Music Theory – All you Need to Know!



As all my students know, I teach theory with all piano and organ lessons.  Sometimes, it’s from a theory book that matches a lesson book, sometimes on the fly on an “as needed” basis.

This book looks like it would be interesting to use as a review or to look ahead and see what’s coming.  I have just ordered a copy for the studio if you want to check it out at the next lesson.


 If you wish there was a fun and engaging way to help you understand the fundamentals of music, then this is it. Whether it’s learning to read music, understanding chords and scales, musical forms, or improvising and composing, this enjoyable guide will help you to finally start understanding the structure and design of music.

This fun-filled, easy-to-use guide includes:
* Music notation
* Scales and modes
* Melody harmonization and counterpoint
* Chord progressions
* Song form and structure

Listen and learn with the CD that has 90 tracks, including over 50 popular songs such as:
* Beauty and the Beast
* Candle in the Wind
* Imagine
* In the Air Tonight
* Killing Me Softly with His Song
* Let It Be
* Message in a Bottle
* Misty
* Satin Doll
* Take the ‘A’ Train
* Unchained Melody
* What’d I Say
* and more!


No School Today

All Fairfax County public schools and offices will be closed today, Friday March 2.

All Fairfax County public schools and offices will be closed today March 2, 2018 (Condition 1) due to dangerous high winds. The following activities in schools and on school grounds are canceled:

  • extracurricular activities
  • interscholastic contests
  • team practices
  • field trips
  • middle school after-school programs
  • professional learning and training courses
  • adult and community education classes
  • recreation programs and community use by outside groups not affiliated with FCPS

School age child care (SACC) centers are closed.

And the power situation at the O’Connor Music Studio this morning.  The orange area has no power.


There MAY be piano lessons this afternoon.  I’ll keep in touch 🙂


Music Lessons Spur Emotional and Behavioral Growth in Children, Study says

From the Washington Post, but we knew this already, right?

Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well, according to a new study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development.

Using a database produced by the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18 specifically looking at brain development in children who play a musical instrument. (The original study did not indicate specific instruments.)

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

Read the entire article at Music lessons spur emotional and behavioral growth in children, new study says – The Washington Post.

Hot Cross Buns


It’s the beginning of Lent so…

It’s time for Hot Cross Buns. “Hot Cross Buns” is an English language nursery rhyme, Easter song, and street cry referring to the spiced English bun known as a hot cross bun, which is associated with the end of Lent and is eaten on Good Friday in various countries.

This is from Keyboard Kickoff:

From last year, on another of my blogs:


My husband came home from the grocery store last night with Hot Cross Buns.  I was surprised because they had never had them before Ash Wednesday in past years.  I almost refused to eat them because they were “seasonally incorrect”.  Of course, I did try one to be sure that they weren’t mislabeled or anything…

I’d never even heard of HCB before college.  My freshman year in the dining commons at UMass Amherst changed all that.  Huge pans of actually hot, cross buns.  We actually even put butter on them, too.  No wonder the “Freshman 15” was a problem.

I’ve made a fairly exhaustive study of the local grocery stores’ versions and the one from  Giant come out on top.  Surprisingly, Wegmans isn’t the winner in this case.

Looking for a video on the history of HCB, I came across one for making these at home.

Maybe that wouldn’t be a good thing!


A bit of HCB trivia: English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or grow moldy during the subsequent year.

Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone ill is said to help them recover.

If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck.

If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year.


Turns out there’s also a “Not Cross Bun” which is a variation on the hot cross bun. It uses the same ingredients but instead of having a “cross” on top, it is has a smiley face in reference to it being “not cross” or “angry”.

The not cross bun was first sold commercially in 2014 by an Australian bakery in response to supermarkets selling hot cross buns as early as Boxing Day (December 26)


Piano Lessons are Not Just for Kids



When Paula Fay started taking piano lessons for the first time in her late fifties, it fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“I always wanted to learn how to play as a child, but my parents couldn’t afford it,” she said.


Today, four years later, Paula can play some of her favorite tunes. And she’s loving every minute of it.


Some adults may groan at childhood memories of lesson after lesson, practice after practice and a lot of teacher nagging, but many wish those days were back.


And more and more, these adults are turning wishful thinking into reality. According to the National Piano Foundation, adults ages 25-55 are the fastest-growing segment of people learning piano.


When Ruth Ann Laye started teaching an adult piano class at Mandarin’s Keyboard Connection, there was only one weekday class. Now, she’s up to seven classes. And of her own private practice of 28, 11 are adults.


One of her students is Belinda May from St. Augustine, who is in her 60s and in her second year of piano lessons.

Though her brothers played piano, she was more athletically inclined than musical. Then after years of “picking” at the pianos in her house, she recently resolved to start taking lessons. A beginner when she started, “now I’m playing Christmas carols,” she said.

