Printable: Welcome Poster for Piano Studio

In yesterday’s post, I talked about my gradual transition from online lessons to in-person for my Michigan-based students (my Ohio-based students from before my move will remain online). As promised, in today’s post I am sharing a free printable poster you can use to welcome students and help remind them of your protocols when they first arrive.
Any time students come for their first lesson at my studio, I find it’s important to “train” them, so to speak, with my expectations such as removing shoes, washing hands, etc.. After welcoming students at the door, this involves stating something like: “Whenever you arrive in the future, I’d like you to remove your shoes here, wash your hands here, and then head to the piano!”
I thought it might be useful to post a friendly poster with these reminders, in case it helps students remember what to do the first few times they arrive until it becomes a habit. I laminated it and use poster putty to hang it where it will be easily seen.
I created a few different variations of the poster, in case you might like to use it! I’ve included versions with and without masks (for pandemic times and non-pandemic times). And there are versions included for using hand sanitizer versus washing hands in a sink.

To download this PDF, visit the Printables > Studio Business page and scroll down to “Welcome Poster for Piano Studio.” Enjoy!
  Welcome Poster for Piano Studio (158.9 KiB, 165 hits)

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Mozart, Mendelssohn, Grieg and Ravel!

In this month’s practice clinic (May 2021), Graham Fitch answered questions on coordinating the hands, using forearm rotation, trills and various other topics. Works featured include Mozart’s Sonata in a minor K310, a Menuet by Lully, Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words Op. 19 No. 4, Grieg’s Summer Eve and Ravel’s Sonatine.

Practice clinic questions

WA Mozart – Sonata in A Minor, K310 2nd Mvt (Bars 16 – 17) – Practice approaches to coordinating the left and right hands, particularly when putting the hands together and playing the trills
Jean-Baptiste Lully – Menuet from Essential Keyboard Repertoire (Bar 16) – What is the purpose of the G# in what is essentially a piece in D minor?
Felix Mendelssohn – Song Without Words, Op. 19 No. 4 (Bars 1 – 4) – How to use forearm rotation in the right way in order to play the opening four bars without tension or pain
Edvard Grieg – Summer Eve (Bars 14 – 18) – Getting the left hand in synch with the right hand both slowly and up to speed
Maurice Ravel – Sonatine, 1st Mvt (Opening bars) – Suggestions for overcoming difficulties in obtaining the desired sound and evenness in the opening bars of this work (we also have our own study edition for this work – click here for more information!)

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Next practice clinics
Our next practice clinic takes place on Wednesday 23rd June on our Facebook page at 12:00 BST. Please sign-up to our mailing list here for updates on future practice clinic dates.
Watch previous clinics
Recordings of past practice clinics are posted up on our Facebook page and YouTube channel shortly after each event. You can also view our full archive of previous events via these links!
How they work?
Online Academy subscribers can submit questions for practice clinics up to two weeks before each session. This can be done using the link provided on the Online Academy dashboard under “subscription benefits” (click here to sign-in and visit your dashboard).
Further information on how our practice clinics work is available here or please click here to find out more about the Online Academy.

Practising the Piano Online Academy
The Practising the Piano Online Academy is the ultimate online resource for mastering the piano. It features a constantly growing library of over 300 articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos on topics including practising, piano technique and performing from leading experts. Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £9.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £99.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)

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Finding and Choosing Piano Fingering

Open up a score of piano music, and the chances are you will find fingering suggested by an editor, and sometimes even by the composer. If you consult a different edition of the same work, the fingering is likely to be different. What does this tell us? There can be no standardisation of fingering, no matter whether it is from the composer, an editor, or a teacher. The only correct fingering is the one that works for your hand. Fingering in any score is a suggestion only!

“The only correct fingering is the one that works for your hand!”

Once a fingering has been selected, practising always with that fingering means that after a while the series of finger strokes will become automated – we will not have to think about which finger goes where because when we master a new motor skill, we go from active effort (thinking and concentrating) to automatic ability.

