/his magnetism through the practice and power of performance. People can see when someone is comfortable enough with themselves to allow the beauty of song and sound to move through them.

One of the ways to improve your performance level is to watch professionals of all sorts of genres. Good DJ’s, jam bands, pop stars, folk artists, bluegrass, family style-around-the-campfire, worship music, opera, musical theatre, indeed any theatre (the beats and timing of stage theatre and film for that matter are somewhat musical, for example looking at the cadence in Woody Allen’s dialogue, or Shakespeare) are all going to that place where music lives from different roads. I am involved (in fact starring as the title role) in an original musical comedy, “Casanova at Twilight” being premiered in a week. Written by Tony-award nominee, TV soap star of “All My Children,” and on and off-Broadway actor, Bill Mooney with original music by CU’s Hunter Ewen, this show is raucus, hilarious, and all about timing. You will see a cast of high caliber who have created these characters and this show through their various trainings to bring the audience and themselves the ups and downs that make life so exciting and, indeed, sexy. You can find tickets at cupresents.org (including $5 student tickets!) and we are playing two weekends. There is a free preview on Thursday, the 22nd if you can’t afford tickets, just mention Garrett Smith. I encourage you to come see our process of performance in this intimate space of the Atlas Multimedia Blackbox Theater, and experience what it does to you. Perhaps you will be inspired. Perhaps you will seek your own stage.

Cheers,

Garrett

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.”

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. http://www.chautauqua.com/pdf/cca_calendar2011_apr-may.pdf 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! http://www.denvercenter.org/home.aspx

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!