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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 should write in your music more than you believe you should. I hearken back to my collegiate days with this belief. I had professors in Philosophy, English and History strongly advocating using pen in your books for many reasons. As a musician, you need more than just the odd definition here and there. You need LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! Connecting important ideas and concepts in music is difficult as there are so many, so be highlighter friendly.
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Dynamics are essentially musical volume. Dynamics help to create a few important musical structures: mood, scenery, shading, and character.
Now that we've covered the important expression dynamics encompasses, what do those symbols ACTUALLY MEAN?
ppp - Pianississimo
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I have several large pumps of hand sanitizer in my home studio, and at my pianos. This is very important to me since I cannot always get up in between students. The average kid encounters billions upon trillions of germs daily. These germs have the lifespan of spreading to as many as 10+ people in hours. Bacteria double at an astronomical pace, and are living and growing.
As a musician, health is very important. We use our hands and often our mouths to operate our instruments, which leaves us vulnerable to invaders of the bacterial kind. Here are a few healthy tips to remember as a musician.
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Many people ask me this question, and inevitably, the answer is almost always no. It's usually the people that DON'T ask this question that aren't ready for their kiddo to be in a music lesson.
Many of my students begin or began lessons between the ages of 6 and 16. A few students have started later as adults, and only 1 of my students is under the age of 4.
The reason to not give a child a standard piano lesson and workload should seem obvious, but it often isn't to a parent, guardian, or well meaning benefactor.
Truthfully, I usually answer 5-6 years old. This is the point in life when kids are learning classroom habits and manners, and it is perfect timing to incorporate music. They are at their most fresh in learning skills.
Does that mean your student is ready? NO!
Does that mean every student is the same? NO!
I've had a few 5 year old students who are better than my teenagers/adults. In fact, I find that the WORST time to pick up an instrument is between the ages of 16 and 30. There is good intention, but zero commitment from about 85% of people walking into my studio at this age. The best times appear to be when kids are in elementary school, before they hit middle school and are asked to either join choir, band, or orchestra. Or conversely, when an adult has grown/growing children and are looking for an outlet, hobby, or stress reliever.
If you read this list above and don't see something you question with your student, great! I applaud your kidd-o for their desire to learn and love something.
If you read this list above and see some red flags, DON'T IGNORE THEM! Your kid might not be ready.... YET! Just give it some time, and soon they may have improved their skill set. Just, please PLEASE don't inflict the suffering through an unproductive lesson on any teacher knowingly.
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Practice is necessary for development as a musician regardless of whether or not you are serious, or you are just learning for fun. Sometimes practice can be stress inducing because we want to have fun, we can't focus, we're easily frustrated, or for other unmentioned reasons. Here are some great tips for how you can control your practice sessions without feeling overwhelmed or upset.
What are some fun things YOU do during your practices? I'd love to hear!
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Written by Doniell Cushman
It might seem very clear that you need a set of books, and a willingness to learn. While these are great tools anyone must have, these are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. So what do you really need?
1. A teacher you are comfortable with. If the person you've hired seems distant, disengaged, unenthusiastic, overly strict, or really awkward, chances are you may have picked the wrong person for the job. Don't be afraid to establish a cordial relationship where you ask each other how your day was, and to engage in small talk about anything exciting that has happened, or is going to happen. Whomever you hire, make sure that after a good solid 2 months of lessons, you feel confident in that teacher's skill, and charm. If you can't name 3 positives that will keep you happy and connected, find a new teacher.
2. Discipline. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to do everything you need to do. You must be able to sit correctly, hold your arms/hands in the right way, read the music without watching your hands, and so on. Self-control is the core of learning your instrument. If you are indulgent and lazy, you will not make the best student, and teachers will spend countless time correcting you - which in turn could make you less likely to enjoy lessons and more likely to quit at some point. Think hard about what you want to achieve, and make that goal a reality with perseverance. Don't give up.
3. A voice. When you don't understand something, speak up! If you love a song, tell your teacher. If you really enjoyed an activity or exercise, express that enthusiasm. If something is difficult, explain why. You are the one who is benefitting from the music, not the teacher. Be vocal about your needs, and your feelings and your teacher will know what you need.
