Tips to Remember Sharps and Flats in Piano Scales

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How do you remember the number of sharps or flats in a major scale when you’re asked to play for your exam?

If you can’t remember how many sharps, for example, A major has, here’s a tip to help you remember.

If you are asked to play a scale that has sharps you’ll count up from middle C. If your scale has flats, you’ll count by Perfect 5ths down from middle C. So, for example, when you’re asked to play A major and need to remember the number of sharps, find middle C. The C major scale has no sharps or flats. Count up a 5th (think: “C, D, E, F, G”) and you’ve landed on the scale with 1 sharp, G major. Count up another 5th (think: “G, A, B, C, D) and you’ve landed on the scale with 2 sharps, D major. Count up another 5th (think: “D, E, F, G, A”) and you’ve landed on A major which has 3 sharps. You can now proceed to find which specific notes are sharps in the A major scale.

Note: If you are looking to find out further sharps, continue to count up by Perfect 5ths. For example, a 5th up from A Major is E Major which has 4 sharps, B major has 5 sharps, F# Major has 6 sharps, and C# Major has 7 sharps.

Once you remember the number of sharps in a scale, how do you remember which specific notes are sharp or flat?

The scale that has one sharp is G major and it has an F sharp. The scale that has one flat is F major and it has a B flat. Use this knowledge as your starting point.

Using the A major scale example again (which has 3 sharps), and keeping in mind that G major has one sharp, find F# on the piano. Every scale with sharps has an F#. Count up a 5th from F# to find the second sharped note (think: “F, G, A, B, C”) and you will find your second sharp, C#. Count up a 5th again (think: “C, D, E, F, G”) and you will find your 3rd sharp, G#. So you can confidently play your A major scale which has 3 sharps: F#, C#, and G#. Similarly, if you’re asked to play a scale which 2 flats, B flat Major for example, find B flat and count a 5th down (think: “B, A, G, F, E”). B flat major has 2 flats, B flat and E flat.

These tips should particularly help those students who are preparing for piano exams where scales are played from memory. Some exams require quite a few scales and there are a lot of details to memorise. Although the tips above will likely help students remember the “mathematical” details of music, other factors such as “muscle memory”, the way your fingers memorise passages that have been correctly practiced repeatedly, will be another huge factor in a good performance. Practice technique regularly while using logical memory aids.

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Teaching Music Intervals and Musical Terms to Toddlers

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Recently my two toddlers learned the intervals of a 2nd and a 3rd, a great way to get them to play individual notes in a somewhat organised manner. I played the song “Just a Second” from the Alfred primer piano lesson book and then isolated the interval of a second. While the interval of a 2nd can be played on both white and black keys, we just focused on going from one white key to the next. For example, C to D or C to B, so both ascending and descending. After the 2nds are mastered and the children can find that interval on their own, move on to 3rds. To teach the interval of a 3rd, simply have children “jump” over one note. For 3rds we used only white keys as well. C to E or E to C are examples of 3rds.

Forte and piano are also accessible for toddlers. Try a worksheet like the following which uses pictures to help children identify loud of soft sounds. If toddlers can’t remember what the animal or object sounds like, help them by imitating the sound.

Also, don’t underestimate the musical terms that young children can learn. Take a piano primer book and flip through it like a story book, singing songs as you go along. When theory pages or large illustrations of musical terms come up, point and name out the crotchets (quarter notes), minims (half notes), bar lines, etc. Then quiz the children by asking them “what’s this?”. Have them repeat after you and then eventually they will know the terms without your help. It’s amazing what children can take in from a young age!

Grade II RIAM Printable Scales Flashcards

 

 

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Below is a freebie, a pdf printable of Grade II RIAM (Royal Irish Academy of Music) scales flashcards. I hope it will be helpful to some of my students as they practice their technique. The scales included in the printout are:

Similar motion:

A, E, B, F, B flat and E flat major

C, G and D major (two octaves)

A, E, G and D minor

Contrary motion:

C, G, D, A and E major one octave.

FREE PRINTABLE: Grade II RIAM Scales

Instructions:

1. Print the flashcards.

2. Cut them out and laminate them (or use good quality thick paper).

3. Use the flashcards during practice sessions. If there are scales you get tripped up on, particularly focus on those scales and check that your fingering is accurate (see Resources for Studying Scale Fingering for fingering info).

Resources for Studying Scale Fingering

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Scales… Like them, love them, or hate them, they simply are essential for a well rounded pianist’s music study.

Below are a few printables with scale fingering:

One octave scales:

https://arts-sciences.und.edu/music/accepted-students/piano-proficiency-exams/files/docs/scale-fingerings.pdf

Two octave scales:

http://colorinmypiano.com/wp-content/files/Scale__Arpeggio_Fingerings_for_Piano_2_Octave.pdf

While learning 2 octave scales, remember that all of the group I scales (C, D, E, G, A) use the 4th finger only once per octave. In the right hand this is the 7th scale degree and in the left hand this is the 2nd scale degree. The main thing is to just to practice scales consistently and, if you’re taking an exam, don’t leave studying them until the very last minute. Muscle memory will prove extremely helpful when you’re under pressure in front of an examiner.

