Category Archives: Piano Lessons

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AC #34 Intervalics 101 (1sts)

Intro / Op-Ed

The first scale that beginner music students encounter is usually the “major scale” and in studying the major scale they are inevitably introduced to the core building blocks of our Western music system. What are those building blocks? Intervals!

Understanding Intervals.

A solid understanding of intervals is essential to understanding how to construct scales, chords,  and voicings. Understanding intervals also helps your ability to read music, compose melodies, construct bass lines, and improvise. Intervals comprise the bedrock upon which our Western music system is built and understanding them will help you build a solid foundation for your musicianship.

Please note that only ascending intervals will be covered in all of the “Intervalics 101” posts. Descending intervals are excluded. However, I can be persuaded to address them in the future!

Since the scope of this examination ranges from 1sts to 8ths, I’ve divided the presentation of material into a short series of eight individual mini-posts. I may add one or two more posts toward the end of the series for the purpose of giving you additional drill and review exercises. This will depend on the feedback I get from you and my students who also monitor these posts.

During this series, we’ll be taking a look at how to identify and name these intervals. From the brief examinations, discussions, and easy follow-up drill exercises in each post, you should come to have a very clear understanding of intervals.  By the time you’ve successfully completed the work in all eight mini-posts, you should have an easier time of using intervalics to assist you in things like constructing bass lines, chords, specialized/personalized chord voicings and chord scales.  

Speaking of chord scales… Let me draw your attention to the major scale again. In addition to being a chord scale, it’s also the scale upon which we base all of our musical analysis. 

To understand the major scale, you need to understand half steps and whole steps… and to understand half steps and whole steps, you need to understand major and minor… and to understand major and minor, you need to understand the major scale… and to understand the major scale, you need to understand intervals… and to understand intervals, you need to understand half steps, whole steps, major, minor, diminished, and augmented! Whew! I’ll stop there! (Smile!) Now all of that may sound like some kind of riddle or comedy routine like Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” skit, but it’s all true! So let’s get started by defining interval.

What is an interval?

An Interval, defined as a musical term, is the measured distance between any two given musical notes. The unit of measure used to calculate the distances is usually calibrated in half steps, whole steps, or a combination of half and whole steps.

Should you study intervals? Are they a waste of you time?

Yes and no! Yes! You should study them! No! They are definitely NOT a waste of your time!

Studying intervals provides you with a way to analyze and systematically identify the precise distances between two notes. It gives you another tool to help improve and sharpen your note-spelling/music-writing skills, your transposition abilities, and your eye-to-hand coordination skills as applied to finger placement/spacing on the piano keyboard. Intervalic analysis may be equally applied to notes on the staff and keys on the piano keyboard.

The ways in which this particular area of concentration help you to elevate your skills of music-reading and music-analysis are numerous and tremendous! Whether you are a beginner or an advanced musician who could use some review on the subject, interval study is well worth your while! 


Intro “wrap-up”

I hope all that was said, in the intro-op-ed,
got you fired-up and ready-to-go!
If the info that’s ahead, is something yet you haven’t read,
then learn it well to make yourself a pro!

Intro Wrap-up; Art Matthews
(Beat Box)!


Okay! It’s time to take a look at the first interval of the series…1sts!

1sts – a.k.a. unisons or prime intervals. These intervals are easily identified because both notes share the same letter name.  When written in standard music notation, they share the same line or space on the staff, notwithstanding any accidentals which may be attached to either note. On the piano keyboard, they are either the same key or next door neighbors depending on the attached accidental. (Next door neighbors, In the case of 1sts, have zero keys in between.) 

The most commonly used accidentals are shown in the lineup just below followed by examples of the most common occurrences of 1sts in the key of C.

= natural
= sharp
X = double sharp
=  flat
♭♭ = double flat


Perfect 1st = C to C (The 1st note of a major scale remains unmodified)
Augmented 1st = C to C (The 1st note of a major scale is sharped once)
Minor 1st *(N/A)
*(Minor functionality is not allowed on any perfect interval)
Diminished 1st = C to C **(The 1st note of a major scale is flatted once)
**(Perfect intervals become diminished with only one flat)

This link will open an Acrobat/Adobe flash type of applet where you’ll be asked to correctly match ten intervals via a drag-n-drop process. Doing the exercise at least 4 or 5 times will give you an introductory workout on identifying and matching the intervals in C and other keys. 

