Guides – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global The global community for music education Thu, 05 Nov 2020 17:16:06 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 https://musiceducation.global/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/cropped-MUSICED-ident-f64c72-round-light-with-stroke-960x960-1-32x32.png Guides – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global 32 32 Helpful tips to improve your piano fingering https://musiceducation.global/helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering https://musiceducation.global/helpful-tips-to-improve-your-piano-fingering/#respond Thu, 05 Nov 2020 17:16:06 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=165736 Play It Again

Play It AgainFingering is a crucial element in piano playing and, surprisingly, it’s often overlooked even at advanced levels, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Fingering is a crucial element in piano playing and, surprisingly, it’s often overlooked even at advanced levels, says Melanie Spanswick. 


Fingering is necessary because it helps a pianist to remember which one of their four fingers or thumb (in each hand) is required to play a particular note or notes. It’s a really useful skill to cultivate as without it, piano playing can become haphazard and uneven, and it’s challenging to achieve any kind of consistency or fluency without sticking to the same finger patterns in a piano piece.

Some pieces will have all the fingering written in whilst others will need it annotated on the score. A good teacher will write the necessary fingerings on the music so that when you practise you will know exactly which finger goes where. This is vital for smooth, fluent playing. Initially, your piano scores will show you how the fingers are numbered (from 1–5, starting with the thumb). It is advisable to use the same fingers each time you practise your pieces so that the fingering becomes a habit. This will help you play the piece accurately every time.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fingering as every one of us has a different-sized hand, but, hopefully, the following suggestions may be helpful.

  1. Aim to know all the standard fingerings for scales (particularly contrary motions), arpeggios, and broken chords. If you know these fingerings, you will have a substantial advantage when learning any repertoire, but especially in Baroque and Classical styles, where scale passages, arpeggios and broken chords abound. It might be prudent to learn two or three different fingerings for chromatic scales, and a couple for chromatic thirds as well.
  2. Know where your thumbs are at all times, and where they should be! Even when passage work isn’t symmetrical, the thumbs can stabilise the hand and being aware of where they fall in rapid figurations aids the memory, making fingering easier to grasp.
  3. I advise my students to play ‘in position’ as much as possible. This involves limiting turning the hand or changing hand positions. Many hand turns can easily lead to a bumpy, uneven musical line (this happens when there are too many thumbs on the scene!). If you can use the outer parts of the hand, or the fourth and fifth finger, as much as the inner part (the thumb and second finger), not only will the hand appear balanced, but it should also feel more natural to play without so much movement. However, the fourth and fifth finger will need to be sufficiently firm in order to do this.
  4. Finger substitution and finger sliding both ultimately provide legato. Changing fingers or finger substitution involves playing a note, and, once the key is depressed, quickly replacing whatever finger you used to play the note with another, whilst keeping the key held, allowing for smooth note transition, honouring the musical line. Similarly, sliding fingers, using the same finger to slide, from one note to another, almost without breaking the musical line, virtually connecting the notes, also offers an overall impression of legato.
  5. Once you’ve decided on your fingering, DO NOT change it. This is a cardinal rule: when you change or substitute fingers after working at the original fingering for a while, the brain has already wired these finger movements and cancelling them will be awkward, to say the least. Practice tends to make permanent, so spend some time writing your fingering in the score before you begin studying a piece, and be quite sure your chosen fingerings suit your hand and you are happy with them.

About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five tips for instantly improving your piano performance https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-instantly-improving-your-piano-performance/#respond Fri, 18 Sep 2020 10:22:47 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=154224 Play It Again

Play It AgainWhether you are a younger or older player, or a beginner or very advanced pianist, the following suggestions will hopefully help to instantly improve your performance, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Whether you are a younger or older player, or a beginner or very advanced pianist, the following suggestions will hopefully help to instantly improve your performance, says Melanie Spanswick. 


The start of the academic year brings fresh hope and promise. Many will consider learning the piano, either at school or privately, and more mature players may wish to ‘return’ to the piano after a few years of absence.

Even if your hands and fingers feel a little ‘out of practice’, I hope these ideas provide some inspiration and food for thought during practice sessions.

1. Pedalling

It can be a major issue, particularly for nervous performers, because there is often a tendency to ‘ride’ the sustaining  or right pedal.

