Let me paint a picture for you: You are a detective working on a case involving a musician who has planted a bomb somewhere in your city. He has left you clues as to where the bomb is located. One of the clues is a piece of sheet music. You need foil his plot, so you need to find out everything you can about this piece of music.
HOW DO YOU FIGURE OUT THE KEY?
First clue: The key signature
Your key signature can narrow down your search, based on the circle of fifths. Remember each key signature can identify one major key or one minor key. Remember this graphic?
Image via Wikipedia
In the above graphic, the major key names are on the outside of the circle in RED, and the minor key names are on the inside of the circle in GREEN. So lets take an example of a key signature with 3 flats. According to our handy-dandy donut of fifths, the key can either be E flat major, or C minor. BUT WHICH IS IT?!!
In minor keys, the seventh note of the scale will often be raised by an accidental. Do you see accidentals throughout the piece of music? Does it occur on the 7th note of the minor key identified in step 1? If so, you may have a minor key on your hands. Use this method of identification in combination with the one above in order to identify whether you have a minor or a major key.
What chord/note combination does the song start and/or end with? This can often give you a clue as to what key the piece of music is in. Often music will start and/or end on the tonic. Note that this is not a failsafe method of identifying the key of a song. Rather it can be used in combination with the two methods above.
Play the music. Does it sound minor to you? Then it could be minor. Don’t rely on this to identify the difference between minor and major keys, especially if you are a beginner.
By combining the techniques described in all four clues, you should be able to find the bomb and save your city from disaster. You may want to practice a few times, just to be safe.
In Lesson 35 we learned how to build major triads. The fun thing about triads is that each triad has 3 different forms, called “inversions”. (You might be accurate if you interrupted me here to let me know that there is nothing “fun” about triad inversions – but that is neither here nor there…) This means that a triad can be written in one of three ways: root position, first inversion, and second inversion.
Root position is the most straight forward, with the tonic located at the bottom of the chord – in the bass. If you need a refresher on how to create a major triad in root position, you can refer to Lesson 35. To create the first inversion, start with the triad in root position, and move the tonic note from the bass to the top of the chord. In the first inversion of a major triad, the bottom note will be the mediant (3rd note) of the major scale. Check it out in the graphic below.
Can you guess how second inversion is created? Here is a hint: Second inversion is created by starting with first inversion, and moving the bottom note to the top of the chord. The bottom note of the second inversion of a major triad is the dominant note (5th note) of the major scale.
As you can see in the graphic above, the first inversion can be denoted by using a 6/3 and the second inversion can be denoted by using a 6/4. These numbers indicate the size of the intervals that are present in the chord. This notation is commonly used in musical theory.
OK, time for me to fess up. Remember my goal to play the piano four times a week in February? I didn’t quite accomplish it. Here is what my month looked like:
This image is from a program called “Streaks” available on the iPhone. I like it because it is a simple way to track how often you do something. As you can see, during the last month of February I didn’t play the piano four times. I went on vacation instead.
Now, although I didn’t quite reach my goal, I DID accomplish a lot, and I’m quite content with my progress. Here are some of my thoughts and observations during February:
Once I sat down at the piano, I often played for more than my allotted 15 minutes, usually for 20 minutes up to 30 minutes per session.
During the month I focused on two different songs: Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor, and Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major. (I have a thing for Chopin’s nocturnes. Its a sickness.) I made vast improvements on both pieces, and although neither are near being close to perfect, I am happy with the improvements I have made. I’m going to continue practicing them into March.
I’m adding a new song to my practice list for March: Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat major. (I told you I had a sickness…) This piece is a bit more challenging, so progress might be slower.
So for March, my goal remains the same, to practice four times a week for 15 minutes.
Additionally, I want to start updating the blog on a more regular basis, so I’m going to set a goal to create one blog post per week in March. This is my post for week #1.. Woohoo! I’m doing good so far – GO ME!
How did you do in February? Did you accomplish your goals?
Yes, another type of minor scale. I know you are probably sighing and wondering how many types there are! Well, the melodic minor scale is the last one.. for now. We have already discussed the natural minor scale, and the harmonic minor scale. If you need to review these, you can click on the links provided.
The melodic minor scale is interesting and different in that the scale going UP is different than the scale going DOWN. In the melodic minor scale, the 6th and 7th notes of the scale are raised one semitone on the way up, and lowered on the way down. To understand this lesson, you will have to understand first how to build a natural minor scale, which you can find in Lesson 37. I will demonstrate building a melodic minor scale using the A minor scale. (My favourite scale because it has no sharps or flats!)
