Why kids should learn to play the piano


Professional pianist, composer and co-founder of Most Entertaining, Will Pickvance shares how his love of playing piano first began and why it’s a brilliant instrument for kids to learn.

When I was a little boy, I asked Father Christmas for a spaceship. He brought me a piano. After getting over the initial shock, I started to realise the piano was a pretty neat present too.

Around that time I had heard a slot machine churning out Scott Joplin rags to entice people to come and play on it. “What is that cool music? I want to play that!” Being inspired by a piece of music or a performer is a great start.

It’s amazing how many kids having piano lessons don’t listen to music or have any contact with it other than through some beginners handbook – middle C is an obvious starting point, but can get pretty boring on its own. You can’t blame someone for wanting to quit that tedious drill.

Tip 1: Try listening to all sorts of music, find out more about stuff that you like. I used to pinch jazz tapes off my poor Grandpa, but now thanks to YouTube, you can discover things very easily.

Early on in my playing, I discovered that you can change notes, add notes, miss notes out. This was possibly because I was lazy or messy, but it was also because I liked the variation.

Crucially, I survived to tell the tale. Knowing how to read music is of course a massively useful skill, but when kids are able to make the distinction between music as expression and music as some dots on a page, it really frees them up. Once upon a time, before any music was written down, it was first plucked out of thin air by composers messing around on the piano – or in their head if they’re a crazy genius.

Tip 2: Try experimenting on pieces you’re already playing. Maybe try crossing hands, playing it two octaves higher or double speed. Try adding a few extra notes or even playing with your head under the piano – go on, I dare you. You might even write your own piece.

I’ve always loved the cartoon Tom and Jerry and the music in the show is great. As I was growing up, I desperately wanted to play bits I liked, but the sheet music just didn’t exist. If I wanted to play it I had to work it out for myself, using my ear. It’s very exciting when you first start playing a piece that you worked out.

Tip 3: Try picking out some tunes you like, maybe something you heard on TV or a computer game. Start with something really easy. You’ll find that you get better at it quite quickly and you can find the note you are looking for more and more easily. If you’re feeling really ambitious, maybe try a chord or two in the left hand. Remember, if you get a wrong note, it really doesn’t matter. In fact, some jazz players think mistakes are the start of something even better.

After you have been playing the piano for a little while, people start to say things like, “Hey look, there’s that person who plays the piano – quick, get them to play something right now”. This happened to me and at first I would say, “I can’t, I haven’t got my music”. And it was a bit of a shame. Then I had this great idea – what if I can play a piece for memory.

 Tip 4: Try playing one of your pieces from memory. You might be surprised how much you can already remember. Is it your hands that are remembering it or is it your head? Is it a bit of both? The posh word for your memory bank of pieces is ‘repertoire’. If you can have three or four pieces in your repertoire at anytime, that’s fantastic. It’s not just about playing to other people. It’s about playing for yourself, whenever you want. What you find when you play a piece from memory is you are free to enjoy playing it more – you can add expression, even have a cup of tea at the same time.

When I started playing, I thought composers were just a bunch of guys who lived a few hundred years ago who had funny hair. Well, that is true to some extent, but of course, they didn’t all live at the same time. Hundreds of years and miles separate Bach from Rachmaninoff, for example. I’m always wanting to know a bit more about when the music was written and what was going on at the time.

Tip 5: Try doing some detective work on the composer of a piece you are playing. When were they born? Were they young or old? When they wrote the piece? What was in the news back then? What other famous composers were alive at the same time? Just a few questions you might ask.

The most important thing…

I’ve always enjoyed playing the piano and that is the most important thing for you to remember to do yourself. If you’re finding it dull, change things. There’s so much great music, so many styles. Practising is, of course, part of it, but playing is even better if you want to get good at playing the piano.

 

 

 

Strumming the right notes!

Guitar Workshops with Most Entertaining …

I’ve always had an interest in music but only recently returned to the idea of playing and instrument. I learned cello during primary school and part of secondary school but gave it up as I lacked enthusiasm and interest in classical music. That was some six years ago. As I’ve matured, my love of music across the spectrum has grown; filling my music library with artists such as The Wailing Wailers, Neil Young, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis and most recently Lynrd Skynrd. I’ve wanted to find out about all kinds of music and it seemed that one of the ways of increasing my understanding and appreciation would be to learn guitar.

