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Just for Kids - Tips

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ere is the whole collection of tips from the piano teacher. Take a look at all of them - chances are that you'll find one (or more!) here that will help you and make your lessons easier and more fun. You'll get to be a better pianist, too! We'll be adding more tips every so often, so you'll want to check for the new ones.

 

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Speed up that slow-poke hand!

If you're a right handed person, the left hand often lags behind.

The remedy?  Start by practising a very easy five note exercise. Hands an octave apart, start on C D E F G F E D C.  Do this five times slowly and evenly (preferably with a metronome, if you have one).  Then move your hand position up to D E F G A G F E D x 5.  Then move up to E, and so forth until you reach the next C. As you do this, only go as fast as your left hand will allow at a good even, steady pace.  Concentrate on the left hand - the right will follow.

Have the same attitude when practising scales.  Even, steady, only as fast as your left hand will allow.  Include scales in similar motion and contrary motion.  Begin slowly and well controlled.  Only when you feel confident increase the tempo, but always keeping even and steady. Vary your touch from legato to stacatto. Practise scales for at least ten minutes before you practise your pieces.

When sight reading, always play hands together.  If this is difficult, start with some really easy pieces.  Sight read through them once, and then proceed to the next piece.  Sight read through that piece, and then go on to the next etc.

Aim for slow but steady progress.  Work out what the weaker hand is (usually the left) and make that hand do extra work by itself, and then when working both hands, go at the pace of the weaker hand.  

Time for practice? Make it count!

Have you noticed lately just how much practise your teacher is setting?  And have you also noticed that by the time you practise everything you need to THIS week, the pieces you have learned a month or two ago are practically forgotten?  What about scales and arpeggios and all that other technical work—when are you supposed to practise that?  Here’s a schedule you can follow.  It’s based on a thirty minute practise session. Try it this month and see how you go!
Warm up (2minutes)
Technical Work: scales, arpeggios, sight reading (5 minutes)
Learn: this section is for your very latest pieces you’re working on (10 minutes)
Polish:  for the pieces you need to get up to performance standard (8 minutes)
Review: pieces you already know and play well. (5 minutes)
Remember, it’s not the AMOUNT of time you practise, it’s what you DO with the time! Use the time suggestions as a guide only.

Jazz it up!

Have you ever heard jazz musicians playing together?  Do you know that, for most of what they play, they make it up right on the spot!  This means that, every time they play something, it’s always different.  They sound pretty good together, but how do they know WHAT to play?  

They follow a lead sheet.  What’s that?  It’s like a map.  Gives them directions on where to go, but it’s up to them how they get there.  This is called improvising, and it’s heaps of fun to learn.
The first step in learning how to improvise the way jazz musicians do, is to learn chords.  Pick three chords: the tonic, the subdominant and the dominant.  You can choose any key you like, but if you’re just a beginner, stick to C major for a while.  
These are the chords you’ll need to learn: C7 = CEGBflat.  F7= FACE, G7= GBDF.  
Spend some time practising these chords.
Harmonically:  all together: a solid sound.  Both hands doing exactly the same thing.
Melodically: as an arpeggio, one note at a time, like a harp.  This is a prettier sound.
Practise playing these chords with your metronome.  Treat the piano like a set of drums, beating out rhythms using the notes in the chords.  
Try and change from chord to chord, jumping and landing on the strongest beat.  For example, using simple quadruple time (4/4) count 1 2 3 4, make sure you land on beat 1.
When you have the hang of this, write up your own lead sheet.  
Draw bar lines on a piece of paper, and write the chords in the bars.  Use any combination you like.  Then, put your lead sheet on the piano stand, and try to change chords when your sheet tells you to!  Mix the way you play the chords—and voila! You’re improvising!  Let yourself go with the rhythm.  After a while with practise, the less you think the better you improvise!

So easy you can do it with your eyes closed!

How do you memorise a piece of music?  A little at a time.  First, divide your piece into it’s form.  Example, if it’s in binary, you'll have theme A and theme B.  If it’s  ternary, ABA, Rondo form AbAcA.  Ask your teacher for help if you need to. Pretend that each theme is a piece all in itself.  First you’re going to learn theme A.  Once you have memorised theme A, work on theme B, and so on.
Do you have theme A there?  Great. Divide this theme into sections so that you concentrate on  only two or three bars at a time.  Play these bars four times in a row, singing along with the notes as you do so.  The fifth time you play these notes, close your eyes—but continue to sing!   How did you go?  Did you get it right?  Great!  Close your eyes again, and this time, play the piece three times in a row.  That’s right, with your eyes closed!  Singing.  The third time, play without singing.  
Now if you had troubles, don’t worry.  Go on to the next two or three bars and give these a go.  Play hands separately.  Don’t play too fast.  Remember to sing.  Remember the pattern:
4 times, eyes open.  5th time, eyes closed.  Singing the notes as you play.
THEN 2 more times eyes closed, singing.  3rd time, eyes closed, not singing.
Move on.  Even if you made mistakes.  Why?  Because you’ll be working on this for at least a whole week.  You don’t want to beat yourself up about getting it wrong.  It will only make you anxious next time you try that part.  So stick to the pattern.   Two or three bars at a time.  And remembering to sing the notes as you play!  Then just like a jig saw puzzle you can slowly put the pieces together.

