- October 31, 2012, 9:41pm
On Sunday evening, my husband and I attended the wedding ceremony of two old friends. While watching the bride walk down the aisle, I turned to the friend on my right hand side and uttered the most shocking confession in the world: “I hate Canon in D.”
That’s right folks, I am a classically trained pianist and I hate Canon in D. I am ready to be burned at the stake.
Throughout the course of history, certain pieces of music become accepted standards. Within the world of piano alone I can name dozens- Canon in D, Fur Elise, Minuet in G, Mozart’s Sonata in C, Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, Moonlight Sonata... you get the idea. So the next question is: what makes a piece canonical? I can think of three answers.
1.) It serves some form of valuable instructional purpose. The perfect example of this is Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K545. The technical work in this piece is fantastic. Students must use their knowledge of scales and arpeggios and it showcases the way that those “boring theory” exercises can actually become a thing of beauty. Mozart himself described this piece as being intended for beginners, and the first movement alone requires that students have impeccable scale work.
2.) It served as a musical foundation, leading to other developments in the field. I have one word for everyone: Bach. Enough said.
3.) It’s just that darn good. What woman can tell me that she didn’t used to dress up in a tutu and perform pirouettes to Fur Elise when she was little? Wait, what’s that? You didn’t. Maybe that’s just me.
This is exactly my point. What makes a piece of music “good” is 100% subjective. I would be in heaven if I could transport back to the 19th century and attend a meeting of The Five. My husband, on the other hand, does not understand my love of the Eastern Europeans and prefers to listen to EuroPop. I repeat. EuroPop. (How did I marry this man?)
This is where the challenge of choosing music for students comes in. My worst fear is that one day, my students will feel that I “failed them” by not teaching them certain material. However, in a best case scenario, a piano teacher has 12-14 years with a student. Let’s face it- that is a very rare scene. How can you cover almost three hundred years of material in a mere decade?
When I was a high school student attending my first conservatory, my instructor was “appalled” that I had never been taught Mozart K.545, the Raindrop Prelude, or the Bach Inventions. I carried the shame of this with me into my adult life- ten years later, I’d become paranoid about the material I was teaching, not wanting to let down my students the way I had been.
One of the good parts about maturing in your career is that you can look back on these silly thoughts and laugh, and know that you’ve come a long. I no longer worry that my students will hate me for not teaching them Turkish March. My primary concerns are based on two questions. 1. Does this student have a sense of personal taste, and have they developed their own sense of what music they enjoy to play? 2. Have I provided them with the skills to do so.
This isn’t to say my students won’t learn “important works”- as I said, some pieces are canonical for valid reasons. However, I try to allow students to make their own choices. If a student wants to learn “Call Me Maybe” rather than Swan Lake, that’s their decision. I don’t completely like the same music as everyone else in the studio, so why should my students?
In closing, I leave you with this. I think Pachelbel is overrated, but adore Gurlitt. My favorite Austen hero is not the ever dashing Mr. Darcy, but Mr. Wentworth. Any dog breed ending in “Doodle” will never be seen on my property, cute as they are. Music is like any of these parts of life- there is no right, no wrong, only subjective opinions. Students, remember: if you like it, then play it. If you don’t, you don’t have to- unless I assign it anyway. You should be playing for yourself, and therefore in the end it is your own opinion that matters.
- October 31, 2012, 9:40pm
Starting a child or yourself on a string instrument (violin, viola, cello or double bass) can be a scary endeavor. Especially if you are not familiar with the instruments. Where should we get our instrument? Should we rent or buy? Who has the best deal? Are a few questions that you might find yourself asking. Generally speaking, I recommend renting an instrument in the beginning. This is a good way to avoid spending a lot of money for an instrument that could get played for 3 months and then sit in a closet for the next 3 years. Renting also prevents younger students from having the wrong size instrument, because as kids grow, their instruments do, too. Several local shops have a rent to own program as well. But in some cases buying an instrument is a better choice. For example, after a couple years of lessons or if you are already full-size!