Learning the guitar, for me, was a very spontaneous decision. I borrowed a guitar after seeing the magnificent Blues/Folk guitarist, Chris Smithersat the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. I was so impressed by his effortless finger picking style. I wondered if watching a few beginner guitar videos on Youtube would be a good place to start teaching myself.  It was tempting because it was free!! Struggling to bend my fingers into seemingly impossible positions, I persevered for about a week…

Strum…strum…strum… change chord. Argh! It all seemed so hard. I decided I needed more than virtual help. I then heard about Most Entertaining guitar workshops. I have to admit, what first caught my attention was having access to a tutor without having to pay £30 an hour for a one-to-one lesson. So, one week after picking up the guitar, I turned up at the first session to find a very friendly group of people at a variety of skill levels. The class is led by Chris Day, who immediately put me at ease.

The first week we learned the chords for ‘I Feel Fine’ (The Beatles) followed by a finger relaxing Metallica riff that gave the two hour session a good mix. I spent the next week practicing the two pieces of material, attempting to speed up chord changes and improving pitch. I’m happy to say that I found it really fun to practice, fitting it in when I had a few free minutes or when bored, slowly but steadily learning chords and songs.

In the weeks since, I have learned several new songs, including my suggestion, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (David Bowie). The group has been a great propellant for me as an aspiring novice. I look forward to completing the course, buying my first guitar and signing up for next term.

Art Farmer, 18 years old – will be performing with the rest of the guitar group and vocal group at their gig (FREE to the public) on 12th June, Circus – St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh from 7pm.

The Thorny Subject of Practice

Part 2    The Thorny Subject of Practice

The thorny subject of practice has been on my mind lately. I know I should practise playing my trumpet, little and often. I know that I’ll regret not practising when the time comes round for my next lesson. And not practising makes my goal of playing in an orchestra one day even further away.Just like exercise, we make excuses not to practise even though we know we’ll feel better after we’ve done it.

Recently, I haven’t been practising at all because my daughter has been in hospital. At times like those, playing the trumpet is the last thing on your mind! But usually, it’s the little things that get in the way.  Ironing, work, school, homework, shopping, life, chocolate…

But once those things are sorted, it’s all about finding the right time. The neighbours have to be out, obviously. Those you live with have to be out so they don’t complain about the awful noise and generally get in the way. You have to be feeling in the right mood for practice, too – positive and motivated to improve; not too tired or stressed. You have to find a quiet place where you can set up the music stand, get ready, think about what you’re going to play.

To me, choosing the ‘what you’re going to play’ is the best bit. Buzzing, scales, the higher register – I know I need to work on those. But the fun part at the end is what I really want to get to. Will it be ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘William Tell’? ‘The Wombling Song’ or ‘Theme from Beethoven’s Ninth’?

I think I’ll just have a cup of tea while I decide!

trumpet tied in red ribbon
 

A Musical Resolution

Part 1    A New Year Resolution

It all started with a birthday present.  I’d been talking for years about learning to play a musical instrument, having been a singer since I was at school. What I really wanted to do was play a proper musical instrument in an orchestra.  With other people playing other proper musical instruments.  And then, on my 52nd birthday, I was given a trumpet tied up with a red ribbon.

That was two years ago and, since then, I’ve often admired my trumpet, occasionally polished it and even once or twice tried playing it.  Then, in January 2012, I made a New Year Resolution. I was going to find a trumpet teacher and learn to play the thing. I came across Finlay who seemed very positive about teaching me. Clearly, a man up for a challenge.

At my first lesson in February, the word ‘potential’ was used. I was thrilled. Of course, it was me that used the word and not Finlay but never mind. At my second lesson in March, I managed the first five notes of a C major scale.  Great excitement. Then Finlay suggested, at my third lesson, that I should play a piece in a group concert planned for the end of April.