How to build a melodic minor in 3 easy steps:
1. Build your natural minor using the steps from lesson 37. One difference you will notice below is that I build the scale going up and then back down. As usual, I have marked the semitones with a lovely red slur.
2. Identify your submediant (6th) and leading note (7th). In the case of the A minor scale these are F and G respectively. Raise each by one semitone. This means if the note is a flat, make it a natural. If it is a natural make it a sharp. If it is a sharp make it a double sharp. In our case, both F and G are natural, so we just have to make them sharp. Take a look at the scale below. Notice that the location of the semitones shifted when we raised the 6th and 7th notes.
3. Now you have to deal with the scale going down. The 6th and 7th notes should return to their natural form as we traverse back down the scale. This means we have to lower them from their heightened state. Because we used accidentals to raise the 6th and 7th notes, we will have to use accidentals to lower them back. Do you know which accidental we will use for the A minor scale? If you said a natural, you would be correct. Here is the entire A minor melodic scale going up and down.
I usually only show the easy scales.. the ones without sharps and flats in the key signatures. You may want to try a few harder ones on your own. I would recommend trying E minor and D minor to start. I may write a minor scale practice post where I tackle some of these more difficult keys.
I must admit, I haven’t been practicing the piano very much lately. Well, not at all actually. It’s easy to let every-day activities get in the way of progressing towards our goals. So as part of my February resolutions I have added a new goal: To practice the piano for at least 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week for the month of February. I like making monthly resolutions rather than yearly. With monthly goals, you can keep re-committing yourself without losing too much steam. Also, you can continuously re-prioritize your goals, because things that are important to you today may not be important tomorrow. Think of it, every month will be like a new beginning!
Of course, saying you are going to do something is one thing; doing it is the hard part. So how can you make sure you keep on track? I have a few tips for you. Some of them the standard ones you will find when you google “How to achieve goals”, some of them are directly from my brain. (Be afraid, be very afraid.)
1. Make sure your goal is measurable. For example, your goal shouldn’t be something like “practice the piano more”. A goal should be something that you can accomplish, that is clearly achievable and measurable. I’ll give you a few examples of goals that are not measurable:
Go to bed earlier
Don’t pig out as much
Rather, you could modify those goals to make them more clear:
Go to bed before 11pm from Monday to Friday for a month
Eat under 1800 calories a day for the next week
Go to bootcamp twice a week for a month
See the difference? The more specific your goals are, the easier it is to create a plan of action. Once your goals have been completed you can re-evaluate and re-commit yourself. But more on that later.
2. Make sure your goal is realistic. It is important that you consider all of your current time commitments. How much time can you dedicate to accomplishing your goal? My goal to play the piano for 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week may not seem like a lot. But I know 15 minutes is a realistic number for me at this point in my life given my other activities and responsibilities.
3. Enjoy the journey. As cliche as it may seem, life is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Focus on the good feelings that you get while working to achieve your goal. By focusing on these feelings, you will find that motivating yourself will get easier. For example, if your goal involves working out, you can focus on the feelings of accomplishment that you may have after lifting heavier weights, or you could focus on the energy boost that you have after a workout. Focus on the good feelings rather than the bad and you will find yourself looking forward to working on your goal.
4. Re-evaluate and re-commit! You may have noticed that the goals I listed above had are time-constrained. Once they end, it doesn’t mean you stop working toward your goal. It means you reflect on your experiences over the last period of time, figure out what was working for you and what wasn’t working, and then modify your plan as you find appropriate. For example, after February, I may find that I actually have time to dedicate 20 minutes a day to practicing the piano rather than 15. At the beginning of March I will make a new set of goals to reflect this discovery.
Re-committing yourself every month is a great way to stay on track for the long run. In fact, the more often you can re-commit yourself to your goal, the better!
OK, that’s enough of the fluffy stuff. Next post will be back to the grind, with melodic minor scales. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging.
The C major scale will be one of the first scales that you will learn on the piano. It is important that you learn to play the scales using the correct fingers. Remember your finger numbers. Your thumb on each hand is number 1, and your pinky is number 5.
1) Put your right hand in C position; your thumb resting on middle C, and your other fingers resting on the adjacent white keys.
2) Press C with your thumb, D with your second finger, and E with your third finger.
3) Tuck your thumb under your first and second finger, and press the F key with your thumb. Then continue by pressing G with your second finger, A with your third finger, B with your fourth finger, and finally C with your fifth finger. If you want to continue for another octave here, you could tuck your thumb under and hit C with your thumb instead of your fifth finger. Then continue like the first octave.
