Maestro's 2016/17 Studio Challenges - Part 1

Maestro's 2016/17 Studio Challenges - Part 1

This year, I made two big changes to Maestro's Challenges. The first is that I separated the Musician Survival Skills Challenges and the Music Moxie Challenges. The biggest change, however, is how my students and I are approaching technique. It's been a bit of a gamble, especially with the ones preparing for an exam, but it's paying off.

Popular Hand Exercises Books for Piano

If you or your piano teacher have decided that you add finger strengthening exercises into your at-home practice sessions, check out these popular books of finger exercises. Please note, this list is just for piano. I'll eventually get around to posting popular exercise books for the other instruments.

Time Saving Technique Practice Idea

Are you stuck between studying for tests and logging in much needed time on practicing technique? Try this idea that came up during one of my lessons last week.

Ideas for Practicing Piano Technique

Try as I might, some students just loathe practicing their technical exercises. You know the ones - scales, chords and arpeggios. I must admit that when I was their age, I wasn't too keen on practicing them either. However, if you want to "level up" and/or ace this portion of your music examination, you can't get away from it. You have to practice them. A lot.

If I have to ask my students to play a scale more than once in a lesson, I ask my them to play to play it differently. For instance, if a student played it legato the first time, they could play it staccato the second time.

But why stop there? Change the rhythm and make it sound like a real tune. Zig-zag back and forth so it doesn't sound like a scale. Change where you place the accents so that it's on every fifth note instead of every second or third.

The bottom line is that some degree of repetition is needed, so why not make it interesting for yourself?

15 Reasons Why Practicing Technique Can Improve Your Time at the Piano

Once again, Chris Foley posts another musical gem titled 15 Reasons Why Practicing Technique Can Improve Your Time at the Piano.

So folks, keep up with your scales, chords and arpeggios - they're important!

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Why We Should Practice Scales, Chords and Arpeggios

A few of my students detest their technical exercises. In fact, I have a few students who really need to pull up their socks in this area if they're going to pass their piano exam next month. I hated them too. With a passion. That hatred was reflected in my poor technical skills mark on piano exams.

Since then, I've learned to like them. Elinor Lawson, my piano instructor at university, assigned me some songs from Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm by Béla Bartok. In it, I found several passages where chords progressed up in a scale (e.g. B chord, C chord, D chord, etc.). I started looking at music harmonically - from the chord progressions to how a melody would be stated in one key and then reappear in a closely related key. I learned that looking for patterns like this made memorizing easier.

In Chopin's Nocturne in e minor, op. 72 no. 1, which I'm currently working on, there are virtuosic scale passages that I've spent many an hour on.

As a listener at a concert, I've heard jazz and classical musicians play scale passages that move in parallel, contrary and zigzag motion.

As a teacher, I see chords, arpeggios and scales in my students' songs.

Scales, chords and arpeggios are often called the building blocks of music as I've illustrated above. They also are exercises in motor dexterity and strength. Those tricky passages in the Nocturne demand technical precision. The dramatic effect is lost if I stumble my way to the top.

It comes down to this: it doesn't matter how expressive a musician is, if he or she is weak technically, he or she can't convey the music convincingly. It's like trying to read an essay or a resume that's riddled with grammatical and typographical errors.

Here are a few more articles on the importance of practicing technique:

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Music Theory Musings: A Practical Example

Sometimes, students ask, “Why do I need to take music theory?” The simple answer is, “It makes you a better musician.” With theoretical knowledge of the music, one is able to better learn and understand their repertoire, resulting in stronger performances.

I’ll use a practical example: Two of my students are working on a Bourée this year, which is a lively French dance popular in the Baroque period. One is learning the Bourée in A minor by Johann Ludwig Krebs while the other is working on a Bourée in F Major from Georg Philipp Telemann’s Solo in F Major, TWV 32:4.

At the beginning of the school year, we discussed the form of the music. Both are in binary form (rounded binary to be more specific). That makes learning simpler, knowing that the A section returns with some or no modifications. Both begin on an upbeat, which encourages the performer to give a nice strong accent to beat one in the following bar. They should be in duple meterbut strangely, they’re both in quadruple meter. Lively dance in quadruple meter? Past experience suggests that they play with a feeling of one beat per bar.

The first section begins in the tonic key but ends in a decisive perfect (V-I) cadence in a contrasting, closely related key (either the Dominant or the relative major)

The B section in both dances are based on a short motive from the A section. After some sequences, the music returns to the A section (or in the case of the second dance, a portion of A). Both songs end in a decisive perfect cadence in the tonic key.

My students learned their Bourées, one section at a time. They are currently busy bees, trying to memorize their songs for the upcoming APTA Festival. The memorization process has been easier because they recognize the form and the cadences (the usual trouble spots). However, both are struggling with the sequential patterns.

Theoretically, sequences should be easy to memorize but sometimes, it takes a while to internalize the pattern, as my students are finding. You learn the original pattern and then transpose it up a step or down a step, as marked in the score. I am now trying to get them to memorize the chords, e.g. C goes to F, D goes to G, E goes to A, etc. I just realized that should have told one student that this pattern is a series V-I chords, with the pattern moving up a step (C – D – E or F, G, A, depending on which chord you focus on). Maybe that will help.

© 2006, Musespeak™,Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.