A picture is worth a thousand words (or notes)!

Do you ever get a piece of music written by some dead guy you’ve kind of heard about, but don’t really know anything about.  Does it matter?  Do we have to know anything about the composer to play his music? You could probably get away with not knowing anything.  But you know what—it’s so much more interesting practising his music if you know what he looks like, when he lived, what sort of clothes he wore, what expression he may have had on his face when playing a particular section of music. So what can you do about it?  Say you’ve been given a piece by Henry Purcell.  Ask Mum or Dad if you can go on the internet.  Find a search engine, like Google or Yahoo, change the setting to ‘images’ and type in his name:  Henry Purcell (for example).  You’ll probably get a selection of pictures to look at.  Download them if you like.  Print them out even.  Then, look really closely at his face.  What colour eyes do you think he had?  Is he wearing a wig, or is that his real hair?  Do you think he looks happy?  Do you think he looks angry?  Why do you think he looks that way?  Do you think you would have been scared of him, or do you think he would be someone you would have liked to have met?  Now that you know what he looks like, go back to your search engine, change it back to ’web’ type in his name together with history.  Now you’ll have plenty to read about him.  Just find simple things, like, what country did he live in?  When was he born?  If he was still alive today, how old would he be?  Was he married?  Did he have kids? How old was he when he died?  Was he rich, or poor? Of course, there were female composers too.  Look up Clara Schumann.  She was a great composer.  Perhaps you could ask your teacher to learn one of her works.

Would you like that Beethoven with a side of Chopin?

Have you ever been asked to play the piano for someone and are completely stumped to think of what, even though you’ve been going to lessons for over a year now?  You need to make a ‘Repertoire List’. Go through all your piano books and write down the pieces you really like to play, even if it’s really simple stuff. You can make simple pieces much more interesting by repeating them either an octave lower or higher, picking out an ending phrase and using this as an introduction. Now they’re good enough to play for people. Keep your list somewhere handy so you can add to it. And remember to play those pieces on your repertoire list often! As you learn new pieces you like, you can add them to your list, too. Think of your list as a menu in a really expensive restaurant. Next time someone asks you to play, you can even give them a choice on what they’d like to hear, just as they would get a choice of what they would like to eat!

Psst! Don't tell your piano teacher we said this!

Music is great, isn’t it? But learning the piano can be hard work.  You want to do it, of course, but sometimes … (sigh) ... you need a break.  I know how you feel!  Have you ever thought of teaching yourself another instrument?  A really easy instrument you can play just for fun—no having to practise scales, no having to learn hard classical music that makes your brain tired sometimes.  Ask Mum or Dad if they would buy you a recorder, an ocarina, a tin whistle, a xylophone/glockenspiel or a second hand guitar next time they’re looking at buying you a gift.  Better still, save your pocket money to buy one of these cheap, easy instruments yourself.   Most of these instruments come with fingering charts, and are easy enough to play right from the beginning.  The guitar is a little harder, but if you buy a chord book and persevere with developing calluses (ouch!), you can accompany yourself singing.   Sometimes a break from all our serious hard work is refreshing.   And then we can get back to the ‘real’ stuff with new enthusiasm!

Start practice by cutting the cards!

Sometimes it’s hard to play pieces without the help of our teacher because those notes are just so hard to read!  No one could blame you for just giving up and playing basketball or watching TV instead.  Except your teacher.  Oh yeah.  Your teacher will want to know how your practise went.  So turn off that TV, put down that ball, and head back to the piano.  But forget about the piece you’re supposed to be practising.  That’s right.  Don’t worry about it just yet.  Instead, you’re going to make up your own flash cards.  You’ll need some cardboard, some pens, some scissors (check with Mum or Dad first) and a ruler.  Ready?
First, rule up your cardboard.  If you use 5 cm x 5cm (2 in. x 2 in.), you’ll get about 30 small cards to one A4 piece of cardboard.  
Now you have to rule up the 5 lines for the staff in each square.  The quickest way is to hold the ruler across the top squares, draw all the top lines first, then move the ruler down, draw the second lines.  Keep going until you have the fifth lines.  Then move down to the next lot of boxes.
Next, draw the clefs, the top lot of ’cards’ for treble, the bottom lot for bass.
Now add the note.  Use semibreves (whole notes).  They’re quicker to draw.  Don’t use the notes you already know really well.  Use the ones you get stumped with all the time.  And include ledger lines, especially if you have to play these notes in the piece you have to work on. It’s time to cut out your cards.
You’ll have about thirty separate cards.  One by one, look at the note you drew, and write the name of it on the back of the card.  Make sure it’s correct!
Now you’re set to play a game every day this week before you begin your practise.  You can test yourself, or get your Mum or Dad to flash the cards for you to guess.  What’s better though, is if you invite a piano playing friend over for a game!  You can take it in turns to see how many you get correct in one minute.  
Now that you know those notes better, try and find them as quickly as you possible in your music you have to practise.  Say the notes out loud.  See where they are on the piano.  Now, practise!

