Back to Basics

It's May! In Brisbane this means the weather is actually super pleasant, beautiful sunny days and nice cool afternoons and evenings. Quite a few of my students have their pianos positioned in a nice sunny corner of the house, which looks lovely, but when it's especially warm it's very hard to look professional when you're sweating and squinting simultaneously.

So aside from bringing cooler weather, May is also the start of Term 2. Technically this happened in April but with the deluge of public holidays we've been having (seriously, it's just getting weird now) lessons haven't been quite back to normal. Over the holidays I never expect a great deal of practice to occur, and it's fairly common to start the first lesson of Term 2 with some revision. We're talking reading, rhythm, coordination, timing - the whole shebang.

Reading revision is always interesting, because for some students it feels as though they've already learned this so there's always this slight confusion as to how they've become less fluent. I'm not entirely sure how many times I've said this now but reading music is just like reading any other language. If you want to become fluent the practice required is of the every-single-day variety. Sure you can read English just fine, because you've spent your entire life doing so. And while treble and bass clef may not be as complex as the English language (i before e except after c is a lie!) they certainly have their own rules for you to learn, memorise and follow. 

While students are perfectly happy to use All Cows Eat Grass, FACE and the rest (does anyone remember the Great Big Demons From Africa girl?) when they're initially learning to read, there seems to be this embarrassment attached to using them later on if revision is required. This is a silly feeling to feel and beating yourself up for not remembering how to read each individual note isn't helping anything.

The way I see it you have two options. Either you're super dedicated to learning to read music as fluently as possible or your pursuit of piano is more of a casual thing and you're happy to learn at a more relaxed pace. If you are the former, you can do a bit of dedicated reading every day (Hi Sandie!) even if you don't play the piano every day. Reading over scores is a fantastic way to learn to recognise patterns within music which is in turn a great way to improve your sight-reading. You'll learn to recognise chord shapes, arpeggio patterns, chord progressions, melodic patterns, rhythmic patterns - the list goes on. Basically it's just a really good thing to do if you want to improve your reading as quickly as possible.

If you're more of a relaxed learner then your option is to relax. Or relax more. Or something, whatever, anyway the point is that if piano fits into your lifestyle in a more casual way then you can't expect to be as fluent as someone who is practicing every day. And there's nothing wrong with that! If you're wanting to learn piano as something that is relaxing and enjoyable and you take away the relaxation and enjoyment by beating yourself up over your ability to read then you've just obliterated the whole point of the exercise. 

Don't do this.

Learning a musical instrument isn't going to be the easiest thing you've ever done. I personally think piano is an easier instrument to learn thanks to the whole visual theory thing (we'll go into that another time) but it's certainly not a pick-it-up-in-two-days sort of thing. So if you're learning to read, or revising your reading remember your options. Again, I've said this before but if you're feeling super frustrated just stop. Go have a cup of tea. Do a little improv or play your favourite song. The reading will happen eventually and the speed at which this happens is entirely up to you. You can go all out and read every day or you can you relax and accept it'll probably take a little longer. 

This turned into a lecture on reading but reading is a fairly basic foundation of piano so I'm going to say I've stayed mostly on topic. We'll look more into the other foundations and visual theory as Term 2 progresses and as I try to write more consistently....