Study well and have fun,

See you next post,

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #33 Guest Speaker’s Tips on Reading and Sight-reading (part two)

Today, I turn again to Ms. Margaret Fabrizio for part two of “Guest Speaker’s Tips on Reading and Sight-reading”. (Part one appears in AC #30). Among many other things, Ms. Fabrizio is a master harpsichordist and a very well respected music educator.

In today’s post, she continues to share her opinions and give you valuable tips on various things that pertain to beginner and intermediate piano students. She gives hints and makes suggestions as to what you should be doing and how you might be “thinking” about certain things that are pertinent to your musical development, progress, and growth. Spend the next 5-minutes with her and check out more of what she has to say.


Of all the tips and things she briefly discusses in this video, I’d like to single-out and draw your attention to the tip she offers in the form of a question at the point of the video where she asks, “Do you know intervals?” (2:25) After elaborating a little she gives you a few examples of how intervalic information is applied to piano. I’ll focus on intervals a little more in the next post.

In addition to the entertainment value of watching her play, there are things you can actually learn from simply observing her hand positions and finger movements as she negotiates her way a piece like the one I’ve linked here.

I’ll close here and say practice daily, practice well, and be patient.

See you next post.

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #30 Guest Speaker’s Tips on Reading and Sight-reading

I reached out to a very special person who is going to speak to you in this post via one of her videos. Please allow me to preface her appearance with a few thoughts and words of my own.

Two practice activities that are very often mistakenly regarded as being synonymous:

1. The practice of learning to read and sight-read music.
2. The practice of learning to play songs using a “sight-enhanced playing-by-ear” approach.

1. “LEARNING TO READ AND SIGHT-READ MUSIC”

After learning the names of the piano keys, teaching beginner students to focus on note reading in 5-finger positions, starting with the “C Position“, is and has been a widely-accepted practice for years. It’s how I was brought-up and many of today’s nationally recognized traditional method books use still this methodology. I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of this method and I use it with my beginner students. I also use it with some of my intermediate and advanced students who wish to go back to fine-tune or brush-up their music reading skills.

Did I say advanced students? Yes! That’s right! Some of the world’s most well-known and formidable musicians are/were not good “readers-of-music”.  From Irving Berlin to Billy Joel. From Glenn Gould to Erroll Garner. From Bela Fleck to Sir Paul McCartney.  There are loads of musicians who’ve been up-front and very honest about their music reading abilities which, by their own words, range from not-so-good to not-at-all.

As evidenced by their very successful careers, it’s easy to see that the ability to read music is in no way THE determinative factor as to whether or not you’re going to become an excellent player/musician or have a successful career.

Nevertheless, there are many musicians who, in their heart-of-hearts, later come to know and realize the importance of what they’re missing.  Hopefully, many of them will also know and realize that it is never too late to go back and get any of the things which they may have missed during their formative years. Just go back and get it! It’s as simple as that! Put it on a “Bucket List”, then find someone to help get it done! If you’re just starting out, then get it done right now so that you don’t have to go back and do it later. 

So, whatever the reason, if learning to read music is a high priority item on your list of objectives, then I recommend that you find a teacher/coach like me, my guest speaker, or someone you may know to guide you through the maze of activities that lie ahead of you. Don’t go it alone! It is difficult to do this alone!

 2. LEARNING REPERTOIRE USING A “SIGHT-ENHANCED PLAYING-BY-EAR” APPROACH

The core component of “sight-enhanced playing-by-ear” lies in the key phrase, Playing-by-ear. Playing-by-ear happens when you use only your ears to recreate the sounds (melodies, chords, rhythms) you hear. It’s a wonderful skill to have and I encourage you to develop it to the best of your ability. Later on, playing by ear is often enhanced by other things that you may learn in music theory such as intervals and “note reading”. With this method, you’ll frequently find yourself working on small sections and segments of songs… perhaps 2, 4, or 8 measures at a time. As long as your objective is to “learn to play the piece”, this approach is very good! Using written notes to assist you with your playing by ear activities is what sight-enhanced playing-by-ear is all about.

