Have you ever wondered what is going on inside a piano when someone is playing it? The mechanism used to convert a strike of the key into an actual note that you can hear is actually quite complex. It was invented in Italy at around 1700 by the Italian musician Bartolomeo Cristofori. The fore-runner to the piano was the harpsichord – an instrument with strings and a keyboard, just like the piano. On a harpsichord, the strings are plucked by a quill which passes across them when the player presses a key. Every note is the same volume. Cristofori was frustrated by the lack of variation in the volume level so he created a mechanism which would hammer the strings, instead of plucking them. The harder the pianist presses the key, the harder the hammer hits the string and the louder the note. Critofori named his new instrument the “clavicembalo col piano e forte” (literally, a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises). These days we shorten that to piano.
This video demonstrates how the internal action of the piano moves when the piano is played – I hope you enjoy it!
1.Have a routine Learning to play the piano well is a marathon, not a sprint! To get good you need to practice regularly and consistently. The best way to achieve this is to set a regular time for practice – ideally at the same time every day. (It’s the days off that should be individually scheduled – not practice days). Morning types could aim to always practice before breakfast (assuming that everyone else in the household is up by then). Alternatively, I find that sitting down to play immediately after my evening meal works well. In theory, this time is a time when you can justifiably devote time to hobbies and relaxing activities. So, as for most people, learning to play the piano is a hobby, not a job, this would be a good time. This is also a time when many teens and young people sit down to text friends on their phones. So, put off the texting for 30 minutes, and do some practice before sitting down with a phone. That 30 minutes out of the day will not be missed.
Young children are usually VERY enthusiastic when they first start piano lessons. They have a new book, maybe a new piano or keyboard and as they approach the world of piano music they feel as if they are entering a magical place.
They are! The world of piano IS magical and can be such a wonderful and amazing place. It is also, sometimes, a slightly confusing and difficult place. Children often forget what they have been told during their weekly lesson and can then feel frustrated, leading to a loss of interest.
So, how can we make it easier for them?
Here are five ideas:
Give them very small, easy tasks. Typically teachers may suggest that a piece should be practiced hands separately or hands together, or that a student should just keep playing a piece until they can do it faster or without mistakes. Whilst doing this would result in improvement many children will get bored with this type of instruction. Much better is to focus on one small section of a piece. Maybe to get the ending really good, and maybe to add a few notes of their own to the written ending. It often works to repeat the last note one octave higher.
Link practice time with another regular and enjoyable event in their schedule. For example, if they always do a bit of practice just before they have breakfast they will eventually begin to feel that practice leads to a reward, even if breakfast isn’t actually the reward for practice.
Use pictures to aid memory. If they are finding it difficult to read the music or to remember the names of the notes on the keyboard it may help to put some stickers on the keys. These ones are great as each one has a picture of how the note appears when it is appears in written music. Once on the keys they look really colourful and the smiley faces in each letter will really encourage
children to go to AND stay at the piano. Click hereto buy your own set of stickers from Amazon
It is undoubtably true that sight reading on the piano is much harder than on any other instrument – there are so many notes to read, often 2, 3 or 4 in each hand. So it is little surprise that it is most piano students’ least favourite activity.
However, the ability to sight read well is THE key to becoming a successful pianist. If pieces can be played pretty well on the first read through then more music can be learnt. Very hard music can be learnt much more quickly and the frustrating initial stages of learning new pieces are much briefer. Continue reading “How to improve sight reading”
One of the most frequent questions I am asked by parents is “how much practice should my child be doing?”
Of course the answer varies enormously, depending on the age of the child, the instrument, how many other commitments the child has and a host of other factors. However, there are a few facts about practice which pretty much always apply. Continue reading “How much practice should pianists do?”
Of all instruments, piano is both the easiest and the most difficult to learn. Learning the first few notes is very straight-forward and the beginner will quickly be able to play some easy, tuneful pieces. Making progress after the first couple of years can be more of a problem, and as the student moves onto more challenging repertoire the piano becomes a very difficult instrument. The main reason for this is simply that piano music contains so many notes. The pianist has to read from the treble clef and the bass clef simultaneously and often has to read 4, 5 or 6 notes at the same time. Continue reading “Exactly how hard is it to learn to play the piano?”
There is no doubt that pianists, of all levels, who practice more become better than those whose practice is sparse or irregular. But regular practice is easier said than done and even with the best of intentions the days between lessons can slip by quickly and practice becomes a last minute rush done only on the day before the lesson. Sounds familiar?
First steps are so important. The first piano lesson that a child has will have a huge influence on how he or she progresses and feels about playing the piano over the next few months and years. If they are to do well they need to leave the lesson feeling happy and confident that they will succeed.
Obviously, the way the teacher handles the lesson is a big part. Many teachers use a tutor book and the quality of this book will determine how easily the child learns and whether they find lessons fun and interesting or difficult and (dare I say it) boring.
As a piano teacher, I am often asked to teach children who are very young. It is not unusual for parents to feel that they must start as early as possible in order that their child gets a good head start. Sometimes very young children are able to learn to play but as a general rule, it is better to wait until children are at least 6 years old. It won’t do any harm at all to start a year or two after the child is ready but it can do much harm to start before they are ready. Children who start too young make slow progress and often get frustrated or bored. A pattern can settle in where the child feels pressured to do something they find too hard and they soon associated the piano with bad feelings. Children who start a little later immediately make great progress and like practicing because they get the reward of being able to easily play well. Continue reading “What is the best age to start piano lessons?”