learning music

Student Post: Music iApps Review

My students occasionally do extra projects to earn more Maestro Bucks to spend at Maestro's Market. One such method is to write a review, be it a concert review or in this case, an app review. This is from one of my senior level students - Dylan: Pocket Drums I thought this was a very fun app, letting you play along to songs in your library or on your own. It is a 6-piece drum set. You can record your own drum loops, and then play along with them to make a very full sound. In conclusion: 5/5 stars Rhythm Pad When I played the pads, no sound came out. 0/5 stars Shazam This is a very fun app to play with, just hold it up to your speaker while it's playing a song (like from the iTunes store) and, if everyone's quiet, after a few seconds, it will show you what song it is. It's perfect for when you hear a song you want but don't know the name of it.  It's also linked with the iTunes store, so when it finds the song name, there is a little iTunes store button so you can buy the song. In conclusion: 4/5 stars Author's Note: For five stars, make it work for live piano performances. (-:

Fixing Trouble Spots with the Smarties Practice Drill

This is, by far, the most popular practice drill with my piano students. If you are looking for new ideas for how to practice, try this Smarties Drill. First, you start with a number of Smarties (between three and five is ideal). It actually doesn't need to be Smarties. You can use carrots, raisins, M&M's, nuts or even marbles. Using something edible makes it more fun. However, try to keep it to snacks that are safe around your instrument (chocolate chip cookies or brownies would really mess up your musical instrument). Group your Smarties on one side of a Kleenex or plate:

Smarties Drill - Start!

Pick a spot in a song that requires extra practice. Maybe it's a spot where you consistently have a few few notes or where the rhythm is just a little wonky. Play through the spot slowly.

Each time you play through that spot cleanly, move one of the Smarties to the right-hand side of your Kleenex (the "Success!" side):

Smarties Drill - Progress?

 Say that your first two run-throughs were pretty good, but your third wasn't so hot. You have to move one of the Smarties from the "Success" pile to the "Oops, try again" pile.

Once you've done enough clean run-throughs to get all the Smarties to the "Success!" side, you can pat yourself on the back and enjoy your Smarties.

Smarties Drill - Success!

Don't forget to work the trouble spot that you worked on back into your piece in stages. Add the bar before, then the bar after the trouble spot. Keep extending your practice area until you can play through the entire section pretty well. That's a different practice drill.

Music Practice Tips Online

There are a growing number of resources online to help music students with how to practice. As each  music educator has a unique background, each has something to bring to the table - to you - the music student.
This is a short list of some websites that I recommend to my students:
Check out Chris Foley's series, "31 Days to Better  Practicing" on The Collaborative Piano Blog.

Musicianship Musings

Sometimes, the word "musicianship" comes into a music-related conversation. Beginner pianists using the Piano Adventures series are more familiar with the term "artistry" from their Technique & Artistry book. "Artistry" in music and "Musicianship" mean basically the same thing. Ah, but what is artistry? Wordreference.com defines it as: a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation; "the art of conversation"; "it's quite an art". I tend to associate "expressiveness" with these words. How well can we as musicians move our audiences? If the song is a happy one, how well can we paint a soundscape to portray that emotion? If the song is dark and mysterious, how well can we communicate that without words?

I feel that musicianship is more important than technique. Yes, technique helps us express ourselves better and helps us deliver a convincing performance; but it's musicianship that pulls on the heartstrings. The emotions we paint are what stays with the audience (and the musician) long after the performance. Most members in an audience won't walk away from a performance thinking "If only she didn't hit that wrong note in bar 25." They remember how the music made them feel.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

I’ve got rhythm…do you?

" Rhythm is everywhere. It surrounds us constantly in our environment and lives continuously within us." ~ Craig Cooke, CEO and Co-Founder, Rhythm Interactive, Inc.

I found this particular quote apropos for this week. Rhythm is extremely important in music but have you ever noticed rhythms in your everyday activities and environment?

From the soft breathing of a sleeping baby to a car alarm blaring in the night; from an egg jiggling in a pot of boiling water to Maestro’s “roll-roll-check” rhythm to force treats out of his Have-A-Ball -- these steady rhythms are soothing and comforting. They give us a point of reference.

I began studying the martial art of Iaido this month. Right away, I learned that there is much to gain by figuring out a steady rhythm to my movements. For instance, it takes five beats for me to complete a basic cut with my bokuto (wooden sword) and ten to complete first half of hajime no saho (beginning etiquette). The steadier the beat, the more fluid my movements became. The more fluid I became, the closer I came to attaining a state of mushin (no thought). Yes, it’s active meditation. I won’t dare go further because I am still learning the basics and don’t want to lead anyone astray.

Most people pay little or no attention to the rhythm in their lives. Only when the rhythm is off do they notice. A dancer automatically stumbles if the music is cut off suddenly or changes speed, a student may forget her lines in Romeo & Juliet if she hears a noise, while a daily commuter will notice the difference in the flow of traffic on the way to work if he wakes up ten minutes late.

As I say to my students, pay attention to the rhythm. Teachers often ask students to tap out tricky rhythms before they even attempt to play the notes. For if they don’t have the rhythm right from the beginning – it will always be off.

© Musespeak™, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.