Friday, 11 July 2008

Young Musicians........

Whe you're young, learning an instrument can either be a fun and exilerating persuit, or a downright boring one, if you don't really enjoy doing it.

Many children choose to play an instument - which is great. It gives them a set hobby to enjoy for the years to come, and helps them develop many skills froma young age. Some children, however, don't really enjoy playing an instrument, but are made to by their parents.

When I first started playing the piano, my parents never forced me to do anything I didn't want to. When I considered quitting, they said "Yeah, you can if you want , but you'll regret it when you're older". I then thought to myself "No, I won't regret it" and quit. They didn't seem to be dissapointed - or if they were, they certainly didn't show it to me. For a few years, I didn't miss playing the piano at all - I had just got old enough to play out in the street, and would rather go hedge-hopping and play football than practise my music!

Now however, I do regret it, to a certain extent. Not the hedge-hopping! But those three or four years of practise and experience I lost. It seems like such a waste - I always think to myself, if I'm at this standard now, what could I be like with those few more years of experience? If I'd of kept going, I could be better than I am now. Even if I wasn't enjoying it as much then, I am now.

On the other hand, however, maybe those few years away from piano did me some good. I enjoyed piano when I first started, but gradually drifted away from it over a few years. So I stopped playing, and learned what it was like not to play an instrument for a while. What's the point in partaking in an activity such as music if you're not even enjoying it?

Quitting for those few years also let me appreciate piano more when I did come back to it. Had I just kept on playing, even when I didn't enjoy it, I might never have started to enjoy it again.

I think my parents had the right attitude towards the whole situation. Had they acted like they didn't care, it would have set the picture that music isn't a worthwhile activity, and that it didn't make the slightest difference whether I took part or not.
Had they forced me to do it, it would have created resentment either way - I would have resented doing it at the time, and even if I had started to enjoy it again, I would still be annoyed with them - if I would grow to enjoy it again, I would have found that out by myself.

My opinion (based on personal experience) is that it's a waste of time trying to force a child to play music when they don't really want to, even if the parent(s) think it's for the best. They should just let the child make up their own mind about it. By all means, try to persuade them to play an instument, but the final desicion should be theirs to make.

They'll admire you for it in the long run. I certainly did, and still do.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Modern or Traditional Piano?

Many people assume that learning the piano is as simple as buying a piano, and then practicing.

But all too often not a lot of thought goes into which piano you'll be buying - the only things people think about is A) whether it looks good and B) Its price.
Obviously, these are both important fields to consider, but some thought should also be put into what you want from your piano - what kind of environment will it be played in? How much space do you have? What sound do you want from it - a modern, highly tuned sound or an older, more traditional one?

I have a 1937 upright piano, in a medium sized dining room at the back of my house. Because it's so old, some might say it'll never sound as good as a modern piano. But I think old pianos give off a sound that the newer ones can't mimic, that is, in many respects, a better, more 'homely' and traditional sound than their younger counterparts. It also has ivory keys, which are far better than the plastic ones of today - I find that they allow better grip (my fingers tend to slip about more on plastic keys) and ivory keys don't feel icy if the room is cold, like plastic ones do.

My piano represents a good match for my living situation - it's relatively small, has a good sheet rack (with little clips to hold the paper in place - a feature which no modern piano has) nice ivory keys..... And the fact that it's old is an advantage in itself. I don't care if I scratch the woodwork or spill water on the keys, or that it has a weird 'fusty' smell when I take the lid off - because that's what old pianos are like. It was fusty & scratched when I bought it, so I don't feel obliged to look after its exterior, which means it's one less thing I'm having to fuss over. People spend so much time and money these days on looking after their belongings looks - take iPod cases, for example. You can spend the money on the case, you can put the case on, and never take your iPod out in fear if it getting a hairline scratch on the screen. You can dust, wipe and pamper the product to physical perfection, but you can guarantee the moment that iPod comes out of it's case, that'll be the moment you drop it on the tiles kitchen floor, smacking a great big silver scratch straight down the plastic casing.

But, my question is..... Does it really matter? Would you rather have a pristine, perfectly conditioned iPod that you've never taken out of its leather protective case (and therefore never enjoyed it as much as you could/should have) - or a slightly scratched, dented unit that you've used for its function, and not as an aesthetic idol to impress? It's the latter that seem to get more and more homely the longer you've owned them, and therefore are much more rewarding to own and use. This is why I like my old piano so much - the more I use it, the more I get to know it - it's been nine years I've played it, but that's nothing on the 71 years of musical prestige it holds.

Seriously - for domestic use, get an old piano. They feel better, sound better, and you just don't care if it runs into a scratch or two. And to top it all off, they're relatively cheap. That isn't to say that newer pianos aren't as good - many may disagree with me - but I still think that older pianos have a certain vintage feel and sound that adds that extra ambience to the music you play - whether it be classical, jazz or rag-time - that modern pianos simply can't mimic or, for that matter, compete with.

