It is back-to-school time again! At the last MTNA National Conference, I discovered three new repertoire series that I will be using in my studio.

00-44560Five-Star Solos by Dennis Alexander

There are three books in this series, from Early Elementary to Late Elementary levels. Dennis Alexander needs no introduction! I already use many of his original compositions in my studio, from Early Intermediate to Early Advanced levels, so I was very glad to come across this new series. Now my beginning students can experience the magic of his creative genius. There are 11 original solos in each book, all with optional duet accompaniments. They contain a variety of styles, tempos, and moods – from ballads, waltzes, Latin pieces, contemporary sounds, and “showstoppers” that are sure to inspire students and impress parents. The optional duet accompaniments are fresh and contemporary-sounding, and technically accessible by teachers, parents, or older siblings. Many of my students do the National Piano Guild Auditions, and this series is perfect for the Elementary categories.

00-44380Classics for Students – Bach, Mozart & Beethoven, selected and edited by Jane Magrath

A highly respected piano pedagogue and frequent music conference presenter, Jane Magrath also needs no introduction. This new series contains three books, from Early Intermediate to Late Intermediate levels, featuring the music of three great masters – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. The literature found in this series provides a sequenced course of study for the serious developing student who aspires to play music with substantial quality. All selections have been carefully edited with sensible fingerings and helpful ornament realizations. Pedal markings are very sparse, so as to remain as authentic as possible to the original composer’s score. What I really like about this series is that before the works of each composer is introduced, there is a page on the biography of the composer as well as important and interesting facts. For example, in the case of Mozart, Book 1 talks about Mozart as a child prodigy, Book 2 mentions the interesting historical pianoforte dueling contest between him and Clementi, and Book 3 talks about his importance and popularity as an operatic composer. The biography page is followed by a page “About the Music,” giving helpful hints on the characteristics of the pieces and technical skills required to play them. This series is perfect for Intermediate level students participating in judged festivals/auditions/assessments that require standard literature from the Baroque and Classical periods. I hope planning is underway for a similar series covering the Romantic and Contemporary composers!

12-0571538517Mastering the Piano by Lang Lang Piano Academy

Well, Lang Lang definitely needs no introduction! Arguably the most controversial of all famous classical pianists, love him or not, his influence and superstardom can not be denied. This new series contains 5 books, from Level 1-5. Warning: the levels DO NOT coincide with standard US pedagogical leveling! Level 1 (labeled as Early Elementary) is actually more like Late Elementary in my opinion, while Level 5 (labeled as Intermediate) is more like Late Intermediate to Early Advanced. Each book contains 8 units that aim to develop key aspects of piano technique, including specially devised exercise and studies that focus on a specific technical area. If you are a fan, there are lots of stunning photos in each book, showing his amazing fingers and famous posture, as well as commentary and guidance from the pianist himself.

86B6998B-1C5A-4DE9-B79D-E23192784B0AWhat I do like about this series:

  1. The selections are “uncommon” – there are some famous pieces that everyone knows, but there are lots of lesser-known pieces that you do not find in other series, including arrangements of music from other cultures. For example, here are the titles from Level 1: Lantern Song (Traditional Chinese) * Canzonet (Christian Neefe) * Hopscotch (Richard Harris) * Mission Impossible (Pam Wedgwood) * Allegretto in F (Johann Georg Witthauer) * Simple Gifts (Joseph Brackett) * Twilight (Richard Harris) * Cuckoo (Emil Breslaur) * Chasing Tails (Alan Bullard) * Minuet in C (Domenico Scarlatti) * Ode To Joy (Ludwig van Beethoven) * (Allemande (Ludwig van Beethoven) * The Elephant (Camille Saint-Saens) * Lullaby (Johannes Brahms) * Mo li hua (Jasmine Flower) (Traditional Chinese) * Embrukoi (Traditional African). Highly unusual but interesting for a “Level 1” book wouldn’t you say?!
  2. The commentary is very “personal” – it is as if though Lang Lang is sitting next to you and talking to you. There are numerous quotes and “messages from Lang Lang.” For example, in Book 2 Unit 1 Exploring the keyboard: “In this unit I would like you to start moving all around the piano keyboard with more confidence. We’re going to get used to traveling smoothly and swiftly and playing high up and low down.” “Keep a soft, curved hand position and relaxed arms and shoulders even when you are moving quickly around the keyboard. Have fun!”
  3. As he says in the Introduction of each book, you do not need to work through the units progressively. One can “Pick and choose what you would like to focus on depending on your own individual needs and tackle the units in an order that suits you.” There are also additional supporting materials from langlangpianoacademy.com

One can sense Lang Lang’s passion and drive in this series. He has inspired millions, and I look forward to using this series with some of my students, especially the ones that love him or have heard him in concert. I know when they see Lang Lang say “I was always told to curve my hands and fingers – as though there was an egg under my palm. This is a wonderful posture for making sure the power flows directly to our fingertips” – it will carry a little more weight than when I say it!