So, why not just go with the cheapest rental place or buy the cheapest violin? The answer is because if you want to develop good technique and continue an instrument, you have to be able to make a good sound. Having an instrument, not an instrument shaped object, in good working condition is the first step to becoming a musician. Some less reputable rental places will buy instruments that will never be able to make a decent sound or be in tune. This begins a self fulfilling prophecy. “I sound bad and am not getting any better so I quit.” Beginners are not going to make beautiful sounds from the start, but it will get better in a couple weeks! For example, the bridge should be wooden, not plastic, and have grooves for the strings. This will improve tone and help so that the bridge won’t fall off, which is a problem. Another give away for choosing an instrument or to decide if the instrument is not a toy is purfling, which is a narrow edge engraved into the instrument to show where is it glued together. ISO’s (instrument shaped objects) will often not have purfling or it will be painted on.
A couple questions that you should ask yourself as you are shopping around for a place to rent an instrument or to purchase an instrument are:
Does this place primarily deal with orchestral strings?
Do they have a luthier (a person who repairs/makes instruments) in shop?
Do they have regular hours?
Do they offer a rent to own program?
These are a couple general questions that can help narrow down choices of places to check out. If you still feel uncomfortable making a decision, you can give the studio a call and I will do my best to help you!
"Everyone Can Play the Drums: 10 Reasons Why the Drums are Beneficial and Accessible" by Courtney Feick
- October 31, 2012, 9:40pm
1) There is no age minimum or maximum for playing the drums. Any age is a good time to start. Young children can learn to play patterns and develop listening skills.
2) As soon as a student learns to count, they can usually start to read simple rhythmic patterns. Learning to read music as soon as possible will help them to be more successful in music.
3) Drumming encourages creativity.
4) Drumming helps develop good coordination and other motor skills. To play the drum-set, for example, you learn to have complete control over both arms and legs. They need to act independently from one another, since they each play a different rhythmic pattern. This really gets your brain working!
5) Drumming separates rhythm from other musical concepts. Since all music includes some form of rhythm, it translates easily to other instruments and gives you a foundation for reading and understanding music and rhythm.
6) The drum-set is not the only existing form of drumming. There are a variety of percussion instruments that one can choose to play. The snare drum is one example of a popular solo instrument. It helps develop advanced sticking technique and the skills needed to read high-level rhythmic notations. A Glockenspiel, which looks like a small, metallic xylophone, is a popular choice in school concert band. This particular instrument encourages students to learn to read notes on a staff. The notes on this instrument are placed in the same order as those on a piano. Hand drums such as bongos, congas, djembes, and tambourines are fun ways to explore different sounds and rhythms.
7) You don't have to own a drum to be a drummer. Body percussion (example: hand claps & taps, stomping, snapping) or using a table top can be a good substitute for a drum. Anything can be turned into an instrument. The percussion group "Stomp" uses all non-traditional objects for drums, such as: trash cans, chairs, brooms, barrels, etc.
8) Drumming is a good release for excess energy and stress.
9) Rhythm has a place in all cultures and genres of music. Jazz, Classical, Band and Orchestral music, African drumming, Latin American music, Rock & Roll, Country, Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop, Folk music, etc … the list goes on and on. All of these use rhythm as a key component in creating their unique sound. No matter what your musical interest, you can find ways to incorporate drumming.
10) Drumming exists in your community! Drum circles are often found to be extremely therapeutic and can be a fun way to make connections with people in your area.
- October 31, 2012, 9:38pm
“How much should I practice?” Probably the most common question asked by students, or more accurately, their parents, is difficult to answer. Given all the variables at play (age, skill level, goals, etc.), there is just no one size fits all response. I typically reply to the question with a question of my own: “How good do you want to be?”
The beauty of learning an instrument is that the process is intrinsically fair: the more you practice, the better you will become. An alternative to simply investing time in an instrument does not exist. This truism, however, is incomplete without the realization that the quality of practice is equally, if not more, important than the quantity of practice. So, the more useful questions to ask are “How should I practice?” and “When should I practice?”
How one should practice is probably the easier to answer of the two, if for no other reason than it is less dependent on other variables, like age and attention span of the student or the amount of time one has to devote to practicing. How should you practice? To borrow a phrase from a previous teacher of mine, with “musical intent.” That’s an academic way of saying that you should practice with purpose, fully invested and aware of what you’re playing and how you are playing it.