Open wide and sing ahh!

Here’s a game you can play to help you develop a good ‘ear’ for sounds.  Sing a note to yourself.  Just one long one.  Then, try and match that note with one on the piano.  Hint:  Keep around the middle C section, three notes below and about six or seven notes above—that’s where the human voice is most comfortable singing.  Keep pressing the piano keys until you get one that sounds just like your voice.  When you get good with finding one note, try two notes in a row, then three, then a complete phrase you make up yourself.  Pretty soon, you’ll be able to work out melodies just by hearing them!

Make the music yours!

Hey kids!  Do you roll your eyes and think, “what century does my teacher think we’re in?” every time you’re assigned a new piece for the piano?  Are you silently bored with what you have to learn, but don’t have any idea what to do about it? Try this.  For the next two weeks, listen to the radio every night—of course, make sure it’s okay with Mom or Dad first. You can choose the channel.  But you know what would be even better?  Pick a different channel every night!  Listen to it for about an hour.  If a song comes on that you REALLY like, write down the name of it, and make sure you also write down who wrote it, or sang it.  The next night, you can even phone the station and request that song again, just to make sure you really do like it.  When you have a list of at least five songs, bring the list to your teacher, and when you have the chance, ask politely if it’s possible that you could learn one of them.  Make sure you know which one you want to learn first, just in case you’re asked.  It would be even better if you already have the sheet music! Maybe your parents could buy it for you if you do extra chores around the house—or cook Mom a breakfast for her to have in bed!

Pull out the Props for Proper Piano Practice!

Your teacher has said again, ‘you have to do more practise’. Well, you already play all your scales, arpeggios and assigned pieces once through every day, what more could she possibly want? How ‘bout five times through each day?! Yep. That might satisfy your teacher. Here’s how to do it so that you don’t lose count. First, you need to grab some props. Five props to be exact. It’s more interesting if they’re different colours. What to use … how about plastic pegs, or game counters/tokens, or those coloured plastic paper clips? You can even use coloured pencils or pens. Now, we’re going to put these coloured ‘props’ in order. Least favourite colour, to most favourite. If you’re using pegs or paper clips, attach these to the top of your music page. Make sure they’re all together on one side of the page. If you’re using something else, lay these on top of one side of the piano. Okay. We’re set. Each time you play the piece, you move one of your coloured objects to the opposite side of the page, or piano. Keep doing this until each prop is on the opposite side. Then, do the same with your next piece. You can do this for scales too!
You can give each colour a special purpose. Have you got your five different colours ready? My five colours are orange, yellow, green, purple and blue.
Orange: The first time we play the piece is going to be SLOW and steady. We’re going to make sure we take our time thinking about what note is on the page, where it is on the piano, and how many counts it takes. We’re going to make sure we don’t make any mistakes, even if this takes a long time. You can look at your hands if you need to.
Yellow. The second time, we’re going to do the same thing, only this time, you’re not allowed to look at your hands! Concentrate. You’ll be able to do it.
Green. We’re still playing slow. This time, we have to include any expression marks, like soft and loud, and make sure we bring these out in our playing.
Purple. Now we have to look carefully at the touch and phrasing. Do you have to play legato, or staccato? Concentrate on this.
Blue is the last one. (Make sure you use your favourite colour last because it represents your best performance.) We have to make sure we’re concentrating on all of the above!
Tomorrow, do the same thing. Use different colours, or different props to keep things interesting.

Divide and Conquer!

Learning a new piece of music can be a long and tough project. If you try to do it all at once, you'll go crazy - and frustrated with yourself! But, there is a better way. It's what we call the "divide and conquer" approach to any truly big job. First, realize that trying to do too much, too fast (for example, learning the work in an hour) is sure to lead to failure and disappointment in yourself. For that reason, any big job needs to be divided into a set of easy-to-reach, smaller goals that can be done in any given day or week. So, break learning the work down into a set of small steps and goals that you can get to in a day's practice. If you need help to figure out how to divide learning a piece of music this way, ask your teacher. She'll probably be happy to help! Make sure that you work each and every day in practice accomplishing each of these smaller goals one-by-one-by-one. Reaching each of these goals puts you one step closer to the overall goal, and doesn't make you feel bad the way setting an unrealistic goal does. Allow a little more time to get where you're going than you think will be needed, so when things go wrong, you won't feel pressed. Finally, plan on a little extra time near the end for "cleanup" (putting sections together, developing a feel for the MUSIC in the work, etc.). Six, pat yourself on the back - you're done!! If you do it this way, you'll get the work learned right, have fun, and feel good about it at the end!

 

 

 

I made this on: 1/5/97
Newest stuff added: 04/06/12
 
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 9, No. 2, http://pianoeducation.org
Copyright 1995-2014 John M. Zeigler. All rights reserved.