Depression is setting in. I work full time as an educational adviser. I speak at national conferences in front of hundreds of people. But playing the right notes on a trumpet? In the right order? In public?

That New Year resolution is beginning to seem like a moment of madness…

Sheena Greco will be giving a wonderful trumpet debut with the support of her teacher and Most Entertaining Tuition Director Finlay Hetherington on Sunday 29th April at 3pm in Life Care, Cheyne Street, Stockbridge.

 

Name Nessie's New Guitar
 

How Nina Nesbitt finds inspiration to write her songs!

During my recent European tour I also had some spare time and used this to write some more songs. Myself and Passenger had a great writing session one day where we came up with a concept and then started jamming on our guitars and bouncing lyrics of each other. It resulted in a new song called “Strangers”. Passenger (Mike Rosenberg) is a fantastic songwriter who often has very witty lyrics in his songs and we found that we worked really well together bouncing ideas off each other. Songwriting is very personal, everyone goes about it in slightly different ways. For me every song I write has it’s own journey from beginning to end. Sometimes I have a lyric or concept that comes into my head first and other times it is maybe a beat or an instrumental that is created to start with.

Whatever way you’re inspired and like to write, be creative, go with the flow and experiment a lot with different sounds & rhythms. Listen to a lot of varied music and genres as it’s possible to learn from them in terms of composing your own material.  Play with words, write them down and record little samples in the process even just on your mobile phone so you won’t forget them and one day you will have your own song created. Some people work well in teams with others as well when songwriting, so this could be another option for you as sharing ideas with other musicians can be really fun.

I have also been in the recording studio since coming back from the European Tour and produced my recent EP with the amazing Jake Gosling, producer of Ed Sheeran’s platinum selling +Album. I had selected Jake as my producer as he understands my music very well and can interpret exactly how I want my music to sound like when produced in the studio. I would say to anyone looking to record their own material in a studio, find a producer you really feel you match up well with as it makes a massive difference to the end product. If you have a definite idea of how you want your music to sound like, its just a matter of finding a producer who can help you in the process. I have worked with a few different people in studios and they have all been very nice but not all have been able to interpret my music in the way I want it to sound like, so my advice is to ‘shop’ around before you decide who you may use for your recording experiences. My new EP was available for Pre Order on iTunes on 16th April and is being officially released on 23rd April – it’s called The Apple Tree! :)

I will be off on my own UK & Ireland Headline Tour soon as well as supporting Example on his UK Arena Tour. My new Martin guitar will be coming with me on this tour but the poor guitar does not have a name as yet and I like my guitars to have personal names :) I was thinking you could maybe all help me decide what to call my guitar……..There is still time to send in your entries to Most Entertaining which is where I first went to play guitar in a group with others, Prize for the most original name for my new guitar will win a guitar workshop course in Edinburgh. Competition is called ‘Name Nesse’s New Guitar’ Email info@mostentertaining.com with this heading. Good Luck!

Nina Nesbitt is a currently taking coaching on piano with Most Entertaining and is a former guitar workshop student.  The winner of Name Nessie’s New Guitar will be announced at Most Entertaining’s Spring Concert on Sunday 29th April and will have the opportunity to take part in the next guitar 6 week workshop course. 

Patrick's debut on trumpet accompanied by Robert on piano; Winter 2011
 

Key to an enjoyable performance!

I strongly believe that music should be accessible to absolutely anyone. It should not matter whether you are young, old, a beginner or an established performer. All musical backgrounds must also be allowed to shine – there should be no elitism. In addition to this, music should always be fun. It is no coincidence that every music teacher I have come across shares a passion for terrible, but funny light hearted music related jokes. Any previous student who have been  taught by me will vouch for my poor musical humour. For example, when teaching the word ‘diminished’ to exam students I often associated this key musical word with a Mini  – a small car which used to arrive into the music school car park every Wednesday morning!

The main reason for my blog is that Most Entertaining’s Spring concert is now less than two weeks away and excitement is growing amongst a huge range of students and teachers. Since joining Most Entertaining last year as a piano and brass tutor, I have found that the company is much more than just a teaching agency and that public performance is a big part of the organisation. Having regular concerts allows musicians to meet each other, form new friendships as well as gain self confidence from playing in a relaxed setting. I am seeing first hand the benefits of having these concerts as a target for lessons, and pupils seem to love it. 

