Thursday

Faster Rote Learning Using YouTube

I have been teaching piano for a very long time. Over the years I have followed a number of different method books (Faber, Marlais, the Music Tree, Celebrate Piano), gone without a set method, and even written my own pieces. The results are always mixed - a few students progress fairly quickly - while the majority struggle through slowly - with sighs and the ready phrases - "this is hard" and "this is confusing."

It is not that my students don't like playing piano - it is the amount of effort that it takes to become musically literate that is really the challenge. Their ability to memorize the facts of the staff is quite weak and so there is a lot of struggle to move forward since the notes and intervals (bigger than a third) just aren't there - at their fingertips. (That is for a different post)

I know that as a piano teacher I am most likely only going to have my students for a fraction of the time that I really need in order to develop them into competent players. The only way I will keep most of my students playing through the adolescent years and beyond is to speed up their learning. I need to get my students sounding competent by middle school so that they can add "piano player" to their adolescent persona. I can speed up their learing using rote lessons that I create and post on YouTube.

We all know that students can play at a higher level than they can read. Rote pieces allow students to play at their playing level - not at their reading level. When a rote lesson is posted on YouTube, the actual in-person piano lesson can focus more on reading, aural skills, technique, and improvisation (to name a few possibilities), since there doesn't need to be as much time devoted to learning the repertoire on the lesson.

With an iPad or comparable device it is easy to make a recorded lesson of a piece and have students learn it from the video. I actually use these videos as make up classes for my students who cancel.

Here is a video lesson for Teresa Richert's RCM Level 2 Little Red Wagon.


Monday

Some Tips for Teaching and Hearing Harmonic Intervals

The new syllabus for the Royal Conservatory of Music and Music Development Program has introduced harmonic intervals into its aural skills curriculum. The 2008 syllabus only required the candidate to hear melodic intervals, and now starting at Level 5 harmonic intervals are being introduced alongside their melodic forms. At Level 10 the candidates are asked to identify stand-alone harmonic intervals.

For students who are used to hearing melodic intervals in relation to specific songs or scalar patterns, this skill can seem a quite daunting. I am hoping that these tips can help.

Firstly, I play each harmonic interval and ask the student to listen carefully for the mood or character of the interval without even trying to think about distance. This leads to four categories of character:

Irritating - Crunchy - Harmonious - Medieval

The words are not always the same as above, but the characters are similar.

-Minor 2nds, Major 7ths, and Minor 9ths are irritating.
-Major 2nds and Minor 7ths are crunchy.
-Thirds and sixths are harmonious
-Perfect 4ths and 5ths are Medieval.

Octaves are generally heard well in the harmonic form, and Tritones fit into Irritating usually, but some students hear them as crunchy.

Secondly, once a student has categorized each interval and really hears them in this way then we add more traits - like medieval and hollow for the Perfect 5th, or harmonious and sad for a minor 3rd. The clearer the character the more confident the student becomes.

Thirdly, once a student has built consistency with their vocabulary and always says crunchy and distant for a Minor 7th then they can start converting these traits into the intervallic names.

This process does not need to be rushed, and the first steps can be practised for a while to build confidence.

This type of learning works well with younger students on melodic intervals since they can often understand the mood and character more than the terminology. For example I use the terms: bright, dark, and empty for Major third, Minor third, and Perfect fifth.

It is best to practise aural skills with a positive mindset, and just listening to the qualities of the sounds without having to give them a number value keeps things positive. It also leads to better listening - and we all want that.


Tuesday

Words for Music

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

                                                                            - Attributed to Martin Mull

Perhaps, but...

I use words for music all of the time when I am learning and performing. I got the idea from a Jane Magrath workshop.  One of her handouts was a list of 68 words that Czerny had written to describe the range of effects that Beethoven conveyed when playing his own music at the piano.

Since this list inspired me so much in my own playing I decided to add to it and ask my students to contribute as well and here is our word list - the ones in italics are Czerny's original:

Agitated, Alarming, Angry

Bewitching, Bittersweet

Calm, Capricious, Carefree, Careful, Charming, Child-like, Chill, Chorale-like, Clownish, Complaining, Confident, Crazy

Dancing, Dangerous, Dark, Dejected, Delicate, Determined, Dramatic, Dreamy, Drowsy

Elegant, Empty, Energetic, Exalted, Excited, Expressive

Fantastic, Fierce, Firm, Flattering, Fleeting, Foreign, Funny

Galloping, Gentle, Gloomy, Glowing, Good-natured, Graceful, Grand, Great, Gripping

Happy, Haunting, Heroic, Humourous, Hypnotic

Intense, Intimate

Jazzy, Jocose, Joyous, Jumpy

Kind

Light, Lively, Lofty, Lulling

Mad, Marked, Mechanical, Melancholic,  Mellow, Melodic, Merry, Metallic, Mischievous, Missing, Moody, Mournful, Murmuring, Mysterious