However, learning to play songs that way is NOT at the center of what learning to read and sight-read music is all about.   

Guest Speaker Video

Watch this video and spend the next 10-minutes with my guest speaker. Listen to her share some of her thoughts and tips on how to improve your reading and sight-reading music skills.  She spells out her reasoning as to why you, and piano students in general, should slowly work your way through level-appropriate music.  Everyone who is serious about either learning or brushing-up sight-reading skills should check out what she has to say. She is a real treasure!


Of all the tips and points that Margaret makes in this video, I’d like to emphasize the fact that consistent, daily work in this area is what will move you along. Practice well and be patient. 

See you next post.

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #29: Treble Staff, Bass Staff, and Grand Staff Note Drills

Continuing from AC #28, this post is for my beginner students and you if you need to learn or review the names of the lines and spaces on teble or bass staffs or staves! Which do you say?

Is it staff or stave? Staffs or staves? Does it matter?

I’ve seen this question posted on the Internet and I’ve heard it brought up in various forums.   I’ve always written and said “staff” and “staffs”. Either way people write or say it is fine with me.  This little girl expresses her opinion on such questions by singing this song!!
For me, the more important question is how to internalize and use the information represented on the lines and spaces of said object(s).  By using some of the great music software programs available to us today, this objective can be achieved in shorter amounts of time and with much more fun than was ever possible before… provided you like computer technology of course!

That said, I’ll sign-off right here as I leave you with a brief definition of the Line and Space Sequences, and a few words about the following 10 staff note drill applets,

See you next post.

Practice Well!

Line Sequence: The following series of line-notes ascending from Middle C – C-E-G-B-D-F-A. Space Sequence: The following series of space notes ascending from Middle D – D-F-A-C-E-G-B. Memorize both sequences and use them to help you learn the staffs and answer the questions.

Online use of these applets is absolutely free for everyone courtesy of Ricci Adams. Visit his site, as your support helps him to continue developing these great music ed tools.

All questions may be answered by mouse-clicking the answer buttons or by “qwerty” key entry in conjunction with the up & down arrow keys when answering questions on sharps and flats, i.e. if C# is the question, press/hold the up arrow key first, then answer with the qwerty C key.  If Db is the question, press/hold the down arrow key first, then answer with the qwerty D key. Mouse-click once anywhere in the applet before using the “qwerty” keys to enter your answers.

1: Name The Treble Staff Line Notes
Note Identification #1: Use The Line Sequence from C4 (Middle C) * C – E – G – B – D – F – A

2: Name The Treble Staff Space Notes
Note Identification #2: Use The Space Sequence from D4 (Middle D) * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

3: Name The Treble Staff Line and Space Notes
Note Identification #3: Use Both Line and Space Sequences from C4 and D4
Lines * C – E – G – B – D – F – A  /  Spaces * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

4: Name The Bass Staff Line Notes
Note Identification #4: Use Line Sequence from C2 (2LedgersBelow) * C – E – G – B – D – F – A

5: Name The Bass Staff Space Notes
Note Identification #5: Use Space Sequence from D2 (2LegersBelow) * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

6: Name The Bass Staff Line and Space Notes
Note Identification #6: Use Both Line and Space Sequences from C2 and D2
Lines * C – E – G – B – D – F – A / Spaces * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

7: Name The Grand Staff Line Notes
Note Identification #7: Use Line Sequence from C2 or C4 * C – E – G – B – D – F – A

8: Name The Grand Staff Space Notes
Note Identification #8: Use Space Sequence from D2 or D4 * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

9: Name The Grand Staff Line and Space Notes #1
Note Identification #9: Use Both Line and Space Sequences from C2 & D2 or C4 & D2
Lines * C – E – G – B – D – F – A / Spaces * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

10: Name The Grand Staff Line and Space Notes #2
Note Identification #10: Use Both Line and Space Sequences from C2 & D2 or C4 & D2
Lines * C – E – G – B – D – F – A / Spaces * D – F – A – C – E – G – B

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #28: Piano Starts Here! Learn The Piano Key Names!

