Archives for posts with tag: singing

Alphabet Song Book_1

As I explained here, the basic idea of this book is to help piano beginners (aged 7 and above) to get started with learning how to read musical notation.  I thought I’d share how I’m using this book in the lessons.

The contents are simply laid out so that students can get on with work on a need-to-know basis. The intention of this book is to help the piano beginners grasp how learning to read musical notation works, by repetition, writing and creative activities. The book also leaves enough space for students and teachers to explore other details of piano study when ready, such as experimenting with dynamics, articulations, phrasing, tempi, etc.

Page 4
The use of four-colour strip for the piano keys is inspired by the Colourstrings. I find it the most useful tool to make the ocean of black keys and white keys on the piano looks somehow manageable. Here’s a template to create a four-colour strip, which should fit on any standard key-sized piano. Make sure to open the file in Acrobat Reader and print it out as an ‘actual size’, not ‘fit to page’).  I use self-adhesive book cover vinyl (cut to 2cm square) to paste four strips together (much stronger than standard cellotape, I find).

 

Page 2 & 3
Keyboard orientation.
I’d usually introduce BAG only for young children. The reason being that the first half of the book is focused on learning the melodies based on BAG.

 

Page 5
An example of rhythmic patterns appeared throughout the book is introduced here in a 4-bar rhythm tune. Students can experiment with it by creating a tune using these rhythms, starting with one-note playing (any note or position across the keyboard!). Then, with two notes, then three, etc. Teacher and student can try a ‘call & response’ improvisation game; for example, the first 2 bars played by the teacher, followed by the  the student playing the next 2 bars.

The key thing to remember here is to sing the rhythmic syllables (e.g. short-short-long) whilst playing the notes, with a steady pulse. Each heart shown on the page represents one pulse (beat).

Pulse in music is like our hearbeat; you can’t hear it but it’s always there ticking and you can feel it. Ask your student to tap each pulse as they sing the rhythms. This is the first ear-eye-hand coordination exercise!; tapping one thing and singing another at the same time.

 

Page 7 (the first BAG tune!)
Start with one-hand playing, right or left hand. Find the hand position using the keyboard guide.   Remember to sing the rhythmic syllables (NOT the letter names!), this exercises the skill to be able to follow two different information at the same time. Complete writing the rhythmic notation above each letter name. From the next page on, dotted guide line for the rhythmic notation disappears. It’s students’ job to remember to write in rhythmic notation above each letter name from page 8 onwards. It encourages students to be constantly aware of the note value attached to each note.

Students also could play the tune with both hands to develop the coordination.

 

Page 13
Practise writing
B note on a single F (bass) clef stave. Learn to write the same note in various note values here. Keyboard guide now has the Middle C position marked in. Have students try finding the B note below Middle C on page 12. Make sure which clef stave students should be looking at, top or bottom.

 

Page 14
From this page onwards, students can write rhythmic notation with the stem pointing downwards if they wish to. Why is the note upside down? The answer is on page 11 where students practised writing notes on the great stave. Refer to it again and have them explain why!

Also from this page onwards, students have a chance to remind themselves of the new note they’ve just learned, by spotting it amongst other notes.

For one bar on this tune, the letter names disappears and are replace by the B notes written on the F (bass) clef stave. Ask students what notes they are; they would know what to play there. Make sure students are still singing rhythmic syllables whilst playing the notes. Finally, ask students how many B note they can find in this tune.

Also I’d experiment with dynamics at this point when students are getting used to playing some tunes. Loud (forte) and soft (piano). Let students decide which bars (measures) they wish to play loud and soft and add dynamics markings accordingly.

 

Page16
Pattern recognition
. Can students find repeated melodic patterns in this tune? Once they recognise them, they can be aware of playing the same thing twice. Economical reading skill!

A new note, A, to practise writing on the F (bass) clef stave. I’d have students compare it with the B note and explain the difference (line note, space note, where on the stave, etc.)

 

Page 17
Time to experiment with articulation here. Legato playing. What’s legato playing? Basically, imagine your fingers are your legs doing a walking action on the keyboard; one finger presses the key, and then the next finger presses but the link between the two fingers slightly overlaps before the first finger releases the key, so that the two notes sound connected rather than disjointed. The arch marking to indicate legato playing is called slur. Write a slur marking over the first three notes to be played legato. Ask students to write some more slurs in!

 

Page 19
All the letter names now disappear! But students know which note is B, A, G note by now. Although it’s important recognise each note in letter name, it’s equally important to be able to see a group of notes as a pattern. B-A-G looks like a smooth downward slope. B-G-A is more ragged. It’s a useful exercise to drawn students’ attention to the patterns in each tune. I’d also challenge them to find BAG in the tune; circle the B-A-G pattern and sqaure the backwards BAG, G-A-B pattern), not only within a bar (measure) but also across the barline!

 

Page 22
Composition
page! The first 8-bar tune is to consist of two 4-bar tunes that students have learned in the previous pages. Choose 2 pages to copy or transcribe. If students choose from page 7 to 13, the notes are all in letter names, so they have to trascribe the letter names into notation, which is an exercise itself to test their knowledge on these three notes, BAG. The second 8-bar tune is to be composed by students.  This is a creative test to see how imaginative students can be to come up with yet another tune consisting of 3 notes only. Be prepare to be surprised!

