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.

 

 

 

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 [email protected] 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.