If you study piano with me, you learn and practice chords. Chords are the foundation of all music (except for atonal or very modern pieces). If you were to analyze your music you would find chords in every measure. Therefore, knowing your chords helps you to understand the music which in turn helps you to learn it better and faster. Today I’d like to start with the four basic triads (3-note chords): MAJOR, MINOR, DIMINISHED and AUGMENTED.
They say that music is mathematical and I’d like to show you why. All chords are formed according to specific patterns or formulas.
Click here to watch my demonstration of chord formulas.
MAJOR: 4 half steps from root to middle note (3rd) , 3 half steps from middle note (3rd) to top note (5th). In C: C E G
MINOR: 3 half steps from root to middle note (flatted 3rd) , 4 half steps from middle note (flatted 3rd) to top note (5th). In C: C E-flat G
DIMINISHED: 3 half steps from root to middle note (flatted 3rd) , 3 half steps from middle note (flatted 3rd) to top note (flatted 5th). In C: C E-flat G-flat
AUGMENTED: 4 half steps from root to middle note (3rd) , 4 half steps from middle note (3rd) to top note (sharp 5th). In C: C E G-sharp
You can use each formula for each of the 12 keys – for example, you can figure out that an A-flat Major chord is A-flat C E-flat by counting the half steps. Try this starting from a few different keys. Watch the video again if it’s not quite making sense yet. Thanks for watching!
Today I am continuing on with some of the lessons I learned from my piano teacher, Mildred Portney Chase, and her book, Just Being At The Piano.
Imagine taking a break from grading your playing today and instead focusing on seeing…listening…feeling…moving…. According to Mildred, this is the only way to produce a beautiful sound on the piano. As a child, I used to secretly roll my eyes when she would ask, “Did you play that with love?” It seemed too touchy-feely back then and I just tried to give her what she wanted. But as I matured, I realized how much my emotional state affected my playing. Mildred said,
Time spent at the piano can be an insightful journey inward, the pleasure deepening with the years….The so-called amateur may play from the heart even if her proficiency is not on the highest level.
She believed that when we focus on our mistakes and compare our playing with others, we not only lose the joy of learning, but we make it impossible to progress as musicians.
Love is the most important quality to bring to any task. Love draws all that we have within us to the action in which we are involved….It heightened the senses; it allows self-acceptance and total involvement.
So how do we bring love to a task? We find love through gratitude. We practice seeing the beauty and wonders all around us. We take time to appreciate our life, our health, our home, our loved ones, nature, music, and the things in our lives that bring us joy.
How do we move towards total involvement? Like any other skill, it takes practice. Zen masters talk about carrying out mundane activities with mindfulness. If you’re in a train station, be aware of all that is around you. The sound of the train, the faces of the people, the smells and your feelings in the moment. If you’re washing dishes feel the surface of the plate and the warmth of the water, smell the soap, watch the movements of your arms and hands, listen to the sounds of the running water and clinking silverware.
Though we may not be able to live mindfully every moment as the masters do, we can practice it daily in our chores or activities, then bring that heightened sense of awareness love and gratitude to our playing.
Only from that state of total involvement can you begin to play in the way in which you dream.
On Friday NPR premiered a new show called Invisibilia, “…a series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior.”This is the kind of show I LOVE to listen to; I’m always fascinated by what it is that drives the human mind and behavior.
Friday’s show (which was rebroadcast this morning) was called Fearless and was divided into two parts. I listened to the part called “Disappearing Fear,” discussing ways in which we can reduce our fears. A man named Jason Comely described his fear of getting rejected after his wife left him. His fear prevented him from talking to people and he became very lonely. Then he began thinking about the Spetsnaz, a Russian military unit with an intense training program.
“‘You know, I heard of one situation where they were… locked in… a windowless room, with a very angry dog….They’d only be armed with a spade, and only one person is going to get out — the dog or the Spetsnaz.’
And that gave him an idea. Maybe he could somehow use the rigorous approach of the Spetsnaz against his fear.”
Jason began to seek out rejections every day. He would ask people for favors, and smile at everyone he passed by. He turned his fear around by welcoming the thing he feared the most. Every time he got a rejection, he would say, “Thank you! I got my rejection.”
The funny thing is, Jason often found it difficult to get his daily rejections. Even when asking for discounts at stores or asking for rides from people going in the opposite direction, Jason found that people were more receptive than rejecting.
This story got me thinking about our fear of playing the piano in front of others. Performance Anxiety is a debilitating problem for us musicians. But what is the fear? It’s a given that we will probably make some mistakes, and I think that we fear that our mistakes will make us seem stupid, ridiculous and unstudied. Perhaps deep down we believe that we can’t really play, and when we perform we’re afraid that our incompetency will be revealed to the world.