4) At the top of the scale, it is time to begin the descent. After pressing C with your pinky, press B with your fourth finger, A with your third finger, G with your second finger, and F with your thumb.
5) Cross your third finger over your thumb, and press E. Press D with your second finger, and C with your thumb.
6) There! You have done C major scale with your right hand
1) Put your left hand in C position; your pinky resting on the C below middle C, and your other finger resting on adjacent white keys.
2) Press C with your pinky, D with your fourth finger, E with your third finger, F with your second finger, and G with your thumb.
3) Bring your third finger over G and press A. Then press B with your second finger, and C with your thumb. Again, if you wish to continue up another octave, you could bring your fourth finger over your thumb and press D, continuing the scale up.
4) For the descent after you hit C with your thumb, press B with your second finger and A with your third finger.
5) Bring your thumb under your third finger and press G with your thumb, F with your second finger, E with your third finger, D with your fourth finger, and C with your pinky.
Sorry for this dry post, but it must done.. Hopefully my next post will be more exciting. I will be sure to include mythological creatures.
To continue along with our theme of minor scales, let’s break open the concept of HARMONIC MINOR scales. So firstly, what is a harmonic minor scale? Well, it is a minor scale – similar to the natural minor that we learned about in lesson 37. There is one key difference between a natural minor scale and a harmonic minor scale, and that is that the harmonic minor has an ACCIDENTAL. I’ll discuss this in a moment but first I want to ask a question. Why is it called HARMONIC? Well, harmonic means “of or relating to harmony”. It is a bit confusing, because scales do not have harmony. At least the scales that I play don’t. However, the reason it is called a harmonic minor scale is because this scale contains the notes that most minor harmonies use. That is, most songs written in minor keys are based off the notes of the harmonic minor scale.
In a harmonic minor scale, the seventh note of the natural minor scale (or SUBTONIC) is RAISED by one semitone. That means that if the original note was a natural, it will be raised to a sharp. If it was already a sharp, it will be raised to a double sharp. (Don’t worry, this doesn’t happen that often.) If it was a flat it would be raised to…. Can you guess?
I’m going to leave you hanging on the answer to that last question. If you flip your monitor upside down, you will be able to find the answer to that question at the bottom of this post.
OK, harmonic minors. I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide to creating this magical beast, but first you will have to be familiar with the concept tones and semitones. You will also have to review Lesson 37 if you don’t know how to write a natural minor scale. Here are the steps.
Step 1: Write the natural minor scale. I’m not going to review how to do that here – lesson 37 explains it better than I ever could.
Step 2: Locate the seventh note of the scale.
Step 3: Find out if the seventh note of the scale is sharp or flat. You may have to look in the key signature if you wrote the natural minor scale using a key signature. If not, look at your accidentals.
Step 4: If the seventh note is flat, put a natural sign in front of the note. If the seventh note is natural, put a sharp, If the seventh note is sharp, put a double sharp.
There! That’s it. Below I have an example of how to raise the seventh note of a natural minor scale to create a harmonic minor scale. In the image below the semitones are marked in red, and the whole tones are marked in dark blue. As you can see in the harmonic scale, by raising the 7th note of the scale we have created an interval that is not a semitone and it is note a tone. It is larger than a tone – it is actually 3 semitones, or 1 and a half tones. By raising the seventh note, we have effectively increased the size of the interval between the sixth and the seventh notes of the scale.
In my opinion, memorizing the tone-semitone pattern for the harmonic minor scale is not an effective way to learn how to write the harmonic minor scale. Unless you have a photographic memory, or really like spending your Saturday nights reciting patterns, I would recommend using the method above.
I would recommend trying to play a few natural minor scales and their corresponding harmonic minors so that you recognize the difference between them. You will notice that harmonic minors are much more pleasing to the ear. Now you may understand more about why they are called “harmonic”.
In the next episode, melodic minor scales. Stay tuned…
Fingering, in the context of piano playing, refers to the choice of fingers which you use to play the notes on the piano. As a piano player performs or practices, he or she has a choice of which fingers to use to play certain notes. In case you don’t remember, each finger on your hand is associated with a number. These numbers can be used on sheet music to indicate which finger to use to play that particular note.