It’s a real a shame to work so hard with the fingers, playing accurately and beautifully, with clear articulation, only to hide under a cloud of pedal. Admittedly, it’s not easy to judge acoustics, especially if you aren’t used to the hall or piano; however, if in doubt, stay away from the sustaining pedal!

It can be a good idea to practise your piece completely without pedal.

Most of us sectionalise pieces when we practice, generally without pedal, and we get used to this, but try to become accustomed to playing through any piece sans pedal. Once confident with the sound, add smaller amounts of sustaining pedal, for a cleaner performance.

Listening is crucial. Aim to know your work inside out so you can think only about the sound and how the pedal changes that sound; particularly observe ends of phrases, rapid passagework and chordal passages.

2. Legato

The knock-on effect of a heavy right foot, that is, the sustaining pedal, can be a lack of smooth, legato playing.

It’s too easy to forget to join notes effectively when the pedal is readily available to do it for us. Once students are stripped of the pedal ‘security blanket’, they can be upset by the sheer clipped, detached nature of their playing. Bypass this by preparing a piece using fluent legato fingering from the outset, adding the pedal only once notes have been fully assimilated.

You may be pleasantly surprised by the sound of the fingers alone, once legato has been achieved. If you have already learned your piece, go through it without any pedal, checking you have used adequate legato fingering, creating a smooth contour, which is usually vital in melodic material.

3. Tempo

Beginning and ending in the same tempo can be an issue for some, and this ties in with the problematic matter of thinking before you start playing.

Once seated to play, resist the urge to start at once. Instead, take a few seconds to think; ten seconds should be ample  – although it will probably feel like two minutes! This will not only provide time to collect your thoughts, but it will also allow space to set a speed which is both comfortable and realistic.

To be sure about your pulse, count two full bars before playing – think of it as an introduction! Use this time to think about the fastest  passages or smallest time values in the chosen work; semi-quavers or demi-semi-quavers can be negotiated with ease at a carefully chosen tempo.

Feeling the pulse religiously can also be helpful, and can stem the compulsion to rush or slow down.

4. Body movement

As many know, too much movement – whether nodding of the head, exaggerated arm movements or swaying around on the stool – can be detrimental and distracting.

However, even more debilitating, is not to move at all. Rigidity can be the cause of a harsh sound and wrong notes. But this can also be caused by nerves, or perhaps lack of preparation.

In order to play in a relaxed manner, it’s important to develop freedom in body movement and cultivate a relaxed stance at the keyboard. Start with mindful observation; watch posture, hand positions and wrists, during practice. Try to focus on how you move around the piano.

Basic tips are to keep shoulders down, wrists free and use arms to transport hands easily around the keyboard. If this issue is worked on consistently and consciously in practice sessions, it will become a good habit, and one which will continue to linger in performances too, even under pressure.

5. Staying close to the keys

It might seem contradictory after reading tip number four, but  a good plan is to keep fingers close to the keys as much as possible, even if body movement is considerable.

Whilst wrists and arms must be flexible and able to shift around if necessary, fingers and hands are best kept hovering over the keys ready for action; this may sound obvious, but many don’t adhere to it.

Moving, that is, being in place a split second before playing in order to prepare fingers, and thinking ahead all the time, particularly at the beginning of a performance, will help instil confidence and proffer accurate playing.

Conclusion

These points are fairly easy to implement; try to work at them one at a time, and slowly if necessary, building them into weekly practice routines.

They will instantly improve piano playing, helping to create an assured performance.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The importance of breath control for pianists https://musiceducation.global/the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists https://musiceducation.global/the-importance-of-breathing-for-pianists/#respond Tue, 11 Aug 2020 08:50:27 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=137839 Play It Again

Play It AgainOnce you have assimilated breath control, this useful skill can be added to the smorgasbord of performing tools in your pianist’s ever-increasing armoury, says Melanie Spanswick

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Once you have assimilated breath control, this useful skill can be added to the smorgasbord of performing tools in your pianist’s ever-increasing armoury, says Melanie Spanswick. 


Breath control. It might be a topic more closely associated with singing than piano playing, but developing secure breath control can by a most helpful asset, especially for those who regularly perform.

