Warm Up Your Creativity & Overcome Nervousness by Tammy Riggs

“Teacher, am I playing well?” John (not his real name) asked.  He was pouring sweat and I could actually smell fear.  “Am I doing OK?”

“You’re fine,” I reassured him..  In fact, he was playing, and badly, a three-note song that went “This is up, this is down, this is up and down.”  Not surprisingly, he quit after two lessons.

This is an extreme case, but in my experience this fear and nervousness is what usually causes adult beginners to quit without learning how to play the piano.

It is also what causes experienced musicians to freeze up.  I remember playing the prelude one time in a church, and playing well, until I noticed a man in the front frowning.  “Why is he frowning?” I thought.  “Doesn’t he like the music?  What´s wrong with the way I’m playing?”  And, you guessed it, soon I was making mistakes and barely in control.

John’s question, “Am I doing OK?”  isn´t wrong.  It´s necessary as you play to assess how the music sounds, and if you’re not doing OK, to make adjustments.  What he was doing wrong was to feel like he was being judged as a potential musician or not.

This usually happens when we try to impress people, rather than express ourselves.  Really, anything you play, even “This is up, this is down,” needs to be played to express yourself.  There isn’t any other reason to play it.

When you are playing for a teacher, you are not playing to impress the teacher, but to recruit the teacher´s help in expressing your own creativity.  When you are playing for an audience, you are expressing to them the music that is in you.  Your goal is not a performance with no mistakes, but a shared experience, a musical journey that allows the audience to participate in the music as you understand it.

You need to accept your own creativity and nurture it.  So many of us are still listening to criticism we received as children.  Put it away.  To Christians I say, give it to God.  Each one of us has our own creativity.  It’s part of being human.

Do your personal best.  Don’t worry about the people who aren’t impressed.  Keep trying and enjoy yourself while you do. Ironically, while you keep this attitude, you will probably impress more people than you would if you tried.

How to Play Piano: Benefits of Playing . . .American Music conference

 The Many Benefits of Playing

There is something instantly appealing about playing the piano. We are immediately drawn to its familiar sounds, and people are quick to gather round the piano at parties and sing-alongs. In schools, churches and millions of homes across our country, the piano is part of the story of our lives.

In addition to the emotional and social income gained by making music, playing the piano offers educational and wellness benefits. Recent research supports findings that music study may be linked to higher brain function in learning. Learning to play the piano can help your child be more successful in school and develop skills that they can use their entire life:

In a study at McGill University in Montreal, children who took piano lessons for three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive development – the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering and other pursuits.

  • A University of California at Irvine study showed that students who took piano lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math.
  • Among older Americans, research at Michigan State University showed that keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression and loneliness.
  • Playing the piano strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Kids who take piano lessons learn a lot about discipline and the rewards of hard work.
There is something instantly appealing about playing the piano. We are immediately
drawn to its familiar sounds, and people are quick to gather round the piano at parties
and sing-alongs. In schools, churches and millions of homes across our country, the
piano is part of the story of our lives.
In addition to the emotional and social income gained by making music, playing the
piano offers educational and wellness benefits.  Recent research supports findings that
music study may be linked to higher brain function in learning. Learning to play the
piano can help your child be more successful in school and develop skills that they can
use their entire life:
•In a study at McGill University in Montreal, children who took piano lessons for
three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive
development – the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering
and other pursuits.
•A University of California at Irvine study showed that students who took piano
lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math.
•Among older Americans, research at Michigan State University showed that
keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression and loneliness.
•Playing the piano strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
•Kids who take piano lessons learn a lot about discipline and the rewards of hard
work.
[LINK HERE] Please click on the following links for additional information on the
benefits of making music: Your Child’s Lifetime of Music

Please click on the following links for additional information on the benefits of making music:

Reprinted by permission by the American Music Conference.

This article is reprinted from pianonet.com, the official website of the National Piano Foundation

Advice for Piano Players just starting out…. by David Nevue

A fan recently wrote asking for advice on learning to play the piano. I thought our conversation might be of interest to fans as well as other piano players who are just learning.

Before reading this, realize that I am not a ‘classically trained’ pianist. I’m self-taught, so my observations come from a completely different perspective than your piano instructor might have. There is no right or wrong way to go about playing the piano. Just take this advice for what it is, one pianist sharing his thoughts with another.

