A Halloween-ish Recital, 2014

Gallery

This gallery contains 27 photos.

All images by Jordan Mirrer. This recital was held at the Santa Monica Public Library on October 26, 2014. Advertisements

Tips on Staying Motivated During the Summer

beachpianogull2

If you’re not planning on spending time away from home (and a piano) during the long summer months, here are some tips on keeping you or your student motivated to keep up their piano chops!

  • Enroll in a music camp or class outside of the normal private lessons. My best memories were at the Aspen Music Festival and School, a summer-long classical music program. I was lucky to earn scholarships to go twice when I was 15 and 20. I loved the nature-y atmosphere, the free concerts performed by both students and the world’s best, the friends I made, and how much I learned by simply being surrounded by music day and night. The practice rooms were right off a bumbling brook, and you could hear the water rushing by as you played.
  • Go to summer concerts! Sometimes you need to see and hear someone inspiring to get inspired. The Hollywood Bowl, The Greek Theatre, and your local community orchestra – even free street music – can offer experiences that stay with you (I remember the awesome time we picnicked to the music of Andrew Bird when we won free tickets). Check out this summer guide for the latest concert highlights in Los Angeles.
  • Enroll in more than one private lesson per week. Summer can be a time of catching up, as the school months are hectic and filled to the brim with after-school activities. When there is the pressure of having two lessons per week, students are more likely to amp up their practicing in order to be ready for the next lesson.
  • Observe or participate in a master class. It’s sometimes a rewarding opportunity to have another musician or pedagogue critique your work in front of a live audience. Masterclasses are held throughout the year and usually are a part of summer music programs.
  • Form a chamber music group. What better way to learn to listen than to play with others? There are so many possibilities: piano duos and duets; multi-instrument trios, quartets, quintets, sextets; and collaborating with another instrumentalist or singer. Grab a few friends and play!
  • Organize a recital. This can be an informal event held at a local school or church, including friends, family, and the local community. You could even share the program with another musician (and your chamber music group!). Sometimes having a deadline is the best motivator.

Happy practicing!

Why Does My Child Not Want to Practice? Part II

Practicing piano

This is another FAQ-type of question I’d like to address based on my observation and experience as a teacher (and student!).

Practicing is work. It’s lots of hard, grueling, often intense, and always consistent work. The most difficult aspect about practicing is how much consistency it requires, and this means WILL POWER.

I liken practicing to exercising.  If you want to get into shape and stay in shape, what do you think that it will take?  Of course, you’ll have to exercise every (or nearly) every day while you make healthy food choices.  Practicing requires daily devotion in order to see results.

Like exercising, sometimes you hit plateaus or pitfalls and get frustrated.  Your will power wanes and you sometimes question why you do it.  That’s normal.  That’s healthy.  These feelings are part of the ups and downs of trying to get better at anything, including learning a musical instrument.  Try looking at your frustrations from different angles and attempt to re-think and re-work out the kinks.

Quality practice is key, just like quality exercise.  Just going through the motions will only get you so far in your progress.  You must be consciously aware of what you’re doing at the moment and what you need to do to improve.  BE PRESENT.  How you practice is vastly more important than how many hours you log in front of the keyboard.

With that being said, it’s still important to be consistent because that’s what will ultimately give you results. Our brains (most of ours, anyway) can’t handle what I call “binge-practicing.”  Knowledge and physical ability can’t be stuffed into our craniums all at once.  Give it time.  Let it sink in and become a part of you.  You’ll remember things better this way.  DON’T “binge-learn” something last-minute and expect to be awesome at it (been there, done that – never worked!).

Going back to the question of why someone, young or old, may not want to practice, the answer is quite simple but yet we make it complicated.  It’s hard to push yourself to work.  It’s easier to tell someone that they’re not doing enough of this or that, but it requires sheer drive and dedication to push yourself to improve each day.  Children often need that extra support to get into the daily habit of practicing, and adults need to do that for themselves.  It’s always easier said than done.  As someone who has practiced since the age of five, it’s always been a sort of challenge to push myself to enter into a session since there are often things I’d rather be doing instead, whether it’s finishing a certain task, watching a movie, seeing a friend, reading a book…the list can include an infinite number of things.  But often, when I get past that initial “bump” and get into the groove of what I need to do, I feel better.  It’s a gratifying feeling to have achieved something, and it’s these smaller rewards that pay off big time when it all comes together.