In terms of performance I would like to share a few thoughts about preparing to play live to an audience. I believe the most important point is to try and enjoy it and have fun. For me, I have found that I can overcome performance issues through performing to someone I know in the audience, such as a family member. They can offer a smile and lots of support. Also, remember that everyone makes mistakes, no performance is perfect. Always keep the flow of the piece. Finally, and for me the most important point is to make the performance your own. Communicate,  through dynamics, interpretation and style. If you feel the music should slightly slow down or speed up, do it. My final tip for more advanced performers is to try and understand the harmony behind your piece.  It is with this understanding that it is then possible to react to the composer’s intentions much more, making way for further sensitivity within the performance.
Robert Briggs is the former assistant director of music of the Bethany School in Kent and now is a full-time piano and brass tutor for Most Entertaining. He will be accompanying students at our next concert on Sunday 29th April 3-5pm, Life Care, Cheyne Street, Edinburgh.

If you are interested in getting involved in music and wish to find out about taking up an instrument, but unsure whether to learn the piano, guitar or sing, please feel free to give us a call and we can help advise you. 0131 477 7821.

Nina Nesbitt’s European Tour Chat

Hello everyone, spring has arrived and I’m back to tell you a bit about my touring experience around Europe, songwriting and a new competition I would like you all to be part of please :)

The last time I blogged I was just about to embark on my first ever European Tour as one of the support acts to Ed Sheeran. I was a little nervous about how I would feel about living on a tour bus for two weeks, but also very excited about the prospect of performing in lots of different countries and working beside two very experienced artists like Ed Sheeran (www.edsheeran.com/) and Passenger (www.passengermusic.com). After a couple of days of living on the tour bus I got into a routine with arriving at venues mid morning, get in to freshen up and then onto sound check to make sure all was set and ready for each show at night.

I also took time to meet with fans outside each venue and in Sweden I even performed a little daytime impromptu gig on the lakeside with a group of fans who had arrived early to the venue, which was a fantastic experience. I’ve always felt it important to communicate with the fans directly and cease each opportunity to do something fun and different with them, as without them I wouldn’t be having a music career in the first place so they mean a lot to me. In another city a few fans had brought along a sign which they held up in the audience when I was on stage, it said ‘Free Hugs’ so I thought why not and asked them up on stage for a hug! It was hilarious and made everyone smile and share hugs :)

I also filmed little clips along this journey right from leaving my house, all around Europe until I came back home again and as I planned on my return I edited all these clips into a video. I have used the montage video of all the European Tour clips with various cities, venues and lots of fans in it as the video for my lead track ‘The Apple Tree’ from my brand-new EP which is out on iTunes on 23rd April.

Most Entertaining’s Competition – Name Nessie’s New Guitar!

I will be off on my own UK & Ireland Headline Tour after my EP release in April as well as supporting Example on his UK Arena Tour. My new Martin guitar will be coming with me on this tour but the poor guitar does not have a name as yet and I like my guitars to have personal names :) I was thinking you could maybe all help me decide what to call my guitar.  Send in your entries to Most Entertaining – which is where I first went to play guitar and sing in a group with others.  The prize for the most original name for my new guitar will win a 6 week guitar workshop course in Edinburgh.  Email entries by Saturday 28th April with the subject ‘Name Nessie’s guitar’ to info@mostentertaining.com.  I will announce the winner at Most Entertaining’s student gig on 29th April, Edinburgh. See their facebook page for details.  http://www.facebook.com/events/160538887400508/

In the meantime, go check out my EP video : )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bikHKTcdWbQ

If you’re an aspiring musician and would like to learn the guitar, please get in touch with Most Entertaining about guitar lessons and the options available. 0131 477 7821.

practice-2
 

How to Practice Part 2

What to practice?

Always make sure that you are covering the work your teacher has set you. Keep a practice diary where both your teacher and you can make notes to help remind you of the repertoire you are to work on between lessons.

