When Can I Learn The Entertainer?

When a student begins piano lessons, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin is a popular piece many students want to learn how to play. Rhythmically, it’s an intermediate piece. Even when you can find it arranged for a lower level, it’s still rhythmically challenging. Beginners struggle with it. Oftentimes they rely on their ear, rather than count it aloud. This is the pitfall, especially when trying to coordinate the left hand with the right hand. Without a conscious decision about how to count the rhythm, the piece will not work. Counting aloud is a requirement, and beginners are just starting to get that skill.

Recently, I had an upper intermediate level student, sight read The Entertainer while counting aloud with impeccable timing and rhythm. It was slow, and it was accurate. I had nothing to say, nothing to correct, other than, “Let’s sight read another Scott Joplin piece.”

Over the course of this student’s seven years of lessons, he had learned the skills necessary to sight read the Entertainer. I had never had a student play that piece with ease until then. I always knew it was not a beginner piece, but I now had a better appreciation of the skills a student must learn to be able to play it well.

This student demonstrated his independence. He didn’t need me to help him with The Entertainer. He just did it, and I sat back and listened, quite happy that he didn’t need me.

If you want to one day be able to play The Entertainer, start counting aloud from the very beginning of lessons and keep going. It’s one foot in front of the other of gaining skills, and the day will come when you will play The Entertainer.

If you would like to start on the path to learning how to play The Entertainer, or any other favorite piece, give us a call at 360-527-9626 to begin your music journey. We look forward to hearing from you.

Make Music As A Family This Christmas

While we are in the middle of August right now, no one is thinking about Christmas. However, would you like to make music as a family this Christmas?

It’s amazing how beginning students light up when they realize they have the skills to play their favorite Christmas song for the first time. It is even more amazing when siblings and parents dust off their music skills and figure out how they can all play the same Christmas song together. With a little instruction in basic harmony and counting aloud, soon the family music group is born.

If you would like to make music as a family this Christmas, now is the time to start lessons, either for your children or for yourself. Let the teacher know your goals. Before you know it, you and your family will be making music together at Christmas. You only have something to gain.

If you would like help getting started learning how to play the piano, give us a call at 360-527-9626. Your music dreams are about to unfold. We can’t wait to help you.

How Do You Know You Are Ready to Perform?

Question: How do you know you’re ready to perform in front of an audience? Choose the best answer:
a) You know the notes
b) You can play the piece perfectly from memory
c) You know how to keep going if you make a mistake
d) You know how to fake if you have a memory slip

The answer:

c) You know how to keep going if you make a mistake
d) You know how to fake if you have a memory slip

If a student can keep their composure when they make mistakes or have a memory slip, then I know they can handle a performance situation.

Choices a) you know the notes, and b) you can play the piece perfectly from memory, are important in learning a piece and should not be overlooked. Once those are in place, then start practicing performing in front of people.

Things will happen. You may make a mistake where you’ve never made a mistake before. You may have a memory slip. Knowing how to keep the beat going and improvise if needed until you get back on track is a skill. Those two skills are your backup system when performing. I do not recommend performing unless you have a backup system in place. Otherwise you run the risk of a negative experience.

Prepare well. Know your piece well. Then, in the moment of performing it’s a dynamic environment. Having a back up system at your disposal will enable you to have a good experience performing even when you are not at your personal best.

Need help learning how to have a good experience performing? Give us a call at 360-527-9626. We are happy to help.

Singing and Playing the Piano?

If you would like to take your piano playing to the next level, consider writing words to your pieces and singing while you play. The 2013 Van Cliburn Piano Competition Italian silver medalist, Beatrice Rana, had a teacher who had her write lyrics to her pieces. It was an exercise in tapping into the emotional content of the piece and truly making it her own.

The human voice has so much richness and variation in expression. Singing your piano pieces can help with phrasing. There are an infinite number of phrasing options. Just singing the phrase will immediately give you information about where and how to phrase.

Try it. You never know what you might learn.

How Slow? Excruciatingly Slow

Last year I saw world famous classical double bassist, Alex Hanna, give a masterclass, and he described how he practiced.

His exact words were, “Excruciatingly slow.“

In going excruciatingly slow he is aware of every minute nuance, and can easily make adjustments where needed. Only in excruciatingly slow can he uncover problems and correct them before they become bigger issues.

The next time you practice slowly, consider practicing excruciatingly slow. It is what sets the world-class performers of any instrument apart. If you have the patience for it, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn without the help of a teacher.

I would love to hear about what you learn.

The Effect of Piano Playing on Your Brain

Here’s a great article on the benefits to your brain when you play the piano. Enjoy.


Keyboard vs. Piano from a Child’s Point of View

I recently talked to the 12 year-old daughter of a friend of mine in another city that began piano lessons with an electronic keyboard at home to practice on. She stopped after a few months, but a year later resumed when her mom found a piano for their home. Here’s what she had to say about her experience practicing on a keyboard, and then later on a piano, and the challenges of learning to play the piano.

1. How did you find practicing on the keyboard?

It was frustrating because the keyboard couldn’t respond with the variety of sound a piano does. I worked hard, but the keyboard just didn’t measure up to what a piano could do. I also had trouble playing a real piano because my keyboard was not full-size, so I never knew where middle C was.

2. How long did you do lessons on a keyboard before you quit?

A few months.