So, stick with it.  Get into a habit of practicing at the same time and place, every day.  If you brush your teeth daily, you must practice daily.  Simplifying your outlook on the whole matter will help you re-generate your stores of will power so you can give that extra push when the tank seems empty.  I also find that practicing in thorough, bite-sized sessions is the most effective way to get motivated and get stuff done.

Now, what do you do when your child WANTS to learn but puts up a fight every time they need to practice?  This is a tough question to answer.  I’m not a child psychologist by any means, but I can say that if your child resists each and every time, it’s time to look at deeper issues that may not even be related to piano.  I find that inconsistent parenting and a lack of limits often causes children to act this way.  When parents don’t initially set ground rules about practicing, children treat it as a “secondary” or “optional” activity that is not essential in the same way that doing homework is.   It’s important that your child learns that daily practice is an expected part of their routine, not an extraneous one.  They won’t improve if there is no practice, and this can lead to a deeper spiral of disappointment.  You, as a parent, need to teach this to your child.  We all don’t come into the world with a strong, inherent sense of self-discipline and a work ethic that doesn’t require parental encouragement and reinforcement.

On the flip side, what do you do when your child DOESN’T want to learn and therefore hates practicing?  You can’t force anyone to do anything.  You’re a parent, not a dictator.  So many parents like to blame the teacher for not kick-starting their child’s love for the piano (imagine if all people suddenly loved math because their teacher did the right song and dance – some of us just don’t favor numbers!).  Everyone has different interests and talents, so it’s important to listen to your child and try different things out.  Some kids are drawn to so many activities (I have a few students like this) and others would rather sit in front of the TV all day.  We all have different personalities here.  Inspire and enrich your child, but don’t force an activity into their system if it’s clear that they have zero interest.  Move on and try something else.

Any comments or thoughts related to this subject are welcome below.

Happy practicing!

Halloween-ish Recital 2013!

Yesterday, we celebrated Halloween and music at our studio recital!  Here is the evidence:

I’m so proud of everyone who performed!  Happy Halloween!

How do you practice?

I’m not gonna lie: practicing ain’t fun.

People have always said that practice makes perfect, and yes, there is some truth to that. However, it’s practicing effectively that separates someone who is okay at something from someone who is, well, freaking awesome.

Read this  fantastic article by TIME Magazine that discusses the concept in more detail. Even though it just came out today, I’ve been telling this to my own students since the dawn of my teaching days.

Happy practicing!

I want to learn how to play the piano, but I don’t have one.

You won’t be able to learn something that you can’t practice.  So, the answer to this statement is: get a piano.  Or, at least find a piano that’s available to you regularly.  People are often surprised by how affordable pianos and keyboards can be if they look in the right places.  Keep reading on if you’re ready for the next big step…

The second most common question about pianos that I hear from beginning students and parents is, “How do I get a piano?” (the first is “What’s the difference between a keyboard and a regular piano?”).

The answer completely depends on several things: your budget, the amount of space you have to house it, where you live (you probably want to avoid irking neighbors who don’t have an affinity for early-morning scales), and what your musical goals are.  Purchasing a piano can be an investment, so you’d want to do your research before settling on one that’s either more expensive than your mode of transportation or bigger than your designated two-foot wall space.

*Tip: look at used pianos and keyboards to save a TON of money.  New instruments (not including Steinways, Faziolis, and some nicer grands) are often more expensive.

Electronic keyboards, clavinovas, synthesizers:

Although many models come with “weighted keys,” electronic keyboards will not have the same touch and sound as an acoustic piano, regardless of the price you pay.  Despite this aspect, they’re designed to offer a variety of effects and synth patches, and can readily work with music software.  In short, keyboards are ideal for composition, rock/pop genres, gigs, and those who simply want to experiment with a plethora of sounds.