4. Encouragement. Whether it's mom, dad, sister, cousin, aunt, grandma, or friend, have a support system in place. They should be willing and able to give you constructive feedback, and help set boundaries. If you have no one who is supporting you, it will be more difficult to be the star in your show.
5. A reward system. Clearly, learning something new can be difficult. Especially music, which is like learning another language. Be upfront with yourself on the time you have available to devote to music, and stick to a plan. If you have a favorite TV show to watch as an example, practice for 30 minutes, and then watch your television show. Make getting your music done less of a hassle through gifting yourself an indulgence. Finish practicing 1 song that felt like it took 3 hours? Eat a dessert of your choice. Feel stressed out and without enough time in your day? Practice after getting up in the morning, and then take a relaxing shower/bath. Make music work for your lifestyle and hobbies with a reward system.
6. An attitude of humility. No one is perfect. You are going to make mistakes, and that is part of learning. Don't let your mistakes tether you. Let them happen, and then work through them. Everyone is capable of a break through. Think of it as if you were a 5 year old learning their alphabet in kindergarten: everyone has to do it, and some take longer than others. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Be gracious when you do something correct as the feedback will always be more useful. Don't let a bad attitude spoil your education. You could miss out on a great experience or learning opportunity you might not otherwise have had.
7. Be honest. Never try to hide the fact that you didn't practice, or didn't complete an assignment. Learning music should always be at YOUR pace. If you have a super busy week, there are still things you can accomplish during the lesson even if you weren't able to practice. If you never practice, then you have to be honest with yourself. Maybe you need a better incentive to practice, or maybe you need to make the time for music in your day, and learn to cut other things out. Or maybe, music just isn't for you. And that's okay (and rare).
Knowing these things can make you or break you in your success as a student of piano. Getting the job done well should be part of everyone's goal when learning music. If you want to enjoy music, you must come willing to commit to these. Anyone can love music, but it takes an exceptional person to learn it. Let that be you!
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Written by Doniell Cushman
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor, or person who holds a degree or position in the medical, scientific or research field. My education has come from my own experiences, so please speak with a medical professional before treating or handling any injury, and follow their advice. Make sure to tell them you (or your student) are a musician, and that this is important to your body's health and maintenance. This may help them determine how to go about your treatment without detriment. None of these statements are endorsed by a medical professional, or by the FDA.
Hand care is of the utmost important to all musicians. Injuries stemming from systematic abuse or from extraneous accidents can endanger the livelihood of a player at any age. Respecting your body and its comforts or limits is something we don't appreciate at a young age. That is why a football injury from high school can mean loss of enjoyment in life20 years later because you might be unable drive your daughter safely or comfortably to her soccer game, or swing her around in your arms, and so on.
Some of the most common injuries are the hardest to treat because healing can be a long process. Blisters, calluses, cuts, broken bones, pulled muscles, bruises, tendonitis, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are among the most rampant issues we deal with as a musician. And, let's face it. Our hands are often the key to our instrument. So how should we care for them?
At the end of the day, you want your hands to feel good. You don't want to wake up a week from now with an aching pinky because you put all kinds of torque and pressure on your joint when playing. It would take weeks to months to years to heal properly if not caught and cared for. Be aware of how your hands are cared for. Stuff lotion in every possible place. Keep nail trimmers everywhere. Gently exercise and stretch before playing. Treat your body and hands with the respect they deserve.
I'll end with my favorite analogy for my younger students: Does Usain Bolt get up out of bed and run a marathon every morning? Nope. No marathon runner would do this without warming up and stretching. No one in their right mind jumps out of bed straight into a race without throwing on clothes, using the bathroom, washing up, stretching, etc. So, don't just sit down and play or practice. Put some thought into how you want to succeed, and you can accomplish anything.
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Written by Doniell Cushman
If you, like many people, are limited on space, having a creative mind is key when it comes to enough space to practice, and also to store things. Musicians need places to hold books, scores, tools of the trade (metronomes, Kleenex, cleaning supplies, etc.) and their instruments, without impeding their lifestyle. And, unless you have a room you can dedicate to practice, you likely have to solve a problem with storage and cramping your home up, making it feel smaller than it is.
