Archive for April, 2009


How Can I Improve My Timing and Rhythm In My Piano Playing?

Thursday, April 30th, 2009
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There’s really only one way by which you can improve your timing and rhythm, and that’s through hours and hours of practice. You can read books about music theory, listen to masters explain how to play a waltz or samba rhythm, but unless you put in the hours of practice, you won’t make the technical connection between what your head knows and how your fingers perform.
That’s not to say that you’re completely on your own however. One of the greatest assets a piano player can have is a metronome. This will allow you to understand how fast or slow the music you want to play is supposed to be played. Select the appropriate time as shown on the manuscript of the music you want to play and then listen. Don’t attempt to play the first time, just listen to the soft ticking of the metronome as it plays the beat that you need to recreate when you start to play.
Now you try to play it at that speed. Keep the metronome ticking out the beat and see if you can keep up. If you’re trying to play a slower piece of music you will probably have more initial success in keeping in time with the metronome than if you’re trying to play a fast flowing Mozart composition. Should your chosen piece of music be more upbeat, and you find you can’t play at the required speed, go back to the metronome and set it for a slower speed. Once you can play the music at that speed, gradually increase the metronome speed until you can confidentially play it using the correct timing.
Rhythm is something that you can improve with by listening. Learn how various music forms, such as tango and waltz are performed. Learn where the main strong beats are in each measure. Once you have some idea about how the music is supposed to sound, look at your sheet music and identify where the rhythm is showing – is it captured in the melody, or is it solely in the harmony? In a waltz for example you will usually find the left hand producing the steady, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 full tone waltz rhythm while the melody keeps in time but doesn’t always conform to a 1 2 3 steady basic pattern. Generally you’ll find that the right hand is occupied with many half, quarter or even less tones but the integrity of the waltz is maintained by the left harmony. By listening to the right rhythm before starting to play you’ll be more aware of keeping to the correct timing structure to maintain the appropriate rhythm.
Commitment to practice will greatly improve your piano playing technique, but especially in respect to timing and rhythm which require you to hear the music as well as play it, practice is absolutely essential. Add the regular use of a metronome to this commitment and you’ll soon feel more confident that you are playing the music with the right speed and with the right rhythm.
Of course there are excellent courses you can take on the subject of rhythms, such as the Rhythm Piano course.

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Walk-Up in 10ths

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
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Here is a commonly used technique which you’ve heard a thousand times in country-western songs, gospel music, and even some pop music. When the chord changes from a I chord to a IV chord, you “walk up the scale” between the two roots, but you do it in 10ths. Then when you arrive on the IV chord, you “twang” it with a crush note. Watch this super-short video and you’ll understand:

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Practicing Piano: Is it normal for me to hate to practice?

Monday, April 27th, 2009
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Do you hate to practice?

Do you hate to practice?

Is it normal for me to hate to practice? Anybody else feel this way? I love to play music, but hate to practice.

It’s very common for musicians to say they hate to practice. One undesirable aspect of practicing is the simple fact that the musician must practice passages and techniques that are difficult for them to play. This creates frustration on the part of the musician and can make them question their abilities.

Some practice materials are designed specifically to develop technique and playing such materials can be quite tedious. For example, a violinist may spend most of a one-hour practice session concentrating on the proper way to hold the bow and draw it across the strings. In a case like this, no real music may be played for the entire hour. Progress can be slow, adding to the musician’s disdain for practicing.

Lack of motivation can cause the musician to avoid practicing altogether. For most, it takes years (and a great deal of patience and dedication) to become an accomplished musician. The ones that succeed are good at delaying gratification and developing the patience needed to succeed. It’s very common for a musician to reach a number of plateaus where they don’t feel any progress is being made. The patient ones eventually work through the plates and move on to a higher level of musicianship. Others may give up their instrument entirely.

Having practice sessions at the same time on the same day (although important to getting good results) may be too regimented for some musicians. Music, by it nature, is a very creative endeavor, often requiring the freedom to experiment and explore new sounds and styles. Being “stuck to a schedule” doesn’t work for some musicians.