What would it look like if we tried to institute Jason’s rejection therapy into our everyday life? We would seek out opportunities to have people laugh at and criticize us. And each time they would, we’d say, thank you! I got my ridicule for the day!
But do we really have to go through that torture? Jason says that people don’t judge us nearly as harshly as we judge ourselves. He says that our fears stem not from what people actually think about us, but what we think they are thinking.
“We are always, always, always telling stories to ourselves, about the situation that we’re in and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that’s the problem.”
Jason counsels us to go out there and do things like smiling at everyone, dressing much differently than usual, asking strangers for favors, and asking friends to listen to us play. We should try to elicit looks of ridicule from others so that we can practice disregarding our fear.
What stories do you tell yourself about playing the piano in front of others? Think about those stories and ask if they are really true, or if they are just the stories you habitually tell yourself. I’m sure you would not judge other piano students nearly as harshly as you judge yourself.
Maybe this year we can practice just give ourselves a break. Maybe we can say to ourselves, I’m enough. I’m great exactly as I am today. I’m not going to play flawlessly, but I’m playing well enough and I’m enjoying myself.
Thanks to my student Maggie for telling me about Invisibilia!
With love, music and taking a break from fear, Gaili
Today I want to show you a new exercise I have adapted from an exercise by Theodore Leschetizky [lesh-uh–tit-skee]. Leschetizky (22 June 1830 – 14 November 1915) was a polish pianist and composer, and a well-known piano teacher. He had studied with Carl Czerny, who had in turn studied with Ludwig van Beethoven. Leschetizky was famous for saying:
No art without life, no life without art.
Leschetizky taught that in order to create a beautiful sound on the piano, you must study your music thoroughly and gain control of your fingers through exercise. His finger exercise isn’t easy but it’s fun to play and yields great results. Click here to view my demonstration video:
One day when I was perusing a charming used book shop in London, I came upon this prize of a book, written in 1946 by Victor Booth. Originally from New Zealand, Dr. Booth was a beloved piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He writes very elegantly about ways that piano teachers can help students form good habits.
Dr. Booth says that we must “make the fingers the servants of the mind” (p.46). He wrote about music and the brain way before it became an international fascination!
When we are first learning a piece, we often say that we will learn the notes first, then figure out the fingering later. But Dr. Booth suggests that we play the notes with the proper fingering from the outset. Neuroscience bears this out. When we play something for the first time we imprint those first impressions on our mind. According to Dr. Booth,
“…very conscious, slow, early efforts of associating certain fingers with certain notes eventually merges into the subconscious muscular actions of …performance.” (p.26)
When approaching a piece, play small passages slowly with the suggested fingering; if you don’t like the fingering, change the finger numbers right away so that your brain associates each note with a particular finger. If there are passages without printed fingering, decide what fingering you will use, write it in, and stick with it!
Dr. Booth believes that “all learning is memorizing in some form or other” and that we can use our “finger memory” (p. 79) to help us to learn the notes more quickly. This is not easy! It’s human nature to want to play the notes quickly at the beginning so that we can hear the melody and connect to the music. A better strategy might be to have your teacher play the music for you, or listen to it on Youtube before you try it yourself. Then when you play it, take the time to observe the fingering along with the notes.
Do you have any thoughts, feelings or observations about fingering? I love comments, even if you disagree with me (and Dr. Booth!)
Tomorrow I will show you a new finger strengthening exercise from another one of my piano gurus. Thanks for following my blog!
Today we start our pledge to play 10 minutes a day, for 30 days. Even if you can’t commit to playing every day, I hope you won’t mind receiving my emails for the next month, filled with practice tips and musical and motivational information. I love this pledge because it helps us to get focused and to develop good practice habits. We are often so busy that we don’t even have 10 minutes to sit down and do something for ourselves. However for the next 30 days, I hope you’ll make the time. Maybe you can play for 10 minutes before you go to bed, or first thing in the morning. (Research shows that we’re the most creative, receptive and open-minded at these times, when we’re a little sleepy! I believe it’s because we’re less self-critical and we just PLAY.)
So… if you intend on keeping this pledge, what will you do with that time? Ten minutes a day will add up to 70 minutes per week, and 280 minutes for the month, or 4 hours and 40 minutes! That’s a good chunk of practice time. And chances are, once you sit down at the piano, you’ll play for more than 10 minutes on most days, anyway. (But don’t feel that you have to; even 10 minutes will be great!)
Get out a piece of paper or open up your journal and think about what your goals might be. Be specific! Just writing, “I’d like to become a better piano player” isn’t going to help you to focus on clearly defined goals that can elevate your playing to the next level. Here are some suggestions:
1- Identify difficult passages in your music where you make mistakes, or you hesitate. Practice those few measures every day for 10 minutes until you can play the whole line of music without hesitating. Then do the same with other difficult passages.
