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Piano Teacher Press is adding an exciting new line of teaching products called IMITATION SOLOS.  IMITATION SOLOS are FOLIOS of musical selections, theory briefs, written work, performance exercises and certificates of achievement.

The basic concept of IMITATION SOLOS is to take a selection from the Classical student repertoire and arrange a well known Folk Song in the manner of the Classical selection.  If the Classical piece contains alberti bass patterns the Folk Song is arranged with alberti bass patterns.  If the Classical piece contains a particular syncopated motif the Folk Song is arranged with the same syncopated motif.

The reason I originally did this was to take the “mystique” out of Classical music.  I remember as a grade school student in the 1960’s my friends talking about the Beatles.  They were in awe of them because they did some of the same thing in their songs as Beethoven.  WOW!!  My friends thought if the Beatles did the same things as Beethoven they must be on a higher plane of musical composition than even Elvis.

As young music students discover the musical world they are mentally trying to figure it out.  In the process they can come to some opinions that are formed without quite enough information.  IMITATION SOLOS were written to help students on that journey of mental discovery.  If the unknown “mystical” world of Classical music can be demystified by comparing it to something in the more familiar world of folk music then we will have facilitated that mental journey of discovery.

AN EXAMPLE

Most IMITATION SOLOS are going to begin with a page called Technically SpeakingTechnically Speaking lays out the technically common feature(s) between the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Let’s take the idea of Melodic Imitation.  In my private studio I’ve always used Kabalevsky’s elementary composition Chit Chat but since Kabalevsky’s compositions are still under copyright protection I composed an equivalent in a piece called HelloHello.

Hello – Hello is another piece of direct melodic imitation.  Each measure is directly imitated in the next.

Hello Hello Sample

Hello – Hello is followed by treating the Folk Song – Are You Sleeping? in the same exact manner of direct melodic imitation.

Are You Sleeping SAMPLE

But IMITATION SOLOS do not stop here.  There are two more important sections designed to help the student assimilate the concept of Melodic Imitation; WRITE ON! and PLAY ON!

In WRITE ON!  the student is given a little composing/copying assignment that reinforces the idea of melodic imitation through writing.  The student is given another popular folk song, Three Blind Mice, and asked to complete each of the short phrases in direct imitation; just like the Classical Composition and the Folk Song.

Three Blind Mice SAMPLE

After students do their written work they must play that work, their own creative effort, to see the result and to solidify the concept of Melodic Imitation.

When students experience Melodic Imitation in Hello – Hello and then see the same concept expressed in an arrangement of Are You Sleeping?; the “mystique” of Classical music becomes part of the common language of all music. Students begin to feel like they are an intellectual part of the long tradition of Classical music expressed through its actual creation.  This is a very different feel and experience than just learning to physically “play pieces”.

After the completion of understanding the concept of Melodic Imitation through Technically Speaking, learning the Classical Composition, learning the Folk Song arrangement (with the option to memorize these pieces), doing the WRITE ON! assignment to understand the concept through the act of writing, and finally playing the PLAY ON! assignment to gain fluency in the concept the student can feel a degree of ownership in understand an important aspect of musical understanding.  They can and should be justly awarded a certificate for his efforts.  There are two certificates that is included in your FOLIO; one for black and white printers and one for color printers.  Each certificate has “boxes” to check off the individual assignments to earn the certificate in Melodic Imitation”.

B&W Cert SAMPLE

COLOR Cert SAMPLE

I have about 20 IMITATION SOLO FOLIOS in various stages of development.  They fall in the mid elementary to the mid intermediate level of advancement.  Stay tuned for future installments of IMITATION SOLOS.

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Watch a YouTube Video narrated by Professor I.M. Pedantic.  Click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The video includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).PTP VIDEO LOGO -Professor Pedantic Speaks

To purchase IMITATION SOLO – Melodic Imitation go to Piano Teacher Press and click HERE or on the graphic below.  (The Web Site also includes a performance of the Classical Composition and the Folk Song arrangement).