Naive, Noisy

Odd, Old, Old-fashioned

Pathetic, Peaceful, Pious, Playful, Pleading, Pleasant, Powerful, Profound, Proud

Quiet

Regal, Relaxing, Religious, Remembering, Resolute, RoaringRough, Royal


Sad, Scary, Secretive, Sensitive, Serene, Serious, Shimmering, Simple, Singing, 
Sleepy, Sneaky, Soft, Solemn, Sombre, Sparkling, Speaking, Spicy, Stormy, Strong,Surreal, Sweet

Teasing, Tender, Thoughtful, Touching, Tragic, Tricky, Twinkling

Unaffected, Unruly, Uplifting

Virile

Warm, Weighty, Weird, Witty

Zingy








Monday

What a Great Weekend of Adjudicating

This past weekend I was adjudicating for the ORMTA Central Toronto Branch Spring auditions. It was held at the North Toronto Institute of Music. I was treated to a variety of repertoire, and levels from Prep to Grade 8. I heard some really great playing from some very hard-working kids. Thanks to all the teachers for prepping their students so well!

A sun-filled afternoon.

Beautifully organized by Liz Craig and Lucy Tonoyan.
I
In addition to adjudicating, I was also able to choose who will be playing at the scholarship recital on April 26th at The Music Gallery. This recital offers cash scholarships, and the opportunity to be assessed by the COC's Sandra Horst. It was a real challenge to choose from so many strong participants.

Thanks to everyone for a great weekend.

Monday

ORMTA Teachers in Concert Has a New Venue

I am so looking forward to playing for the ORMTA Teachers in Concert event. It is still on Sunday March 29th at 4:00, but it is now at The First Unitarian Congregation at 175 St. Clair West in the Sunderland Hall.

Come on out to hear the teachers of ORMTA and some of our scholarship winning students! All proceeds go to our Scholarship fund.

Follow this link to buy tickets: Tickets for Teachers in Concert 



Friday

ORMTA Central Toronto Branch Teachers in Concert

Mark your calendars for the Central Toronto Branch's annual Teachers in Concert event. As a member of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers' Association I am very pleased to be performing as a part of this concert.

































There are many fine musicians who will be performing, and all of the money earned will go to the music scholarships that we hand out twice each year.

I will be performing a Romance by Clara Schumann. In addition to the teachers of the branch, some of the scholarship winners from the Fall recital will also perform.

This is a wonderful opportunity for young players to hear a wide variety of music played by both their teachers and their peers.

Below is a link to the site where tickets can be purchased:

http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=unql48dab&oeidk=a07eaofu8zv5dc1bbe3

Lending Choral Support

What an inspiring morning of music!

Yesterday was the final day of the TDSB Music Festival at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute. This is an annual event for choirs at TDSB schools. It is a non-competitive format designed to inspire the young musicians who participate, and offer ideas on how to be even better choristers.

Zimfira Poloz with the TDSB Choirs


The choirs today were Junior level (grades 4-6). Ours, McMurrich Junior Public, was one of the 3 choirs participating. We are led by Ana Vasic, and I accompany them throughout the school year. This was our first performance this year outside of in-school events.

The clinician/adjudicator was Zimfira Poloz. She is the Director of Young Voices Toronto, and a highly accomplished musician. She worked with all the choirs together and with each individual choir as well. Her enthusiasm was so wonderful for everyone there. She has a literal bag of tricks to help demonstrate musical and technical elements. She has a hand puppet to show air space in the mouth and the raised soft palate. She uses a large Hoberman Sphere (which was a big hit) to demonstrate the build and taper of the musical line. Her passion and energy were so engaging that all of the children stayed focused throughout the 90 minutes.


I was very proud of the choir for their communicative performance - even more so since many of my own piano students sang today.

Wednesday

Piano for Lapsed Adults

This past Autumn I was finally able to set up a group class for lapsed adult players. I was hoping for more interest from the community, but that being said I haven't done anywhere near the advertising that I should have.

I have a core group who come every Wednesday from 7:30-8:30. We work on repertoire and practice habits. We sight read duets. We talk about music in general and specific technical things as well. I am very pleased with the results I have seen this term. Everyone is getting to the piano - even if just to sight read with me.

I think that  the stress of some childhood piano lessons is dissipating.  I am hoping the class grows and that more adults can return to the piano for enjoyment.

May 2nd is the ORMTA adult student recital if you are interested let me know and I will sign you up.