All of the above new resources can be purchased on the Alfred website.

 

 

 

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Count on Tin Pan Rhythm to boost your budding musicians’ understanding of harmonic progressions. Count on the app to trigger arranging skills thanks to the app’s intuitive interface. One more, you can count on students catching on to using the Tin Pan Rhythm  in seconds–I’m not exaggerating–and charge up their creative juices.

Here’s an extended tutorial provided by the developers so I won’t go into details on how the app works. You may not even need to watch the tutorial as it’s so intuitive. I know you’ll enjoy learning the app as you go. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews

teaching piano tools and resources

The intersection of technology and art is key to the evolution of life. One such example is the transition from standard instruments to electronic based instruments. No longer do drums need a special material stretched over the base, nor a piano need strings to sound like a grand piano. With electronic instruments, the world of self-taught musicians is becoming more common. With the surge of mobile apps, musicians are able to learn musical instruments at home, on the train, at the park or even at the beach. Below are a few examples of technology infused with art.

1. Wolfie

One new app that has surfaced is called Wolfie, named after famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Because the study of music is declining in the US and Europe, the idea of combining tech and music learning is essential to keep the attraction of the youth. The app includes a patented Magic Cursor, which follows the notes in real time, allowing students to not lose their place, or miss a note. The app has a wide variety of scores, ranging from beginner to advanced, and constantly adding new scores. After 12 months of development, the app is ready to go!

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Posted in Music & Technology, Product Reviews, Professional Development

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This past weekend marked a major milestone in my use of my favorite device, the iPad. I played piano at my niece’s wedding and read all the music scores from my iPad with the help of an app called forScore and turned the pages with my PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth Page Turner Pedal. Ahhh…a match made in heaven!

This decision was due to the fact that the happy couple requested Jon Schmidt’s “Waterfall” as a recessional. As there wouldn’t be time for me to memorize the piece and because I dislike depending on someone else to manage the tricky page turns, I determined this tech-savvy combo was the logical choice. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Performing, Product Reviews

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Imagine a pink elephant. You’ve just used your mind’s eye. Now imagine the tune “Happy Birthday.” You’ve just used your mind’s ear. If you struggled to recreate the tune in your head it means your audiation skills could use some help. Perhaps you (like me) favor reading the score over using the ear. Perhaps you recognize your need to dedicate more time to developing your mind’s ear to build a comprehensive musician skill set? If so, you (and your students!) need Meludia. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews

fairyland_in_treble_coverThe King and the Dragon!

The King’s trusted advisor came bursting through the door! “My Lord, we are being attacked!”

“Fear not,” said the wise old King. “We shall use my secret weapon, The Great Red Dragon!”

To cut the first of eleven fairy stories short, that appear in composer Nikolas Sideris’ brand new piano duet book, the King saves the day through clever trickery and wins the respect of his people!

After I finished reading this two paged story, one of eleven written especially by Nefeli Tsipouridi, I couldn’t wait to turn over the page and start playing the first composition in the book. I was inspired!

But oh no! I was alone at the piano and this is a duet book!

Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, each primo part has a QR code on the side of the title, so all I needed to do was hold my tablet up and the next moment a well-recorded performance of the composer playing the secondo part began to my delight. (There is a link in the introductory pages of the book that you can visit to download the mp3 files if you prefer)

And wow, what an adventure! With the words of the story I had just read still ringing in my ears, I was transported to the centre of the scene with composer, Nikolas Sideris’, evocative music. We battled evil forces with every twist and turn Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Music is a form of expression. Expression is the process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings. Some students find it natural and easy to express themselves at the piano, others have difficulty. Expression does not have to be outwardly obvious. It is not a series of preconfigured gestures. The same body movement can look very convincing on one person, and very contrived on another. Expression is meaningless unless it comes from genuine thoughts, feelings or understandings.

imageI believe in teaching students to play expressively from day 1. The key is in developing imagination. That’s why Music for Little Mozarts works for the very young beginners – Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear are iresistible story tellers.

When teaching expression, one recipe does not fit all. Older students may not respond to stuffed animals. As teachers, we must have many tools to help unlock the student’s imagination and help them to communicate themselves. I do this through using a variety of high quality, contemporary educational music written specifically for students. You may find the following useful when teaching your students to play expressively:

1. Connecting sound and color

It helps some students to feel the character of a piece when we associate it with a certain color. My favorite series in this category is still Dennis Alexander’s A Splash of Color. No matter how many times I have taught it, titles such as Green Tangerine and Zinc Pink still make me smile. Here is my previous review of this series. Zinc Pink has been selected as the Royal Conservatory Share The Celebration Video Countdown Level 3 piece. It was great to see so many students across North America participate in this competition. Here is the winning video.

2. Describing landscapes and geography

Some students may find it helpful to think about certain landscape features such as flowing river, snowy mountains, or giant waterfalls. There is a series by Alfred that focuses on this aspect of imagination. You can read my previous review here.