“It tells me that you’re never too old to learn something new.”


Maureen Rhodes, a piano teacher on the Southside, would likely agree. She has more adults in her practice than she did 20 years ago.

“I think baby boomers are looking for ways to stay active,” she said. “Sometimes, kids come to me for lessons and then when they grow up and leave, their mother starts to take lessons,” says Rhodes. “Other adults have a specific goal in mind, like they want to play in church or accompany their grandson.”


Sandra Stewart, outgoing president of the Jacksonville Music Teachers Association and adjunct professor teaching a non-degree adult piano course at Florida State College, believes technology is a big part of the reason for the greater interest in piano among adults.

“Keyboards are more affordable, and that’s made all the difference,” she says.


But the piano is not always a succession of high notes for the adult student. Says Stewart: “Adults can have problems with finger dexterity. If they never played before, this can be frustrating. People who use computer a lot have an advantage. But if they don’t have this experience, they have to get over that hurdle.”

And some adults expect to transform into Mozart overnight.


“They may be symphony patrons or just love classical music and want to play instantly and do it like the pros,” Rhodes says. “But they have to develop the skills first, and it takes a lot of patience.”


But for adults committed to learning, it can be very satisfying for student and teacher alike.

“Adults are there for their own pleasure,” said Marc Hebda, president of the Florida State Music Teachers Association. “They have wonderful enthusiasm; it’s fun to see them get excited. It’s also interesting that with the economic downturn, they are not cutting back on lessons or buying instruments. Piano is a constant source of entertainment and personal development.”


The key to any student learning well, whether that student is an adult or child, is finding the right teacher. Hebda stresses the importance of taking lessons from a teacher with a music degree.

“Some people who took piano figure it’s easy to teach. But credentials are very important. You wouldn’t go to a doctor without certification or a lawyer who didn’t pass the bar. All our teachers have a music degree or demonstrate teaching ability.”

Hebda also notes that rapport between teacher and student is important.

“The student should interview the teacher, because not all students and teachers are a good match.”


For those who want to fast-track the learning process, there are alternatives. “The Piano Guy,” Scott Houston, has been teaching piano using a non-traditional method through his shows on public station WJCT.

“It seemed like there was a single path to the world of piano: this long process of taking lessons,” he said. “But people want to play the tunes they know.”


So Houston came up with a simple way for adults to learn quickly, based on the concept behind “lead sheets,” which are used by professional musicians. Houston’s technique is to teach adults a single line of notes on the treble clef with their right hand and chords with their left.


“My goal is not to teach adults to be the greatest players but to be able to play the tunes they want to play,” Houston says.

His approach has clearly struck a chord, as his book has sold 300,000 copies and he has taught many adults through his workshops in Indiana and master class “piano camp” from his beach home in Fort Myers.


There’s also a new trend gaining traction called “recreational music making” — RMM — which like Houston’s approach focuses on a simplified method to teaching music. The goal is not for a student to become accomplished at the piano and perform, but rather to just have fun making music. It is often taught to adults in group settings, such as music stores, churches and senior centers.


“Research has found that RMM is very helpful for seniors, promotes hand/eye coordination and keeps the brain working,” said Erin Bennett, assistant professor of piano and pedagogy at the University of North Florida. “Its asset is the ability to reach more people; it’s more inclusive and easier for the non-experienced.”


Whether learning piano through traditional or nontraditional means, its many benefits include boosting self-confidence.

“When I first started, I didn’t think I could do it,” Fay said. “And my friends and family were in disbelief that I was taking lessons. Then they wanted to hear a concert. In another year, I might just do it.”


She gets some measure of satisfaction in surprising those around her.

“Society puts restrictions on us as we get older that we stop learning,” she says. “But we are wiser, more patience and accept our limitations.”



Exercises – Scales and Arpeggios


PDF Article on Scales and Arpeggios

In music, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch.

An arpeggio (it. /arˈpeddʒo/) is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than being played together like a chord. This word comes from the Italian word “arpeggiare”, which means “to play on a harp”. An alternative translation of this term is “broken chord”.

Make any scale or chord here


Piano Exercises



These tips work for more than just exercises!

  • Practice each hand separately first.
  • Practice slowly in the beginning (metronome on 60 or less). If you played it easily, and precisely with the metronome, move the tempo up one notch. Continue to practice in this way until you reach your goal speed.
  • Practice with various dynamics. Practice soft, loud and everything in between.
  • As you practice, vary the touch. Play staccato, play legato, and play two-note slurs.
  • Practice in different rhythms.
  • Try to practice Hanon Exercises in other keys, starting with the white keys (C, D, E, F, G, A, and B) and then going to the black keys (D-flat, E-flat, G-flat, A-flat, and B-flat).
  • And as Charles-Louis Hanon recommends it, practice his exercises by lifting the fingers high and with precision, playing each note very distinctly.