Playing Archive

Top Three Tips for Success Learning to Play the Piano

Learning to play a musical instrument can be fun and challenging, unlike anything you’ve ever done before. For some students it can even be daunting, especially if no one in the family plays or has an understanding of what it takes to be successful.

Here are my top three tips for success in learning to play the piano.

  1. Jump in with both feet

Think that you can.  Trust that it is possible.  A good teacher will bring your natural ability out of you. (If anyone dare say you don’t have ability, find another teacher.  The truth is, that teacher does not have the ability to teach you, but there is a teacher somewhere that does).

All you need is a skeleton and a heartbeat to confirm that you are alive.  The rest is just training with the right teacher.

  1. Practice daily

This is huge.  Without daily practice, the brain will not remember anything new.  Every night when you go to sleep, your brain is processing what you learned that day and the day before.  If you practice every day, you are getting the most bang for your buck.

The quickest way to slow progress and quitting is having several days in a row of no practice.  The brain simply cannot remember as well without daily practice.  And with no forward progress, playing the piano is not as much fun.  It’s no wonder that quitting becomes a common solution.

  1. Practice on a real instrument

It always amazes me that when it comes to the piano how many people want to learn, but have no intention of practicing on a real piano.  Another quick way to slow progress and quitting is not having an actual instrument to practice on.

When I delve deeper with these prospective students, it’s not that they don’t want a piano to practice on, it’s the thought of space in the home, or the challenge of moving a piano or other logistics.

I let them know that there are many schools and churches that have pianos that sit all day long, wishing someone would play them.  I have had students without a piano in their home, practice at a church and progress.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

With daily practice on a real instrument and belief in yourself, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve.

If you would like help reaching your dreams or those of your child, give us a call at 360-527-9626.

We believe you can, and your child can.  We look forward to hearing from you!


Even Michael Jackson Made Mistakes?!

Earlier this summer I was shopping and met a 20 year-old sales clerk who discovered that I taught piano. While he admired his favorite musicians on the radio, he had never studied any musical instruments himself, nor had he ever spoken with a real life musician before. I learned that he thought that all professional musicians were perfect and never made mistakes.

I took the opportunity to give him a reality check. Guess what? Even Michael Jackson made mistakes. When I told him that, he was completely shocked. Here was someone he admired, and he thought was perfect. The truth, however, was Michael Jackson was a human, and humans do make mistakes, especially when they are learning.

I also clarified that Michael Jackson prepared his music so well, and knew it so well, that he didn’t make that many mistakes in performances, but when he did, he knew how to keep going and not draw attention to it. Was Michael Jackson immune from making mistakes? No. This sales clerk was in disbelief.
I took it a step further. If Michael Jackson was still alive, you could ask him, “Tell me the worst public mistakes you’ve ever made.” And, he would be able to tell you.

I think I blew this young sales clerk’s mind that day. But also, I was hoping to open the door of possibility of his own potential. These people that you admire and are older than you, they are also just like you. They also had to start in the same place you started. Guess what you have in common? You are both human. And what is the one universal requirement for playing a musical instrument? A human body.

It’s easy to admire our favorite musicians from afar, no matter the style of music they play or sing, and forget that they are simply a human being who put time, energy and focus into refining their craft.

That same time, energy and focus is available to all of us to choose where we want to spend it.

We are fortunate to have so many opportunities available to us. The question everyone gets it answer for themselves is where do you want to spend your time, energy and focus?

If you’d like to spend yours learning how to play the piano, or taking your playing to the next level, give us a call at 360-527-9626. We’d love to help reach your dreams.

Two More Reasons to Count Aloud

Just this past week in my own piano practice and in helping a student practice I was reminded of two more benefits of counting aloud.

1. Improved memory. I was working on refining my memory on a piece I had been working on, and I realized that in one particular part, I wasn’t aware of exactly how all the notes fell on the beats. I was never quite sure exactly when one phrase ended and the next one began. So I decided to count aloud as I played, and low and behold, all the notes suddenly had an exact place to be and it took me about 10 seconds to solidify my memory in that section.

