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27/09/2017

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Tricks to Remember Major Scale Fingerings.

Getting the right fingering is essential for executing scales proficiently and fluently - here are a few tricks to help.

Getting the right fingering is essential for executing scales proficiently and fluently - here are a few tricks to help.

Getting the right fingering is essential for executing scales proficiently and fluently, but I'm sure you, like many of my students, find remembering the fingerings a little daunting, especially considering the sheer number that you need to learn for the higher grades. In this post, I will be sharing a few tricks which might help and by the way, if you have any tricks that I don't mention, feel free to add them to the comments below to help other readers. 

Let's first consider the basic scales C, G, D, A and E majors. I'm sure you are all aware that these follow a basic "3 - 4 - 3" finger pattern and when you came across the first three in Grade 1, you probably had little problem learning these. One of the greatest challenges for students between Grades 1 and 2, is putting these scales hands together. I like to point out to them, that "3's are always together", so if you are using a third finger in one hand, you should be doing the same in the other hand at the same time. Then, I like to liken the hands together scales to a couple dancing, where the man leads. On the way up the right hand is the man, that is to say that it will do the changes of "3 - 4 - 3" just before the left hand and on the way down, the roles are reversed where the left hand leads  the 3 - 4 - 3 pattern. The mistake that many students make is to think that any fingering will do as long as they play the right notes. This is not true. OK, sometimes you get away with it, but invariably mistakes happen just after the fingering goes off course. Make sure you start slowly to ingrain the correct fingering into your muscle memory.

Next let's go onto the flat scales, that is, B flat, E flat, A flat and D flat majors. These all follow one pattern. In the right hand ascending and  the left hand descending for all these scales, the thumb always goes after the black note or group of black notes if there are more than one consecutively.
The right hand  descending always puts 4th on B flat, and the left hand ascending,  always uses 4th for the first cross over.

Finally that leaves F major, B major and F sharp major. To be honest, B major despite its many sharps, is one of the easiest scales, because there are only certain places where the thumb can go and that's where you put it. Interestingly, in all three of these scales thumbs are always together in both hands, except for the very first and last note in the case of F major. If you want to see these principles in action here is a video for all major scales clearly showing the correct fingering below. 




23/09/2017

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Music Connects

Connect with other Musicians around the World

Connect with other Musicians around the World


Music is a highly social activity and here on MusicOnline UK, I wanted to offer you my readers the chance to connect with other musicians around the world, through  LIVE CHAT. Just click on "CONNECT" in the menu. You can also connect with me if you have any questions about music-related topics. Who knows you might make some new friends. 


Please note ABUSE OF THIS CHAT BOX WILL GET YOU BANNED - KEEP  IT NICE.

21/09/2017

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Why do we want to listen to sad music when we are sad?


Why do we want to listen to sad music when we are sad?

It turns out that the majority of you, nearly 60%, said you prefer sad music. This would seem a little bit of a paradox. In this article I will explore WHY.

In a recent poll about the personality of a musician, one of the questions I asked was whether you prefer to listen to happy music or sad music. By the way, if you want to take part in the poll you can do so HERE


It turns out that the majority of you, nearly 60%, said you prefer sad music. This would seem a little bit of a paradox. Surely no one would want to feel sad rather than happy. Or is there something in sad music which actually makes us feel better. I have read many theories on this topic recently, trying to find answers to this question. Some suggest that we feel better listening to sad music because it is not our own sadness and we actually feel better knowing that it is virtual and not real. I personally don't agree with this argument. Others argue that there is an emotional reward when we show empathy towards others and listening to sad music is like showing empathy for the music. Indeed musicians, it has been shown, tend to have more empathy. Others will state that sad music is simply aesthetically more beautiful. 

May I offer another explanation here. If you are very sad in your own real life do you feel better in yourself if you can express that emotion in some way, maybe have a good cry. It is a scientific fact that crying releases endorphins, the body's own hormones that make us feel better. When we listen to sad music, we can express our emotions through the music and this in turn can release the same biochemical reaction that makes us feel better. Scientific studies have shown that at the peak emotional content of a particular song, your brain is likely to release dopamine - a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Why do musicians linger just that fraction longer in a kind of rubato pause on a particularly poignant chord in an emotional piece. To enjoy the moment, even though that moment might be tragically sad? A paradox for sure.

Interestingly, the same is true for watching sad films. Why do we watch them. To feel sad? Or to release some of our sadness through empathizing with what we are watching. Also bear in mind that much of the emotion we experience in films is induced through the music of a powerful film score.

Now I said the beginning, that 60% of you preferred sad music, which means possibly, that 40% of you might totally disagree with me, feel free to leave a comment below on anything I have mentioned.


