Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Does "SATB" Mean?

On certain types of music you will see the notation "SATB", and unless you have been in a choir somewhere along the line, you might not understand what it means.
It means "soprano, alto, tenor, bass", and so music that is written in this way was obviously written for voices, not for the piano or some other instrument. But most every hymn book is written SATB, so what is a piano player to do?

If he or she plays it as it is written, it sounds vacant, because 4 piano notes cannot adequately mimic 4 human voices. So a piano player needs to be able to "see through" the 4 parts and come up with the chord those 4 notes are spelling out. Once the chord is known, then the pianist can fill in with a much larger sound to accompany the singers, or if playing solo, improvise based on the chord structure of the song.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How To Play In The Cracks...To Make Your Piano Sound "Bluesy"

To get a blusey sound, singers and instrumentalists play in quarter steps -- somewhere in the cracks between two piano keys. It's easy for them to do it, because they can manipulate their voice and lips, but harder for a piano player to do it. Watch this short video to get an idea how it might be done:

How To Play In The Cracks To Get a Blues Sound from chordman on Vimeo.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Order Of The Flats & Sharps In Key Signatures

Did you realize that flats or sharps in a key signature always follow the same order? Lots of people are surprised to hear that, but it's true. If there is just one sharp in the key signature, it is always F. If there are two sharps, they are always F and C. Three sharps would be F, C and G. Four would be F, C, G, and D. The entire order of the sharps goes like this:

F  C  G  D  A  E  B

And you can always tell what key a song is in from the key signature by going up 1/2 step above the last sharp in the key signature.

The order of the flats is just the opposite:

B  E  A  D  G  C  F

Notice that the flats are in exact reverse order to the sharps.

To find the key in flat key signatures, look for the 2nd to the last flat, and that is the name of the key. If there is just one flat -- Bb -- then the key is F. And I'm sure you know that if there are no sharps or flats in the key signature, the key is C.

(Every major key has a relative minor key that shares the same key signature, but we'll consider that another day.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Blues Scale & Cool Stuff You Can Do With It

Most of us who took piano lessons as kids are all too familiar with scales, and most of us hated practicing them with a passion. But understanding scales and what they do is critical to the process of improvisation as well as key orientation and just a general understanding of what's happening in the song we are playing.
The word "scale" comes from the Latin word "la scala" which means "the ladder". So a scale is a ladder of notes that starts at the bottom -- called the root note -- and proceeds upwards to the top of the ladder -- called the octave note.
There are several kinds of scales, the most common being the major scale, followed by three different types of minor scales. After that there are several specialty scales, including the blues scale used widely in jazz, R&B, blues, and quite a bit in pop music.
The "blues scale" is really a combination of the major diatonic scale (the "regular" scale we all grew up with) plus three additional notes:

To continue the article, please go to

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How old should your child be before starting piano lessons?

1. Can your child hold a pencil or crayon properly? The motor skills needed for these tasks are largely the same ones needed to play the piano. A child who cannot properly hold a writing instrument will be overwhelmed trying to force unwieldy fingers into a "C" position. Ask a doctor, teacher or occupational therapist to evaluate your child's pencil-holding skills if you're unsure.
2. Can your child count to 10? Rhythm and timing is very important when learning piano. A child who cannot count to at least 10 may have trouble learning certain concepts about piano.

3. Can your child follow sets of instructions? A child who cannot follow a simple series of instructions is not ready for starting piano lessons. Test your child by giving a series of three commands. Then evaluate how well the child follows through. Here's one example: Ask your child to go to his room, find a red sweatshirt in his drawer and put on the sweatshirt. Tell him to come back and see you when he's finished. He may be ready for piano lessons if he reports back to you in a reasonable amount of time with the job done. Does he go upstairs and forget what you said? Does he only get half of the job done? Does he get extremely frustrated trying to complete the series of tasks? If so, he probably isn't quite ready for piano lessons.
4. Can your child sit still and pay attention for at least 30 minutes? Piano students usually begin with 30-minute lessons. A child who fidgets or whose mind wanders before 30 minutes pass will not reap the maximum benefits of a piano lesson. He or she may become frustrated or may be very slow to learn. Piano lessons are costly, so there isn't much point in spending the money without getting the full benefit of learning. Or at the very least, locate a teacher who gives shorter lessons for very young students.
5. Does your child express an interest in music? Children who love music will probably be very motivated to learn to play the piano. They will enjoy practicing and won't complain (at least not often) about going to the lesson. A child who doesn't show an aptitude toward music won't have the motivation necessary to apply herself to learning the notes or concepts.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Opportunities in teaching music

If you are a musician of any kind, there is an opportunity for you to earn some good part-time income from your skills. It doesn't matter what instrument -- there is a demand for private instructors on all instruments, but especially guitar and piano.

Your first thought will probably be "But I'm not qualified!". That's exactly what I thought many years ago when I started, but necessity demanded that I try, and by taking beginners only at the start, I gradually learned what it took. There is an endless supply of beginners looking to play an instrument and its a supply that is inexhaustible.

Of course, you want to get qualified as soon as possible, so simultaneously take some lessons or instructions yourself. I was in college when I started, studying music, and many of the questions I had got answered by the teachers I was studying with myself. By the time I got out of college I had a "one-person music school" that later bloomed into a multi-teacher studio.

For information on starting your own one-person music school, click here.
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