To always be invested this heavily in practice is a demanding and lofty goal, one that I’ll readily admit to often falling short of. In fact, I’ve spent hundreds (probably more like thousands) of hours playing guitar in front of the TV, running through scales, arpeggios, and chord progressions, all while taking in my favorite shows and movies. While the amount of time I invested in this type of practice inevitably contributed to my development as a guitar player, the reality is that that time would have yielded better results if I had been concentrating fully on my playing rather than dividing my attention between music and media.
No matter the age, skill level, or attention span of the student, practice will always prove most effective when it is done with musical intent. But what about the question of when you should practice?
Another short answer is in order here, but requires a lengthier explanation. So, “When should you practice?” When you feel inspired! This sounds like one of those overly whimsical, head-in-the-clouds sentiments, but allow me to explain. While I usually recommend that my students try to practice some each day, I realize that this is an unrealistic expectation, given their hectic schedules and other commitments. I’m also well aware that students, especially younger kids, don’t normally have an overwhelming desire to sit down and focus on practicing their instrument, at least for any extended period of time. Understandably, parents are often forced to monitor their children to make sure they practice, in the interest of their development and future growth. I would simply advise anyone learning to play an instrument that practice will never be more productive and fulfilling than when you learn to capitalize on inspiration.
In other words, whenever you feel the desire to pick up your guitar or sit down at the piano, do so without abandon and without concern for time. Simply engulf yourself in the music that you’re playing and enjoy the ride. You won’t always feel this way, so capitalize on the times that you do. This may mean practicing intensely for 2 hours one day, and not playing at all the next, but I think you’ll find that this kind of practice will be incredibly satisfying and extremely productive.
If you haven’t experienced a practice session like this before, I would recommend exposing yourself to more music; watch videos of talented musicians, listen to your favorite albums, and definitely take the time to go see live music, whether it’s the free orchestra concert at your local college or the pricey trip to see your favorite rock band at a venue 2 hours away. It’s worth the time and money! Most importantly, be prepared to capitalize on the rush of energy you get from this experience by carving out time afterward to practice. Go home, pick up your guitar, and start writing your own riffs, feeding off the experience of watching your favorite axe man carve up the fretboard just minutes before.
When you are faced with other obligations from school or work, try to plan your week in a manner that allows time for you to follow your musical whims without restraint. It’s a terrible feeling to have to cut short an inspired session on your instrument, so pay attention to the times you tend to feel motivated to play, and adjust your schedule in order to maximize these times of inspiration.
Having spent 4 years studying music at a collegiate level, I know what it’s like to be unable to experience practice in this way. I simply didn’t have the luxury of practicing only when the inspiration to do so was present. But for anyone young or anyone learning an instrument without the intentions of pursuing music professionally, I believe that approaching practice organically rather than obligatorily will be more fruitful and satisfying in the long run. And if you can manage to frequently find that inspiration that compels you to pick up your instrument and never put it down, then you’ve found something special, something that makes you a musician.
- October 16, 2012, 6:30pm
It was a common topic of conversation among teachers as we gathered this Saturday, "what are your kids doing?", "how are your kids doing?", "what are they working on?". And in a solid majority we all replied with a smile and a "Well, they took a risk".
As teachers, we are constantly toeing a fine line between technic versus love, old songs versus new, perfection versus growth. Teaching music is more than "this is middle C and this is the staff". We become emotionally invested in not only the growth of talent in our students, but also the growth of love for an art that is so very much a part of our own lives.
To have a student simply spit out an étude is not (and should NEVER) be "enough" for us. We crave seeing the light in their eyes when they "get" it, and there has never been a more fulfilling feeling than when they are taking an active part in their learning. When they ask to learn new styles, when they say "can we play that with the metronome, I think my tempo is off" or in this case, when I ask them what they want to play in the upcoming recital, and they reply "I want to learn something new".
Lets go back... I moved around a lot when I was growing up, and therefore, I have studied under a lot of different teachers and have been tutelaged in a lot of different styles. I have sat in cold metal chairs in church basements waiting for my turn, cursing the day and hating recitals. I have been dragged to adjudications and been picked apart and given grades on my performance, and I have been in concert halls thinking I might just have to throw up as I run my fingerings on my legs backstage. All of which makes you wonder how I ever came through my studies alive and with my love for music in tact.
