Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fingers Bee Strong!

     I picked these little critters up at Michael's today. I am excited to give one (or two) to each of my students so they can have a fun way to work on finger strength.  Believe it or not, even though they are small, the clothespin part is quite strong. I am planning to use one myself, especially for that pesky left hand pinky!  I think they will be especially helpful for kids.

     See? Little clothespins!  They had all sorts of different bugs to choose from, but I decided that my students might like a pun to help them remember to use their bee.  Oh, the price? I almost forgot. Only $1.50 :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Creating a Music Library

The music library at Yale

     This post is just to give you an idea if you are a music teacher or musician.
     I have a music library. :) At this point,  it consists of a two-shelf bookcase beside my piano. It is for my own use, of course, but more specifically it is for my students to use.
     I have music from several levels and types, including classical, sacred, Christmas, seasonal, one and two piano duets, organ music, etc. At Christmastime, rather than buying each student a Christmas book, I have them in my library. That way several students can enjoy the same book during the Christmas season.  
    There hasn't been much action in my library yet, as my students are all beginners.  But the library will be expanding in the future to include flash cards, music games, CDs and videos that the students can check out and take home for a week or two. 
     This is a project that keeps expanding as time goes on. I hope to have it more organized and categorized as I add to the repertoire.  
      All you need to start your own is an empty bookshelf! :)



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Easy Modulation For Church Pianists

I pulled this post in from my other blog because it has had so many views over there. I figure it surely belongs over here too, eh?  I've also had several requests for more on modulating....stay tuned for future posts on the subject.

     I remember the day that my piano teacher taught me a simple way to modulate- it was like a breakthrough for me, especially for hymn playing.  Ever since then,  it's a pet peeve of mine when pianists don't modulate during a prelude.  Even in some funerals I've been at here in Canada (the few ones I didn't have to play for), there were long awkward pauses between songs. It's almost like the musician has to wait enough time so that the new key of the next song doesn't "jar" the senses of the listeners.  I've tossed around ideas of why- maybe they don't know how? Maybe they just aren't used to it? Maybe they panic that they might end up in the wrong key?  Not sure, but here is the formula for modulating the easy way:

The basic formula concerning what chords to use is this:  II, V, I  or ( 2, 5, 1)

      So if we are playing "A Shelter In The Time of Storm" in the key of F Major, and we want to go to "To God Be The Glory" in the key of A flat Major, we need to start with the II chord of the new key, which is B flat minor (because the II chord of any key is always minor). The B flat minor chord will take us to the V of our new key, which is E flat Major, which will take us to the root chord of our new key, A flat Major. So when you are preluding, as you near the end of your song and need to go to a new key for the next song, look ahead and simply notice the key it is written in. Then say the II chord in your head, and that's the one you need to go to. Now, if you are using a hymnbook that has sections of songs with keys that progress in order (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc.) all you need to do is add the seventh to your root chord at the end of the song, and you are in the next key automatically.

      For the II, V, I method, you sometimes have to use inversions and simple runs to get you where you need to go. If you have a strong ear, you will probably be able to do it without thinking. If you tend to stick to the notes and have a hard time playing "off the page" then you will probably need to practice some progressions until you have it down. Then there are all sorts of creative ways to use the II, V, I, and you can spice it up with your own style.

      This method is by far the most basic of modulating possibilities. There are so many NEAT ways to modulate- I love exploring and playing around with the different ways. Remember those "neutral" chords we talked about last week on the circle of fifths (the enharmonic keys)? Those are fascinating, because there are so many possibilities of inversions and you can practically go to anywhere, from anywhere using one or a few common tones. Maybe we'll have more on that another day! :)

      For those of you who are church pianists like myself, do you modulate? (You'll still be my friend if you say no!) :)  If you don't, give this method a try and see how smooth it makes your preludes. People won't even know you are transitioning until they hear the new melody, and even then they probably won't realize they are listening to a different key. :)  Have fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Student Orientation

     I started a new student today. And I'm wondering if I am the only one who has just a little bit of a nervous feeling in my stomach when I'm about to meet a new student?  All these questions run through my head: "Will we 'click' as teacher and student?"  "Will he/she feel intimidated because I'm so young or because I'm his/her age?"  "Will I be able to draw out his/her potential and help her excel?"  "Will he/she keep at it and not get discouraged?"  So I took a few moments to pray today as I always do right before my lessons each week. I know that God sent this student my way (it was a very direct answer to prayer!) and I know He'll give me the strength and wisdom I need to instruct him on this musical journey.