3. Now that you have a piano, how do you compare the two?

I really like the piano. I want to play it, and I like practicing.

A few years later, my friend’s child is still enjoying piano lessons and practicing on her piano. She has even started to explore duets on her own with her sibling who plays the violin. This all began when the piano became a part of their home.

If you are looking to get started with piano lessons and want music in your home, invest in a piano. Your child will progress more quickly and is more likely to continue long-term with lessons than if they only had an electronic keyboard.

For tips on buying a piano, click here. For ideas on where you can find pianos in the community to practice on, click here. If you would like further assistance, please give us a call at 360-527-9626. We are happy to help you find a piano.

I Love That Piece!

Five minutes before the end of one of my piano student’s lessons, his mom knocks on the door to come in. She finds us throwing a ball and trying to bare hand the catch. Her 8 year-old son is energized and really into this ball throwing. Sometimes we miss, and the ball bounces off the wall, but we’re both really trying. Even I get better at my throws and catches.

I explained to his mom that he just spent the last 10 minutes memorizing an entire piece that he thought he‘d never be able to memorize. I had him memorize one line, repeat it a few times, and then get up and play catch for about 10 throws. Then he would return to the piano, and see if he could remember the line of music he just memorized. He just now finished memorizing the entire piece so we were doing the final throws.

Then I suggested to the student, “Hey, why don’t you do a test, and see if you can play the piece from memory for your mom?”

Excited to show his mom, he sat down and played from memory. Sure enough, he could do it. He was thrilled; his mom was thrilled. I told him that when he went home to do the same process again, and maybe get his dad to throw a ball with him to solidify what he learned today.

The next week he came back to his lesson and announced, “I love that piece!”

Having fun learning, and being able to do things you didn’t think you could. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you or your child would like to experience the fun of learning to play the piano, give us a call at 360-527-9626 or email us.

Owning Practice

Every year I encourage students to participate in the WA State Music Teachers Adjudications and the National Guild of Piano Teachers Auditions. Both are events where students prepare pieces to perform and receive feedback from a guest teacher. It’s a wonderful way to help students set and reach goals and learn from another musician.

One student participated every year, but always dreaded it. She realized she dreaded it because she didn’t prepare well. In the few weeks before the event, when I would see that she wasn’t prepared, I would find new pieces that were simple enough for her to learn quickly and perform so that she could still participate.

One such time, I told her, “When you come back next week you’ll be giving a mini-concert for the student who has a lesson just before you. So start preparing today when you get home. Do not wait.”

The next week came, and I knew her pattern of not adequately preparing and then having a miserable time. However, when she walked in the door, I was happy to see her, and said, motioning toward the piano, “Here you go. Go ahead and give us a concert.”

I didn’t give her an opportunity to say anything, or do anything except sit down at the piano and start playing. To my surprise, she did. Instead of playing the easy piece I gave her the week before, she played her difficult piece from start to finish, by memory. I had never heard her play the whole piece, let alone from memory, until that day. I was shocked.

What was her secret? After a short time practicing by playing straight through the piece at home, she realized she wasn’t getting anywhere. Adjudications were just around the corner, and the hard parts were still hard. She decided that she needed to practice a different way, the way I had been telling her for the past four years. She went back to her assignment notebook and looked at all the ways I had been telling her to practice. She made herself a plan on what she was going to master each day so that at the end of the week she would know the entire piece.

She practiced every day, about an hour each time, seven days in a row. She went slow. She practiced hands alone. She practiced transitions from one beat to the next beat over and over. She worked out hard parts, rather than just play through the piece. Her parents weren’t even sure she was practicing because it sounded different from anything she had ever done over the past four years.

At the end of the week she could play the entire piece. She got the results she wanted. She realized she could do it. She was happy. For the first time in her life, she now was looking forward to playing at the adjudications. She couldn’t wait to see what new ideas she would learn.

To see the transformation in her from dread to joy is one of the reasons I keep teaching. I am an eternal optimist, and believe that our abilities sometimes lie dormant. We may not even be aware of what we are capable of. A good teacher of any discipline sees the potential in the student and is willing to stick it out through thick and thin until one day it come to the surface. Once a student experiences it for themselves, they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Do you need a teacher to believe in you or your child? Give us a call today to get started with lessons and discover your own natural abilities.

Falling in Love with Learning

“Fall in love with the process and the results will come.”

I recently saw this quote advertising a gym, and it reminded me of how true it is when learning to play the piano. In our culture of technology where information is instant, the experience of a process to achieve something can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Children learning to play the piano are also used to learning all sorts of things at school, in sports and in other activities. Kids can have stumbling blocks, but they typically haven’t refined their competence to the level an adult has, and therefore, it’s not uncommon for adults to have difficulty “falling in love” with the process of learning.

This can be especially difficult for adults learning to play the piano for the first time. After spending years as an adult, becoming competent in work and life, who wants to feel incompetent trying to learn a new skill? Setting aside the judgment of incompetence and instead falling in love with the process of learning, is the key to success.

How do you do that? First, give yourself a break. You’re not suppose to already know how to play the piano well. That’s the purpose of lessons. Second, find a teacher you trust, where you feel empowered to take chances.

If you would like to explore the idea of lessons, give us a call at (360) 527-9626. You can even call and schedule your own introductory 40-minute lesson for only $50. It’s a great way to experience the piano first-hand.

A whole new world awaits you. You just have to take the first step.