I have also had some incredibly caring and wonderful teachers that taught me how to play and sing at the same time, encouraged me to accompany my school choirs, praised my growth and listened to what I wanted to get out of lessons, and got me there.
I think there is no greater disservice to my students than to delude myself that all of them are my mini-me's and I need to train them to major in college in performance and anything short of that is failure. How many times have you hear this, "well, I used to play, but now I couldn't even tell you where middle C is"? My personal goal is to never have a student of mine say this as an adult. I want to equip them with the skills and the love to always look at a piano or a piece of music fondly, to watch their recital tapes 20 years for now and be proud of who they were and what they learned, and maybe, just maybe, keep a piano in their home and sit down every once in a while and play something.
Which brings me full circle back to the recital. None of my students picked an old song they knew by heart because it was easy, none of them rued the day, they all took risks and they all made me incredibly proud. Of course nerves were present as they waited for their turn, but they all took the road less traveled (which made all the difference...) and they are learning to love their skill and our time together. Because even though I feel both aspects are important to the learning process, skill means nothing without the appreciation and pride in yourself. So if I had to pick, I will always pick love, because love is all you need.
- October 16, 2012, 1:21am
There are many apprehensions that arise when thinking of learning an instrument as an adult. We are all busy these days. We have careers, we are parents, we are spouses, and we have people and pets who depend on us! We put everyone and everything else before our own needs. At the end of the day, we are exhausted and couldn’t possibly fit anything else into our busy schedule.
This common scenario reminds me of an analogy one of my elementary school teachers made when trying to teach us about what is important and how to prioritize. She brought out a large glass jar, a few large rocks, some pebbles and sand. She first filled it with sand and then she asked us to try and fill it with rocks...they didn’t fit and neither did the pebbles. She proceeded to empty the jar and this time she started filling it with the rocks. She asked us if anything else would fit and we looked confused, so she filled it with pebbles and shook the jar. She asked us again if it was full and we nodded our heads in agreement that nothing else would possibly fit. She poured the sand in, sifted it down and sure enough it all fit in the jar.
The lesson here is basic: if it is important enough, you will prioritize accordingly and find the time despite all the obstacles (mine come in the form form of two little girls ages 1 and 2). The big and important things come first...YOU. “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy .” Much like exercise in that it is not always fun, but ultimately good for you and afterwards you feel fantastic, learning an instrument is invigorating! Self improvement in the form of learning about music is instrumental (pun intended) in keeping us fresh, using a different part of our brain and feeling good about ourselves that we can still learn with the best of ‘em. Taking music lessons on a weekly basis is a reminder to me that I am still me. I sometimes lose that in the buzz of daily life. I am so wrapped up in trying to teach my children the wonders of the world, that I forget there is a whole big universe out there filled with things that I haven’t explored yet.
What else can combine all the passion and feeling that music evokes along with math, history of the ages and the different cultures of nations. Music unites us, as diverse as we are, and we all love it in one form or another. Learning about reading music and music theory has enriched my love of music and understanding of how multi-layered music can be, even in it’s simplest structure.
So let’s address some common fears. Am I too old to learn an instrument? Never. Since I have the pleasure of being a musician’s wife, I get to witness the wide range of students coming through the music studio and I can say with certainty that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! Plus, I know from my own current experience of learning the piano as a 34 year old women. Now I did take lessons for about a year as a youngster, but I basically had to start from scratch because I didn’t remember a thing except how to play “Heart and Soul”. That song stuck with me.
Will I have time to dedicate to this new hobby? This is tough because again, we are over scheduled and under pampered! And until recently, I felt downright guilty about taking time to do something for myself. I will refer you to above rock/jar/pebble story and tell you that I really look forward to my lessons each week. First, they are a guaranteed half hour that is all about me. Second, I love my kids, but it is nice to have a break here and there. And lastly, I get to have adult conversations about something that excites me and is interesting! The other thing I will suggest is that you work out a schedule that makes sense for you. Perhaps weekly lessons are hard to commit to...then do an hour every other week. For me, a half hour every week keeps the information fresh in my brain and gives me about the right amount of material that I can practice in a week’s time. To be honest, there are weeks when I just can’t get much time to practice, but I figure it is better to make slow progress, than none at all.