A ‘deep breathing session’ such as the following can be a beneficial and fun way to begin (or even end) a practice session. I often begin piano courses with this exercise.

  1. Stand up straight: your feet should be parallel with the width of your shoulders. Knees should ideally be flexible and not at all stretched, so that moving is easy (imagine you are preparing to ski, with the knees in a slightly bent position). Sway from side to side freely, and find your centre by allowing body movement to become smaller and smaller.
  2. Breathe through the nose and imagine your stomach is filling with air, encouraging the diaphragm to contract downwards (wear elastic or comfortable clothes!). When you take in air, make sure the belly is totally supported, so it can expand fully.
  3. Hold the air-filled stomach for a moment, then change the breath direction from breathing in to breathing out. Start breathing out by pursing the lips, making an ‘F’ sound, thus allowing yourself to feel a connection between the air-filled stomach and the mouth. Aim to be aware of a pillar of air between the stomach and mouth. Hold this position for as long as possible.
  4. As you release the diaphragm, the muscles of the stomach will take over, supporting your breathing as the air releases. Watch how the stomach caves in and finish with a ‘shh’ sound, making sure all air has been expelled.
  5. Then, once again, change direction of your breath, as you repeat this process. When executed correctly, you may feel slightly dizzy to begin with, and if so, take more time and slow down (or stop for a while and try again later). Repeat the process around five times at the most to start with. It should be done rhythmically and with purpose. Breathing out must take longer than breathing in. Breathing in could be considered the passive part of this exercise, and breathing out, the active part (it’s possible to stand or sit whilst doing this exercise).

Once practised a few times, you will hopefully feel a sense of  tranquillity by the end of the process. The ‘flight or fight’ instinct will calm sufficiently and this may help alleviate nerves, or at least help to control the rapid breathing associated with nervousness before and during a performance, as well as aiding concentration whilst playing.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten tips for tonal beauty https://musiceducation.global/ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty https://musiceducation.global/ten-tips-for-tonal-beauty/#respond Mon, 13 Jul 2020 13:47:50 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=138916 Grand piano

Grand pianoTechnical virtuosity is only one part of the pianist's armoury. Melanie Spanswick offers MUSIC:ED readers her checklist for creating a beauty of sound which goes beyond the skin-deep

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Grand pianoGrand piano

Technical virtuosity is only one part of the pianist’s armoury. Melanie Spanswick offers MUSIC:ED readers her checklist for creating a beauty of sound which goes beyond the skin-deep.


Start by sitting correctly at the keyboard; make sure you feel comfortable and the spine is straight. Keep your shoulders down, and drop your arms by your side, so they feel ‘heavy’ and relaxed. This is the feeling to aim for whilst playing and practising.

A flexible or loose wrist motion plays a crucial role in sound quality, so practise laying your fingers over the keys and then move the wrists as each note is played: up and down, from side to side, then with a circular movement. The wrist should ideally be malleable and able to move wherever and whenever necessary.

Use a five-finger pattern (place the fingers and thumb over middle C, followed by nearby D, E, F, G); using the fingering 1-5 (or 5-1 in the left hand), and whilst holding down the first note (middle C), encourage the wrist to make a complete circular motion, keeping the thumb (of the right hand) firmly attached to the note (even though the sound has dispersed).

Now continue playing D-G (and back down again, from G to middle C) using the same motion (taking time between each note), focussing on sinking deep into each key, feeling the key bed every time. The hand, wrist and arm should feel relaxed between every note.

Use a soft, elastic, but heavy arm movement, which literally allows the fingers to drop down into the keys, providing plenty of gravity, support and arm-weight behind the wrist. The fingers should ideally play on their ‘pads’, the padded, soft area of skin on the finger-tip, because this will further cushion the sound; but you can also use fingertips here, if preferred.

Your fingers must remain firm; this is developed over time by engaging the finger joints fully, combined with playing on the tips.

Try using the musical example below as a vehicle for creating different tonal possibilities; work at creating sound variations, from as quiet and soft as possible to all-out fortissimos, checking your torso for tension regularly; the more powerfully you play, the more wrist and arm movement you will need to support the hand and fingers.

You can also employ the same example (below) to practise voicing specific lines, that is, highlighting the top of each chord, then the bottom note of each chord in either hand, followed by some of the inner notes, as well. This will help to gain finger control, and attune the ears.

