Chopsticks!

Chopsticks

Stephen Powers first thought of his grand piano as an impressive piece of furniture.

But he enjoyed listening to music so much when friends played at parties at his home in North Wilmington that he began taking lessons.

“I enjoy having a couple of songs under my belt,” says Powers, a 52-year-old banker. “I play Happy Birthday. I play Getting to Know You for my mom.”

Powers is part of a boomlet of adults who are studying piano. Many took lessons briefly as children and regret giving it up. Some simply enjoy music. Others gravitated toward the keyboard because studies suggest piano improves mental acuity while reducing the odds of dementia.

A Swedish study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that when a twin played a musical instrument later in life, he or she was 64 percent less likely to develop dementia than the twin who did not play.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2013 evaluated the impact of piano lessons on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in adults age 60 to 84.

The group that studied piano showed significant improvement in tests that measure executive function, controlling inhibitions and divided attention, as well as enhanced visual scanning and motor ability. Piano students also reported a better quality of life.

Some grownups simply relish a challenge.

In the United Kingdom, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, took to the keyboard at age 56. He chronicled the year he spent learning Chopin’s demanding No. Ballade 1 in G Minor in the book Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.

Richard Swarmer, 57, of Lewes, played the trumpet from grade school through college. He has sung in several choirs. This year, he began piano lessons.

Learning the piano isn’t easy even for someone with a musical background. Still, Swarmer appreciates that the creative thought process is different from the focus required by his job for a medical benefits company.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed taking piano lessons as an adult,” he says. “It provides a welcome respite from the demands of my job.”

Ethel Thirtel of North Wilmington is 71 and a student at the Music School of Delaware. She is also taking French lessons to help keep her intellect sharp.

“Both pursuits involve active studying and practice to master new skills,” she says.

To meet rising demand, the Music School of Delaware offers adults-only evening group classes to accommodate working people, says Matthew Smith, student and alumni relations officer. The school also provides instruction for adults 50 and older through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of Delaware.

“In addition to professionals, we are getting a lot more inquiries from older adults who are retired and have time on their hands,” he says.

Geri Smith, a Julliard-trained singer, musician and composer, has taught piano to children in public schools as well as private arts centers. Her adult students include a 59-year-old writer who took up piano after the death of her husband, a gifted musician.

“Teaching children is a different experience than teaching adults,” says Smith, of Unionville. “Kids pretty much do what you ask them to do but adults ask lots of questions. They want to know why things have to be done a certain way.”

An important part of learning piano is creating new pathways in the brain. A Harvard Medical School study examined the impact of practicing the piano on synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning.

Volunteers practiced two hours a day for five days, playing a five-finger exercise to the beat of a metronome. To learn how that impacted the neurons scientists used transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS), in which a wire coil sends magnetic impulses to the brain.

They discovered that after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to the finger exercises had expanded like crabgrass.

“Playing the piano creates new synapses,” Smith says. “Think of it as creating a conduit so your right hand can talk to your left hand.”

Meldene Gruber of Rehoboth Beach, who has taught piano for more than 40 years, has seen a surge in adult students in the past two years. Now, half her students are adults.

“A number of my adults say they think playing the piano will help with mental acuity,” she says. “Playing the piano forces you to use both sides of the brain, which is great for neuron firing.”

Most adults have specific goals in mind, such as learning to play Christmas carols or a few favorite pieces.

“You don’t get adults who are focused on becoming concert pianists,” Gruber says. “They come for the joy of playing, not because their mothers made them.”

via Chopstick therapy: how piano lessons could help us age better — NewsWorks.

Help Your Kids with Music

 

I am ordering this book for the music studio so parents can check it out to see if it would be useful for them to buy for home use.  If any of the studio parents have this book already, please let me know what you think.

Thanks!

From Amazon:

Help Your Kids with Music is a step-by-step visual guide to music theory and is the perfect primer to help students gain a solid foundation in music, no matter their age, skill level, or instrument.

Help Your Kids with Music clearly explains key concepts in five step-by-step chapters:

  • The Basics explains the types of instruments, notation for keyboard and stringed instruments, the “musical alphabet,” and counting a beat.
  • Rhythm covers the length of notes and rests, as well as basic rhythms and meters, phrasing, syncopation, tempo, and using a metronome.
  • Tone and Melody includes everything a student needs to know about tones and how they work together to build a melody.
  • Chords and Harmony shows how intervals work together and includes examples for horn and woodwind instruments.
  • Form and Interpretation helps students understand how musical form can aid appreciation and interpretation for classical, jazz, blues, and other musical styles.

Sample pages:

 

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 10

 

It’s wedding season!  Today and tomorrow, we’ll be looking at, and listening to, the music most associated with weddings.

