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Doniell Cushman loves to use her teaching experiences to inspire ways to improve music, teaching, and learning.
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You’ve heard it time and again: Practice makes perfect! But, we all know that practice is hard work and can be a real drag. Here are some tested and true strategies to up your game as you work through new assigned pieces.
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Let's face it, building a piano music library can be easy - yet difficult when you're curating a specific musical era, or genre. There are so many books out there to choose from, from a variety of big-name publishers like Hal Leonard, Alfred, G. Schirmer, Belwin Mills, Kalmus, Kjos, Dover, and more! Where to start?
First of all, I do love compendiums. Especially when they have a good selection of pieces from ancient to 20th century eras. But this still makes finding specific eras difficult when you're studying just the Baroque Era. You'll see a smattering of the typical names like Bach, Rameau, and the like. But they are always going to be the standard tunes we're all used to.
Things to look for in a book that you are wanting to add are the following:
So, I thought it a short list of some books with a sizeable amount of Baroque Music was appropriate. Without further ado...
Now, I don't suggest going out and buying every single one at the get-go. And these books are in no specific order. Peek at each of these composers and pick up the tomes you know will fill out your collection best. Start with a favorite, listen to a few pieces, Google a few pieces, then purchase the book(s) that make the most sense in your library. Make a list of top priority items, and items that can wait. Set up a Wishlist on your favorite site and remain within budget.
If you want to venture off this list, totally cool! Let me know your favorites in the comments below. I'd love to know what you think is in an essential Baroque collection!
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As a teacher, it is critical that you have a wealth of music at your fingertips from classics to contemporary. When you are a pianist (student or recreational player), having music that stimulates you, challenges you, and defines you is also important. Seasoned educator or beginning pianist, it is essential to first work within your budget, but then also to maintain a high-quality library. But where does one start?
In 1995, Dr. Jane Magrath of the University of Oklahoma compiled a relatively exhaustive list of standard teaching and performance literature. The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature primarily encompasses Baroque through 20th Century composers. Many educators are sent to this annotated bibliography tome – and I do mean TOME!
As of 2013, Maurice Hinson’s Guide to Pianist’s Repertoire was in its fourth printing before he passed away shortly after in 2015.
Piano Repertoire Guide by Albergo and Alexander is another text published in 2011 but is limited to intermediate and advanced literature.
Borrowing or purchasing one of these books could be extremely helpful in starting off your library right. They will have the best suggestions for epic Beethoven books, Chopin’s myriad of educational escapades, and will have a variety of headings, commentary, and a general rating.
But you can also be practical! Imagine this: A well organized library full of style, periods, genres, and sheets all curated by YOU! Yes, YOU! Now, I have done this personally. My entire library is focused on my teaching goals and playing goals.
I started out with a small library of music I had collected from my lesson and college days. Most of the music was encouraged by my parents, teachers, professors, and home church. In 2008, when I was ready to start teaching, I did the most outrageous thing ever: I consulted the internet. Yep, you read that right! Back in the good old’ days of MySpace and Facebook’s infancy (and very blatant Farmville addiction) I read online all about running and operating a home studio. Next thing you know, I requisitioned our “military closet” room and turned it into my new piano space, complete with a small bookshelf, my Yamaha digital grand, and an overstuffed loveseat, the first piece of grownup furniture my husband and I bought together.
Now, I am sorry to say that what I am about to tell you is no longer possible, but next I utilized the promotions that Amazon was offering at the time. It was a program where almost every book available on the website was in a “4 for 3” program. I ordered a pile of the most popular method series out there in the piano world: Alfred’s Basic Piano Library.
Next, I did research – something I used to enjoy doing back when I was finishing my college degree online. I found the most loved and used books by piano teachers around the world, and slowly began acquiring them. I would scour lists of the top 10 or top 100 books, composers, etc. until I was satisfied, and then I would use the promotional program to order my copies.