If you like this article, also see my tips for piano composition as well as this article on piano lesson myths.

That said, here’s the question….

Any advice for someone my age just starting out on the piano?

First of all, learn your music theory. It’s the least fun part of learning to play the piano by far, but gaining an understanding theory, even to a modest degree, is what made the ‘light’ go on for me when I first started playing the piano as a serious hobby. Without an understanding of basic music theory I would have never gotten anywhere as a pianist or recording artist.

Secondly, listen to a lot of piano music. Buy some George Winston CDs, or even my own or David Lanz’s. Then pick out some of the slow songs, sit at the piano with your CD player beside you, and figure out, by ear, what notes are being played. This helps train your hearing so you can, over time, recognize notes, intervals, and chord patterns. It sounds difficult, and it is at first, but you’ll find that over time you’ll get better at it. When I first started getting serious about the piano, it wasn’t uncommon for me to do this very thing using Winston’s music.

Also, as you listen to the CDs, you’ll begin to see that pianists tend to repeat similar patterns from song to song in their music. In my own songs for example, the bass (left hand) is fairly simple – My tendency is just to play octaves and fifths with small embellishments. Even something that sounds complicated, like my song ‘Ascending with Angels‘ from my CD The The Last Waking Moment, is actually very easy if you sit down and work it out.

The point is, you don’t have to try and learn the whole song at once. Once you learn the ‘main’ thing that’s going on, in many cases that theme is repeated throughout with very small changes. That’s definitely the case with my compositions, which have a very song-like structure. My songs are often A-B-A-B-C-A-like in their composition. The differences in similar sections are small, involving octave changes and small embellishments to keep it interesting.

What would you say my practice sessions should focus on. Should I learn scales, practice chord progressions or….? It’s just that I want to use my time effectively in order to better my playing skills and understanding of music theory.

It depends on what your end-goal is. Scales really improve your dexterity and help your fingers ‘get to know’ the piano. Scales also go hand-in-hand with theory, because if you know what key you’re in when you start out a song, your fingers will ‘know’ the sharps and flats you’ll be playing automatically without your having to think about it so much.

My advice is to work on your scales, but don’t obsess over them. In other words, don’t make mastering scales your goal. Just work on them as part of your ‘warm up’. If you mess them up, so what! Play them a couple times and move on. Over time you will improve, and your scales will become more accurate as you develop your overall skill as a pianist. Also, as one of my beginning piano teachers wisely told me, play your scales slowly at first. You don’t need to play them at light speed to get the benefit.

For me personally, as a writer and composer, developing the ear’s ability to recognize intervals between notes was the most important thing. But like everything else, that just comes from practice (see answer above).

Ask yourself this: What is your goal as a piano player? Do you want to play sheet music by sight, or are you wanting to write, compose, and improvise?

I’m totally ‘ear’ oriented, and as a result of that I don’t sight-read sheet music well. On the other hand, I can improvise, pretty much making up a song or a theme on the spot.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of pianists: those that improvise really well (playing by ear), and those that sight read sheet music very well (playing by sight). It’s rare to find a pianist who doesboth very well. Those that do are *exceptionally* talented! My wife, for example, can sight-read well, playing almost any sheet music you put in front of her (she’s classically trained). However, she can’t sit down and the piano and just make something up. Her brain doesn’t work that way.

Whichever approach you take, theory is important. My mind is very mathmatical, so understanding theory helped me to ‘see’ chord patterns in the keyboard. For those that are sight-readers, theory helps you to ‘see’ the patterns in the sheet music and convey that to your fingers.

The two different approaches to playing the piano can create an interesting conundrum. When I have new sheet music made for my songs, before I make them public I have my wife play them for me to make sure they are correct. I can’t sit down and play the sheet music myself, even though they are my own songs! If I try to do it, it totally freaks my brain out! Weird, huh? But once I take the sheet music away and just focus on the playing, I’m fine.

Finally, a reminder to pianists of all levels. Playing the piano isn’t just about hitting the right notes, it’s about expression. It’s a tool to express emotion, thought, and longing. If you play it that way, even imperfectly, you’ll sound better than the best player in the world who plays correctly but with no feeling.

David Nevue
http://www.davidnevue.com