What do those sharps or flats mean at the start of a song? They are known as “key signatures” and they announce what key a song is in. If there are no sharps or flats, a song is either in the key of C major or A minor. Every major key has a relative minor key. Watch this short video on key signatures.
Archive for November, 2008
Did You Know That Music Is Based On Natural “Laws”?
Did you know that music is based on natural “laws” — like gravity — and by learning to understand how those natural laws work we can actually understand what we are doing when we play — we don’t have to be at the mercy of what someone else has written on a piece of music.
How many of these facts do you know about music & piano playing? Test yourself and then check the answers at the bottom of the page:
- Did you know that by learning just 3 chords you can play hundreds of songs?
- Did you know that there are only 12 major keys you can play in, but you only really have to master one key to play most popular songs?
- Did you know that it is possible to easily match any melody note (tune) to a chord, so you can harmonize any note?
- Did you know that Beethoven’s Fur Elise and the blues song “Summertime” uses the exact same chords for the theme of the song?
- Did you know that it is quite possible to predict what chord comes next in a song with accuracy approaching 85%?
- Did you know you can use the same chords to play boogie, blues, new age, gospel, pop, rock, jazz, country – anything except classical music? (And even some classics!)
- Did you know that guitar chords are the same as piano chords — the only thing different is the instrument and the resulting sound?
- Did you know that hundreds of songs use exactly the same form, so by learning that form you can know what’s coming next in a song?
- Did you know that by coming in through the backdoor of piano playing — chords — you can start making wonderful and satisfying sounds on the piano in just a few days instead of a few years — even if you don’t know Middle C from Tweedle Dee?
Answers to piano playing music questions:
- True. That’s because there are just 3 primary chords in any key — like family members: Mom, Dad, Child. Get to know those 3 and you’ve got it.
- True. It’s like languages. It’s great to be able to speak several, but you can get by with just one. I’d love to speak other languages, but I can get by with just English.
- True. Every note is part of several different chords. So it is easy to harmonize any song once you know the secret.
- True. Yep. They both use the A minor chord and the E7 chord in their themes.
- True. I know that’s hard to believe, but remember that music is based on math. Once you understand a thing called the “Circle of 4ths” it’s a piece of cake. In fact, I can tell you right now that 85% of the time the G chord comes directly after the D7 chord. So next time you run into the D7 chord, you have an educated guess of 85% that the next chord will be some form of the G chord. (G, G7 etc.) If you’re into amazing your friends, that’ll do it!
- True. Apply different rhythms to the same chords, and you have many styles of music! With the very same chords I can play boogie, jazz, rock, pop, gospel, new age, ragtime.
- True. Chords are chords. Once you know them, you can apply them to any instrument.
- True. Musical forms such as “AABA” and “ABA” are the basis of thousands and thousands of songs.
- True. Understanding chords and how them form the skeleton of music accelerates the learning curve exponentially.
The bottom line is this: music is based on natural law and is mathematical in nature. Understanding is the key to both rapid learning and getting more enjoyment out of the process.
As you know, there are many many ways to arrange songs on the piano and bring your own unique twist to them. Here is one way you can use left-hand voicing in 4ths to create an interesting sound in this old Christmas Carol.
For more ideas on arranging Christmas Carols, be sure to check out “How To Play Spectacularly Beautiful Christmas Carols On The Piano!”
Proper piano instruction is an element extremely vital to learning the instrument well. Though it’s very possible to be a self-taught piano player, piano lessons can really increase the speed and efficiency with which one learns the instrument. That’s not to say that great piano instruction makes great piano players overnight; even the most naturally talented pianists still play for years before they consider themselves advanced. But proper piano lesson instructions will maximize those years to the fullest and ensure that the student is learning the correct techniques. Though teaching styles always vary from instructor to instructor, piano instruction generally covers the same basic areas: fingering, , music reading, scales, technique, and sight reading. The early lessons will cover fingering and posture, making sure the student knows how to hold his or her hands and where to put them on the keys; series of scales practiced repeatedly will be the basis of this area. Piano instruction will then move on to notation essentials, starting with the basics of notes and key signatures and time signatures and then moving forward to more advanced concepts in rhythm, tempo and dynamics.
