Colorado Power Piano

Music Notes

Archive for May, 2014

When a Practice Piece Doesn’t Get Better

Monday, May 26th, 2014

We encourage our students to do a lot of sight reading because we believe the technique and music theory is found IN THE MUSIC. So if you read a lot of music, you will come across most everything that you need to learn. I dealt with sight reading in these blog posts in March of this year.

So often, my students who do a lot of sight-reading come to their lesson working on the same piece that they want to add to their repertoire. And they complain from week to week that “it’s not getting any better.” And they are right. Usually it’s because they have skipped one of the important steps in learning a new piece. We usually describe 10 steps – shown below.

  1. Identify the key signature and time signature of the piece.
  2. Play the scale and the scale chords so the key is clear in your ear and head
  3. Play through the whole piece twice reading for accuracy (hands separate if needed, then hands together)
  4. Analyze the chords and write them in
  5. Analyze the section structure of the piece (AABA or Rondo etc) mark the sections.
  6. Finger each hand separately – write in, or correct any printed fingering (which is often bad)
  7. Write in any counting that is helpful.
  8. Play through the piece slowly and accurately, using corrected fingering EVERY TIME so that you develop some muscle memory.
  9. Break the piece into small sections and do “slow section practice” to get the sticky spots under control.
  10. Use a metronome or alternating slow/fast techniques to speed up if needed.

In the coming weeks, I’ll take each of these sections in more detail. But the one that bit me this week was fingering. I have a Clementi Sonatina that I want to polish up and play for Soup Group. I’ve sight read through the Clementi Sonatinas, Opus 36, many times. They are old friends, so I assumed it would be easy to get it ready. I, somehow, skipped doing step 6. Every time I played the piece, I grabbed whatever fingering was handy. I recognized the chords, I knew the section breaks, but it had too many “sticky” spots. Sometimes I was using the written fingering, and sometimes I was using what was handy. But I had not settled on ONE WAY to finger the piece.

I have found that most of the time, the written fingering in a printed piece is bad. It’s either inconsistent (the same passage fingered multiple ways each time it appears) or it has an artificial limitation (like never putting a thumb on a black key which is ridiculous) or playing every repeated note with a different finger (also ridiculous most of the time).

So I bit the bullet and fingered each hand separately, going slowly and analyzing what I was doing, where could I use a five finger pattern, where did I have to jump, and could I give myself any anchor notes to jump from? I spent about an hour writing mostly new fingering in the three movements of the Sonatina. Then I tried playing it the next two days in a row and changed some of what I thought was going to be good fingering into something that actually worked better. Now the piece has a chance to “get better” as long as I consistently use the new fingering I wrote in. We shall see, Soup Group is this Sunday.

Til next time,


Left Hand Improvisation

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Playing from a fake book or “lead sheet” gives you great flexibility in how you play a song. The simplest way to bring a melody to life is to turn the chords into a good accompaniment pattern.

The best way to learn each of the left hands is to choose a LH pattern and then play 20 different fake songs with that LH pattern. Then choose another LH pattern and play 20 songs with it.

If you play the song more than one time through, use a different left hand on each chorus.

You can hear what 18 different LH patterns sound like by going to the Recordings tab and choosing Demo Improv and then the LH Demos. Here is a link to listen.

We are transcribing all of the LH patterns and RH Improvisation patterns you hear on the Micheal Row the Boat Ashore demos into matching print music. They should be done by the end of May and will be available for download for a modest fee on our website. Here are the first 5 of them for free.

LH Demos No 1. Thru No. 5  Here is a link to see the print version of the first five.

Til next time,



Monday, May 12th, 2014

I found this quote by Will Rogers just now as I was thinking about writing the week’s blog post.

If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple.
Know what you are doing.
Love what you are doing.
And believe in what you are doing.

When I met Howard, he met all those criteria.  He had been a professional musician all his life, playing as many as 400 gigs a year for 30 years.  For the last 20 years of that time, he was also a teacher.  While he had been playing gigs, people would often ask him if he taught and he always said no.  But they would hand him their business card anyway.  He stuck them all in a drawer.

When he reached the time that he wanted more evenings off to do things with his kids at school, he thought he would begin teaching. So, he dug out all those business cards – must have been 75 of them or so. Some of them were no longer valid, people had changed jobs, etc. But he sat down one afternoon and called all of them he could. In that first day, he signed up 35 students. Why? Because people could see that he knew what he was doing, obviously loved what he was doing, and believed in what he was doing.

I had been teaching piano for 2 years when we met. At that point, I “sort of” knew what I was doing, but knew I could learn A LOT from him and his success. I went to his monthly piano performance groups for two months in a row and saw a couple of dozen students who all played well, and enjoyed what they were playing for each other. At that moment, I just decided, on the spot, I would do whatever he told me to do musically because the fruit was on the tree. He was definitely successful.

I left a successful management consulting and training business that I had owned for 23 years behind, for the love of a life in music. Now, it’s 16 years later, and I do know what I’m doing, and I know that it works for my students. I love what I’m doing, and I believe in what I’m doing. I think Will Rogers was right.

Til next time,


First Pieces – Clementi

Monday, May 5th, 2014

For those of you following along in the First Pieces Project, where I play a new composer each month, working my way through the more famous composers of piano music, this month is Musio Clementi. By the way, for piano group today, I played all 3 movements of Haydn Sonata #1 since Haydn was last month’s composer.

Clementi was one of the most commercially successful of the classical musicians. He had his own piano building and sales business and used his own skill as a virtuoso pianist to demonstrate pianos. Beethoven admired the Clementi sonatas more than any other and obviously copied many of Clementi’s techniques. Today, most music students play the six Sonatinas, Opus 36. They are not as difficult as the Sonatas and serve as wonderful groundwork for learning the longer sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

So the first pieces for Clementi are the first movements only of each of the Sonatina in Opus 36.

No 1 in C Major (Sound File HERE)

No 2 in G Major (Sound File HERE)

No 3 in C Major (Sound File HERE)

No 4 in F Major (Sound File HERE)

No 5 in G Major (Sound File HERE)

No 6 in D Major (Sound File HERE)

There is a good, inexpensive edition available by Alfred Publishing – you can find it HERE.  or on Amazon

Til next time,