The musician’s attitude toward practice can have a lot to do with their current teacher or instructor. Some teachers go to great lengths to give their students interesting and enjoyable practice assignments as they realize musicians who enjoy practice, practice longer. An experienced teacher who knows their student well, is very adept at choosing music that develops the musician’s skills while giving them something to look forward to playing. Unfortunately, many musicians who need a teacher to keep them focused and practicing may not be able to afford private or group lessons.

Until recent years, methods books for virtually any instrument were quite boring and dry and focused on repetition as being the key element for learning. Method books today often include a number of popular songs, and more interesting and musical materials. Some include an accompanying CD for the student to use for hearing how a piece should be played. You can also find CDs that contain a “backing” band for the student, allowing them to build their musicianship by playing along with others.

Whatever you do, use spaced repetition instead of doing all your practice in one session! If you practice 1 hour per day, break it up into 3 sessions of 20 minutes each. Remember that the mind can only retain what the seat can tolerate. Plus you will keep your concentration better if you only practice 20 minutes in one sitting as opposed to one hour.

Finally, the quality of the instrument being played can have a great effect on the musician’s attitude toward practicing. A poorly-made or dull sounding instrument is just not a pleasure to play. Many students find their playing and attitude toward practicing improves when they purchase a better instrument.

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Major 6th chords and minor 7th chords

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
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Major 6th chords and minor 7th chords are really just inversions of one another. It depends which note you put on the bottom as to how the chord functions. Watch this 2-minute video and you’ll understand:

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The Circle of 5ths — How It Works & What It’s For

Monday, April 20th, 2009
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The Circle of Keys; The Circle of 4ths; the circle of 5ths — are they the same or different? Of what use are they?
Understanding the circle of fifths (and thus, the circle of fourths) and how it applies to music can be challenging. It’s important to have a visual representation (mostly seen in the form of a wheel), which you can purchase at most music stores.
Perhaps the best reason to study the circle of 5ths is it makes sense mathematically on a number of different levels and thus it’s very helpful to anyone studying music and music theory. Most often using a circle to display the relationships of particular key signatures (both major and minor), one of the functions of the circle of fifths is a geometrical representation of these relationships. The key of C (no sharps or flats) is usually placed at the top of the circle and is followed, in order and clockwise by the keys of G, D, A, E, B, Gb/F# (overlapping at the bottom of the circle), then D, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, finally returning to C at the top of the wheel. This order (going clockwise from the top) is determined by the amount of sharps or flats in a particular key. It goes as follows: C (no sharps or flats), G (one sharp), D (two sharps), A (three sharps) and so on.

The circle of fifths also shows corresponding key signatures and each major key’s relative minor key. (On the inside of the circle, the minor keys are displayed and are marked as such.) For example, the relative minor for C is A minor. We know this because both the keys C and A minor have no sharps or flats. As another example, the key of E has C# minor as its relative minor (both use four sharps)

You can also use the circle of fifths to study scales. If you wish to see a fifth on piano (the fifth note of a scale), start at any key (both black and white) and count seven half-steps to the right. That note (key) will be the fifth of the note you on which you began. Looking at the circle of fifths in regard to scales, taking it slowly, the note D is the fifth note of the G scale, the note A is the fifth note of the D scale, and E is the fifth note of an A scale, and so on.

The circle of fifths is also an effective way to show the relationships of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale (think of a piano with its white and black keys with the chromatic scale made up of adjacent piano keys played in succession G,G#,A#,B . . .).
Reading the circle of fifths as descending pitches going clockwise, or ascending counterclockwise, gives the circle of fourths. One can think about the circle of fourths as going in the opposite direction as the circle of fifths. Although circle of fifths is the more common term and is often used with the intent of describing both fourths and fifths.

For more details on the circle go to http://www.playpiano.com/101-tips/20-circle-of-keys.htm and also to http://www.playpiano.com/101-tips/21-circle-of-minor-keys.htm

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