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    What Flying Pianos Teach Us About Listening to Music

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    Daria van den Bercken loves classical music and will do just about anything to make sure you like it too.

     She’s played the music of George Frideric Handel in the air, hoisted 25 feet above fans in Brazil.

    She’s played in parks and banks in Amsterdam.

    She has even invited strangers into her apartment to listen to Handel in an intimate setting.

    Why?

    Well, Bercken is inspired by Handel’s music. During a TED Talks presentation the musician said she felt “pure, unprejudiced amazement” when she listened to his work.  She was struck by the complicated emotions in Handel’s compositions — the melancholy mixed with tenderness and the sadness coupled with energy.

    “You can feel each small pain and wish,” she told Spotify about his music.

    Yet, as a professional performer she realized that younger children felt the “pure amazement” but older children, even adults, had a harder time hearing the music. Bercken decided to recreate that juvenile sense of wonder by playing Handel’s music outside of concert halls and in the most unusual places.  By doing so, she is introducing Handel to millions of people who wouldn’t normally listen to classical music.

    “I’ve given a lot of children’s concerts for children of seven and eight years old, and whatever I play, whether it’s Bach, Beethoven, even Stockhausen, or some jazzy music, they are open to hear it, really willing to listen, and they are comfortable doing so,” she said in her TED presentation. “And when classes come in with children who are just a few years older, 11, 12, I felt that I sometimes already had trouble in reaching them like that .. But the young ones, they don’t question their own opinion. They are in this constant state of wonder, and I do firmly believe that we can keep listening like these seven-year-old children, even when growing up. And that is why I have played not only in the concert hall but also on the street, online, in the air: to feel that state of wonder, to truly listen, and to listen without prejudice.”

    It is an interesting concept that we hear things more purely as young children. Do you think that these stunts help people understand the wonders and joys of classical music?

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Watch 6-year-old Piano Prodigy, Emily Bear on the Ellen Show

    This is six-year-old Emily Bear’s first performance on the Ellen show, where she shows off her range as a pianist from classical to ragtime – all pieces extremely advanced for even a 10-year-old, much less at age 6.  This child has studied for only a year and three months, learning pieces that are at least high school-level repertoire for most piano students.  Emily’s compositions are also very impressive.

    Emily started at age four, which is the earliest age for piano lessons offered at the Music Junction.  Our lesson plan for 4-year-olds includes an introduction to all music concepts in a fun, activity-oriented way using an up-to-date lesson books series by Nancy Faber called “My First Piano Adventure.” Students are able to build a strong foundation, focusing on concepts like long/short/soft/loud/high/low and then moving on to understand note reading and developing finger technique.

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    How to Compliment a Child: “You’re a Hard Worker” versus “You’re Smart”

    Parents and Teachers all agree that they would like children to correlate their success at school to how much work they put in.  So that, for example, a child who fails a spelling test will think “I didn’t study hard enough, I’ll work harder next time.”

    But often when our children fail a test they think “I failed so I must be a bad speller.” or “I must be stupid.”

    You can see how important it can be to encourage children to value their effort, instead of feeling inherently smart (or not smart) regardless of their effort.  This was the basis of a study done by Carol S. Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

    In the experiment Dweck has conducted, two groups of children were asked to put together a relatively easy jigsaw puzzle.  After completing the puzzle, the two groups received different compliments. Every child in the first group was told: “You’re very smart, well-done”. The children in the second group were told something like: “You’ve put a lot of effort and thought into this, well-done”.  And then, they could choose another puzzle that was either harder or easier than the first. In the group that was complimented for smartness, 70% of the children chose the easy puzzle. In the other group, which was complimented for investment, 70% of the children chose the difficult puzzle, which, they were told, was also more interesting.

    Teachers at the Music Junction utilize this important tool when working with our students.  Students are rewarded for effort by logging their practices between lessons and receiving sticker rewards based on how many practices the student achieved that week.  We encourage our piano and voice students to achieve their full potential, instead of general benchmark goals that are the same for everyone, so that the focus is on doing your best.  Private piano lessons are particularly helpful to illustrate how hard work correlates to success.  The more time a student puts into learning a piece of music, the better they sound – and vice versa.

    At the Music Junction recitals, we reiterate to the student how their effort in preparation directly relates to their performance.   If the student is able to play their recital piece perfectly almost every time in the days leading up to the performance, they have a good shot at playing it perfectly at the recital.  If the student is always playing or singing their song with some mistakes in the days leading to their performance, they are about 100% guaranteed to have a mistake at the recital.  Of course, we created a nurturing environment at our bi-annual Music Junction recitals, where making a mistake should not feel like a tragedy.  But emphasizing the student’s control over how well they play in their performance by how prepared they were in advance is an important lesson to the child that when you work hard, you can achieve more.

