Monday, February 25, 2013

On Learning to Read Music

Dear Piano People: 

Part of being a musician, is being able to read the music notes.  Many musicians play "by ear" which is hearing music and then duplicating the sound, which is one way of learning.  But if you can read the music, it opens up a whole new world to you and makes you a stronger, more independent musician. Reading music also strengthens the left side of your brain which is useful for analytical thinking (like math). Playing music is also a creative art, which strengthens the right side of your brain. So learning to read and play music will give you a strong, balanced brain!

There is no quick, simple way to learn notes other than through an understanding of the grand staff, which your teacher can help you with and drills. I spend a little bit of each class or lesson playing music note games, but you can strengthen your note recognition by doing a little bit of note naming drills each day.  You can purchase flash cards online or at a music store. You can make your own flash cards, or grand staff chart (see me to make sure it is correct), you can study the notes in your music book, or you can play online music games. An example of one is given below.

Also, two websites I use regularly for printing free piano music and theory worksheets are:

Parents, please help your children by going to these sites with them. You can choose music to print, or worksheets to help them understand note names.  In my group classes, we have a "musical game day" at the end of each term. I will give prizes for games, which focus on notereading. Another reason to learn your notes! :)

What are you waiting for? Go forth and conquer those music notes! :)

Teacher Zita

Seeing Charles Ives in Every Student

Today I would like to talk about a revelation I had this week. It started out as a dilemma. 

One of the parents of a student I have in a group class, complained loudly because I did not start class right on the dot and she felt like her son was getting her money's worth.  She usually is the first one in the class, with her child in tow, even before the students from the previous class have left.  I feel her impatience.  It makes me tense and feel pressured.
But being the overly sensitive musician I am, I have also been looking inside myself to see what I can learn from this and how best to handle it.

This isn't about being right or wrong. Her complaints are valid. But it is, to me about teaching philosophy. As I pondered this conundrum over the weekend, I had an epiphany with one of my students!! 

Here is the story. 

By the way, I am also employed as a  church pianist.  The pastor from my church spoke about positive thinking. I was still cranky from Saturday, and I really didn't want to hear it.  I had this little child ego voice inside me, saying I'm right and she is ignorant.  But then the rational side of me says I can learn something from this, whether I like it or not.  I do get negative and turn a problem inside and out and won't let go. Like a big pimple getting ready to pop. (sorry, yucky analogy). 

I went to one of my student's houses. I've had him since he was 5. He's 12 now.  I love this kid. But he can be a little bit annoying at times.  I sat down and asked him to do his scales, trying to get him to focus. His parents are exasperated with his goofing around too. I sat and waited. He plunked a few notes, fiddled with pedals, plunked some more.  He laughed. I know him, he's not being disrespectful. He likes to experiment. And I had this breakthrough suddenly.  How can I turn this negative into a positive

I asked him instead of banging around randomly, to look out the window.  He saw a car wiz by, and a dog. I said make the piano sound like what you see. SAY something with your playing.  And then all of a sudden his plunking sounded musical. So I texted his mom, who was in the kitchen. I said "Can you pull up Charles Ives on your notepad? Your son is channeling him in the living room."

So she pulled up Charles Ives on YouTube.  We found his quarter tone piano pieces. The Allegro sounded almost exactly like what he was playing. We were dumbfounded. So was my student.  I told him that was his assignment this week.  An Ives' like composition.

I told his mom, "Out of great desperation can come the most creativity." But of course, one must be open minded and flexible for this to happen.

I imagine Charles Ives had some teachers who were frustrated with him and tried to make him more mainstream.  I do not want to be one of those teachers. 
The pressure to conform is great, but I am determined to be me!  My style is not for everyone. There are many amazing teachers.  But I think it is important to maintain your individuality, openly and honestly. Not to change into who you think your students or parents want you to be. But who you are and how that can best serve your students. 

I hope you all can find your voice in music.  If so, you will have a friend that you can turn to for the rest of your life. Whether you are a pianist, a guitarist, a singer, a horn player, or a drummer, your instrument will be something you turn to time and time again for comfort when the demands of life get you down.

After my rather intense weekend, I came home and sat at my piano. I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders with every note I played.  Music can inspire and delight. It can also heal.  Have a wonderful week!


Teacher Zita :)

Monday, February 18, 2013

End of the Year Piano Recitals

Let's start our engines, pianists!  Over the next few weeks, we will be selecting pieces for our end of the year piano recital!  I love this time of year!

Start thinking about what you might want to work on. If you like a challenge, this would be a good opportunity to pick a larger, more challenging piece, if you are committed to spending time working on it. I can help you with your selection. Music does not need to be memorized.

I have the CMC auditorium reserved for spring piano recitals the following dates and times:.

Sunday 05/26: 

5:00 p.m.


6:30 p.m.

 Sunday 06/09

 6 p.m.


7:30 p.m.Important Note:  The 7:30 p.m. recital on 06/09 is only for advanced students.    

Greetings Piano People! :)

Today is February 18, 2013. My how time flies! Only 4 more weeks of winter term! 

This term I have been focusing on note reading, theory, sight reading and technique.  Great job, students - I see a huge improvement in note recognition for the new beginners and sight reading for my continuing students. Yay! :)

One of my continuing classes at the Community Music Center helped me come up with a new game. We are calling it:  "Mad Staff".  If you've ever played "Mad Libs", it's similar, but using the letters of the notes on the Grand Staff. 

I'm still working out the kinks, but it's grand fun! (Pun intended!) :)
I'll post the rules and results on my blog over spring break.

Speaking of which, Spring Break is March 19 - March 31st. If you are in one of my Saturday classes, I will be accompanying a violin recital on March 9th, so no classes that day. There will be a make up class on Saturday, March 23rd.

There will be no recital at the end of this term.  But I will be posting dates and times of my June recitals soon!

If students are wanting some extra fun music to play that is not in the lesson book, I highly recommend the website
The creator of the website, Gilbert deBenedetti is a piano teacher. He makes piano music available free online and even puts it into appropriate levels.  This is all public domain music and perfectly legal.  He also has music theory and guitar music. Just go to his site and click on "Free Piano Music". If you are a beginning note reader, 1st pieces and Primer would be a good place to start. You can listen first and then download and print! Feel free to look at more challenging pieces too. If you don't understand anything, remember you have a very helpful piano teacher!

Be cool, play music!  :)

Teacher Zita :)