 

Page 23
Appearance of the D note on the G (treble) clef stave. From this page on, the tunes will be laid out on the double staves (great stave). Usually, the top stave is for the right hand, the bottom stave is for the left hand. Warning here!: G (treble) clef doesn’t mean ‘right hand’ and F (bass) clef doesn’t mean ‘left hand’! G (treble) clef simply refers to the area above the Middle C. In some music, the left hand does play the notes above the Middle C on the keyboard. In that case, you’ll see G (treble) clef on the bottom stave as well as on the top stave.

Up to the previous page, students could play the tune with both hands in unison but from this page on, the both hands’ positions are set specifically as indicated.

It’s another good point to experiment further with dynamics; Soft (piano), medium soft (mezzo piano), medium loud (mezzo forte), loud (forte), gradually getting louder (crescendo) and getting gradually softer (diminuendo). Perhaps in the faster speed when ready.

It’s also a good time to introduce the real names of note values for short, long, twice as long, etc.  In my piano studio, I use American name rather than British, simply because it makes more sense and it helps students understand the concept of time signature when they get to it.

The second half of the book covers more BAG tunes with two added notes, E & D (ED). Go over (again) page 3 to get familiar with all FEDs across the keyboard. Work through the pages to the end likewise as suggested for the first half of the book.

Alphabet Song Book 2 (for piano) will explore triple time (3/8 time rather than 3/4 time), and more words, FED, EGG, Cs and A-B-C in addition to BAG, and delve into the concept of basic time signatures. 2/4 and 3/8. It’ll be available soon.

Happy reading!

I’ve been asked by one of my 8 years old pupils’ mother yesterday; ‘I wonder when my son starts learning to read music. He seems to be frustrated because he can’t read yet. He’s so keen and wants to do more.’ He only started piano lesson 2 months ago and he’s learned a few pieces and etudes, and during the holiday he enjoyed playing a Christmas song with a harmony in the left hand. Off to a good start, without needing to read notes to learn pieces, so he can focus on getting his ear-eye-hand coordination sorted and ready to tackle an intricate task of decoding notation later on.

Coordination doesn’t just mean moving fingers and putting the hands together. It also includes the ability to ‘hear’ what you’re playing or what you’re going to play and how you’re going to play, to ‘understand’ high and low in sound in relation to up and down of the keyboard, to be able to ‘sing or hum’ the melody line while you’re playing to maintain steady pulse, to learn to sing or hum rhythmic patterns while you’re playing so that you’re aware of rhythmic values in music, to ‘transfer’ the information that your eye took in to your finger work, etc. When pupils have gained such coordination first, they usually find their way not to get frustrated when they start learning to read notation. So, to my view, a couple pages to cover how to read notation as you find in most conventional piano tutor books seems not sufficient enough. A lot more careful and considerate preparations leading to reading notation seems necessary and more sensible. With anything else, ‘internalising’ takes time and effort.

To compare how we learn to speak and read your language, it may sound much clearer. Did you start to read a book before you speak your language? Did you start learning to read before you can write a few words? When you read, do you read letter by letter to form a word? And finally, can you read this?

I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

In reading music, the same can be said, I believe. If your mind is trained to recognise patterns in relation to how they sound, guessing work can kick in and you can focus on executing the sound on your instrument. For this reason, I usually introduce to my pupils an interval reading technique, rhythmic reading/writing exercises and a few landmark notes writing exercises in the early stage of learning, while they learn to acquire coordination skill to be able to ‘hear’, ‘sing’ and ‘play’, so when it comes to reading music to learn pieces, they know what to do. They take in rhythmic values properly, they can maintain steady pulse while they play, they can play in an ensemble setting, etc, and they can eventually become independent learners.

Back to this 8 years old pupil of mine, he’s already done quite a bit of preparations to start reading notation very soon. He just doesn’t realise that they’re part the course and that he’s already acquired some reading skill to read music! He’ll soon no doubt find out he can actually read music 😉

As I briefly mentioned in PART II, I’d like to explore more about pattern recognition (visual) in relation to executing them on an instrument (kinaesthetic). Though, another invaluable skill not to be forgotten is to be able to ‘hear’ in your mind what you see (aural). To explain what I mean, I’d like to give you a simple example here before I move onto focusing on visual and kinaesthetic combination exercise, hopefully in my next post!

Here’s a very simple tune that everyone knows. Some may have recognised it instantly just by letting your eye run through these 4 bars quickly. Those who don’t read music, here’s what you can try.

a tune everyone knows

1. Learn to sing the rhythm with steady pulse you can detect from singing these patterns; you’ll find that it usually occurs naturally! (See my past post dated on January 26, 2012 at 4. Understanding rhythm, about the rhythmic syllable you can use to sing)

-Bar 1: short-short-long_______
-Bar 2: short-short-long_______
-Bar 3: short-short-short-short
-Bar 4: twice as long_________

2. Recognise the direction of the notes (See Part II, about how to recognise intervals)

-Is it staying the same?
-Is it going up a step or skip?
-Is it going down a skip or double skip?
-Is it going stepwise, up or down?