When producing a powerful fortissimo, guard against the urge to ‘hit’ the notes, playing as loudly as possible, because beyond a certain level the sound tends to become astringent and unpleasant. Use your arm-weight combined with a ‘cushioning’ wrist and hand circular motion to form a rich sound.

Have some sound in reserve too; try to avoid playing at full capacity (whether fff or ppp) all the time, keeping some power or delicacy for certain performance situations, in order to cope with different instruments and acoustics.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Between the notes – why breathing space matters https://musiceducation.global/between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters https://musiceducation.global/between-the-notes-why-breathing-space-matters/#respond Wed, 27 May 2020 17:11:57 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=106505 Play It Again

Play It AgainAn overriding issue for many students is the need for breathing space during performance. This is seemingly such an obvious point, but it’s one which is challenging to put into practice

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

An overriding issue for many students is the need for breathing space during performance. This is seemingly such an obvious point, but it’s one which is challenging to put into practice. Melanie Spanswick explains. 


The composer Claude Debussy said that ‘Music is the space between the notes’. This space can be created in many ways, but it’s a vital component, both in approach to a performance or actually between notes and phrases of a piece.

Creating space isn’t about changing the pulse in a piano piece, using copious ritenutos (or accelerandos)  or using excessive rubato (taking or ‘pulling’ time), but rather giving a small amount of time to breathe; this provides the audience with the opportunity to savour each note, each phrase and enjoy the music.

It isn’t just the audience that benefits here either: all performers require time to refocus and process musical thoughts during their performance. This space is even more crucial for less experienced or anxious performers because if they can ‘build-in’ space into musical phrases, they will be able to control their playing so much better, discouraging the ever-present problem of rushing or ‘speeding up’; an issue which so often affects even the most talented young players.

Create more ‘thinking’ or ‘breathing’ time

Public performance of any kind is all about control and focus, so if you are able to develop a way of creating more ‘thinking’ or ‘breathing’ time, then the level of your performance skills will increase dramatically.

Apparently, Winston Churchill regularly inserted ‘pauses’ into his speeches and he even calculated the exact time or length of each break! Here are a few ideas to help create breathing space in piano playing;

  1. Whilst learning a new work ensure each phrase is not only given its full length, but also a very slight space between each one. The length of space will totally depend on the speed of the piece, but even if it’s just an extra second, this allows every new phrase to be introduced properly with an expansive sense of time and without any sense of rushing or hurrying (a problem which can kill musicianship).
  2. Before starting to play any work, always count a bar in your head (at the intended tempo). This focuses the mind and gives the audience a sense of expectation. It will help determine the speed from the outset as well (it’s amazing how many performers start at an ‘unexpected’ tempo) and it can also establish a certain sense of calm.
  3. Space can be created within each phrase. If a work consists of a series of large chords and they are given slightly more time to sound than usual (we are talking nanoseconds here!), this allows them to reverberate, resonate, and reach their full measure of expression. A performance will suddenly take on a new level of musicianship and sensitivity, if each and every note is ‘placed’ carefully.
  4. Staccato (or short, detached) notes especially need to be given full space or time. If you have a group of staccato or non-legato crotchets, each one will be articulated much more quickly than legato crotchets (ie leaving the key bed swiftly), but there must still be a clear ‘space’ between one sound and the next, particularly in slow music, otherwise the beat or pulse will be perpetually unstable and there will be a sense of rushing throughout. As mentioned above, every note must be placed with care.
  5. Extra time between movements of pieces – especially at the end of a work – generates an atmospheric quality perpetuating the expression in the music; it allows the emotion to linger in a positive way, for moments beyond the expected time.
  6. It is said that pauses can make a musician, so with this in mind, build in a clear sense of space when playing any work. This also applies to use of the sustaining pedal, which should generally be used sparingly to enhance the piano sound rather than obscure it. Clean pedalling will also encourage breathing space between chords and thematic material.
  7. What feels like a slow tempo or long pause to a performer, is often interpreted  quite differently by the listener. It’s true to say that a performer in a state of focus, concentration and stress, perceives speed to be slower than it really is; we often play much quicker than we intend. So with this in mind, longer pauses or gaps between sound are sometimes a good idea and again, can be addressed during practice time.
  8. Pianists needs to remember to breathe too! An obvious point, but occasionally performing can be an overwhelming experience and fear takes hold. Young pianists do sometimes forget to breathe, literally. Alleviate this issue by breathing deeply when practising and perform frequently in front of an audience (or small group). Experience is crucial when learning to play in public.

