Sunday, 27 November 2011

ABRSM Grade 2 Piano Sight Reading Tips - dotted crotched (quarter) notes!

Grade 2 Piano Sight Reading Tips

Look for recurring difficult rhytmic patterns. The following recurs often and is probably the most tricky.
It is: (A) Dotted Quarter Note - (B) Eighth Note - (C) Quarter Note (USA) OR (A) Dotted Crotchet - (B) Quaver - (C) Crotchet (UK)
Adotted crotchetBquaverCcrotchet

Now you can use rhythmic syllables such as the Kodaly Rhythm method (A) TUM -(B) ti - (C) TA if you find counting this rhythmic sequence difficult.

Rhythmic Exercises
Because the dotted crotchet is worth 3 quavers, and beat two starts on the 3rd quaver,  you count it 1 - 2.
  • Count (A) 1-2, (B) AND, (C) 3
  • Clap the beat.
  • 2nd get used to playing a single note in each hand with that rhythmic. 
  • C-D-C try two notes in that rhythm with each hand 
  • C-D-E or E-F-G three notes in the rhythm in each hand

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Top Global Piano Commercials (Adverts) from Cheetos to Shampoo

The piano sage blog is pleased to present piano featured commercials advertisements from the last 50 years.

Hamlet Cigars (UK) 1966, a piano teacher, a classic. Disonant piano playing which transforms to the theme of Bach's Air on a G String.

Michael Jackson - performs for a 1992 Pepsi Ad - with excerpts from "I'll Be There" (USA)

Bob Hoskins - It's Good to Talk Product - BT (British Telecoms) 1995. Bob Hoskins plays some excerpts of the great piano accompanied love songs, in this advertisement for phone company British Telecom.

Marks and Spencers (UK) - Loans Advertisement 1998. Jazz singing on top of a piano - perhaps inspired by the Fabulous Baker Boys movie?

Piano Stairs Ad for Volkswagen, which is shot in Stockholm, Sweden. The piano keys activate sounds as people step on them, clever genius! c2009

Myleene Klass was in the UK's Popstars tv competition band 'Hearsay, she's also a classically trained piano graduate from the Royal Academy of Music. Pantene (UK). This came out in 2009, to advertise hair product Pantene Pro V's 'Volume and Body'

Cheetos (USA) "Take a Cheetos Break"  2011 playing Chopsticks to the annoyance of the Piano salesman

Monday, 21 November 2011

Simple 5 finger Piano Songs - Easy Tunes for complete beginners

Chopin's Left Hand
It's a dillemna for many piano teachers and perhaps a frustration for beginning piano students. They want to play tunes they know and recognise, but in the interests of reading music, they'll have to plough through exercises in their tutorial book, playing one or two notes at a time. However, there's a lot of five finger piano tunes you can learn or teach quickly. Furthermore, there's merit in getting all five fingers moving to develop finger independence early on. It's also very motivating for a student to start playing familiar tunes.

Starting on C - Five Finger Position Pieces

Ode to Joy (theme) - from Beethoven's 9th Symphony

3 3 4 5   5 4 3 2  1 1 2 3  3 2 2

3 3 4 5  5 4 3 2  1 1 2 3   2 1 1

Oranges and Lemons
 535 31 234 2 5 31

Jingle Bells
333 333 35123 444 4433 3332 325
333 333 35123 444 44 33 55 421

Frere Jacques (theme)
123 1 123 1 345 345

Pieces that can be played on the black keys
Starting position 1,2,3 fingers on three black notes  (F# G# and A#) and the 5th finger on  the higher (C#).

Merrily We Row Along AND Mary Had a Little Lamb3212 333 222 355
321 233 322 321
Likewise these pieces can be played on the same five finger pattern starting on C as well.

Hot Cross Buns (submitted by Golda Levitan)
Played on 3 black keys
Left Hand; 1 2 3 RIGHT HAND 3 2 1


Young children like to sing and play it at the same time. Play one hand at a time - then play them together. Enjoy. When you've mastered this, why not take it a step further and learn Simple 10 finger Piano Songs - Easy Tunes for complete beginners

Further Reading

Monday, 14 November 2011

Advanced Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams, playing, or learning a new piece