Pros: Portable, takes up a marginal amount of space, promotes experimentation, MIDI capabilities, headphone jack (to appease neighbors and/or offer privacy while practicing), never needs to be tuned

Cons: Doesn’t offer the same depth of sound as an acoustic piano, light action

Acoustic pianos:

Ideal for musicians who are serious about sound quality and technique, acoustic pianos offer complexity in sound and have a heavier, deeper action.  Because of this, players have more control over dynamics, sound quality, expressiveness, and texture.  Classical musicians should only consider purchasing acoustic pianos, as there is really no electronic substitute for pianos built to produce harmonics that resonate against a wooden soundboard.

Pros: Offers complex sounds, deeper action to produce a variety of textures and timbres, feels and sounds more “raw”

Cons: Takes up a considerable amount of space, heavy to transport, requires regular tuning (ideally every 6-8 months), cannot be easily muted

Types of acoustic pianos:

Upright:

  • ideal for smaller spaces
  • is more moveable
  • has a more limited range and depth of sound than a grand due to a smaller, more compact soundboard
  • perfect for beginning-intermediate students
Grand:
  • requires as much space as a couch plus entertainment system
  • produces a wide range in volume and complex harmonics
  • ideal for cultivating artistry and technique
  • lid can absorb and narrow some of the sound if lowered
  • comes in an array of sizes, from “baby grand” (5’1″ long, 57.6″ wide) to “concert grand” (8’12” long, 61″ wide)
To see a the full extent of grand piano size variability, check out a size conversion chart.
Pricing:

As with anything else, the pricing of pianos can rely on its amount of use and care.  Used electronic and acoustic pianos are often less expensive, but many factors, such as the make, model, size, newness, and condition of the instrument can affect their pricing.  It is wise to first consult with a piano salesperson, technician, and/or teacher before purchasing an instrument.
Fun Fact: 

The average medium size piano has about 230 strings,  each string having about 165 pounds of tensionwith the combined pull of all strings equaling approximately eighteen tons!

My First Piano Recital

West Los Angeles Piano TeacherI was five years old and dressed in a flouncy dress covered with rose prints.  People around me clapped, my mom nudged me toward the stage, and I marched directly to the shiny black piano.  Then I flopped down and spewed out Hot Cross Buns.  It was over before I knew it.

I don’t remember much more about that piano recital, but I do remember that I wasn’t shy or self-conscious.  Maybe one could say I was puzzled, rather.  All in all, that little performance led to many, many more, and I have to say that despite all the fuss, stress, and jitters I felt before each one of them (lacking the unabashed qualities of a five-year-old), they have rewarded me with more inner strength, resolve, and motivation to push myself to learn challenging pieces and to improve upon my mistakes.  It really takes a lot out of someone to want to partake in such a self-revealing event on stage that also requires a lot of focus and preparation.  But more importantly, this entire process sticks with you, showing you what it takes to fulfill a pretty big achievement.

I’ve had all kinds of performances: good, bad, nerve-numbing, nerve-wracking…you name it, I’ve done it.  But all of these varying experiences come with the territory, whatever that may be for anyone.  What matters is constantly moving forward, being inspired by what is not yet within your grasp, and sharing what you already have with those trodding along the same path.  This is why I teach, even though I’m still moving along a path connected to that piano recital when I was five years old.

Share some of your “first recital” experiences, whether they be a performance on stage or Little League game.  We’ve all had that first shot at something in front of other people, whatever that first experience was.

Stage Fright and How to Deal With It

Boy With Stage FrightMost of the general population has been there before: standing in front of a cluster, group, or crowd of people and completely freaking out.  If you’re an actor, you flub a line, or if you’re a musician, you forget a couple of bars here and there (for a real-life example, famous pop singer Christina Aguilera forgot the lyrics to the National Anthem).  Maybe it happens before, during, or after the fact, and the reasons can be as varied as simply being shy or fearing judgment from strangers. Regardless of the causes and details, stage fright or performance anxiety is a very real issue for those who love to perform but just can’t quite get over their personal hangups.  It even affects seasoned professionals, proof that it’s not about experience with the art form, but rather about un-learning the self-destructive, parasitic thought patterns that squeeze into the mind.

So what’s a performer to do about performance anxiety?  Negative self-talk is an unwelcome beast that can’t seem to be harnessed. Well, this is the first problem: you must stop thinking that it is an uncontrollable force and begin to acknowledge that you are in complete control of your mind.  Nothing is holding you back but your own mind, and it is also propelling you forward at the same time.

