Weekend Repertoire: Teaching Fugues

For this week's Weekend Repertoire feature I'd like to discuss teaching (and learning!) fugues! Fugues can be some of the most beautiful and rewarding pieces to learn as a pianist, but are also some of the most challenging to learn and to perform well. A pianist who is able to learn a fugue well is a pianist who is a careful and efficient practicer and a musician who has trained their ears well to listen to the sounds and dynamics coming out of the piano. One must possess good independence of hands and fingers to play a fugue well. All of these more advanced skills are difficult to learn, but are so important to the development of a fine pianist. I'd like to share a few tips on how to teach (and to learn!) fugues; hopefully some of them will come in handy, and hopefully others will have tips of their own to share!

First of all, what are some good, easier fugues to start out with? Although not necessarily fugues, the Bach Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Inventions are excellent to start with! Because many fugues have four or five parts, it is great to begin with only two parts to keep track of. I started learning inventions in junior high - I'd say they are probably late-intermediate (depending on the invention!). Some collections of Bach's Inventions:

J.S. Bach - Two-Part Inventions (Hal Leonard Piano Library)Bach 2 & 3 Part InventionsBach: Two- and Three-Part Inventions for the Piano, Vol. 16 (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics)Two-Part Inventions (Alfred Masterwork Edition)J.S.Bach - Inventions and Sinfonias: Two- and Three-Part Inventions (Alfred Masterwork Edition)

Listen: Bach's Two-Part Invention No. 1, performed by Glenn Gould

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is an excellent collection of preludes and fugues that every pianist should be familiar with. I would say that a good one to begin with would be either Fugue No. 2 in C minor (Book 1) or Fugue No. 21 in B-flat Major (Book 1). Of course there are many other fugues out there by Bach and other composers.

The Well-Tempered Clavier: Books I and II, CompleteThe Well-Tempered Clavier, Complete: Schirmer Library of Musical Classics, Volume 2057 (Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics)J. S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1THE Well-tempered Clavier - Revised Edition Part I, BWV 846-869 (Henle Music Folios)

Tips for Learning a Fugue
  • Analyze - find the theme and mark it whenever it appears in any voice with a colored pencil or highlighter. You may also want to mark any thematic material that is similar to the theme, but not the theme exactly. Since there are so many different voices going on at once, it is imperative that you know which voice to bring out at any time. You want to be able to hear the theme whenever it appears, not just the top voice in the right hand.
  • Listen to recordings - I always find this helpful when just starting out learning a fugue. I like to listen to a good recording while following along in the music and marking different voices and statements of the theme.
  • Write in the fingerings! - I like to go through the piece and decide from the very beginning which fingerings to use. There will be so much going on during the piece that you want to have solid fingerings right from the beginning. This will help you to learn the fugue so much faster and more efficiently. Always use the same fingerings, each time you practice!
  • Start learning the fugue! - Oh yes, did I mention that it is good to have all of these things done and written in before you actually start to practice the piece? With a fugue especially, it's good to have a solid plan before getting started.
  • Learn in very small sections - this will help you to learn correct notes, fingerings, rhythms, and phrasing as you go. A fugue can be a little daunting to learn, but if you take it in very small bites it is very doable!

Analyzing a Fugue

So, for the purpose of this post, I made a copy of Bach's Fugue No. 2 in C minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier (Book 1) and pretended like I was about to learn it (I actually learned it years ago...). Here is what I might do if I were to start learning this today. Here are the first two pages for your enjoyment :) Oh and my analysis is, of course, very technical (not!) - but I basically just wanted to give you some ideas.

First, I have highlighted the themeevery time it occurs in its full form, in yellow. I want to bring that out so you can hear it in each voice.

Next, I bracketed or highlighted other thematic material in blue. Sorry it's a little hard to see - there is some on the last line of page 1, some on line 2 of page 2, and other random bits of it scattered throughout. These are sections that are very close to the theme, but that vary a bit.