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Many students take music lessons for several years.  Very good piano teachers have taught many students from preschool until they get involved in other activities in their early teen years.  At the end of that time many students can play individual pieces very convincingly.  The musicianship is strong.  The technique is solid.  The understanding of their piece is stylistically accurate.  You know from the performance that the student was “well taught”.  The student is “accomplished”.

But, put a new piece of music in front of this same  hard working student and it’s like having a young grade school student read a page of Chauser’s Cantebury Tales in original 14th century Middle English.  The student can make out an occasional word or two, maybe a short phrase here and there, but without any fluency that can make thought out of the text.  The delivery is very halting.  Words are pronounced very slowly and deliberately, often incorrectly.

This sounds like an entirely different student than the one just played so convincingly.  Unfortunately, this is far too often the norm and not the exception.  Why is this?  Why is sight reading music so difficult.

I definitely do not place the fault on the piano student.  If they can play well it is because they can respond to music as music.  Music is a language they can speak.  I do not fault the teacher because they have demonstrated obvious skill to get the student to the point of accurate performance.

I think the fault is one of priority.  We want piano students to first and foremost demonstrate musicianship.  We want to hear beautifully shaped phrases.  We want to inform students as to the meaning of all those notes on the page.  We get caught up so much on the “meaning of those notes” that we lose focus of the notes themselves.  They almost become an unimportant means to the end.  The priority we need to give to the notes gets shunted to the side because of our focus on the “meaning”.  We want to see a forest without appreciating the trees that create that forest.  Translating this to music, we want to hear the song without giving due attention to the arrangement of the notes.  If we want students to become good sight readers, we must make sight reading a priority.  A very high priority.

Sight reading needs its own “method” books.  Our best method books are not well designed for teaching sight reading.  They have been designed for performance purposes; for teaching musicianship.  I think most methods today do a good job in this department.  Most teachers, myself included, want to teach musicianship from the very beginning, even the first lesson.  We are trained to think this way.  Our method books are centered on the Lesson Book.  All other books are ancillary to that Lesson Book.  The Performance Book. The Theory Book.  The Technique Book.  The Reading Book.

Because we are trained to think this way we give such a priority to musicianship that we neglect giving students the skills read music fluently.   We see staccato in a little composition and we give a great deal of attention to producing a good staccato sound.  We give attention to how to do this technically.  We notice unevenness in the fingers, as fingers 4 and 5 cannot play staccato with the same precision as fingers 2 and 3 …… and then there’s the thumb.  The focus becomes so easily totally wrapped up in musicianship issues that before we know it the lesson is over.

This all involves very professionally training.  It involves real teaching skill.  It is all very satisfying work.  But, this pattern of giving so much attention to these musical matters is having the unintended consequences of having students that play well but can’t sight read worth beans.  Students rightly deserve their superior ratings in auditions and festivals but they were neglected the training to become the independent musicians we all desire.  I know many teachers, like myself, set before themselves the lofty goal of “making themselves obsolete”.  Certainly, one of the best ways to make oneself obsolete is to teach our student to become good sight readers.

This idea really deserves a full length book but I’m going to give some basic ideas to get us to thinking about this topic.

THE CONCEPT OF VERTICAL SPACE

To read text, the eye must take in only a small amount of “vertical space”; a space no higher than the size of the font.  I remember in grade school, there were machines that would focus our eyes on this vertical space and the text would fly by at various speeds to help us become quicker readers.  This machine worked very well because in the sixth grade I was reading and comprehending at almost a 10th grade level.

Reading music is much more involved than reading text.  The amount of vertical space required is much larger.  No longer must the eye take in a single line of text, but the eye must take in the grand staff; a treble clef and a bass clef, and some sometimes multiple lines of music.

To read music one must develop the ability to not only move their eyes from left to right but also up and down.  If the right hand is a simple one note, treble clef melody and the left hand is a series of bass clef chords, the eye must move in a complex pattern of left to right to take in the melody, and, simultaneously with a down up motion to focus in on the changing chordal patterns.  This is “simple” monophonic music.  A piece with polyphonic elements is much more challenging.

Certainly a considerably amount of time needs to be dedicated to the development of the student’s ability to take in this high increase of vertical space.  So, to accomplish this task, a dedicated time commitment by both the teacher and the student is required.  Remember we don’t want to lose track of that lofty goal of “becoming obsolete”.