Learning piano key names is among the very first things I have my beginner students do. 

However, many times, during the preliminary stages of working with non-beginner students at varying levels of development, I discovered significant gaps and breaches in such fundamental things as knowing the names of the piano keys and/or the lines and spaces of the grand staff. 

The focus of AC #29 will be about learning the grand staff. The focus of this post is exclusively on learning the names of the piano keys! So, if you are an absolute beginner or someone who may need to go back to the very beginning to review, for whatever reason, this post is for you.

Use the four utilities on this page in their numerical order of presentation to help you drill and thoroughly learn the piano key names starting with the white keys first.

White keys and natural keys are synonymous and, as illustrated in AC #10, white keys were the only keys present on the world’s first piano keyboards. That said, you should earnestly study the natural keys first before moving on to the next step of learning the names of the black keys.

Each red-note question may be answered by using your mouse or qwerty keyboard commands in conjunction with the up & down arrow keys when answering questions on sharps and flats,  i.e. if C# is the question, press/hold the up arrow key first, then answer it with the qwerty C key. If Db is the question, press/hold the down arrow key first, then answer with the qwerty D key. Mouse-click once anywhere in the applet before using the “qwerty” keys to enter your answers.

Since each exercise utility is never-ending and presents questions indefinitely, you’ll want to set  some type of completion benchmark such as answering 100 questions correctly or you might use the clock timer, located at the top of each utility, to set a time limit, such as 5 to 10 minutes. If you use the timer method, be sure to click the Reset Score button when you start each utility. In either case, keep working until you have a success rate that’s between 90% and 100%.

Practice well!

Art

Name The Natural Keys (White Keys)
Keyboard Note Identification #1: Your first mission is to learn the names of the white keys.

Name The Black-Key Sharps
Keyboard Note Identification #2: Your second mission is to learn the black-key sharp names.

Name The Black-Key Flats
Keyboard Note Identification #3: Your third mission is to learn the black-key flat names.

Name All of The Keys Quickly
Keyboard Note Identification #4: Your fourth mission is to name them all quickly!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #27: “T” it up!

 ATTN: All Instrumentalists and Vocalists! This post applies to you!

As you’re listening to some music and you hear a melody, a phrase, a motif, or an arrangement that draws your attention because it “speaks” to you and you really like it, you should “T-it-up”! What do I mean by that? You should transcribe it! You’ll benefit whether you “T” all of it, or only a fractional part of it! Just get in there and “T” something up!

I borrowed the title phrase for this post from the world of golf. I’ve been a fan of Tiger Woods for a long time. Through his actions on the golf course and his interviews, Tiger has always demonstrated that he possess a deep knowledge of golf on many levels. He has frequently spoken about the high regard and respect he has for golf’s “elder statesmen” like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas. He’s spoken specifically about the fact that he’s watched many videos of them and studied them.

In the world of music, you’ll find many musicians, including myself, who have the same kind of high-regard and respect for music’s “elder statesmen”. For instance, whenever someone asked The Beatles and Eric Clapton questions like “who most influenced you?”, they’d always name Chuck Berry first as they spoke about their high regard and respect they had for him.  Whenever Chuck Berry was asked that same question, as he addressed it in his autobiography, he’d immediately credit his local peers, the great boogie-woogie pianists and the great Nat “King” Cole as he spoke about the high regard and respect he has for them all!

So, I was particularly delighted when one of my students, bass player Nicholas Gendron, originally an ear training student who by the time he signed on with me had already done complete James Jamerson transcriptions on his own by ear, spoke to me about the high regard and respect he has for many of the same great jazz bassists for whom I share the same feelings. When Nick expressed his interest in expanding his ear training studies to include having me work with him on “strengthening-up” his walking bass lines, I immediately suggested that he start right away on transcribing some of the great jazz bassists. I agreed to get right in there with him and do some of my own transcriptions of some of the bass veterans also to share with him in his lessons. So for this post, I decided to give you  the complete transcription I did for Nick of what the great Israel Crosby played on “But Not For Me” from one of Ahmad Jamal’s classic albums.  You can view the video and download this PDF too!

