An important part of learning the piano (or learning about many types of music in general) is understanding and recognising chords. The most common types of chords in the Western world are major and minor triads: three-note chords that are built by stacking notes that are a 3rd apart. Chord progressions provide harmony in music, adding colour to melodies by blending different notes together in various combinations. At the bottom of this post is a downloadable PDF I have made of major and minor chord flash cards so that you can print them as a memorisation aid.
A good practice routine will include warm ups of some sort, but sometimes this initial part of the practice can seem boring and disconnected from the central aims of the session. In this post I will suggest some ways to connect the two so that your warm ups are relevant to the rest of the practice rather than an unrelated intro to your main work.
Recently I have been researching a topic that I find very interesting: how our culture perceives and treats ‘talent’.
Before reading some books and articles on the subject, I thought of talent as being akin to a plant you were gifted as a child; everyone was given one, and some people’s may have been bigger or leafier to begin with, but ultimately your ‘talent’ plant will only reach its full growth potential if it is consistently watered and replenished and pruned. If you stop nurturing even the hardiest plant, it will wither. If you tend lovingly to an initially unremarkable plant, it will flourish.
Finally mastering a piece that you’ve been working on for a while can be really rewarding: our fingers seem like they’re moving more effortlessly, we don’t have to think so hard about what’s coming next in the music, and we achieve a flow and fluency that only comes with familiarity and hours of practice. However, we can sometimes be too quick to file away a piece as ‘finished’ in our eagerness to move on to something new, only to find weeks later when we revisit it that we’ve forgotten parts and lost some of that proficiency. (Nobody wants to end up in musical Groundhog Day having to learn the same piece over and over because they’ve forgotten it!)
When it comes to learning and remembering certain concepts in music, a lot of input and repetition is required to allow the information to sink in and begin to make sense. Key signatures are a good example of this – with twelve major and twelve minor keys, it can seem like a daunting task to memorise the correct sharps and flats needed for each scale. A lot of my students like using flash cards for learning this kind of information and testing themselves on their retention.
Although investing a great number of hours into your chosen instrument is crucial, the quality of that practice time is just as important. According to the leading authority in the psychology of expertise, K. Anders Ericsson, it is ‘deliberate’ practice that causes significant improvement, rather than mindlessly going through familiar motions. It is often much more beneficial to do twenty minutes of deliberate practice with a clear intention than it is to play aimlessly for an hour. With that in mind, here are eight practice techniques that I use in every lesson with my students and in my own practice, which will improve the efficiency of your learning and save valuable time.
One often overlooked factor that can make or break the effectiveness of your practice is how you set up your practice space. Most of us probably haven’t given the subject much thought (me included until recently!), but having a space that has been set up thoughtfully can have surprising effects on your musical progress and enjoyment. In this post I’ll look at the benefits of having a good practice set-up, and give some tips for how to make the most out of your music space.
I often hear adult students expressing regret that they either gave up an instrument as a child, or never learned one in childhood at all. They feel that they are late to the game, and most seem to hold the belief that they would have found the learning process easier or been able to pick the physical technique up faster had they started younger.
When I was at school and having music lessons every week, I knew that I should be practising, but I was never really sure what constituted good practice, or how often I should have been doing it. It is only as an adult that I have discovered how to practise efficiently, through trial and error, learning from other musicians, reading books on the subject, and teaching my own students.
I thought it might be useful to put together a little compendium of tips that aid my own personal practice, for anybody who is looking for some guidance on the subject (and for myself to refer back to when needed!).