In the beginning stages of learning to play the piano, the fingerings are often written above or below the notes on the sheet music. As the music becomes more advanced, there is no longer any finger numbers indicated. Rather the choice of what finger to use becomes the responsibility of the piano player. Piano players can make good choices or bad choices. The good choices will result in passages that flow easily without the hand having to jump and contort into awkward poses. The bad choices will leave the piano player frustrated and uncomfortable and ready to use their head as an eleventh finger.
So, the big question: What is the right fingering and how to you find it? Unfortunately there is not one right answer or one right technique for coming up with the right fingering. The right fingering is dependent on the musical passage and the person that is playing it. Some sheet music has “suggested” fingering indicated for difficult passages. If this is the case, it would be a good starting point. From there, you must work through the passage. A good fingering scheme would have your hand primed and ready for the next note. A bad one would have you fumbling and contorting for the next note. Being able to reach the next note comfortably is a key concept in finding the right fingering.
Here are few guidelines you can use to find the right fingering:
If the passage consists of scales or arpeggios, use the fingering scheme associated with them
For adjacent keys (keys that are next to eachother), use adjacent fingers unless you have a good reason not to.
Think of the movement of the passage, and try to move your hand into the correct position to accomodate the movement.
Once you find a fingering that works for you, STICK WITH IT. If you can’t remember it, there is nothing wrong with taking a pen or pencil and writing the finger numbers on the sheet music. If you continually use different fingers to play the same passage, that passage will never flow smoothy and gracefully because your brain will always be involved in making choices. Rather, you want your motor skills to take over, so that the movement comes naturally without intervention from the planning centers of the brain.
The more you practice, the more the fingering will come naturally to you.
This lesson will be dedicated to mastering the art of writing the minor scale. The NATURAL minor scale is the easiest scale to write. No sharps or flats to worry about; you just have to figure out the key signature. You could go the route of memorizing all of the major and minor key signatures – but as a back up plan, you should know how to write the natural minor scale using the TONE-SEMITONE method. This will be similar to how we learned to write major scales, with one small difference: the pattern we will follow is slightly different.
Rather than just telling you the pattern, I think I’m going to torture you a bit by making you work for the answer. If you remember back to the last lesson, I discussed RELATIVE KEYS. In that lesson I explained that every major scale has a relative minor. Relative major and natural minor scales actually SHARE all of their notes, except that the minor scale starts on a different note. Do you remember which note of a major scale is the tonic of the relative minor scale? *cue jeopardy music*
Answer: The sixth note (or submediant) of the major scale is the tonic of its relative minor scale. To demonstrate this, I’ve created the image below. The top staff shows 2 octaves of a C major scale with the SEMITONE steps highlighted using red slurs. The rest of the steps are WHOLE TONES. Below the C major scale is its relative minor scale: A minor.
The SEMITONES are indicated on the A minor scale as well. Notice that they happen in exactly the same place as the relative minor. Notice that the notes are EXACTLY the same. Notice that I’m getting you to notice a lot of things. Notice that I’m using the word “notice” a lot.
So, now can you tell me what the tone-semitone pattern is for a minor natural scale? To make it easier, take a look at the A minor scale above. A to B is a whole tone, B to C is a semitone, C to D is a whole tone, etc.. When you put it all together you get TONE-SEMITONE-TONE-TONE-SEMITONE-TONE-TONE. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely as the major scale pattern, and I have no quick tricks for memorizing this pattern. But after this lesson, you won’t need to memorize it, because you will know how to build it using the major scale pattern. Job well done!
As you learn about major and minor key signatures, it is important to understand what a RELATIVE KEY is. Major keys and minor keys are related in that some of them share their key signature. In fact, each major key has a relative minor key. They share a key signature, but each of them has a different tonic.
It is relatively straight forward to find the relative minor key of a major scale. To find a relative minor key, you must find the 6th note (or the submediant) of the major scale. For example, we know that the key of C has no sharps or flats. The notes of the C major scale are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. So what is the relative minor of C major? If you guessed A minor, you would be correct.
Now what if you wanted to go the other way? To find the relative major key of a minor scale? Well, that is simple as well – except for instead of taking the 6th note of the scale, you would take the MEDIANT (3rd note) of the minor scale. I haven’t told you how to construct a minor scale yet, but the third note of the A minor scale is C. Take my word for it.
So now you have the complete picture: C major and A minor are related in the sense that they share the same key signature (no flats and no sharps). The table below shows the other relative major and minor keys.
While improvising or composing music, it is important to understand relative major and minor keys. They are often used in the same piece of music as a way to add musical interest and variety.