     I have a policy that I review with new students/parents. You can view it at the top of my home page where it says "Studio Policy."  But I don't just shove that in their face~ we talk first, getting to know each other. Below are some questions I discuss with a new student. I teach mostly adults, and in the case of a child I would ask the parents some of these questions:

*Are you allergic to cats? If so, I banish the cat to the basement. :)  
*Tell them a bit about myself and my own music experience and goals.
*Ask them if they have any experience in music/ music training. If so, what instrument?
*What is their favorite type of music?
*Why did they decide to learn to play the piano?
*Do they have any specific goals in mind for their piano skill (career,  hobby, church musician, piano performance, etc.)
*What kind of piano do they have at home? When was it tuned last?
*Do they own a metronome?
*If they have a keyboard, I ask how many keys it has, if it has weighted keys, if it has a pedal and a built in metronome.
*Do they play by ear? If so, I ask them to play something they know for me.
* I also give them a simple musical test to see what, if any, terms and musical signs and notes they recognize and understand. This helps me know where to begin working with them.  

     After our orientation time, I give them a practice record chart and an assignment notebook. I also give the student a chance to ask questions or express concerns about their schedule.  I don't usually charge for the first lesson, and it is not always the full length of a normal lesson.  

     Bottom line, first impressions are important!  I teach mostly students from the city, and the first time I meet them in person is when they come to my door for their first lesson. So I try really hard to put them at ease in  that first meeting. I am happy to say that today's new student orientation went well- both of us seemed at ease.  Just another reason to love teaching!



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Does Classical Music Have a Place In The Church?

     Ok, I know that this is a very controversial topic! While I am not trying to open a can of worms, I do want to share my humble perspective.  I could not have written this post 6 years ago, because my view was very unbalanced. But now that I've taught for some years and have seen the benefits of classical music (when I use the term "classical" I am referring to all of the eras and styles that we typically include in such repertoire),  my view has very much changed. So, yes, as you've probably guessed, I wasn't exposed to much classical, and I thought that classical music was ugly, chaotic, pointless, and oh-so-very-hard-to-play!  I did not play much classical music until I got to college. The teacher I had when I was little took me through the complete Alfred series, with a great emphasis on hymn playing. I played a lot by ear, and well, you just can't play classical music by ear! So I would get frustrated and would give up easily.

     Enter my teachers in college, Paul Crow and Betty Valenta. Wow. They were awesome. Paul Crow challenged me to increase my practice time to 12-15 hours a week. As a freshman, somehow I did it. And I really improved. I also began to enjoy classical music. I learned Beethoven's Sontata Pathetique under Paul Crow and it is still one of my favorites.  And Miss Valenta- she pushed me to limits I didn't know I had, and once again, I improved greatly.  She had me doing RCM Performer's Level music, learning it one measure at a time. What a wonderful lady she was- she would always pray with me before each lesson, and she was sharp! She picked up on my weak areas and honed in on them with more passion than I had for myself. 

     Those years in college changed the way I viewed classical music.  I began to see it as a discipline, an amazing art to learn.  Even more amazing is the history behind many of the composers and pieces. They were brilliant men with steadfast discipline. And they passed their passion on to us.  I believe that even classical music can bring glory to God.  So does it have a place in our local church? I would say "Yes."  However, it should be used carefully. Music should always bring glory to God through the method, the mouth (words), and the musician.  I apply that principle to my home and car, too. But as a church musician, I will focus on the church. 

      My personal rule of thumb for the use of classical music in the church is this:  It should be used as a springboard for a sacred piece.  In essence, the melody of the hymn should always be predominant.  If the melody gets lost in a classical piece, it seems out of place. I personally don't do offertories that are mixed with classical very often.  But if I do, I try to keep the melody of the sacred song in the forefront. I am working on one now, actually, that muddles the I have a bit of improvising to do before I'm comfortable with it.  I should add that, if ever I was under a pastor who didn't like classical music in the church, I would certainly honor his wishes! 