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    Watch Roland Lamb’s New, Squishy Piano – the Seaboard – in Action!

    American inventor Roland Lamb has taken the 17th century design of the piano into the future, with his new piano, the Seaboard.

    According to singer/songwriter Jamie Cullum, who’s been invited to demo the Seaboard, it feels like “somewhere between piano and food – in a good way!”

    Lamb was recently featured on NPR: “I remember reading about Thelonius Monk, of whom it was said he was searching for the space between the black and white keys,” Lamb says. “So he’d always play these little chromatic clusters.And it was like he was pushing the instrument to its limit. And I thought, you know, maybe this is a question for design? Maybe we could reinvent the piano and actually make it capable of playing those notes between the keys.”

    Lamb, 35, founded a tech startup in Britain called Roli (after his own nickname), based in a studio and workshop in East London, to create an instrument that could do just that.

    Lamb describes the Seaboard as “a futuristic version of the piano.” Actually, it kind of looks like a cross between a keyboard and Apple’s iPod: It’s clean, sleekly designed and just a few inches thick. But instead of individual keys, there are two rows of rounded bumps that look like hot dogs sliced in half and made of grey silicone. Lamb says musicians can literally dig their fingers into these molds to create different sounds.

    Music Junction Warning: Please do not model your piano fingering technique off of Jamie Cullum in this video.  Cullum’s fingers are so tense they’re bending the opposite direction of the knuckles – ouch!  When the hand is relaxed, the fingers gently curve in toward the palm.  This is the core hand position for playing piano – the fingers staying relaxed so they can move freely.   It doesn’t take much strength to push down a piano key, but the strength it does require is borrowed from the weight of the arm dropping down into the finger – not by tightening the finger.

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    100-year-old Pianist Still Using Music to Inspire Others – A lesson for Adult Beginner Pianists Everywhere!

    At the Life Care Center of Columbia, a Columbia nursing home, a 100-year-old woman has been putting on impromptu piano shows for the residents living there.  Even after Rosalind Gardner’s husband died in 1959 after 19 years of marriage, she never stopped playing. Instead, she joined a band, her daughter said. Now crowds gather at the nursing home each time she sits at the piano to play. (read more)

    This is a memorable example of being able to enjoy the piano later in life.  Most of us normally think about piano in the context of our youth, or as young adults trying a new thing.  But put into the context of a 100-year life span, it feels like it is virtually never too late to learn to play the piano.

    Some of us at 30, 40, or older feel like we have missed the boat on being a musician, although we might fantasize about it from time to time.   We discourage ourselves by thinking that it’s too late for us, and we should have started earlier in life to be able to enjoy the instrument.  The sad reality is that we end up talking ourselves out of something that, 10 or 20 years later, we could really enjoy.

    Many activities become prohibited by aging, but piano is not one of them.  As long as we can still move our fingers we can enjoy making music at the piano – which for most of us will be almost all of our lives.  Not only that, but being able to play piano enhances the lives of those around us.  Rosalind Gardner plays for cancer patients to lift there spirits.  What a beautiful way to have an impact on others.  The social aspect of music can also be a great benefit later in life.  Rosalind was able to join a band after her husband passed and have the community and support of a new network of friends.

    We start a lot of adult beginners at the Music Junction, so we can verify that it is possible to become a pianist as an adult.  An adult beginner that commits to regular weekly piano lessons will see leaps and bounds of progress after one year.  A good 3-year commitment will see you through to an intermediate level, and 5-7 years of study or more will put an impressive repertoire into your fingers.   But the week to week process itself is also an enriching experience, and for some adults it is the primary artistic outlet in their lives.  Enjoying the process is important, but also is appreciating the future you are creating for yourself, because you will have the rest of your life to enjoy the skills you are building now.

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    Elias is Back! Watch this 7yo Piano Prodigy with a lot of Spunk!

    Piano prodigy Elias Phoenix, 7, completely wowed audiences when he made his first debut performance on the Ellen show last month.  Now he returns for another great performance and entertaining personality.  This boy has a lot of spunk!  I am surprised that a child with that much energy could “still” himself long enough to go through the dedicated hours and days and years it takes to build up his piano skills to the high performance level he’s achieved today.

    On a side note, the one thing that struck me as a little odd is Ellen’s present.  She gave him a sound system, which is a perfect gift – good job on that, Ellen! – but the funny thing was the 66-key keyboard that accompanied the set.  These keyboards rarely (or never?) have weighted keys, so it would be very difficult for a classical pianist to use.  It would feel like playing piano sequences on a laptop keyboard.  It’s very unsatisfying to play, but it’s also difficult to have control with the overly light feel.