Get ready! This post is all about building major triads. Building major triads is surprisingly easy if you already know how to build a major scale. (If you don’t, you can learn how to build a major scale here. ) You can build a major triad in 3 easy steps:
1) Build your major scale for the corresponding key. This means that if you want to build a C major triad, you will start with building a C major scale.
2) Take the TONIC, MEDIANT, and DOMINANT notes… slap them together… aaaannnnnnd…..
3) VOILA! You have a triad! Remember that the tonic is the first note of the scale, the mediant is the third note of the scale, and the dominant is the fifth note of the scale.
Below is a set of major triads that start on each of the white keys.
Every major triad consists of the same intervals. In the root position, the interval from the lowest note to the middle note is a major 3rd. The interval from the lowest note to the highest note is a perfect fifth. This is true for every major triad, no matter which key. The graphic below shows a C major chord in root position, indicating the intervals in the chord.
A chord is the sounding of 3 or more notes. Chords can be played simultaneously (solid chords) or successively (broken chords). Like intervals, every chord has a QUALITY. Two of the most common chords qualities are major and minor, which are based on the notes of the corresponding scale. Other qualities can be diminished or augmented. These are less common, but just as important.. I don’t want to play favourites after all.
A TRIAD is a 3-note chord that is based on intervals of a third. The 7th chord consists of 4 notes and is quite common as well. 9th and 13th chords are common in jazz music.
Something else to be aware of: chords have inversions. This means that you can rearrange a chord so that the lowest note is any other note in the chord. The ROOT position is the “normal” position – this occurs when the lowest note of the chord is the tonic. That is, if the chord is a B major triad, the root position would have B as the lowest note of the chord.
FIRST INVERSION occurs when the root chord is rearranged so that the second note of the chord is in the lowest position. This is achieved by taking the lowest note in root position, and moving it UP an octave. SECOND INVERSION occurs when the root chord is rearranged so that the third note of the chord is in the lowest position. This can be achieved by taking the two lowest notes in root position, and moving them UP an octave.
This post was intended to be a brief overview of all that chords have to offer. In future lessons I will delve further into how to create chords and their inversions. So don’t worry if you are confused now – you will get used to it.
No, it’s not a dirty word. Contrapuntal music is music that has 2 or more independant melodies that move relative to eachother. The definition of contrapuntal is “of or related to COUNTERPOINT”, which I discuss in this post about musical texture. In many types of jazz, the left-hand is used mainly for accompaniment, using chords to provide harmonic depth. In contrapuntal jazz, each hand has a time to shine melodically, and indeed – sometimes they shine at the same time! Check out this Youtube video that displays this technique.
Very cool, but also a challenging listen. I can only imagine how challenging it is to play.
So what can you do to help you improve your contrapuntal skills? Here are a few ideas for you:
Practice your left-handed musical “licks”: Often our left hand is not as strong as the right in terms of technique and creativity. Work on some melodic ideas for the bass line. These melodic ideas can be called “motives” or “licks”. Essentially they are just passages or phrases that have some melodic character.
Practice chords with the right hand: Maybe you will want to switch the accompaniment back and forth between the left and right hand. You will need to be equally proficient in utilizing each hand for both chords and melody.
Develop rhythmic independence: The key here is to get your right and left hand working independent of one another rhythmically. Try tapping exercises where each hand taps different rhythms. For more piano practice, you can trying learning Bach who is famous for his contrapuntal extravaganzas.
Improvise entire songs with left-hand only melody: Flipping the melody switch from the right hand to the left will take some time. The more you practice playing melodies with your left hand, the more your brain will form the necessary contrapuntal connections.
Contrapuntal technique could be compared with being musically ambidextrous. As with most skills, the more you practice, the more adept you will become and the easier it will get.
Before I go on, I want to make sure you realize that the points in question are for me. Because I spent the last hour of my life drawing cartoons of cats and pumpkins… and not very well, may I add…
OK, ok! You can have points too. After all, you did click this link and it’s the least I can do to compensate you for the mental anguish you may experience while you are here. Points for everyone!
Seriously though. Halloween is great because kids get excited about it. It’s great when kids get excited about things, because parents can use it to their advantage. Why not use Halloween as way to get your kids to practice the piano? Here are two free sheet music downloads for kids. They are Halloween related because there is a picture of a pumpkin and a cat on them. And because I say they are.
The first download is a short song called Pumpkin Party. It is suitable for beginner pianists that are familiar with the C position. In this song, both hands are in the C position.
