Archive for May, 2009


The Mozart Effect, Piano Playing and You

Thursday, May 21st, 2009
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The Mozart Effect, Piano Playing and You

For years people have enjoyed the beauty of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music. Those inclined to classical compositions enjoy the intricacies and nuances that are part of his works. His varied music inspires, soothes and invigorates those who take the time to listen to it.

Some researchers believe Mozart’s music does more than this. They expound on the Mozart Effect, which research suggests that listening to Mozart’s music may cause short-term improvement of spatio-temporal reasoning. This spatio-temporal reasoning is the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks.

The term Mozart Effect also includes popular versions of this theory. These popular theories suggest that listening to the composer’s music can make you smarter. Further, these theories state that there are benefits to mental development in those who listen to classical music in early childhood.

Those who have trademark products related to the Mozart Effect suggest even more. They believe that music has powers that can affect one’s quality of life positively in many ways. They believe music is beneficial for overall well being. They sell trademark music and music-related products to achieve this.

What does all this mean for those interested in piano playing and music in general? It means that music is a tool that, while used for enjoyment, may offer benefits beyond simple pleasure. Learning music, listening to music and playing the piano can help one in other activities.

The Mozart Effect and the temporary improvement of the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks are intriguing. This suggests it may be beneficial to listen to Mozart before you sit down to practice the piano. It may be a good thing to listen to Mozart before you sit down to construct a product. Maybe your next game of chess will improve after listening to Mozart.

The Mozart Effect may be beneficial to your actual piano playing in a variety of ways. Combining classical music listening with structured piano study can give you a total music education. It can accomplish this in three ways:

o First, the Mozart Effect may improve immediate piano study. Before you sit down for your regular piano practice session, listen to some Mozart. The temporary improvement of your spatio-temporal reasoning may be just the boost you need to get the most out of that session.

Make sure you get to the piano though in short time. Research suggests that this performance improvement benefit is not something that endures. In fact, some research suggests that the Mozart Effect may only last 10 or 15 minutes. That’s an excuse to sit down and listen to more Mozart, then get back to the keyboard again and practice.

o Second, Mozart, or other classical music, may pack that emotional punch you need. The majesty of the music can inspire you to sit down and create music of your own. This is the transformative power of organized, rhythmic, harmonic and melodic sound. The beauty of the music you hear works on your mind and emotions and can encourage action.

o Third, research showing that early childhood exposure to classical music is beneficial means you can boost mental development early on. They may grasp music concepts and principles and recognize sound patterns better later in life. The Mozart Effect is something to consider when teaching children music.

This beneficial effect on mental development may also pay other dividends. In later years, it may help individuals striving to excel in academia and in their careers. This is a significant point that those who research the Mozart Effect espouse. They speak of the long-term benefit of sustained exposure to classical music and how it boosts mental function.

Consider the benefits of Mozart’s music beyond the immediate pleasure of listening. Research further to find out how the Mozart Effect may help you in your efforts to improve your performance of daily tasks. In addition, consider how the Mozart Effect may help your piano study. You may find there’s more to his music than meets the ear.

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Piano Practice Tips for Adults

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009
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Piano Practice Tips for Adults

Adults often come to the point in their lives when they want to explore new hobbies. One of the most common hobbies adults pursue is learning to play the piano. It may be the first time they play or a return to a childhood pleasure. Whether you’re an adult sitting down to learn the instrument for the first time or you want to brush up on your skills, keep in mind some basic rules of piano practice.

Posture is very important. Make sure that the piano bench is high enough. Your shoulders should hang freely, while your forearms are parallel to the floor. This allows the greatest freedom of movement and keeps your body from feeling constricted. While your hands are directly in front of you on the keyboard, your elbows should be just slightly forward of the center of your body. Sit forward on the bench so that your body is relaxed.

Create a regular piano practice schedule. Start with short sessions of 15 minutes. Increase the time as your skill progresses and your hands start to feel more limber. You may not have time for piano practices longer than half an hour, but that’s enough to increase your skill and flexibility. Just try not to miss too many days in a row. Time of day is important. Pick a time when you’ll be least distracted by the worries of life.

Practice books are extremely helpful for both beginners and experienced players. These contain exercises and tips that improve your technique. Many also teach musical theory, providing detailed explanations of scales, chords, modes and relative tonality. This is great for expanding your musical palette and understanding how melodies and harmonies work in the context of a piece.

Piano practice books also contain musical pieces adjusted to your skill level. At the end of each chapter you’ll often find a piece that demonstrates techniques that you learned in the preceding pages. It may take a while to coordinate both of your hands, so don’t expect to play at full speed right away. Practice each hand separately, at a moderate speed, before combining the two parts. You’ll be less discouraged and find that your playing is more accurate.

