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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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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/
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Written by Doniell Cushman
Your hands are the most important part of your body as a pianist. In order to keep them in the best shape possible, you must use proper care and hygiene to keep them working and feeling their best on those bright white ivories.
1. Wash Those Hands: This may seem ridiculous to state, but the truth of the matter is many musicians don't think about this when it's time to practice or perform. You obviously can't expect your 8 year old to get a good practice if they just ate a PB&J and sat down at the piano. Cleanliness really makes a difference. Slickness, stickiness, dryness, and foreign objects can all be a hindrance to a solid playing session. Things you (or your student) may have done that would constitute a hand washing directly before practice:
3. Manicures: You don't have to see a salon pro to keep your fingers trim, and smooth. Trim your nails weekly to keep them short enough to play without interference. File your nails' edges to keep them smooth and from preventing a good solid practice. Failure to do so can result in something as minor as snagging a nail on the edge of a key, to developing tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Trim your hang nails immediately. I tell my students to keep nail clippers and emery boards or files everywhere. A simple crystal file can last forever, and never needs to be thrown out or sharpened. Pick up inexpensive clippers or manicure tools at the local dollar store to stay on a budget, and place them in a container on or near the piano, in your bag or purse, at work, on your nightstand, in every bathroom, etc.
4. Moisturize: It's best not to moisturize before playing because your pores may not have absorbed all the product, but make a routine of using lotion several times throughout the day. After using a moisturizer, wait at least 10 minutes, or until hands are fully dry before playing in order to allow maximum absorption. Soft hands can make a huge difference in touch sensation of the keys at any age. Try using something with aloe, vitamin E, and a natural moisturizer like Shea butter or an oil base (avocado, olive). My personal favorite is creating my own lotion with beeswax, jojoba, and vitamin E and adding my favorite essential oils that support skin health like Frankincense, Lavender, and Tea Tree.
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5. Technique & Exercise: Look, if you want to be a great piano player, or musician of any type, you must exercise your hands! Technical works are a great way to do this. Ask me for a recommendation based off your skill level and the areas you need improvement on, and I can find the right material for you. Some suggestions:
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Written by Doniell Cushman
You need a practice basket. Don't even think about arguing with me about this, you need one.
What the heck is a practice basket? It's a useful resource for any budding musician to keep handy on, or near their instrument and practice space. It will help you (or your student) be most successful in practice at home, or any location.
I suggest going to any dollar store where they will have most everything on this list, but you can of course use things you already have around the house, or purchase the products you already love. How you get these items makes no difference to me, the teacher.
At the end of my most recent recital, Spring of 2017, I had each student build their own practice basket, and explained why they needed the items in it. I loaded up at the dollar store, and only spent about $30 out of pocket for around 20 students. I'd say it was a steal since I didn't have to pay for the recital space!
If you have more than 1 musician in your home, I strongly urge you to have a practice basket for each. Young children will ultimately want to make sure what's theirs is theirs, but we older musicians like to use reliable products and know that brand we love is always in there.
There are of course many ways to create a practice basket, so I'd love to hear what you put, or have in yours! Take a photo too, I'd love to see it.
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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. Alfred Publishing is one of the foremost publishers of music and music literature in the world today. As such, Alfred has a firm footing in the methodology of piano. Alfred presents several great classic and contemporary 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:
What are the benefits of Alfred Methods? Good question. Alfred approaches music with a strong emphasis on the following:
Comprehensive and attractive formatting, illustrations reflect the material, printing size is appropriate, continuous presentation with concepts introduced logically, students explore the entire keyboard, beginning off the staff allows for rhythmic development, reinforcement of each concept, intervals emphasized for reading music, key signatures are introduced with a definite plan, logical introduction of rhythm patterns and meter signatures, technique is a systematic part of development, allows for development of both hands, emphasis on common musical articulations, appealing music and lyrics, predictable original music combined with twists on classics everyone knows, wide range of musical styles, duets, in-depth musical theory program, countless supplementary materials.
These are just the broad highlights of the Alfred's method. As a teacher, I enjoy the Alfred's method immensely. Music is introduced logically and chronologically making it very approachable for over 80% of new piano students. The likelihood of successful development as a musician with using the Alfred's method is high, making it the number one choice among most piano teachers today. In addition, the students really enjoy Alfred books and literature. I have many requests to play favorite songs at recitals. Rarely, do students have a difficult time with this series.
My preference for most students is the Alfred method. Most students begin in the Alfred's Basic Piano Library (ABPL), or in the ABPL Prep Course depending upon their age. The books are inexpensive, easy to find at all music dealers, and very worth the investment.
You can find a complete listing here: www.alfred.com/