Monthly Archives: September 2016


Going Slow

Going slow is both the best tool a music student can have, and a student’s worst nightmare. Every student wants to play at lightning speed. Like the rest of us, little piano students want to get right into the fun and exciting parts, without having prepared correctly first. However, as the music gets progressively harder, they are quickly met with the frustration that their fingers can’t coordinate their rhythm and notes at their usual fast speed.

At this point, every teacher would suggest for their students to play slowly to adjust to all the difficult passages; just like how our driving instructor asked us to drive slowly when we first were learning. Or when our parents told us to slow down when we talk, because they can not understand what we are saying.

Slowing down allows the students to take in the information and examine the details of the music. By reducing their speed, they become more aware of what each finger is doing, therefore building a stronger understanding on how to execute the passage.

Here are 3 tips for parents to help piano students slow down!

       

    1.  Don’t equate slow with bad, and fast with good.  All music can sped up or slowed down for a variety of effects. Let the student know that playing fast can be great, but let them know that playing slow sounds great too. Don’t make playing fast the ultimate goal.
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    3.  Ask them to count out loud. Most students will have to adjust to being able to count out loud, and play at the same time. This is a terribly tricky skill but incredibly valuable. Once they can count out loud, and play at the same time, it means they have truly understood the rhythm of the passage we’re working on. Count with them!
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    5. Play along with them. Students (especially young students) can have a skewed sense of time (Don’t we all!). 30 seconds of playing can feel like 5 minutes to them. It is very common for the students to play at lightning speed and think that they played slower than usual. Play along with them in the low or high register to keep them on track. If you are not a piano player yourself, simply play a C in a steady beat with them to act as a metronome.

 
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Hands Together

The Problem of Hands Together Coordination

More and more, I am noticing my students struggle to play the piano with both hands, and don looks of frustration when they realize that knowing how to play hand separately, does not always translate to playing both hands. Since most books have beginner piano players start with one hand at a time, it is not uncommon for students to have little idea and experience on how to approach music that has notes in both clefs at the same time.

What Can Help?

  1.  Scales– This can not be stated enough! If both hands have dexterity, students are more likely able to tackle two-handed songs. Essentially, we should feel free independence in both hands. This is of course a life long journey of learning! Therefore, it is never too soon to start playing scales.
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  3. Games/Exercises– Sometimes, a song is too hard to tackle immediately. Some simple exercises, can get the student internalizing more the feel of the piano and the spaces of the keys and notes. Andrea from Teach Piano Today outlines her tips in her blog post addressing this problem.  Andrea also states the importance of isolating rhythm to help the student learn the song
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  5. Practice Hands Together– It’s the most obvious and easy answer! It is a very special skill to be able to interpret two separate lines at the same time and all pianists work to continuously refine this skill. Well practicing one hand at a time is a great way to learn notes, it can not work on the coordination of the two hands. Making mistakes? That is part of it! Don’t worry too much.
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While most people agree that practice makes perfect, we often forget to iterate that practice time is imperfect. Let yourself make mistakes! It is completely okay to.
 

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Healthy Technique

Recently, I have read about the controversy surrounding 14 year old singer Laura Bretan singing opera caught my attention.

Healthy Singing

Classic FM summarizes the issue in their article “Laura Bretan’s singing technique ‘raises deep concerns’ says singing teacher“. Voice professionals have expressed their concerns over the stress Bretan is placing on her vocal chords due to her choice in singing opera prematurely.

While I am not a voice teacher, it is important to open the discussion on healthy technique for musicians. Piano players, much like other instrumentalists and singers, have physical limitations that should not be pushed without consideration.  A consequence is that this behaviour can cause long-lasting injuries.

Musician Injuries

The most common condition for an overworked pianist is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is characterized by a pain in the arms and hands caused by a compression of a major nerve. This syndrome is seen in piano players that play and practice with tension in their hands and arms. This is especially dangerous if the pianist is practicing for hours every day without consideration of proper technique.

Just like how we should not try to lift heavy objects with our backs, we should not attempt to force advanced technique on a student that has not yet learned to use their body in a free and relaxed manner.

When we bypass healthy technique to play difficult music, we not only worsen our physical condition but also limit ourselves in our musical expression. Without freedom in the arms, wrists, and hands, a pianist can never truly express themselves on the piano.

Healthy Technique:

An approach to healthy piano technique is the Taubman Approach. While reading this information may be helpful, please consult and ask your piano teacher if you feel as though you have tension while playing the piano. Healthy technique is the basis of great piano playing!

Practice safe! Be sure to take breaks, to stretch, and to always warm up.

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