[gview file=”http://www.artmatthewsonlinepianolessons.com/wp-content/uploads/But-Not-For-Me-Ahmad-Jamal-AM.pdf”]


The information you can get from studying transcriptions is invaluable, and by all means, I strongly suggest that you, and all serious students of improvised music, should do a lot of your own transcription work! Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely ok to draw information from the transcriptions of other people, however, the benefits of doing your own transcription work will pay bigger dividends because, in doing so, the information you derive gets planted deeper into your musical soul by the nature of the do-it-yourself process.

Whether you do one-chorus, multiple choruses, single phrase, multiple phrases, right-hand only, left-hand only, both hands, partial heads, full heads, partial arrangements, or full arrangements… you’ll be doing something that’s good for your musicianship!

The focus of your transcriptions are determined, of course, by whatever your objective may be at any given time. For instance, you might limit the focus of your transcription to getting the actual musical notes only! Or, you may want to exclude the actual notes and focus on obtaining chord progressions only, as in getting the chord changes of some particular song or tune. Perhaps you want everything… actual notes, chord changes, articulations, and dynamics too! Ear training makes it all available to you.

You can write your transcription work down on manuscript paper using standard music notation, or you might write it down in some other form on unlined or lined notebook paper for that matter! If you have a good memory, you can even skip the writing-it-down process altogether and simply keep it all in your head, as Nick did with his James Jamerson transcriptions. If you can do it, I recommend you do some of both because it’s all good!

At the time of this post, Nick is in Aruba! He’ll be starting his own page within my site soon after he returns so if you’d like to follow Nick on his page, check back in a few weeks and just type or paste his name into any search box on my site.

Remember that although your teacher or coach can point you in the direction of what work you need to do, it is YOU that has to DO the work by practicing!

Do some listening and “T” something up!

Practice well!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #26 – Three Piano Technique Practice Tips (Part-3 of 3)

3: “FIGURE 8” EXERCISES: What are they? How do they apply to piano?

I borrowed the term “Figure-8” from the world of Olympic figure skating. If you aren’t familiar with figure skating, a little background and demonstration on that subject might be helpful.

Please note that I address both questions in the second half of this post. So if you’d like to skip past the “FIGURE 8s” IN OLYMPIC SKATING background/demonstration section that follows next, you can go directly to the “FIGURE 8s” in Piano and Music section by clicking here.

There was a period of time when Olympic ice skating competitors were required to participate in the Compulsory Figures Competition. They had to skate a certain number of compulsory figures into the ice and then re-skate or trace-over the figures. All of the figures were based on or derivatives of the number “eight”, thus the term “Figure 8” skating. At first there were twelve figures but over the years, the number was gradually reduced and by 1973, only three compulsory figures remained. Skaters were scored on how well each figure was initially etched or engraved, and on how well they traced-over each original skating.

Compulsory figures were eliminated entirely from international competition after 1990, so videos and rebroadcasts are perhaps your main avenue of seeing what I hope doesn’t become a lost art form! If you haven’t seen Olympic figure skating in live broadcasts or taped reruns, I’d like to have you take a look at the next several clips from that world because seeing the skaters create and then trace the figures will help me draw a picture of the parallels I see.

When I first watched the introductory commentary clip just below, I smiled when the comparisons of skating fundamentals and the musical scales of a pianist was made because I completely agree with what was said.

The Paragraph Loop figure, with its sub-loop variation within each of its two circles, seemed to be the most challenging of the three remaining figures to skate and trace. This was my favorite event to watch because of the discipline, skill, control, grace, precision, stamina, mental toughness, and strength it took to pull it off. Check out the following really short video clips on “Figure 8” skating before returning your focus to the music world.

“FIGURE 8s” IN OLYMPIC SKATING

Commentary on Compulsory Figures – “They are really basically like the scales for a pianist.”

Clip #1 – The Counter figure is Illustrated

Clip #2 – The Paragraph Bracket figure is Illustrated

Clip #3 – Debi Thomas Skates The Paragraph Bracket

Clip #4 – The Paragraph Loop figure is Illustrated

Clip #5 – Debi Thomas Skates The Paragraph Loop

 

Setting skating aside, does this illustration of the Counter remind you of anything?