13/09/2017

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The "Obsessive Nature of a Musician" - Decomposing the Musician - Part 2

Is an obsessive personality characteristic of a musician?Following on from last week's post about the personality of a musician, where we discovered that a large majority of you who took my poll were introverts, this week I want to look at the obsessive nature of musicians. By the way, if you haven't taken the poll yet you can do so HERE

In the survey only 20% of you said that you were not obsessive at all, 50% being mildy obsessive and 30% VERY obsessive. I believe that this goes along with being an introvert and also some of the other questions in the survey. For example, most of you said that you were "single minded" rather than "easily distracted". A similar proportion of you describe yourselves as organised. Are these results surprising? Not really. First of all musicians need to devote large amounts of time to practice. This activity in itself requires a somewhat obsessive nature. They need to be very strict with themselves to stick to a schedule ignoring distractions.

Added to this, musicians exist in an environment of pressure to perform well. Concerts and exams, for example can create a competitive characteristic within us.  Do you for example, compare yourself with other musicians in a competitive way trying to be better than your peers? Please leave a comment if this describes you.

However, here comes a word of warning. Being overly obsessive can lead us to practice an instrument to a point where  doing so can cause physical injury. The famous violinist Itzhak Perlman recommends practising no more than three hours a day. 

Watch the video - Itzhak Perlman on Practicing




In fact, researchers have found that setting goals to outperform others seems to undermine musical performance. There is also a danger that we can engage in this activity to the point where health deteriorates, relationships are strained, and finances can suffer.

Now, I'm not advocating that a musician should not have a structured approach to practice, but maybe a more healthy way would be to always try and be better than yourself, rather than better than others. Additionally, as musicians, I believe we will be better in what we do, if we have a life outside of music. A person who is passionate about life, will be more passionate when they perform. Conversely,  a student whose life is only about music, can end up being very mechanical in their playing. 

07/09/2017

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Trinity vs ABRSM - The new syllabus 2018-2020

Trinity vs ABRSM - The new syllabus 2018-2020

Compare the differences between Trinity vs ABRSM
Grade 1 Trinity Piano 2018-2020
This summer the new 2018-2020 piano syllabus was published by Trinity College London and out of curiosity I thought I'd take a look. I've always been an ABRSM person, took their exams many years ago and now teach their syllabus to my own students. However in this post I would like to point out some of the differences between ABRSM and Trinity College and I would be interested in your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. 

VIEW THE COMPLETE LISTS OF TRINITY COLLEGE LONDON PIANO PIECES
Gr1  Gr2  Gr3  Gr4  Gr5  Gr6  Gr7  Gr8



First of all, ABRSM is much bigger worldwide than Trinity College and by many it is considered better. Being bigger, it has more exam centres and so unless you live in a big city like London, you might find yourself having to travel a long way to take your exam. 

LISTEN TO ABRSM PIECES  HERE

Regarding the exam itself, the biggest difference I noticed is in the supporting tests. In ABRSM as you probably know, you have to play three pieces, do scales, aural tests and sight reading. In Trinity there is a choice. You pick only TWO of the following four supporting tests: 


 Sight Reading; Aural; Improvisation; 
Musical Knowledge about a piece you are playing. 

This means that a student can focus on his strengths - for example if you really find the aural difficult, you won’t be penalised. Then again, does the ABRSM approach make for a more all round musician? Should everyone, for example, be able to sight read or is it a cop out to let the student decide if he wants to avoid sight reading through his entire studies on an instrument? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

The scales seem of a similar difficulty, but there are less of them in Trinity. Many students, especially in the higher grades feel inundated by the sheer number of scales they need to know for ABRSM. Is knowing the complete cycle of fifths both major and minor at Grade 5 piano a good thing or a bad thing in your opinion?  
To make up for the fewer number of scales, Trinity College has additional Technical exercises, short little pieces which test things like tone, balance, coordination flexibility whereas ABRSM tests this in the main pieces. 

Then there are the pieces themselves. My first impression is that they are a little easier especially at the early grades. I’ve made some video recordings of both the new Trinity College Piano syllabus and that of ABRSM.  Have a listen and tell me if you think they are in fact easier than ABRSM. However, the difficulty of the pieces is not the only difference. In ABRSM you need to choose three pieces one from each of three lists A, B and C. In Trinity College, again you need to choose three pieces, but these can be ANY three from the whole book. There is even an option where one of the pieces is a duet, where your teacher would accompany you in the exam. You can even offer you OWN composition as an alternative to one of the pieces. The idea behind the ABRSM forcing you to play from three different lists, I guess, is that you will get experience of playing different styles of  music. In my opinion, although the Trinity option might be more popular with students, that of the ABRSM in the long run might produce better all round musicians. What do you think? 