STEP ONE – The Music Reader

Remember the reading machines I mentioned that helped me read text more quickly? A very low tech equivalent is to make a “music reader” from dark colored construction paper.

Sight Reading Aid

Cut out a “see through” area (white). This “see through” area should be large enough to take in a single grand staff system.  The length should be long enough to help the student to be a few notes ahead of what they are actually playing.  This little invention will help focus the student’s eye directly to the music needing read.  Move the “music reader”, always keeping it ahead of the student’s performance.  This will also keep the student from moving their eyes back what they already played; a habit to be avoided when learning sight reading techniques.

For very undisciplined eyes the black area of the reader could be larger vertically.

Using this device should be part of every lesson.  We are slowly training the focus of the eye to take in greater vertical space in a methodical and systematic way.

STEP TWO – Choosing Materials for Sight Reading

Another idea that is helpful is to have students learn music that centers on the notes close to Middle C.  Remember this is a Reading Method, not a Performing Method.  The reason is that music that centers on notes close to Middle C is that it shrinks the amount of vertical space the student needs to take in.  Method Books, in their desire to get the student to understand the complete Grand Staff System, will include repertoire that take in a lot of vertical space.  Compositions in G position is a good example.  These teach the notes of the staff but they are poor sight reading material.  I find the old piano primers that grew symmetrically from Middle C to provide very good sight reading material; especially from the perspective of vertical space.

STEP THREE – PreScore Analysis

The following composition is an excerpt from Middle C Repertoire – Book 1 My Little Flat published by Piano Teacher Press.   (Click on the icon below for details)

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excerpt - Middle C Repertoire - Book 1

Before actually playing the score I help the student analyze the composition.  I will ask the student of the sections in blue, “What do you notice about the sections highlighted in blue”?  I’ll ask questions until I get the recognition that each section highlighted in blue contain the same two notes.  Then I’ll ask, “What are the two notes?”   Then I’ll ask the student to play F and D.

I will then ask the student to find any pattern in the notes highlighted in orange.  I’ll ask questions to try to lead the student to recognize the orange notes follow a chromatic pattern.  We will play the chromatic pattern from B flat down to G.

We will finally analyze the two yellow passages and discuss that these notes are passages in steps (with some repeated notes).

If the student understands the B flat scale we may play that before playing the piece, but I probably wouldn’t teach the B flat scale before learning a sight reading piece; a repertoire piece, yes, a sight reading piece, no.

The next step is to have the student mentally play the piece in his mind and to the best of his ability hear the notes in his mind.  The last step in to actually play the piece with the “music reader”.  If the student is ready, certainly count to see if this can be done at a steady tempo.

This, I feel, is a good process to follow to teach a student to sight read music.  It needs to be a regular devoted routine so the student can accumulate a little bit of information each week, each lesson.

It needs to be systematic and the materials need to be structured where the steps accomplished are almost not discerned to the student.  No one is perfect, and sometimes it may be in the best interest of the student to give the student something more challenging, but overall the goal is read more and more difficult music fluently.  It’s also a goal to give the student confidence that they can sight read music successfully.

A good sight reading program needs to be constructed in a manner that trains the eye to be able to focus on more and more vertical space, so don’t neglect using the “music reader”.  This focus on sight reading will be a big step in helping us all reach that lofty goal of making ourselves “obsolete”; a little Everest for us and for our students.

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PLP Letterhead

 Piano Lessons – Mars, PA

Dear Piano Lover,

Most people would just love to play the piano. The reasons are many. They love the sound of the piano – they want some means to relax after a hard day at work – some just want a chance to get back the joy they had playing the piano as a child – and many parents want to give their child an opportunity for musical expression for their personal development.

I’ve been teaching piano for years and one of the most satisfying things about teaching is hearing from my old students, now adults, telling me how much playing the piano means to them. I presently have openings at my studio(s) in Wexford and Valencia to give you the opportunity to learn to play the piano.

