piano tutorial

Using the Circle of Fifths to Practice Technique

This popped into my head while I was teaching a lesson  last week. I asked my student to play her Grade 8 piano technique by going through the Circle of Fifths. Not only was it quickly evident that my student needs to review her key signatures, but it also was clear that she was used to practicing her technique in a certain order. However, during a music examination, you have no clue which of the required technical elements you will be asked to play. It is important to mix things up regularly.

In this piano lesson tutorial, I demonstrate what how my student practiced her piano technique using the Circle of Fifths approach.

Music Practicing 101 - Alternating Hand/Bar Drill

My students and I started playing around with this practice drill last week. It's an accuracy drill to clean up notes, fingering and wonky timing. Try playing the left hand alone in bar 1 and then right hand alone in bar 2, etc. Check out this video for a demonstration.

Music Practicing 101: Every Other Bar Drill

This week, I've been working with my students to either increase the tempo of their repertoire or improve on the flow in their music. This is a drill that I did learn about at a piano teaching workshop or conference - the Every Other Bar Drill.

It also works well if you do every other beat.

Music Practicing 101 - Keyboard Harmony Demo

Another quick demo primarily for students studying through the Conservatory Canada system (although anyone interested in chording can still benefit from this). ConCan students in Grade 5 and up have to demonstrate that they can harmonize a melody. In Grade 5, they use the Tonic (I) and Dominant (V). As they progress to higher grades, they must be able to harmonize using a wider selection of chords. From a speed learning perspective as well as a piano accompanist perspective, I must say that keyboard harmony is a necessity! It's saved my bacon on numerous occasions. This video shows you how to practice when you are just starting out with keyboard harmony.


Music Practicing 101 - Speed Learning

If you have to get something ready to perform and you have very little preparation time, you have to manage your time very efficiently to get the job done. This is where speed learning comes in.
Speed learning techniques are useful for musicians of any level and any age. There are several approaches to speed learning a piece of music, which I outline in my speed learning piano tutorial:
Regardless of your approach, there are a few common themes:
  1. Have frequent mini-practices to get the music into your muscle memory, e.g. five 2-minute practices, or five 5-minute practices.
  2. Know your theory! It's important to know where you are in the form of the piece (e.g., A section? Recap? Second verse?). It is equally just as important to know your harmony. More on that later.
  3. Make it easier for yourself: Most people won't notice if you make a few modifications. Look for ways to simply patterns. Younger students can play solid chords instead of the fancier Alberti bass. Drop the doubled-notes. Go ahead scribble in the note-names for notes on the ledger lines. Write in the harmony (the chords).
  4. Set your goals and tasks for each mini-practice: Which trouble spots are you going to work on? Which practice drill is the best for fixing it? You must strive to see and hear a significant improvement on that spot by the end of your mini-practice.
  5. Use practice aids: Drag out that metronome from behind the piano. Prop up your iPod, tablet or smart phone by your instrument to play along to a recording of your piece. You can also record and review your progress.
By regularly doing "speed learning challenges" or "quick studies",  you will notice that you will learn your "regular" pieces more quickly.
I'll have to ask my fellow music teachers if they have any other speed learning tips to share. Stay tuned!
Happy practicing!