I was reading blogs and searching Pinterest today for some great ideas on space saving. My personal favorite that I've been using for years is using magazine holders to store books, scores, etc. They often fit perfectly into your bookshelf, and neatly organize all your music. You can leave them open to pull things out of, or turn them for a more aesthetic look.
If you don't have room in your piano bench, you need more dual purpose furniture. I read a great blog today by Kristen Uppercue that shows a fabulous way to hide shoes ... in your ottoman. An ottoman is perfect home accent if you share music space with living space. Stuff your books, reeds, metronome, flashcards, and other like materials into a storage ottoman that can be used during the normal times as a foot stool or sitting space. If you have an actual music room, it's handy to have these around for seating instead of a regular chair.
Shelving is obvious; you must have furniture to put things onto. Pick up a cheap bookshelf at IKEA or Target for less than the cost of dinner out for two, and neatly arrange your repertoire and materials close by your instrument. You could even store your instrument on top if you get a mid-sized shelf.
Another option Uppercue points out is that floating shelves can do wondrous things if put in the right locations. If you have a little nook by the door that isn't being used, buy or build a few floating shelves to use the space. If you have a really narrow space, floating shelves with a lip edge can hold up books like an art gallery, leave space to charge your device or even hold it up to record, and also to store pens/pencils/cleaning rods and things. If you are a keyboardist with a small electric or digital piano, these are fabulous to place above the instrument, within easy reach.
Throwing a rug down doesn't seem necessary to most people, but a tiny space means sound travels. If you have a saxophone student living in the 10x10 bedroom right next to yours, chances are there could be a great chance a rug on the floor (or even the wall) can help catch a little more of the sound reverb from bouncing off the walls. Uppercue thoughtfully points out that a lighter color will not only brighten up your space, but make it appear larger.
A performer needs a mirror. This sounds silly, right? But think about it. If you're a violin player, you might catch out the corner of your eye that having your hair long and loose isn't the best for your playing style. Having a mirror (or set of mirrors) handy within eye line can improve performance style. You can see if you're bobbing your head too much with the rhythm, or if your instrument is awkwardly grasped, etc. And added bonus, mirrors reflecting light create the illusion of airiness and space.
Placing a lamp close to the music stand, or having excellent lighting is important. You must clearly be able to read your music without eye strain. If you're a piano player without a desk lamp/piano lamp, you should check out sites like Amazon, PianoLamp.com, Target or Wayfair for relatively inexpensive to moderate solutions that won't break the bank and are stylish additions to your home. I personally recommend a metallic color that matches the color scheme of your home, not the hardware of the instrument. If you match the instrument, you run into monochrome issues, and the instrument itself should truly stand out - not the lamp. If you can't afford a good desk/piano lamp, getting a small book light and clipping it to your music stand as a very cheap way of making this work.
Use thoughtful arranging to make everything easy to reach. Small baskets with cleaning supplies or office supplies are important to have close at hand. If you have oddly shaped and stored objects like a metronome, this is a great way of getting things out of the way. If you can't grab a pencil while you're playing your instrument, you're not practicing efficiently.
If you have windows in your practice space, place the instrument to the side of the window, never directly in front. You don't want to be distracted or blinded, but you want good lighting and inspiration. Curtains and/or blinds are also a great idea if the outdoors are too distracting or bright, and great to close and keep light in the practice space at nighttime. If you're using curtains, Uppercue recommends matching the wall color to give the appearance of space. This works especially nicely with a linen or sheer fabric, which can let a little light in as well without feeling boxed in your practice area.
Finally, place your practice area close to a corner. Small space equals encroachment of the worst kind if you're a serious musician, or a child with developing organization skills. Let that area primarily serve as a practice space for this reason. Fill the space as vertically as possible, with as much storage as possible. A folding stand/chair and again dual purpose furniture will really help out here. Don't be afraid however, to spruce up this area with a plant, or decorative object like a bookend or inspirational quote. It'll help the flow in your home as well as look organized.
You can see Uppercue's full article with helpful picture tips here: www.hercampus.com/school/wvu/decorating-tiny-apartment
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Written by Doniell Cushman
An essential oil is most easily described as the lifeblood of a plant or tree. Aromatherapy has proven that smells affect emotions and mood. As a musician, we have a unique perspective on emotions as mood. How we practice or perform can affect what our beliefs are, how we feel, and what we want or do not want.