Get Adobe Flash player


Which of the three answers below do you think would be the most chosen
in a David Letterman-like picture association skit or poll? (drum roll please…)

1. A snow man;
2. Three scoops of vanilla ice cream;
3. The notes of a musical triad;

A case could be made for #s 1 and 2 but I think the Letterman answer might be #3, a musical triad! Paul Shaffer might say “Yeah! Let’s run with that one!” as we shift our focus back to music.

Speaking of music… the tune you hear upon clicking the Counter graphic just above is is an original tune of mine titled, “The Counter” (©2013). The melody uses C-E-G only so that beginners and everyone can easily Jam along with it and improvise during the solo section! I invite you to post a video of yourself jamming and improvising to this little ditty on my YouTube “The Counter” post. If you like, right-click and save an mp3 of the music here.

FIGURE 8s” in Piano and Music

“Figure-8s”, as I use the term in piano lessons, are musical figures which, once played, must be repeated or “traced” two or more times and as smoothly as possible in a manner that is figuratively similar to the way tracing was done in the world of figure skating.  The length and complexity of the figures may vary but the object is to have your fingers remain in continuous contact with the piano keyboard while you’re executing and tracing so that the figure remains unbroken and true-to-form during the entire exercise. 

“Figure 8s” on a major triad

In the videos just below you’ll see me “figure 8” the notes of a C major triad which make my “target notes” C, E, and G.  To “figure 8” the notes, I use a 2-note ornament that starts with a scale step above the target note, passes through the target note to a half-step below the target note then returns to the target note so that the figure-8 ornamenting of each target note will consist of 4 tones being played. In short, I “hang” a two-note ornament on each of the three target notes.  The video starts with me “figure 8-ing” Middle C by practicing the 2-note ornament around that single note before I move on to practice the same ornament on the other two notes.  (See the major triad videos)



“Figure 8s” on a minor triad

In the videos just below you’ll see me “figure 8” the notes of a C minor triad which make my “target notes” C, Eb, and G.  To “figure-8” the notes, I use a 3-note ornament that starts with a half-step below the target note then moves directly to a whole step above the target note then makes a chromatic 2-note slide which ends directly on the target note so that the figure-8 ornamenting of each target note will consist of 4 tones being played. In short, I “hang” a 3-note ornament on each of the three target notes.  The video starts with me “figure 8-ing” Middle C by practicing the 3-note ornament around that single note only before I move on to practice the same ornament on the other two notes.  (See the minor triad videos)


In the context of piano technique, these “Figure 8” piano finger patterns and exercises require the same characteristics as those I mentioned near the top of this post in the ice skating context. As you work with these exercises, practice slowly and strive for evenness and accuracy. Speed will always come to you as a by-product of slow efficient practice!

I encourage you to come up with your own “Figure 8s” too. Your figures may vary in size from very short ornaments, like the ones I used in this post, to longer phrases, like the one in the interactive picture just below.

Get Adobe Flash player


With the use of rhythmic and pitch variation, the possibilities are virtually limitless!

Of course all of the exercises discussed and demonstrated in this three-post topic, as well as any  you may make or find elsewhere, won’t give you the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound or be faster than a speeding bullet! However, if you are persistent, patient, and do the exercises I recommended in this post in all 12 keys, your fingers will learn to do things and go places they’ve never gone before on the piano keyboard.
 
Practice well and have fun!

See you next post.

Art

 

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #25 – Three Piano Technique Practice Tips (Part-2 of 3)

2: TECHNICAL EXERCISES and RUDIMENTS:

Get yourself a technical exercise book and a book of piano rudiments. The books I specifically reference later in this post are mentioned mainly to let you know that those particular books are among the ones I have used for myself and that I still use them with some of my students.

There are hundreds of these types of books on the market and they are not all the same. I’ve seen and had students who’ve gone-it-alone and made ill-advised choices and purchases of music books of various types only to find out that the “water” they’d gotten themselves into was way too deep! And too hot! So watch out for that!

In choosing something that most closely fits your needs, your current level of musicianship and pianistic capabilities have to be considered!  In order to objectively assess that, you may need the opinion or advice of someone other than yourself to help make that determination.