Alan Dorn performing Liszt's virtuosic Mazeppa
Following the previous post 8 Essential Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams or learning a new piece, I am pleased to disseminate some tips from pianist Alan Dorn, LRSM, (Licentiate Royal Schools of Music in piano performance). Alan's skills at learning new pieces enabled him to rapidly prepare for the FRSM - the highest diploma level of piano performance. Here are his tips: 
  • If possible, have a quick ‘skim read’ of the whole piece before you start playing.  This helps you grade the dynamics, understand climactic points, set the right tempo etc.  Otherwise you can start off playing crotchets at 160 and then suddenly see some semiquavers!
  • If you are struggling to play all the notes, make sure of the melody and the bass.
  • Try and look as far ahead as possible.  Sight reading is basically looking ahead and memorising a short chunk, then playing this while memorising the next chunk.
  • Playing a difficult bit through on the surface of the keys (ie without sounding the notes) before you start can be helpful. 
  • Practice hearing the music in your mind before you play – then compare with the actual sound and see how you did.
  •  Trade-off between tempo and playability – it’s probably better to give a good performance at half-speed than half a performance up to tempo (?)
  • Articulation – don’t forget to play legato/staccato etc as indicated.
  • Phrasing – try to read phrase-by-phrase rather than note-by-note so you can play musically.
  • Voicing – don’t forget to bring out the melody.
  • Tone quality – even though you’re sight-reading, try to play with a full tone.
  • Poise – don’t make it obvious that you’re unsure about the notes – play as if you’re very confident.
  •  Rhythm – don’t play like a metronome – use rhythmic accents to bring the music across.
  • Practice reading chords so you can read them as quickly as single notes.

Monday, 7 November 2011

8 Essential Piano Sight Reading Tips: for exams, or learning a new piece

 As exams loom around the corner, I thought I'd offer some sight reading tips, which can be applied to learning new pieces too. Reading music requires regular, if not daily practice. With all sight reading no matter the instrument, you need to pay attention to these 8 elements, weakness in any one area will affects your delivery of the piece.

  1. Notes - play the correct notes, within the designated key signature, and in the correct register. Playing correct notes, sounds easy but can be problematic in key signatures with  lots of flats or sharps, and additional accidentals.

     Also, are you also actually playing in the correct register too, or are you an octave too high or to low? Students with non full sized electronic keyboards may find it hard to locate middle C, when it comes to playing on an exam full sized piano keyboard.

    How to improve? Music theory workbooks can help students gain a visual memory of the notes, make sure they play through the exercises on the keyboard though. 

    Books: Grades 1-5 (Beginner to intermediate)
    Improve your sight reading (Paul Harris) (Faber Publishing)
    Joining the Dots (Alan Bullard) (ABRSM Publishing) 

    Flashcards such as those by Hal Leonard and Chester can be have notes in the bass clef and treble cleff with a visual guide to where the note is on the keyboard. With these cards,  you can mix up or place in a sequence (C-G,etc.) and have the student try and play these on the keyboard.

  2. Rhythmcan you clap or tap the rhythm correctly? Are you giving silences to the appropriate rests. You can say "shhh" for each beat of the rest.  A minim (half note) rest would be two beats of "shh shh". 

    Younger students of the age of 4 or 5 may have problems counting the beats especially with dotted rhythms and quavers (1/8 notes) as they understanding counting and adding of fractions. So a solution for this is to use rhythmic words for complex rhythms, Quavers (1/8 notes)  you can use "ta ka", and Te for crotchets (1/4 notes). Some teachers make up words, for example a teacher I knew used Apple for quavers (1/8 notes) and Pie for crotchets (1/4 notes) You can use rhythmic syllables for counting notes Kodaly has a set of Rhythm syllables; and there's also a Takadimi method.

  3. Dynamics - monotone is boring! Did you play the piece in all one level. How do you bring this home to one student. Read a poem or nursery rhyme, or song with one monotone voice, next use dynamics in your reading - whispers, normal voice, and shouting, I'm sure they'll agree it's more interesting.

  4. Flow and Pulse Music is storytelling in time and therefore has a natural flow and pulse to it. Therefore, maintaining a steady uninterrupted pulse is another vital element to music making and sight reading.

    To understand the importance of keeping musical flow, play on the piano (if you are a teacher) or if you are a parent who doesn't play the piano play a youtube video or a music mp3 track to your student/child and pause the music every 5 seconds or so, get them to feedback on why the music wasn't enjoyable. This will quickly bring home the importance of keeping the music going.

    Another exercise is to play twinkle twinkle little star but suddenly stop playing every in random places. Imagine you are accompanying a singer or another instrument, you can't afford to stop the music.

  5. Tempo - "I feel the need for speed"  are you up to speed? Or should you put on the brakes? playing as close to the tempo marking as possible while maintaining accuracy. Dolmetsch provides a good guide to tempo markings from anything Adagio to Presto, complete with bpm - beats per minute metronome suggestions. 
  6. Coordination - Proprioception is required, meaning your hands and fingers know where they are on the keyboard without having to look at them constantly, so in effect, for some passages, you can play with your eyes closed! This helps prevent interrupting the music by constantly looking from score to your hand and finger position. Your fingers have in fact memorised the spacing between the notes of the piano. 
  7. Spirit - with "Emotional Content" emotional content, energy, and musicality and some clues are indicated in some sight reading tests. 
  8. Patterns - look for patterns, which is easier said than done. In other words, look for notes that may move up in parallel motion in the same direction, scale fragments, appeggio patterns, broken chords you may have practiced before, motifs. 

Further Reading

Please share your experiences and knowledge by commenting on this blog post, I'd love to hear from you.