I will leave you with one final thought. The most surprising benefit in learning an instrument myself, is that my kids see me learning something new. This has had profound effects on my children even as young as they are. It is hard to make time to practice, but I usually find myself doing so while the kids are playing in the basement...since that is where our piano lives. Well, something wonderful happened: my kids climb up with me and try to play themselves. They are interested in what I am doing. Sometimes they just dance and sing to whatever song I am learning. My one year old pretends like she is reading music and turns the pages and hits some keys. And the best part is they cheer me on. One day, I was working out a new song, struggling to get it right and play it smoothly. When I finally nailed it and played it to completion, my oldest jumped up and down yelling “good job, mommy!” I hope that in a year or so, I will be learning right along with my kids, practicing together and playing songs as a family. What better way to inspire music and learning in your kids, than leading by example.
There is a quote in the studio by Plato “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns of music are the keys to learning”. This is true for adults too! So put your fears aside and jump in! I promise it will be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
- February 20, 2012, 2:51pm
As a music instructor, I find myself being frequently asked the same question by many parents with aspiring young musicians; "What age is the right age for my child to begin learning an instrument?" In my opinion the correct age is the day your child shows interest in playing an instrument. For some kids this is the moment they see their favorite musician perform in concert. For others it's seeing a parent or older sibling playing an instrument. For me it was watching an Eric Clapton concert on PBS with my dad. It is important to notice this interest and cultivate it into a hobby, a head start on the higher learning of music, or a life long love your child can share with others.
"How do I get my child started?" The first step is finding an instructor that excels at teaching children. It is difficult to teach music to young children. They usually do not have strong reading skills yet or an attention span to sit for an entire lesson. With the correct instructor this is not a problem. The correct instructor will have infinite patience and a positive attitude. For children that are younger than six, constant positive reinforcement is required from both the parents and the instructor. One bad experience with an instructor at a young age can discourage them for weeks, and enough negativity will even cause your child to dislike the instrument that they just recently showed so much interest in. Look for enthusiasm and the ability to communicate with your child, keeping them engaged in the task at hand.
Selecting the proper instrument can prevent your child from struggling with the physical difficulties of playing an instrument. Using guitar as an example. A guitar with bad action (It is hard to push the strings into the fret) can make it impossible for a child to play the simplest songs. Acknowledging this problem can prevent a child from having weeks of frustration just trying to get a single note to ring from the guitar. Before buying an instrument for your child, consult your instructor or go to salesperson that is familiar with the needs of children.
Having taught many children, I have noticed there is one factor that cannot be substituted that contributes to success: Parental involvement. My students who excel most have parents that sit in on the lessons and pay attention to not only what is being assigned, but finer points of the lesson. This translates into a good, better, best scenario. Good is taking interest in your child lesson and helping them keep the practice schedule assigned. Better is sitting with your child while they practice and asking them to play the songs they have learned for you on a regular basis. The children who excel the fastest and do the best have parents who take lessons with there child. Be it taking group lessons, or lessons from the same teacher this will have a lasting positive effect. Not only does it give the knowledge you need to help your child practice, It's also an extra reason to spend twenty minutes a day with one another doing something productive. You will gain perspective and respect for the work it will take your child to become a master of the instrument. You will also have the motivation (and an excuse) to learn to play an instrument that you never had the opportunity to learn as a child.
- February 20, 2012, 2:50pm
A few months ago, my husband and I went to see Andre Bocceli. It was amazing! His singing was incredible, along with that of his colleagues with whom he shared the stage.
While leaving the concert my husband said, “why don’t we do this more often?” “Do what more often?” “Go to performances”.
It made me stop and think. Why don’t we “do this more often?”
When we were in college, we were surrounded by music. It was apart of our everyday life. We would roll out of bed in the morning and go to music theory, or piano class, followed by music history, then choir, then conducting, then maybe in the evening we would go to someone’s recital. Music was everywhere! I didn’t realize it until I wasn’t surrounded by it anymore, what I was missing.
