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Piano instruction tips


Eric Jx

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I have a 10 year old daughter who is starting to show interest in playing piano. Formal piano instruction isn't feasible because a) I don't have custody and b) my ex-wife doesn't have a piano in her house.

 

So when she's over my house, I've been trying to teach her what I can. She asks to learn some signature licks from some of the songs my band plays (i.e. centerfold, vacation) as well as some simple melody lines( ode de joy, star spangle banner. I've also taught her scales so she learns proper fingering. She already knows how to read sheet music from her violin lessons at school.

 

She's the type where if she was given a good workbook, she'd tear through the thing from start to finish. I used the thompson series when I was a child. I don't know if there are better choices today.

 

I do know I want to spend a little less time teaching mechanics and a little more time training her ear (recognizing intervals, etc). I'm also wondering when is a good time to introduce the metronome.

 

Are there any piano instructors on this forum who would be kind enough to offer advice?

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Bella Bartok Piano Solo series. However, she may not be ready for those books just yet. Once she gets through Thompson, she might be. The one thing I will say about Bella Bartok series (there are 6 books) if she can learn to play through the first 3 books, she will be able to play just about ANY classical music piece, including Chopin. They teach a student total hand and finger independence, but are VERY difficult to get through. The exercises usually don't sound very musical, but that's not the point of the entire series. She might get discouraged if you start her on them right now, but sometime down the road, these books will give her the tools to play anything.

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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I'm not a piano instructor by any means, but I did took formal lessons. My guess would be to either buy a simple "my first piano book"-like thing, with simple songs or to figure out what she listens to (if she's into music) and teach it to her. Scales and arpeggio training should come after she has developed the finger muscles and left/right hand coordination to a bare minimum. What I'd do is, select a few pieces (or play some to her and let her decide which one she likes best) and set a deadline (I don't know how often you are with her, but assuming it's like once a week, set that as a deadline). Once a week, listen to her play, correct technique issues, and introduce a concept (like scale/arpeggio/mode/interval, etc. It's always good having a good theory basis). I don't know how long she took violin lessons, but have her transpose the violin melody of pieces she already knows into the piano as an exercise.

 

Oh, and I'd say you should introduce the metronome right away. Teach her a method of study consisting of playing 3-4 bars first very slowly, but with both hands. Then gradually increase the metronome speed as she will gradually be able to play it to full speed. Then play a second group of 4 bars and repeat the process. Then play the 8 bars in sucession, to master the transition. Playing a part first with the right hand and then with left is pretty much useless. Have her play with both hands right away, but with a very slow beat on the metronome.

When she is able to play a good number of these easy pieces, introduce her to Bach. Bach has a good number of easy menuets, besides the set of 2-part inventions, which will be good for her to learn sometime in the future. Since Bach relies very much on scales and patterns, start insisting for her to practice scales, spanning 2 octaves each hand. Have her practise the scale that the Bach piece she's studying is in. So, for instance, while she's studying a Menuet in C Major, have her practise the C Major scale, as a warm up to the Bach piece. And so on.

 

That should keep you covered for a while. Obviously, if you have any preference for a composer, you should have her play it too. Show her recordings of pieces she's playing, give her tips on expression. Forget about the sustain and sustenuto pedals for a while, have her concentrate on the keyboard.

 

As much as I love Bartok, if she isn't into that kind of thing, which she probably isn't, she'll hate it, so you're better off staying away from it for a while.

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It can never be too early to introduce the metronome. I believe this gets too little attention. Keep it simple if you have to. Also, make a game of it. I use 8 count sections and have the student invent rhythms that are fun for them. Start out clapping on the odd counts, then the even counts, then skip counts at random, then double some counts. Let them be creative. Once they conquer the pattern, move from clapping to playing a chord progression or a song. They can have a lot of fun with it and learn good timing at the same time.

 

Just be sure to always keep it slow enough that they can do it without having to pause or break the pattern.

 

Have fun.

 

Ken

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I'll provide a different opinion about metronomes. While they are no doubt useful tools, especially for the more mature student who is interested in consistency, I HATED them as a kid.

 

My goal as a young piano student wasn't to become the next classical music phenom, it was to learn how to play songs for my own enjoyment, for which I necessarily had to develop some skills. Scales were annoying, though I recognized their usefulness; arpeggios slightly less so; but metronomes were awful. If I was the least little bit off-time, everything would come crashing down around me & I could never get back on track. I became so worried about the metronome that I couldn't pay proper attention to the notes I was playing.

 

So anyway, to keep up my learning momentum, I had to study songs and do exercises that interested me, and I needed some timing flexibility in order to learn the correct notes & get them under my fingers. Once I had a song down note-wise, good timing wasn't too difficult, so I didn't really feel much need for a metronome. But learning WITH a metronome took much longer, was frustrating, and sapped the fun out of the experience for me. (Playing along with a recording is a whole different game, and I'm all for it.) Of course, that's just me - I'm sure some people have fun learning with a metronome.

 

I guess I think of it the way I hear Jack Niklaus speaks about young golfers - let them hit the long ball & get the distance, they can always work on the accuracy later.

 

 

C.
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It's just a method of study: start something slow and progressively speed up. This can only be done either if you have a large dose of self-consciousness and self-control or more easily with an outside reference (e.g. a metronome). I personally don't use that method anymore, only if I'm having a LOT of trouble with a passage, but when I do use it, I'm always amazed at how well it works. I definitely recognize its usefulness in the study process.

 

The thing is, if I don't have a recording of a piece I'm learning, I'll only know how to play it when I know it all the way. So I always learn passages to a faster speed than I often need to, because at first, I have no idea how the rest of the piece sounds, so I have no idea at what speed to play it.

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I think the metronome could be used after she gets comfortable with a song. Using it while you're first learning the notes would just get in the way.

 

Alternatively, we could just do timing exercises with the metronome initially and start integrating it into song playing when she is more advanced.

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Yes, I agree that the metronome is fairly useless when learning the notes initially. But as soon as she gets a certain degree of confidence and a flow in her playing, I would recommend tapping the rhythm out while she plays. That way, she'll have the tempo near her but the flexibility that a metronome doesn't give. Because she will be stopping fairly often, so why wait a whole bar? When she's ready, she can start again. This also gets you more actively involved.
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