    We always give parents the ok to purchase an inexpensive 66-key keyboard for their young student when they are first starting – if they are really on a tight budget and don’t want to make a large purchase upfront – but even then it is not ideal.  88-key weighted key keyboards, however, work great for long term study and even for professionals, because the feel and key range is practically identical to an acoustic piano.  Some Kawai-brand keyboards even sell keyboards with wooden keys, just like an acoustic piano key, and use the same hammer action inside the keyboard for a perfect replication.  The only difference is that the piano sounds coming out of a digital keyboard are pre-recorded sounds, where as an acoustic piano is creating it’s own sounds and has a big resonant chamber for the sound waves.  This is much more satisfying for a pianist, but has nothing to do with the actually execution of playing, so any piano can practice and perform on an acoustic or weighted-key keyboard with equal ease.

    One piano with weighted keys that is a great deal right now is the Casio CDP-120.  it has been replaced with a new version, so the old version has dropped in price.  It was once listed at $450, but is now hovering around $300.  It can often be difficult to find a weighted-key keyboard for under $400, so this is a great deal.

     

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    Voice & Piano Lessons Increase Kids’ IQ!

    As reported by PBS.org

    “A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

    Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.”

    “With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved–such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords–the multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect,” said study author E. Glenn Schellenberg. – Forbes Magazine

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    Watch Elias Phoenix – A 7yo Piano Prodigy – on the Ellen Show!

    Ellen DeGeneres had 7-year-old Elias Phoenix on her show Friday, in one of the best interviews a 7-year-old has ever given.  Even Ellen, after the interview, tweeted “Just finished taping 1 of the most memorable interviews I’ve ever done, with a 7-yr-old. Airs tomorrow. You have to see it to believe it.” I would agree that this is one of the most memorable interviews Ellen has done.

    Elias is totally comfortable on stage – he doesn’t seem to be intimidated at all by how many people are in the audience.   He says that his two life-long dreams were to perform in Carnegie Hall, and to be on the Ellen show, and now he has achieved both!  Not surprising when you see how talented this young piano prodigy is.  But his vibrancy is equally as impressive – his amazing “Hollywood” dance is so endearing, and his hands-on approach to Ellen seems to disarm her and the audience alike.  He seems to be one of Ellen’s biggest fans, lavishing compliments and touching her hair to find out that it is “so soft.”  He is so excited to be there he can hardly stay in his seat, and it’s entertainment alone just to watch his animated personality in action.  This is one special kid!

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    Stevie Wonder performs “Songs in the Key of Life” album at Nokia Center

    Stevie Wonder has been performing wonderful holiday shows annually in Los Angeles for 18 years now to raise funds for the collection of toys for needy children in the Southland.  These holiday performances are a great musical event for families to attend, and always include special guest celebrities and well-known local talent to flesh out the fun program.

    For this year’s show at the Nokia Center in LA, however, Stevie decided to do something special and perform the entire song collection from his hit album, Songs in the Key of Life.  Cited by Elton John as the greatest album of all time, this album includes well-known Stevie Wonder songs like “Isn’t She Lovely,” “I Wish,” and “Sir Duke.”  I recommend listening frequently to this album – it’s addictive!  “Village Ghetto Land” is one of my favorites, for how musically beautiful the song is, and how poignant the lyrics are.

    The show began with Stevie Wonder coming onto the stage with his family to introduce the program, and his son and grandsons made a reappearance in some of his later performances.  Special guests this year included John Mayer, Chick Corea, & Herbie Hancock among others.  The show opened with five male singers performing the beautiful a cappella introduction of “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”  Other highlights included the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir directed by Jason White, who also kicked off the show, singing their hearts outs on traditional gospel repertoire.

    This was an overall wonderful performance and I highly recommend it as must-do family event every year!

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    Music and Your Brain

    The New York Times reports on a study showing that children who took music lessons at a young age had advanced development in their brain waves – even if they had discontinued lessons!  This is a neat finding because it shows us that even when a student wains in their commitment to lessons over the years, and maybe does not end up achieving a sophisticated understanding of their instrument, that just the act of taking lessons has forever improved them!

    After recording brain responses, Northwestern University found that “the group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested.  And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.”

    It might seem like increasing the brain’s understanding of sound would have little impact on overall development, but actually it directly affects how well a child can decipher language – improving their reading and listening skills.  And when you consider that reading and listening skills are a gateway to all learning, well, you could see how that would have a pretty large impact!

    One of the sound advancements for the brain is the ability to decipher sounds in the foreground versus sounds in the background – which can help everyone in focusing on the right sounds in their environment, but also be of help specifically for those with hearing loss.

    Brain waves of musicians are obvious to scientists who are looking at them. Ms. Parbery-Clark from Northwestern University remarks ““One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”

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