3. Now try adding various pitches following the direction of the notes (It may be helpful to use your hand showing going up or down to guide your voice visually).

-When it goes up a skip, raise your voice pitch a bit higher.
-When you see a big drop (a double skip here!), lower your voice pitch down slightly more than a bit.
-When you see a stepwise motion, simply try singing the scale up or down.

4. Try singing that way a couple of times with correct rhythms (An important bit! – correct notes with wrong rhythms would make a well-known tune virtually unrecognisable!) to see if you ‘hear’ a recognizable tune.

5. If you still have no luck by now, change your rhythmic syllable singing to just humming but with correct rhythm. Or even without looking at the music if you managed to memorise the melodic shapes by now (It often helps you focus better on listening when you take visual distraction away!).

Now, can you guess what the tune is? Also, an important thing to remember here is to let your ear have an ‘attentive’ listening while you’re singing; how the pitch moves up and down. ‘Isn’t that obvious?’, you may say. But you’ll be surprised to realise that you hear a few details that you previously didn’t when you bring more attention to your own singing. This obvious skill we have, ‘listening’, tend to get pushed aside even more when it comes to playing an instrument because your mind is so busy with getting your finger work right. It’s the very reason why it’s important to train your ear to know ‘what to listen for’.

For those who just started reading the notations, try not to use your instrument to work out what the tune is. Try to figure it out by singing! Being able to creating an aural map in your mind and to be able to sing it before transferring that to your fingers to execute what’s written on the score is probably the most useful skill to develop if you’re serious about getting better at sight-reading. When you develop this skill, you’ll find that you start mixing with some guessing work to get the music going without any break, which is essentially what the sight-reading is all about; being able to play it through with some sense of musical directions with less mistakes as possible!

One of the joyful experiences you can have in piano duet playing is to be able to explore the sound of rich harmonies and a wide range of dynamics that piano is capable of producing.  For the very young beginners, it’s still possible with just a few keys on the keyboard to have a taste of that experience even before they start learning to read notation.

I have 3 videos with 3 different tunes here as an example where we explored various elements of music as well;

No.1 – The Ground Is Breaking

  • steady pulse (pupil listening to other than him/herself)
  • metre (we sang 1-2-3-4 in tune with the melody)
  • structure (3 sections to be aware for their different characters)
  • harmonies (something that piano is excelled at!)
  • musical character (make use of what children are good at; making a story according to the character of the tune, then coming up with the title of their own for the tune!)
  • articulation (detached rather than legato to follow the character of the tune)
  • dynamics (loud and soft with the use of arm weight)



No.2 – The Grand Old Duke of York
In addition to the above list, we had a few extra activities to explore.

  • composing (some little ones are full of ideas, give them a chance to use their own imagination to make the tune special to them!)
  • articulation (legato was achieved by the finger walking game on the keyboard)



No.3 – Going Home
This tune has a bit more movement than the other two previous tunes.  So, we needed to work out something more visual so that my pupil can internalise the tune in an organised way.  In doing so, we created a colour-coded shape for each phrase pattern.  Colourised drawing of some sort always comes in handy when reading notation is not just yet part of a regular practice in the lessons.  Here’s the example of what we came up with:

colour-coded phrase patterns

Finally, here’s my thought on why I choose to spend more time on using black keys for the young beginners.  Not only it helps them to orientate themselves around the keyboard geography, but also tiny hands and fingers can learn to develop a nice grip easier with the black keys than the white keys because of the fact that the level of the hand stays more or less with the level of the while keys when the black key is pressed.  Less chance of the wrist dipping when the finger presses the key!

Another important issue I’d like to address is that singing the tune while playing is a very positive start of learning to perform musically.  Not only it helps to internalise the tune with steady pulse, but also helps the fingers to find the right notes on the keyboard.  Having said that, I must admit that singing the black-key range (g♭’, a♭’, b♭’) may be a bit out of comfortable voice range for some children.  It may help if the teacher sings along in the right pitch and sing down an octave when necessary.  The focus here is to follow the melodic shape reflected in the singing, not to sing absolutely in tune.  It’s amazing to realise what’s capable when the ‘listening ear’ is truly open!

I hope this video serves a useful purpose of helping to inspire anyone who involves in music making with young children.

In this video recording I used the following equipments and software:

Piano model: Yahama C5A
Microphone: 2 x AKG P420 (MS setting)
Digital recorder: Zoom H4n (I didn’t use its inbuilt XY mics)
Audio editor: Cubase LE4
Video recorder: Flip Video Ultra HD
Video editor: CorelStudio Pro X5

I’d like to write a blog about my home recording at some point.  This is a never-ending experimentation since recording and capturing the sound of piano is considered to be the most difficult task because of its wide range of dynamics, frequencies and overtones.  A slight change of positioning and angle of the microphones easily affects how the sound comes out in the recording, I find!