The second song is called Black Cat Parade and is suitable for pianists who are able to play chords, and are familiar with playing sharps and flats. This song is in the key of C minor. We will be learning about minor scales and minor keys in future lessons. For an introduction to minor scales, check out this awesome lesson.
If you want bonus creativity points, you can help your child come up with Halloween-related lyrics for the songs. If you come up with some good ones that you think I should use, let me know! Coming up with song lyrics is beyond my capabilities, at least for now. Now that you mention it, cartooning and writing music are beyond my capabilities as well…
Now that we are all experts at major scales, it’s time to throw a new scale into the mix. The minor scale is similar to the major scale, but different. (Yes, a very helpful description, I know.) The main difference between major and minor scales is that the interval from the tonic (first note) to the mediant (third note) is one semitone smaller in a minor scale. That is, the distance from the first note of the scale to the third note of the minor scale is one semitone smaller than that of the major scale.
This is where I will introduce major and minor intervals. If you need a refresher on intervals, see Lesson 28: Introduction to Intervals – type, size, and quality. The interval between the first degree and the third degree in a major scale is a MAJOR THIRD interval. The interval between the first degree and the third degree in a minor scale is a MINOR THIRD interval. The difference between a major third and a minor third is that the minor third is shifted down by a semitone. This means a natural note becomes a flat, a sharp becomes a natural, and a flat becomes a double flat.
Check out the first tetrachord in a major scale (top), and minor scale (bottom).
Putting the first and the third notes together into a harmonic interval you get:
Some of the other intervals in the major scale can be modified to be minor as well. These are: 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th.
As a final note, there are 3 types of minor scales that we will learn in future lessons: NATURAL MINOR, HARMONIC MINOR, and MELODIC MINOR. In all 3 types of minor scales, the lower tetrachord is the same, only the upper tetrachord differs. (For more information about what a tetrachord is, click here.)
As a parent, you probably want your kid to get the most out of their music lessons. After all, you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on lessons if your child is not drawing any sort of benefit from them. Just like in school, a little bit of parental involvement goes a long way when it comes to music lessons. Here are a few tips for parents to follow to make sure your kid is getting the most they can out of their music lessons.
1. Sit in on the lesson: Being aware of what your child is learning is important. Especially if your child is on the younger side, it is going to take a lot of repetition before a new concept is fully understood. If your child is going to lessons once a week, it is easy to forget what was learned. In this case, two brains are better than one.
2. Learn a bit of music: If you don’t know anything about music, now is a prime time to learn a little. Learn with your kid. Go over their materials, and help them when they have questions.
3. Have a rewards system for practicing: Consider implementing a simple rewards system. For example, start with an empty jar. Every time your child practices, put a marble in the jar. Once the jar is full, your child can pick a reward. For extra parent-points, give your child the option of choosing music-related rewards. Could be a trip to see some live music, a new album on iTunes, or new music-related game..
4. Don’t worry about time: Especially if your child is young, putting an emphasis on practicing for a certain amount of time is not that helpful. Attention spans vary from child to child. Try to work with the attention span of your child instead of against it. Short spurts of quality practice is better than long drawn-out distractathons.
5. Make sure you have an assignment book: Your piano teacher should be writing his/her comments and instructions every week in an assignment book. He/she should be including notes about what to practice for next week. Review these notes every week.
6. Encourage! Learning and practicing the piano can be hard, and I’m sure most piano players have gone through a phase where they want to quit. The best thing a parent can do is to praise small accomplishments, and to encourage your child to keeping trying. It is not about doing it perfectly, it is about progressing and improving. All improvements should be praised and rewarded. This gives the child more desire and motivation to stick to it.
7. Set up a goal: Maybe the goal could be a recital in front of aunts, uncles, and grandparents, maybe playing at a music festival. Setting up goals that involve playing in front of others can give a sense of excitement and purpose to the mundane everyday practice schedule.
8. Try to practice daily: Yes, this is hard. But consistency is key, especially when dealing with younger children. Even a short 5 or 10 minute practice every day is better than a 30 minute practice one a week.
9. Sit in on practice if required: Be aware of the needs of your child. Don’t just leave them in a room with a piano by themselves to figure it out. Guide them through the practice, and help when problems arise.
1o. Written activity sheets: Practicing music isn’t just about practicing at the piano. It is about understanding musical terms and concepts. Find activity sheets for kids. For younger kids, this could be as simple as a music-related coloring page. Other written games and activities can solidify musical concepts in a fun way.
If you have any other tips for parents, feel free to comment below. Really, it is just about finding what works for you, your child, and your family. Everyone’s situation is different, so no one set of rules applies. Just keep trying different things until you find something that works.