Then I discovered this little secondary theme made up of eighth notes in a pattern of three notes slurred and one note staccato (know that this articulation will vary a LOT depending on your edition or on the pianist who made the recording you listen to!), and marked it with a purple star whenever that occurred. Although secondary to the main theme, this stuff is also important and should come out a bit, especially if there is no theme going on as well.

And lastly, there is a bunch of other stuff going on, such as long sections of sixteenth note material, which I marked with a brown bracket. At a lot of these sections, I would probably bring these sixteenth note phrases out with some graded dynamics and nice phrasing of some sort.

Anyway, you get the general idea! I would listen to several recordings of this to hear different interpretations, because they will vary so much depending on the pianist.

What fugue-learning-tips-o-awesomeness do you have to add to the list? :)


Squeezing In Piano Practicing

guest post by Heather Husted Wilson

The Seasons come and go... 
We see the flowers bud – we know it is Spring. 
We feel the sun shine fiercely on our backs – we know it is Summer. 
We see the leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red- we know it is Fall. 
We see the clean white snow fall from the heavens and coat the Earth – we know it is Winter.
Then the snow melts and the rotation begins again.

The Seasons of our lives are the same…
There are seasons of learning and growth, pain and joy, stress and relaxation, work and play.
They come and go…and then come and go all over again.

How does this relate to Practicing?

I’m sure if you look back on your life you can see that with each season of YOUR life…
your practicing habits and schedule has changed right along with each change in life’s seasons.

So where are you now? 

Are you a student? Are you married? Do you work full time? Do you have one or more children?
Are you in a season of 4-8 hours, 1-4 hours, 30 minutes, or 15 minutes of practicing? 
How does your practicing correlate with the specific season of life YOU are experiencing right now?

Each one of us have different schedules and responsibilities, but one thing remains the same…
we ALL wish we could squeeze in a few more hours in each day to accomplish more!
Please tell me you are nodding your head right now…

So is it possible to create more time in your day to accomplish all the things you desire?
I believe it is.
It isn’t easy. It won’t be perfect. It will require YOU to make some decisions and work out the kinks.
But it’s possible…and YOU CAN DO IT!

First let’s figure out the things your heart most desires.
Go grab a piece of paper and a pen.
Yes, I mean right now…I’ll wait.

You back already? Wow…you're fast! Okay, here we go…
What do you love to do? What do you do that makes you feel alive…makes you feel like YOU?
Now make a list answering these questions.

You have your list? Okay…good.
 I’m assuming since you are reading this blog you love creating, performing and/or teaching music.
Is that on your list? That MUST be on your list!
Well, we all know that those three things require practice.
So how can you find time to squeeze in practicing?
You must MAKE time.

1. Break out your calendar. 
If your schedule doesn’t permit practicing everyday…figure out which days you CAN practice and write them down. 
I have one or two specific things each day of the week that MUST be done that day!
i.e. Monday is “cleaning house” and “laundry” day, Tuesday is a “teaching” day, etc.  
I then, work my schedule from there. That way, the BIG things get done each day and I feel accomplished even if some of the smaller things get left for another day.

So go make some of those days in your week “practicing” days.
Decide what is going to work for you and write it down! 
Seriously…go grab your calendar – NOW!

2. Set a specific time aside.
Don’t just wait for the perfect moment to smack you in the forehead. It isn’t going to happen. I haven’t ever found my life to work out that way…I always seem to find something else to use up my time. 
Go back to that calendar and write down what TIME you are going to sit down with your music. Treat it like a doctor’s appointment – if you don’t show you will have to pay a $25 ‘no show’ fee and you are NOT going to throw away $25!!!
 Don’t allow anything else to get in the way of your appointment with your instrument.

For example, a while ago I really wanted to try a new workout routine. With my schedule I just couldn’t figure out how to squeeze in an extra hour each day so I woke up early to get my work out done before my boys woke up. 
Now, if you know me well, you know that waking up…especially early…is NOT something I do especially well. It’s a HUGE sacrifice! 