Monday

Hallowe'en Music

Hallowe'en is such a great time of year.  It lends character to the colder, darker time of late October. I always want to teach my students Hallowe'en music the way I do Christmas and Hanukkah music - but there really isn't a lot of traditional Hallowe'en Music.



Last year I composed some spooky pieces for my beginner students and they really enjoyed them. Dissonance that they often find jarring and unpleasant is a lot more palatable when it is wrapped up in the eeriness of Hallowe'en.

This year I am composing a little more for the season, but I have also looked through my many books of music and found some really terrific pieces which can be taught either by rote or from the score depending upon the particular student:


Just a Little Boo by Janet Vogt from Piano Discoveries Level 1A is a lot of fun for students since it has really bouncy staccatos and blocked fifths. Very easy by rote for fairly new learners though the fifths can be challenging for smaller, unpracticed hands. It is also an easy read.

Hallowe'en Witch by William Gillock from Accent on Solos Level 1 is a wonderful introduction, for the beginning pianist, to the minor sound. It uses only the notes of the A minor pentascale divided between the hands; and though it is notated in Middle C position the Left Hand fingers can easily be changed. This piece teaches the "stepping down and up" pattern in the Right Hand, and "zig-zags" in the left. It is tuneful and very manageable rhythmically.

Little Monster by Billie Ferrell from Solos Now (Primer Level) is a really neat piece for students who like to explore sound. I say this because the piece really lends itself to improvisation since the text for the Right Hand is quite sparse. The Left Hand has almost exclusively blocked fifths throughout on C, F, G, and Bb. These movements, and the fact that I encourage improv, lead me to teach this piece by rote - and perhaps I will make up some words!

Giggling Goblins by Janet Vogt from Piano Discoveries Level 1A is great for coordination, staccato, contrary motion, dynamic contrasts, and 4ths. I think I might make up some words for this piece for the rote learners.

Hallowe'en Pranks by Boris Berlin from TheABC of Piano Playing, 3 is a piece that I teach very successfully by rote since it is all on the black keys. It is very good preparation for the learning of 8th notes. As well it has a lot of dynamic variety that is a lot of fun for the students.

The Famous Haunted House by Lynn Freeman Olson is a really clever piece with a lot of rhythmic interest created by the rests. A good introduction to Dal Segno al fine. A lot of exciting dynamic variety. I teach this by rote and it provides good preparation for dotted rhythms. Kids love the crunchy seconds!

Owl at Midnight by William Gillock from Accent on Solos Level 2 is a little more advanced than the previous selections. It is good preparation for 6ths. There are a lot of dynamic contrasts as well as crescendi and diminuendi. Hands alternate and play together, so a great piece for coordination. This is easy to teach by rote to a younger player but is not too difficult a read for those who are getting comfortable with accidentals.

Hallowe'en Night by Linda Niamath from All Year Round is a great introduction to the diminished 7th sound. It has a few challenges in terms of the notes, but once the student understands the pattern in the last line things should go smoothly. It is a good piece for pedalling, dynamics,  and articulation.

I hope you all have fun with this music! Have a great Hallowe'en!

Friday

It's Time to Rediscover the Piano


A lot of people tell me that they used to play the piano. Some have fond memories of working towards and receiving their RCM Grade 8. Others talk of mean teachers and hating lessons. Some insist that now they couldn't play a note even though they used to play well. Over the years I have run into very few adults however, who say they are glad that they quit piano.

I think this is because there is something really satisfying about playing the piano. It nourishes the mind, heart, and spirit. It requires some real effort - but in the end you have beauty. 

Come and rediscover the piano! I am teaching a group class for lapsed adult players on Wednesday evenings at 7:30. During these classes we will look at things like: repertoire, practice strategies, duets, improvisation and overcoming long-standing hurdles. I am hoping that these classes will offer inspiration, motivation and new perspectives.

Tuesday

New season at the COC

Free noon hour concerts COC









I'm pretty excited, are you? Here's the NEW SEASON programme.
Don't forget to free noon-hour concerts, as well.  Line up early!

Today is a good day to start practicing

There is no time like the present. Seize the day. Just do it. Mantras to motivate that have been around for a long time - especially the second one.

I sometimes find it hard to start practising, but once I start it's really easy to just keep going. I am like that with exercise too. I will procrastinate going for a walk, but then don't want to stop once I start. 

If you go and play piano right now - even for a few minutes - you will feel inspired. If you make that choice everyday, in a month you will rock.

Inertia is a powerful force - especially when trying to change or adopt a new habit. The couch is so seductive that even though you might want to do something different, the lure of "just another episode" is overwhelmingly strong. Fight the power.

Playing the piano can stave off a slew of neurological problems. It also gives you something new to post about.

Hello and welcome

This is a first post to say hello
Glad you could drop by to visit we are still under construction. Come back soon.
Anita Beaty