Archive for July, 2011


Learning Music: Is a Music Education Really Necessary?

Friday, July 29th, 2011
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Is a music education really necessary or even beneficial for children? With American schools aiming to increase their standardized test scores and decrease their annual spending, it’s no wonder that electives such as music have been erased from the board. Music is considered a fluff subject that often falls by the wayside.

But is it? Statistics seem to indicate that an exposure to music can actually increase a child’s math ability, not to mention reasoning, creative thinking, scoring better on standardized tests, and making higher grades in high school. If it helps them brush their teeth, too, I’m all for it.

The reality is, in this day of slash and burn budget cuts, you may have to provide their music education in your own time, and on your own dime. If my early years of Intro to Music are any indication, that would not be entirely bad. You could direct their studies, and gain much more than the odd bits and pieces we learned way back when.

It was that turbulent time in history when all was being questioned in American society. Mainstream composers were not studied so much as slave work songs and Negro spirituals. How our grey-haired, white music teacher came to warble “Pick a Bale of Cotton” was anyone’s guess. To this day, I recall the lyrics, “Me and my partner can, pick a bale of cotton, Oh, me and my partner can, pick a bale a day. Oh, Mammy, pick a bale of cotton! Oh, Mammy, pick a bale of hay!”

At least that song was understandable, unlike “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care”, which has, on the conservative side, I figure about 2,149 various interpretations. The song might refer to a mule eating the corn being trodden, or a slave’s corn rations being cut due to disobedience, or chitchatting among slaves who should have been working, or even has something to do with “gimme crack corn”, i.e., alcohol. As children, it was puzzling to be singing a song of dubious meaning and morals. Why was Jimmy Cracking Corn, and why didn’t anyone Care? We students didn’t seem to care much, either, but our then-master, the music teacher, wasn’t going away anytime soon.

While our vocal lessons plodded along as we sang gems like “The Age of Aquarius” and “Windy” at school assemblies, there was a bright light on the horizon when instrumental lessons were introduced as an elective in the Fourth Grade. Pupils had to demonstrate an interest in an instrument, which already flattened the playing field considerably.

We were given an overview of the brass, wind, and stringed instruments, and then allowed to try out an instrument or two. I settled on the violin. Let’s just say that some students were more suited to blowing hot air and marching in bands as football halftime diversions. They had me pegged correctly as more attuned to a string quartet.

By Sixth Grade, I was actually doing pretty well on my instrument of choice, and it was suggested that I audition for a Youth Symphony. The instrumental music teacher encouraged those of us from families with means to pursue private lessons, which we did, as well. I ended up with a teacher who accompanied me on the harpischord, making all of the practice time worth it. Her husband played trumpet in a large symphony and I remember him taking me, along with three of his Eastern European counterparts, to a huge concert hall where I watched them perform.

I can vouch that my reasoning and creative thinking abilities improved dramatically when having to figure out: if I went to the restroom during the concert’s intermission, would I ever find my way back to the proper seat as a preteen on my own? Along with my inflated standardized test scores, and high school grades in general, one has to ask: was this increased mental ability bordering on genius due to music lessons?

I don’t know, but it couldn’t have hurt.

Guest post ———– Copyright 2011 – Alexandra Bartologimignano

(Alexandra is a jet-setter trying to keep her head above water in several countries with several languages, several children, one husband, and two cute dogs. She is learning piano with one of Duane’s courses in her spare moments and generally chronicles their adventures at www.destinationsdreamsanddogs.com.)

———–

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How To Reharmonize a Song – Part One: Into What Other Chord Does This Note Fit?

Monday, July 18th, 2011
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Among the various ways to reharmonize a tune are three specific but easy methods. This is part one of a three part series, and deals with a simple question you can ask at any point in a song to come up with new and fresh chords: “Into What Other Chord Does This Note Fit?”

Watch this short video and you’ll understand:

Then come back here tomorrow and we’ll take up part two of the series.

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Piano Practice: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Piano Lessons By Practicing Smart

Friday, July 15th, 2011
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Piano practice for adults
Piano practice for adults — how to help your piano teacher make the most of your piano lessons.

Any truly positive change takes a lot of time, dedication, and patience – and that includes piano practice. Anyone who tells you differently, is trying to get some fast money out of you. You know how it works. You start with a dream and you jump in and get started. Then reality comes roaring back. You have a job, you have kids, you’re tired, and after one week of work, you don’t feel like you’re getting any better so you start playing less and less.

That doesn’t mean that your hard work has to be tedious and boring. Far from it.

When is your prime time?

For some people, they do all of their “chores” when they wake up so real life doesn’t pull them in all directions before the essentials get done. Others do their piano practicing at the end of the day after everything is done and they can relax. When is your prime time? Whenever your mind is most focused and ready to engage in your practice, that’s when you should do it. If you have a bad attitude towards practice, often it’s not because you don’t like the piano. It’s because it’s the wrong time of day. Often the things that drain most of your energy and drive are the highest on your priority list, right?

Play Something You Like

Don’t spend all of your practice time playing material you already know but maybe do 10 or 15 minutes of scales and other technical exercises and then play something you enjoyed learning. Remind yourself that at one time this piece was just as bad as other music you’re learning now but you got there and now it sounds beautiful. Everything you’re practicing now will follow the same path. Play something you like to remind yourself of how the journey ends.

Consistent Standards

How’s your posture? How do your fingers look? Where’s your head? Are you using proper piano fingering? It’s ok and highly appropriate to focus on improving one thing at a time but your standards should never change. Bad posture while you’re learning teaches you two things: the piece you’re learning and bad posture. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between good and bad habits. You have to teach it and the only way to teach it is to keep standards consistent. That’s why your teacher may tell you to practice with a mirror next to you so you can see your posture.

You need a metronome

Metronomes used to be these big clunky looking things that cost a lot of money and looked like they were straight out of Beethoven’s day. Now, they cost as little as $15 and are about the size of a credit card. No musician is considered good if they can’t play at a consistent tempo. It will be annoying at first but quickly, you’ll get used to playing with it.

Bottom Line

Your piano lessons will help but they won’t make you a good piano player unless you make it happen. Your piano teacher will guide you down the road to being great but only your practice time will truly give you your dream of being a great pianist. Remember, positive change doesn’t come easy so hunker down and expect small changes over time but it won’t take long for you to look back and be amazed at the progress you’ve made.

For more good ideas on practicing, see Power Practice.

Copyright 2011 by Duane Shinn. Do not use without permission.

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Learn to play some of the great classical piano pieces (without having to be an advanced pianist)

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
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Beethoven's Fur Elise

Would you like to learn some of the great classical piano pieces such as Beethovens “Fur Elise”, “Moonlight Sonata”, Chopin’s “Prelude in C Minor”, or Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” without having to be a very advanced pianist?

If so, click on the link below and take a look at these great courses:

http://www.playpianocatalog.com/clpico.html

Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

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Do you teach piano to your own kids? Read this hilarious blog!

Monday, July 11th, 2011
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Piano lessons at home
A student of mine who writes a blog did an hilarious post about her kids learning piano at home. She (the Mom) used my Crash Course to stay a piano lesson or two ahead of the kids. If you are a home school parent, you will no doubt identify with this!

http://www.destinationsdreamsanddogs.com/the-piano-project/.

PS: The Crash Course is at www.pianolessonsbyvideo.com

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