To help some of my beginner students who find it difficult to subdivide the beat evenly, I came up with the following ‘visualising exercise’.

  1. As you count ‘1,2,3,4’, you tap each finger. Repeat it a couple of times until you establish a steady beat (no need to use a metronome at this stage, which will be a distraction for those who haven’t cultivated the inner pulse).

beat subdivision_1

  1. Now add one tap between the 1st and 2nd beat, without loosing a steady beat (i.e. without the delay getting onto the 2nd beat).

beat subdivision_2

  1. Now this one!

beat subdivision_3

This way, you can ‘see’ the spacing between the beat.  It also helps work on your listening skill as you try to match the speed of your counting and tapping throughout.

 

  1. Here’re the notated rhythms for No. 2 and No.3. Now, go through the same exercises (Nos.2&3), but this time with your eyes following the notes, not on your fingers.

beat subdivision exercise_2&3

Here’re some more exercises:

 

beat subdivision exercise_5

beat subdivision_1

beat subdivision_4.jpg

beat subdivision exercise_6

beat subdivision_4-2

beat subdivision_4-3

beat subdivision exercise_7

(For a holding note, you can point each finger but no tapping, so that you’re aware of where the main beat occurs – in this case, on the dot!)

beat subdivision_5

beat subdivision_6.jpg

One of my adult beginners was having a problem with the following rhythm pattern appeared in Graham Lynch’s Paris – Valse (from Sound Sketches, Book 1).

paris_valse

After going through the following two exercises,

Exercise_1

paris_valse_rhythm

beat subdivision_7.jpg

Exercise 2
(for a holding note/rest, you can point each finger but no tapping, so that you’re aware of where the main beat occurs)

paris_valse_rhythm2beat subdivision_8She has finally managed to internalised it after one week and played the melody beautifully!

Happy rhythm learning!

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One day, one of my beginner piano students brought a mini hand-made booklet to the lesson, titled ‘Pretty Chord Book’.

She’s one of my young students who’s got the ear for picking out ‘pretty chords’ (mostly very jazzy!) as she explores the sound on the piano ever since she started the piano two years ago.  As soon as she made a link between the letter names and the piano keys, she started to note down the chords she found ‘pretty’ in her own way, so that she could show it to me.  Being a strong by-ear player, her reading skill is progressing at a somewhat slow speed, so transcribing using a standard manuscript wasn’t an option.

In her little booklet, I found scribbles of ‘visual off-stave notation’, showing what she found as ‘pretty chords’.  Reading off what was written wasn’t easy, so it took her a little time to reaslise them.  So, I’ve decided to create a system for her so that she can write down her ideas in a way that chords look more organised and is similar to how you read chords on the stave, and I can read!  Recently, she told me she found another pretty chord.  This is what I found in her little ‘Pretty Chord Book’, and here’s what it looks like:

 

pretty chord book

Regarding the colour coding, here’s what she’s used to see on the piano keys.  So, she can link the colour with particular pitch range across the keyboard.

colour-coded piano keys

If reading vertically is somewhat confusing, you could turn the booklet 90 degree clockwise and read it sideways like this:

pretty chord book2

I must admit, some chords she finds are proper jazz chord as her bass player dad and I observe.  I hope she’ll understand how some of her invented chords are in fact sophisticated jazz chords.  Hopefully, this booklet will come in handy in the future when she starts learning more about harmonies and its functions.

Templates for making a ‘off-stave chord transcription’ booklet is now available for free download from here.

 

 

Happy chord playing!

Finally on display! Rhythm puzzle pieces that I’ve been using with my students to help them ‘visualise’ the mechanics of rhythms.

P1020032

Puzzle pieces are made of foam board.  I had the images professionally printed (gloss finish) and glued it onto the surface and cut to pieces using a scarpel knife.  The large magnetic board shown in the picture is a self-adhesive ferrous sheet fixed onto a foam board.  The board is secured to the wall using 4 pieces (2cm x 2cm) of heavy duty stick-on Velcro (I didn’t want to make holes on the wall).