But my desire to try the new routine overrode my inability to wake up and I did it…every single day at 6am for several months in a row! 
Squeezing in something you LOVE to do will make you feel like a million bucks and it will change the way you live the rest of that day… for the better!

3. Make sure your conditions promote concentration (for YOU)
Some people can concentrate in any situation by ‘simply’ blocking out all that is going on around them. Personally, I have a hard time concentrating when there is much noise at all so I have to juggle people and responsibilities around to create an atmosphere where my time and work will be productive. That seems next to impossible with two small boys, but it is doable. 
I usually plan my practicing around nap time, bedtime or when my babes are with a babysitter  to create an atmosphere that will work for me. The last thing I need is to spend time at the piano only to feel it was wasted by lack of concentration.

4. Start small and use your time wisely
Don’t plan too much for yourself…it will only result in frustration. Choose a piece you are going to work on and then start with the most difficult sections during your practice session. You probably don’t have time for anything else until you master those technical obstacles…then you can think bigger.

There are days when my practice session consists only of tiny sections of continuous repetitions. Then after 10-15 minutes of concentration I have a little one tugging at my leg. At this moment I have a choice…do I get frustrated and send my babes away? Or do I stop my practice session and feel I accomplished something by mastering that one particular section, even if it only lasted a short while?
What do you do?

Feeling accomplishment and hearing the beauty of the pieces as you slowly gain control make practicing motivating. 
With the kind of busy schedules we have these days the accomplishment and beauty come in small moments…small sections…so start small and you will feel BIG!

5. What KIND of practicing works for YOU?
“It's not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it's what you put into the practice.”
-Eric Lindros, Canadian ice hockey player

Do you work best with a timer at your practice session?
Do you use an ipod application similar to the one Jenny mentioned this week?
What kind of practice works for YOU? 

I’m a goal oriented teacher and that’s how I practice as well.
I set small goals for myself…knowing that if I master each individual goal it will not only help me learn quickly and more efficiently, it will all add up to mastering the whole…which is the ultimate goal.
If sitting with your instrument and practicing will make you feel fulfilled, successful, accomplished and motivated to do even more…then you NEED to DO IT!
 No matter how long or short that time may be.

REMEMEBER: seasons come and go…
There once was a season in my life when I practiced 4-8 hours every day, but that season has gone for now…I know it will return one day.
For now, I know what season I am in and that is alright with me.

Figure out what season YOU are in and set up your practicing accordingly.
You CAN continue to practice…
it will just be different than it once was.
Accept that. Move on. 
Think small to accomplish BIG things.
You CAN DO IT…don’t let anything get in the way of what your soul was made to do. Your students, your loved ones and all who hear you perform will thank you for taking the time to nurture yourself from the inside out.

Thank you, Heather, for your motivating and inspiring words! 
Be sure to check out Heather's wonderful blog, Squeezing It All In


Guest Contributor: Heather Husted Wilson

I am pleased to introduce a fabulous guest contributor this week, Heather Husted Wilson! Heather is an amazing pianist and teacher, as well as a mother of two little boys and the writer of a wonderful blog about how to squeeze in all of the important things in life. I could sure use some inspiration in that department, particularly in how to squeeze in my piano practicing! I look forward to her guest post later this week. In the meantime, here is a little bit about her!

Heather Husted Wilson

Cincinnati, Ohio

she is:
a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, cook, teacher, composer, writer, performer, creator, and dreamer

she attended: 
Brigham Young University where she studied with Dr. Irene Perry-Fox and fell in love with Mr.Wilson

kissing owies, wiping tears, cooking up some delicious meals, always cherishing the little things is life, making music, and trying to "squeeze it all in"

her studio: 
includes some pretty wonderful students! One of which is preparing to audition for the BYU School of Music next year!

she loves: 
kissing the cheeks of her miracle boys, spending time with her Mr.Wilson, working out, and creating anything beautiful with her hands!

she recently:
entered an original piece of music into an LDS songwriter's competition...we'll see come July!

her website:
squeezing it all in


Giant Floor Piano - the specifics!

