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First Pieces – Beethoven

Monday, July 14th, 2014

For those of you following along in the series of First Pieces, this month is Beethoven. If you are wondering what the First Pieces Project is, go back to the January archives. We started with Bach and are working our way through the major composers one month at a time.

So here are the pieces for Beethoven and the matching links to the sound files for each one:

Nearly all of the pieces are available in the Beethoven book edited by Keith Snell. Here is a link to that book on Amazon.

Sonatina in G (1st movement)      Sound File HERE

Bagatelle in Am Op. 119, No. 9    Sound File HERE

Sonatina in F (1st movement)         Sound File HERE

Fur Elise                                             Sound File HERE

Sonata in G Op. 49, No. 2              Sound File HERE

Bagatelle in F Op. 33, No. 3           Sound File HERE

Six Variations on a Swiss Song       Sound File HERE

 

Not in Snell

Moonlight Sonata (1st movement)     Sound File HERE

Pathetique Sonata (middle movement)     Sound File HERE

 

Til next time,

 

Karen

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,

Karen

Pianos and Piano Tuning

Monday, March 31st, 2014

When I first began teaching, I decided to trade in my 1886 Deckers upright piano.  The Deckers sounded good and played easily, but it had to be tuned a ½ step flat or all the strings would break.  I had played the piano for 20 years and was sad to say goodbye, but it was time.  So, I bought a VERY used Ivers and Pond baby grand piano.  My tuner said it had a “thunky bass”.  Actually, he was right.  The bass strings seemed not to be coiled so much as having each loop of the string welded to the next loop.  But it was how I began.  I taught and played on that piano for 3 years.  I asked my tuner what we could do to get a better sound from it and he said, “buy a new piano”.  I planned to eventually,  but……

After Howard and I were married, I told him I would give up my lifelong dream of going to Paris, for a good piano.  Two weeks later we bought a Pramberger Grand for me and I was in heaven.  We were so happy that shortly thereafter, Howard traded in his 100 year old Steinway for another Pramberger Grand.  We met Joseph Pramberger when he first introduced his line of pianos and were impressed with what he had done and are still impressed with our pianos 14 years later.

It’s a joy to play a freshly tuned piano!  So, Howard and I are particularly joyful this week because both of our pianos were just tuned on Friday.  Most tuners recommend tuning the piano twice a year, when the seasons change from shut-in winter, to opened-up summer.  We have ours tuned once a month to keep them sounding and playing great all the time.  And, we have the best piano tuner in the world, Randy Karasik.  Here’s a link to his website.  He’s a master rebuilder as well as an excellent tuner.  We highly recommend him!

Til next time,

Karen

Sight Reading

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Nobody likes to practice very much, including me.  What we all seem to want is to be able to “just play” and enjoy the music coming out of the piano.  Well, the best way we’ve found for that to happen is to build sight reading skills.  But there are some important points to remember when doing it.  We have seen some people recommend just setting a metronome at the marked tempo and “going for it” and don’t worry about all the wrong notes, even if you get half of them wrong.  That’s a terrible idea!

When I met Howard, I couldn’t sight read the easiest Level 1 pieces.  I had practiced, learned, and could play lots of fairly difficult things, but I couldn’t open an easy book and just play.  He taught me about sight reading and it has opened a whole world of music to me that would have been closed.  The first year was pretty tough, most of what I sight-read didn’t sound very good, and it certainly didn’t sound like my “regular practice pieces”.  But it was SO worth it.   Now when I see a movie and want to play the theme, I can get the music and do it.  When a student brings in a new book that they have found, I can play through it.

The whole idea behind sight reading is to build a strong connection between what your eyes see on the page, what your brain interprets that to mean, and what keys your fingers push down and when.  The only way to begin to do that is to focus on accuracy first, not speed.  Begin to carefully play both hands (together if you can) and go as slow as you need to for complete accuracy.  Make every note the right note the first time through.  Lots of people say, “Practice Makes Perfect”.  It doesn’t.  Practice Makes Permanent.  So if you get used to playing wrong notes from the beginning, you will continue to play wrong notes all along.

What I do, and what we recommend, is to spend half my practice time sight reading accurately.  So if I practice for half an hour, I do 15 minutes of sight reading, every day, done the right way.  Choose a level of material that is relatively easy for you to play; not the stuff you choose to work on for practice pieces.  Usually your sight reading level will be 2-3 levels down from what you might choose to practice.  Sometimes it feels like “baby music”, but eventually, as your sight reading skills improve, those levels will get closer together.

Don’t just skip around in a book and play the songs you like.  Start at the first page of the book and play each page until you get to the end of the book, then write the date in the front of the book.  Pick another book.  It’s not sight reading if you keep playing the same pieces over and over again.  You are working on training your eyes to recognize the patterns in music, the chords, the scales, the rhythms.  And the only way to do that is to play LOTS of music.  That’s why we don’t do single sheets for our students, but rather books.

The Faber and Faber Series of Supplementary books Playtime-Showtime-Chordtime-Funtime-Bigtime etc. are a great series to use for sight reading because each level has half a dozen books in various styles from Pop to Jazz to Classical and Ragtime.  Here’s a link to the Funtime part of that series at SheetMusicPlus.com.  What we do is to pick the right level and then play all the genres of music at the level, then play them all again, then play them all again.  Then move up a level if it’s going well.

You know, if you read just 3 pieces every day, in a year you will have played over 1,000 pieces of music.

Til next time, happy sight reading,

Karen

First Online Sales!

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Hello dear music lovers.  We are celebrating today.   I began writing music when I was in my late teens and have continued all my life.  Howard began writing when he got out of the Navy – first for the children, and then for students and friends.  We began publishing our music in the 1990s and it was for sale at local music stores and by word of mouth around the country and Canada.  We know the music books are good, people who buy them love them as much as we do.  But we wanted a larger audience for them.

When we redid our website and launched the new and improved ColoradoPowerPiano website we included a listing of 28 music books for sale and a PayPal shopping cart to buy them.  Since January, we have been doing some marketing efforts so that new people can find our music.  And today, Monday, March 17, 2014, we got our first online order for music.  Woo Hoo!  We are SO excited!  You know how it is when you work hard at something and then it starts to pay off.

So, if you want to see what all the shouting is about – take a look at the Print Music part of our website located HERE.

Til next time,

Karen

March Piano Groups & A Good Jazz Book

Monday, March 10th, 2014

We had such a wonderful time at the two piano groups this month.  What a great variety of pieces our friends played.  Several of the Jazz pieces came from a great new book called Late Night Jazz.  It’s part of the Jazz Piano Solos Series by Hal Leonard.  We particularly like the books in that series that are arranged by Brent Edstrom.  He has a way of using good voicings of the chords that produce a rich full sound and his written out improvisations in the middle of each piece are what you would hear live in a jazz club.  You can check out the Late Night Jazz at SheetMusicPlus HERE   Or at Amazon HERE.

Here’s the list of what everyone played:

  1. Love Me or Leave Me
  2. Boogie Around the Clock
  3. Ragtime Improv
  4. What a Difference a Day Made
  5. Blue Monk
  6. I Wish You Love
  7. Frankie & Johnnie
  8. Theme from “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves”
  9. Scarlatti, Sonata in A
  10. Making Whoopee
  11. Handel, Gavotte in G
  12. Beethoven – 3 Bagatelles
  13. One Day More
  14. Ice Queen
  15. Bewitched
  16. Blue Skies
  17. God Bless the Child
  18. Scarlatti Aria in Dm
  19. Scarlatti Sonata in G

 

Til next time,

Karen