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Tempo Troubles? Try This!

Did you know that your song's tempo is just another opportunity to be creative?

Jordan Leibel - Aug 25, 2017


I have a confession to make. I HATE playing with a metronome. Or, at least I used to. Until I found some fun, unique ways to incorporate the metronome into my practice. I'm going to show you a technique I use all the time to use the metronome to both boost my sense of rhythmic timing and my sense of musical feel. Yes, you read that right. The metronome, if used correctly, can really enhance your creativity and expression.  


Before you read any further, I want you to ask yourself this:  Do you find that as soon as you really let your emotions fly while playing piano, you lose control of your tempo and timing? I myself struggled with this for years. As soon as I’d let my emotions flow through the music, I’d find myself speeding up until by the end of the song the tempo had gone completely off the rails.    


The good news is that there is a way to use this passionate instinct of yours to make incredible music. You just need to learn how to reel things in a bit! So here's an unorthodox approach to the metronome that will help you become more expressive and creative with your playing.


Step 1:  Grab your metronome and dial it waaaay back


Ok, so dust off that old metronome and crank it way back. I'm talking reeeeaaaallllly far back. Something around 40 bpm should do.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to play that slow!)  


 Step 2:  Choose a scale or phrase to practice with


This can be anything at all.  It just has to be something that you find comfortable to play, and feel able to get expressive with. That means it can be a scale you like, or a lick from a famous song, or even something you made up! Preferably it should be something with enough movement that your hands have to reposition at least once on the keyboard, so a major scale always works nice if you're in need of an idea.  


Step 3:  Fit your chosen phrase in between the two metronome clicks


Ok, so say you've chosen a G major scale to use for this exercise. For this step, I want you to play an ascending G major scale up one octave so that you start on beat one of the metronome and hit the top octave on beat two. Sounds easy right? Well, it can be trickier than you think to line up your internal rhythm with the two clicks of the metronome. But the purpose of the exercise is this - you don't have to play every note exactly in rhythm as long as you start the scale on time and reach the high octave on time. Think about a classical piano player giving an amazing, emotional performance of a piece. She may not be playing each note or phrase exactly in time, but instead they move around the beat, slowing down and slightly speeding up as they express the music.


That's what this exercise is all about. A skilled pianist uses dynamics (aka louds and softs) note choices AND tempo as tools to enhance their musicality. Of course, I'm never going to tell you to stop practicing with a metronome in the traditonal way. After all, developing good stable rhythm is one of the cornerstones of any good musician. But use this technique every once in a while to help inspire some creative ideas for your own playing, or to help reinforce another useful tool to add to your belt.  


And above all else, remember that the metronome is your friend after all.    


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How To Choose A Keyboard

Choosing a keyboard can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be!

Jordan Leibel - Aug 23, 2017

 Choosing a keyboard that is comfortable and inspiring to play is essential to help you develop properly as a piano player.  So here’s a few tips to help you pick a keyboard that’s right for you!  You can learn piano on anything from a full-sized grand to a battery operated plastic keyboard, but there’s definitely some options that are better than others.  


First let’s talk about size.  Since keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, it can be hard to determine what your priorities should be as far as keyboard sizes go.  Naturally, if you have a smaller living space then you’re likely going to want a smaller instrument to accommodate your smaller living space.   



After you decide how much space you have for your piano, you’ll have to consider whether you want an acoustic piano or an electric piano.  Naturally, if you want the full piano experience, an acoustic piano is the way to go.  They provide the most accurate keyboard action, offer the smoothest dynamic range, and obviously sound 100% like the real thing. 


The downside with acoustic pianos is they are big, heavy, loud and require regular tuning to sound best.  So if you find yourself with limited or shared space, it might not be best to go with an acoustic piano.  


If you find yourself looking at electric pianos, you’ll find they have a lot of features and advantages that you can’t find in a traditional acoustic.  You can plug in headphones, control the volume, and they tend to be a lot more portable, so you can move it around different places.  



A simple google search online will show you countless options for keyboards in all price ranges, so you have plenty of options choose from.  The one feature that you must make sure your keyboard has is full size keys.  Some cheaper keyboards and specialized synths make use with a physically smaller key size for the keyboard.  


