Friday, November 20, 2015

The Earliest Age To Start Piano

Having taught piano for many years, a very popular question that I am often asked is "When can my child start piano lessons?" No matter how many different ways that question has been asked, I say the answer varies that many times.

We know that all children are different. They have different skills and abilities. I would say that there are three categories for determining when your child can start lessons: skills, emotional maturity and natural musical abilities.

At 6 years old, a child begins reading skills, and they have a good attention span. It is a nice age to start. Younger children (3-5) who enjoy clapping, singing and moving to music can also get started learning the names of the white keys. The basic counts to quarter and half notes are introduced as well.

There are wonderful programs such as Musik Garden, Music Together and WunderKeys for young children. Many coloring books are available for the younger musician to color piano keys, music signs and symbols. I recommend WunderKeys Books and Bastien's Piano Basics: Primer Level.

Another point of view is to start at 3-4 years old when they know their ABC's and can count to ten. At an early age it is possible to keep a steady beat. I suggest that you have someone else teach your child. So, learning the alphabet letters A- G and being able to recognize numbers 1-5 is a pre-requisite for the little ones. Plus, sitting still for 10-15 minutes while focusing on having fun at the piano is very necessary.

Addition is important because music is divided into measures. Kids need to know simple math because each kind of note receives a specific number of counts. Recognizing if the notes are the same or different is important. Plus, hearing if sounds are high or low is good to know.

Music For Little Mozarts is a wonderful pre-K piano method. This method incorporates aspects suited toward many learning styles: kinesthetic (movement), rote teaching, singing Sol-Fa and folk songs as well as a lot of coloring to concretely and visually associate and learn abstract musical symbols and concepts.

In terms of maturity, I would suggest the age of four or five as a good age to start with the piano. Kindergarten kids are very ready for games of any kind, and they begin to have the skills necessary to put several hand movements together into a group of movements.

At this age piano teachers are able to teach them chords (three piano keys played with the left hand). If their hands are real small, they will learn to play 2 note chords (two piano keys, using thumb and pinky).

I have found that children gravitate to what is most comfortable for them. First graders seem magically wired to try the piano and are extremely pleased to play piano! All the physical perceptions necessary are in place; numbers are no problem, playing with two hands is no problem.

First graders are ready to conquer the right hand of sheet music, and engage in a study of chords. At this age kids are emotionally ready to play the game called "happy and sad" wherein the teacher plays chords and has the child try to guess the chords. Are they emotional or dramatic in quality (Major), happy or sad (minor)? Kids love this game of ear training.

Here are a few tips to get started.

1. Teach the notes, the numbers, get the kids to decipher the commands and play the correct keys as best they can, with whatever finger comes to their mind. Associate fingers with animals, if you like.

2. Introduce the idea of five fingers, slowly, as a game. This way they're not playing with just their index finger but with all fingers. Have them press the 2 black keys and then the 3 black keys.

3. Play rhythm games and sing and clap out loud to reinforce rhythm playing on the piano. Try simple rhythm games like "fours" that give children the idea of regularity, of pattern, of repetition.

4. Keep coming back to ideas, again and again. Repetition is good! Are the tones high or low?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Analogue Music Market - Top 5 Picks From Musik Messe

The European equivalent of the music industry trade show NAMM has flooded the market with trad and tech developments from brand leaders in all areas, from guitars to amps and keyboards to drum machines. To help out confused music enthusiasts we've picked what we consider to be five of the best new trad products to come out of Musik Messe in Frankfurt this year. Look out for our pick of the tech products still to come.

Fender Pawn Shop Series

The biggest news from Fender at the show was a new range of electric guitars inspired by some of Fender's instruments from the '50s, '60s and '70s, plus the more recent Squier Vintage Modified '51 model. As Chris Vinnicombe succinctly put it,"Guitars that never were, but should have been." For example, the Fender '51 has a Stratocaster body, Telecaster neck, single-coil Texas Specialbreak pickup, Fender Enforcer humbucking bridge pickup and early '50s PrecisionBass-style dual-knob chrome control plate. The Fender '72 has a semi-hollow Strat body with an f-hole and a u-shaped Telecaster neck, plus a combination of the same '50s PrecisionBass-style control plate as the '51, with 70s-style hardtail Strat bridge and Fender F-tuners. The Mustang Special has a classic '60s era C-shape body, 24 inch short-scale maple neck, rosewood fretboard with modern 9.5 inch radius and the 3-way coil selector slide switch for each humbucking pickup gives the guitarist 18 tonal options. The Fender Pawn Shop Series is a true amalgamation of Fender's vintage best bits coupled with modern sound and Fender's quality manufacturing and will no doubt be popular with guitar enthusiasts everywhere.

Vox Valvetronix Pro Series

As Vox enthusiasts will know the Valvetronix range centre around a Valve Reactor circuit; a real vacuum tube to produce true tube tone. In the Pro Series the standard 12AX7 tube has been replaced with an EL84 tube to give a more accurate tube sonic signature. The latest addition to the range also has 44 amp models, more than any previous model, plus a diverse selection of pedal, modulation, delay and reverb effects. Essential to the quality of Vox Valvetronix is the speaker, which in the Pro Series is a Celestion VOX NeoDog speaker, and manages to be both lightweight and powerful with a neodymium magnet. Nothing can beat the warm tonal sound of an old valve amplifier and with the new Valvetronix Pro Series Vox have certainly achieved their best yet.

Yamaha Pacifica Guitars

Yamaha are still proving to be ahead of the game with another bundle of affordable yet high quality and high performance guitars. Four new guitars have been added to the Pacifica range at Musik Messe, with a new configuration of hardware and pickups. The 611HFM has Seymour Duncan pickups and coil tap tone pot teamed with a flamed maple and alder body and vintage tinted maple neck. The 510V combines professional hardware with an exclusive single Seymour Duncan pickup, tinted maple neck and rosewood fingerboard. The 311H has custom-wound pickups, high-quality hardware and coil tap all matched with solid tonewood construction for great musical and tonal variation. The 120H has a maple neck, rosewood fingerboard and alder body with high performance neck and bridge humbuckers.

Warwick WA Bass Amp Heads and Cabinets and BC Combos

Warwick's WA300 and WA600 bass amp heads and accompanying cabinets sealed Warwick's name as a producer of quality hardware for bassists. The bass heads come with 10 band graphic equalizers, bass and treble controls, adjustable compressors, and passive and active inputs. The Warwick WCA410 cabinet is driven by four new 10 inch drivers with a fresh look at the traditional bullet horn, whilst the WCA115 has been designed as an accompaniment to the 410 where more power is needed. The BC Combos, BC150 and BC300, are the answer for bassists who don't need top volume but still want to be heard. Both Combos have a 15 inch driver and all the features bassists have come to expect with Warwick's BC Combos. The BC150 has a sweepable mid in its 3-band equalizer to boost the 150 watts of power, while the BC300 adds all the features that can be found on the WA300, plus a deeper cabinet, a more powerful speaker driver and Warwick's new HF bullet for a crisp, punchy sound.