I started with the great teachers like Czerny, Burgmüller, Hanon, Bartók, Haydn, and Berens. Then, I would branch out and purchase educational literature like compendiums with games and reproducible worksheets. Finally, I would sprinkle in a little of my own interests to make a robust purchase each month. I spent hours on publishers’ websites gleaning information, finding repertoire, and filling out holes in my library.
At the time I budgeted around $50-$60 per month for literature only. In today’s world and increased prices, you may need to increase this amount to about $75-$90 to adjust for the change in economy and inflation.
In the 2010s, I started shopping at local secondhand stores like Half-Price Books, Value Village, The Salvation Army, and Goodwill, as well as attending yard sales and estate sales. This allowed me the opportunity to look at the texts people owned and learned from. I purchased quite a lot of what I encountered. In fact, just earlier this year I went to our local secondhand bookshop and found two cartons full of old sheet music from an estate sale. I bought close to 30lbs of music, for just a fraction of the cost… a whopping $60.
In the last few years, I have been more selective. I have found publishers I love, and publishers I am not terribly fond of. For example, I’d rather purchase a Schirmer edition of compiled Beethoven music than a Hal Leonard version. The quality of paper and binding is an important concern. Schirmer has space on the page to make notes and is extremely simplistic. Hal Leonard is modern, not as concise, and has odd layouts for classic pieces.
As you gather more material, you will be able to select pieces for students much easier. You will also be able to store and organize them into a cohesive collection. When building your library, you will also notice that you must have a system in place to keep track of all that you have. I highly recommend using a software database to assist with this, even if it is just a simple Excel sheet. When you know what you have, you will not accidentally double buy (like I have done!) and you’ll be able to appropriately fill holes.
Things to watch out for as you are building your library are huge collections. These are sometimes unavoidable because let us say your student is totally into John Williams music. You are stuck with these unwieldy books that have no specific location in your library other than to be included in a stack of other big fat books. Take for instance my 80s and 90s sheet music. I do not have a spot for “Decades” music. Plus, there are a myriad of genres in the 20th century, so what do I do? It will be tempting to get them too because you’ll get say, 100 songs for only $32.99, whereas a beautiful copy of just one sheet would be at least $3.99 or more.
Also, if you do not like an edition or a publisher – sell your books and replace them. There’s no sense in keeping copies you can’t read easily, or that don’t include measure numbers, etc. Be conscientious about the editing and engraving you prefer. Use trusted and time-tested companies like G. Schirmer, Kalmus, Willis, Dover, Urtext, Alfred, Hal Leonard, Oxford University, etc. If you cannot find students that would buy your unwanted copies at a reduced price, you could check out a secondhand shop for a credit, or sites like Ebay, Amazon, Pango, Offerup, and Craigslist to name a few.
Finally, be sure to actually use all the music you purchase. If you are not able to use it with a student or yourself, then you probably should lose it quickly so you can get something you have your eye on. Do not just rely on some guy you met down at the piano bar or in Nordstrom for a review. Make a wish list and prioritize your students and teaching needs first, then yourself. In example, for every order you make, buy something just for you.
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It's a strange world out there with tons of Gifs that are seemingly never ending. Here I have compiled a great list of musical Gifs for your entertainment, use, etc.
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Bucket Lists are a great way to set goals and to motivate. Whether attainable or not, we as musicians should all have a bucket list of things we want to play, accomplish, or hear. So, I've put together this list to inspire you!
30 Musical Things to Do by 30
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Failure Happens as a musician. A lot. I mean, like A LOT! And you know what? It's okay. It's not the end of the world. Music is an art, an appreciation, a passion. We can't get to the point of elation or success without a few blunders under our belt.
Learning music is difficult enough as it is. Just think about all the combinations of symbols you could have in a piece of music ... it's an endless stream of possibilities. This should make us feel better, but often it leaves us terrified of messing up. And really, we shouldn't fear making bad music. It's all part of the process of learning to be a good musician.
Failure happens largely in executing music, not the comprehension or learning of it. As a teacher, that makes my job somewhat easier because I know I can send a student home with instructions that they can follow without worry. However, when it comes to practicing and performing the concepts learned, we become more fragile and breakable. How can we avoid this? We can't!
