Lang Lang

Musicians are divided it seems – There are those who would be lost without their sheet music and there are those that play beautifully “by ear.”

Which is the correct method for playing music? What a question! I’m sure both camps will have good arguments to justify their preferred method. Personally, I sit in the middle seeing the pros and cons of both methods!

When teaching beginners, I like to start by teaching them basic music reading skills. At a point when they are successfully reading to a sufficient standard and maintaining those skills on a regular basis, I like to introduce the world of memory to them. Why? Here are some of my reasons:

• Learning to play by memory is practical – you can play for others at the drop of a hat when you don’t have your music.

• Playing from memory encourages the student to focus more on a musical performance.

• Encouraging memory skills allows for a more holistic approach to learning and music making.

• Older adult students love to work on memory techniques as they are often keen to try to keep their brains working!

Right from the beginning we can lay the foundation as we teach our students a simple scale by memory. We might build on that with more complex figures like arpeggios or broken chords. The main thing for the student to start recognizing are the patterns in music. Simple tunes are often littered with sequences (melodic figures that are repeated slightly higher or lower). As we help our students to decipher the building blocks of the song in question, it gives us, the teacher, the opportunity to incorporate theory and composition techniques.

For some, learning to play by memory may feel very daunting. They will need constant encouragement but the rewards can be phenomenal! I’ve seen many a metamorphosis – a timid performer turn into an expressive and confident musician because they have discovered the empowering magic of playing by memory.

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips


By Robin Steinweg

Have you held traditional senior recitals? Often they are formal events. But what if your seniors don’t roll that way? Here are three unique senior send-offs, customized for out-of-the-ordinary students:

  • A late-starting piano student of mine hadn’t reached a level of wanting to share difficult repertoire. She had a couple of beautiful pieces prepared for the spring recital—including an original—but the traditional event wouldn’t be for her. She had traveled to Phoenix, Arizona and visited the MIM: Musical Instrument Museum (“The world’s only global musical instrument museum”) and had taken wonderful photos. I invited her to speak to my group class. She put together a power point presentation of highlights. Not only her own favorites, but what she thought the younger students would love to see. She held them captivated, and at the end, fielded a lively Q&A session.
  • A ten-year piano student had a large repertoire including many genres. She decided to host her own private senior concert before Christmas. She designed and created invitations and sent them to over a hundred friends, relatives, and teachers or other adults in her life. She chose not only her favorite pieces, but added some of her family’s favorites, and other songs for their entertainment value. She decided the order of the songs with attention to good pacing. The programs were her design. She invited another local musician to lead a Christmas carol sing-along so she could take a short intermission. She baked and brought all the refreshments for the reception. I’m sure it was a great addition to her portfolio!
  • Another long-time guitar (and voice) student entertained for a couple of hours at a coffee house. He sang and accompanied himself on guitar; invited family and friends; planned his sets carefully for pacing; set up and ran his own sound system; interacted with his audience; took requests; included a few original pieces; and invited his teacher to join him for a couple of duets. It was a successful evening for him and lucrative for the coffee house!

Music teachers tend to love their students and grow sentimental over them leaving the nest. We want to honor their gifts and hard work. When you have students who don’t fit the typical recital mold, how do you give them a unique senior send-off?

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Posted in Performing, Teaching Tips


So much in music can be analysed with rational conclusions drawn as to why a certain result is produced. For example, why does a certain piece of music make you feel melancholy? On closer analysis the composer has no doubt made a series of strategic decisions to create that result; minor tonality, quiet dynamic, low register of a well-chosen instrument, slow tempo, simple rhythm, descending melody etc. The great Hollywood composers have been masters of knowing exactly how to evoke the necessary emotion from a scene, building on a huge legacy of skillful composition for many hundreds of years. Conscious and calculated.

However, I love that music still holds onto some of its mystery. Magical moments that defy analysis. Happy accidents that touch the hearts of millions. Somehow it can manage to penetrate through human boundaries such as race, language, class, education, religion, social status and generation. It can be deeply therapeutic; a massage for the emotions. It can reach the seemingly unreachable; humans with severe learning difficulties, people with severe dementia and even animals! How extraordinary and how little we really know about the secrets of our art even though some of us have made the study of music our lifetime pursuit! Here are a number of mysteries in music to contemplate:

What is it about the groove in a song that gets your body moving to the beat without any conscious thought?

