Easter Holidays

That time of year is here again. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for me. Over the Easter weekend, our church choir sings at four services. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. I love every moment of it!

This is why I haven’t written much on my blog. First, we went on holidays interstate, and then I was busy preparing for Easter and writing some articles for a website. I will be back soon though, with a post on the 5 most common mistakes beginning pianists make.

Stay tuned…

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Three unusual ways to use a piano

Most people think a piano is for playing lovely music. Classical or pop or jazz flows from the keys. But did you know that there are other things that a piano can do? Read on to find out three unusual uses of the piano…

1: Percussive sounds

A pfno is both a string and percussive instrument. But did you know that you can create more percussive sounds by putting objects between the strings? Composers such. John Cage did this and the technique is called “prepared piano” It cant be done with an upright piano, as all the objects will fall to the bottom of the piano. A grand piano is best for this. People have put every thing from wire to screws between the strings. It makes for great variety of sound while playing. The strings can also be plucked and your imagineation can can run riot.

echo chamber

By removing the front panel of the piano, and opening the lid, a echo chamber can be created. And can sing and speak and your voice will be echoed back to you. It can be a lot of fun while singing a song, as you can have a bit of a natural reverb effect.

The Piano Can play Itself

This last one is just a bit of fun. Press down the left pedal and keep it down. Then pump the sustain pedal up and down rapidaly. This will cause the piano to start playing hc. It plays random notes, and you never know what you might get. The more you do this, the louder the sound gets. Have fun as you do this… I know my students love to try it.

Online Piano Lessons – One Person’s Story

When I first started teaching online early in 2015, I never thought it would have much of an impact. But to my surprise, it has! All of the students I have taught have experienced profound benifits from learning online. Things that I never would have thought of.

Note that real names have been changed to protect privacy. I received an email from an older student wishing to start online lessons. I organised a skype consultation to assess him and discover what he wanted from the lessons. First of all, he told a story of what I would call bullying at the hands of a school music teacher, which really shocked me. This student had played guitar in bands etc but could no longer play due to his hands and arthritis. So he was looking for another musical outlet and bought a keyboard.

Once I started lessons, I discovered that the students left hand couldn’t play more than one note at a time; Therefore, I suggested they use the backing features of his keyboard to fill in the chords and create a full sound as he played the right hand melody. I also had to tell him the notes to play as he could not read music.

For this student, music has helped him through his pain. It also has given him another outlet as he is house bound quite a lot of the time. It’s people like this that I love to work with.

The Benifits of Silent Play

In my post mental practise, I wrote about immagineing and thinking the music in your head. This can be handy when you aren’t well, like in the case in my blog entry at the time. I had the flu and couldn’t get out of bed long enough to practice, but I could do mental work instead. This post is an extension of this.

The Silent Piano Concept

Playing a digital piano with out the sound turned on, using a cardboard piano, or playing with out pressing the keys can drastically improve your memory. I know, because I do it all the time. When I first started doing this, I found myself making mistakes, because I didn’t have the sound to guide me. Playing in this way forces you to think before playing each note, and you become aware of where your fingers are going, the patterns you are using and muscle memory. It can take a while to see results, just like in mental practice; but it is worth the investment.

How to start using the Silent Piano Technique

I suggest starting this with pieces you already know; that way it will be easier to see the benifits of this technique. Take a small section, and play it with out depressing the keys, or with the sound of your keyboard off. Notice how it feels, the notes you are playing and keep at it until you can play it automatically. Repeat this with other sections and other pieces.

Have you used this technique? If so, share the benifits you have noticed.

# _How Music Can Help You In Tough Times _

I’ve had some tough times in my life, and I am sure you all have too. There are many things that can help during these times, and music is one of them. It can help you express your feelings, change your mod and allow healing.

Expressing emotions

Do you have many emotions running through your head? Maybe you are feeling sad or ecstatic about something. Music is an extremely powerful tool. I use composition a lot at this stage. I will sit at the keyboard, or imagine music in my head. I create the emotions I am feeling via the music. If you find composition a scary process, just play some music that evokes that emotion in you. I continue this process until the emotions have gone or at least lessened. I also find just playing a simple 1, 4 5 chord progression helps. It calms the mind and enables you to divorce yourself from the situation long enough to think about it.

Music can change your mod

Music will lift your mod. It is so powerful it can create any mod you like. Because of this, a person needs to be careful as to not get depressed etc. I know this sounds strange, but there are certain pieces of music I cannot listen to, because it makes me feel depressed and gives me a really heavy mod. It’s ok to listen to it if you are feeling down, but I find changing the music to a more joyful, uplifting mode after the emotions have passed necessary in order to allow it to work in our favour.

Once I have expressed myself through composition or listening to the music of that emotion, I switch gears and found some uplifting music that will lift my mod. This way, I can start to feel more at ease, have peace and promote healing. What type of music does this depends on what styles you like to listen too; Be guided by your response to the music.