“Ta’s” and “Ti-Ti’s” for Toddler Music Class

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Rhythm is a very important element in piano lessons. And while we all experience rhythm from the very start of life, why not incorporate thought-out rhythm activities into our toddler’s day? I’ve been teaching my toddlers (2 1/2 year old twins) a little bit about minims (half notes), crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (eighth notes) lately and they enjoy hearing and mimicking simple rhythms. They don’t know the technical names of these rhythms, but they are learning the kodaly words and feeling the rhythms at the same time.

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One way of having a toddler feel simple rhythms is to use xylophone mallets like a drum stick onto a suitable surface. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Rather than using the toy xylophone itself we used a rubber frisbee as our “drum.” I had one mallet and one of my toddlers had the other mallet. The girls really enjoyed hearing me say and tap rhythms such as “ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta-a, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ta-a.” The girls took turn tapping along with me using the other mallet and they did a great job keeping up with the beat. Toddlers not only use their hands but also their whole bodies feel the rhythm and it’s really fun to see them bobbing up and down while they play.

The same basic exercise can be done on a piano. A toddler might play clusters of notes at times or else play one key by itself but they will stay in the same general area of the keyboard. My girls really hearing various rhythms on the piano and sometimes they would ask for more if I stopped playing. Notice how a child will also simply start playing on their own using “ta’s” or “ti-ti’s.” They can also try mimicking a rhythm that the teacher plays, but so far in our case playing together is the way that works for us.

What are toddlers learning by doing this exercise?

  • Sound (before symbol) and feel of crotchets, minims and quavers
  • Relaxed bouncing on the piano keys
  • Improvisation (if they create their own rhythms)
  • Listening skills–learning to listen to a music teacher and learning to listen for rhythmic nuances

Using a Pencil During Piano Practice Sessions

Fingering

This is probably the most obvious thing we mark in our music and very important for muscle memory. The quicker we settle on the fingering that works best for us (there’s usually a few good fingering options in music passages) the better.

Marking repeated patterns

Use coloured pencils to map out repeated phrases. Do this particularly while learning certain J.S. Bach pieces!

Eye Glasses

If there’s a jump or something unexpected coming up, particularly on the next line or before a page turn, draw a small pair of eye glasses right beforehand so your eyes will look ahead more quickly than usual.

Writing out chords

The most common chords in a key signature are its I, IV and V chords. Look for these (either broken or blocked) and write out chord symbols near where you find them. Find uncommon chords or key changes as well. Knowing you have gone from, say, C major to a minor for a few measures will really be helpful as you practice, and a simple pencil marking can serve as a reminder of what chord or key you are playing in.

Memorizing

While memorising a piece, write the date of any memory slip-ups. Have someone listen to you, following along with your music score, so they can make these markings. Play for someone several times every few weeks or so and see if your memory slip spots are recurring. If so, practice extra in these tricky places.

Establishing a Consistent Piano Practice Routine

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Find a time.

Before college, that time for me was right before lunchtime. When I was in college, I planned in practice slots at a variety of times and durations that would work best with my other college work, and that would change often. At the minute, around 9 pm works best for me. The important thing is to plan and set aside time.

Don’t give up.

If you don’t have a lot of time to play during a particularly busy day, practice for 10 minutes rather than giving up the routine and habit. I remember starting private voice lessons in college one semester (as an extra class) and withdrawing soon after because I didn’t start off well with my practice time and I felt like I wasn’t doing very well. However I was later surprised to see that the voice teacher had given me good marks on the weekly progress report. With music progress isn’t necessarily seen immediately, and I believe sticking it out would have proved to show visible results even if for a few weeks here and there I didn’t get all my practice time in.

Practice both enjoyable and challenging music.

When I play through the same things over and over again or when I have been, for example, only playing Mozart for a week straight and am feeling stale, that is a sign that I need to get new music out. Sometimes I get out a book by another composer and switch my focus on, say, Bach. Another option is getting out my previous recital pieces and reviewing them. In addition to sight reading I also like to choose one piece to make “performance worthy”. Technique is also mentally stimulating and challenging.

As much as natural talent is helpful, in the end practice and consistency is an even more valuable and rare quality.

Teaching “5 Little Ducks” to Toddlers

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This week I printed off a sheet from letsplaykidsmusic.com with 5 little ducks and a mommy duck. The website has a variety of finger puppets available but I thought these would keep my daughters’ attention best. I simply cut them out and laminated them.