Here’re some examples for how I use these pieces with my students:

  • Creating 2 versions of rhythm tunes using all the selected notes given (shown in the picture below).

rhythm tune making

The worksheet I use for this game is shown below:

rhythm tune making

  • Showing how dotted rhythm works (shown in the picture below).


P1020033


I often enjoy watching my students doing something outside the box with the puzzle pieces whilst they’re waiting for their turn for the their lesson. They use their imagination and discover something new.

I’m currently upgrading the puzzle piece material to lightweight plywood (poplar) for more durability.  I’ll post the update when it’s completed!  Hopefully, it’ll soon be added to my website shop.  But it’s a labour-intensive process to make a set, so it’ll have to be made-to-order base.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share how the original idea evolved into this final product:

It took me several years before what has started as a simple rhythm card game into something more tangible.  This set is turning out to be a real time saver in my teaching when the necessity of explaining (and constant reminding!) how metre and rhythm works arises in a short 30 minutes lesson time.

Finding the appropriate number of puzzle pieces for them to be useful, but not overwhelming was a challenge.  Here’s the picture showing the development of my rhythm puzzle set before it’s finally taken its shape.

P1020098


—update—
In addition to the pyramid style (note in the centre of each piece), I’ve made a new set which is duration-based as shown below (note to the left of each piece):

P1020304

Both versions are available for purchse from my website.

Happy teaching!

 

One of my 12 years old students came to the piano lesson the other day with lit up eyes saying he’s made a discovery in the circle of 5th wheel he’s been using for his tetrachord exercises.

Here’s what he explained to me in his own words.

Parallel keys are quarter apart in the circle of 5th

In short,

“Parallel keys are quarter apart in the circle of 5th.”

In details,

For major key to its tonic minor go quarter around anti-clockwise.

For minor key to its tonic major, go quarter around clockwise.

 

Happy discovery!

 

Solfège (meaning ‘sight-singing’) is a vital part of music training to cultivate reading & aural skills, musicality and a sense of harmony.

I thought I’d share the information of 2 outstanding solfège & rhythm exercise book series I brought back from Japan. One written by a well established piano pedagogue 呉 暁 (Go, Aki) and the other by a group of teachers from The Music School for Children at Toho Gakuen School of Music (桐朋学園大学音楽学部附属 子供のための音楽教室). It’s a good news that these books seem to be able to be delivered directly to overseas addresses from Japan. Since solfège (combined with rhythm study) is a well established part of piano education in Japan, it’s easier to find books targeted for this particular study. I’ve just started using with Go’s solfège book 1 with one of my pupil who has just passed ABRSM grade 4 piano to develop a sense of harmony and improve his sight-reading.

才能を育てる子供のソルフェージュ (上)
呉 暁 (著)
” Solfège That Cultivates Musical Talent (part I)”
written by Aki Go

In the introduction, the author states the main focus in this book is to “sing musically with a sense of harmony”. If a student is weak on rhythm, it’s advised to supplement with rhythm exercises separately.

The book starts with singing primary chords (I, IV, V) in a broken form to get you used to the underlying harmony for the melody line. The author also encourages a student to learn to harmonise the melody based on primary chords, then onto to compose a melody and accompaniment. This book is also recommended to use as dictation (transcription) exercises.

part I

 

リズム練習とソルフェージュ(1) リズムを叩きながら歌おう
久木山 直 (著), 当摩 泰久 (著), 渕上 祐子 (著)
“Rhythm Training and Solfège: Let’s sing whilst tapping the rhythm” Book 1
written by Naoshi Kukiyama, Yasuhisa Tohma,Yuko Fuchigami

There’re three lessons in this book. Each lesson consists of one-part rhythm exercises, two-part exercise and solfège exercises with rhythm tapping. Lesson one melodies stay within the intervals of 2nd and 3rd; lesson two 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th; lesson three with accidentals. Rhythms are quite simple throughout the book, hence students can focus on singing and 2-part reading.

solfege and rhythm1-2

*******

For young beginners, the well-trusted series written again by a group of teachers fromThe Music School for Children at Toho Gakuen School of Music is also recommended.