The more space created generally, without disturbing the pulse, the more beautiful and harmonious the performance. This is a subject worth musing on for any performer because it really can make all the difference.

 


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Five things we’ve learned about online learning https://musiceducation.global/five-things-weve-learned-about-online-learning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-things-weve-learned-about-online-learning Fri, 01 May 2020 11:03:47 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=94392 Online learning

Online learningAfter several weeks under coronavirus lockdown, George Hess reports on his experience of leading online learning for his students at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Online learningOnline learning

After several weeks under coronavirus lockdown, George Hess reports on his experience of leading online learning for his students at Sunway University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


We’ve now completed our first month online. My university has an unusual schedule in that our two long semesters begin in March and August. So unlike many of you in the US, rather than finding a way to make to the end of the term, we knew from the beginning that we would be online for the entire term. Many of you may face a similar situation in August.

It’s really not been that bad. Yes, even though we knew ahead of time that we’d be online, we still only had a few weeks’ notice and had to scramble to prepare. I’ve put in a lot of hours prepping and am still putting in a fair amount of time creating new materials. But I make up for some of that by having reduced my commute from 45 minutes to 45 seconds.

A key factor is that all of our students knew the courses would be online, yet they still chose to enroll. This has made it much easier as there’s been little complaining about being short-changed. And while we have lost a few students, in general, attendance and engagement have been excellent in my classes.

So here are five lessons I’ve learned so far.

1. Contact time is less important than quality interaction time. 

Classes at my school meet for four hours a week. With an average class of 24 students, that comes to 10 minutes per student. Of course, it never quite worked out that way. For some of that time, I’d address all of the students, take attendance and handle admin tasks. So individual attention was considerably less.

In the online class, rather than try to meet all 24 students on a laptop screen for four hours, I broke it down into four groups of six students that I meet one hour a week. The course materials are all in the individual space as are most of the admin tasks. My contact hours remain the same and each student actually gets the full 10 minutes of my time.

2. Don’t try to recreate the classroom

Everyone agrees that online learning is a poor substitute for the classroom. So I’m not even trying. By looking at online learning as a unique thing in itself, with its own strengths and weaknesses, I’ve been able to create an experience that is as valuable to my students as the classroom would have been. It’s different, and some of the things I’d like to do can’t be done. But the students are learning and they are engaged.

3. Let the students do the work

After the first couple of Zoom classes, I was exhausted. I reflected and realised I was doing all the talking. It’s an easy trap to fall into as awkward silences are much worse online. Now, I come with a plan where I talk for a few minutes and then ask questions. With the small groups, no one can hide and the discussions have been enjoyable. And when my classes are over, I’m not worn out.

4. Don’t over-assess

Assessment is one of my pet peeves. We overassess, assess the wrong things, and generally use assessment as a stick more than a carrot. But that’s not how it works in music. We work on a piece until it’s time to perform it and that’s when it’s assessed. Assessment in my classes is a continuous, formative experience and the grade is based on the process as much as the results. Students are never surprised by their grades and I have never had one challenged.

5. Connection is everything

Great teachers know the key to getting students to learn is relationships. If you connect with your students, they’ll learn for you and for themselves. Connecting online takes extra effort. In addition to the small group tutorials, I post a one-minute video each morning, with advice about music, school, or just life in general. Nothing too heavy; it’s mainly to let them know I’m thinking about them. I’ve also been holding optional chat-based office hours using Discord, a gamer’s app, and I have more students attending them than ever before.

Online learning doesn’t have to be a drag. It’s all about attitude. Embrace it, take advantage of what it offers and you may find a way to reach your students that may actually work better than ever.


About the author

George Hess is an educator, guitarist, composer and author who has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

The author of Create Music with Notion, he is a regular contributor to leading music education publications and his tutorial videos are published by Groove3 and featured by MuseScore.

