Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Practice Tips for Sailing in the Sun, Faber Book 1

     You now can play Firefly and Little River. Here are some tips and focus points that will help you master this piece:
  • Prepare your hands: Right hand is in C position just like Firefly, but now the left hand puts the 1st finger (thumb) next door to the right hand on the white key, which is B.
  • Two Notes: In this song, you get to play two notes at a time with the right hand (1st and 3rd, 2nd and 4th). To make this easy, press the 1st finger down, hold it down while you press the third finger. Do that a few times, then it will be easier to press the first and third finger down at the same time. Next, do the same with the second and fourth finger.
  • Dynamics: where it is written p, play the notes quietly and make the mf medium strong. You want to hear a big difference between p and mf.
  • Medley: play Firefly, Little River and Sailing in the Sun all in a row.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Practice Tips for Song of the Wind in Suzuki Book 1

You now can play the Twinkles and Lightly Row. You have also been trying out some strategies to learn songs, keep thinking of new ways to approach new songs.  Always keep in mind that we want to make things effortless, so do not get discouraged if you cannot learn the song quickly because everyone makes mistakes. Here are some strategies to add to your arsenal as you learn Song of the Wind:      
  • Playing Position: Prepare the playing position before starting the song.
  • Structure: The order is part 1 (first line), part 2 (second line), part 2 (third line).
  • New Skills: 
    • staccato - which is indicated with dots on top or bottom of the note heads, play or sing choppy, crisp, separated, the opposite of legato (smooth and connected).
    • bow circles (retakes) - as you do your bow circle in measure 4, 6 and at the end of part 2 take your time to place the bow gently and at the middle.
  • Strategies:  
    • Warm-up with the bow exercises, especially playing each string staccato and bow circles 4 times each string.
    • Listen to the song and hum along one time before trying to play it. song, so pop in that c.d. or watch the video above!
    • The song introduces more hoping E1 to A3 to E3 to E1 at the end of part 1 (line 1, measure 3). To make it easier, practice hoping from E1 to A3 a few times without the bow, then A3 to E3, then E1 to E1. Now engage the Twinkle rhythms, playing through the same combinations. Now, play the all those notes with one of the rythms and then the way it's in the book. 
    • Play along with the Youtube video above.
    • Play through all the Twinkles, Lightly Row and Song of the Wind.
     As a parent it will help you greatly to keep in mind what it would be like if your parent said the kind of things you say to your child as you practice together. Would you love it if your mother or father point out all the mistakes all the time every practice? Think back on how you did things with your parents, let those memories give you a new way to approach practicing with your child.

These are just a few ideas, get creative and try the song in different ways!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Posture Tips for the Violin, Cello, Piano

"We are conditioned to think that making music is a license for using our bodies in strange and uncomfortable ways, and for holding these posture for hours, days, and years on end.  We don't like to question or change our habits, for fear of losing our artistic powers. But these strenuous postures do not serve the best interests of either ourselves or the music. Good posture allows the limbs and breathing muscles to be free and flexible. . . 

In an effort to sit or stand up straight, some musicians go to an extreme and arch their backs, throwing their shoulders back. This posture over-tightens the lower back, making it an ineffective source of support and putting constant strain on a few muscles. 

In a more natural spinal alignment, the muscles in the torso don't have to work hard. The bones, together with the connective tissue, take on the load of the body and support you against the force of gravity."

                                                    ~The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser

     As a teacher and performer I never want to stop learning. Reading great books on practicing and other areas of music has been very rewarding and enjoyable. I figure if I study Science, Math, Literature, History, and even how to fix things, then why not learn for teachers and professionals in my field? You know what I mean?

I think I know some things about posture and its importance, but Bruser has definitely helped. I want the best posture possible because that is how the body is empowered to perform well, but as Bruser points out we need to be careful that we are not counterproductive. This is a point on which the Suzuki method agrees, since the emphasis is on learning things well in small steps so that they become effortless.

As you work on your posture, make sure your body is comfortable and that tension is released whenever you feel it. One way to work on posture plus comfort in the body is to stop playing for a few seconds when you feel too much tension somewhere. Stretch the tense area and massage it, then play that part of the piece again. Another way to practice staying relaxed is to play something you know well with your eyes closed. As you are singing or playing the piece, start noticing your head, relax it, then go down to your neck, relax your neck. Keep going down the body relaxing each part so that your whole body is tense-free. It takes time and concentration, but the pay-off is great!

What have you been learning about posture? What has helped you to keep a good posture and stay relaxed?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Louisville Philharmonia and Chorus Concert on September 13!

"We are pleased to have the Louisville Chorus and Louisville Philharmonia—The Musicians’ Orchestra provide a world class music program to dedicate CityPlace, a beautiful facility developed for economic expansion and to help provide a vision of the great potential that can be realized for the LaGrange and Oldham County area. CityPlace by the The Rawlings Foundation.  