Music Can Bring Healing

Of course, it is one of many things that can bring healing. It’s no replacement for therapy, or prayer. But it can help bring peace to your world. For me, music combined with prayer and sometimes talking to someone is the best thing that helps me through the tough times. You might have different combinations that work for you. Music is a tool, and I hope you find it useful like I have. It’s a great reason to learn to play an instrument and compose; Enabling you to express the inner most feelings of your soul.

Five Practice Mistakes Piano Students Make 

We all know from practicing your instrument is important in order to reinforce skills learnt in the lesson. But are you practicing effectively? Below are  five listed students often make while practicing. Avoiding these mistakes will make your practice time shorter, more effective and of better quality. 
Mistake Number one: Mindless practice 
 What do I mean by this? Let me paint the picture for you. You are working on some Bach. You make a slip in the music, and you play the one bar over and over again, but instead of getting it right, the more times you perform that bar, the worse it becomes. Mistakes become more and more obvious, and eventually you give up because it doesn’t seem to be helping. 
There’s quite an easy fix for this. First of all, why did you make the mistake? Was it a wrong note? Did you miss some detail in the music? Are you tensing up just prior to the mistake you made. Once you know the reason why you made the mistake in the first place, you can fix it. It might mean playing that bar slowly, and not playing the next note until your hand is in the right position and you know what the note is, before playing the note. It might mean doing some stretching and relaxation to get rid. Tension in the body. Mindlessly playing the same !ection over and over again is counterproductive. 
Mistake Number 2:  It’s not a race. 
A very common mistake many of my students make is playing a passage dry too fast, to the point where vital details are missed.  Your aim in practice should not be to play at tempo all the time; in fact, that should come later once you know the piece wel.  

When playing your pieces, slower is better. Play slow enough that you felt the it’s, rhythms and dynamics correct. I also recommend playing your pieces as slow as possible once a day. This trans your brain to remember all the information.  By doing this, you will find yourself playing almost at speed during the lesson, as your brain will memorise the notes. Hand motions you use. 
Mistake Number 3: Can you hear yourself as you play? 
Sometimes, we can become so focused on details of notes and accuracy that we forget about the sound wee making. Music is beautiful, and we should strive to make it sound that way. Often we don’t listen enough to the tone we are producing. 
To help with this, simpltechnique such as scales, breathing exercises or lg tone practice can help. By taking our brain off the music and playing technique, we are more likely to hear the sound we are making. Switching becabetween pieces the technique can also help when your tone appears sloppy.  I also try to think the note before playing it, and hear the next bar in my head and before starting a piece. 
Mistake number 4:  Practicing too long. 
I know you could be shocked about this one, as many people think practicing for lg periods is good. This however is not true in my experience. Practicing for too long can cause tension and you can get exhausted. Quality after than quantity. 
I like to take a break 45 minutes or so and stretch, get a drink and then come bac to it. Every few hours, it’s good to go out doors, for a walk or do something unrelated to music. I also find that it refreshes you and makes difficult passages shine when coming back to it. 

Mistake Number 5: Practicing while under the weather 
Many students have done this. Including myself. It’s tempting to push yourself to the limits when you Nh exam coming up, or a audition. I have usually paid for this though, but struggling on the day, not able to give it my best and once having to cancel altogether. 
You are better off resting for that day or a few days. You might only have a cold, but playing the piano is psyicaly demanding, and your brain can feel fuzzy from medications.  And taking that break actually can help mature your playing, as the brain processes the music even though you are not playing. I’ve even noticed that I play after after a few days off! 

Why I started teaching online. 

I have taught online for the past 2 years, and some of you might be wondering why? Why would I teach piano online when I can give a personal one to one lesson in person? Are there benefits for students who learn online?  There is, and I’d like to share some of the reasons I teach online, but also some of the reasons students might chose online lessons. 

Like I wrote in another post, I started teaching online because a students asked if I could. This person lives interstate, and I had my doubts about it. However, it has really worked out well. This student is playing music they love; having a ball at lessons.  I know many people in remote areas  cannot find a teacher. This is where online lessons are fantastic.  Also, traveling to a teacher near you if you are in a remote area can be exspensive and take time.  Want to learn piano, but live remotely? Take online piano lessons.  
Families now days are extremely busy. Many  have things happening every night of the week. Piano is often very difficult to fit in to a busy routine, but with online lessons, this can be reduced.  No travel is involved in online lessons, as students learn from their own home. Not to mention their own instrument, which can be handy for a teacher when troubleshooting  practice problems.  Do you still want to learn piano, but are too busy to travel to a teacher? C neither online lessons. 
There are a few other reasons to learn online too. Some of my students have a disability, which makes travel difficult, and they are house bound. These  students can still enjoy making music in spite of this though, through online learning.  
If you would like to know more about learning piano online, you can check out my website http://www.mitchellpianostudio.com