子供のためのソルフェージュ(1a)
子供のための音楽教室 (編集)
Solfège for Children 1a
written by The Music School for Children

Book 1a stays entirely in C major (in 2/4, 3/4,/4/4, 3/8 and 6/8), exploring all intervals except 7th.

子供のためのソルフェージュ(1a)2.jpg

Book 1b explores more keys (C,F, G, Am, D) in addition to more time signatures (2/2, 3/2).

子供のためのソルフェージュ(1b)

*******

When students reach the level of end of 1b, they can move onto:
Solfège des Solfège” written by Adolphe-Léopold Danhauser
50 Lessons, op.9for medium voice written by Giuseppe Concone.

Happy solfège!

Balancing the dynamics between the hands may be one of the most difficult techniques to teach to piano beginners. I have tried many different ways but I’ve finally found the most effective and quickest way to help my students achieve this. I thought I’d share it here.

Rather than teaching this technique in a pieces of music, I find it best to do so in a simple scale or finger exercise where students can focus on their finger control supported by flexible wrists, arms and shoulders and most importantly ‘listening ears’ with eyes open or closed as necessary.

In my teaching, I use my Finger Exercises Before Hanon, that they know well by heart. After the ‘Activities’ listed in each exercise, I give extra challenges as follows:

 

  1. RH plays legato whilst LH plays staccato: learning to execute two contrasting articulations between the hands (with the lateral movement of the wrist for RH and vertical movement of the wrist for LH)

 

  1. Swap the articulation between the hands (RH staccato & LH legato)

 

  1. Play RH forte (either legato or staccato, whichever easier first) whilst LH presses the key surfaces gently without letting any sound coming out of the piano, playing legato! (my students who thought it was impossible for the first try, managed to do so in a day or two; it’s just like learning how to ride a bicycle, once learned it’s quite easy to do!)

 

  1. Now, LH brings out a little bit of sound, say pianissimo, by pressing the key to the bottom very slowly whilst the right plays forte: learning to differentiate the speed of the key-press between the hands to control the dynamics. (Students, by then, realise that they need more muscle controls to play softly than loudly.)

 

  1. Next step up will be to play RH forte and LH piano both legato with solid sound (see my other blog post: Therapy Putty – Finger Strengthening Exercises). Soft but solid? You’d definitely need the support of your arm weight and flexible wrist movement to control. It may be helpful to start with playing RH with lift fingers with the axial rotation of the wrist, whilst LH with slightly lower wrist positioning than RH with lower lift fingers. Exaggeration often helps to work on subtle control.

 

Finally, for applying this technique to the piece of music, I often refer to this exercise when I hear my students playing with no dynamic balance between the hands by saying,

‘Do you remember the exercises we did where your RH plays forte and LH plays piano? Can you try doing that in this piece?’

They stops and thinks for a second and try it out in the music they’re playing. Then, out comes the result! Eventually, I won’t need to remind them of this technique and they use their ears to control the balance between the hands required for the piece of music they’re playing.

Happy playing!

I thought I’d share some of my favourite Christmas piano books so far (new and old) useful in my teaching and also for my own pleasure.

Elementary:

Famous & Fun Christmas Duets” Book 2 by Carol Matz

Christmas on the Jazzy Side” (5-finger position) by Sharon Aaronson

PlayTime Piano” Christmas” Level 1 (5-finger melodies) by Faber & Faber

 

Mid elementary:

Easiest Piano Album Christmas Carols for Adults” (solo with piano duet option)

Popular Christmas Song” Level 1 by James Bastien

 

Mid elementary to late elementary:

Christmas for Two” Robert D. Vandall

 

Late elementary to Early intermediate:

Up-Grade Christmas” Grade 1-2 by Pam Wedgwood

 

Intermediate to early advanced:

Classical Piano Music for the Christmas Season, Selected Works by 20 Composers, edited by Maurice Hinson

 

Later intermediate to Advanced:

A Jazz-Inspired Christmas” by Craig Curry

Christmas Jazz for Solo Piano: 8 Spicy Settings” by Craig Curry

Advent – Piano Meditations on the Coming of the Messiah by Mark Haynes (sample listening here)

 

Would you like to share your favourite Christmas books too?

Happy seasonal playing!