Of course, should I be offered a Steinway Grand, or top-of-the-range Yamaha, there's no way I'd turn it down! These high end pianos are in a league of their own - but for us ordinary folks who aren't lord of manor (we have limited funding and space to spend on our piano) - a reasonably priced older piano represents far better value than a (not so) reasonably priced modern one.


And even if I was given a Steinway Grand, in all its £100,000 worth of glory, it still wouldn't make my 1937 upright redundant. Unless, of course, it was a 1936 Steinway Grand. ;)

No. 2 - Practising

Practicing is something that you've got to do in order to learn an instrument. Some people seem to think that they'll just be able to pick up a guitar and start jamming with their mates straight away - but it's not gonna happen! Learning an instrument to a good standard requires lots of practice and patience - there's no shortcut!

So, how often should you practice? And for how long each time?

Well, for a start, practice makes perfect. You need to practice regularly - not necessarily everyday - anything between 2-7 times a week will allow you to make sufficient progress - it depends how keen you are! I personally practice no more than 4 times per week, for anything between 10 minutes and 2 hours per practice session. I feel that I make good progress with my playing, so it works. As long as you feel you've advanced at the end of each practice session, then it's been worthwhile! It may take you 10 minutes or several hours to achieve that, but who cares? Provided your happy with your progress, whatever anybody else does really doesn't matter. It all depends on what you want to get out learning an instrument.

However, practicing every single day for several hours won't necessarily return better results than practicing a few times a week for an hour or so. Here's why.

Learning an instrument is quite similar to trying to get fit - it takes a lot of time, effort and patience...... but the end result is always worth it. It makes all that hard work you did seem worthwhile. In fact, sometimes you want that end result so much that you start to work even harder to try and get to it faster.
But the question is..... will going out running everyday for 3 hours actually get you fitter faster than running for half an hour 3-5 times a week? The answer is, of course, no - the latter will let you make steady, reasonably paced progress. The former will simply tear your muscles into submission, making you weaker and cause injury, not to mention how in would make you dread doing your exercise everyday. You'd start to resent the entire programme, and probably eventually give up.

This is why I practice roughly every other day. In a good exercise programme, you'd do one type of exercise on day, and another type the next day (to give each muscle group time to heal) so the next time you attempt the exercise, your muscles have had time to rest and you can give it your all. Learning an instrument works roughly in the same way, but instead of a strenuous physical activity, you're learning music! Practicing for hours everyday isn't good - whilst in won't have adverse effects on your playing, it won't let you make any better progress than practicing for say, an hour 4 days a week. In my experience, I've often found that having a good practice one day, then leaving a day out, and then working on it again has better effects than just practicing everyday - it allows your mind to focus on other things in your life, and then, when you come back to playing music the next day, your mind is refreshed, and you can learn faster.

Of course, if you're only practicing for 10 to 30 minutes a day, I'd recommend practicing 5, 6 or 7 times a week.

But if you prefer to practice for hours at a time, like I sometimes do, then I wouldn't recommend practicing anything more than 4-5 times a week.

"Progress is the activity of today and the assurance of tommorow" - Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my next article, I'll be looking at Piano's specifically - a must have for pianists, and a hopefully interesting read for everyone else!

Monday, 7 July 2008

No. 1 - Learning to play


This is my first article for my brand new piano blog! I'll be writing fresh articles every day, so read this article, and if you like what you see, please visit again!

So, to start off, I'll talk about something that many people say they'd like to be able to do, and even more "wish they'd learned when they were younger" - learning to play the piano, or, indeed, any instument. It is something that so many would like to be able to do, yet so few try.

So what draws people into learning an instrument?

Perhaps seeing there favourite rock star in concert, favourite performer on stage or even one of their friends strumming away on his/her guitar would persuade someone to embark upon a musical embargo, and begin the long, satisfying journey of learning an instroment and finally doing something you've wanted to do all your life, but never really got round to doing.

Maybe it's just wanting to have a hobby other than sports or video games (the case with so many youths of today) or perhaps it's something you want to do to, either to prove to yourself that you can, or to impress someone (it looks pretty good on a CV)!

Whatever your motivation, whatever your reason for starting to learn, one thing is still going to be the same - it's not going to be easy, and anyone who says it's a piece of cake is telling porkies! :) It'll be a long, strenuous and often frustrating journey that'll sometimes get you stressed out rather than relax you!

But it'll also be fun, rewarding very satisfying pastime, which will not only let you learn more about music, but also let you discover new skills and qualities that you never yourslf realised you had. I say this as a pianist of eight or nine years encounting, and trust me, it's been worth every minute of practice ;)


In my next article, I'll be talking about the thing you need to do in order to learn - practise! It'll cover how long and how often you should practise, what you might want to do beforehand, and some of my other top tips for getting the most out of each practise session.

Thanks for reading!