Dr Hess is an Apple Distinguished Educator and award-winning teacher who serves on the board of directors for the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) in the US. A certified Flipped Learning trainer who regularly presents at conferences and workshops around the world, he is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia.

Website: http://georgehessmusic.com

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Five tips for keeping in time at the piano https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-keeping-in-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-tips-for-keeping-in-time https://musiceducation.global/five-tips-for-keeping-in-time/#respond Mon, 13 Apr 2020 14:33:20 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=86757 Play It Again

Play It AgainIt may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, improving memory and visualisation skills

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Play It AgainPlay It Again

Keeping time, or playing rhythmically, can be a challenge for many, and particularly for pianists, as they are often playing alone and therefore have the opportunity to change the tempo as often as they wish! Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for the rhythmically challenged.


In your piano playing, do you sometimes need to curb a tendency to rush or linger? Here are a few ideas to implement at your practice sessions.

To create the best tempo in any work (for you), locate what you feel is the most taxing area of the piece being studied and decide what speed is most comfortable in order to achieve clarity, fluency and a musically coherent performance.

It’s easier to attain rhythmic precision when notes are separated from the rhythm

Once you’ve instigated a speed, when learning a new piece, go through the piece and tap the rhythm of the right-hand part with your right hand (on the lid of the piano), and the left-hand part with the left hand (also on the piano lid). Try hands separately at first, then both hands together. Ensure that you count as you do this, thus establishing a firm, steady beat. It’s easier to attain rhythmic precision at the start of the learning process when notes are separated from the rhythm.

For fluency and rhythmic accuracy, consider using a metronome at the beginning of the learning process. Listen to the ‘tick’: both the speed of the tick and the ‘space’ in between. One of the most useful methods to attain accurate pulse keeping is learning to ‘sit’ on the metronome tick. This skill can be acquired by playing exactly with the tick every time it occurs – as opposed to just before or after, both of which can happen with alarming regularity if you’re not used to attuning your ear and mind to decisively following a pulse. To do this effectively, it’s best if notes are securely learned, so you’re free to focus on time-keeping.

Count out loud as you play

Once the metronome has been used for a period of time and you’ve got used to playing along to an omnipresent beat, aim to count out loud as you play, or count along to the beat you have established. It can be a good idea to sub-divide the beat for this purpose. If your piece is in crotchets, count in quavers, and if it is in quavers, count in semiquavers, and so on. It may be exhausting, but by playing along to your verbal counting, you’ll quickly become accustomed to where you are in the bar and should eventually be able to ‘feel’ the pulse. As a general rule, the smaller the sub-division, the more accurate your pulse keeping.

Finally, curb any sense of rushing, or slowing down, and encourage excellent articulation (or touch) by paying attention to the ends of notes; experiment by employing ‘active’, strong fingers, placing every finger precisely, producing a full, rich tone, paying special attention to the fourth and fifth fingers. Each note (or chord) must ideally be in its rightful place at any time, and shouldn’t be ‘cut’ or brushed over.

As with many facets of piano playing, listening will prove to be a vital element when learning to play in time. If you can train your ears to be really aware of what is being played, then you’re on your way to honing rhythmically sound performances.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

 

 

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Flipping out https://musiceducation.global/flipping-out/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=flipping-out Wed, 25 Mar 2020 08:35:42 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=79441 Online learning

Online learningWhen doing direct instruction online, the best method to use is the flipped learning model. Most of you have probably heard of it. At its most basic level, you provide students with materials that substitute for your lecture to view at home and then do activities based on that material in the classroom where you are available to help. The premise is that students don’t need help during the lecture, but are more likely to need it when doing homework.

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Online learningOnline learning

Moving classes online will require some changes in the way you do things, says George Hess. You can’t just post materials and expect students to view them. And you also can’t just turn on a webcam and hope students will watch you lecture for an hour. In a class, you know when they are sleeping, but online, not so much. 


When doing direct instruction online, the best method to use is the flipped learning model.

Most of you have probably heard of it. At its most basic level, you provide students with materials that substitute for your lecture to view at home and then do activities based on that material in the classroom where you are available to help.

The premise is that students don’t need help during the lecture, but are more likely to need it when doing homework. Flipped learning allows you to provide feedback and help students improve their work BEFORE it’s graded.