Many of these concepts are introduced into the piano instruction while the student is learning to read music, a practice that runs through the entire course of the piano instruction. Teachers will assign short, easy pieces to kick start the student’s music reading knowledge and eventually move forward to more advanced pieces. Sight reading, the ability to play a piece of music without ever having seen it, is sometimes placed sporadically throughout the piano instruction, after a student is fairly well-versed in reading music.
One crucial element of piano playing that is often left out of traditional piano lessons is the study and practice of chords and music theory. To learn to read music without understanding the theory behind the music and the chords and chord progressions that form the music is almost like teaching a surgeon to cut without understanding the human anatomy and it’s interrelated parts. The student will be able to play the piano from a piece of sheet music, but take that music away or have it blow off the piano and he or she is immediately in big trouble.
There is a famous story about a lady who was a concert pianist and could impress people with her playing, yet when asked to play “Happy Birthday” at a party had to decline with great embarrassment because she didn’t have sheet music for the song handy. To be tied to the written music is a shame, when learning chords and music theory adds so much to the value of piano instruction.
Given a healthy dose of music theory and chord instruction mixed in, all of the other elements of piano instruction eventually begin to work hand in hand. Piano instruction then becomes an intricate web of gaining bits of detailed knowledge little by little and understanding the music that’s being played without fully realizing that it’s being gained.
Then playing the piano becomes more fun and a joyful event that can be shared with full understanding of the theory and form that lies behind each song.
Most piano players are aware that the instrument’s modern name is actually a shortened version of its original name, “pianoforte,” which is a compound of the Italian words for “soft” and “loud.” This name was given to the new instrument in order to differentiate it from its forbear instrument, the harpsichord, whose volume range is far less flexible than that of the piano.
While earlier instruments such as the harpsichord generate sound by plucking strings, the piano was the first instrument to successfully generate sound by striking strings. Invented around 1700 by the Paduan instrument-maker Bartolomeo Cristofori, the revolutionary mechanism of the piano, with hammers that return to the rest position immediately after striking, made possible a far greater degree of control and nuance than previous instruments.
With good reason, second-generation pianos — which came soon after Cristofori’s and his followers’ groundbreaking developments — are commonly referred to as “Mozart-era” pianos. Mozart, whose work was both the pinnacle and the embodiment of music during the second half of the 18th century, was an immensely popular figure even in his time. His decision to play, compose for, and perform on the piano did more to popularize the instrument than any other single person has done. Because so many of his works, great and small, popular and obscure, were composed and published for piano, Mozart’s music has always been a major selling point for the instrument.
By the time Mozart passed away in 1791, the Industrial Revolution had begun to take hold of Europe, dramatically transforming all aspects of life, including music and the arts. In the early 1800s, technological progress allowed the piano to evolve almost wholly into the modern instrument we play today.
Advancements in technology related to the piano’s steel strings and iron frame came just in time for use in Beethoven’s later works. Some musical historians have even suggested that the amazing musical and acoustic genius of Beethoven’s final works simply would not have been possible earlier in the composer’s life. This is thanks to changes made to the piano, the instrument that Beethoven loved above all others.
By the end of the 1800s, the piano had all but fully developed into the instrument we have now. This is why piano works by Romantic and Modernist composers such as Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Stravinsky sound as if they could have been written today. Also, thanks to the instrument’s unprecedented power and range, as well as groundbreaking piano works by Beethoven and others, these composers were able to expand the instrument far beyond its early, harpsichord-influenced repertoire. In short, the vast range of 20th century music — from traditional compositions, to experimental orchestral music, to jazz, blues, and rock music — would not have been possible without the piano.
And here we are today, proudly carrying the piano tradition into the 21st century. As you already know, the piano is now commonplace in middle-class American households. Many children grow up listening to their parents play, and many become pianists themselves at a very early age. Plus, as scientific studies continue to show the health benefits of playing music throughout life, recent years have seen a surge in adult music. Because of its beauty, simplicity, versatility, and its long and storied history, the piano is a top choice for budding adult musicians.