Printable: http://www.letsplaykidsmusic.com/five-little-ducks-went-swimming-one-day/

This is how we learned it:
Sing 5 little ducks, make them disappear one by one. For us, I found it was best when I held the ducks in my hand so that the girls didn’t make them disappear too quickly. I also found it good to make the ducks disappear into my girls’ pockets to keep them engaged. Sometimes I would say, “where did the ducks go?” or “bye-bye duck”. Then after all the ducks were gone Mommy duck quacks and all the ducks get pulled out of the pockets.

We did this in the middle of play time. Here a little and there a little will go a long way. Toddlers like to do things over and over again so I’m sure we’ll do this activity often. Apart from singing, this activity is also a good way to teach counting and subtraction.

Lately we also have been listening to theclassicalstation.org through their iPad app to get more familiar with classical music. Another activity we’ve been doing as well is shaking an empty hand cream tub filled with rice at various tempos. I start slow and then speed up all of a sudden. Usually I sing a tune and shake it (getting lots of laughs in response when the tempo speeds up) but one of my daughters enjoyed trying to make our handmade shaker shake quickly, too!

 

Link to my related Pinterest Board: Toddler Music

From Preschool to Piano

imageAlthough 2-year-olds are young to take formal piano lessons, they are definitely not too young to become familiar with music.

Melody and rhythm can be introduced to toddlers and the sooner the better. Just like a baby needs to hear words in order to learn how to speak, similarly a young child should hear music even before learning to count beats or name notes. A few things my twin toddlers and I have added to our day-to-day life are:

Singing

Every morning and evening we sing the Psalms in our home and often during the day as well. The Psalms have a wide range of emotions (joyful, reflective, mournful, triumphant) and the tunes we choose often reflect the words being sung. Crimond is a tune we sing often for Psalm 23 (audio from sound cloud: https://soundcloud.com/connorq/psalm-23r-tune-crimond).

Rocking back and forth to music is really enjoyable for children and great bonding time as well. Rocking to music helps children feel the beat of music. Remember that beats are steady. And while rocking to a 4/4 song, for example “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” you can just do one rocking motion for the entire 4/4 measure unless it’s a particularly lively song. Also, action songs are engaging. If a child can’t do actions for a particular song, lead them to clap, stomp, point to their toes etc. and after a while see if they will do it on their own. A few songs we sing at home are: Lavender’s Blue, Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands, 5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day etc.

Xylophones:

I found these for a very inexpensive price at a local shop and they are a fantastic resource for €1.50 each! For now the girls just play little tunes or glissandos across the xylophones. Also I sometimes play for them as well and I noticed that sometimes at least one of the girls would use the mallet to discover what noise objects other than the xylophone would make when tapped. Eventually we can do more activities once the girls can follow more complex instructions. I like Teach Preschool.org’s idea about creating a colour-based xylophone composition (link: http://www.teachpreschool.org/2014/03/colorful-fun-with-musical-notes/).

Piano Time:

Just explore and enjoy playing on the piano! Also, sometimes what we do is listen to the pre-set tracks on our keyboard such as “Turkish March” (the girls still enjoy bouncing along to this one!) or “Twinkle Twinkle” ( which has been a good way to sing the alphabet song to the girls).

In order to learn piano, simple things like knowing the alphabet or sol-fah names, counting, knowing the difference between left and right hand etc. are very important. Recognising colours, being able to hold a pencil etc. are also helpful for various pre-piano music activities. Gaining basic skills will allow more and more music learning to occur. Take small steps but seek to make the toddler years meaningful musically!

Technique Inspiration and Ear Training Challenge (Free Printable)

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Below you will find a worksheet I created with a particular teenage student in mind. I wanted to make a worksheet that would give her a sort of visual plan and accountability of what should be memorized (I believe that scales should and can be so familiar that they can be played at the drop of a hat). However, I hope this page won’t bog her down with too much fingering. This printable is simply a quick overview of the major scales and if she needs to make more complete fingering charts that can be written somewhere else. I’m sharing it and if it’s helpful to you, brilliant!

Link to PDF file:

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Scales, arpeggios and Chords:

Playing scales with 4 octaves is a good way to become familiar with the whole keyboard. Multiple octave arpeggios are also great but for now I’m only looking for 1-octave arpeggios. I’ve added just a few ideas of how to play scales (contrary motion, rhythmic) but there are truly lots and lots of variations so this is only a short list to keep technique a little more interesting! Scales and chords naturally pair together so I included a pattern to play the most common major chords using each major scale as well.

(Please note, the ** in the printable should read: **RH starts on fingers 2, 3, or 4)

Ear Training Challenge!

In addition to the technique ideas, the last section on the page includes an ear training exercise. Here’s the instructions I wrote:

“Think of your favorite songs. Hum the beginning notes to yourself (either audibly or just singing “in your head”) and see if you can correctly guess the interval between the first two notes. Check your answer using the keyboard by playing the melody by ear.”

Hopefully this will be a fun way to improve aural skills. Part of the reason for making this printable is to give a greater motivation to learn all the scales really well. Also, I hope it’s written in an interesting way that’s straighforward and geared towards this particular students’ needs.