With a flipped online lesson, you’ll provide resources for your students and then conduct real-time online lessons using video conferencing or even text chat. By making the live sessions interactive, you won’t have to worry about whether students are watching or not. If at all possible, divide the class up into smaller groups for the live sessions.

The materials you provide don’t need to be original videos. To get started, feel free to use videos that are on YouTube, Vimeo, or sites like Khan Academy. In fact, your materials don’t need to be videos at all. You can use articles and essay, or have students work on interactive websites like Ricci Adams’ Musictheory.net.

If you do choose to make your own videos, don’t be too critical of yourself. You don’t have to become Steven Spielberg overnight. Most of us who have been flipping classes for a while, cringe at the primitive videos we made when we first started. We’ll talk more about creating compelling videos in a future post. You can also check out the resources at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative for more tips.

Once you post your materials, you’ll want to know whether your students are using them. You could find out through questions in the live session, but there are better ways. Instead, use formative assessment. Online programs like EdPuzzle and PlayPosit let you embed questions in videos, so you’ll know whether students have watched the video, as well as whether they understood them.

Presenting new materials asynchronously while using live video conferencing for discussion, feedback, and Q&A will eliminate a lot of the headaches and frustrations involved in transitioning to online learning.

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Moving your classes online https://musiceducation.global/moving-your-classes-online/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moving-your-classes-online Fri, 13 Mar 2020 14:10:11 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=74403 Online learning

Online learningWith many schools closing due to the COVID-19 virus and many more likely to follow suit in the near future, we are all being asked to prepare to teach online. If you’ve never done it before, this probably seems to be a daunting proposition.

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Online learningOnline learning

With many schools closing due to the COVID-19 virus and many more likely to follow suit in the near future, we are all being asked to prepare to teach online. If you’ve never done it before, this probably seems to be a daunting proposition.

But don’t panic. If you’re already using your school’s LMS you’re halfway there. And even if you’re not, help is on the way. George Hess, music tech educator and founder-director of online course provider Musitex, explains.


At Musitex, we’re lucky to have taken and taught many music classes online before, so we’re a little better prepared to face this.

Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned and will also provide tips and lesson plans that will make the transition a bit easier.

Take a step back

The first thing you’ll need to do is assess the current goals of the class and come to a realistic conclusion as to what you can and cannot do online. You’re going to need to be a little flexible. Some things will be easy, but others, impossible. Most classwork can be moved online with just a little effort, but performances and projects requiring equipment will be a problem. One thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t possible to do things that require precise, synchronized timing.

Low-hanging fruit

Next, plan the things you can do fairly easily. You should be able to adapt existing lesson plans with only a little tweaking. If your school has an LMS, post your materials there.  If not, ask your

IT department to sign up for the free Google Classroom. Classroom is easy to use, integrates directly with other Google Apps and there are lots of tutorials online to help you get started.

Flip out

So you’ve got everything ready, so now what? We suggest you consider a flipped classroom model for your online class.

To do this, post your lesson materials online and assign them to your students to view on their own. Then run a real-time class to expand on the material and help students complete activities and answer their questions.

Let’s look at some of the options.

Get real

Most of you are probably aware of Zoom. It’s a great option as it allows for conferences with up to 100 participants. The free version limits calls to 40 minutes; paid versions without limits start at $15 a month. It’s also the only program that can stream stereo audio.

While Zoom is the best option, there is a potential downside. With so many schools shutting down, it’s very possible that the Zoom servers will be overwhelmed. So it’s a good idea to have a backup plan.

There are plenty of paid video conferencing apps that include most of the bells and whistles you’d need for teaching, some of the best known being WebEx and BlueJeans Network. They tend to be pretty pricey, but a lot of schools have subscriptions. If you are lucky enough to be at one, then, by all means, take advantage of it. They aren’t that difficult to use, but a little training would be very helpful.

There are also quite a few free options. Facebook Live is the easiest to use. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of Zoom, but there’s no limit to the number of viewers and students comment while the video runs. You can then post the video to your site. It’s a good idea to create a closed Facebook group for this for privacy and security.

Google Hangouts is another possibility. As with FB Live, it supports an unlimited number of viewers and all can comment. It also allows up to ten to participate in the call via video. Hangouts also includes some nice teaching tools such as sharing your screen.

