February 4th, 2021: Record Yourself!
You want to be recording yourself at least one time a week. Doing this will allow you to examine your posture, how your body looks, and how you are playing, so that you can identify trouble areas and make improvements. You’ll see stuff you didn’t before. And you’ll also hear things better, since when you play you focus on what you are doing, how you are moving, etc and not on hearing everything perfectly. Also, you’ll pick up steadiness, tone, technique and etc. After you record yourself make note of where you did good and of what needs to be improved upon. When you want to make something sound better you have to imagine how you want to sound, figure it out in your head.* Another bonus is that it becomes a journey on your progress and you can watch yourself from 2 years ago and see how much progress you’re making!
Homework: Record yourself playing the same piece and analyze it once a day for the next week. (if you can’t do video, at least try audio)
February 11, 2021: Circle of Fifths
The CoF is a diagram that lists every major and minor key as well as the key signatures of those keys.
Knowing or using the circle of fifths can help you learn a piece faster by understanding both what notes make up that key and what keys it is commonly transposed into.
The adjacent major and minor keys to the key you’re in are the most common keys that the piece you’re playing will move over to. (transposition)
You can also use the circle of fifths to create nice sounding compositional loops C to F to Bb.
Knowing your circle of fifths is a useful skill for musicians to have in their toolbelt.
Homework: Learn how to draw your own circle of fifths and practice until you can draw one from scratch in under 3 minutes. (bonus points if you can get under 1 minute with video proof)
(not many notes available from this day so I recommend watching Andrew’s piano and/or music theory videos on the topic)
February 19, 2021: Snapshot Practice
Sometimes we have to jump large distances on the piano in pieces and it can be hard to make sure your hands get to the correct spot on the keys.
Leaps are one of the hardest skills to train because most people don’t know how to train for them. This is why the snapshot method is so helpful.
Why this works: Where you see, hear, feel, and touch are all in different parts of the brain and they communicate through the cerebellum. When you try to play a key, you look at the key – see the target, then your eyes will try to guide your hand to that spot. It does this by sending signals in your brain. The movement part of the brain is red (output), and the feeling part is the blue part (or input/incoming signals). The green part is the hearing/sound processing area.
When you make a leap, you are moving your arm from one part to another and it sometimes is very fast, fast enough for your vision to actually blur – making it harder for your eyes. Your eyes at this point are not reliable in this instance.
So for piano, we don’t have to see- we just have to feel! Your body is constantly sending signals too your brain (once every 60 milliseconds). The main point: You know where your body is and where you are moving it without having to see.
How does it relate to piano? You don’t need your eyes to leap on the piano. Actually, you’re slowing yourself down by using your eyes because it’s just more information for the brain to process. Your eyes act as your “radar”, allowing you to see things outside of your body that your nerves cannot tell you. We use our eyes to scan the piano, then we feel our arm and finger movements as we play the piano. Your hand and your eyes have to have a conversation via the cerebellum in your brain. This takes time for those signals to go back and forth. With piano, in certain context, you can sometimes move much faster and more reliably by NOT using the eyes. We can then simply the actions and make them happen faster. We are trying to just use the feeling and moving parts of our brain, not our seeing part.
This method is something I came up with as a teen that I call “Snapshot practice”. Let’s simplify this with a simple jump from the A below middle C to another A 3 octaves up and let’s play the first A with finger 2 and the higher A with finger 5 on RH.
Step 1. Sit down at the center of the piano (between the E and F keys above middle C) and make sure your bench position is exactly where it will normally be.
Step 2. Play the low A with your 2nd RH finger and hold it. Notice how your finger, hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, back all feel while you hold this position. Close your eyes and try to place a snapshot or leave a ghost image of your hand in that position. Remember how it feels.
Step 3. Take your hand into your lap with your eyes closed and then while remembering the feeling of where your arm left it’s snapshot and keeping your eyes closed, try to bring your hand back to the snapshot or “ghost” arm so that they become one again. If you hit the same A great job! You did it, if not, don’t worry. This can take time. Keep repeating this process until you can bring your hand back to the snapshot 5 times in a row without a mistake.
Step 4. Now do the same process for your higher A on finger 5. Hold the note and notice how your shoulder,arm,wrist, hand, finger feels different than before. Grab hold of this feeling and create another snapshot. Repeat the same process as the first note until this is learned 5 times in a row no mistakes.
Step 5. Now practice moving from the first snapshot, to the 2nd snapshot, back and forth slowly, eyes closed. Over time you’ll get better and better and you will be able to move very quickly without looking at all. You’ll do a multi octave leap in a split second without looking!
Homework: Practice a snapshot leap from first A below middle C to 3rd A above middle C with RH until you can do it 5 times in a row without a mistake. (Optional Record proof you did it with a video)