Sound easier said than done?  It is.  This kind of mental control of your stream of consciousness is incredibly difficult and takes exercise, time, and patience, much like playing an instrument or dropping 20 pounds.  You have to be consistent, and more importantly, you have to be self-forgiving.  There will be times when negative thought patterns spiral out of control and there will be other times when you are comfortable in your own skin.  Remember that habits of any kind become more engrained with time and effort.

Some techniques to help mitigate performance anxiety are the following examples.  Remember that every individual may find something that works better for them – the key is to try something for long enough until it works.

  1. Recognize that “butterflies” and pre-performance jitters are completely normal.  You need this adrenaline to play with excitement and energy.  However, don’t obsess over it.  Just think of it as your natural preparation before an exciting moment and put it away as you prepare to go on stage.
  2. Look over your score/script/whatever you used to prepare for this performance.  Remind yourself that you know what you’re about to be doing.
  3. Be on time.  The best thing you can do for yourself before a performance is reduce any added stress.  Sometimes life inevitably presents a last-minute challenge, and though sometimes you can’t avoid them, you can do your best to be kind to yourself by allowing adequate time before a performance.
  4. Eat right.  Bananas have natural beta blockers which help calm shaky nerves.  Fruit, light salads, and yogurt are other great pre-performance meal options that aren’t difficult to digest and give you enough (but not too much!) energy.  Always remember to eat something!
  5. Visualize the performance.  You’ve practiced it countless times in the privacy of your own home or room.  You clearly can do it – it’s all up there!  Close your eyes, breathe deeply to counts of ten, and see yourself giving the performance.
  6. Remember that no one is there to judge you.  You are surrounded by friends and supporters who are there to enjoy your art form.  And if there are indeed judges, they aren’t there to bash you to shreds, but to offer helpful advice.  No ill-willed critics should be of any consequence to you.
  7. Create practice sessions that mimic performances.  Although practicing in the venue would be ideal, you can create a performance-like setting by inviting a couple of family members or friends over who don’t normally hear you practice every day.  This creates a similar mental reaction and allows you a chance to practice healthy mental preparation techniques.

After a performance, no matter what happened, remember that it’s over and that you no longer have any control over the past. Instead of dwelling on what you could have done, try to emphasize what you did well and how you can incorporate better mental, physical, and emotional preparation into your practice sessions.  Remember that learning how to perform with confidence comes with mental focus and time, and that the most important thing is to convert all of the pre-performance rush into exhilaration and fun!

Age is just a number!

Too old, too young…I’ve heard this response before when asking people to do something outside their comfort zone. True, a mom may be too old to be wearing her teenage daughter’s outfits, and a two-year-old may be too young to understand algebra (well, maybe with a few exceptions!).  But I hardly see age as a reason for not doing something.  In fact, no one is ever the incorrect age to achieve anything – even if they are retirees over sixty competing in a world-class piano competition!

Often, prospective students and parents ask me when the “right” time would be to begin lessons for their youngster.  My answer is that not every child is truly ready to sit near a piano for half-an-hour at the same age.  Typically, children begin learning the piano around the age of 5, but given a child’s ability to focus for chunks of time and aptitude with counting, this age can vary between the ages of 4-8.  Most children are ready by 6 with the help of loving parents and supportive teachers.  Although not every child can begin learning the piano at this age, it is important for a child to begin learning a musical instrument during these early years when the brain is rapidly developing and absorbing new material, more so than during later childhood.  There are many parallels to why very young children can also naturally and quickly learn second languages.

Adults can begin learning at any time.  Don’t believe me?  I once taught a fifty-year-old mom how to read music within a month (she also learned how to play Schumann shortly thereafter).  Yes, this student was quite determined, and no, this student had never played the piano before.  This does not prove that anyone will or wants to set the same goals, but it does suggest that anyone can achieve whatever they set their mind to.  Young tots may not have this kind of drive to learn, but older children and certainly adults do.  It just comes down to setting reasonable goals and sticking to them.

So, if your question is, “Is my age too…,” I will say, “Yes, you can do it.”  You can run a marathon, make a quilt, or learn art history, too.  Age is just a number!