Thursday, July 24, 2008


The stories about Ludwig van Beethoven and how he composed after completely losing his hearing intrigued me. As a child, I couldn't imagine anyone being able to write music without being able to hear how it sounded. How would he know what it sounded like?

Now, however, I understand that someone who has studied, performed, and written music as much as Beethoven can develop the ability to "hear" something in their head. For instance, everyone who has practiced playing or singing the major scale can remember how it goes and should be able to "hear" the scale in their head when seeing it on paper. Try it! If you're not sure, think of the song, "Do Re Mi". We remember pitches and their relationships to each other. Beethoven did this as well with more complicated elements, such as chords and chord progressions.

Beethoven has been my favorite composer since I was a young child. Apparently I am not the only person who feels this way because I have seen many requests for a tutorial on Moonlight Sonata. To answer these requests, I have posted my advice for teaching and/or playing the Moonlight Sonata on my "Knol". (A Knol is a blog with "authoritative articles".) Read my knol and tell me what you think.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Teach Your Students to Strive for Excellence in Performance

What makes a good music performance? Familiar music that the audience can relate to? Well-rehearsed technique and musical expression? An interesting variety of styles? A good performance is one that confirms the parents’ decisions to encourage their children to continue their music study, inspires the audience to consider becoming involved in music and, most importantly, is thoroughly enjoyed by students.

Excellence in performance begins with preparation. Sight-reading skills should be taught in choir and band rehearsals as well as private lessons in order to give students the ability to learn new music. Rhythm and listening skills should be emphasized in all ensemble groups to provide a means of staying together during a concert piece. Technique, intonation, and other skills specific to each instrument or group should also be considered valuable. The conscientious teacher will facilitate the development of musical skills throughout the year.

Another key aspect to preparation is rehearsing concert pieces in a systematic fashion. As the countdown toward the concert or recital ensues, plot a rehearsal schedule that allows ample time for every concert piece. Each rehearsal could focus on a different piece, breaking it down by sections and working out the difficult passages. Other pieces would be played or sung through briefly, so they are not forgotten. If songs are to be memorized, goals should be set for memorizing different songs by different rehearsal times. This can be coordinated with the rehearsal schedule as well.

Music should be planned with careful consideration of the abilities of the students. Nothing sabotages a concert more than an “ambitious” selection that is outside the range of skills of the performers. Choosing music that is too hard will lead to a poor performance which will discourage students and parents. It is usually better to shine with something too easy than to fall apart with an arrangement that is too difficult. The perfect scenario that we all seek is a program full of interesting pieces that provides a challenge the students can meet and excel in.

An excellent concert or recital will include an interesting variety of selections. The pieces will display a contrast of styles or adhere to a common theme. The audience will appreciate music they can relate to – if not familiar songs, then popular rhythms that they will enjoy. The careful director will begin selecting music early with all of these principles in mind.

Another task that should begin early is the scheduling of the time and location of the concert or recital. When the specifics have been established, this information needs to be communicated to students and parents immediately to reduce scheduling conflicts. Suggestions regarding appropriate concert attire should be made early as well to allow enough time for performers to acquire new clothing, if necessary.

As music teachers, we work toward helping our students develop their musical skills. Performance ability is one of these skills. This is not limited to encouraging our students to have confidence. Excellence in performance is rooted in careful instruction, practice, and preparation.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Self-Teaching Piano for Adults

Okay! For all you adults out there who have wished that their mother never let them quit piano . . .

First of all, give your mother a break - she was probably tired of fighting a losing battle.

Secondly, GREAT NEWS! Alfred's new Self-Teaching Adult Piano Course is just for you! Each song has a study guide that is designed to give you all the information that you would normally get from a piano teacher. The enclosed CD demonstrates every song and also provides cool accompaniments for you to play along with.

So, what are you waiting for? Order yours today and rediscover the piano.

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