Tuning the Piano- how often and why is it important?

Every six months we have our friendly piano tuner Ric Moor come and spend an hour with Max (what our piano has been named last week). He makes sure the piano is tuned up and ready for students and for Greg & I to play on. He checks the action, makes sure the sound is good, fixes any buzzing the keys may make on the strings and lets us know if the fabric around the hammers need to be replaced. It’s an important job that Ric has. He makes Max sound good and in effect, he makes our students and Greg and I sound good.

I go to students houses to teach them on my travel days. Most have digital pianos but some have acoustic ones and often they are out of tune or damaged in some way. This can be discouraging to students. It’s like driving a broken car - you need all the parts to work in order for you to feel confident getting from point A to point B; students need to feel confident that what they are practicing will be reproducible on another instrument. If pedals or keys are not working well, or the sound is not in tune, how they learn their piece may be altered and they may have difficulty playing it on another instrument.

So please please, PLEASE keep your instrument in good working order - it helps your student!!

Why Technique?

Every Tuesday (or thereabouts) we will post some tips on how to get more out of your technical practice. But the big question parents often ask us is “why technique"?” and the answer is simple and it’s also not simple.

Technique is the foundation for being able to do things on any instrument. It trains our fingers - in fact it’s very much like going to the gym when you are preparing for a marathon. While you can run and run and run - you need to do other things to help you get ready to complete the marathon! Technique is very much like that. Our pieces often have elements that are lifted right from the technical exercises that we practice to warm up. But we can’t just jump into a practice “cold”; we need to warm our fingers up so they can learn their task well. Technique is that warm up.

Technique also helps us analyze our music. As I said, music tends to have technical elements right in the piece. Learning those elements can help us recognize them in our music and then utilize the exercise to better play and understand the music. It’s all linked.

Learning technique can also teach us how to solve a specific problem. If I am having difficulty with a bass accompaniment I can often find that same technical exercise and practice it without the melody - this makes it easier on me when I put them hands together. It also makes for a more musical performance.

So technique is important- it’s good to warm up, it can help us understand our music and can help us solve problems when we are learning our pieces.

Playlist for Peace

This weekend we honour those who have given the ultimate sacrifice so we can have our freedom. At this time, possibly more than any other in recent memory, it’s so important to remember and give thanks to those who work to maintain our freedom. Simply put, we could not have the arts in Canada if we did not have freedom of expression.

Every year I try to come up with a playlist of music for Peace and in my research this year I came across a fantastic resource - I hope you will check it out (I reference it at the bottom of this post) and learn why these pieces are on the list.

Thank you to PeaceQuest for this amazing list. http://peacequest.ca/classical-and-choral-music-about-peace-and-war/

Practice Schedule? What's That?

Around here we love a schedule, a procedure or anything that helps students succeed. For some of my older students who have larger, more complex pieces we stumbled upon the idea of a practice schedule. It’s pretty simple. We start with a goal - an end goal of when the piece needs to be completed by and then we make a schedule for what needs to happen every week before that in order to achieve the goal. Check out this example:

This student has an exam in January and that was the goal we were working on. So each element of her exam was scheduled out. She needed to be able to play all of the items in bold at her lesson that week and still accomplish the goals for the material that wasn't in bold for that week. This process has helped a number of my students - have you ever used anything like this before?

Spooky Music from our Students

Our Students worked super hard this October on their own original spooky music. We hope that you enjoy the pieces they created!

Practicing? Think you're done? Try this Checklist to see!

Greg is a great one for checklists and over the years I’ve been turned into a checklist lover too. Here’s a checklist that Greg uses to see if he’s done his practice. Follow this list and you’ll never ask if you’re done practicing again!

  • Did you add on to what you know in a piece? Any amount is useful.

  • Did you work to make something you know better? What did you do?

  • Did you play slowly WITH A METRONOME with no stopping?

  • Did you think about and try to add dynamics?

  • Did you check your accidentals and make sure you remembered them?

  • Did you make sure that your articulation was correct?

  • Did you play for anyone?

If you can say yes to these questions then you may be done practicing! But you know what we say, you can always practice a bit more ;)

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Music History - Composers with Spooky Habits

Emily loves history. LOVES history and when she gets a chance to talk about cool stories from the past you bet your bottom dollar that she will. So she’s compiled a brief list of strange facts about spooky composers. Feel free to add your own spooky composer trivia in the comments!

Erik Satie (Trois Gymnepedies) was unique. He had a few quirks, not the least being that he only ate foods that were white. After he died his journals were found and in them was a description of what he ate - white pasta, chicken breast poached in white sauce, rice, turnip among other only white foods. He was also a collector of umbrellas - he had over 100 of them in his apartment!

Richard Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries) liked to wear women’s clothing - now this isn’t spooky at all but his wife ordered him a special order carpet made of flamingo feathers. That is kinda spooky.

Arnold Schoenberg, (Piano Concerto Op 42) was afraid of the number 13. Which is kinda unfortunate since he was born on September 13 1874. He ended up dying on July 13 1951 - maybe he knew something about the number 13?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Horn Concerto No 4 in E Flat) liked to pretend he was a cat. While not spooky (although some people find cats spooky) he would jump around and purr and meow like a cat when he was bored.

Edvard Grieg (In the Hall of the Mountain King) loved frogs. He kept a frog figurine with him in his pocket before concerts and would rub it for good luck.

The Baroque composer and prince Carlo Gesualdo (moro lasso al mio duolo)apparently killed his wife! That’s pretty spooky!

