Getting Started with Piano
Katie Cloud, School of Music Mentor
As an incoming freshman to the world of music majors everywhere, there is bound to be at least one part of our training that will be the ultimate struggle. For some, it will be music theory or aurals, and for others it will be the attempt of proficiency in different performance areas. The common struggle for the majority of incoming freshmen is the development of piano skills. Just like with any other performance area, the best way to handle practicing is to isolate the problem(s) and figure out what works best for you. Coming from someone who has completed our piano sequence and is working diligently to expand past my personal level of mediocrity, here are my tips on how to tackle the piano sequence head on:
- Write down and practice the fingerings to every major and minor scale.
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re kidding right? Yeah I’ll do that…never.” But seriously, you actually should do that. It sounds tedious, but that’s exactly what you need to do to excel – the tedious things. Doing the same five note warm up in your high school band every day to improve tone quality was tedious. Doing sirens to warm up before any kind of vocal performance is tedious. The tedious things are what get you to where you want to be as a musician – don’t neglect them.
- Use your theory and aural knowledge to help you with cadences/chord inversions.
If you are in the minority here and LIVE for theory and aurals, then this should be a piece of cake for you, and maybe even enjoyable. But if you feel similar about theory/aurals as I did, you’re going to hate this, but I PROMISE it will help – in more than one way too! I always had issues understanding figured bass and roman numerals and all that jazz (ha, musical humor), and I had some issues hearing intervals for a while too. If you take the time to practice cadences and chord inversions with the techniques taught in your theory and aurals classes, you will improve in this portion of the class.
- Practice your rote songs BEFORE class time.
“I know I should have but I didn’t and was called on to play and lead the class in My Bonnie and now I’m sad.” This will happen. We’ve all been there. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, and by the world, I mean Swope. Practice the silly rote songs – it will make you a better piano player. And you can sing them as goofy as you want in your practice room. My friends and I have an arsenal of us obnoxiously practicing piano and aurals – it keeps you sane.
- Practice hands separate before ever putting them together.
You know how when you get your newest piece of music and you want to just dive right in and play at full speed, even though you know you’re not ready yet? A similar version of this happens when learning new piano pieces too. Maybe you don’t necessarily start trucking full speed ahead to play it up to tempo in 5 minutes, but you probably start trying to play with both hands at the same time. This method is confusing when trying to play piano because there’s so much more going on at the same time than you’re used to. I find that it’s easier to practice hands separately first, get it perfect, and then work on putting hands together. Your muscle memory will come into play and make things easier the longer you practice.
- Don’t give up!
As hard as learning a new instrument may be, especially when you’ve had little to no experience with it, it’s important to keep pushing and just try your best! The piano professors don’t expect you to be the next Chopin, they just want you to be proficient enough to teach kids. So keep practicing, stay positive, and be awesome.