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 

How to start teaching online 

I started teaching online back in 2014. It was purely by chance. A friend of mine from a forum I write in saw my signature with my website. They emailed me to ask if I could teach them online, as he was interstate. I was not sure how I would do this. But I thought it was a brilliant idea. 
After all, I could see the huge advantages of teaching online. Students with busy lives, unable to travel to a studio could learn online. No vomited, no stress. The disabled student can also have lessons in their own home, with their own invironment and own piano. So I decided to give it a go. 
It has worked brilliantly. After setting up skype on an iPad mini I was ready. Over the period of time, I have also purchased a Everest 300 headset. I plug it in to my ipad, and the built in mic gives great sound. The ipad is only music stand and sometimes I will move it to show my hands. I also have used an tripod which shows most of my hands and also my face. Placed at the end of the piano, it works well. 
There are some slight changes that need to be made when teaching online, that  a teacher teaching face to face don’t need to worry about. First, you cannot play with the students as it will give feedback. I find this works well though, as it forces me to really listen to my student, and forces them to hear their playing. Giving very specific instructions such as bar numbers, exactly what you want your student to do also helps. Having the student make notes is also important, although I often use Dropbox to transfer notes and recordings to my student. 
Teaching online is extremely rewarding. My dream is to eventually reach remote areas, and students with disabilities who cannot for whatever reason have lessons the traditional way.  

What messages are we sending our students? 

Recently, I have had some discussions online regarding music education, and was surprised  the effect it  has had. Music is my passion, and so is music education for all children, and even adults. Music is something  many can benefit from and carry with them for life. But unfortunely It seems that many people have suffered psychologically.  
We teachers (and I’m talking about myself here also) need to be extremely careful the messages we send to our students. I’ve heard from many people lately that they cant sing, or don’t have a musical  bone in their body. I know people who hated lessons because they were fed a steady diet  music they hated, made to  perform in public or told they weren’t musical. It’s so sad that those people had to indure This, and even sader that they are unable to  enjoy music as a part of their lives. 

The truth is, every one is musical and every one can sing. Every time your heart beats, every time you speak, you are creating music.  Every one can sing if the music is at a range for the person. The reason you don’t think you can sing is because you have been told that you cant, or are scared of so sounds you make because of others making fun of it etc.   
This is just a quick blog to encourage all of us as teachers to help our students enjoy music  as much as possible.  Give students music they want to learn, such as pop songs or classical. I hated pop but manny don’t like classical.  Never tell a student they aren’t music, but instead try different things to help that student. Every student has strengths, we just need to find out what. Having a good network of teachers to connect with when issues arise is a great thing. 
I’m working on a more creative approach to teaching, where the needs of the student is taken to account. I’m also working on finding different fun methods to accomplish that goal. 

 

 

The differences between braille music, and printed music 

I was talking to a friend of mine today and I got to thinking about the differences between braille music, and the printed score.  My first thought was “they are like worlds apart” but then I began to list them all. I thought it could be helpful for  teachers teaching blind students. 
First of all, unlike the printed score, we can only read a small section of music at a time. We cannot scan the score like sighted musicians can, and as a result it is much slower to find things. We do however have bar numbers in our music, which makes referencing  sections easier both for blind musicians and their sighted teachers.  We also use repeats signs, such as the one bar repeat, sectional repeats etc, and things like da capo are in braille as they appear in the printed score. 
Because of this inability to read large sections at once, and the fact that as a pianist we cannot read the music and play at the same time, we have to memorise all our music. And I must admit, that is the hardest part of the process. I can read the score and hear it in my head, but it’s painful to learn every note, every fingering and every articulation.  I’ve learnt over the years time saving tricks, but that’s for another post.  It can be hard to refer to a braille copy of the music during lessons, as it can really slow us down.  Teachers are better off working with whatever the studen already learnt, or perhaps teaching a bit more of the piece by rote, as many blind children have a great ear and find this fun. 
Unlike the printed score, braille music has no clef symbols. No treble on bass clef. We use what we call octave markings. The bottom notes piano are octave 1, and continues to the B above. Middle c is octave 4, the c above that is  octave 5, and so on, right up to octave 7.  There are rules regards when these signs are used, which I don’t need to go in to here. But it is handy as a teacher to know that this is what we use rather than clef symbols and lines and spaces.  
In piano music,  a braille music transcriber will probably mostly assume that if the notes are below middle c it will be you the left hand, while notes above middle c will be played with the right. This can make things like hand-crossings extremely difficult for a blind person to work out which hand plays which notes. It can also be the same with composers like late romantic 20th century composers. These works are extremely complex to write in braille, and you as a teacher will probably need to help the blind student   Work out  how the hands fit  together. 
Unlike the printed score, braille music does not have the order of sharps and flats. Apparently the printed score shows the sharps at the beginning  of the score. In braille music, we only have the number of sharps or flats in the key. For example, 2 sharps. We have to know what they are. F and C, which would make the key D major or B minor.  We learn the circle of 5ths early on out of necessary.  
There are probably other differences as well, but these are the main ones. Please comment here if you have any questions.