In any case, once you’ve obtained the books, factor the exercises from of both of them into your practice routine so that you’re spending a “good” amount of time with the material during any given week. The “good amount of time” which you should spend will depend on your present level of development and the advice of your musical coach.

If you don’t already own any books of these types, check out the rest of this post and ask your teacher for recommendations because your teacher may wish to have you use a different publication from the two I reference here. So with all of that said, let’s move on!

Technical Exercise Books are usually focused on presenting you with many finger-strengthening exercises.  One of the books I used for myself was the “Ernst Von Dohnanyi: Essential Finger Exercises” book.  In any case, whichever book you use, you should follow your book’s prescribed practice instruction for each exercise, after which, you might then try some of your own experiments and variations.

I used to set up a rhythm track, or a metronome, and work each finger or group of fingers until the point of fatigue, then I’d stop!… Shake it off!… Then I’d do a few more reps… Then I’d stop again!. Before long, I noticed that my hands and fingers were starting to feel stronger at the piano keyboard. They even looked stronger and their “keyboard posture” felt more stable and more powerful than before. My execution was cleaner and a lot more articulate.

For an example of what I used to do, watch the next video to see how I practiced a technical exercise that uses all five fingers on a full diminished 7th chord. I encourage you to do the same thing or something similar if your fingers aren’t able to comfortably reach all five notes.

Notice how the inactive fingers keep their notes held down while the active fingers are engaged in the exercise.

This is the kind of thing you might do on any number of the exercises you’d find in this type of book.

I want to emphasize that you should not rush through this type of practice. Dedicate yourself to setting small goals of one or two exercises and thoroughly practicing those exercises for a while before moving on to another exercise.

Click here to search for and purchase your next “piano technical exercise book“. You might precede your search string with the word “beginner”, “intermediate”, or “advanced”, depending on your present level of musicianship.

When practicing “on-your-own”, feel free to be creative as you improvise your own rhythmic variations. It’s ok for the rhythmic composition of each rep to have some minor, or moderate, or even drastic differences! Just keep it in the groove!

Rudiment Books are usually focused on presenting you with material such as scales, arpeggios, I-IV-V-I chord progressions and resolutions, etc. Since this type of material is pretty much self-explanatory, I’m not going to say much here other than that this material is essential to your growth and development. If you have any questions, contact me.

Watch this video clip to see what Oscar Peterson said about his experience as a kid with a rudiment book and how his dad, mom, and family helped him get through it by insisting he practice!

One of the books my dad had me use from this category was the “Hanon Complete Edition” publication from the family of Charles-Louis Hanon finger exercise books.
Older Hanon Complete Cover Photo

Hanon finger exercises were first published in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France in 1873 and the first release of the Schirmer’s Edition was also over 100 years ago. The Hanon books have been in the “public domain” for some time now. This means that you can easily find them for sale from a number of publishers and distributors who’ve placed them in their catalogs, or you can easily obtain them as free downloads from many places on the Internet.

There are many published third party Hanon variations on the market. I put my own spin on Hanon Part 1 by creating a digital package that has on-board MIDI drum accompaniments.


If you’d like to play along with the “Music-Minus-One” version I made for you, click here or here.

The M.M.O. video’s on-screen notation is written in the treble staff only, starting from Middle-C. I used 8th notes instead of 16ths notes and the exercise is played twice-through per video play. The chord changes I used are also there so you can use the video for “comping” practice too!

I still use Hanon with my current students. I use their current level of development to determine which volume to recommend to them and/or the specific exercise(s) I assign. For example, one of my students may be working from the Hanon volume titled “Part I” which contains the first twenty scale preparatory exercises while another student who’s further advanced might be working from “Part III” which contains exercises #44 to 60 .

The Hanon Finger Exercise Books:

Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist, Part I – Preparatory Exercises – #s 1 thru 20 only

Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist, Part II – Scales and Arpeggios – #s 21 thru 43 only

Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist, Part III – Scales and Arpeggios – #s 44 thru 60 only

Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist, Complete Edition – Approximately 120 pages

If you wish to have your copy of Hanon in a traditionally-bound book you might opt to purchase it. Click here then type or cut and paste your choice into the next page’s search box .

