Practicing Music

Every Other Bar Drill Demonstration for Piano and Melodica

The Every Other Bar Drill has proved to be a successful drill with my students this month. Some need to clean things up, especially their notes, rhythm and fingering. Others need to make their music flow more smoothly. This drill addresses these issues. The student plays the odd numbered bars in a troublespot, while I play the even numbered bars on the melodica. Then we switch.Afterwards, when I get them to play the entire passage, the difference from their first runthrough at the lesson and the latest is like night and day.

A melodica is a "wind piano". A very fun instrument to play. Photo by R-M Arca.

It really doesn't matter what that second instrument is - voice, French horn, percussion. What I have been finding is that this drill really forces my students to count and "feel" the pulse. For me, this is proving to be a great way to practice "Instrument #5" - the melodica. This wind piano is a fun little instrument. It looks like I'll need to work on breath technique a bit more, though.

Special thanks to my student "S" for giving me permission to share this clip from last week's lesson.

Practicing Piano Technique by the Root

This is more for the advanced students, music teachers and anyone who wants to learn jazz chords and scales. Instead of practicing your technical exercises by key, practice them by their shared root. For example, play through:

  • C major Scale
  • C major Modes
  • C minor Scales (natural, harmonic, melodic, jazz minor)
  • C minor Modes
  • C Penatonic Scale
  • C Blues Scale
  • C Whole Tone Scale
  • C Octatonic Scale
  • C major tonic chord/triad
  • C minor tonic chord/triad
  • C7 (dominant 7th of F major)
  • Cm7 (ii7 of B-flat major)
  • Cm7(♭5) (viiø7 of D-flat major)
  • Cdim7, A.K.A. B#dim (viio7 of D-flat/c# minor)
  • and so on.

This was one of the first things I learned when I took jazz piano lessons with jazz pianist, clinician, adjudicator and examiner Derek Stoll.

Using Progressives for Music - Pre-Experiment Video

To give everyone a frame of reference as I start my "Using Progressives for Music" experiment, here are some videos taken of me practicing with my single vision lenses. Sight-reading example:

Drilling a student's piece:

Practicing ensemble music on piano:

Practicing conducting:

I'll repeat these experiments (and more) with the progressives.

Summer Music Project Ideas

Wow...May and June turned out to be extremely hectic. Our poor World Music Exploration came to a dead halt with the regular stream of recitals, exams and music festivals.
Let's see if I can start making up for it.  If you are looking for fun ways to keep your music playing skills up during the summer, check out some of these ideas that my students and I have come up with:
    1. National Anthems: one of my beginner students is a history buff. He came up with the idea of learning various national anthems throughout the summer. I helped him out with the first three. I look forward to hearing what else he tackles during the summer break.
    2. Video Games: Two students (siblings) are HUGE video game buffs. They both picked three video game themes to work on, which we started during the last two weeks of lessons. For the younger one, it's a huge step up in playing level. I am banking on the fact that these are some of his fave themes to motivate him to overcome some of his note-reading/coordination challenges.
The Legend of Zelda look inside The Legend of Zelda (Easy Piano). By Koji Kondo, Kozue Ishikawa, Toru Minegishi, Kenta Nagata, Akito Nakatsuka, Asuka Ohta, Manaka Tominaga, and Hajime Wakai. For Piano. This edition: Easy Piano. Book; Piano - Easy Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Video Game. Easy Piano. 76 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.38634)...more info
Super Mario Series for Piano look inside Super Mario Series for Piano (Easy Piano). By Koji Kondo, Shiho Fujii, Asuka Ohta, Soyo Oka, Kenta Nagata, Hirokazu Tanaka, and Mahito Yokota. For Piano. This edition: Easy Piano. Book; Piano - Easy Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Video Game. Early Intermediate; Easy Piano; Elementary; Intermediate; Late Elementary; Late Intermediate. 76 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.38633)Smp_stars50 (2) ...more info
  1. Composing: Some of my students enjoy composing. I've given them some info on songwriting contests to help sweeten the pot.
  2. Performance Sets: A couple of my recreational play students are building performance sets to play for family and friends. The one in high school has picked three pop ballads that she likes to work on. Another, who loves performing, has picked a nice selection of jazz and pop songs to work on (for piano solo and voice/piano).Another student of mine likes playing HK-Pop ballads. I like quizzing her on what the song is about and the movies they are from.
  3. Getting a Head Start on the Next Level: Two of my advanced students have opted to get a jump start on the next grade. They are (hopefully) building their project timeline and have selected three pieces to start working on, on top of their technical requirements.
  4. Summer Lessons/Workshops: Four of my students have opted to take some lessons throughout July. One is writing a theory exam in August. Another is playing catch-up after a six-month hiatus. Student #3 is preparing for Adult Piano Camp. Student #4 has had practicing consistency challenges throughout the year, so we're hoping that she'll be able to make some headway without school getting in the way. 
 I've got my own summer projects to work on as well. Here are a few of them:
  1. Start working on Rameau's "Suite #5 in G+/g"-: I've wanted to sink my teeth into this one for months.
  2. Work through my advanced students' repertoire: Some of them have picked songs I'm not familiar with, so I too much work to get a good feel for them.
  3. Learn at least 2 more cajón grooves
  4. Learn at least one song for voice/piano (to accompany myself)
  5. Virtual Choir Army: Learn and recordSeaEr Eric Whitacre's Sea "Seal Lullaby" alto AND piano parts).
  6. Learn voice/piano parts as needed for church.
  7. Start working through Forrest Kinney's "Chord Play" series:
Chord Play 1 Chord Play 1 (The Art of Arranging at the Piano). By Forrest Kinney. For Piano. This edition: 1st. Piano. Chord Play. Book. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.CP01)...more info
Chord Play 2 Chord Play 2 (The Art of Arranging at the Piano). By Forrest Kinney. For Piano. This edition: 1st. Piano. Chord Play. Book. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.CP02)...more info
Chord Play 3 Chord Play 3 (The Art of Arranging at the Piano). By Forrest Kinney. For Piano. This edition: 1st. Piano. Chord Play. Book. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.CP03)...more info
So readers, do YOU have any neat ideas for summer projects that you are willing to share?
© 2012 by Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Speedlinking December 19, 2011 Edition

