Piano Safari Level 3 is Here!

Rarely have I been so excited for a new music book to be released, but my students and I have been eagerly anticipating the completion of Piano Safari Level 3 for quite a while now! This piano method has completely transformed the way I teach piano, and I can’t imagine what I did before it was around. I’m looking forward to reviewing Level 3 here on Music Matters Blog soon!

Also, MTNA is offering a webinar by Piano Safari authors, Julie Knerr and Katie Fisher, this Friday on “The Role of Rote Teaching in the Development of Reading, Artistry, and Technique.” I’m sure this will be a treasure trove of teaching philosophies and tips, and is sure to invigorate your teaching!

Teaching Students to Practice Their Instrument More Effectively

In his always-informative newsletter, Gerald Klickstein, author of The Musician’s Way, linked back to his post on Beautiful Repetition. I love his four points:

  1. Insist on Excellence
  2. Reject Mindless Repetition
  3. Aim for Growth Rather than Sameness
  4. Evaluate Continuously

 

Visit his post for an elaboration and specific ideas for each point!

A Great Tool for Helping Piano Students Improve Sight Reading and Rhythm Skills

One of my favorite resources to help students develop their rhythm and sight reading skills is the Rhythm and Sight Reading cards from Piano Safari. These are great to use as a supplement even if you don’t use the method books. Levi agreed to demonstrate how we utilize these cards:

After tapping the rhythm pattern, they move to the piano keyboard and select one key for each hand, then for the final run-through they improvise using the rhythm pattern for each hand.

Levi has struggled for quite a while with his sight reading skills, so we tried something a few weeks ago that has worked wonders for him! Before playing through the line of music on the piano, he audiates (hums or vocalizes) the pattern while “ghost” playing the fingers on his lap that he will use to play the line on the piano.

He demonstrates the same approach for the bass clef pattern. It has been amazing to watch his skill (and even his enjoyment!) of sight reading develop just from this simple exercise!

Compose Yourself – Giveaway #1!

Imagine the look on your students’ faces as they listen to a simple melody transformed into a gorgeous orchestral sound. That is exactly the awe factor that Maestro, Cellist, and Composer Philip Sheppard has in mind with his ingenious new creation, Compose Yourself. Distributed by the award-winning educational game company, Think Fun, Compose Yourself will appeal to experienced musicians, creative teachers, eager students, and even those with no musical background at all! You can’t help but love the simplicity of arranging a selection of transparent cards with unique note patterns to form a melody.

But the real fun is when you enter your personal pattern into the accompanying website and get to hear the results as performed by The English Session Orchestra and/or acclaimed percussionist Evelyn Glynnie. So cool!

Composer Yourself is a perfect addition to any piano lesson, composition lesson, or group class. Think Fun has generously offered to giveaway one free Compose Yourself game to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. One winner will be selected at noon (CST) on Friday, December 11, 2015 using a random number generator. Enter for your chance to win and then come back tomorrow for another sweet giveaway!

 

 

Q&A with Pierre from Flat

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Pierre is a co-founder of Flat, an online music score creator that allows you to compose with friends. Please welcome Pierre as he joins me for a Q&A session! *applause* :)

MMB: Could you give us a summary of what Flat is?

Pierre: Flat is a collaborative music score editor that offers the ability to collaborate in real time on the same composition with your friends. It’s like Google Documents. We focus on a new experience to create the simplest, easy to use music tool.

MMB: What inspired you to develop Flat?

Pierre: Basically, we’re 4 musicians. We all met during our computer sciences studies. Vincent my CTO & co–founder plays cello and I am a drummer. Back in those days, it was almost impossible for us to collaborate easily spur of the moment.

It was mainly due to two things:

-­ Existing software was too professional and the learning curve was so hard.

-­ None of software offered real time collaboration. Meaning, that to collaborate easily, you had to be in the same room, etc…

It clearly appeared that we could create a web application to change that. However web technologies weren’t mature enough at that point. Three years later, we had to submit a final study project to our school. We thought it was a great opportunity to try to develop Flat. We received distinction for our work and started over once we get graduated. We are now almost one year old and we’re proud to see that we managed to address the collaboration issue!

MMB: Could you take us through the steps of creating a score using Flat?

Pierre: Of course. It’s pretty easy, actually:

-­ Click on create score

-­ Enter your sheet music name

-­ Select your instruments

-­ Set the time and key signature

-­ Start to compose your masterpiece

Watch these steps in action!

MMB: Does Flat save all your music?

Pierre: Flat automatically saves your work. We called it the smart history! When you have made many changes or apply a major modification like changing instruments, a transposition, etc…
A version will be created. None of your work can be lost. You can go through all your version history and revert to an old one whenever you want!

MMB: The collaborative aspect of Flat sounds pretty cool, how exactly does that work?

