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Piano Keys
Newsletter from Beverley McKiver's Piano Teaching Studio
Volume 1.2 February 2015
As I was thinking about the February newsletter, the song  "You've Gotta Have Heart" kept coming to mind.

The song, written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, comes from the Broadway musical Damn Yankees which opened in 1955. The story is a retelling of the Faust legend. The main character makes a deal with the devil to become a long ball hitter for a losing baseball team to beat the "damn Yankees". What does baseball have to do with playing the piano? For me, the lyrics really hit home (groan).

You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start
You've gotta have hope
Mustn't sit around and mope
Nothin's half as bad as it may appear
Wait'll next year and hope
When your luck is battin' zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there's nothin' to it but to do it
You've gotta have heart
Miles 'n miles n' miles of heart
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you've gotta have heart

This month in the studio we'll be talking about playing with heart. What do I mean by that? To me, it suggests finding a purpose in playing the piano. In the broader view, this can mean developing a love of music, discovering new repertoire, putting the practice time in to improve one's playing and taking pride in mastering a piece of music. You may have other goals that you have set for yourself.  

If you've had less than a positive musical learning experience as a youngster and are picking up the instrument again, that's playing with heart. If you are frustrated with mistakes, but listening carefully and working diligently to correct those mistakes, that's playing with heart. If life is handing you challenges, yet you are forging ahead with the love of music, that's playing with heart.

At the keyboard level, we'll be talking about producing good sound, really listening to our own playing, practicing for continued improvement and having fun with our piano studies by exploring new sounds and ideas. There's nothin' to it but to do it!

News and Fanfares

(A fanfare is a flourish of trumpets or other similar instruments,
used for military or ceremonial purposes, or music that conveys this impression.)
  • Welcome to new students Dana and Elise!
  • Check out my new Facebook page. You can link to it by clicking on the Facebook icon at the bottom of the newsletter. I'm curating musical and piano-related content locally and from around the internet. Stop in to see the latest news. You can follow me on Twitter too, where I tweet about music and some of my other interests.
  • I will be working towards my Grade 10 Royal Conservatory of Music exam. I completed the practical (playing) exam many years ago, but never finished the accompanying theory exams. This will put me into the student seat, practicing what I preach. For Grade 10, there are two theory and two music history exams, plus the playing examination. My goal is to complete all the requirements by the spring of 2017. Preparing for exams certainly puts a new spin on my practicing. The Royal Conservatory of Music provides a national standard curriculum for the study of music. The RCM exams were a key part of my musical education.
Notes from the Studio
Ear Playing vs. Sight Reading

When I was a young student (a long time ago), playing by ear (learning a piece by listening without looking at notation) was frowned upon by my teacher. I worked very hard on becoming a good sight reader. This got me a steady job as a ballet accompanist through high school. However, when I was away from the printed score, I was helpless. If called upon to play a song, I could only mutter that I didn't have any sheet music with me. These days, as a student jazz pianist, my biggest hurdles have been playing without the safety net of a score, learning to improvise and listening closely to other players for musical cues.

Attitudes towards ear playing have changed somewhat, but it still remains a contentious issue. In "From Sound to Sign", Gary E. McPherson and Alf Gabrielsson lay out some of the arguments for and against ear playing.

Some teachers believe that beginners who are taught by ear will fall behind in note reading proficiency. Others in the "ear before eye" and "sound before sign" camps believe that children should experience music before learning to read notation.

There are some convincing arguments to embrace ear playing either before or along with learning to sight read. Many children start reading words around the age of 6 after gaining a great deal of language experience. Like learning to read text, learning to read musical notation is a complex skill, complicated by learning to manipulate the piano at the same time. A student's mental resources can be taxed by trying to cope with it all at once. Is there a musician alive who hasn't experienced the frustration of searching for notes without knowing what the piece is supposed to sound like and fumbling with the technical playing aspects at the same time?

To assist this process, familiar pieces can be taught by rote and repeated listening. Students can sing their repertoire to reinforce ear-to-hand coordination. A feeling of success can be created by introducing the notation of pieces that a student can already perform. One of my favourite musical memories is the feeling of accomplishment I experienced as a young student when I mastered a simplified version of The Blue Danube, which I knew well from my parents' record collection. I believe that my reading of the piece was greatly enhanced up by my prior knowledge of the melody and the form of the music.

My approach in the studio to develop ear playing along with sight reading is to use well-known pieces to demonstrate note-reading, do frequent demonstration and playbacks with the student, play recordings of the piece being learned (thank you, YouTube!), play listening and improvisation games and have the students try to learn familiar pieces, such as Happy Birthday without the score. My goal is to have the student enjoy the act of making music, experience the satisfaction of playing a piece well and build a repertoire that they can call on for their own enjoyment. At the same time, we continue to build note-reading skills at the student's own pace. For well-rounded musicianship, ear playing and sight-reading are both valuable skills.

Next month: Performing for an Audience
February Composers' Birthdays
Do you share a birthday with one of these composers?

( 2/03/1809 - 11/04/1847 )    MENDELSSOHN, Jacob Ludwig Felix
( 2/19/1743 -   5/28/1805 )    BOCCHERINI, Luigi
( 2/20/1791 -   7/15/1857 )    CZERNY, Carl
( 2/23/1685 -   4/14/1759 )    HANDEL, George Frideric
( 2/25/1727 -   2/02/1789 )    COUPERIN, Armand-Louis
( 2/29/1792 - 11/13/1868 )    ROSSINI, Gioachino Antonio

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