Do more with Chords, Time & What to practice

Using Chords Differently in Improvisation.

It’s the last day of February and I left my readers in Impro Limbo. So check out the next step in my Improvisation pages.

Time and responsibility

A dear friend of mine, Sandy, lost her husband. JD’s heart gave out and he went to be with his Savior Saturday. Though they are in their 80’s, there was no age barrier – no matter what the age of the person they spent time with. Time. We all have it. We all have a limited amount of it. The “trick” to making the most of it is to know when it runs out. The trouble is, you never really know when life stops here and we become accountable to our Creator. These are sobering thoughts, but we must have been bad enough for God to send His Son to pay our sin’s penalty on the cross. The only uplifting thought in all this is Christ arose! And because of that, we too can live for eternity with Him – or without Him. It’s our choice. The freedom of choice. Freedom always brings responsibility. So, how will you use your time and responsibility?

What to Practice
So as a piano teacher, one of the most important “jobs” I have is to teach each student how use use their time effectively when they practice. Students are different and learn in various ways, but I usually find the following formula to work for the majority of pianist:

Warm up with a favorite. You would think it would be scales and such, but
playing favorites improves pianistic expression and puts the player ion the mood.

Play drills, scales, etc. Play them 3 or more times each to improve dexterity (quickness and accuracy). Play them in various ways like loudly, staccato, crossed hands, octaves apart, with either a crescendo or diminuendo, ritardendo or accelerendo. Think of them as as foes to conquer or friends to enjoy, but play them!

Play the method book assignment. Learn the new skills in these books and the repertoire will be easier to learn.

Play other repertoire. If a song is really disliked, I would probably suggest you play it before the method books. Nothing like getting the spinach of the plate and ending with the brownie.

Play other keyboard assignments and more favorites. Explore interval sounds and chord progressions. Make up a tune. Have fun!

Do written work whenever possible. Theory and Harmony assignments help the student understand musical construction and read notation quicker.

Does your teacher assign from the four areas (drills, method, repertoire, written work) plus favorites? Do you as a teacher use these groups? Try it and let me know what you like to do.

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When Do You Dump the Method Books?

Michael Peterson Going to State!

I lie in bed fighting off the bronchitis that followed my case of flu and suddenly the phone rang. It was Michael calling to tell me he placed a rating of #1 at the KSHAA District Competition at Winfield, KS. I wish I could have been there. He said he was rather nervous, but he pulled through with a fine performance of Chopin’s E flat Nocturne. It may be a bit overdone, the piece, but he wanted to do it and he learned it well, so I figured experience is sometimes more valuable than running with the strategy for trophies. So Michael encountered his first judge. I await to read the comments. We both prepare for the next level.

Love vs Tradition (and Method books)

Michael came to me two years ago. The shy, soft-spoken young man whose mannerisms try to hide a good intellect and the uncommon sensitivity rarely seen today almost hid his love for music. It took me a few months to see the awe and joy on his face created by the mystical sound of a deceptive cadence. As a beginning piano student, I was determined to get him to read and play the grand staff notation and grow in hands-together coördination, but his love for music and the drive to move on made me finally abandon the method books. When is it wise to set aside the “normal” curriculum?

The more experienced teacher will be sensitive to cues of boredom and frustration and quickly adjust materials to keep interest up. This is common and I did as much when I showed my grandson some level 3 jazz to bribe him to continue lessons. (We should probably explore teachers’ motives in the future). Michael, however, was wanting to play classical and specifically Mozart’s Alla Turka with less than just one year of lessons. So I decided to only use original versions and went with the following:

Hanon                  selected exercises, arpeggios and interval runs

Chopin                 A minor waltz

Joplin                   Maple Leaf Rag

Clementi              Sonatina in G major

Mozart                 Alla Turka Rondo

Burgmueller       Ballade

Bach                       Musette in D major

Beethoven           C sharp min (Moonlight) Sonata, 1st mov.

Bach                        Invention in F major

Rachmaninoff     Op 3. No 2 (C sharp min Prelude)

Chopin                   Op 9 No 2 (E flat Nocturne)

So after he did one movement of Clementi, I let him play the original Mozart and he did it well. He played it with the Maple Leaf Rag for the studio recital and did just fantastic. He is a senior this year, so you see we were up against the clock, so to speak, and he wanted to try at least one competition. So in addition to some lessons in improvisation, drills in sight-reading a lot of technique and theory, and a couple of fun songs (Super Mario’s soundtrack music), I’d say he’s building a well-rounded repertoire and still maintaining his love and interest in music in spite of the lessons in Common Chords and Harmonizing a Melody. If I had more time, maybe some Schubert or Debussy and more Baroque…..

I am interested to hear from other teachers who had to throw out the method books very early and really customize the lesson plan.