How come certain songs on an album become hits? Why not the other equally well-produced songs?

Why does a certain melody become, as the expression goes these days, an “ear-worm” that plays in your head like tinnitus for hours and hours?

How does that sudden Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Music Theory, Performing

Ed Pearlman

Music for Healing

June 12th, 2016 by


Music heals.  It is widely used in therapy, it soothes the moods of people round the world, and the act of playing music generates endorphins that make a player feel better.

Music therapy has been used for many years for its multi-sensory expression.  Studies about neurological development support its use to draw out feelings and concerns of patients.  It was found to be particularly effective with traumatized children after World War II.  Therapists use many methods to work with people, including moving to music, listening, playing on instruments, body percussion, singing, and songwriting.

In the 1930s, my mother studied piano from a man named Moissaye Boguslawski, who had grand notions of what music could do to heal people.  He believed, ahead of his times, that music could cure antisocial behavior and treat memory loss.  A prominent concert pianist with various symphonies, he insisted on playing regular piano concerts at the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, a place in Chicago commonly called Dunning, which doubled as an insane asylum and a poorhouse.  Boguslawski was convinced that music had healing effects on people suffering in that institution.  He is respected for his work, including articles in leading publications on the psychological and therapeutic effects of music, but Time magazine wrote a 1936 profile of him which took a decidedly cynical and bemused view of his opinions and projects.

Times have certainly changed since then.  The healing effects of music are well accepted, and music therapy is a common health care career.

But music also heals the musician.  A study done by Oxford researchers found that active performers had an increased pain threshold after performing than before.  This included three groups of participants: churchgoers who actively sang and clapped versus those who sang politely in their pews; dancers who performed as compared to musicians who were frequently interrupted during rehearsal; and musicians in a drumming circle, versus those who sat and listened to music.

The increase of the pain threshold was used as an indication that endorphins were being generated by the performance activities.

The key researcher pointed out that “It is probably the uninhibited flow or continuity of action that is important: if the music is frequently interrupted (as in rehearsals), any effect is markedly reduced (if not obliterated).”

Practice and rehearsal might be very careful and nonflowing — but hopefully only to prepare for a performance that flows effortlessly.

There might be a lesson here for teachers, however — too much interruption, criticism, fear of mistakes, lack of continuity, can prevent a sense of flow and a sense of joy in playing music.  While some of that careful thought and practice can be necessary for developing skills, it is also essential to practice allowing continuity, rehearsing the feeling of flow, permitting enjoyment, and striving for effortlessness, even if in small segments.  You are what you practice, and if your practice is grim, halting, and fearful, the performance is unlikely to rise above the practice.

Making sure there is a goodly percentage of flow in practice sets the stage for a flowing performance, and unless the listeners are dancing along, the musicians in such a performance are likely to feel healthier and happier than their audience by the time the show is over!

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips


Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!

All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!

So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!

What does Noteflight do?

Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!

Is there a catch?

Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips


So you are heading off to your first recording session. What tips can help you achieve a great recording? Even if you are just having fun recording yourself in your bedroom, hopefully, the following tips will help.

Before the recording session
•  If this is your first time being recorded, if you can, visit the studio so as to get familiar with the vocal booth setup to help you relax. Even just looking at the photos on the studio website will help.

•  If you are recording a vocal, get familiar with the words, ideally, memorise them and bring a copy to help the producer follow for accuracy as you record.

•  When you rehearse, check that you only take breaths at the end of sentences to avoid spoiling the flow of the phrases.

•  Focus on your performance. What does the song mean to you? Can you “feel” the emotion as you perform?

•  Head to the session wearing Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips


I remember a parent once asking me: “Can you ask Jonny to brush his teeth regularly? He will listen to you!”

Sometimes a lesson is learnt better from someone less familiar.

For a couple of months I’ve been trying an idea with my students which has been very successful, maybe it might work for you and your pupils. Enter the masterclass video!

One of my adult students found an app called “Mastering the Piano with Lang Lang.” The app has three levels at the moment (more coming) each containing eight units of high-quality videos and music designed to help piano students improve their technique and musicality.

