Posts Tagged ‘Piano Practice Tips’

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

 

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

Increase Practice Productivity by Warming Up!

March 1, 2012

By Paul Perry, Voice & Piano, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

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Greetings!

Everyone who plays piano needs to take incredible and meticulous care of their hands. It is important to create a pre-warm-up routine with both stretches and scales before intense practice sessions.

Release the tendons and muscles of your hands, arms, and shoulders by doing some simple stretching before you actually start to practice playing the piano. There are many simple things you do with a tennis ball, including placing it against the forearm and gently massaging up and down the length of your arm (both topside and underside of your arm!) with as much intensity as feels good to you. Also, grip the ball in the palm of your hand, flexing and releasing the muscles, four or five times in each hand. Gently stretch your fingers, roll the shoulders front and back, and find a routine that serves you and your practice!

Play a variety of scales or simple melodic passages before moving on to repertoire.  Be mindful that your forearm is in alignment with your wrist and that your hand does not move as you strike the keys—only the fingers are moving. Avoid twisting your hand as you play, and notice if your palm is excessively lifting up, or is arched down. These habits can overstretch the tendons in your hands—No es bueno! Equalize the strength of your fingers with scales—in particular, the ring finger and pinky are traditionally weak. My right ring finger, for instance, is built just a bit differently than the rest of my fingers. I really need to stay focused on balancing the weight between my fingers in my right hand.  Hopefully after developing a quick pre-practice routine, you will notice that you can practice for longer, more productive periods of time, and without fatigue!

Joyful playing!

Paul