Every time you watch somebody perform, you learn something, so why don’t we “do this more often” my fellow musicians? Not only do you learn something, but it reignites your passion for your art and what you do!
- October 17, 2011, 4:49pm
If there is one universal truth in the world of teaching music, it is this: the majority of kids do not want to practice. Either they are taking lessons because their parents want them to or they like to play, just not their lesson assignments. In any case, each day I feel like a broken record as I ask a good majority of my students, "How many times did you practice this song?"
The part of me that is desperate to be a good teacher usually goes through the same conversation with each student. I explain to them that even though it's my job to teach them to play the piano, I can't do my job unless they do theirs. Their job is to practice what I teach them so that we can move on to something new each week. Then I try to help them by showing them "good practice habits." These usually involve things like playing each hand separately correctly three times before putting the hands together, slowing the tempo down, isolating sections, or even playing the song measure by measure... only backwards.
Yet right now, I'm going to have a "bad teacher" moment. That means I'm going to be completely honest and tell the students something their parents would be shocked at. Drumroll please...Kids, I hated practicing too. I didn't do it often enough or well enough. I did just enough to avoid getting in trouble with my teacher, which never worked out in my favor. I'm a classical pianist. In classical piano, your best is never good enough. There's always something else you can do. With that sort of background, how could I not hate practicing?
My wake up call came during college when I joined the theatre program. I became the accompanist, and later music director, for all of the musicals. The first show that I played, A Man of No Importance, had two spiral bound scores. Two. I instantly entered the world of practicing at least four hours a day, sometimes up to ten if we had a full rehearsal that day. Not even a month into it, I discovered something wonderful: it was the best time I'd ever had in my life. I was able to play Irish themed music with a group of incredibly talented people, including one of my best friends who made me fall in love with fiddle. I was able to find my own unique place in the theatre department, doing something I loved and was good at, and here's the kicker: I also got college credit for it.
Another example of this "enjoyable" practicing is that I also recently joined a choir. Not because I wanted class credit or felt I needed to further fine tune my skills. I joined for the pure joy of singing. I practice my harmonies for a half hour a day, and go to two hour long rehearsals each Sunday. Right now we're working on a forty page medley. But guess what- it's not hard work. In fact, it's the best part of my week. It's just plain fun.
So, students, here's the moral of the story. The truth of the situation is that no matter what tips or tricks I or your teacher may give you, practicing doesn't need to be that complicated. I'll tell you a secret, and I'll go against everything I was taught in saying it. Practicing is playing. If you make a mistake, you stop, fix it, and then you get to play it again. It's like a bonus!
Parents, here's my advice to you. Be supportive. Let your student find their own practice style. As long as it's working for the teacher, then it should work for you as well. If the student is understanding and enjoying their music, then that is all we should ask for. I don't expect my students to grow up to be concert pianists. My family expected that of me and continue, every year at Christmas, to try to ask me why I went into education and when I plan to go back to my studies. They just don't get it.
I don't think anyone will ever be the model student, teachers included. In fact, at our Grand Opening this coming Saturday, another teacher and I are performing a duet. I don't even think we have decided who is singing which part. (Note: Carolyn, if you're reading this, I claim the alto.) Will we crash and burn? Maybe. But we'll make sure to have a fabulous time doing it.
- October 17, 2011, 4:07pm
When I started playing cello in the fifth grade, I thought that the only place for strings was in a classroom or an orchestral setting. Similar thing happened when I started playing in middle school band. When I reached high school I had categorized instruments into either being "cool" or "dorky" until I heard Weird Al Yankovik. I had never heard anyone be so clever and talented with an accordion- a seemingly dorky instrument. That got me to look away from popular music to explore other genres. I found that I liked Celtic fiddling, (so not stuffy!) ska music, (hello rockin' horns!) and then I heard the band Ra Ra Riot. There was a cellist in a band. I was in love.
During college I branched out from typical classical music and played in several bands that varied from twee folk to soul/hip-hop. I've written parts, followed chord charts, and figured out parts on the spot. Everything that I had picked up from traditional classes helped me make my music my own. My point is music is versatile and whatever you learn about it can and will be used. Surprise yourself!