Remember, piano practice isn’t a competition. Even if you are a highly driven individual, take your time and be patient when learning the piano. You’ll avoid frustration and possible injury if you avoid pushing yourself too hard. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

A metronome is an invaluable tool for piano practice. A metronome is a device that keeps perfect time, providing an audible beat set to an exacting tempo. Metronomes are adjustable from very slow to very fast, well within the limits of pieces you’ll be practicing. Even if you feel that you have a great sense of timing, invest in this handy little tool for your piano practice sessions. You’ll be amazed how often you change tempos slightly while running through exercises.

Whatever amount of time and dedication you are able to invest in the piano, it’s a great instrument for adults to learn. The piano is a few hundred years old, and people are still exploring its musical possibilities. Join their ranks and make music that you’ll love for the rest of your life.

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Floyd Cramer’s Country and Western Piano Pleasures

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
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Some musicians are true naturals. This certainly is true of Floyd Cramer, who learned to play the piano by ear at the age of five. Once he refined his raw talent, Floyd Cramer was on his way to being a musician others would seek when recording. Today, Floyd Cramer’s legacy is the wealth of music recordings that display his elegant style of piano playing.

Born on October 27, 1933 in Samti, Louisiana, near Shreveport, Floyd Cramer subsequently grew up in Huttig Arkansas. He taught himself to play piano and returned to Louisiana in 1951. He proceeded to play in the studio band on the popular radio show Louisiana Hayride. In 1955, he migrated to Nashville, Tenn.

In Nashville, Floyd Cramer’s skills were apparent, and he became an in-demand studio musician for country and western recordings. The piano was an instrument that this genre’s artists were using more in their music. As a studio musician, he played for Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and more.

While being a studio musician was his specialty, Floyd Cramer did record solo albums too. In fact, in his career he recorded more than 50 albums under his name. In the early 1960s, he had three Top 100 Hits. Two of these were “Last Date” and “On the Rebound,” both original compositions. The third hit was his rendition of the Bob Wills hit “San Antonio Rose.”

Floyd Cramer did state that he felt the song “Last Date” was a good one for piano students. He said the song is an exercise for both hands. “Last Date” has solid left hand patterns. The song also makes a pianist play a dominant melody with the right hand. It provides for good interplay between the left and right hand.

In the 1960s, Floyd Cramer did touring with the guitarist Chet Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph. Chet Atkins was the producer of Floyd Cramer’s albums with RCA. For approximately two decades, the pianist worked for the recording giant.

Floyd Cramer’s signature style was his Slip Note or Bent Note sound. This style involved hitting a note and then immediately sliding into the next note. He noted that he was trying to fashion this sound after Mother Maybelle Carter’s auto harp playing.

This signature style was part of the Nashville sound prevalent in country and western music of that era. The Nashville sound of that time was a polished, slick form of country music. It employed ultra smooth production values. In addition, songs of this period often had lush background vocals. Floyd Cramer was one of the pioneers or architects of this Nashville sound.

Floyd Cramer won a Grammy Award in 1979 for Best Country Instrumental. This was for his song “My Blue Eyes.” In 2003, he received a double honor, posthumous. This was the year he received induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today, biographies often label him as a true American Hall of Fame pianist.

Along with his music, Floyd Cramer employed other means to give to others. He funded a music scholarship at East Tennessee State University. He also worked each year to help organize an annual music festival in Nashville.

Though known for his contributions to the country and western music canon, Floyd Cramer played other styles as well. He was proficient in gospel, light classical and jazz music too. He never felt he should play only one style of music. He recorded versions of many popular top 40 tunes, such as “Mona Lisa,” “Music Box Dancer,” “Spanish Eyes” and “The Summer Wind.”

Floyd Cramer died on December 31, 1997 from cancer, at 64. He left the world a myriad recordings of beautiful music. From his country and western gems to his offerings in other styles, Floyd Cramer was a true professional musician. Whether on his own, or backing others in the studio, he has left us a treasure trove of recorded music.

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How Can I Modulate Smoothly from One Key to Another?

Friday, May 15th, 2009
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How Can I Modulate Smoothly from One Key to Another?

The first thing you need to do is ensure that you do in fact wish to modulate rather than transpose your music.  Many people mix up these two terms because they appear to be similar, whereas in practical terms they are very different.  If you wish to modulate from one key into another, you are moving the music along and playing the music in the keys in which it was composed (or arranged).  Transposing on the other hand is taking the existing music and changing it into a new key.  Clear now? 

OK, so you’re sure that what you want to do is modulate from one key into another, so how do you go about it?  Well, it is possible to just play the original chord and then follow it with the new chord.  If you’re lucky, it will fit without jarring on the listeners ears.  Many times however this doesn’t happen and so what you need to learn are the basics of chord progression so that you make the key change almost invisible.