I have had so many nice emails and requests to know more about how I made my giant floor piano - so I thought I'd share a post on the specifics for any interested in having a similar one made (and I know that summer is swiftly approaching, and many readers are working on summer camp plans!). In fact, I have done all the work for you, if you want to easily order an exact one for your studio, read on!

My floor piano is a 3' by 8' vinyl banner. It is super sturdy (which is perfect, considering all the running and jumping-on it gets!) and I was so pleased with how it turned out.

I first designed my own piano keyboard graphic on the computer to use for the banner. If you would like, you may purchase and download my graphic for $3 and save yourself the time and energy! I was very pleased with how the graphic turned out on the finished product. Visit The Teaching Studio Store (by clicking on the link at the top of the blog), or just use the link in this post to purchase and download the graphic.

Giant Floor Piano graphic

I then searched around for the best rates on vinyl banners. I came across the website www.bannersonthecheap.com, went ahead and designed my banner, then crossed my fingers while clicking "order," hoping it was a legit, good company who would do a good job! I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of their product, and with the fast delivery time! The vinyl is very thick and sturdy and rolls up really nicely for storage.

The banner itself is 3 feet by 8 feet, which costs under $30 from Banners on the Cheap (shipping costs are also reasonable, and I have noticed they have even better deals from time to time). When you visit their website, near the bottom you want to select the "Have your own design?" option. Choose 3x8 and click "Start Now!" In the next window select "Upload an Image" and upload your own image or mine that you downloaded. Enlarge the graphic on the preview screen to fit the banner, then center it using the center tool. When you go to the order screen, make sure you un-check option #4 (because you don't need grommets for hanging the banner). Add to cart and you are done! My banner arrived so quickly and I am super pleased with it.

I hope this helps some of you! I'd love to know if any of you use this in your summer camps and studios, and hear your brilliant, fun ideas on how to use it. Enjoy!

Now I am toying with the idea of a giant staff banner for learning notes... :)

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Getting Motivated

This week I would like to revisit a topic we have discussed before, because it is something that I, personally, (and I am guessing a lot of you, as well, particularly if you are a parent with young children at home!) need constant work on, and is something that is so important to our success as teachers. I'd like to talk about Motivating OURSELVES to Practice.

This is something I struggle with a lot. I really do miss those days of long, uninterrupted practice hours. My current priority as a stay-at-home mom prevents me from achieving anywhere near that much practice time. In fact, there are so many days when my head hits the pillow at night that I haven't even touched the piano.

Ahh, the college days of practicing ALL THE TIME - I do admit that I miss it!
Lately I have been really wanting to change this! I love the piano, I love to practice, and I wanted to find some way to motivate myself and practice consistently (even if that meant only 30 minutes a day!). So, I am kind of a nerd but I ended up finding just the motivation needed for a dollar - I bought a new box of colored pencils, and downloaded a free iPod app, and apparently that was all that I needed! Let me explain:

1 - the colored pencils: In order to really sit down and practice and make some progress and find the joy in playing, for me at least, I really have to practice well. As I am learning a new piece, I write in all the fingerings, mark phrases and important voices, circle dynamic markings, etc. Hence the colored pencils :) This approach works great for me and I love it because I see so much progress, and I am truly able to make some measurable progress in a short amount of time (even if a small child is yelling for Mommy in the background!).