At the start of each lesson, I show my pupils one of these videos, working our way systematically through the app one video per week. The videos are only short, most less than a couple of minutes but Lang Lang, as well as being a fabulous musician and teacher, is friendly and entertaining. After the video has finished, I look for application in their pieces they are currently learning which helps to reinforce the specific concept under consideration.


Some of the practical topics are: playing faster, legato playing, staccato playing, dynamics, playing chords, posture, hand position, making mistakes, etc. What I love about the videos is that they can be understood by a beginner but also have value to the advanced student alike.

The results have been overwhelming! My students have loved his teaching, have listened and applied his advice and as a result, their technique and musicality has been greatly improved. I’m now looking at other apps and videos from masters of other genres that might be effective. Do you know of any good videos I could try? Please feel free to add a comment to the blog.

Isn’t it strange how “Jonny” listens to Lang Lang even though I’ve often been telling them similar things in the past! Maybe Lang Lang can bring out an app about brushing your teeth!


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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Student-led Group Class

February 27th, 2016 by


By Robin Steinweg

How can a visit to a museum turn into a winning student-led group class?

My student, a high school senior, recently visited “the world’s only global music instrument museum,” located in Phoenix, Arizona. She took dozens of photos. Her enthusiasm bubbled over during her lesson.

I love to strike while the iron’s hot! So I asked Sarah if she’d share some of her photos (and excitement) with my other students at a group class.

The Musical Instrument Museum boasts over 6500 instruments on display, from some two hundred different countries or territories. I asked Sarah to choose fifteen or twenty photos, and spend 1-3 minutes telling us about each.

Though I’m sure it was difficult to narrow the field, Sarah chose fascinating subjects. She put them in order on her laptop, and while the rest of the group finished their snacks, Sarah captured their interest completely with her stories of instruments beautiful, rare, ancient, or bizarre.

One showed a metal piano which Steinway & Sons produced during WWII. They were called the “Victory Verticals” or G.I. Models, and some were parachute-dropped to troops fighting in Europe. They included tuning kits and instructions. When I asked my mostly young students why Steinway would do this, they seemed perplexed. One of them thought perhaps it was so they could hold funeral services. This ended up in a discussion about the impact music has on us. To impart courage, bring comfort, lift the spirits, entertain…

Some of the students there have great-grandfathers who served in the military during WWII–so this example touched them.

We ended the class in a state of musical entertainment: with each attendee taking a turn on my ukulele playing “The Hokey Pokey” (quite amusing).

I was so pleased with Sarah’s presentation. She fielded questions like a pro. I am continually impressed with music students’ creativity, maturity, and responsibility. All they need is opportunity.

I hope to find more ways to have a student-led group class!

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Performing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

The Power Of Recitals To Transform Lives And Community

We held our Winter Music Recital last Saturday at my local public library.  It was a massive success and every one of my student’s came through with flying colors.  Were they flawless?  Not at all.  But the passion, joy and enthusiasm was palpable.

It takes an incredible amount of courage to get up in front of a room full of strangers and perform.  I remember at my first recital, several of my students looked green around the gills, I was worried that I needed to get a bucket!  So after all these recitals, what have I learned?

Be Prepared

For months we’ve set goals, learned challenging new pieces, honed the trouble spots, worked on memorization and then polishing it all into a performance.  I helped arrange each student’s pieces to be suitable for recital length and simplifed when needed.  Preparation is key and it’s the Boy Scout motto.  I was Senior Patrol Leader of my troop (385 Commack, NY) and probably learned more about leadership and public speaking there than any place else.  My aim was to bring this experience to my music education experience for all my students.

Winter Recital 2016 Park Slope Music Lessons, Brooklyn, NY

Winter Recital 2016 Park Slope Music Lessons, Brooklyn, NY – Photo by Paloma Tejada

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Sandy Lundberg

The Stories We Tell

January 26th, 2016 by

music mentality

According to Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, in chapter seven of her book Rising Strong, we are hard-wired to tell stories to explain the world around us. By “stories,” she means our perceptions of ourselves and others. This inclination is so strong that our body actually releases cortisol and oxytocin when we come up with a satisfactory story to explain a situation. Unfortunately, most of our stories are constructed without all of the facts, especially since we cannot read other people’s minds or know all their history. Our stories also reflect all of our own past experiences and the stories we have created around them.

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips