Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Getting Kids to Practice Music without Tears or Tantrums"

Hey Parents!

This article just seems to sum it up:

Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

Having a goal for each practice session is essential, whether your child is practicing for five minutes or a couple of hours each day. From the Top alumna Ren Martin-Doike, a 20-year-old violist who now studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, says that her number one practice technique is to write down those benchmarks: "Set goals, hold yourself accountable to them and create a practice log you can be proud of!"

In our house, the mood, and the amount of stuff we could accomplish in less than 10 minutes changed really dramatically when we switched from practicing in the early evenings to getting it done before school.

And at the end of a practice session, we try to leave a bit of time for her play whatever she wants, usually her own improvisations.

Hope this gives you a little inspiration today!   

Friday, March 21, 2014

Finger 4 on B Flat!

I love to teach the F Major Scale....especially the Right Hand. You see, before this point students have been mastering the technique involved in playing scales like B and C and G and D Major. They have been taught how to play 8 (or more) consecutive notes using all 5 fingers.

And you mathematicians out there might have already found the conundrum....if you only have 5 fingers, then how can you play more than 5 sequential notes in a row? Nope, not by using your other hand. Ahh, by adding the "the cross over - finger 2 or 3 crosses over the thumb" or "the cross under - the thumb crosses under finger 2 or 3." This idea seems to be digested quickly with most students. Makes sense. Fits nicely with most scales because you just memorize 1-2-3-CROSS!

But then comes the F Major Scale! You see, when a piano student tries to apply this paradigm with the Right Hand it doesn't work. You start on F and play 1-2-3-CROSS......and suddenly your thumb has to awkwardly shift up onto a black key, the Bb. Crossing the thumb under the hand and onto a black note just doesn't fly - it's jarring, strenuous, and unpredictable. Not what you want when using quick and exacting movements.

So what do we do? I love this part...This is where I ask the question and watch the gears turn in those brilliant little minds. We use a different fingering! We change the "rules" in order to achieve a fluid sound, keep a relaxed hand, and not drive our piano teacher crazy with excessive wrong notes! And here's the key: We use that same fingering CONSISTENTLY every time we play our F Major scale so that we can play it quickly and accurately!

I write this as an introduction to a greater idea in the realm of piano playing: How fingering - the finger we decide to use when playing a particular note - is quite important to the success or failure of everything we play. It's often overlooked by beginning (and even advanced) students who are so concerned about playing the correct NOTE that they forget they also need to use the correct FINGER when playing it! Piano practice is all about refining the movement of the finger/hand/wrist/arm/shoulder to achieve a particular sound. If a little extra time is taken to pay attention to the finger number written above certain notes in your music (or writing in your own fingering) when first learning a new passage of music, you will be amazed at how quickly and securely you will be playing that passage! I mean...would an olympic ice skater pulling off a triple axle use a different foot each time she jumped?

So parents, if you are hearing any of the following: a consistent "hiccup" or stop in the same spot, notes that aren't articulated well or sound sloppy, complaints that a new piece is too hard or not fun, or seeing crazy looking arm or hand movements; ask your kiddo what the fingering is. Have them explain why they chose to use the finger they use. If you get a blank stare, you might have just planted the seed toward greater understanding!

Here's my tip for practicing new fingerings: Looking at the notes directly BEFORE and AFTER the difficult spot. Then practice...very slowly at first....playing a small section that includes the difficult passage and a note or two beyond the tricky spot. Watch the hand to make sure you "Nail it" when you get to those notes with the finger numbers above them. Grab a pencil and write in a few more finger numbers if needed.      Repeat.

Have fun Everyone!   -Emily