Conferences, Technique, Technology

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (2): Music Performance and Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley

The next session was called: Understanding the Physiology of Music Performance Through Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley.

Kathleen Riley is a pioneer in using technology she refers to as “biofeedback” to monitor movement and muscles in order to help musicians eliminate pain, tension, or discomfort in their shoulders, arms, backs, etc.  She began her session with a quote:

“Technique is the knowledge o the most economical way to produce adequately what the mind conceives artistically.”  – E. Robert Schmitz, from the 1935 book The Capture of Inspiration.

Dr. Riley discussed relaxation and the music — and the fact that although no muscle is ever completely relaxed, there is a resting point.  She discussed that we need to examine how much tension we really need when we play.  How can we release unneeded tension and follow-through on our movements?   Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (2): Music Performance and Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley”

Conferences, Technique

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (1): Experiential Anatomy by Lynn Singleton

Over the weekend, I attended the 2012 OhioMTA Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a great conference, far exceeding my (already high) expectations!  We heard some top-notch presenters and performers and I learned so much.  I plan to briefly summarize some of the sessions for you over the next few days!

The theme of the conference was “The Healthy Musician: Teaching, Performing, Living.”  Here is some info about the first session I attended.

Experiential Anatomy: Using Mind-Body Methods To Increase Awareness for Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Overall Wellness in Musicians, by Lynn Singleton, NCTM.

Lynn began by sharing her own experience with feeling discomfort at the piano, and how she was able to solve her problems away from the piano.  Injury prevention and overall wellness requires a willingness to take self-responsibility.  Our body at the instrument can only be as good as our body away from our instrument!

Lynn discussed the advantages of “experiential anatomy,” which is basically about increasing body awareness so that we can more correctly use our bodies.  Tension arises from many sources: emotional/mental (like stress, fear, lack of self-esteem), physical (habitual movements, injury, compensation for pain), and social/environmental sources (posture in the work environment while using things like computers, cell phones, etc.).  Mind-Body Methods can help us get past obstacles and improve kinesthetic sense.  Continue reading “OhioMTA 2012 Conference (1): Experiential Anatomy by Lynn Singleton”

Announcements, Games, Group Classes, Music Theory, Resources, Teaching Piano, Technique

Recent Purchases: Scale Blocks & A Technique Monkey

I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for creative and inexpensive items for my teaching.  The dollar store is one of my favorite places to go!

In the craft aisle at Dollar Tree right now, there are packages of foam cubes, as shown in the picture.  I’ve always wanted to make scale blocks like Natalie Wickham’s, but have never got around to buying the wood blocks and paint.  These foam cubes seem like a pretty good alternative, although they may not last as long I suppose.  On the upside, it doesn’t take long to write the alphabet letters on these little cubes with a marker!  I am going to go back to buy a couple more packages, so I can make a nice set of scale blocks using the orange colored cubes.   Continue reading “Recent Purchases: Scale Blocks & A Technique Monkey”

Music Theory, Practice, Printables, Teaching Piano, Technique

Just Updated: Scale & Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet

Some of you may remember the Scale & Arpeggio Fingering reference sheet I posted in December of 2010. About a month ago, a friendly reader made some very helpful suggestions for improvement, and so I spent quite a bit of time revising the printable. It’s called “Scale and Arpeggio Fingering for Piano (2 Octaves)” and you can find it on the Printables > Other Resources page.

I originally created this printable with my intermediate/advanced students in mind who are working on 2- and 4- octave scales/arpeggios and have trouble keeping all their fingerings straight in their head once they start getting them under their fingers. It’s nice to have a guide tucked inside the front cover of a book to refer to now and then!

The document contains three pages:

Page 1: Rules and tricks for remembering scale and arpeggio fingerings (as shown on the right).

Page 2: A listing of the fingerings for each Major and Harmonic Minor scale/arpeggio (2-octave) for piano.

Page 3: A continuation of page 2.

Of course, there are a few different ways to finger scales and arpeggios, so I’m sorry if the fingerings listed in this printable do not correspond with the ones you prefer to teach your students. These are the ones I like to use, and I thought I’d share it with anyone who might happen to find it useful.

If anyone else finds typos or inconsistencies, please let me know! I did my best to proof-read the fingerings, but it is certainly possible that I still may have missed something!

  Scale and Arpeggio Fingerings (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet (86.0 KiB, 101,430 hits)

Practice, Printables, Technique

Just Added: Scale and Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve added a new printable to the Printables page….so here’s one I created a couple of months ago.  You can find it on the Printables > Other Resources page.

Scale and Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet (3 pages long)

I created this printable with my intermediate/advanced students in mind who are working on 2- and 4- octave scales/arpeggios and have trouble keeping all their fingerings straight in their head once they start getting them under their fingers.  It’s nice to have a guide tucked inside the front cover of a book to refer to now and then!

The document contains three pages:

Page 1: Rules and tricks for remembering scale and arpeggio fingerings (as shown on the right).

Page 2: A listing of the fingerings for each Major and Harmonic Minor scale/arpeggio (2-octave) for piano.

Page 3: A continuation of page 2.

Of course, there are a few different ways to finger scales and arpeggios, so I’m sorry if the fingerings listed in this printable do not correspond with the ones you prefer to teach your students.  These are the ones I like to use, and I thought I’d share it with anyone who might happen to find it useful.

I did my best to proof-read the fingerings, but it is certainly possible that I may have missed something….so if you encounter something that seems sketchy, please let me know!