How about instead we think back to the first time you poured your own glass of milk. Maybe you dropped the jug and milk spilled everywhere. Maybe you were too small and were chastised by an adult. Or perhaps you dripped milk all over the kitchen trying to get it into a cup. These situations are teaching moments that last with us for a lifetime. We learn how to properly hold and carry the jug of milk, just how to tip it gently sideways, and when to stop filling up. Music is the same side of the coin here. Your teacher is there to guide through the mistakes just like a parent or guardian is for a child learning to pour milk. We want you to make mistakes that you can learn from, and give you lots of praise when you succeed.
Don't take failure too strongly to heart in music. Everyone has a bad day, a bad warm-up, or even a bad song now and again. It's important that instead of becoming overwhelmed or beat-up by the process, we add it to our arsenal of knowledge and practice conquering our challenges daily. No one built Rome in one day, so it goes to show you that failure is something to expect as part of the process. And, just like Rome eventually fell, you too will fall in music. How you bounce is what matters the most though!
There are also times when it is okay to fail, and to let failure have its day. We can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps tomorrow, and try something new, or try what we failed at again. Sure, if we majorly disappointed an audience we can't get that back. But don't let it rule your mind and heart! Learn that humility and grace are key characteristics of a good musician. Understand that the audience appreciates your hard work and effort, even though it may not have pleased them. Grow as a person who has been at all the stop signs and now knows the way better than others.
I'll say it again, Failure Happens. But ... there is always another song, another day, another rehearsal. Let go and enjoy the journey!
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Everyone who is alive and breathing can get distracted even by the tiniest of things. But pianists have some large issues when it comes to distractions. Distractions are anything that pulls us away from the music, or even playing all together. A distraction can be huge and keep you from your practice, or small and make you lose your place. Here are the top five that I have found to be the worst.
1. Housework/Chores are More Important
Maybe you have a guest arriving from out of town, or maybe you have a family with four wild and crazy kids under the age of ten. Whatever the case, your home life is a number one priority to you. So much so, that you can't even get to the piano to play a song. You may go for days, weeks, months, or even years without so much as touching the keys. And while yes, our home life should be comfortable and relatively clean, you CAN make time for piano if you set aside specific time in your daily or weekly schedule.
2. Holidays and Celebrations
I've heard this so many times: "Well, I didn't practice much because it was Thanksgiving." Letting important dates get in the way of practice is an amateur mistake. I always try to encourage my students to actually USE these celebrations as an excuse to play. Take for example Christmas - Have a sing-a-long of your favorite tunes. On a birthday, play your best rendition of Happy Birthday. Granted when you travel, you aren't likely to have the ability to practice, but you can absolutely take your music with you to read and study. Tabletop playing is also encouraged. You can do this by pretending you have a piano in front of you, and using your fingers to play your imaginary keys.
Hey, I get it, I really do. I've suffered from insomnia since I was a child. Being tired doesn't have to equal less practice though. Using aromatherapy such as essential oils can perk your body and brain right up. Orange, Tangerine, Ylang Ylang, Spearmint and Lemon are great pick-me-ups. Another great solution is to eat a heaping spoonful of peanut butter or an orange, wait 10 minutes, then practice. These foods are quick to activate sugars needed for energy and focus in your body. The other thing I would encourage is to pick a time of day when you are most alert to do your practicing.
4. School and Extra Curricular Activities
You make a commitment to learn music and all of a sudden the workload at school is too much. This is a common theme with middle school and high school students in particular. Or maybe, you have a double header soccer tournament over the weekend. For some reason, you believe there is no time in between your school or your soccer, to find time to practice. This is not the case! You know those times in the morning before school when you have extra time on your hands? Sit at the piano and practice part of your assignment! Right when you get home from school is also another great time to practice, as is just before dinner. Especially if you treat dinner as a reward for hard work! Make your schedule find the time that you have nothing to do and work in a song or two at the piano. It IS possible!