The “Bridal Chorus” from the 1850 opera Lohengrin by German composer Richard Wagner is a march played for the bride’s entrance at many formal weddings throughout the Western world.

The piece was made popular when it was used as the processional at the wedding of Victoria the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858.

This piece is available in Keyboard Kickoff, Movement 2 and Piano Maestro.

The original from the opera

A piano version (this book is available for loan, if interested)

Handbells (rehearsal)

On accordion

And pipe organ

A very different wedding entrance in Denmark

 

 

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 9

 

This is a more advanced piece but I really like it.  Some students may have heard this since it’s an alarm tone on my phone. My dog, Mimi, recognizes this music as her signal to go out for a walk!

 

confrey-you

I just love Zez Confrey’s music.  It’s not overplayed like some of Scott Joplin’s works but it’s just as much fun.

This is a piece I have often played in recitals and just for fun.

If any of my students are interested in tackling this piece, just let me know and we’ll start learning!

In 1921 Confrey wrote his novelty piano solo “Kitten on the Keys”, inspired by hearing his grandmother’s cat walk on the keyboard of her piano. It became a hit, and he went on to compose many other pieces in the genre.

Considered to be one of the fastest and most challenging of all “novelty” piano solos, “Dizzy Fingers” was composed in 1923. and was Confrey’s other biggest seller.

He left behind more than a hundred piano works, songs and miniature operas, and numerous piano rolls, music publications and sound recordings.

Not surprisingly, this piece is not available on Piano Maestro!

One of the books in my studio is Zez Confrey at the Piano: Piano Solos.

confrey-book“This collection represents a cross-section of Confrey’s works and encompasses the broad range of his styles. Besides his famous 1920s novelty works (including Kitten on the Keys), there are many wonderful, lesser-known gems of remarkable quality included here from later in his career. Appearing for the first time in print are transcriptions of one of his disc recordings (Poor Buttermilk) and two of his player piano roll arrangements (My Pet and Humorestless). Many of Confrey’s later works have long been out of print and are included here for the first time in decades.”

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 7

 

Today, we’ll be listening to the end of the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini.  This piece, originally the overture to an opera, has been arranged for piano and is in several method books, including Piano Pronto Movements 1 and 2.  It’s also in Bastien Book 4 and Piano Maestro.
The original story

Maybe your grandparents watched the original Lone Ranger

Or you saw the newer Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp

Here’s the entire William Tell Overture played by an orchestra

Piano Solo

Franz Liszt made a really hard version for piano solo. See if you can follow along!

Piano Duet (1 piano, 4 hands)

Piano Duet arranged by Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Piano Duo (2 pianos, 8 hands)

Piano Quartet (4 pianos, 16 hands)

For pipe organ

For synthesizer

And then things get nuts with cartoons. Lots of cartoons used this music. Here are Mickey Mouse and friends

And Spike Jones

Handbells…

Poor Rossini – I think he’d have a fit if he knew how is music was being used.

Have a nice day!

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 4

 

I’m sure many have you have learned Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by now.  Did you know its’ the same melody as the ABC Song?  You know…

Don’t believe it? Sing them both in your head or out loud.

The French melody first appeared in 1761, and has been used for many children’s songs, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” and the “Alphabet Song”.

This is one of the first pieces a student learns in piano methods, since it has them reach just a bit outside their accustomed hand position on the word “little”.

 

Twinkle

 

I try to remember to let students know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a set of twelve variations on the theme “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” for the piano and it started as the same basic Twinkle tune.

The sheet music is available at the O’Connor Music Studio if you want to borrow it or download it here about 1/3 of the way down the page under “Scores”.

I always enjoy these graphical scores.  Watch the colors as the melody gets more and more complex:

Who knew?  There’s an accordion version.

Have a great day!

Daily Listening Assignment ~ June 2

 

This is the month for graduations of all sorts, college, high school, even preschool.  Perhaps you know someone who is graduating this year.  Maybe it’s you!

This piece by Sir Edward Elgar is called Pomp and Circumstance and usually heard at graduations.  It was featured in Disney’s Fantasia 2000.

Edward Elgar’s father was a musician who tuned pianos, owned a music shop and was employed as a church organist. The young Edward learned to play the organ and violin at a young age and composed his first short piece at the age of 10. His first job was as assistant organist to his father. His main love was composition, although his music was not successful until his Enigma Variations were published in 1899. This work made him famous.

Until Elgar, there had not been a major creative composer in England since Handel’s death in 1759. He became known as England’s greatest composer and was widely recognized in his day. Unfortunately, Elgar’s fame waned at the end of his life – he composed little music during his last fifteen years and withdrew from almost all musical contact. It was not until the 1960’s that his music again became popular.

More information about Elgar

Do you know your chords well?  If so, try this version:

If not, ask at your next lesson for a version at your level.