     So the can is open now, I guess. Do you have an opinion on this issue? 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Together In Music~ Tips For Playing Piano Duets

     One of the most special things that my husband and I do together is playing piano duets (sometimes organ/piano duets).  I don't personally know very many musical couples; we consider it a gift from God to our marriage, and we love being musical together. I have to say- it has never been an issue of competition either. It is something we truly enjoy and love about each other.
     But just like learning the piano is an art, so is learning to play with someone else!  It takes a lot of coordination and teamwork.  Teacher/student duets are fun, as are friend/friend duets. :) I have always found it easier to play with my husband because we are used to each other, and we think a lot alike. I feel a bit more nervous if I'm teamed with someone else. But it can still work! Here are some pointers:

Two Pianists/One Piano:
     *Choose a piece of music that is doable for the level of both pianists. (If one pianist is a few levels below the other one, choose a song from the lower level).
     *Practice your parts separately before trying to put the duet together. This will avoid certain disaster. :)
     *Decide who will work the sustain pedal, and discuss and practice the places where there are specific pedaling needs. (Sometimes the person who controls the pedal may not need to pedal in a certain measure, but their partner has a measure where they need extra or specific pedaling.)
     *Decide who will turn which pages, based on who has a hand free when the time comes. (In some songs my husband turns all the pages, and in other songs I do some and he does some.)
     *Practice counting out loud to lead yourselves into the song at the same time. When the actual performance time comes, count under your breath with each other before beginning to play.
     *Practice trouble spots often (and usually the same spots will pop up.)
     *Pay special attention to hand crossings and tricky finger sharing places.
     *Practice the end of the song until you are lifting off the keys at the same time.
     *Practice in the presence of someone with a good musician's ear, and ask them if the duet sounds balanced, and if the melody is prominent throughout the song.
     *HAVE FUN! :)

Two Pianists/Two Pianos (or One Piano/One Organ):
      * Use the guidelines that apply from the above pointers
      * If possible, position the instruments so that both musicians can see each other.
      * Discreetly nod or count (moving your lips) with each other at the beginning and end of the piece, so as to start and finish at the same time.
      * Let the person who carries the melody have the greater volume. (This may change several times during a piece, so adjust your volume accordingly.)
      * Write down the organ settings on your music (instruments, master volume, sustain, pedal volume, etc.) Then the next time you play that song, you will know what settings to use. (Also, if little fingers have changed the organ settings since you last played, you can re-set it without too much trouble)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Making Your Piano Tuner Work For You

The Piano Tuner (by Norman Rockwell)
     When I was a little girl, every time the piano tuner came, we children felt the strange need to scatter and be very absent and quiet until he was finished.  We always knew his work was done when he sat down and played a beautiful rendition of  "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  My little heart used to thrill while I listened!

     Ever since I got my first piano, I have been more curious when the tuner came.  And even more recently, I have asked our tuner (which also happens to be our pastor) to teach me how to tune (and I'm planning on eventually using my Swagbucks to get a digital tuner).  I think it is a very valuable skill to aquire, especially if you live in a more remote area where you have to wait until the tuner has enough pianos to come to your area (as it was when we lived on the island in Nova Scotia).

     I want to share a few tips for you to keep in mind when your tuner comes to your piano. These are things that I have learned in the past 5 years by watching tuners work on my pianos. What a lot of people don't know is this: tuners will do more than just tune, often with no extra charge! So what in the world should we ask them to do?

     1. Ask the tuner to clean your piano. Have a small shop vac handy for their use. Put on the brush attachment, especially for older pianos where there is loose, thin felt along the line of strings. If the suction is too hard, it can strip that felt away.

     2. Ask the tuner to take the keys off- yes, you read that right. Have you ever seen every last one of your 88 piano keys lying in a heap on your living room/studio floor? If not, you should do that soon! A few months ago I was amazed at the amount of dust and actual objects that had collected underneath my keys. Now granted, it had obviously not been done by the previous owner since I found an army dog tag, some very old earrings, bobby pins, old coins, nails, you name it! And the dust bunnies were in the adult stage of life. :)  If you or your students ever seem to get "stuffed up" or start sneezing when they are at the piano, this is why. Pianos get very dusty, but for some reason we forget to spring clean them!