2 - the iPod app: I am so grateful to Anne Crosby Gaudet's post about this amazing free iPod app called Just Practice! It really helped me to organize my practicing and motivate myself to get it done daily. Granted, I am still not perfect and do miss some days, but there is just something about a calendar that says "Today's progress: 0%" that really makes me want to sit down and get it done. I try to practice at night after my son goes to bed, or I find him a fun activity he can do in the room with me for half an hour or so. If I was really good with technology I would share a sound clip with you (which I recorded on Just Practice! - there is a place where you can record yourself playing different pieces and then listen back to them later) of me practicing Chopin's Scherzo No. 2, with my son's little voice in the background, begging me to "turn around and LOOK!!" at something. It kind of makes me smile, and realize the difference between my practicing now and back in college :)

Now tell me.....What inspires you to practice? What tools help you? Are you motivated by a practice chart? By a list? By a timer? By a desire to instill the value of hard work in your students? In your children? In your unborn child (who, in my case, is listening to me practice every day!)? What can you take from your own practicing to use in the lessons you teach your students? What do you learn about practicing that helps teach your students to practice?

Stay tuned for more on this topic this week...including a wonderful guest contributor!

Feel free to take this short survey, or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your input!


Weekend Repertoire: Schumann's Arabeske

As my son went up to bed tonight (at the time of writing this post...yes I write a lot of these in advance - as a mama you've got to take the time when it's available!), he called down the stairs, "Mommy, play me some music!" Which really warmed my heart because he doesn't often say things like that. He usually tries to pull me away from the piano instead of requesting it. I played through a few pieces, and then picked up Schumann's Arabeske, a piece I have loved ever since hearing it for the very first time, and one that I performed at my sophomore recital in college. As I played the familiar notes it was almost like seeing an old friend after many years. There really is something so beautiful and transcendent about this piece, the harmonies and the colors that simply rekindles my love of music and the piano.

If you are not familiar with this amazing piece, please take a few minutes and watch this amazing video of Horowitz's performance of it in Carnegie Hall. Pay close attention at 5:58 - this little "benediction" is just heavenly. Who else is just amazingly grateful for music after hearing this piece?


We have a winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered our Ear Training Pro giveaway! I am excited to announce our winner!

Congratulations to:
Shauna Leavitt from Keys to Notes

Shauna Leavitt said...

I took your ear training survey the other day and it was quite revealing of how little time I spend teaching my student about ear training. This would be an excellent tool for students and teachers to ensure that this skill isn't being neglected.


Last day to enter giveaway!

Our EarTrainingPro giveaway ends tonight at 11:59 PM (CST). If you have not already entered to win a FREE account on EarTrainingPro.com, hurry over here and enter! This is a fabulous resource for any music studio that you do not want to miss out on! The winner will be announced tomorrow.


Famous Pianists: Emil Gilels

I am excited to introduce a new feature, Famous Pianists, on The Teaching Studio! 

In college, during a master class one evening, our professor asked us each to take a piece of paper and write down all of the famous pianists we could think of. He gave us probably five minutes or so, and in those five minutes I came up with {embarrassingly} hardly anything. I don't think that I was the only one who {sadly} was not familiar with many famous pianists, but I was the lucky one chosen to read my list aloud :) 

That experience definitely made me think, and gave me the desire to really get to know the great pianists out there. While I have definitely learned about and become familiar with many great and legendary pianists since that day, I still feel that my knowledge is greatly lacking in that area (is there anyone who feels this same way?). As pianists and teachers, we must be familiar with the legendary pianists and the great pianists of our own day, for there is so much to learn from their performances and technique. We need to familiarize our students with these famous pianists as well - in fact, there is a great article in the Clavier Companion about using DVD's and YouTube videos of historical performances in our teaching.

So, with that said, I will be posting a feature about a famous pianist every couple of weeks or so, in the hopes that I (and my readers, as well!) will become much more familiar with these important pianists! I am so excited! I will be getting a lot of my information from the wonderful book by Harold Schonberg, The Great Pianists: From Mozart to the Present, and will also be sharing some great videos of performances. I hope you enjoy!

Today's pianist: Emil Gilels

Born: October 19, 1916 in Odessa, Ukraine (which may be why I chose to begin with him, as we share the same birthday!)

Died: October 14, 1985 in Moscow, Russia

About the man: Gilels won the first All-Union Contest of Musicians and Performers in 1933 at the age of 17, and then attended the Moscow Conservatory. Known as "The Little Giant," he was hailed as a "master pianist" after his first appearance in the West in 1955.