If we haven’t taken the trouble to organise a good fingering or we practise with different fingerings each time, we make life difficult for ourselves – especially if we are preparing a memorised performance. Practice makes permanent, so whatever we engrave on our motor cortex is going to stick. This is why it is very difficult to correct embedded errors later – and this includes sloppy fingering.
Suggestions for choosing fingering
The following are some suggestions for choosing and embedding fingering:

Fingering in any score is a suggestion only. Consult as many different editions as possible (IMSLP is a great online reference source, and often has multiple editions of standard works, each with its own editorial fingering).
It is vital to consider the eventual tempo, as well as the dynamic level, articulation, phrasing, shaping, timing and tone quality when working out a fingering (as much as is possible at the start).
Keep the hand closed as much as possible, avoiding stretches between the fingers that can lead to tension.
Avoid staying too long in one fixed position. Frequent changes in hand position keep the hand mobile, and thus free of tension.
Fingering that feels fine when playing each hand alone might not work so well when playing hands together. Try to organise the fingering with both hands together (after which you can practise hands separately).
As you start embedding the fingering during the process of practising, you might find you want to change some of it. Allow a small window of time to do this before settling on your final fingering.
Commit to the fingering you have chosen and it will soon reach the automatic stage.

Principles of Piano Fingering – Online Workshop
Join us on Sunday 13th June @ 16:00 – 17:30 BST (GMT + 1) for an online workshop in which Graham Fitch explores the principles of piano fingering, showing how to choose the best fingering for your hand to find solutions to the technical and musical challenges. The following topics will be covered:

Basic principles of identifying and choosing fingering
Pitfalls to avoid e.g. unnecessary stretching between the fingers
How to factor in the eventual tempo, touch and articulation, etc. when selecting a fingering
How to embed a fingering, once selected, so that it becomes automated
Tips for hand redistribution and solving problems for players with small hands

 Click here for more information or to book your place!

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A Better Way to Play Faster

One of the most common questions asked by readers of this blog is how to play faster. We’re probably all familiar with a scenario in which we’ve laid careful foundations with slow practice only to find that everything falls apart when increasing the tempo beyond a certain point.
Slow practice is excellent for the initial note-learning stages and can also help us as we build up speed. How can we get a piece up to the full speed while retaining the feeling of coordination and control that is possible at slower tempos?

Using a Metronome to Play Faster
A common way to build speed is the incremental metronome method. This works by taking a section of a piece and setting your metronome to a pulse that you can already comfortably manage (this might be very slow). When you can play the passage comfortably, increase the speed of the metronome by an increment of your choice (perhaps 5 bpm, or even less). When you can control your playing at this speed, make another incremental increase on your metronome.
This is a favoured method of many great pianists and clearly has its merits. However, it can also be somewhat time-consuming and tedious, running the risk of becoming mechanical and mindless after a while.

A Better Way to Build Speed
An alternative method, which I find far more efficient in going from a slow note learning tempo to the desired tempo is playing little bits fast, often called “chaining”. This method enables us to build the reflexes for fast playing, and because we limit the length of the chain in each iteration to what is manageable or just outside our grasp, we are able to finesse the sound we are after at full performance speed.
Here’s how it works:

Without the metronome, play just a few notes at speed, then stop. Think of a sound bite from a full performance, with dynamics, good sound, shaping, etc.
Evaluate your result as precisely as possible – for example: “The LH was uneven”, or “The hands weren’t together”, or “It felt tight” using the Feedback Loop.
Mentally rehearse the snippet you played before you repeat it, imagining how it sounds and feels to play evenly, with the hands precisely together, freely, etc. See, hear and feel in your imagination. It is most important to go through this stage before diving into the keyboard again.
Repeat the previous 2 steps until you are happy.
Add another note, or group of notes and repeat the process, now with this longer chain.
Start a new chain from the note(s) you ended on, and work in the same way.
Now you have two short chains. Join them together until you have one longer one.
RESIST the temptation to go over things slowly and comfortably – we’re building new reflexes and this will be challenging!

In this clip from a recent online workshop, I show how to apply chaining techniques to the Allegro of the first movement of the Pathétique Sonata of Beethoven:

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Further Reading

For a more indepth I explore this subject in depth in Part One of my eBook series, Practising the Piano – The Practice Tools
The following blog posts contain more detailed information on the concepts covered in this article:

Getting Your Pieces up to Speed
If you’d like a hands-on demonstration of how to apply these and other practice methods for building speed then you may be interested in joining our upcoming workshop on Sunday 13th June @ 14:00 – 15:30 BST (GMT +1). In this interactive session, Graham Fitch will explore the following topics:

The technical considerations for fast playing
Avoiding tension
When slow practice no longer helps
Practice method that delivers results
How to maintain speed and accuracy in old repertoire

The workshop will feature examples and demonstrations followed by exercises that you can try yourself with a piece you’re working on. There will also be opportunities for questions and to get direct feedback from Graham if you wish! Click here for more information or to book your place.