In order to make the transition from one key into another, you need to know what your pivot chord is.  That’s the chord which occurs in both the key that you’re currently playing in, and the key you are going to modulate into.  Although you could use any chord, for the modulation to be really smooth, you should choose something other than the tonic or the dominant of the key you’re modulating into. 

Another way of modulating from one key to another is by using the circle of 5ths technique.  This creates an even distance between the notes, a perfect 5th.  This means that having played the tonic, you’ll then play the dominant chord (a 5th above), or the subdominant (a 5th lower).  Having some understanding of how the circle of 5ths works will allow you to modulate more freely when you are improvising as you will acquire an instinctive feel for which chord should come next as you move from one key to the next.

Other types of modulation are common-tone modulation where one note from the current key is played repeatedly as the chord changes into the new key and so creates a musical bridge linking the two keys, chromatic modulation where one chord, such as the secondary dominant, is used to lead the chord chromatically into the new key, and enharmonic modulation where the dominant 7th/augmented 6th are used to move smoothly across from one key to the next in 3 chords or less.  Music from the romantic period made use of enharmonic modulation but by the end of this period it was used in conjunction with chromatic modulation.

There are other forms of modulation, such as sequential modulation and phrase modulation techniques which can be used to move from one key into the next, but these offer a more abrupt way of arriving in the new key.  While they are good musical tools to have for improvisation playing, especially the sequence modulation (also known as a rosalia), and can be used to create a good effect (in particular the phrase modulation) they are not usually a way of smooth and seemingly effortless modulation.

 

 

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A Quick Overview Of Musical Forms

Thursday, May 14th, 2009
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Written by Katie-Ann.
There are many different musical forms. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common ones.
Concerto
A concerto is usually composed for one or more soloists combined with an orchestra. It will usually be identified by three distinctly different movements. It evolved along with another music form the concerto grosso which was composed for a small instrumental group to play with an orchestrated backing. The concerto grosso wasn’t used after the Baroque period, but the solo-based concerto continues to be played. The three instruments traditionally used in a concerto composition are piano, violin and cello but woodwind and brass solos are also known.
Symphony
A symphony is best identified by its complexity. It isn’t a form of music in its own right, but rather a style in which a composition is orchestrated. Usually it comprises four movements, the first of which being a sonata, however in the 18th century symphony was used as an interchangeable form for sinfonia and overture. The word symphony comes from the Greek word meaning “agreement of sound” which is why despite the complex orchestration heard within the symphony, the integrity of harmony is kept intact. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were among the more famous symphony classical composers, but symphonies continue to be composed today. Although for the most part they remain to be composed for orchestras, there are some symphonies which are composed for specific instrument groups such as wind instrument bands.
Sonata
This musical composition will comprise either three or four contrasting movement. Alongside the fugue it was one two musical foundations for concert music analysis. Most popular during the Classical period, the sonata was also composed during the earlier Baroque period, and later Romantic period. Sonatas composed primarily as piano solos were the most common during the Classical period, although sonatas for violin and piano, or violin and cello were also composed. During the sonata’s important classical period, the movements generally followed a generic three-movement layout of allegro, middle movement (slower such as an adagio or largo), a closing movement such as a dance minuet or another allegro. In a four-movement composition the first three movements were as for a three-movement sonata, with the addition of a final movement in a fast tempo such as a sonata-rondo form. Although used by many composers, Beethoven was particularly fond of the sonata form with 32 piano sonatas plus sonatas for other instrumental combinations.
Sonatina
Sonatina’s are a lighter version of sonatas. They have less than the four movements required in a sonata, the movements are shorter, and the level of complexity is lower – making them popular with students of the piano. This doesn’t mean that they are all easy to play however, so you need to watch the skill level required for each piece. Usually a sonatina is composed as a piano solo but some composers also created works for both piano and violin.
Bourree
This is a dance musical form from 17th century France. It is usually composed in quick double time although some composers use triple time. Similar to a gavotte, the bourree differs by starting on the last beat of a measure creating a quarter measure anacrusis (the gavotte has a half-bar anacrusis). Used by such composers as Bach, Chopin and Handel, the Bourree still exists today being used by contemporary artists such as Jethro Tull, and Tenacious D.
Fugue
This is a distinct musical form where themes are repeated in a contrapuntal style with the various harmonies being interwoven one with the other. Dating back as far as the Middle Ages this musical style was popular in works of a canonic nature. A fugue opens with a main theme which is then imitated by each “voice” in the arrangement. Once each voice has imitated the theme, then exposition is said to be complete. Sometimes this is followed by another new passage, or alternatively by a passage previously heard in the work. The fugue will close back in the originating key/tonic to which a coda is added. J.S. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart all created fugue compositions.

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