There are 3 ways to use an essential oil
Focus and/or Clarity - Raise your hand if you have ever (or always) have a hard time staying on the page? Many kids struggle with being sensitive to their surroundings and atmosphere when learning music. Sometimes we just need a little help to tell ourselves to focus, or to see things more clearly.
I have chosen to do all of this, and become a member of the most responsible company on the planet who owns their own farms and has a fully transparent process that is open to the public.You can sign up to become a member and find out more from the experts on the subject, Young Living through this link:www.youngliving.com/vo/#/signup/new-start?sponsorid=10456767&enrollerid=10456767&isocountrycode=US&culture=en-US&type=member
Where can you get a great jewelry diffuser? You really want something that is stainless steel, and has an opening in the design allowing the oil fragrance to waft out. I prefer a necklace, but there are other types of bracelets and things as well. I use one of these: smile.amazon.com/Rose-Gold-Essential-Diffuser-Necklace/dp/B01IF1OJX4/ref=sr_1_18_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1505000900&sr=8-18&keywords=jewelry%2Bdiffuser&th=1
Should you have questions or need advice, I'm a great resource and happy to recommend you to what works best for your musical dilemma. I diffuse during my lessons, which gives my studio the mood it needs every day to be successful. I change up what I use often as well, to make sure the benefits of all types of oils are available to be used by anyone needing its aroma.
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Written by Doniell Cushman
Piano teachers have to stay up to date on the latest literature and methods for their students and their studio. Piano Adventures by Faber is one of the leading methods in the United States. With 3 separate focus approaches, they are a leader in methods available for beginning students. Piano Adventures presents several great and contemporary methodology series. Below is a list of those series, the levels incorporated, the age groups they are intended for, and the type of material they incorporate:
My First Piano Adventure
Pre-Reading - Early Beginner
Primer - 5
Beginner - Intermediate
Accelerated Piano Adventures
Elementary - Early Intermediate
Adult Piano Adventures
Elementary - Intermediate
In addition to the method studies, Faber has a vast catalog of supplemental material that will make any student's heart skip a beat. Each level of the standard piano adventures has a corresponding set of books (i.e. PreTime, PlayTime, etc.) with the following:
I Can Read Music, Scale and Chord Books, Once Upon A Rainbow, Piano Literature, and the Discover Improvisation books are additional supplements.
What are the benefits of using the Faber Piano Adventures Methods and supplements? Good question. Faber approaches music with a strong emphasis on the following:
Strong focus on developing music reading in logical sequence, illustrations are simple and do not detract from the material presented, printing size is large and appropriate, balanced musical styles presented from classics and traditionals to originals, students explore the entire keyboard by using a variety of hand positions early on, beginning off the staff allows for strong rhythmic development, reinforcement of each concept, pianistic pieces and/or arrangements, technique focused on using the body correctly and comfortably, logical introduction of patterns, development of both hands is equal and well structured, emphasis on the music itself as art, appealing music and lyrics, duets and improvisation, countless supplementary materials.
These are just the broad highlights of the Faber Piano Adventures method. As a teacher, I enjoy the Piano Adventures for the most part. Music is introduced in a highly approachable way. The likelihood of successful development as an artistic musician with using the Faber method is high, making it a competitive choice among piano teachers today. My only drawback is that this is a slower method, and as such, students will usually complete their books a lot sooner than expected. Personally, I wish there was a stronger emphasis on Theory with this series, and this is seriously lacking. The Theory books seem a waste of space as they often don't add much value to what is being learned. Drawing what you read is an integral part to understanding it - just as we all learned in pre-school or kindergarten with the alphabet. However, I have many requests to play favorite songs at recitals and these books really do justice to the performance aspect of music. I have never had a difficult time with this series, but I have had to move students to other methods due to the slow pace these take.
My preference for most students is the Alfred method. I do like this method though, and tend to use it with the very young beginner, and slower paced students. The books are inexpensive, easy to find at all music dealers and definitely worth an investment in the supplemental methods.
You can find a complete listing here: pianoadventures.com/