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ACE Guide Notes

Click here to purchase
As teachers we all search for a note-reading method that will help students the most. As a long time teacher I tried everything and maybe you have also.
Of course the best way is the one that works, and I decided using the guide notes A, C, and E worked best with the majority of my students. With the ACE method, students learn only the groups of ACE on the treble and bass clef and from there they can fill in the notes around ACE until they know the entire grand staff.
Learning these guide notes are easier for some children because they only have to remember the letters A C E when they first start to learn note names. I grew very frustrated trying to help students remember the traditional guide notes of F, C, and G. As a music educator and piano teacher of students of all ages, I’m not sure exactly why. But I think it has something to do with the fact that students just couldn’t relate to three alphabet letters that seemed to be randomly assigned a line or space.
One of my more dramatic students looked at me with a lot of anguish in his eyes and said, “I keep trying, but I just can’t remember where G is supposed to go.” It didn’t help him to say that the treble clef looked like an old fashioned way to write G, because, how hard is that for a child who can’t even read cursive? Another student looked at me very doubtfully and said that a backward C sure didn’t look like an F to him. And then there was the older student who always had trouble with notes. After I showed her how to learn notes with ACE, she asked me, “why didn’t you tell me this before? It’s so much easier.”
Of course there are time time tested traditional mnemonics such as All Cows Eat Grass and any number of really cute sentences that teachers have used. If older students need to learn notes quickly, that certainly is a fast and easy way. But what about younger students or the ones who can’t seem to remember any of those sentences or can’t remember which sentence goes with what clef?
Many students find it easy to remember the letters A, C, and E. If they can read, they probably know it spells “ace” so that gives them a head start.
It is hard to find activities specifically for using A C E as guide notes, so I made some. Since students easily forget from week to week and some students learn faster than others, I made a lot of different kinds of written work so you can use as many as you need. It is a good idea to have a lot of resources to use throughout the year.

The material in Set One is for elementary age beginners and up. Only the notes on the grand staff are included, and the only note on a ledger line is middle C and a couple in the crossword puzzle. Students will learn the notes A, C, and E on the treble and bass clef in a variety of ways. The sheets are limited to ACE, and from there the teacher can help the student learn the notes around ACE. A set with ledger line ACE notes will be coming soon as well as some sheets for learning the “fill in” notes around A, C, and E.
Good sight reading is a different skill than identifying note names. Sight reading is taught with a lot of interval reading and a lot of practice. But if you are looking for alternate methods to teach the names of notes, then give ACE a try.
I learned to teach note reading using ACE at a workshop by “teacher to the teachers” Elizabeth Gutierrez. She is presenting a webinar on TUES, April 21, at 10AM Central time. If you would like to get on the email list in order to be notified about the webinar, here is the link:
Click here for webinar link.
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Webinar for Note Reading with ACE Groups

Learn all about how to teach music reading with ACE groups.

If you have seen the recent ACE activities I posted recently but you’re not exactly sure how to teach note reading with ACE grouping, teacher to the teachers Elizabeth Gutierrez, is presenting a workshop tomorrow, April 20, 2021 at 10:00 CST.

Elizabeth says if you have students who could use rapid improvement in note-naming, intervallic reading, and keyboard orientation, then this webinar is for you.

There is no quick and easy way to learn how to read music notes by intervals on the grand staff. But I have found using the groups of ACE is the easiest for the majority of my students to remember, especially those that seem to have the most trouble. Plus, since A, C, and E are skips, they also get a head start in learning intervallic reading. ACE is a pattern, and patterns help children learn.

I’ve attended this workshop and it was eye-opening. It changed my approach to teaching note reading.
If you would like to attend this webinar, purchase your ticket here:

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Notes or Rhythms – What’s More Important?

This week we’ve published the next instalment in Ken Johansen’s Advanced sight-Reading Curriculum on the Online Academy which is dedicated to the subject of rhythm. In this guest blog post, Ken explores how sight-reading can be beneficial for developing good rhythmic habits and useful musical skills.
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It’s a silly question, of course. In music, neither one can exist without the other. But to roam the halls of any conservatory, listening to students practise, is to realise without doubt that their top priority is note accuracy. The slightest wrong note makes them stop immediately and back up, usually only a note or two, to excise the offending blemish. In doing so, they of course add rhythmic inaccuracy to their note inaccuracy, and lose all sense of pulse and phrasing. It seems a heavy price to pay for a wrong note.
Given this compulsion to stop and correct wrong notes, it is not surprising that many piano students, when asked to sight-read something, find it very difficult to keep a regular pulse and play through to the end of a piece without stopping. It is virtually impossible to suddenly abandon a habit that has been reinforced daily in the practice room for years. In addition, most piano students do not have enough experience in ensemble playing, or sufficient training in improvisation, playing by ear, and simplifying challenging passages, to allow them to play in tempo and keep going when sight-reading.

