The Eyes Have It

Are you a multi-tasker?  You certainly are when reading music while playing the piano.  Let’s take a look <insert knee slap>  at what your eyes are doing.    Are you supposed to watch the music?  Or your hands?  Or some of each?  Are you getting dizzy from nodding your head back and forth between the keyboard and the printed music?

If that isn’t enough, add the challenge of learning to read a bit ahead of what the hands are actually playing.  My students are probably tired of me using this example, but here it is, one more time:  Let’s say you are going somewhere, oh how about to a piano lesson 🙂 and your lesson is scheduled to begin at 4:00.  What happens if you leave your house at 4:00? You will be late, of course.  You must leave the house before 4:00 to arrive at your destination in time.  In order to play a note in rhythm (in time) you must read that note and get your hand in the correct position before it is time for that note to be played.  Sound complicated?  It is, really.  But I promise, the more you do it, the easier — and more automatic — it gets until the day finally comes when it just happens.   One of the reasons we sight-read every single song we learn here at my studio is to practice the skills of reading and reading ahead.

Check out the link below.  It’s an interesting video focusing (oh, somebody stop me) on the eye movement of a professional pianist compared to that of his student.

What Does a Pianist See?




February 16, 1848: Chopin’s Final Concert

Frederic_Chopin_photo-713x1024Born in the Duchy of Warsaw (present-day Poland) and raised in Warsaw, Frederick Chopin (1810-1849) settled in Paris by the time he was 21 years old.  His musical compositions are primarily for solo piano and remain among the most popular selections for students, artists, and audiences.  While admired for his technical virtuosity at the piano, he was generally in poor health throughout his life.  He was in Paris when died of tuberculosis, just 39 years old.

Chopin preferred intimate salon performances over concert work and only gave about 30 public performances once he moved to Paris.  The last of these performances was in London on February 16, 1848.  The occasion was a fundraising concert presented by Literary Association of the Friends of Poland to aid the several hundred Poles that had fled to London in the wake of the November Uprising of 1830.  The “Annual Grand Dress and Fancy Ball and Concert” was a grand and lavish evening.  Chopin was one of several performers for the concert portion of the evening, and his appearance was scheduled between operatic vocalists.

Chopin performed on a Broadwood grand piano and felt he had done well.  The audience agreed, giving him “much applause.”  Others described his playing as  “like an angel” and “most brilliant.”  Even though he was frail, his artistry was appreciated as “that pure and vigorous style which has already earned him admiration is musical circles.”  After his performance, Chopin left the event early and collapsed when he arrived home. 

Many examples of Chopin’s music are available on YouTube.  Click here to go to one extended playlist.




Selecting a Portable Keyboard

There are so many wonderful keyboards and digital pianos on the market that to choose one can feel overwhelming.  The question is really, “What kind of keyboard do I need to begin piano studies?”

In an ideal world, we would all have pianos with 88 weighted keys. While the debate between preferring acoustic or digital/electronic continues, having a piano that is totally functional and in tune  is absolutely necessary.  Does that seem obvious to you?  Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t appear that way to everyone.  I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had conversations that included things such as “most of the keys work” or “my mom had it tuned when I was taking lessons, about 15 years ago,” or “he is just a beginner, so it’s good enough.”  You get the idea.

As much as I want all students to have a full-size piano, I understand that it is simply not always possible.  We need to talk about the next option: portable keyboards.  Before I get blasted by people saying keyboards are never acceptable for beginning piano studies, please know that I am being realistic here.  I would prefer to have students begin with a keyboard than never learn the joys of making music at all because they didn’t own a piano.  And honestly, I would prefer that they begin with a keyboard and not a broken down, never-can-be-tuned acoustic piano simply because it is a ‘real’ piano.

Getting down off of my soap box now, let’s talk about keyboards.  What brand?  I have personal preferences, but that is not what matters.  How much should it cost?  That depends on so many factors beyond the scope of this post.  Here, however, is my list of what I consider minimum standards:

  1.  At least 61 keys, but more is better.  Make sure the keys are ‘full size’, meaning they are the same size as piano keys.  Some keyboards have keys that are a little narrower or not quite as long.
  2. Touch sensitive (or velocity sensitive or whatever the manufacturer calls it). This means that when you strike the key with more weight, it produces a louder sound; less weight creates a softer sound.
  3. A sustain pedal.  This is a footswitch that plugs into the back of the keyboard.  While it is most often called an accessory, I consider it an absolute necessity.  Even if your budget requires you to buy the pedal later,  be sure the keyboard will accept a pedal.  Not all of them do.  (A button marked ‘sustain’ is not the same thing.)
  4. AC adapter.  Keyboards are battery hogs, and regular daily practice is super important.   It is pretty discouraging to hear a student tell me he couldn’t practice because the batteries died.
  5. A stand.  The keyboard should be placed at the correct height so that the proper playing posture becomes a part of the practice habit.  I have students that slump over the piano in my studio because at home they practice on a keyboard sitting on a bed.  Not good.  Along with the stand, you will need a chair or bench at the correct height.

Hope this helps. Got questions?  Ask away!

Ready to get started? We’ve got that covered, too!

Bunte Blätter, Opus 99, by Schumann

Between 1838 to 1841, German composer Robert Schumann wrote the fourteen piano pieces which later became collectively known as Opus 99, Bunte Blätter (Colorful Leaves).  It is an unusual collection, consisting of Stücklein III (Three Small Pieces), five untitled Albumblätter (Album Leaves), and six individual piano pieces.

Schumann was first a composer for solo piano.  With the support and encouragement of his wife, Clara, Schumann also wrote vocal, choral and orchestral works.  Some of Schumann’s works have been transcribed for organ, and I enjoy playing the fifth Albumblätter, Langsam (slow) as an organ prelude for a Sunday morning.  The quiet and calm of this song gives us an opportunity to meditate and focus.

A Great Recital

What a wonderful musical afternoon we had!   Twelve students of piano and voice gave outstanding performances of teaching pieces, popular, sacred and classical music.  Everyone performed one or two solos, and some also played duets.  Were there are few performance jitters?   Naturally.  But everyone was so very well prepared that every song sounded marvelous.  I am very proud of everything that these students have accomplished this past year.

Wesley United Methodist Church, Ottumwa, IA

Wesley United Methodist Church, Ottumwa, IA

In my opening remarks to the gathered,  I included my annual request of “please do not take flash pictures during the performances.”  I soon realized how dated that remark sounded. As the recital progressed, I glanced over my shoulder to see a mom using her tablet to make a video of her child performing at the piano.  Another student, another mom, another video…..and a smart phone.    And so it went through out the program, parents, grandparents and friends, all with assorted electronic devices capturing every moment of our time together.   At the end of the program, we gathered for a group photo.  I stood with the students, and saw pairs of outstretched arms holding electronic devices —- mostly phones—  pointed at us.  In the crowd, I only saw three cameras, one belonging to my professional photographer husband.  With all of this digital-ness going on, I was quite surprised to hear the click-then-wind of a lone film camera.

Students of Gail Masinda

We are all smiles because we have finished our songs!

What does all of this have to do with a recital?  Everything.  Sure, recitals are about performing music, but there is more.  Recitals are about extensive preparation, hard work, and excellence.  Recitals are about poise, personal discipline and overcoming fear.  Most importantly, recitals are about the performers sharing the pride of accomplishment with those they love, and the audience showing support, enthusiasm and appreciation for a job well done.  The photos and videos become cherished records of these musical milestones.

So, please don’t take flash pictures during the performances, but take all the photos and videos and audio recordings you want.  Go back and relive  the recital often.  Tell the musician(s) in your family how very proud you are of them and what they have learned.  Enjoy their music.  Ask to hear favorite songs again.  Remind them of your love and support.  That’s what makes a great recital.