Facebook Messenger, Skype and Whatsapp can also accommodate group calls, We’ve found these are better for small group tutorials, so we suggest you limit them to ten or fewer participants.

If you’ve never taught using video conferencing, you should understand that it takes some practice. Start small. It’s not a good idea to have 50 participants for your very first session. In fact, plan on using the first session just to get things working. Some things will go wrong, students will have difficulty signing on, apps crash and so on. Just be patient and don’t let it bother you too much. If a session truly isn’t working, let it go, and then look for a solution to the problems before the next session.

Chat it up

Finally, don’t discount real-time chats. They aren’t nearly as demanding as video conferences as you can take a little time to think about what you want to say and you don’t have to dress up. Set up a weekly chat time to answer students’ questions or just, well, chat.

Let’s do this

Switching to teaching online is a challenge, but you’re teachers, so you’re used to challenges. Try to maintain a good attitude, don’t lament about what you can’t do, instead try to enjoy learning something that could open up new ideas for your classroom. So get started, choose your first lesson, post the materials online and schedule your first real-time class. We’ll be offering more tips in the next post.


About the author

Dr George Hess is an educator, author, performer and composer with over 40 years of professional experience with over 25 years as professor of music at major universities.

  • Author of Create Music with Notion: Notation for the Busy Musician (2015, Hal Leonard)
  • Professor of Music at Central Michigan University and the National University of Singapore
  • Apple Distinguished Educator
  • Award-winning educator in jazz, technology, theory and pedagogy
  • Graduate of prestigious jazz programs at Berklee and Northern Colorado
  • Producer of MuseScore in Minutes video series
  • Groove 3 video library producer
  • Performances with the Osmonds, Myron Floren, Ryo Kawasaki, Jim Nabors
  • Over 100 clinics and workshops presented on four continents

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Practising the piano – without the piano https://musiceducation.global/practising-the-piano-without-the-piano/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=practising-the-piano-without-the-piano https://musiceducation.global/practising-the-piano-without-the-piano/#respond Sat, 29 Feb 2020 10:14:26 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=69066

It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, impriving memory and visualisation skills. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for piano-free practice.

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It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending structured practice time away from the instrument can reap rewards for pianists, improving memory and visualisation skills. Melanie Spanswick – pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer – offers five tips for piano-free practice.


Practising away from the instrument can be a beneficial practice technique. Taking the music off the page is a most valuable facet for any pianist. If you’re able to hear it, imagine playing it, and visualise or recall any passage, you are more likely to be at ‘one’ with the music, thereby producing a performance of integrity and musical depth.

Here are my five suggestions for how to organise your time.

  1. Instigate a happy positive mind-set before practice begins; it’s amazing the effect this can have on learning capacity. Before practice commences, aim to sit at the instrument with a relaxed posture: shoulders down, hands hanging freely by your side, breathing slowly, and thinking positively.
  2. Consider the piece you are about to practice: how does it make you feel? Feelings take on a new meaning when practising away from the keyboard, and this may be what produces deeper expressivity. As you observe the score, note what happens in each hand: the movements, fingerings and gestures required to play the patterns. It can be particularly helpful to pay special attention to the left hand here too. Aim to do this without the piano.
  3. Some find it helpful to write the piece out on manuscript paper (recalling it from memory). As you work at the piano, begin to test your memory during practice sessions; by repeatedly returning to the same phrases and passages over a period of time, the thought responses become stronger and clearer. Now do this away from the instrument, hearing each passage in isolation.
  4. Play the piece through in your mind. The effort and assimilation required can come as quite a shock, but once you become accustomed to the relevant mind-set needed, a calmness and stillness is acquired, and it becomes possible to ‘think’ through the music increasingly accurately. And you can do this anywhere at any time!
  5. Visualise watching yourself play your piece at the keyboard, as an image in your mind. It can be a good idea to envisage every detail: fingerings, movements, and everything necessary to play the piece from beginning to end successfully.

If you can work at some of these suggestions frequently, memory and visualisation skills associated with practising away from the keyboard will gradually develop, and this method could eventually become a worthwhile part of a practice session.


About the author

Melanie Spanswick
Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.

www.melaniespanswick.com

 

 

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