     3. Ask the tuner to do a tune-up. Most tuners I have known will do a tune-up at no extra charge. They usually carry small spare parts with them. (The part may or may not be a small extra charge, depending on the tuner) Here are a few tune-up ideas:  
           *Check the pedals and tighten them if they are loose. Follow the pedal all the way up the dowel rod that attaches and make sure all the joint points are secure.
           * Check the hammers and make sure the pads aren't getting worn down.
           *Do a quick once-over on the strings to make sure none have snapped (although if you are playing all the time you would know that before the tuner came)
           *Check the pins that hold the strings- sometimes they are wooden and they crack. If they are cracked, they need to be replaced.
           *Check the backframe/soundboard to make sure it is not cracked.

     4. Ask the tuner about getting a heating rod, which is to be used during humid times of year. It will help keep your piano at the same temperature and dry all year. This will enable the piano to keep its tune longer.

     5. Talk to your tuner and ask questions! Most tuners are not bothered by people talking to them. Nowadays many of them use the digital tuners and not those heavy manual tools. But even so, musical pitches are the only things that will pick up on the tuning device and interfere with accuracy. So, no whistling! :)



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meet My Piano

     My piano is a D.W. Karn & Company.  It has a patent scale full iron backframe.  Boy, is it ever heavy! It took 5 men to get it into the house when we moved, and no matter how much I may want to rearrange the living room, that beautiful beast is not going anywhere!

     D.W. Karn and Company comes out of Woodstock, Ontario. I am not as familiar with the Canadian piano makes and models, but this piano was a gift, so I have enjoyed getting to know this make. Despite the fact that it is very old, it still has a nice touch and the keys are still even. The hammers and pads are in good shape, and the backframe is not cracked. However, because of its age, it does not hold a tune very well. Thankfully, the out-of-tune sound is picked up mostly in the lower bass and higher treble, so for the normal playing range, it sounds pretty good.

     According to the research I've done on the Blue Book of Pianos website (and you thought only vehicles had a blue book), my piano is a Grade III Vintage piano.  In fact, D.W. Karn is not even listed in the Blue Book alphabetical list~ it is listed under "Vintage Pianos."  I like the sound of that! Also, the only serial type number I can find is "1715," which is not a modern serial pattern. Pictured below is a general model of the pianos made during the time frame of 1893-1908.  One of the characteristics of pianos during this time is the intricate woodworking, making them a really special and unique piece of "furniture."  It also has only 2 pedals.

                                                                        GRADE III

Possesses all the qualities of grade II but contains carving on the front around the [optional] stained glass area (Instead of stained glass, mine has wooden engraving with a red silk fabric showing through from behind). Grade III pianos usually have marked elegance and style with carving on top sides of leg portions. They may have nice molding on the side of the piano with carved pieces at the top of the molding. Usually will have a 3" molding skirt around the bottom of the piano but not always (mine does). Circa 1893 - 1908 

      Here are some photos of my piano the day it was moved into our house (this is the house we lived in until November, so yes, we had to move it again after this!) 

You can see some of that era-traditional woodwork on the front of it
If you look beyond us in the photo, you can see that beautiful woodwork and the red material behind it

In this picture you can see some of the ornate woodwork of the legs- they appear to be merely decorative, although I'm sure they lend some sort of support.

Here it is a little closer up. Notice the emblems that are right under the make name~ They are copies of coins from several places in the world, including London and Jamaica. One of them has the date 1888 on it, so I at least know my piano was made after that year.  I would love to find out the history of why those coins are there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Under Construction

     Welcome to For Love of Piano!  Some of you follow my family blog Drops From My Cup where I do a "Musical Monday" post every Monday.  Judging from my stats, those posts have the highest number of hits from people in all different parts of the world. Also, I have had some requests to cover certain topics more in depth, so I have decided to make a separate blog for my musical "expositions."  I'm not yet sure if I will continue the Musical Monday posts over there, but this blog is intended to be "all things musical for the pianist and the piano teacher." I am looking forward to sharing some of what I have learned and am still learning as I strive to become a better pianist and teacher.  I am passionate about music theory and music history, and I look forward to communicating some of that passion to you.  I also plan to share some tips for playing piano duets. Being married to a pianist, I have constant practice in that area. :)  I have (hopeful) aspirations for many special things I'd like to do on this site, and I hope you'll enjoy being a part of it!
     This will not be a blog where I simply post links to other sites. I want to inspire you to be the best musician you can be, using my own (limited) knowledge and experience, and drawing from the experience of others (both living and deceased) who have risen the bar of music to that wonderful plane of excellence.

     "The aim and final end of music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul."  ~Johann Sebastian Bach