One of these days I will get to musing on something regarding this teaching year. Today isn't one of them.
In the meantime, please check out these fantastic posts by my colleagues:
(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Fun Summer Music Homework Ideas

Many music students in Canada take the summer off from music lessons. The challenge as a music instructor is to give them just enough homework that 1 - they'll actually DO it and 2 - they think it's fun. One thing my students have heard from me time and time again is the importance of having several pieces "performance ready" at all times. You never know when a relative from Europe, Asia or the States is going to come visit. As soon as they see the piano in the house, they will undoubtedly ask for a performance. That's Assignment #1. My students and I explored this year is Pattern Play, developed by Forrest & Akiko Kinney. They have five books published, full of short patterns guaranteed to sound good. My students have learned 10 patterns from the first book. Jamming on their favorite patterns is Assignment #2. Assignment 2A is to maintain their technical exercises so that they don't start from scratch in September. My students in RCM and Conservatory Canada know that the further ahead they get with their technique for the upcoming year, the easier the school year will be. Assignment #3 - repertoire. Everyone has at least two songs they they will work on independently. Some will do well at completing their tasks. Not to worry, they have at least one "fun" piece that they've selected (or we negotiated), e.g. Super Mario, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts. They're excited to learn their fave games tunes, I get to chuckle because they've picked pieces that are more rhythmically and technically challenging than some of the pieces they tackled this year. Assignment #4 is a music mastery project. My students have selected one song from this current year that they will rest for most of the summer. They will re-learn it from scratch at the end of the summer. I hope that the break will give them a fresh perspective on the piece and help take the work to the next level. Assignment #5 is a fun ear training project - to pick out their favorite songs by ear. Intermediate and advanced students can also try to pick out the chords to the song. Assignment #6 is a listening project. I've given some students (the ones most inclined to do it) a list of composers and performers to check out on Youtube, everything from Bach to Dave Brubeck. They are to submit a report on each piece or performer they listen to. Naturally, they will earn their coveted Maestro Bucks for each report (to spend on prizes). One student plans to hang his listening list up in his room. He asked me to make the list in a large font so that it's the first thing he sees in the morning. Assignment #7 is probably one of the most fun projects. Some of my students are anime or manga otaku. I've tasked them with watching Nodame Cantabile and submitting reports on the music. This romance-comedy revolves around a girl who has a superb ear and a guy who is a musical technician. Each piece highlights at least one work (e.g. Brahms' Symphony no. 1). Yes, they will also earn Maestro Bucks for each report they submit. We've done audio/visual recordings of some of the trickier elements they will work on over the summer break. They also know that all they need to do is ask and I can quickly do up a "video demo" if they are stuck on something - within reason. Hopefully, some of these summer practice ideas appeal to students and teachers alike. For more summer music practice ideas, check out my article, "Fun Ways for Music Students to Stay in Shape in the Summer".

On Memorizing Music

Often, a piece of music becomes memorized after practicing it many times. However, for a piece to be truly memorized, musicians should incorporate more than one type of memorization. This is a great article on the different types of memory that music students can use, called "Music Memorization". Yes, it's similar to the VARK Learning Styles. Harmonic or analytical memory stems from read/write learning.

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB. All rights reserved.