Here’s what a former parent said of my instruction:

Mr. Severino is an excellent instructor, he teaches students on a age appropriate level. He is good at giving background history so the student is better educated in understanding how and why the music is composed. I had my child interview a number of instructors and she choose him because he made her feel the most comfortable. It has been three years and we could not be happier with her progress. Mr. Severino encourages a child’s talent and enjoyment of music. It has been a pleasure and truly rewarding experience.

Please give me a call (724) 935-2840 and join my growing studio of great students.

Best,
Dan Severino

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 Piano Lessons – Wexford, PA

Dear Piano Lover,

Most people would just love to play the piano. The reasons are many. They love the sound of the piano – they want some means to relax after a hard day at work – some just want a chance to get back the joy they had playing the piano as a child – and many parents want to give their child an opportunity for musical expression for their personal development.

I’ve been teaching piano for years and one of the most satisfying things about teaching is hearing from my old students, now adults, telling me how much playing the piano means to them. I presently have openings at my studio(s) in Wexford and Valencia to give you the opportunity to learn to play the piano.

Here’s what a former parent said of my instruction:

Mr. Severino is an excellent instructor, he teaches students on a age appropriate level. He is good at giving background history so the student is better educated in understanding how and why the music is composed. I had my child interview a number of instructors and she choose him because he made her feel the most comfortable. It has been three years and we could not be happier with her progress. Mr. Severino encourages a child’s talent and enjoyment of music. It has been a pleasure and truly rewarding experience.

Please give me a call (724) 935-2840 and join my growing studio of great students.

Best,
Dan Severino

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Animals

Monkeys, Lions and Turtles (and even Butterflies) …….. OH MY!!

Four very different creatures.  Four very different characters!!  Let’s talk about each one.

What is the character of a MONKEY?  Think of a word that describes a MONKEY?  What’s your word?

My word is PLAYFUL.

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What is the character of a LION?  What is your word that describes a LION?

My word is MAJESTIC.  This is why LIONS are known as the KING OF THE JUNGLE.

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What is the first thing that pops in your mind when thinking of a TURTLE?  What is your word?

My word is S—L—O—W.  My mom would often tell me I was as slow as a turtle.

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Finally, what one word best describes the character of a BUTTERFLY?

That one is pretty tough.  My word is FLIGHTY.  Butterflies quickly bounce from place to place.

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Music can express these same characteristics.  Music can be MAJESTIC.  Music can be SLOW.  Music can be PLAYFUL.  Music can be FLIGHTY.

You are going to hear four excerpts of music.  Listen closely to see if you can hear its characteristics.  Is it MAJESTIC?  Is it SLOW?  Is it PLAYFUL?  Is it FLIGHTY?  Which animal is best pictured by each musical example.  Are we listening to LION MUSIC or TURTLE MUSIC or MONKEY MUSIC or BUTTERFLY MUSIC?

SET ONE

Which of the four examples was MAJESTIC ….. which one was SLOW ….. which one was PLAYFUL ….. which one was FLIGHTY?

In no particular order you just heard …..

1) March from the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

2) Concerto for Recorder, Oboe and Bassoon by Antonio Vivaldi.

3) Etude in G flat major by Frederic Chopin.

4) Offenbach melody from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

Let’s try again with another set of musical examples!!

SET TWO

Listen to each example and ask yourself; which one of the four examples was MAJESTIC ….. which one was SLOW ….. which one was PLAYFUL ….. which one was FLIGHTY?  Are we listening to LION MUSIC or TURTLE MUSIC or MONKEY MUSIC or BUTTERFLY MUSIC?

The MAGIC of music is that it can express almost anything even without using words.  In fact, some people say music is one of the most powerful languages that humans can experience.

In no particular order you just heard …..

1) Birds from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.

2) Fragments for Woodwind Trio by Robert Muczynski.

3) Jupiter from the Planets by Gustav Holst.

4) Cello Sonata in D major (excerpt) by Johannes Brahms.

Thanks for listening to MR SEVERINO PRESENTS —Character in Music   and until next time — KEEP PRACTICING!!

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This blog is dedicated to MADDOX – my latest new piano student.