Pierre: As I said previously, it’s just like a Google Documents. You invite a collaborator, grant him access, and you can start to collaborate. Based on a set of colors you’ll see what collaborators do. There is not a limit of the number of collaborators. Flat can be used directly within Google Hangouts video chat, as well. So users can collaborate in realtime and take advantage of the video. It happens often that we have 10 people inside the Google Hangouts session. It’s pretty stunning!

MMB: Can you create scores through a MIDI device and/or write in the music?

Pierre: As I am writing my answers, Corentin is going through the last checks of the first version of MIDI composition. It will be online by the beginning of the next week.

MMB: If you can use both methods, is it easy to switch back forth?

Pierre: You can use any kind of input to write in your sheet music. You can easily switch from your keyboard to midi and back to using your mouse. We’re spending most of our time thinking how to keep Flat as easy as possible. If something is inconvenient for us it will be worse for the user.

MMB: Can you create score through the microphone on your computer?

Pierre: We did some research on that topic. It’s a real challenge that we intend to implement within the beginning of 2016!

MMB: Is it mobile device friendly?

Pierre: We have maintained a mobile device version of Flat. However we have understood that usages are completely different on a computer and a mobile device. This is why, instead of developing a different experience dedicated to mobile on the same product, we have started to work on a mobile app of Flat. Crazy engineers have just joined the team to create it before the end of the year.

Check out Flat and start some real time composing with your friends!

InTune App Review

I do believe that InTune is one of the simplest apps I have ever reviewed, but the effectiveness of this simple ear training app has apparently earned it an almost 5 star rating on iTunes. In addition to its iTunes rating, it has been ranked among the top 25 music apps in more than 50 countries, and in the USA it stands at #11.

So what’s this app all about? Well, there’s honestly not much to it. Using the concept of pitch discrimination (differentiating pitches that are close together), award-winning and highly acclaimed app developer, Ben Kazez, has gone to task with basically just this concept and a gaming element to create InTune.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 8.24.18 PM-You open up InTune.

-You select New Game or compete with your friends in Apple’s Game Center. (The Game Center icon pops up in the top left corner)

-You can select what mode you want to play.

-Once the game has started, you hear two pitches, distinguish if the second was higher or lower than the first, and then slide the second dot accordingly (up-higher; down-lower).

-If you get three strikes the game is over.

-If you slide correctly, you continue on and the pitches get closer together/harder to distinguish-testing to see just how good you are at pitch discrimination! :) Once you’ve completed Level 5 (the highest level you can attain) you can either Play Again, Share Score, or Change Mode.

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It’s just that simple.

I don’t know if the sound they chose for the game has significance or not, but it definitely reminds me of the sound you would hear when getting your ears checked at the doctor, which to me, is unlike any other sound I typically hear. Just a side note!

Dr. Dan Kazez, producer of InTune, is a cellist and professor at Wittenberg University, who discovered through studies that students who played InTune (regularly practicing pitch discrimination) improved their listening at 3 times the rate of those who did not.

I haven’t played InTune very regularly to know if it’s been improving my ear or not, but it has caused me to be more conscientious of pitch and it’s apparent world success is quite intriguing to me!

InTune Info Page on the Wittenberg Website

iTunes – keep in mind this app is only available for iPhone or iPod Touch

InTune on Youtube (the version on the video is a little older but still very similar)

Free Notation Software Deal & Giveaway

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To celebrate the 500,000th download of FORTE 6 Notation Software (a WINDOWS operating system software), starting right now (exclusively for MMB readers) until September 14th, you can download FORTE 6 Basic for free! (a $24 value) FORTE 6 Basic free download page

If you’re not familiar with FORTE check out their website! I’ve never used it, but from watching their introductory video it appears very user friendly and quite similar to Finale, a notation software I used to use.

Also, Music Matters Blog has been given the opportunity to giveaway to its readers 1 FORTE 6 Premium license (FORTE Premium a $200+ value!), so let me know in the comments if you’re interested in being entered and you might just win!

Overview of Soundbrenner Pulse


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It is no secret that sound frequencies/vibrations are woven into the very fabric of our world-in nature and in us. It is also no secret that practicing with a metronome can be very unenjoyable and it often causes you to play less musically and more technically. So, “Why,” a group of German musicians seem to have asked themselves, “has a rhythmic device not been created that taps into the natural, human vibrational system?”

Creators of Soundbrenner Pulse (a wearable metronome device for musicians) put it this way on their crowd funding page, IndieG0Go:

“It makes sense, if you think about it: Making music, we often tap our foot or move our body a bit. The feeling of the vibration integrates in that body feeling. That’s why you don’t need to focus so much as you would have to with an audible click. Focus on your music instead.”