At the start of your practice session, it is good habit to begin with a warm up using scales and arpeggios. Start with the ones which are familiar to you and continue by moving on to less familiar or new ones. Keep practicing old scales and arpeggios once you have learnt them to keep them fresh.

When working on your pieces, try to identify the difficult passages that need extra work. You may need to play very short phrases over and over many times, so set yourself a goal of perfecting just a few bars during each practice session. This is a more effective way of learning a new piece, since playing a piece through from the beginning to the end is only really beneficial once the piece is already polished.

Alongside practicing your pieces and scales, try your hand at improvising, sight-reading new pieces or revisiting old pieces you have previously learnt. Most importantly, try to use your practice time productively.

Support from parents

Practicing is a lonely activity and a lot of children benefit from encouragement and support from their parents. Parents’ company and praise is especially useful in the early stages. Take an active interest in your child’s playing and try to periodically sit in and listen to their practice sessions. Create opportunities for your child to perform by playing to family or friends. Perhaps ask your child to teach you something they are currently working on in their lessons?

I hope that these suggestions will be useful to students and parents and that they will help to establish habits through which good progress can be made.

Li Boberg trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen. She is currently teaching around Berkshire and she freelances as a double bassist with many of the UK’s major orchestras

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February’s Most Entertaining Gig

The Circus Café, St Mary’s Street Edinburgh, was the venue for the latest Most Entertaining gig in February. Osman Celik, the owner opened the Café especially for us. The gig kicked off at around 8pm with the guitar group and around 10 guitarists featuring experienced and new guitarists. They did a selection of old and new tunes, all getting the chance on “lead”.

We singers did four songs, our own “Transatlantic Session”. We started with Down to the River, made famous in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou which featured George Clooney, and finished with I Can’t Stand the Rain, which Maeve the tutor arranged for us, based on a soul version by Seal. The singer pianist Woodstock Tailor made a guest appearance at the gig, and did a moody version of My Funny Valentine – most appropriate for 15 February.

The two tutors closed the show, Maeve Mackinnon, with a spine chilling Gaelic number, followed by Chris Day the guitar tutor singing and playing. The next singing and guitar workshops are planned to start in May, with a gig in June. Before then on Sunday 1 April, 2012 there will be a performance from some of Most Entertaining students who take one to one music lessons.

Margaret Fletcher, piano and vocal workshop student with Most Entertaining since 2006.

band
 

The MU Jazz Ensemble arrives in Edinburgh

The Mansfield University Jazz Ensemble is a select group of 16-18 students under the direction of Michael Galloway. This outstanding ensemble has been an award winning band at the Villanova Jazz Festival and has also been honored with two appearances at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Conference, as well an MENC Regional Convention in Rochester, New York. They have also been featured in a performance in Harrisburg in a concert sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz and have been guests at several Pennsylvania and New York Jazz Festivals.

The MU Jazz Ensemble also hosts the annual MU Jazz Festival, as well as having other jazz greats as guest soloists with the band.  The list of visiting jazz artists reads like a “Who’s Who” in jazz and includes Lew Soloff, Bob Mintzer, Jiggs Whigham, Randy Brecker, Kenny Warner, The Airmen of Note, DIVA, Ryan Kisor, Denis DiBlasio, Ingrid Jensen, Michael Davis, The Commodores, Wayne Bergeron, and many others!

The Mansfieldians numbers eight singers who specialize in vocal jazz. Under the direction of Sheryl Monkelien, their performances have included Music Educators National Conference (MENC) Eastern PA, and in the 2006 Vocal Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall with conductor, Phil Mattson. Two summers ago they won the Jazz Vocal a Cappella Category at the 2008 World Choir Games in Graz, Austria. They have also hosted the internationally acclaimed vocal jazz artists The REAL GROUP in concert.

Concert sponsored by Most Entertaining Music Tuition

Venue: Main Auditorium – Tynecastle High School, 2 Macleod Street, Edinburgh
Concert Time:
8pm (music on from Edinburgh Schools Symphony Orchestra will play from 7pm)
Date:
12th March
Cost:
FREE ENTRY
Call our office to book your place 0131 477 7821 or email info@mostentertaining.com