So many times a parent asks me about piano practice when their child begins piano lessons.  I, naturally, give parents my opinion.  In this blog I’m going to answer this question to the beginning piano student.

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Before talking about piano let’s talk about FUN.

Name something that’s fun?   Is going to an amusement park “fun”?  Almost everyone loves exciting rides at an amusement park.  When I was a little guy I thought the “dodge cars” were the best ride of all.

What else is “fun”?  Do you like going to a birthday party?  Especially if it’s your best friend’s birthday party?

But how do you feel when your friend opens the present you gave him?  Isn’t it “fun” watching your friend opening up your gift and tearing the paper off the package?  Isn’t it “fun” to watch the happiness when he smiles at you after opening your gift?  This is a different kind of “fun” than going to an amusement park.  Making someone else happy is “fun”.

Let’s talk about some different kinds of “fun”.  When you get a good report card isn’t it “fun” to hand it to your parents?  It wasn’t easy getting all those good grades but making your mom and dad happy was great fun.

Or, when you make a special mother’s day present at school, isn’t it “fun” to see your mom’s reaction to your present?  But maybe in making the gift you got glue all over your fingers and some things stuck to the glue making things messy.  That wasn’t “fun” but when your mom told you how she loved your gift I bet you forgot all about those sticky fingers and the mess it made.

How about when you see someone at school that’s all alone and you decide to talk to him to give him some company.  You start to talk and he smiles at you and thanks you for talking to him.  You took a chance and did something a little bit scary, but in the process you made a friend and in the following days you and your new friend had lots of “fun” together.

How about video games?  Are they “fun”?

Piano lessons can be great fun, too.  But, they are a lot like the “fun” of getting a good report card, or, making that special gift for mom, or, taking that chance and making a new friend.  BUT ….. it’s also a lot like your favorite video game.

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Let’s enter the world of ……. Scaling Piano Mountain

Scaling Piano Mountain has all the thrills of the most popular video games.  Scores of levels.  Monsters to conquer.  Traps to avoid.  Power to build.  Knowledge to acquire.  Friends to help you on your way.

You must take the long and challenging journey to Climb Piano Mountain.  You start at a young age with no skill or knowledge.  Your mentor is a highly skilled Master who has studied with the greatest wizards of the land of Musica.  Piano Mountain is one of the highest peaks found in the dense forests of Symphonia.  These great wizards have studied with Master Wizards some of which have known the greatest Masters of Musica, the Composamenti.

Your mentor will teach begin teaching you from the Great Motto of Musica — THROUGH THE HANDS COME STRENGTH – THROUGH THE EYES COME KNOWLEDGE.  You see, at LEVEL 1 you as yet have no strength for the

THROUGH THE HANDS COME STRENGTH - THROUGH THE EYES COME KNOWLEDGE

THROUGH THE HANDS COME STRENGTH – THROUGH THE EYES COME KNOWLEDGE

journey to Piano Mountain nor do your have the knowledge to know the way.  Your Mentor will begin to give your hands great strength to master the great physical demands of the ancient Composamenti.  Your Mentor will give you a keen eye to master every small marking in any of the writings of the great Composamenti.  In time you yourself may become a Little Wiz.

In LEVEL 1 it’s very important to learn the discipline to learn the strength and knowledge for the journey to Piano Mountain.  And this is the key of your practice.  LEVEL 1 STEP 1 is to begin to devote some time every day in the acquiring of strength and knowledge.  The most important discipline is to practice a little EACH DAY.  This is even more important than the length of time you spend each day.  As you gain in knowledge and strength you can slowly increase the time you spend each day.  But the first order of business is to make practice a regular and daily habit.  Once you master this task you will be able to advance to LEVEL 2.  In LEVEL 2 some Mentors may bring you through the Steppes of Staccato and take you to your first visit to the Land of Legato.  But those challenges are for another day.

So now, my little poppet, you are now ready to begin to take your first steps to Scaling Piano Mountain.  GO FORTH, HAVE FUN AND CONQUER!!

Thanks for listening to MR SEVERINO PRESENTS — The Game of Practice   and until next time — KEEP PRACTICING!!

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MR SEVERINO PRESENTS – An Old Man in Front of a Window.

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