So in summary, my initial little curiosity has opened up a lot of questions as to the PROs and CONS of these two examining boards so please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

05/09/2017

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Decomposing the Musician - Part 1

Are Musicians Introverts or Extroverts?

In a recent poll is was found that the majority of musicians would describe themselves as introverts.

About a week ago I published on YouTube a "Musician's Personality" quiz and the response, I have to say has been very interesting. It seems that there definitely are certain personality traits shared by the majority of musicians. Now if you want to take the test BEFORE you hear about some of the results, (it might bias your answers if you do so afterwards) you can do so by clicking this link - Musician's Personality Test

Added to this, the more people who take part, the more accurate the results will be.

So.... the two most definitive results, that emerged and that I want to discuss today were in answer to the questions;
  1. Are you sensitive to other people's feelings?
  2. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Regarding the first question, I have to be honest, I anticipated that most people would say YES, they are sensitive to other people's feelings. The result backed this up - a massive 96% of those who answered said yes. Of course many of us would not like to admit if we were insensitive and could answer not honestly, but if we think about it, being a musician requires sensitivity, it's all about communicating emotions and feelings, communication being a two way thing. Especially those of you who play in ensembles, need a high level of empathy to communicate non verbally when performing. However, is this "empathy" a pre-requirement to make a good musician, or does being a musician develop empathy. As I delved into this subject further I found an academic study by Cambridge University where Researchers looking at group education sessions for 8 to 11 year old children showed that engaging in regular music-based activities with others - from ensembles to simple rhythmic exercises - can conspicuously advance empathy development, increasing a child’s capacity to recognize and consider the emotions of others. If you are interested there is a link to this article below.

The second question produces a more surprising result. One might think that musicians are extroverts. They often play in front of large audiences, expressing themselves openly through their instrument, quite the opposite of what one would expect from a quiet, shy, retiring type. However, the survey returned a result that 92% of you who answered were introverts. It is true that in order to spend enough time practicing to become really good at music, you have to enjoy being alone for long periods. Playing music with and for other people is social, but in a highly structured way that's easier for introverts. Could it also be that we use our instruments to hide behind and we transform into an extrovert only with our instrument in hand (or in throat in the case of singers). In real life are we the one who stands in the corner at parties, not the best at starting conversations especially in larger groups of people. Please leave a comment below if this describes you, do you hide behind your instrument, but without it are you shy in social settings?

As I said at the outset, these are only a couple of the results and I will be commenting on other questions in future weeks, so stay tuned and watch out for the next in the series of "Decomposing the Musician"

Further Reading
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/music-of-kindness-playing-together-strengthens-empathy-in-children

01/09/2017

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Music Theory Course

This post is to announce the start of a complete theory course that will cover grades 1-5 of most of the Music Examining boards such as ABRSM or Trinity College. 


It will be an ongoing process so please be patient as I add material. Links to the individual lessons will appear on the page "Music Theory" which can be found on the main menu.

Here is an example of what is to come - but please note that each lesson will not be posted here on the blog, but rather on the "Music Theory" page.


Time Values, Bar Lines and Time Signatures


Download a FREE worksheet on this topic from

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers
1 semibreve is equal to

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers
2 minims, which are equal to

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers

4 crotchets, which are equal to

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers

8 quavers, which are equal to

1 semibreve = 2 minims = 4 crotchets = 8 quavers = 16 semiquavers

16 semiquavers.


The above stave contains three Bars separated by Bar Lines.  At the end of the line there is a "Double Bar Line"  At the beginning of each bar there is a Time Signature.


The above stave contains three Bars separated by Bar Lines.

At the end of the line there is a "Double Bar Line"

At the beginning of each bar there is a Time Signature.

The top number of a time signature tells you how many beats are in a bar, and the bottom number tells you "what type of beat it is".

For example, in the first bar there is a time signature of 2/4.

This means that there are two beats in a bar and the beats are crotchets, or put more simply there are "two crotchet beats in bar".

The second bar has a time signature of 3/4 meaning "three crotchet beats in a bar". Notice that this doesn't necessarily mean three crotchets in that bar - it could be, as above, a minim and a crotchet which adds up to the same as three crotchet beats.

In the final bar there is a letter "C" which stands for "common time". Common time is just another way of writing 4/4 (i.e. four crotchet beats in a bar).

N.B. In Grade 1 you will only see time signatures with crotchet beats. In other words the bottom number of the time signature will always be 4 (or it's marked as common time which means 4/4).


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