From personal experience, I can definitely relate to their sentiments! I remember so many times needing to practice with a metronome in order to solidify a piece rhythmically, but I often lost a lot of musicality during that period of time because I had to focus so much on “hearing” the beat instead of “feeling” the beat. So when I read this section on the IndieGoGo page, it was revolutionary! It does. It makes so much sense to create a metronome you can “feel” because it definitely seems like it would develop a much more natural sense of the rhythm.

This newly designed metronome has some nifty features in addition to being able to wear it around your wrist or ankle, like syncing multiple Soundbrenners to the same beat, or changing the tempo, or switching it to “discreet mode,” etc. I have yet to try the Soundbrenner Pulse myself, but would love to at some point! (One thing I’m somewhat curious about, is if it will have any negative effects on people because of the direct vibrational force on the body…)

Below is a video about Soundbrenner Pulse that is very insightful. It’s also pretty fun to watch because you get to see the metronome used by musicians in action. :)

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Soundbrenner Pulse is available for pre-order (projected delivery date is November 2015) and you can learn lots more about the device, its creators, the concept behind it, and watch testimonials by clicking either of the links below:

Soundbrenner Pulse Funding Page

Soundbrenner Pulse Website

Some scientific thoughts about the metronome by Julian Vogels

Want Students to Advance More Quickly and Have a More Solid Foundation?

Growing up my Dad always told me that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That truism has served me well, but there are always a few exceptions. And this is one of them. It’s been a while since I first wrote about my foray into Piano Safari (ok, so it’s been a while since I wrote about much of anything!), but I love this method even more now than when I began using it!

Piano Safari Repertoire

I believe it is accomplishing exactly what its creators (Julie Knerr and Katie Fisher) intended – a solid foundation in the fundamentals of reading music notation while simultaneously developing fluency at the piano, thus enabling students to experience more musically interesting pieces sooner and advance to more challenging repertoire more quickly. All of my students who began with Level 1 have now moved into Level 2, and are doing a fabulous job!

Piano Safari Repertoire


Here’s a snapshot of Stephanie playing Flamingo Dancers. The crazy thing is that even though it is intended to be a rote learning piece, she was so anxious to learn it that she read the notes and figured it out on her own!

 Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards

The note reading skills are a combination of the NoteStars Challenge that I began with all my students in January and the fabulous Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards that are a part of the Piano Safari method.

Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards

The cards are very well sequenced and can be used in so many different ways to help students achieve mastery at reading music! (I’ve begun a Rhythm Masters Challenge that utilizes all three levels of the Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards that I’m hoping to write about soon!)

Piano Safari Technique Book

The accompanying Technique book is likewise a treasure trove of effective teaching exercises that are simple enough for the students to read and learn, enabling them to gain the technical skills necessary to play them well. Each one includes checkboxes to encourage transposition, and most of my students have no trouble easily switching from key to key (more than I can say for myself at their age!).

Piano Safari is not a magic pill that will make all of your students amazing pianists, but if you take the time to fully understand, appreciate, and implement this method (I definitely recommend watching the videos on the website, going through the Teacher Guides, and reading the Mini Essays!), I think you’ll be amazed at what your students are capable of at a young age. Not to mention how much they (and you!) will enjoy the process because of the musically rich pieces and experiences you will have along the way!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of Piano Safari Level 2 for review purposes, but received no other compensation. The views expressed above are my own.

Playground Sessions

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Created by world-class musicians and instructors, Playground Sessions offers a 21st century approach to learning to play the piano and has received notoriety from celebrities, music cooperations, and people around the globe.

The drive behind Playground Sessions is to learn to play the piano by playing. So, the interactive software was designed with three specific components in mind to make learning to play as fun and enjoyable as possible. In David Sides’ (Playground’s co-creator & video teacher) own words during a TV interview, he said, “the idea behind it [Playground Sessions] is to combine gaming elements, social features, and popular songs…to teach them how to play…” With these three things, as well as the interactive aspect and the ability to learn right from the comfort of your own living room, I believe this product hit right on the money with all the 21st century pianist wannabes out there.

I haven’t tried Playground Sessions myself, but I think it’s a fantastic resource especially for those who don’t have access to a good piano teacher, or are interested in a more self-taught method, or are needing motivation in a music class! :) However, after personally having such a great experience with a “real” piano teacher, I believe the value of having a good teacher beside you during a lesson can’t be replaced by software. Overall, I just don’t think a software program will ever be able to outdo a good teacher’s ability to help you not only learn to play an instrument but also become a well-rounded musician, which I think can be vitally important in learning an instrument. But even with all of that said, I still think Playground Sessions is a wonderful invention and it’s certainly time period appropriate!

Get a better idea of how Playground Sessions works by watching this:

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“Music is an incredible thing. You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t taste it, but you sure can feel it. Melody is the voice of God.”

– Quincy Jones
The all-time most nominated Grammy artist & co-creator of Playground Sessions