How to Improve Reading Skills

These glasses, although super fashinoable, won't help with reading music because they belong to Mom.

These glasses, although super fashinoable, won't help with reading music because they belong to Mom.

Reading music is a handy tool when you’re a musician.  But what makes for a good sight-reader? Here are some tips I've picked up along the way.

1.  Listen to a lot of music.  

Music is a language, so hearing is a natural predecessor to “speaking” and “reading.” For example, students who listen to a lot of jazz read syncopated and swing rhythms much better than those who don’t listen to jazz. In fact, this carries beyond reading to composing.  I once had a student whose father was the leader of a popular afro-cuban jazz band.  Growing up an environment that pumped jazz music, she heard complex rhythms all the time.  She surprised me one week by showing me her own latin jazz arrangement of Beethoven’s Fur Elise--crazy rhythms and all.  She never could have "spoken" the language without hearing it first.

2.  Read new music.

I know, it should go without saying.  But very often students spend way too much time perfecting and drilling current pieces without reading new ones.  The great pianist and Juilliard professor Adele Marcus made her conservatory students sight-read for an hour a day.  She saw the value in reading and passed it on.  Anna and I have our elementary students read for about 10 minutes a day (in addition to regular pieces).  Even this modest amount of reading builds tremendous skill. 

3.  Read at the right level.

Surprisingly, reading extremely difficult music won’t help boost reading skills as much as moderate level music. I was first introduced to this idea in a class taught by concert pianist Sam Rotman.  It seemed odd at first, but as he explained things it made sense.  Moderate-level music allows the brain to fully engage in the reading process.  Music that’s too hard causes the brain to switch functions, going from reading to learning.  Learning is just fine, but it should never be confused with reading.

4.  Check eyesight.

OK, this one is probably off the radar for most people, but it is important! We noticed recently that our oldest daughter has been relying only on her ears and not much on her eyes when reading music.  I pulled up a downloadable eye chart on the web and printed it out.  Sure enough, she failed miserably--even at a close distance. It seems only months ago that she did just fine on her vision test.  Obviously, we’re going to the eye doctor soon.  Hey, now she’ll get to see what I really look like.

Do you have any ideas on what makes a good reader?  Please share!

  ~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers in Santa Clarita, CA.  They have two girls and another kid on the way.  They enjoy long walks on the beach, as long as the beach doesn't have crabs, dead seals, or people wearing Speedos.  

 

Does Mozart Make You Smarter?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Responsible for your higher IQ?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Responsible for your higher IQ?

Is the ‘Mozart Effect’ real or bogus?

The ‘Mozart Effect’ claims that listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music will have a positive short-term effect on spatial intelligence.  First announced in 1993, The ‘Mozart Effect’ has reached legendary status now.  But does it make you smarter? 

The Original Study

Once upon a time, a University of California at Irvine psychologist named Frances H. Rauscher conducted a study on college students.  The students were required to perform some spatial tasks.  Some listened to a Mozart tune, the others did not. Those who didn’t listen to the Wolfgang scored lower.  

When the results of the study were released, the public went crazy. Stores across the country were cleaned out of their Mozart CDs and tapes.  Yes, tapes.  It was 1993, the same year Guns & Roses performed their last concert together; the same year some of us made ourselves look (not) awesome via pegged pants.  

The slippery slope was set, and the results of the original study began to be blown out of proportion. The New York Times announced that listening to Mozart might help students score higher on the SAT. Fuel was added to the fire when a couple books came out saying that listeing to Mozart made kids smarter.  Heck, the governor of Georgia even passed legislation that gave every kid born in his state a classical music album.  Not even Charlie Daniels could claim that honor.  

Debunked

In 2010, researchers at the University of Vienna denounced the original Mozart study.  They found that in over 40 studies with over 3,000 participants done to replicate the original findings of the ‘Mozart Effect’, that none could conclusively do so.  In fact, the ‘Mozart Effect’ even got listed as No. 6 in the book, “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology” (Scott E. Lilienfeld). But myths have a way of becoming truth. The ‘Mozart Effect’ was and is here to stay.

Is There Value in Mozart?

Yanni's mustache is enviable.  Or is it?

Yanni's mustache is enviable.  Or is it?

