Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The 3 Habits

       A common error among learning pianists is their belief that finger strength is the key to flawless piano playing. The piano keys obviously don't need that much strength to be depressed, as a child can play it. However you need to develop good habits from the start that will ease your maneuvers around those keys.

       First of all, practicing scales is by far the best way to develop finger efficiency. Start off with B major before C major, because B is much easier to play in the right hand than C, which isn't as easy as its seems (you know all white keys no black). Looks can be deceiving, though, and while B major has five sharps in its key signature, it is much easier to play properly because the distance the thumb moves under the hand after the 3rd note and to the 4th (in this case D# to E, a black to white key) is smaller than that moved by the thumb in C where you pass it under your hand from E to F (white to white). This maneuver is slightly difficult for beginners but with time their fingers will become much more flexible to play these scales properly.

       Habit 1: Play Properly!

     Playing a scale is no big deal, the problem is in playing it PROPERLY. If you play it in that manner, and play it really fast, you should have no problem. Unfortunately many find it difficult and miss some notes on their way, and are left with exhausted fingers after such trials. The solution (and this one will need a huge amount of patience) to this is to play the scale very slowly every day until it feels natural for you to do so, then gradually speed up the tempo. You will have to make sure that only your fingers are moving, and that the thumb passes under your hand with minimum hand and wrist movement (preferably the hand should stay still while doing it). This can be very hard at first but with constant and regular practice it will feel very natural.

      When it comes to arpeggios, they are chords just broken to be played note by note. For example, In C major triad (C-E-G-C), you will play the notes one at a time with three fingers then pass the thumb under the G and onto the next octave C if you're completing another cycle up there, or just stop at it with the fifth finger and go back. This looks hideously difficult but the trick here is to focus the weight of your entire hand on the finger-pad of the striking finger. Make sure to curl those fingers like you're holding a tennis ball or those knuckles might collapse and your fingers fall flat on the keyboard! Then comes the seventh chords, where they are basically triads with an added seventh interval, in the case of C it will be as follows: C-E-G-Bflat-C. A diminished seventh chord will look like this: C-Eflat-Gflat-A-C. Playing both types of chords as arpeggios on all keys along with basic triads will guarantee hassle free playing when it comes to difficult repertoire.

       Habit 2: Practice Sight Reading!

        Ever wondered how people seem to get sheet music they never saw before and play it right away with not a single wrong note? That's because they are very good sight readers! Sight reading can be improved by looking through new material on a daily regular basis. 10 minutes a day is just fine for beginners. Intermediates should sight read whatever material they find at their level and Advanced players should be able to sight read a movement of a Mozart sonata without problems.

     It is better to get books that have easy sight reading exercises in the first stages, such as Beyer or Czerny, they certainly sharpen your sight reading skills to phenomenal levels if you practice from their exercises regularly and diligently.

       Habit 3: Train Them Ears!

     A famous musical proverb states that " The most valuable asset for a musician is his/her ears". And that doesn't refer to having good taste in music, you should be able to know the distances (known as intervals) between notes by your ear, and that's definitely no cakewalk. A pianist with very good aural skills can easily play a tune he just heard without the need to look at the sheet music.

     What you are going to do is learn relative pitch through listening to and identifying the interval of two notes played after each other, identifying the scales played (whether major/natural minor/harmonic minor/melodic minor), and identifying chord types (Major/Minor/Diminished/Augmented to name a few). You will need to have a solid background in music theory before attempting to do this, so you don't have to focus on it now if you're just getting started. To get started, you can find free music theory lessons here

    "Practice makes Perfect"

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What is Music to You?

       How much are you into music and piano? Was it forced on you when you were a child by your parents and you simply got used to the idea? Was it out of eagerness to learn a new hobby? Or was it because you felt the music was simply beautiful that you totally fell in love with it? If you're in the third category then there's a good chance you'll make it to a pretty advanced stage in piano playing sometime in your life.

        Believe it or not, I've heard many pianists my age and older who were formally trained since they were little kids and their level is just a disappointment for all the years they spent on the instrument (10+). However this is what I learned: They were encouraged by their parents to play piano while they didn't really feel it, and because they didn't have that much interest they didn't practice a lot in the past 10 years, in fact they would tell me that they practiced 30-45 minutes every other day!

      I never really remember why I took the decision to play piano, I just went straight up to my father when I was 12 asking for piano lessons, I felt a deep urge to hit those black and white keys. We didn't have a piano at home and we didn't really understand the difference between a $100 electronic Casio keyboard and a $3000 upright piano, of course I got to play the Casio for the first three years, and because we could never find a good teacher and I couldn't learn anything more serious than playing songs by ear I had to do something to satisfy my musical desires.. And so was it, I composed my first pieces before hearing any classical piece in my life. I live in Egypt so Western classical music is rarely played anywhere. In fact, I was never fully aware of its existence -I would hear stories of Beethoven's deafness though- before I turned 15. It was about that time that a professional musician heard me play a composition of mine and insisted I start taking formal piano lessons. Before I knew it, I fell in love with classical music, and the love hate relationship started.

           Piano giants who entered history have much interesting stories. Franz Liszt, the famous Hungarian virtuoso who was accompanied by the term "Lisztomania" for his dazzling pianism. He was very well known for his stunning sight reading abilities. He could go through a whole symphony playing most if not all its parts/instruments on piano. He once sight read Chopin Etudes Op.25 that Chopin himself wished he could play it as beautifully. When asked how he does it, he replied that it comes with daily practice, 8 hours per day dedicated to nothing but sight reading. I think it's that amount of dedication that engraved his name in the history of music for centuries..

        Another great pianist was the Russian-born Sergei Rachmaninoff. His technique was outstanding that a wrong note was an extremely rare event in his recitals. He was also a great composer of the Romantic period. It was once reported that he practiced 15 hours per day to sharpen his skills and even surpass his own limits, in an attempt to gain the tonal clarity of his contemporary J.Hofmann.

         It's obvious that talent alone isn't what brought these guys such fame and legendary status. It was their dedication, tireless practice and most importantly their incredible love for music. If you love music that much, you will fight for it, and if you do, it will reward you greatly.




         Welcome to my blog. I'm an Egyptian college student and amateur pianist and composer. In my three years of formal piano studies I have come across a lot of problems that most if not all pianists experience in their early years. The purpose of this blog is to help wannabe pianists all around the world to identify errors in their playing and correct it. Believe me, nothing is worse than practicing a bad habit over and over again.
        The true purpose of a formal piano training is to explore the maximum musical potentials of the pianist. Through a series of finger exercises (scales and arpeggios) to experience in musical expression in the form of dynamics and so on, a capable pianist will be able to bring out exactly how they hear the music out into the world. Piano playing that is technically brilliant but lacking musicality and originality of thought isn't better than getting your computer or MIDI keyboard to play a musical piece. In fact you will be stunned at how many artists have so different interpretations of the same piece that they often sound like totally different pieces! Their technical efficiency is only a tool they use to get the music out of their mind and into the world.

        Therefore I conclude that it is most important to train the mind before the fingers. The painter must have a clear vision of how the picture will look like, then use the specific brush strokes that will bring this picture into real life. Same goes with music, a pianist should have a clear thought of what they want to hear, before attempting to tickle the ivories.