Practice, Technique

Practice Tips: Bringing out the Melody

About a week ago, I received an email from a reader who states that he is learning the Bach-Petri transcription of “Sheep May Safely Graze.”  (You may recall me posting a YouTube video of it here.)  He writes:

I am by no means a concert pianist, but I did take piano lessons for 14 years (1 year into college), but I have never encountered such a challenging melody as is presented by this piece.

Obviously, this piece will take a lot of time to master, but I am determined to learn it.  However, I was wondering if you could please  offer some practice tips such as how to bring out the melody, for instance, in measures 10 & 11?  I just don’t know the best method to train my 2nd and possibly 3rd fingers to bring out the melody while the other fingers play the counter melody.

Learning to bring out the melody properly is not easy!  However, the good news is that once you’ve developed this skill, you will likely be using it again for situations in other pieces.

Here are a few general practice tips for bringing out the melody:   Continue reading “Practice Tips: Bringing out the Melody”

Forum Q&A's, Technique

The November Forum: Analogies for Finger/Hand Shape

This month’s discussion topic:

Analogies for Finger/Hand Shape at the Piano

How do you teach students how their fingers/hands should look when they play?  Do you use any analogies, such as: “pretend you are holding a bubble”?  What do you find works, and what doesn’t?  Please share your tips!

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Have an idea for a topic you’d love to see discussed for a monthly forum?  Please email it off for consideration to admin[at]colorinmypiano.com!

Photo credit: emilianohorcada | CC 2.0

Practice, Technique

Teaching Phrase: “Pretend It’s Easy”

Lately, I’ve trying out this phrase with my students, in situations when a student is struggling with the technique of playing a particular passage:

“Pretend this is really easy for you to play.”

This phrase works best in a situation where the teacher observes that the student is holding far too much tension in his/her arms, wrists, and/or fingers to be able to properly execute a passage.  Rather then hearing a command to release some of the excess tension, however, sometimes hearing a phrase such as “Pretend it’s really easy for you,” has a better effect on the student.

What’s supposed to happen when you pretend it’s easy?

  1. A mental release occurs. Suddenly, the student gives him/her-self the permission to play the passage correctly. When we know (or think) it is a difficult passage, sometimes we don’t allow ourselves even the chance to play it correctly because we don’t think we can.
  2. A physical release occurs.  As the student imagines what it would feel like to play the daunting passage if it were easy for him/her, unnecessary tension in the student’s arms, wrists, and fingers melts away.  This release of tension often makes the passage suddenly much easier to play.

Try it, and let me know what you think!

Photo Credit: alexanderward12 | CC 2.0

Memorization, Music Theory, Practice, Technique

Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales

an excerpt from Kuhlau Sonatina Op.20 No.1

Why do we learn and practice scales?  Have you (or your students) ever asked this question?  Is it just for tradition’s sake that piano teachers assign scales to work on?  I think it’s important not only for we teachers to know the WHY behind scales, but also for our students to know!   Continue reading “Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales”

Announcements, Technique

Tension and Piano Playing

Just recently, I’ve realized that when I play piano, I hold a “knot” of tension in my back, in the space between my shoulder blades.  Upon this realization, I have begun making a conscious effort to release this tension while I am practicing – which I have to do constantly.  It’s obviously a bad habit that I’ve been unaware for a long time!

Interestingly enough, it seems to be related to another issue which I’ve been aware of since my freshman year of college: I tend to raise my right shoulder when I play, especially in anticipation of difficult passages in a piece.  Raising my shoulder, however, actually hinders my arms/fingers in those difficult passages rather than helping.  I have to remind myself not to “freak out” in anticipation of those upcoming passages so that I keep my shoulder comfortably in place.

Now that I am focusing on releasing the newly-discovered tension in my back, however, I have found that the shoulder problem is occurring less.  It seems that I may have found the root of the issue!  My back feels better, which means my shoulders are feeling better, which in turn means my arms and wrists are feeling better.  And difficult passages are going much better than ever before, which is amazing to me!

Do you deal with tension when you play?  Have you been able to identify the root of the problem?  I am very interested in hearing more about how to prevent/deal with tension!

Photo Credit: Phineas H | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Technique

Bench Height: Try Little Pillows for Little Students

Just thought I’d share my recent find.  One again, I’ll admit, I found another treasure at the dollar store.  (Does anyone else love dollar stores as much as I do?)

It might not seem like much, but I see great potential in this little blue pillow.  My little student won’t have to sit on a stack of piano books any longer in order to attain the correct height at the piano!

When I first picked up the pillow, I expected the stuffing to be cheap and light stuffing which would do nothing for the student’s height once they’d sit on it, but actually it is stuffed pretty well with some kind of heavier material.  And for a dollar, the price can’t be beat.

If you aren’t convinced on the importance of playing with the proper bench height at the piano, check out the revealing pictures at the Well-Balanced Pianist website.

My hand is awkwardly sticking out in this picture to give you a better idea of the size of the pillow.  It’s just the right size for students under age 8 or so.

If you are interested in getting one of these pillows, check if there is a Dollar Tree store in your area.  I looked for the listing of this pillow on the Dollar Tree website, but was unable to find it (if anyone finds it, please let me know).  The tag on the pillow just said “Decorative Pillow.”  The pillow also comes in green.

I’ve heard of some teachers using those interlocking foam square pieces for getting students to the right height.  The nice thing about using those foam squares is that you can choose how many of them to stack on top of each other in order to reach just the perfect height.

What have you found to work well for attaining proper height at the piano?