Never let a cold or flu get you down. If you are grounded at home on an illness staycation, make sure to bone up on your music. Yes, you're tired, yes you may cough or sneeze, but that shouldn't equal no practice. Start with just reading your music in the comfort of your bed or on your couch. Then, when you are feeling your most alert (right after a nap or just before a meal) practice for a short spurt of 10-15 minutes. This works great in conjunction with placing tissues and sanitizer nearby just in case, and having a glass of orange juice just before for an energy boost. I also recommend essential oils and/or aromatherapy designed to support your immune system or level of alertness.
If you are looking for essential oils for support or aromatherapy, Or are looking for GREAT supplements to help you with focus and energy, use my affiliate link here to learn more:
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Today I will be reviewing the book Piano Repertoire: Romantic & 20th Century at Preparatory Level by Keith Snell. https://kjos.com/piano/repertoire/collections-series/snell/keith-snell-repertoire-series/piano-repertoire-romantic-20th-century-preparatory-level.html
There are many reasons to love this little book - or any Keith Snell book really. It's concise, and to the point for one. At just 16 pages, this Prep Level gem is accomplishable within a year's time for any elementary or beginning student. Even the front inside cover and back inside cover are used for information pertinent to the materials. I love when a book is eco-friendly. For the low, low price of just $4.50 you receive 15 traditional works from the Romantic era through the 20th Century. A 7-year-old could save and purchase this all by their self, it's that affordable.
Included are some of my favorites: Ferdinand Beyer, Louis Köhler, Cornelius Gurlitt, Béla Bartok, and Dmitri Kabalevsky. Clearly printed (or engraved for you technical musician/composers), the music is large and clear tidy. To save space, 2 songs may be printed on the same page due to their brevity and the ability to supply repeats.
Titles clearly list which work the pieces are from with Opus numbers, etc. Furthermore, every composer is listed with their dates, and the back cover has a Composer Biographies that are short and somewhat helpful to understanding the work.
Most of the pieces included in this Preparatory Level are within a 5-Finger Position in the comfortable locations of C, G, F and A Minor. Minimal use of accidentals make the works deceptively simple for beginners, and I've found that penciling in a reminder at the top of the page, or highlighting the Key signature, is a helpful tool. There are limited finger markings that are sensible, which also make the works very approachable for students who are learning new locations and working on confidence and spatial awareness. Therein also lies a good mix of 3/4, 4/4, cut and Common time as well as tempo markings - most of which lie at a moderate speed, making this book a great challenge to accomplish within a year's time.
Coincides with students in, or who have completed with following methods:
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The five essential entrepreneurial skills for success: Concentration, Discrimination, Organization, Innovation and Communication. ~ Harold S. Green
I had a dream years ago when we lived overseas in Germany. Part of it was due to boredom, part of it aspiration, and part of it convenience. This dream was catapulted by a class I took in college called Information Systems Management.
I've always loved Access by Microsoft. I'm an odd duck, what can I say? But seriously, the ability to organize and filter things, create forms and reports ... it did what Excel can do, yet so much more. I wanted to see everything I owned and was (and still am) acquiring in key signatures, difficulty levels, publishers, cost, etc.
The benefits of creating a database of your music library are manyfold. So, let me give you a lending hand as to what you can do.
Now how can you sort this material? By this I mean, what information do you want accessible at your fingertips? Make primary indexes to be book numbers or ISBNs. Titles of books and pieces should be written with overly specific information. Have two sources for the Moonlight Sonata? Use Opus numbers or organizational systems (WoO, K. numbers, etc.), or you could even put a parenthetical note for the arranger, book, and so forth, or editions.
The next step would be to create a form to fill out for each database, and reports. These should automatically update in the software you use, so that as soon as you fill out a form, the information is added.
Ideas for Reports would include:
Music by Composer (and make sure composer names are entered consistently with first and last names)
Music by difficulty level
Music by key signature
Pieces with accompaniment
Music by instrumentation
As a teacher, this is super useful. I can filter my results or pull a report for a student at a certain level, in a certain key signature and by a specific genre without having to leaf through hundreds of my books and materials.