3. Reflecting on memorable experiences

imageAsking students to think about things they have experienced may help them relate to the music. It could be a childhood toy, favorite food, unforgettable trip, or memories of someone. Music from the Romantic period is full of these character pieces that create a mental picture of a particular scene, event, or feeling. Think Schumann and Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, which are staples in a developing student’s repertoire.

I am particularly excited to find a new series that I consider the Album for the Young for students that may not be quite ready to play Schumann or Tchaikovsky. It is called Musical Scenes by Joyce Grill. What a delightful set of pieces to help students use their imagination! There are three volumes in the set, from Late Elementary to Late Intermediate levels. The pieces are short, with descriptive titles conveying a specific mood or moment, and encourage students to inject their own musical ideas. There are lots of pattern based figurations with changing harmonies, as well as contemporary rhythms that will readily appeal to many students.

4. Looking at a specific painting or artwork 

Some students are visual learners. Asking them to merely think of a color or landscape or a specific memory still may not work for them in terms of helping them to play expressively. They need to physically see something.

imageI have discovered a brand new series that is revolutionary is this regard. It is called Museum Masterpieces by Catherine Rollin. Catherine Rollin’s Pathways to Artistry series is a staple in my teaching library, especially for transfer students who have limited knowledge of technique, style, form, or how to produce certain articulations and touches.

Museum Masterpieces are piano solos inspired by famous paintings and artworks. What is unique is that instead of searching for the famous paintings and images on the Internet, the pictures are included in the books! The paintings that inspired the pieces are beautifully displayed on a four-page full-color insert at the center of the book, along with historical notes about each painting. This is such an innovative idea! Students not only learn to play expressively through Catherine’s beautiful style of composition, but they also learn about great works of art and artists from different countries and time periods. I can not think of a better way to spend $8.99 on a student – the humble price tag for each of the four volumes that range from Ealy Intermediate to Late Intermediate levels. Every piece is a gem, like the artworks they represent. I can see myself referring to the paintings over and over in my teaching, even for pieces that belong to standard repertoire, especially those from the Romantic and Impressionist periods.

These are some of the ways I help my students to be thoughtful and expressive in their playing. I appreciate having such a vast variety of educational supplementary music available for today’s students. You can view sample pages of all these exciting new books on the Alfred website.

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After you received your undergrad music degree, performed a stellar recital of the classics, turned in that
lofty thesis, passed a professional accreditation exam or somehow earned shiny, new initials behind your name, you probably felt a great sense of achievement. Perhaps you felt like I did? After I received my Master of Arts in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, I felt my career was professionally wrapped up and ready to launch. Although my intent is not to discount the importance of the academic achievements listed above, I’m wondering if you–like me–had your bubble burst, your box tipped upside down and your bow unraveled when you entered the real world of piano teaching? Yes, I could play and teach Beethoven and Ravel, I could design a sequential curriculum for early learners but when asked to read from a lead sheet, my skills fell embarrassingly short. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

My Piano Trip to LondonThe UK composer Elena Cobb has been busy recently!

Hot off the press is her latest book for complete beginner pianists entitled “My Piano Trip to London.”

London Calling!

Printed in full colour landscape, the first thing you notice is a sticker page that children will love using when they complete each song.

Each of the 17 songs represents a different London landmark or icon, giving a nice opportunity to engage the pupil in conversation outside music and then to relate it back to the lesson at hand. It’s quite an adventure to embark on with the pupil as you work your way through the book, from the Royal Albert Hall, to the London Eye, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben to mention but a few.

Map of London (almost)Presentation

Over the years I’ve seen piano methods that contain lots of detailed instructions and exhaustive advice that quite frankly nobody bothers to read. Elena Cobb has really struck the balance I think in keeping each page clean and simple so that the teacher can do their job but also providing concise facts and tips that will be useful and enjoyable. I laughed to myself when reading Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Piano Practice Tools

Piano Marvel drastically improves practice quality by using gaming technology to keep students focused on goal oriented practicing. It allows teachers to track daily practice and more easily involve parents with learning through weekly automated emails of students practice and progress reports. Your students will have fun perfecting a piece while accelerating their rhythm accuracy and sight reading skills.
 
Music Teacher’s Helper and Piano Marvel are friends, so right now you can receive a 30-day free trial and 20% discount by using the following code when signing up: 3EEED31A 
 
Interested in learning more or signing up? Start by taking a tour on their website.

 
Piano Marvel has been around since 2009 and their newest version has just been released with many improvements. Here are some notable updates: 
 
  • A better way for your students to try it out – free access for the initial Level 1. When your students reach Level 2 they can choose to upgrade to premium to access those songs. All the premium features will be open access for the first 30 days of their account.
And if you do choose to signup for a free trial, don’t forget to enter the 20% discount code in the promotional code box when signing up. Here’s that code again:3EEED31A
 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews