|Posted on 21 March, 2018 at 7:20||comments (0)|
When is a music pupil ready to take an exam?
Starting from scratch the key is to develop confidence on your instrument learning co-ordination, most of the basic range, simple major and minor scales and arpeggios, some songs in simple arrangements. Ideally be ready to perform a song or two to a parent or friend. Music is a performance art and finding a small appreciative audience helps you to develop poise and self confidence. Don't let all your practice run away!
First step is to acquire the frst grade scale book for your instrument or ask your teacher to print out the scale requirments for grade one. Can you play any of these? Don't be put off by the sight reading requirement - let the scales be your initial guide as to the suitable level for you. If the scales are too much as yet then I recommend starting with the Prep Test which is a pre grade one run up to whet your appetite!
The Prep Test is an assessment rather than a paas or fail situation so you gain much needed early confidence in preparing your material and presenting yourself and your performance to a friendly, supportive, and interested examiner who will simply assess your progrss so far. You will gain a prestigious certificate to reward your endeavour!
While preparing for your Prep Test, which may be some months away, you can make a start on your grade one scales and begin to approach the pieces, perhaps learning the main themes one hand at a time. You will have a worthy focus and enjoy learning the varied skills that make up the whole music exam experience.
My pupil is not a beginner: what grade should they enter for?
Again I use the scale requirements for each grade level to give me a strong indication as to the most suitable level. Other important factors are - when did the pupil last take an exam? What grade was it and how long ago? How much practice and playing experience have been gained since then? Did they pass or fail? What is their attitude to their result? What is their long term music goal and how might an immediate exam resond to that goal?
It is not ideal to always be preparing for one exam after another - take time out to develop your own musical personality, build a repetoire, learn to play accompaniments or descants your own way, learn to improvise, play in a group, prepare a small concert performance. Developing into an intelligent confident musician is the key. Exam preparation can help towards this, but may not always be appropriate, especially if there is pressure to accomplish other work such as summer GCSEs.
I don't want to take music exams at all!
Do you lack confidence or suffer excess nerves? Discuss alternative ways to progress with your tutor. Perhaps you thrive in a performance situation or perhaps you simply want to play your favourite songs at home. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your music making!
But I do find teenage pupils especially can really develop self confidence in working over the exam elements, building up to the big day, and proudly receiving their well earned certificate. The whole process brings about a tremendous sense of self power and worthwhile achievement. You learn anything is possible when taken step by step. You can springboard off your own success!
You can do things you once never dreamed possible! Have a go yourself this year!
Louise Woodcock teaches Piano, Woowinds and Brass in South & Mid Kent. Ring or text 07989 370 624
|Posted on 16 October, 2016 at 6:00||comments (0)|
Top 10 Tips for Piano Performance Practice
Tip 1 - Clearly define your Performance event
Where will you be playing? At what date? To whom? What is the audience expectation?
This will be unique to your piano performance. The venue may have much influence as to the instrument available, the time of day, the atmosphere, the audience. The time of day will influence the type of performance you offer. The age range and expectations of your audience will reflect the music you play. Are you the soloist, one of a number of performers, an accompanist, a contestant, or are you providing background music while people chat? What impression do you intend to make? Will this reflect your music choice or the way you play?
And how long do you have to prepare your program? Are you playing familiar pieces or need you learn new material? Have you enough practice time?
Tip 2 - Wear comfortable stylish clothes to make a statement
The clothes you choose will unavoidably make a statement about you as a performer and may set your audience expectations at a different level to your original intention. Comfort and utility within performance is key. Avoid too much colour - plain darker colours work well with perhaps one bright colour in your tie or sash, or even your shoes. I avoid wearing all jewellery, even a watch. I want to feel completely free to focus on each aspect of bringing across the music. Are you happy with your clothes? Is everything clean, pressed and a good fit on the day? It is a good plan to have several choices so you can wear exactly what feels best on the day of your piano performance.
Good choices for pianists include a roll neck jumper, loose trousers, formal shoes, a loose fitting shirt or blouse with medium length sleeves, or a formal dress provided it does not restrict your movement in any way. You must feel relaxed and presentable!
Tip 3 - Choose Your Piano Repetoire Wisely
A flexible repetoire is ideal, even if you provide a published program for your event. On the day you may feel less confident with one piece than another. I like to judge the audience appreciation and choose pieces as I go to suit the mood of my listeners. Whenever possible I opt for a flexible mix of classical piano, contemporary, own arrangements, jazz, pop and folk music. I want my audience to relax. Few will be as highbrow as an expensive symphony hall audience expecting top quality Beethoven and Chopin!
Many audiences will enjoy popular songs and medleys and may even sing along! Certainly everyone enjoys some toetapping dance numbers, from classical waltzes and polkas to 40's bigband era songs. If you can play with an infectious rhythm and flair for keeping good time, you are assured of a hearty response! Be bold. Never be drab. Never be boring. Mix those yawn inducing pieces with some rousing melodies! Keep your audience on edge in a positive manner!
Tip 4 - Ensure You Have Sufficient Encores!!
Many a child will play their three exam pieces but have nothing left for an encore! So as a piano teacher I first encourage students to develop a small repetoire of good fun serviceable encores. Many lasting around 30 seconds. People want to applaud to show appreciation. Never bore your audience. The encore is an opportunity to shine and to entertain. Get the audience on your side and give them a memory to take home. Suit your encore to the mood of the moment. Don't follow up Beethoven with Yankee Doodle! Please..
I recall a piano concert at Symphony Hall Birmingham with Evgeny Kissin - I have no recollection of his repetoire but he played around twelve amusing encores to thunderous applause. Another occasion Alfred Brendel played Beethoven's Hammerklavier wih much mopping of the brow, and encored Fur Elise! Like a delightful sorbet after a heavy meal. Hardly a dry eye in the auditorium - he played on pathos. But I suspect he had a number of encores ready and chose that piece in the moment of audience atmosphere. Few artists could pull such a sweet stunt! Yet these two piano concerts I recall from many I have enjoyed and forgotten - because of the artists' approach to the encore!!
Tip 5 - Entertain not bore!
Your primary task as piano performer is to entertain. You may choose slapstick music or highbrow classical but you are an entertainer! Avoid a repetoire of lengthy tedious dry difficult music. (Conversely, if at all possible, avoid Yankee Doodle!) Schubert daily wrote sweet dances to play amongst his friends in the cafes of Vienna. He loved to provide entertainment of a light cheery kind.
As pianist you could prepare a variety of short dance tunes or popular songs as one program piece. Shorter pieces povide a welcome change for your listeners. Chopin's 24 Preludes make a grand concert number or you could play a number of Schubert dances or Bach's inventions. Just because music isn't on the grade eight piano syllabus does not mean your audience won't listen! You should entertain, not educate!
Which accolade do you desire? "A long and tiring evening" or "A bright vivacious performance enjoyed by all"?
Tip 6 - Give 100% for every Piano Performance
When you play to half a hall give 100% just like the world's great artists do! You don't know how far the influence of any listener. Try to capture a jubilant mood and rouse your audience to great acclaim whether you play to two or two thousand. You want people to talk of your performance for the rest of their lives! Aim to achieve just that! By playing well! Assume people will talk about you and post you all over online!
Tip 7 - How Long Do You Have To Practice?
Keep a good number of serviceable pieces under your fingers at all times, along with a variety of styles of encore, and you won't need too long to polish your performance! Keep up flexible scale and arpeggio practice to hone in your technique, and never avoid sight reading! Aim to compose two or three light pieces which show off your technical style - you never know when you may get a chance to play these.
Constantly work on practicing pieces to provide a variety of programs - a full classical evening, jazz songs, contemporary piano - mix and blend whenever you can. The worst scenario is having a few weeks to learn a difficult all new program, so choose your events a year or more ahead but also be ready to fill in for someone at short notice if the opportunity arises. Your audience will understand if you change some of the program.
Tip 8 - Will You Annouce Your Piano Repetoire?
A formal classical piano performance will provide concert notes and a list of playing pieces - but most concert pianists say a word or two during their performance. Or you can surprise your audience on the day and announce each piece as you play. When playing for weddings I neither provide a playing list nor introduce my pieces - bacground music does not require a speaker, I simply play nonstop! If playing in a pub I rarely introduce the music but aim to play a continual flow of fun contrasting pieces, often alternating classical items with jazz or songs. Both events acclaim my playing - but if I play as soloist to a particular audience then I would speak a few words before each piece to introduce the mood of the piece and entertain. Perhaps you may feel the occasion warrants someone to speak for you.
Tip 9 - Are You Happy With Your Pay?
You may or may not be paid to play, but you will be playing for some recompense - perhaps for publicity or to raise funds for the church hall! In future would you like to be paid? Find an agent! Prepare a good selection of contrasting pieces and practice like a demon! No one will hinder your piano performance career if you feel you have something to offer a keen audience! What is your main motive for playing? Where would you like to play? To whom? Obviously, if money has been agreed, be sure you receive your pay - this is easier done before the event!
Tip 10 - What Acclaim Do You Anticipate?
Naturally I hope to be remembered for a lifetime, and if I play at a wedding I'm sure a few people will remember my playing for a long time, but as a favourable memory of the event, rather than for its own sake. Great presentation will spark good memories, and capturing the mood of the occasion without any false notes, either in your playing or your approach! Presentation involves your costume, the appearance and facilities of the venue ("remember that time we all huddled shivering in the village hall.."), program notes or speaking - a blend of the anticipation you built within your audience compared to the impression you gave. It's the impression you leave in the mind that lingers, more than your playing, more than the program. You want to be invited again, and elsewhere! You want acclaim.
Careful detailing will ensure good presentation, and good sleep, rest, exercise and diet in the days before your event will ensure you are fit on the day, but have you considered the media angle? Invite your local press correspondent, with the best free seat and refreshments! Invite music magazine writers if appropriate. Ring music agents and ask them to attend.
Do you have a recording you can hand out? Or something to sell as a momento? Be sure to have a classy business card to hand out!
How will your event appear on social media? Encourage people to video your playing! Work something up for your own YouTube channel. Tweet your event and your feelings afterwards! Write your own blog and post videos of your playing. You want acclaim, you desire recognition!
Don't play in the dark! Set your light before all and you will receive many invitations to play! The play's the thing!
Louise Woodcock Pianist performs and teaches Piano, Brass and Woodwinds in Kent and East Sussex @KentPiano
|Posted on 20 March, 2016 at 14:15||comments (0)|
"My child has been learning music privately for some time now but our teacher has not mentioned music exams. Does this mean my child is not yet ready? When does a child normally take their first grade?"
Not all private tutors enter their pupils for music grade exams so first ask if this is the case?
In general pupils progress one grade level a year but not necessarily ready for grade 1 until one to four years depending on the age & ability of the pupil - once the first grade is taken, one yearly is likely progress, although it is possible to take three exams in one year! Don't rush the first one - let your child find their stride! If you wish to avoid a buildup of music theory enquire about Practical Musicianship or take Jazz grade 5. This allows you to the exclusive higher grade 6 - 8 which carry UCAS points!!
Your tutor may be nervous to offer the first exam in case of failure. Failure of a first exam could discourage the child from making future attempts. However, we all have to begin somewhere! ABRSM offer some instrments a Prep Test which is a very useful fun first attempt at grade exams. No pass or fail: your child will present prepared mterial for an expert assessment at a centre near you. Find out more:- http://gb.abrsm.org/en/home
ABRSM also offer grades 1 - 5 as Jazz syllabus - you buy the sheet music along with a CD containing backing tracks & a full version for practice. My younger pupils love these & do well from grade 1.
Grade 5 is GCSE Music level so consider the first four grades as steps towards this. The higher grades lead on to professional qualifications such as diplomas. Any musician attaining grade 5 will have a fine array of musical skills to enjoy music making as a life long hobby so it is really worth the pursuit! Have you thought of joining a local band? They will be glad to hear from you!
Must we take every grade from 1 to 8?
It is not necessary to take every grade - sometimes waiting will halt a pupil's momentum - you can take grade exams in the spring, summer & autumn only. There will be a centre near you, usually no more than 20 miles. The exam certificates are very highly prized & preparation for an ABRSM exam will give your child confidence in taking academic exams. Kids love to pass well!
So if you have had lessons for a year or so then begin to think about grade exams, perhaps an early Prep Test to start. You can always retake a failed exam or go onto the next level. Plan ahead carefully with your music tutor to give your child adequate practice. Have a positive approach to long term success.
"Have a positive approach to long term success!"
The exam consists of 3 pieces from a list worth up to 30 marks each - Aural which is music ear tests worth 18 marks - Sight reading worth 21 marks shows how well your child thinks at this level - Scales & arpeggios worth 21 marks. Ask your teacher to help you prepare in depth for these as they are worth 60 marks & the pieces worth 90 marks - total 150 marks. You must get 100 to pass. Don't throw any marks away! Prepare lovingly & thoroughly as each level assumes you learnt the previous material well & gets harder!
Many parents do not understand the intensive study required at each level to achieve a good pass. Listen to what your teacher feels about the amount of time you need to prepare & set aside daily practice time. Input achieves output! Don't rush. It takes years to learn any musical instrument really well. A labour of love... and FUN!
It takes around three weeks after your exam to receive the result. Get yourself a beautiful A4 frame ready to proudly display your certificate!
I hope this has been helpful. If you live in Kent or East Sussex I am happy to travel to assess your child's ability & current study level. Contact Louise Woodcock on 07989 370 624
|Posted on 16 December, 2015 at 10:40||comments (0)|
2016 - a new start - a new hobby!
Increase your positivity this New Year by starting a new hobby! I recommend taking Piano Lessons in Kent.
Studying music has many rewards and positive benefits to your physical and mental health, and will also improve your intelligence and increase the awareness of your senses plus inspiring your creativity and learning new skills like improvisation, memorization and composition!
No one is too old to begin - you just need a keyboard or piano and a few minutes four or five times weekly to practice your pieces and songs.
What music really inspires you? Make a resolution to learn the songs you love!
If you live in Kent or East Sussex now is the time to begin!
Piano Lessons in Kent and East Sussex
It only takes between te to thirty minutes four or five times a wek to become proficient at playing piano, even from scratch! It is a myth that you need a gift or talent, since playing the piano is similar to learning to type; whoever heard it said that a secretary is "gifted" at typing? It is a motor skill anyone can learn with repetitive practice. In fact, the co-ordination you need at the piano is very similar to driving your car! So get started now!
Determinine to learn three of your favourite songs within three months! Expect your piano teacher to encourage you. There is no mystery about music - you can accompany any song with two or three simple left hand chords - in the key of C (no flats or sharps) I would use C+E and F+A and G+B to harmonize the melody. Keep your music very simple so you can easily play in time. It is much better to play well with simple ideas than to stumble over difficult voicings.
Learn a few simple scales one and two octaves (C, F, G, D) but don't get hung up about them! Don't waste time - get on and learn the notes and play what pleases you. This way, you will find the time to practice easily and practice makes perfect.
There are different levels to piano playing but essentially the crucial target is to play a song you love with a simple effective accompaniment in the left hand. Gradually increase the number of songs you play well - one a month is twelve a year!
Start piano lessons in Kent or East Sussex today - keep it simple, make it fun!
Make 2016 the year your musical dreams come true! Book your first piano lesson today!
Louise 07989 370 624
|Posted on 19 October, 2015 at 19:40||comments (0)|
Are you too old to learn piano?
Here are some popular piano myths and the truth!
Children learn much more effectively than adults..
Absolute nonsense! Most of my adult pupils learn in four lessons the music my child pupils take over one year to learn! Truth. Why is this? Adults focus on the subject on hand - not their dog, their phone, their toys, their aches and pains, the latest joke. Adults invariably listen to me without losing attention, and do as I say, immediately. Adults learn from their errors immediately. Adults want to learn! Children want to chatter.
Adults see the whole picture where a child only sees the nuts and bolts. Adults comprehend patterns and trends rapidly.
So you are never too old to learn piano: my oldest pupil plays at 92 years!
A digital piano is not as good as an acoustic upright piano
Myth! Most pupils would be far better to practice regularly on a new modern digital piano (from £600 new) than an old worn upright piano. So many parents say: "It belonged to my grandmother.." I think: "Yes, I can see that; do you keep her mangle too?" Worn pianos have faulty keys, poor tonality and are generally out of tune. How would your child feel being offered a newdigital piano with perfect touch and tone? Do you think they will be eager to learn? Invest in their future! (And my ears).
Classical music is proper piano music: you should learn the masters before playing jazz or pop
Wrong again! Classical music takes many years to really master and if your taste is for lighter modern music then you should focus on the music you love. How many hours in a year do you really intend to devote to piano practice? I recommend you begin with boogie and pop songs if you hate classics! Learn jazz chords and improvisation. Learn rhythms and keep in time. Time is the precious stuff your weeks are made of: don't waste ANY of it on music you dislike. But do learn all your scales because they are the best substitute for hours of dull music theory! See, I am practical, and I keep it FUN!
Scales are boring
I'm the piano teacher so of course I will disagree! My pupils suppose scales are boring until I play funky rhythms up and down the keyboard! Contact me for advice on how to make scales fun
You can't learn piano on a keyboard
Many teachers only teach right hand tunes and left hand block chords on keyboard but I start all children and adults the same way.
Five finger positions in each hand, learn C scale one and two octaves hands together in contrarimotion to get a feel for finger equality. Even Franz Liszt took a silent dummy keyboard to practice on long journeys! I help my pupils upgrade to a full piano when they are ready.
You must learn to perform from memory
Not so. I have seen top concert pianists play from sheet music. I generally play from sheet music - I play over a hundred pieces each week, why would I want to memorize all those? Playing from the music helps you focus on the page and stop watching your fingers! You will omit memory lapses and play confidently. Some children naturally memorize, but few adults do.
There is no benefit at all to playing from memory.
Boogie Woogie is not proper piano music
Well, how dyed in the wool are you? I love taking countless hours to perfecting and exploring boogie bass lines. It is very good material to keep your focus from rusting up and you learn to hear chord patterns well and improvize creatively. Boogie on!
Every piece should be learned hands separately first
Try a line slowly hands together to start with. Separate hands practice is more relevant for an expert player who wants to appreciate the quality of each line than an absolute must for a beginner. If you never learn to try music hands together then your ability to read at sight will suffer. Establish a strict pulse, slow at first, gradually increasing in speed. Never fall into the dire habit of playing differet bars at different speeds depending on the difficulty! Slow to begin, gradually increase the pace!
You should never play wrong notes!
Well how perfect are you? What is a wrong note? There's no note so wrong you can't twiddle out of it! Learn to improvise and make up sounds at the piano. Lose your fear. Forget Victorian learning which says you must learn by rote, you must play what's on the page. Over the centuries pianists have "interpreted" the music, rarely have they followed the page exactly. Franz Liszt, arguably the finest technician ever, once ended a piece in D major on a high C sharp by accident! Franz Liszt! He simply rolled back down the piano on an A major arpeggio and thundered back up on D major arpeggio. To perform brilliantly is to entertain. Accept you are HUMAN (so am I) - expect to make mistakes and get out of them intelligently! The worst thing is to stop and look silly - the best thing is to make a variation for 1-2 bars and graft back into the flow of the music - few will notice, those who do will admire your skill and humanity.
To err is human, to improvise: divine!
Bach should be played on the harpsichord
Harpsichords cost upwards of £30,000 now! I have never met anyone who owns a harpsichord at home, although I am saving for one www.morleypianos.com/harpsichords-&-clavichords/harpsichords myself (plus a house to keep it in)!
So why deny yourself access to the best study material of all time? Bach is the supreme master - play Bach every day!
You should not simplify difficult piano music
Why not? Most of the concert pianists from 1800 to 1950 did! They omitted notes, bars, repeats, chords, and slowed up in difficult passages; in fact, they invented a fashionable rubato style of sentimentalising the music to coincide with their technical ability! The public loved them for it. Only recently has it become unacceptable for concert performance but you are not aiming to play on stage so simplify all you like at home! All that matters is that you play, play, play (and enjoy)!
You should not skip grade exams
If grade exams are relevant for you (few of my adult pupils take them) then you need to prepare for the one you are ready for.
If that means missing a level then miss it! Don't hold yourself back. You don't need all eight certificates from grade 1 to 8.
If they are useful to your progess, take one. If not, leave it. Playing passionately with expression and enjoyment is key.