If you are a “do it yourselfer”and you wish to obtain your Hanon as a free PDF download, then click any of the following options, courtesy of the anonymous person who uploaded and shared these files.

Hanon Part I – Exercises 1 thru 20 only (20-page PDF)

Hanon Part II – Exercises 21 thru 43 only (50-page PDF)

Hanon Part III – Exercises 44 thru 60 only (46-page PDF)

Hanon Complete – Exercises 1 thru 60 (116-page PDF)

So, get busy!

Part-3 coming soon in AC #26…

 

 

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #24 – Three Piano Technique Practice Tips (Part-1 of 3)

It doesn’t matter how much you may already know or how much you may learn about the inner workings of music theory. If you are going to be a “player”, you need to have a minimum of at least an adequate technique to go along with your theoretical knowledge and know-how. With an inadequate technique, you will surely experience lots of difficulty in executing musical ideas and expressing yourself on the piano. If your fingers have not been trained, your brain telling your fingers exactly what to do will have no effect because your fingers just won’t cooperate! They will not be able to follow the orders issued by “headquarters”!

So, to help you build or maintain your piano technique, here is the 1st tip in this 3-part series.

1: SCALES: Start with the major scales. Practice them in the one-octave range and play them using the traditionally recommended fingering for each of the 12 scales. Try to make this practice, as well as your practice on all rudimentary items and drills, as fun and as musical as possible by practicing with some sort of accompaniment track or rhythm track. Find a tempo marking that allows you to play evenly and accurately, then incrementally increase the tempo. The video just below shows me playing three metaphorically named major scale variations in the key of C.

1 – The “Stagger Lee”: Mostly 16ths but the 8th notes on beats 1 and 3 yield a staggered  effect.

2 – The “Cloud Nine”: This extends into octave #2 to get the 9th scale degree from the “cloud”.

3 – The “Michael Phelps”: After descending each time, go “under water” to change direction.


After you’re comfortable with playing all 12 major scales, move on into the one-octave dominant 7th, dorian minor, half-diminished and diminished scales. I encourage you to play these one-octave scales using your own rhythmic and style variations! After that, you should expand this activity into some multi-octave ranges and include chords, inversions, and arpeggios. Whether you “swing it” or play it “straight”, be sure to keep everything in a groove and have fun!

Part-2 coming soon in AC #25…

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #23 How to learn the language of jazz? Speak Like a Child!

I don’t know about you but the first word I heard as a newborn baby was probably the word “NO!” Well, maybe it was “mom” or “dad”, but “NO!” was probably very high on the list of first-heard words.

My first physical experience was probably the doctor-administered “rear-end spank” that was customarily given to newborns. Do they still do that today? That spank hurt and it made me cry, and henceforth, my connection to “blues” music was immediately solidified! (Just kidding!)

Seriously though, I chose “Speak Like a Child” to be a part this post’s title because, for me, the phrase has a special figurative significance.

When a child learns to speak English or any other spoken language, a big part of the process is spending lots of time listening to and imitating the words, phrases, and sentences being spoken by the people around them–family members in most instances. The key words here are listening and imitating.

Likewise, one of the best ways for people to learn the language of jazz is to spend lots of time listening to and imitating and even transcribing the sounds of musical ideas and phrases being played in the music you hear or by the musicians around you. The key words here are also listening and imitating.

All of the world’s best orators started off as kids learning the intricacies of speech by listening and echoing single words, short phrases, longer phrases, and sentences, etc. until eventually, the ability to compose and express their own thoughts finally took hold. The language of jazz has the same dynamic!  That is to say, all of the world’s best instrumentalists and improvisers started off as beginners who could barely make a sound on their respective instrument(s). But through the long process of listening, imitating, and learning to read in many cases, the art of self-expression finally developed and they became great players.

So if you’re not already doing it, I want to encourage you to “Speak Like a Child” and add this type of listen-and-imitate approach to your practice routine. Get in there and get started by learning to imitate some short phrases first before moving on to medium length and longer phrases. Melodies and fragments of melodies are good too! I’m going to ask a couple of my students to let me post some of their work along these lines on their student page in the near future. It really is a very effective way to learn the syntax of jazz language and to build a lexicon of phrases and vocabulary. Stay tuned.