The concert is sure to dazzle the audience with music from folk to classical, Disney to Broadway and country to patriotic, including the great Battle Hymn of the Republic and Stars and Stripes Forever! Come and enjoy an evening filled with entertainment for the whole family."

7:00 p.m., Saturday, September 13, 2014
FREE admission and open seating provided.
RAIN or SHINE. In the event of inclement weather—indoors—with plenty of seating.
CityPlace, 112 South 1st Avenue in LaGrange, Kentucky  40031

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Practice Tips for Lightly Row in Suzuki Book 1

    Congratulations on learning the Twinkles, so let's get to Lightly Row. As a parent working with your child or as a student it is easy to feel like you do not know how to approach a new song. Whether you are a violinist, violist, cellist, or bassist, here are some tips to help you learn this song:

  • Playing Position: Prepare the playing position before starting the song.
  • Structure: The order is part 1 (first line), part 2 (second line), part 3 (third line), part 2 (fourth line).
  • Strategies:  
    • Warm-up with the bow exercises.
    • Listen to the song one time before playing it. So pop in that c.d. or watch the video above!
    • The song introduces more hops from string to string (called string crosses). Play the first measure (E, C#, C#) with the Twinkle rhythms, this will make playing the E and C# easier. Now, play the first measure the way it is written in the book. 
    • Go through the same process for the second measure and any other notes that are tricky for you.
    • Beware of just getting through the piece, the best way to learn a song is to master it in small chunks.
    • Play along with the Youtube video above.
    • Play through all the Twinkles and Lightly Row. 
     Over the years I have noticed the tendency of students and parents of approaching practicing as a chore to get through. Beware of this mindset, it will slow things down, limit how much you will learn and make playing the violin boring. It is better to think of it as an opportunity to grow, as an adventure of learning something new, and as a chance to calm yourself from all the other things going on in the world. 

These are just a few ideas, get creative and try the song in different ways!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Student Post: Sergei Rachmaninoff - The Forgotten Composer, Part 2

Part 1 here.

After years of hard work, in 1892 Sergei graduated with a gold medal. He was only 19 years old!

The gold medal was for his opera Aleko, which was first performed in 1893. It was admired by a great many people, including Pyotr Tchaikovsky. (Tchaikovsky even asked if Sergei's opera could be performed with one of Tchaikovsky's, which excited Sergei very much.) But Sergei's First Symphony was not so well received. In fact, nobody liked it. Sergei was so upset that he stopped composing for a while. He didn't write any more music for almost three years.

He did start writing again, though, and before World War I started, he had written three concertos, two more symphonies, a symphonic poem, many songs, and lots of piano music. The piano music was written partly for his own amazing hands, so the music is very difficult and full of wide stretches.

In 1902, Sergei finally married his fiancée and cousin Natalia Satina. In the beginning, Sergei was in love with her younger sister, Vera, but Vera and Natalia's mother would have none of that. So Sergei wrote back and forth with Natalia. By the time of their wedding, they had been engaged for three years.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out. The Rachmaninoff family were aristocrats, and so the forty-four-year-old Sergei moved to Switzerland with his family (his wife and two daughters) and decided to focus more on the piano. Many people in the United States offered him work as a composer, and although he turned them down, he finally decided that moving to America would solve some of his financial problems. In 1935, he moved to the United States. He kept composing during this time, even though he was very sad to leave Russia. He and his family tried to make their house in America like their house in Russia.

Sergei became ill during a concert tour in late 1942 and was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer (The doctors told his family, but not him). Soon after, he and his wife became American citizens, just two months before he died. He died in Beverly Hills, California, four days before his 70th birthday.


Sergei wrote a lot of music, including: Piano Concerto No. 4; the Variations on a Theme by Corelli, for solo piano; the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, for piano and orchestra; the Third Symphony; and the Symphonic Dances, as well as pieces like Vocalise, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, and The Isle of the Dead. Sergei Rachmaninoff has been somewhat forgotten, but his music is still popular. He was perhaps the best pianist of his lifetime. As part of his daily warm-up exercises, Sergei would play the difficult Étude in A flat, Op. 1, No. 2, by Paul de Schlozer. When performing, he would go up on stage, sit down at the piano, and wait for the audience to be quiet. When he played, it was perfect: he never made a mistake, and his playing could be heard in the back row of the music hall. And he remembered things - if he heard a piece of music just once, he could remember it for a long time, note by note. He could sit down the next day, or six months later, or ten years later, and play it on the piano. He was dedicated to music - he once said, "That is the most important thing for me in my interpretations, color. So you make music live. Without color it is dead." 

Guest Writer: Rachel Holbrook