Now for one quick roundup of all of the information we have learned about major scales and major key signatures. This is intended to be a brief review, and more information on each specific area can be found in previous lessons. I will try to include links.
The major scale is a diatonic scale, meaning it contains 7 distinct notes. A scale is a sequence of ascending or descending notes. A major sclae has 2 tetrachords that follow the same pattern (TONE-TONE-SEMITONE). In a major scale, the tetrachords are separated by a half. A major scale follows the pattern: TONE-TONE-SEMITONE-TONE-TONE-TONE-SEMITONE.
Remember that a tone is 2 steps on the piano, and a semitone is 1 step – or the smallest distance between any two notes on the piano. You can review tones and semitones here.
Let’s build a major scale starting on A flat. I like to picture a piano keyboard when I am building my scales, that way I can see where the tones and semitones are. If you a beginner, drawing out a picture of a piano keyboard isn’t a bad way to start. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that it is a good way to start!
Here is the A flat major scale. As you can see, there are quite a few notes that land on the black keys. The arrows between the notes indicate the tones and semitones. The red arrows are whole tones, and the blue arrows are semitones.
After this exercise, we now know the notes of the A flat scale. We just have to put them on the staff. The first way to do this is by using accidentals. That is, putting your sharps and flats right in front of the note.
Next, to create a key signature, you need to group all of the accidentals at the beginning of the scale, after the clef. In the A flat scale there are 4 flats: A flat, B flat, D flat, and E flat. Remember that the flats in a key signature have to go in a specific order. For flats the order is B-E-A-D-G-C-F. The order of the sharps in the key signature is F-C-G-D-A-E-B. There are tricks for remembering this order.
To create a key signature for every major key, you could go through this exercise of creating it from the major scale. You could also memorize key signatures, or you could memorize the circle of fifths. Here is a list of the major keys, and the number of sharps or flats that are in the key signature.
About a year ago, my husband and I went to see the Ari Hoenig Quartet at the NAC Fourth Stage in Ottawa. To put it simply, this show was.. I can’t think of the right adjective, so I’ll just say it was GREAT… and trust me that this is an understatement, even with the uppercase notation. The musical prowess of each member was exceptional, not to mention their synergy with each other. The audience could sense their passion – it was in the air. They seemed to feed off one another, giving eachother energy, challenging one another. It was lyrical, intense, and occasionally comedic.
All of the band members were exceptional, but being a piano player, I was enthralled by the pianist; I later found out his name was Tigran Hamasyan. WHO IS THIS KID? His energy was unbelievable and contagious. Not to mention his SKILLZ… Yes, skillz with a Z. That is how good he was.
I have always thought there was something special about jazz musicians. Whenever I see a good jazz pianist I think to myself: “Here is someone that has mastered their instrument”. To be a good jazz musician you must have to understand rhythm and chord progression in such an intimate way that it becomes second nature. It has to become a part of your reflexes, part of who you are. Needless to say, I envy those that have this set set of skills. I suppose it is human nature to admire the people who can do the things we cannot.. that’s probably why I admire a lot of people..
OK, back to this Tigran character. I’m not going to go through all the information you can find on wikipedia. Rather, I will provide you a link with more information if you are interested. Here you go. You can check out his albums on Itunes, Rdio, or a music player of your choice. It looks like he is coming to the Ottawa/Gatineau area in March 2013. You can be sure that I will brave the French-speakers to make it out to that concert.
By the way, this post falls into a new category that I set up for the blog: artists. This is my way of exploring music a bit more than I would otherwise. If you have any suggestions for artists I might want to listen to, please let me know. Ideally I would be looking for artists that utilize the piano as a way to make music or other noises.
Now for something light and fluffy. After all of that scale-talk, you deserve it. I’m going to talk a bit about what to do when a difficult piece of music is kicking your bum… figuratively speaking. Maybe it’s a whole piece, maybe it’s just a short phrase that you just can’t get past. Either way, you can apply my ten-step program – guaranteed to make you a master of any piece of music*!
(*The text below does not constitute a ten-step program. It does not contain ten steps, and does not adhere to the definition of a “program”. Rather it is just a loosely-related list of suggestions. Additionally, this list is not guaranteed to make you the master of anything.)
Now that my lawyer is happy, let me start with number 1!
1. Break it down: If this was a 10 step program (which it is not), this would be the first step. If the phrase with which you are having difficulty is rather long, you will need to break it down into manageable, bite-sized chunks. These chunks should be long enough that it stands up well on its own, but short enough that you can practice it many (many) times in one practice session.