Characteristics of his playing: His playing was strong, clear, objective, steady, logical, unaffected. Schonberg calls him "a thinking man's pianist." He, as well as other Russian pianists of his time, concentrated on "tone, on phrase, on the cantabile quality of the instrument." (Schonberg, 464.) His technique was brilliant.

Repertoire: Gilels played a "steady diet" of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. I love his recordings of Rachminoff; Schonberg mentions his "incredible octaves" in Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody.



Musical Easter Egg Hunt

I am so glad to be a part of this wonderful online network of piano teaching bloggers, because I am so grateful for all of the wonderful ideas you all share!

This morning I was reading this post on Heidi's Piano Studio, and decided to use her great idea and adapt it for my preschool student who came later this morning. (Thanks, Heidi!!)

I got out my stash of colorful craft foam (seriously, it is the best stuff!), some paper, a pen, some tape, and an egg-shaped cookie cutter...

...and made these fun Easter egg preschool flashcards!

I included things that we have learned during lessons in the past little while, including things such as:

  • rhythms to clap, including rests
  • line notes vs. space notes
  • steps and skips
  • treble clef and bass clef
  • the staff
  • finger numbers
  • high notes & low notes on the staff
  • Presto and Adagio

I hid them around the room, and my student had lots of fun hunting for eggs and then identifying the things on the back! My three-year-old son got his turn after my student left, and he loved it as well!

After we found all of the eggs, we lined up the rhythm eggs and tried clapping them in different orders, and playing notes on the piano in the correct rhythm.

I love that with a little creativity, you can turn a boring old flashcard exercise into a fun, memorable learning activity!


Ear Training Survey Results

Thanks to all who took our survey last week about ear training and piano lessons. It looks like many agree that ear training skills are pretty important for piano students to have. I hope that the results will at least get you thinking about ways to improve ear training in your own studio (because it has definitely helped me to think about it more as well!). Here are the results! I especially love the input given on question #4.

Now, don't forget to enter our GIVEAWAY to win a free account on EarTrainingPro.com! You definitely do not want to miss out on this opportunity - this is a wonderful way to easily incorporate ear training into your studio. You have four days left to enter!


Weekend Repertoire: Ravel's Prelude

I am excited to re-introduce my Weekend Repertoire feature here on the Teaching Studio! As pianists and teachers, shouldn't we always be discovering and re-discovering repertoire to teach our students and to broaden our knowledge of the piano works of great composers?

Today's piece: Prelude by Ravel, written in 1913
Level: Early Advanced
Teaches: expression, advanced phrasing techniques, crossing of hands
Listen: there are three recordings of this piece available to download or listen to at pianosociety.com

This week's piece I discovered just yesterday while sight reading through some wonderful pieces by Ravel. In fact, I would highly recommend this great collection of Ravel's piano pieces (which includes the Prelude as well as eleven other piano masterpieces). According to Hinson, they "represent some of Ravel's finest contributions to the pianist's art." I had never heard this short, simple prelude before but I immediately loved its simplicity, its beautiful haunting harmonies, and the interplay between the right and left hand lines.

Preview of music from everynote.com
Although very simple and relatively easy to learn, this 27-measure piece requires much use of expression, as well as great attention to detail in shaping the phrases and bringing out the melody, particularly when the hands cross over one another.

According to the notes by Hinson in my book, this piece was composed in 1913 as a sight-reading piece for the Paris Conservatory to use in their piano competitions. Hinson says this about the piece, "The Prelude involves some interlocking of the hands and contains a few unexpected harmonies. Its gentle lyricism, relaxed tempo and interesting inner voices affirm Ravel's gifts as a superb miniaturist."

In my studio I put a lot of emphasis on musicality and artistry, and I am so excited to use this piece with some of my more advanced students to teach advanced phrasing and expression. I hope you enjoy discovering this wonderful little piece!

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