I hope this post gives you excellent ideas on how to organize your library, studio, office, or classroom. I know it seriously helps me. Yes, it takes some time setting up and getting through entering everything you own ... but in the end, you have something like this to look forward to:
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I was asked just this week by a long time student of mine how he should be practicing. I'll have to be honest and say this floored me a little. "Wow," I said. "I'm so glad you asked me this." Keep in mind that my job as a teacher isn't just to teach you the concepts and material, it is also my job to impart the know-how and tools of practice.
So, without much further ado, here are 17 Hits to get the most out of your practice.
1. Warm Up - Pick an etude, play an easy song, get the blood moving in your fingers to have them ready and at their tiptop condition for practice.
2. Do your scales. Pay close attention in particular to ones that are the key of your pieces to practice. Remind your brain and your body that you need quick access to this knowledge. Patterns are crucial for any musician and scales are excellent pattern practice.
3. Play some Hanon. (See above) Transpose if necessary or applicable.
4. Take a study break. Look over your material carefully. Actually READ your music. You can even sit comfortably in a chair or on a couch for this portion of practice. Sing the song in your head as you read through it. Note all the highlights you need to remember (dynamics, articulations, tempos, etc.)
5. Use the 50% rule at least once per piece. Don't know the 50% rule? That means practice at exactly 50% of the speed of the piece you are working on. If you just have "Allegro", then select the slowest pace of 60 BPM.
6. Become friends with a metronome, and use it at least once per piece (all the way through). You may adjust as necessary by 2-3 or even 5 ticks, but make an entire practice through with it. Your timing and rhythm will improve, as well as your attention to speed.
7. Work in chunks. Take small sections of 2-4 measures at a time, and perfect them before stringing them all together. Be methodical about this.
8. Refrain from the desire to "fix mistakes" constantly. Ignoring mistakes is sometimes just as important as fixing them. You'll never make it through a piece if you constantly stop and start. Performances demand that time continues on, so allow yourself some grace. Then, return to chunking and the 50% rule to fix your mistakes.
9. Keep a pencil and highlighter handy. You may need notes, you may need instructions, or you might just need encouragement. Either way, a pencil and highlighter is a must if you want to succeed in practice.
10. Take brain breaks. Rest your thoughts and let loose a little by throwing in a fun song, playing something enjoyable, or just fiddling around on the keys. Your focus and intensity might suffer if you don't give yourself the space to relax a little.
11. Never quit practicing until you have worked on each assignment with 3 full run-throughs. This ensures you made mistakes, worked them through, and then attempted to perform to the best of your ability.
12. Practice in a variety of environments. Loud or quiet, we musicians put up with a lot. Plus, other people still have lives. If someone is making dinner and is whipping up a racket, put your practice skills to the test! If you have the chance to play on another instrument that isn't yours, try it out! If you have company, or the house is still asleep, give the keys a whirl. We build up our concentration and focus this way as we tolerate a lot of conditions we cannot control as musicians.
13. Sightread a piece of music. It can be new, it can be old, it just cannot be anything you're working on (or just worked on). This puts all of your theory skills to the test.
14. Try a video recording of yourself that you can delete later. Set it up so you can see your hands and hear the music, and then LISTEN CAREFULLY to the playback. This will give you a ton of information about yourself that you might not otherwise have known. Maybe you're sitting wrong, or maybe you missed all the F#s.
15. Practice your music backwards! Start with the last measure. Then the last 2. Then the last 3, etc. This gives your brain a bit of a workout and allows you to hear the music in a different way. It may even highlight important things you have overlooked.
16. Be positive with yourself, and stay calm. The worst thing to do is become frustrated with something you struggle on. Tell yourself that you can do better next time, and don't give up!
17. Try out an audience. Mom, dad, neighbor, babysitter, whomever! Wherever! Ask them for their positive feedback, and ask them if there's 1 thing they think you could work on. They might see and hear things that you don't, so use these to motivate yourself to success!