The trouble with learning on a smaller keyboard is it reinforces muscle memory for keyboards of reduced size.  So you’ll become used to playing chords and scales in this physically smaller form and when it comes time to switch over to a better fullsize piano you’ll find that you have to relearn a lot of basic finger and hand movements.



Another thing that’s really important is touch sensitivity.  Touch sensitivity refers to how the note sounds depending on how hard you hit that key.  Some of the cheaper keyboards out there have no touch sensitivity, which is a big nono if you’re looking to learn dynamics on the piano.  


So there you have it.  Make sure that the keys of your piano are fully sized and touch sensitive if you want to give yourself the best learning experience.  


The price ranges for a keyboard can vary enormously.  It’s always important to find an instrument within your budget, so make your purchase accordingly!


Purchased your first keyboard? Get started with these beginner piano lessons!

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Introduction To Piano Scales

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Beginner Piano Lesson

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Music Theory For The Dropouts #7 - How To Tackle A New Piece Of Music

Jordan Leibel - Aug 14, 2017


Now that you've learned the basics of music theory, it's time to put all that knowledge to the test by learning a song.  Let's look at a song called 'Beekeeping.'



The first thing to make note of is the song's key signature.  Just after the treble and bass clef symbols, you'll see a single sharp on the top 'F' line of the staff in the treble clef and the second highest 'F' line in the bass clef.  This means that there's only one sharp in the key signature.  Remember what you learned from the Circle Of Fifths.  The first key signature to feature an added sharp is G major, meaning that 'Beekeeping' is written in the key of G.  



The next bit of information you can get from the sheet music is the song's Time Signature.   Looking at the two stacked numbers at the beginning of the sheet music will tell you how to count the song.  In this case, the song is written in 4/4 time.  The top number indicates how many beats per measure, while the bottom note indicates what each note's rhythmic beat is worth.  So in this case, you have 4 beats per measure, and each rhythmic note equals a quarter.  



So now that you know what key and time signature the song is in, it's time to look at the notation itself.  Remembering our guide notes from an earlier lesson, you can see that the melody starts on G, and then steps up in 2nd intervals for the first bar.  Notice how the next bar starts on the highest space note in the treble clef.  This means that instead of a 2nd interval step up, you have a major 3rd step.  Notice how the jump from C to E jumps from a space note to a space note.  That's a great visual indicator for identifying a 3rd jump.  


The next bar has a jump up to the G note sitting at the top of the staff, and then it walks down in 2nd interval steps (again, notice how the notes move from space note to line notes).  The 4th bar only has one note, which is another lined note, indicating that you jump over a key to land on it.  



The next thing to look at is how each of these notes are counted.  Remember, this song is in 4/4 time, which means four beats per measure.  The first bar contains four quarter notes, which is simple enough to count:  for every beat in the measure, play one of the notes in the bar.  


The next bar contains both quarter notes and half notes.  The first two notes are quarter notes while the third note is a half note, which means it's held for a count of two beats (or half the measure).  With the third bar you again have four simple quarter note, while the fourth bar has only one whole note, which is held for the entirety of the bar.



Now let's take a look at the left hand notation.  Remembering that phrase 'All Cows Eat Grass' helps you remember the order of space notes counting up in the bass clef, you'll find that the whole note in bar one is G.  The next note should be pretty familiar by now.  It's Middle C.  the top note in bar three is an E, while the two chords in bar four are G major triads.  All triads in their root position will look like these chords.  It simply means that you're building a chord by skipping a note in between each key played.   


Moving ahead a little in the song, let's look at measure 28.  Measure 28 has the song's first use of 8th notes.  8th notes are counted twice as fast as quarter notes.  The easiest way to ensure that you're counting these notes evenly is by counting '1 and 2 and' in between the count of four beats.  



As you can see, learning music theory doesn’t have to be boring after all!  Sure, it takes a little work and some patience, but if you just take the time to learn the fundamentals shown here, it’ll make learning music so much easier!  And best of all, this music theory is totally consistent across any genre, key, or other application.  


The concepts taught in these lessons are literally the rulebook that you can use to help you write great songs, learn songs easier, and gain a greater connection towards all music!

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