Fortnightly lessons give you more time to practice at home
Sorry, this one is nonsense! I have taught all ages and levels for over twenty years, weekly and fortnightly and everyone does as little practice between lessons whether weekly or fortnightly. You soon find other things to distract you, and you'll struggle to remember the lesson. If you want to learn effectively and fast the only answer is weekly lessons WHETHER YOU HAVE DONE ANY PRACTICE OR NOT! It's the regular contact with your teacher that provides momentum to progress.
I have a disability so I can't learn piano
Some concert pianists through the ages have only had a LEFT HAND! I'd call that a disability but it didn't stop them!
I have taught arthritic fingers, dyslexia, physical ailments..if you love music it's all mind over matter so start today!
My hands are too small!
Really? Well, mine are tiny so maybe you should think again! It's all mind over matter. If you want to play, you will!
I don't have the time to practice regularly
No, and you would suppose my pupils don't either!
However, you can do a lot with just ten mintues three times a week.
You must be terribly busy if you can't find half an hour in 168 hours a week - try sleeping less.
It's how you practice, not how long.
No one in my family ever played music, I don't think I could learn
Then you'll be pleasantly surprised! Stop putting it off and book your first lesson today, trendsetter
You need a gift for music
My pupils don't have a gift between them but we get great results! You can learn to play piano just the same as you can learn to drive or make toast. Step by step. Give it a go!
You need an ear for music
Well, you've got two ears, haven't you? And one's enough. Get weaving. People who play by ear actually use their hands, same as everyone else Truth.
Louise Woodcock teaches inspirational piano, trumpet, sax and clarinet from Hastings to Canterbury.
Give her a ring and arrange your first lesson today - if you want to, you can!
|Posted on 1 September, 2015 at 18:15|
A new school term begins!
Are you ready to start Piano Lessons?
Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock teaches piano at all levels, styles and age groups. And lessons take place in your own home! This can save considerable hassle transporting children about and filling in the lesson time while you wait to take the pupil home.
Perhaps your child is entering school for the first time? It's time to consider learning piano!
Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock tailor-makes each pupil's music selection to include the music you love, trimming back on the traditional dull stuff!
"I believe each piano pupil begins with a personal momentum consisting of their enthusiasm, and this initial fire must be fueled from the teacher through the enjoyment of easy step approach using music the pupil has a preference for. Momentum builds allowing the pupil to discover their own inner talent and creativity. Playing piano is not a chore but an enjoyable and rewarding hobby."
It is vital to refuel your initial momentum through continued practice and study of easy pieces you love to play. The most important element of good piano playing is creating a sense of flow so the music unfolds from your fingertips and never loses control or rhythmic direction. A waltz must never become a march! Keep the pulse of the piece going! To encourage this style of controlled playing I introduce simple pieces with real appeal. A happy pianist continues to build the momentum of their playing over many years.
Music encourages students to concentrate better on all their studies. Exams taken regularly prepare the child for internal school exam preparation. As a child progresses through ABRSM music exams they gain a real feeling of progress and interaction: everything can be achieved step by step over a realistic amount of time!
Contact Kent Piano Teacher Louise Woodcock today to discuss your child's needs - the beginning of a new school term is the ideal moment to start piano lessons in your own home! No travelling through the rain this winter! Let your tutor visit you! Your child will perform best on the keyboard they regularly play.
How much practice time is required weekly?
For younger pupils I recommend fifteen minute practice sessions whenever possible - twice a day, all week if you can manage this, but no less than four sessions of 15 minutes through the week. Very young pupils will benefit from a parent suprvising their practice time, and ten minutes daily may be the best amount (age 4-6).
"Practice makes perfect" is heard endlessly - piano motor skills are best learned through regular repeated playing, daily if possible, altenate days if not. As with any learning, your reward will equate to the effort invested! It is delightful to the teacher when a pupil really knows the work set the week before! Learn step by step - master last lesson's steps before going further.
Adults may find two daily sessions of 15-20 minutes works best for them. Of course you can play for hours (I hope you do!) but I suggest a strecth or walk away from the piano every 20 minutes or so, firstly to eliminate physical strain, secondly to refresh your focus. Don't sit for a long time at one piece - a few minutes on a piece, then a scale or two, then another piece - your focus must be constantly stimulated.
The trick is - ENJOY! Have fun
Louise Woodcock teaches piano in Kent villages from Cranbrook to Ashford to Rye - ask to see if I can visit you!