If your family happens to be staying in Toronto for part of the holidays, here are some practice suggestions.
In our last lesson, Anna and I began by warming up with the D major scale. She played it with ease, but quite lightly on the keyboard with little volume. I asked her to try and emphasize each note as she played, using strength in her fingers. If she continues to play this way during warm-ups it will help strengthen her fingers over time.
We then looked at Stars and Stripes Forever. Anna can play the beginning really nicely! It’s the last three lines that need the most work over the holidays. We also looked at Alberti Etude, which Anna found difficult to play hands together.
I suggest Anna begin by playing the C OR D major scale as a warm-up, making sure to emphasize each note with strength in her fingers. I also suggest she play slowly, so she can really emphasize the notes.
Stars and Stripes Forever: I suggest Anna start by focusing on the last three lines of the piece. She should practice it one line at a time. When she feels comfortable with one line, I suggest she “Dove-tail” to the next line. That means she plays the first line, plus one note of the second line. It will help to transition between sections when she eventually puts them all together.
Once she feels comfortable playing the lines separately, she can try to play them one after the other. I would suggest waiting until the final days of the holiday to try this, though, as it can be very overwhelming to try and play the whole three lines if it’s not totally solid.
Alberti Etude: For this piece, I suggest Anna play it bar by bar with her hands together. She should play very slowly. Once she feels confident in two bars, she can try to piece the two together. After she feels confident about those, she can try to add the third bar, and so on. Slow and steady will be key with this tricky study!
Theory Book: Anna can work on the first two pages of her theory book. While it’s not asked for in the exercise, I suggest Anna also write in all the note names to practice reading the staff.
In our last lesson, we began by reviewing the note durations we’ve learned so far. Megane did really well with this, and even explained to me her own method to remembering them. It was very creative!
We then reviewed the songs that use “B.” Megane was still mixing up B and D, so we reviewed them together. I also quizzed Megane on how she could review this at home (Hint: the book teaches the student where D and B are, so if she ever forgets, all she needs to do is go back a few pages in her book to find the answer).
I’d like Megane to review the “B” songs over the holiday break. She can also look ahead on the next page and learn “Woodpecker,” which also uses B. Megane can write in any notes she has trouble with in her book. This will help cement what the notes look like, and will hopefully prevent further confusion.
Megane should follow the fingers suggested in her book, and always make sure she uses the proper hand to play all the notes. I wrote into her book which staff uses the right hand, and which uses the left. It may also help to have some parent supervision while she plays, just to ensure she’s practicing correctly.
In our last lesson, Sacha expressed some concern over the piece “Make Up Your Mind,” as some of the fingerings in the book caused his hand to hurt. I noticed how Sacha’s wrist was quite tense while he played. I’m not sure if this is the cause for his problem, but it’s important for any pianist to have a loose wrist for maximum comfort. I demonstrated how his wrist should be by playing a scale and moving my wrist in all directions easily. At home, a parent could ask Sacha to play a scale and then try to gently push his wrist up or down. His wrist should move with ease, and shouldn’t cause an interruption in his playing.
We then took a look at Make Up Your Mind. I encouraged him to use alternate fingerings that would suit him better and not be a cause of pain or discomfort. I also suggested he try the “double 3rd” warm-up I showed him before as a way to prepare his hands to move in thirds with ease.
Make Up Your Mind: Sacha should continue to move slowly with this piece, practicing hands together. He should also use the double third warm-up to prepare for this piece. I also suggest he begin by practicing the end, as it is less familiar to him. He should also break up the piece in small sections. At this point, playing the piece all the way through may be overwhelming and frustrating.
Sacha can also start to look at the next piece, The Major and the Minor over the holiday break. I suggest he start by learning hands separately, playing slowly and using strong fingers.