2. Improved ease of playing. Later in the week I was listening to a student play a piece from memory, and one particular end of a phrase felt hurried. I asked, “Can you count aloud that part?” He started to play and count and in the last two beats of the measure he couldn’t count it. Sure enough, we figured out the problem. The music had four beats per measure, and yet, his body was only feeling three. Counting aloud brought this to his awareness. He took a moment and reprogrammed his brain and body to count and feel four beats. Suddenly, this passage that had always been worrisome to play became very easy.

Yes, counting aloud takes some time and effort, and will expose weaknesses. However, the rewards are great once you master it. The weaknesses will become strengths, and those difficult passages can become your favorite part. It’s amazing to make music from a place of ease and comfort, and a little counting aloud will take you there.

Spectacular Phrasing

2016 was the year of spectacular phrasing. Just what is phrasing?

It is listening to the sound you create and deciding how you want each note and groups of notes to sound.

Do you want them to start quietly and then grow to a really big sound? Or do you want to start loud and end quietly. Will the sound be harsh and abrasive? Or will it be gentle and inviting.

The possibilities are endless. The question musicians ask themselves to help them decide how to phrase is: What is the music trying to communicate?

There is an example of a Prokofiev Sonata where parts of it can be phrased with no loud, no soft, no crescendo, no nothing but monotone big sound. Why would Prokofiev write a piece like that? A little history provides the answer. He was living in the Soviet Union in the 1930s where there was no freedom. He was describing what it felt like not to be free. (What I find fascinating is that he wasn’t thrown in jail).

Contrast that with a brilliant Chopin Polonaise where huge dynamic contrasts bring the piece alive.

Professional musicians meticulously choose how they want every single note to sound. Sometimes they don’t know what way will sound the best. So they experiment and let their ears and body tell them. Keeping in mind what the piece is about, they listen closely as they try different ways. When they find the way that moves them and conveys the feeling the piece is trying to convey, that seals the deal.

You too can learn spectacular phrasing right now. You don’t have to wait until you’re a professional musician. All it takes is a listening ear and a willingness to explore different sounds.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask your teacher for help. Before you know it, you’ll be playing music that not only moves your audience, but also moves you as well.

Play Wrong Notes On Purpose

Having a bad day? Play some wrong and ugly notes at the piano.

Piano students spend a lot of time focusing on playing the correct notes. The thought of playing wrong notes can be horrifying to some students. Yes, you want to learn your notes well and have accuracy, but wrong notes do have a place in musical training.

Have you ever tried to play wrong notes on purpose? Try making up your own piece, but make sure all the notes sound bad. Yes, you heard me correctly: all the notes need to sound very bad. If you’ve been programmed to only sound good, finding ugly notes can be a challenge.

One of the easiest times to find bad notes is when you are having a bad day. Since you feel bad, it’s much easier to make ugly sounds. Try it. It might help to do it when no one else is around so that there will be no judgment. Just experiment with finding harsh and dissonant sounds on the piano.

How we feel in our body has a direct impact on the sound we create at the piano. When a piece is joyous, it helps to have a joyful feeling in our body. When a piece is tumultuous, it helps to have experience with that feeling and play with that feeling in our body.

The next time you have a bad day, experiment with creating ugly sounds at the piano. You will get to know the piano in a way you’ve never know it before. It’s an entire new world to explore. I’d love to hear what you learn.

“Who’s Your Teacher?!”

I once had a student come to his lesson and tell me he went to a concert over the weekend where a pianist was accompanying a choir. This student was appalled by the poor hand position of the pianist. The pianist’s wrists were collapsed, hugging the keyboard.

My student’s response to witnessing this was to exclaim, “Who is your teacher?”

I smiled to myself. The two years of reminding him to bring his own wrists up to be level with the first row of knuckles on his hand had paid off. Not only had his own hand position improved over the years, but he now was able to recognized a poor hand position.

If you would like your child to get started in piano and develop a great hand position, give us a call at 360-527-9626. We would love to help your child build a solid foundation from the start.

Here's a great hand position: Level wrist and thumb on the corner.

Here’s a great hand position: Level wrist and thumb on the corner.

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.

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.

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.