Robert Schumann (Traumerei) apparently would put his hands into the innards of animals who had been slaughtered to heal himself from ailments. Not only spooky but very strange.

Joseph Haydn’s (String Quartet No 62 Op 76 No 3 “Emperor” 2cnd Movement) tomb has two skulls! His head was stolen and a replacement skull was put in his tomb. A two headed composer - spoooooky!





Some Original Halloween Music for you!

It’s always nice to have some seasonal music to learn. So we made some! Three pieces about Halloween all for different levels.

It's October, how do I get my child to practice?

October is a tricky month. September is usually filled with new pieces and a fresh start but once October comes around it’s more challenging to get students to stick with practice. Based on our experience there are a few tips that work well for motivating young children to practice but I researched a few other tips and I’ve linked to those articles as well.

  1. Routine is essential. I suggest that students practice at the same time every day - or on the 5 days that they have agreed to practice. Set a time and make it piano time. No excuses. Like brushing your teeth piano practice should be a non-negotiable.

  2. Remove distractions. This may seem obvious but it can be challenging with open concept houses. Try to limit radios or tv sounds, have other children find something quiet they can do for the duration of the practice so they won’t interrupt, and remove your phones/ipads and other distractions like large timers. I know that I find my phone a distraction so I leave it out of the studio when I practice.

  3. Sit with your student. Kids of all ages need positive reinforcement and often just sitting with your student can give them the encouragement that they need. No need to worry that you “don’t know” how to play piano - your student DOES and they can teach you. Read the lesson notes and ask questions about them to your student.

  4. While you are sitting there with your student and they are moving through their practice notes why not play a game with them? There are so many options for practice games and I’ve linked to a site with some good ones here and here and here is a pdf of some games you can use that I got from The Fame School years ago.

  5. Have your piano student goof off- and by that I mean have them make up their own piece and play it for you. Have them explain what’s happening in the piece and what they like about it - self expression is part of what we are teaching when we give music lessons!

  6. End on a positive note. Have your student play a piece they are proud of- or that they already know and love. This builds confidence in their abilities.

Thanksgiving Playlist for you!

I love introducing new music to students through our playlists and this month we will have 2! This first one is for Thanksgiving and features some traditional autumn classical music but also has some different selections. Listen for a piece by Indigenous artist Indian Calling, a vocal version of A Gift to Be Simple, and one of my favourite pieces by George Winston.

We hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving spending it with your friends and family and that this playlist will accompany your dinner.

We give thanks to our students, our families and the Indigenous peoples who first shared this land with us. We are grateful.

October Practicing is Spooky!

For October I’ve borrowed a practice chart from The Practice Shoppe so that you can colour in one leaf for every activity you complete for our challenge. But there’s a catch! October has 31 days! So when you complete your last challenge item for October make sure to draw a jack-o-lantern or pumpkin on the back of your chart! Remember to bring in your completed chart to your lesson in November!

Composing for Good Playlist - from Famous Composers

This year we have been learning about the value of giving back to our community through our art. We are all aware of the World Aid concerts that raised both awareness and money for the famine in Ethiopia, but there are a number of composers who were doing benefit concerts well before Bob Geldof got a bunch of pop stars to donate their time and musicianship.

Handel is probably the most known philanthropist in the classical music world. He raised money for the London Foundling Hospital from 1749 until his death by performing The Messiah. Overall he raised over $1, 000,000.00 for the hospital for orphans.

We often think of Beethoven as a grumpy man, but he raised money with the premier of his Symphony No 7 for Austro-Bavarian soldiers and traveled to Baden Germany after a fire gutted the town to raise money for the rebuild.

Little known English composer Abraham Fisher composed the oratorio Providence to raise money for the Middlesex Hospital which premiered on July 3 1777 in Oxford. This hospital became one of the leaders in treating V.D.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach raised money for a medical poorhouse in Hamburg by performing parts of the Mass in B Minor written by his father and parts of the Messiah.

In 1824 a 12 year old Liszt played a benefit concert supporting widows and orphans of deceased musicians in England. Both Berlioz and Dvorak also performed at later events put on by the same organization.

Last in our classical music philanthropy list is Edward Elgar who wrote two pieces as fundraisers. The first was in support of residents of Belgium after the occupation of Germany in 1914 and then composed the piece Poloina for Polish refugees performed in the summer of 1915 in London’s Queen’s Hall.

So when you come out to support our students at the September 29 event know that they are following in a strong tradition of using music to raise both awareness and money for good causes.

Listen to our Spotify playlist for the music composers of the past used to raise some much needed funds for important charities.

Composing for Good - our Benefit Concert

Bono says that “music can change the world” and we believe that it can at least raise awareness so that’s what we are doing with our Composing for Good project.

Last spring our students began composing music to the theme of weather. The idea was that they would compose their pieces, record them and then perform them at a concert benefiting children who did not have access to musical instruments or musical instruction.

On Saturday, September 29 our students will be performing their original pieces at Paulin Memorial Church. For the first time we will be charging admittance to the recital ($5.00 per person not including performers) and we will have songbooks and CD’s for sale (also for $5.00 a piece). All funds raised will go to the Windsor Essex County Children’s Aid Society music room.

We are super proud of our students and if you would like to support our performers, please get in touch via the form below and we can get you tickets.

Music really can change the world!

Name *

Student of the Month - Addison!

We are so happy to celebrate Addison's efforts this summer and make her Student of the Month for September!  

Addison was chosen because she worked diligently all summer on her original music for our Composing for Good Project and because she was the first to complete our summer practice challenge.  I asked her to answer a few questions about herself and here is her interview!  Enjoy!

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