Of the many benefits of sight-reading—discovery of new music, faster learning of repertoire, greater access to performance and employment opportunities—one of the most important is the improved feeling of pulse and rhythm that it instills. Being obliged to keep going no matter what happens, as we are in sight-reading and in ensemble playing, leads to the development of a stable inner pulse, which in turn makes it possible to read accurately all the varied rhythmic figures contained within the pulse. Students who have difficulty sight-reading common rhythmic figures are usually the ones who have gotten into the habit of practising out of time, and therefore lack that stable pulse upon which all rhythmic life depends.
Any pianist who has joined another pianist in a duet, or accompanied a singer at sight, knows that being obliged to play in time, come what may, has the secondary effect of forcing them to occasionally leave notes out, simplify challenges, or guess at what is coming. While this may seem like a sacrifice to some (the devil of note accuracy whispering in our ears), being forced to reduce, simplify, improvise, and play by ear encourages the growth of musical skills that are extremely valuable, not only in sight-reading, but in performance and practising.
The good rhythmic habits and useful musical skills that we develop in sight-reading transfer over to our daily practice in many beneficial ways. For one thing, as our reading improves, so does our accuracy, and we may find that we don’t need to stop and correct wrong notes as often as before. Moreover, the imperative that we now feel to keep a steady pulse may lead us to play to the end of the phrase before going back to correct mistakes, giving us a better sense of phrasing. When we do need to repeat a small unit to make it fluent, we may find ways to do this with practice loops that allow us to keep a regular pulse through the repetitions.
The skill we have developed in simplifying and reducing textures may also help us to see more clearly the underlying structure of the pieces we are learning, and to find new ways of practising and memorising them. In performance, our stable inner pulse becomes something we can rely upon, and ride upon, as it carries us through musical time. And should something go awry when playing from memory, our ability to improvise and play by ear will help us to keep the music going.
Returning to our opening question, notes and rhythms are equally important, but notes only have meaning when they are in rhythm.
– Ken Johansen
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The latest instalment of the Advanced Sight Reading Curriculum is available with an Online Academy subscription or for once-off purchase from our store here. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.
Further Reading & Resources

Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum (General introduction & other parts) – Click here to view a general introduction to the curriculum, click here for more information on Part 1 or here for Part 2.
The Joy of Sight-Reading – Click here to read a collection of free articles by Read Ahead developers Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen on the Online Academy
Read Ahead – Sight-reading exercises for elementary to intermediate levels on the Online Academy – Click here for level 1, click here for level 2, click here for Level 3 or click here for Level 4 (recently added)

Online Workshop – The Four Skills of Successful Sight-Reading
If you’d like a live, hands-on demonstration of tools and techniques from some of the resources listed above, you might be interested in our online workshop on Friday 25th of June @ 14:00 – 16:00 BST (GMT + 1). In this workshop, Ken Johansen will present his tried and tested approach to developing for essential skills for successful sight reading. He will show you how to plan before you play, keep your eyes on the score, read ahead and keep the rhythm going! Click here for more information.

Color Coded Two-handed Rhythm Flash Cards

Click here to order
These Two-handed Rhythm Flash Cards consist of 48 color coded rhythm flash cards with two-measure rhythm patterns that use both hands. There are five levels of difficulty including beginning note values as well as dotted quarters, 8th notes, dotted eighths, 8th rests, 16th notes, 16th rests, 4/4, 3/4, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, syncopation, and triplets.
Each level of cards has a different colored border. The borders were added to keep the cards in groups and to help teachers select the cards for particular students. They are 12 pages of files with four cards to a page for you to cut out. They will last longer if you laminate them.
These cards are for students of all ages and include late intermediate as well as beginning levels. In the majority of the cards, either the left hand or the right hand is tapping the steady beat. Since they are over seven inches wide, they are large enough to use in group lessons. The large notes are easy to read.
Students can begin by tapping the pattern with one hand. Once they are successful, they can add the other hand, which is the steady beat on most of the cards. For more of a challenge, students can switch hands. Seeing the steady beat written on the card helps music reading, also.
These cards will be a big help if you have any students who have trouble with hands together or reading rhythms! Please click the order page for terms of use.
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Handel, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Rachmaninoff!