2- Decide which one of your songs or pieces you love the best, and practice it every day for 10 minutes. Make this your go-to song when someone says, “play me something!”
3- If you’re a more advanced player, open any music book and sight read for your 10 minutes.
4- Work on an exercise or review your chords in all 12 keys.
5- Formulate other specific goals such as,
I will learn one page of my current piece by the end of the 30 days
I will learn a new (short) song
I will learn an exercise in all 12 keys without looking
I will improvise every day
I will write a song about ___________
Write down a couple of goals for your pledge now; you can add new goals as you accomplish these. Remember, practicing more than 10 minutes is wonderful. But this pledge is about playing every day. Dedicate the first 10 minutes of your daily practice session to your goal. After your dedicated 10 minutes you can either stop playing, or go on to playing other things.
If you feel like it, share your goal(s) with us (in the comment section below) so that we can support you and you can deepen your commitment to your goal.
Thanks for taking this pledge with me! We can do it together!
I love that January is the time of year for new goals and added resolve. If you are reading this blog, you probably know that taking piano lessons is the very best way to boost brain function and memory, while having fun! But you do have to play regularly to progress, and to enjoy the maximum brain benefits. Research shows that short daily practice sessions are more effective than one long weekly session. If you practice 6 days for 10 minutes a day, you’re going to learn and remember better than if you play one day for 60 minutes. Playing daily, even for a short time, is going to get you the best and quickest results. But I know how difficult it is to make the time to practice! Our Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes a Day challenge will hopefully give you that extra bit of motivation to get you to the keys. Every one who completes 30 days of practice will receive a free gift! Plus you’ll have 30 days of practice tips and motivational emails from me to keep you going. All you have to do to join is to subscribe to this blog (if you haven’t already) and write a reply such as, “I’m in!” You can find the subscription form at the bottom of this post. (Don’t worry, I won’t share your email with anyone.) You’re welcome to report on your progress and I encourage you to make comments whenever you’d like.
The NY Times recently ran an article called “Is Music The Key To Success?” The author, Joanne Lipman showed that many of the most successful Americans play instruments. Alan Greenspan (former chief of the Federal Reserve), Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State), Steven Spielberg (filmmaker) and Andrea Mitchell (NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent) all play musical instruments. You have probably heard that children who study music elevate their test scores (particularly in math and including IQ) but these highly successful people are convinced that their musical training impacted their professional achievements as well.
The aforementioned luminaries plus many others that were interviewed for the article believe that the years they have spent practicing and focusing on their instrument have influenced the way that they think in general. They have learned how to attack a problem from many angles with imaginative and unconventional solutions. Neuroscientists often recommend that you hang your pictures upside down, change your furniture around and take a new route when walking or driving somewhere, to stimulate your brain to see things in a different way. Similarly, the act of learning a piano piece activates new neural pathways in the brain and sparks the senses anew each time you practice.
The high achievers in the article have learned that working hard on something such as music really does produce results. Sometimes as beginners we think we will never learn to play the piano, but when we practice, we keep improving! That helps us to build confidence in ourselves, and to recognize that we have control over what we would like to accomplish.
Billionaire hedge fund chairman Bruce Kovner says that his investing is influenced by his piano playing, as “both ‘relate to a kind of pattern recognition.’” Finding patterns in our music helps us to learn it more deeply and aids memorization.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft says, “music ‘reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.’” James D. Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president believes that playing an instrument restores balance to your life. Sitting down at the piano can bring back that sense of artistry and equilibrium that we sometimes lose in the course of a stressful day.
How has playing the piano influenced the way you are in the world? Have you noticed that you have increased patience and trust that your concentration and self-discipline will bring you closer to your goals? What have you noticed has changed since you have started playing the piano? I welcome your observations! With love and music, Gaili
Please subscribe to our blog by clicking on Leave a Reply then check the box:
We had a wonderful time launching our new books, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul at the music teachers’ conference (Music Teacher’s National Association- MTNA) in New York City. Conferences are a great way to learn about new research and trends in piano teaching, and to discuss teaching strategies with other teachers.
Melinda (editor) and I were touched by the overwhelming piano teacher support and interest in our method.
I have started this BLOG to give you the latest information surrounding music and the brain, to discuss strategies to help older adults interested in taking piano lessons (and their teachers), and to introduce you to my Upper Hands Piano books, which I have spent 10 years researching, testing and developing to help adults over 50 learn how to play the piano as quickly and as easily as possible. I hope you’ll help us spread the word about our blog, our books, and our monthly free sheet music! Thanks for following my blog and for your interest in piano lessons and brain health for adults 50+!