2. Pick a chunk to focus on: Today you will focus on only one chunk of your music. Tomorrow you will review that chunk and focus on a new chunk. Focus on one chunk at a time. If several chunks are similar in nature, it might make sense to group them. That is up to you. Do what feels right.
3. Don’t play it: You should understand the music first. Know each note and visualize which finger will be playing it. Picture the keys on the keyboard. Understand which notes are sharp, which are flat, and which are natural. Picture your fingers on the keys of the keyboard. Picture yourself on the beach, relaxing in the hot sun, a cold beer in your hand…
4. Get a red pen or pencil: Preferably you would have one handy before you started practicing. If not, stop what you are doing, drive to your local business supply shop, and stock up on red pencils. Better yet, stock up on a variety of colors, that way you can color-code your markup. Then buy matching post-it notes so you can write small notes for yourself and stick them to your music. Better yet, don’t listen to me at all, and just use a pencil or pen that you have in your junk drawer.
5. Play it: Play it once slowly. Play it twice even more slowly. Play it three times.. slow again. Have your pencil ready, because you are going to mark-up your music as you go. Are you having problems with fingering? Write the finger numbers above the notes. Are you having problems identifying the notes? Write the note names down. Are you having problems with timing? Write a few clues that help you in that area… (Timing hints are a bit more difficult to write down, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve – that will have to be a later post.) The idea of marking up your music is to draw your attention to the areas that you are finding difficult, and make them a bit easier by providing you with hints. These hints will be temporary, and should be removed as soon as you don’t need them.
6. Now for the annoying bit: Play the passage at a very slow tempo. If you make a mistake, slow down the passage and play it again. Repeat as necessary until you find a tempo at which you do not make a mistake. (The worst thing you can do is to train your brain WRONG by playing the passage over and over again while making mistakes.) Once you found the right speed, play the passage several times. If you can play it 5 times without a mistake, it is time to turn up the speed a notch. Increase your speed slightly, and repeat the process. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU DO NOT PRACTICE MISTAKES. Always play slow enough that you are playing mistake-free.
The above step can be broken up into three parts, depending on your level of expertise. The three parts would be: Right-hand practicing, left-hand practicing, hands-together practicing. This isn’t necessary, as you might feel comfortable diving right in with both hands together. That’s your call.
7. Now for an easy bit: Listen to recordings of the music in question (if possible). Look at your music while you listen, and recognize the notes that are being played. Pretend you are playing it.. yes, I am talking about playing the air-piano… And recommending playing any type of air instrument is very uncharacteristic of me, as the sight of a man playing air-guitar or air-drums can make me shudder uncontrollably.
8. Sorry: Lastly, I apologize for this post. If you have made it to this point, you deserve a very special prize – but I already ate my last miniature chocolate bar. Sorry.
In your musical travels, you may come across the term “tetrachord”. Besides sounding like something you could play really loudly on an electric guitar, tetrachords can be used to divide a scale into two halves. Actually, if you played a tetrachord on the piano (or any other instrument), it probably wouldn’t sound all that good. If you played a tetrachord really loudly on an electric guitar, your neighbors dog might want to start a band with you.
A tetrachord isn’t a traditional chord that you would play to harmonize a melody. Rather, it is just a collection of four (tetra) notes (chord). You can thank the Greeks for this terminology.
This is a quick tidbit instead of a lesson, because knowing what a tetrachord is isn’t essential in musical theory, but in my opinion you can never know too much… On second thought, thats not true. I’ve had plenty of “TMI”-type moments in my life. Let me rephrase that.. In my opinion, you can never know too much about musical theory!
A tetrachord is half a scale – each scale has two tetrachords: the lower tetrachord and upper tetrachord that are separated by a whole tone. In a major scale, the upper tetrachord and the lower tetrachord share the same pattern of tones and semitones. The graphic below gives a better idea of what a tetrachord is. This is the C-major scale. The semitones in the scale are indicated by using a slur.
Thats pretty much all I wanted to say… It isn’t earth shattering science, but there are a few tricks that you can do with tetrachords. For example, using the upper tetrachord of the first scale as the lower tetrachord of the next. For the C major scale, the upper tetrachord begins on G. If you continue the pattern for 4 more notes, you will have the G major scale! Then if you continue the pattern for 4 more notes you will have the D major scale! (I could go on…)
This is a great example of the “Circle of Fifths” in action. Check out the circle of fifths here if you want to learn more.