In this month’s practice clinic, Graham Fitch answered questions on trills, fingering, legato octaves and gave practising tips for tackling a difficult passage. Works featured include a Gavotte by Handel, Mozart’s Sonata in a minor K331, Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola Song Op. 19 No. 6 and Rachmaninoff’s Etude-tableau in G minor, Op. 33 No. 6 / 8.

Practice clinic questions

GF Handel  – Gavotte in G, HWV 491 by (Bar 11) – Is the trill in bar 11 played differently to the other trills in this piece? My trills are often “louder” than the notes before and after. What practice methods can I use to keep the dynamics consistent?
Felix Mendelssohn – Venetian Gondola Song in G minor, Op. 19 No. 6 (Introduction, Bars 7 & 11) – I’m struggling with the pedalling in the introduction and the LH accompaniment from bar 7 is tense, awkward and unreliable. I also find the RH fingering in bar 11 next to impossible, because of the stretch between 5 and 4.
WA Mozart – Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331 1st Mvt (Bars 59 – 62) – The octaves in measures 59-62 are difficult to play completely legato. Can you please provide some suggestions on fingering and good technique for these measures?
Sergei Rachmaninoff – Etude-tableau in G minor, Op. 33 No. 6 / 8 (Bars 26-29) – I have been unable to get this section to my satisfaction and am looking for new approaches to practising. I find it becomes a mess especially as I go on with a lack of clarity, inconsistent rhythm and accents.

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Next practice clinics
Our next practice clinic takes place on Wednesday 21st Jule on our Facebook page at 12:00 BST. Please sign-up to our mailing list here for updates on future practice clinic dates.
Watch previous clinics
Recordings of past practice clinics are posted up on our Facebook page and YouTube channel shortly after each event. You can also view our full archive of previous events via these links!
How they work?
Online Academy subscribers can submit questions for practice clinics up to two weeks before each session. This can be done using the link provided on the Online Academy dashboard under “subscription benefits” (click here to sign-in and visit your dashboard).
Further information on how our practice clinics work is available here or please click here to find out more about the Online Academy.

Practising the Piano Online Academy
The Practising the Piano Online Academy is the ultimate online resource for mastering the piano. It features a constantly growing library of over 300 articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos on topics including practising, piano technique and performing from leading experts. Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £9.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £99.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)

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Resources for Improving Sight-reading

Improving your sight-reading has many benefits beyond simply getting a better mark in an examination. It allows you to play a wider range of music and gives you more opportunities to make music with others. Sight-reading also develops many other skills essential for overall musical development.
Despite being such an important skill, sight-reading is often not taught directly and therefore it’s difficult to know how to go about practising it. With this in mind, we have built an extensive collection of sight-reading resources on the Online Academy to help you and your students practice sight-reading.
Advanced Sight-reading Curriculum
Created by Ken Johansen and based on the curriculum he uses in his class for piano majors at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, our Advanced Sight-Reading Curriculum provides a unique, structured approach to developing the key skills that underpin a good sight-reading ability.
It consists of an extensive collection of annotated scores dealing with every aspect of sight-reading, together with detailed suggestions on how to practise, covering everything from training the eyes to read more efficiently, to recognising patterns, simplifying complex textures and mastering difficult rhythms.

We’ve recently added a new instalment which teaches how to keep a regular pulse while tackling challenges such as recognising underlying rhythmic structures, subdividing the pulse accurately, handling polyrhythms and negotiating the sometimes confusing visual impression given by different kinds of meters. Click on one of the following links to find out more:

Read Ahead
This sight-reading curriculum comprises a curated collection of carefully ordered sight-reading examples from the elementary to intermediate levels. The examples feature related exercises and quizzes to help students develop the mental and tactile skills necessary for fluent sight-reading. Click here to view level 1, click here for level 2, click here for Level 3 or click here for Level 4 (recently added) on the Online Academy.

Other resources

Teaching & Developing Sight-reading Skills – A collection of free articles by Read Ahead developers Travis Hardaway and Ken Johansen on the Online Academy
Preparing for an Exam (Sight Reading) – In these new videos from our collection of piano examination resources, Graham Fitch gives some tips and ideas for incorporating sight-reading into lessons and daily practising.
Online Workshops – Our online events programme has also featured several sight-reading workshops. Access to recordings, presentations and other resources from these events is available via the following links:

Practising the Piano Online Academy
The Practising the Piano Online Academy is the ultimate online resource for mastering the piano. It features a constantly growing library of over 300 articles, thousands of musical excerpts and hundreds of videos on topics including practising, piano technique and performing from leading experts. Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £9.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £99.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)

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