Inside the Studio with Clinton Pratt

 This student just started lessons in March. We only had a few lessons before moving to online lessons. In this clip, I'm preparing him for the first piece in the method book that involves dotted half notes and triple meter. The rhythm patterns that we do in the video are in the piece, but he hasn't seen the piece yet. I'm reviewing steady bea...
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Let Them Eat Cake! Teaching Piano Using Stacked Engagement Layers

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Piano playing requires the involvement and simultaneous coordination of many different parts of the brain and the mind.1 The aural center forms an image of the way a piece should sound—a goal for performance. Motor processing directs the arm, hand, and fingers in controlling the piano keys. Visual and reading processes are required for decoding mus...
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May/June 2018: Create and Motivate

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Combining scales and chordsHere are three exercises that benefit all musicians regardless of their preferred style or approach to making music:1. Scales2. Chord drills3. Scales and chords togetherThe last two columns offered interesting ways to practice the first two. Now, here's a way to combine scales and chords into one activ...
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Method reviews return! A review of Piano Safari

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Method reviews return! In 2009, Clavier Companion began a series of reviews exploring all of the major piano methods published at that time. Two years later, the series concluded and we had covered twelve major methods! (You can access these articles collected into a special digital issue on the claviercompanion.com website.) Since then there have ...
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Roll over, Mozart: Creative improvisation and composition activities

The skill of improvisation is often looked upon as the realm of jazz musicians. Many classical musicians would not dream of "riffing" with Beethoven or Mozart melodies. However, incorporating elements of improvisation and composition in classical pieces can provide students with an active, creative approach for learning repertoire.This "messin...
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The complete musician: A conversation with Robert Levin

The complete musician: A conversation with Robert Levin
Robert Levin is a master keyboard artist who performs on the harpsichord, fortepiano, and modern concert grand. He is also a conductor, theorist, musicologist, author, and professor, and his career has taken him all over the world. He is especially known for improvising embellishments and cadenzas in Classical repertoire, and he has recorded for pr...
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Blues 103-Improvisation

In the last two columns, we looked at the steps involved in composing and varying a basic Blues melody. The next step is to stretch the form even further by adding improvisation.Blues scalesYou know how it feels good to complain a little now and then? It gets your concerns off your chest and clears the air. Sometimes, yesterday's problems can even ...
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What jazz contributes to the classical pianist

There is a long tradition of teaching quality classical piano in Canada. There are also a myriad of support systems to teach theory and written scores in a variety of contemporary styles. Then there's jazz. Some teachers like it and some don't. Others don't feel knowledgeable enough to include it in their studios. For many teachers it is a big unkn...
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Blues 102—Variations

Having addressed in the last column how to help students compose simple Blues tunes, let's now consider how to help them add on to their creations.1. Embellish the melodyWhether notated or improvised, ask your students to play their compositions a couple of times to be sure the melody is "set." If a melody is too elaborate, encourage paring it down...
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Blues 101: Basics

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Blues music evolved from its eighteenth-century roots in the work songs and lamentations of enslaved African-Americans to become one of the most identifiable streams in American music. If you grew up in the United States when I did, you heard it on the radio (Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B King, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles), in movies (The Blues Brothers), and...
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Beyond major and minor: A composer’s understanding of chords and scales

​Major and minor. Together these form a basic polarity in Western music. Major scales and chords are usually characterized as "happy," while minor ones are saddled with the label "sad." After composing, improvising, arranging, and teaching for more than forty years with these musical materials, I have come to a different way of understanding them. ...
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Steps to teaching improvisation

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If you are a regular reader of this column, you probably already teach creativity alongside traditional reading skills. However, if you are wondering how to structure this aspect of your lessons, you are not alone. After speaking on this topic, it's not uncommon for teachers to tell me—under their breath, almost secretively as if it's something to ...
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Comping 103—Waltz-time broken chords

​Here's a riddle: What do you break to fix? Answer: bland blocked chords.​Whether improvising teacher accompaniments or helping students dress up ho-hum arrangements, broken chords are a very useful trick to have in your bag. Broken chords sound great with lyrical, long-note melodies that beg for a busier accompaniment. They are also particula...
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Comping 102 -- Going further with "boom-chicks"

Last time, we explored playing a basic (boom-chick) stride pattern to accompany students when no duet part is provided. Now, we'll consider two ways to enhance and adapt this useful "stock" accompaniment.1. Passing note bassAdd variety and momentum to the steady boom-chick of a basic stride by connecting the roots of chords with passing bass notes....
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Comping 101 - Accompanying Students

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Accompanying students is an enjoyable way to transfer musicality from veteran to rookie efficiently without so much "teacher talk." For students, it • tightens up their sense of time; • helps them listen while playing; • enables them to feel more like "real musicians"; • prepares them to play in ensembles; • and reduce...
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Dot spots

Add improvised pizzazz to the easy rhythms found in beginner tunes by asking your students to identify "dot spots."These are places where students can substitute dotted rhythms in place of quarter notes.Instead of this: Students play this: Listen and playIt's not necessary for students to know how to read dotted rhythms prior to exploring their use...
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Creating by chance

Can't get started making your own music? No excuses! Use the laws of chance to prime your creative pump. In the eighteenth century, Mozart devised a game for composing minuets by assigning pre-written melodic fragments to the numbers on dice. Here's a similar activity you can use to prompt creativity in your studio.1. Rhythma. Easy waltz rhyth...
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Notable next-door neighbors

Many music theory textbooks illustrate melodies that often consist, in part, of chord tones—the notes that match an underlying harmonic progression. An example of this may be seen below, in the folk song Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair. The first three pitches, above the words "Black, black, black," are chord tones outlining a D mino...
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Introductions

A good musical introduction creates anticipation for the listener by suggesting the key and style of a tune about to be played.Ready? Go! The easiest way to set up a tune is to play a V7 intro chord. This works because it takes advantage of our expectations about functional harmony. Since most tunes begin with the I chord, a V7 chord play...
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How do you create solo piano arrangements from a fake book?

Today's jazz pianists learn to play within many different contexts. They might find themselves in a big band, a combo, or by themselves as keyboard soloists. As soloists, they must supply the harmony, rhythm, and melody while only being given a lead sheet version of a song as a guide. At the professional level, this skill can be quite complex. Howe...
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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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