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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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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!
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Learning music is a commitment. It can be a serious one, or a casual one - but it's still a commitment. We all have lives, and let's be honest about it: Some days are better than other days. As adults, we have jobs, children, grandchildren, chores, work, errands, appointments ... and an endless amount of capability to organize it all. So can we fit in learning piano?
If you're deciding whether or not you can learn piano, you must set some sort of goal or at least have one in mind. Many of my adult students come to me and say they always wanted to learn so they had a hobby, or a pastime. This is a great motivator to learn! I have others that have come to me and said that they want to accomplish a specific piece of music. Also a great reason to learn. Rarely have I had an adult come to me and say they'd love to play Chopin level 8 pieces, or that they want to be a pianist. But this can also be an excellent driving force. I'm going to be brutally honest about all three of these types of adult beginners (or returners) for a moment, and I hope I don't hurt your feelings.
The first adult I mentioned is the most successful adult student. The second is the least successful adult student. The last student is so rare, that I've had only 1 adult in my 10+ years of teaching have this goal - and they fell off the face of the planet when a family crisis occurred.
There are a plethora of reasons for the success of the first student, and why I've retained several of these for years. These adults always come to me with an awareness of self and ability. They are timid, they are receptive, and they are candid. They knew that there would be times when it would be difficult to practice, yet they persevered through lessons that may have felt overwhelming or unsuccessful. They understood that not every lesson would be exciting and fun, and that there is a substantial amount of sweat and tears involved in the learning process.
That leaves the other two types of students. The second type of student tends to fail because they don't live in reality. Most educators are unwilling to teach you something they know you don't want to understand. That said, learning a intermediate piece of music that isn't Mary Had a Little Lamb can involve more than 50 musical concepts. Sure, you can learn by rote ... but are you really learning music? No. Are you really learning the song? No. There's more to music than just the right notes and the right lengths of the notes. People with a piece goal in mind want to play NOW, and then never come back for lessons. In truth, this is distracting and leads to disinterest on not only behalf of the student, but also the teacher.
The final student who wants to be a great musician is genuinely rare at an adult's age, that there isn't much to say really. As an educator, I'd equate it to a drastic change in careers: A mechanic suddenly becoming a financial consultant. It's a dream, and dream chasers can be valuable students and can learn very well. But, when obstacles block their path, they can end up more reluctant to change their ways and will easily settle for less.
All types of adults and goals can be successful, but in my experience, the adult that knows the level of dedication involved is the one best prepared for success in lessons. They can truly learn piano. Good or bad, they have the thick skin required and the resolve.
Now let's get to how to overcome your challenges being an adult.
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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!