I am a crossover musician--meaning I’ve crossed over from Classical music to pop/rock and contemporary styles.  In fact, one of my favorite genres to in which to compose is the often-mocked “New Age” style, popularized by musicians like the very cheesy Yanni.  Yanni and I differ in some regards--namely that he is famous beyond belief and has an awesome mustache.  But after being immersed in both contemporary and old-school music worlds, Classical still remains my first love.  

Why? Classical music contains the highest order of creative genius.  It represents an era in which art music was held in the highest esteem.  It was commissioned by music's highly-educated and passionate patrons, furthered by its very best musicians. It has deep and multiple layers that stir unique emotions and thoughts.  These unique layers are kind of like an onion--whenever you peel a layer away, there always seems to be a fresh new one underneath.  And like all great art, Classical music does not necessarily offer instant gratification.  It takes work to understand it and time to appreciate it.  Mozart won’t make you smarter, but he offers something special that you just can’t find anywhere else.

Do you see value in Classical music?  Please share!

 ~Adam Bendorf

 

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers in Santa Clarita, CA.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.

How Old do Kids Have to be to Start Piano Lessons?

Orange Piano 4.jpg

Occasionally I get asked, “How old does my child have to be to start piano?”  The answer: I don’t know.  But here are five things that should help you figure it out.

Your child must...

1. Be able to sit still and focus for at least 30 minutes

The shortest lessons most teachers offer is 30 minutes. Its a good amount time to offer new students who might be strapped for cash or who just want to “give piano a try.”  Its also (not really!) enough time to introduce and teach concepts. Eventually 30-minute lesson times get bumped to 45 or 60 minutes.

2.  Have a working instrument

A “no duh” item.  But surprisingly many beginners don’t have a proper instrument.  So what do you need to start?  A keyboard or piano that works and that’s in tuneClick here for more on this topic. 

3. Know the alphabet

Musical notes are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet.  Enough said!

4. Do what you say

If your child won’t do what you say, there’s no chance he/she will do what a piano teacher says.

5.  Be willing to practice daily

Learning an instrument is fun, but it also takes good old-fashioned work sometimes.  Kids don’t always feel like doing what’s good for them.  Mine don’t like brushing their teeth, taking baths, doing school work, eating vegetables, working hard at sports, cleaning up after themselves, etc.  But they do having like clean teeth and clean bodies, knowing stuff, feeling good, playing sports, and having a clean room.  And students who put in the work love playing the piano!

Is there anything you think might also be necessary for starting piano lessons?  Please share! 

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers in Santa Clarita, CA.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.  

Not Motivated to Practice

Practicing Piano

I admit it.  When it came to piano practice, I thought my own kid would be different than all the other kids I had taught.  See, my daughter would love practicing piano.  I just knew that Anna and I would instill in her a deep love of music from childhood; that hearing great music and being around music from birth would ensure fun piano practice.  And I knew that my soon-to-be child prodigy would some day make me rich.  That’s a joke--I promise you that I’m not like Mozart’s father.  Really, I’m not. 

My first-born is Ashlyn.  She progressed in music beyond our expectations at an early age.  No, she wasn’t a prodigy, but she melted the hearts of all who heard her play, impressing many with her YouTube videos and composing endlessly at the piano. She exhibited all the classic first-born signs too, especially the innate desire to please.  Whatever piano practice routine we asked Ashy to do, she accomplished with absolute gusto.  That is, until one confusing day...

Ashlyn, six years old at the time, was like any other child.  She had a will, a ton of opinions about everything--including what clothes I should wear--and a batch of new emotions that she had to grow into.  So, when told to practice the piano this day, Ashlyn didn’t respond with her usual cheery grin.  Instead, she sulked as she walked to the piano.  Soon after, she dissolved into tears.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do recall that she didn’t want to practice.  Why?  Apparently she had other things she wanted to do. Important things--like playing outside.  And this became our reality for weeks to come.  

Nearly every day there was crying, complaining, wailing, and outright anger (on both sides!) We tried to reason with Ash.  We tried to make practicing fun, but she always had a variety of things that kept her from wanting to practice.  As we dealt with each excuse, the outcome was always the same: reluctant practice.  “Why,” I thought, “can’t my daughter just love practicing the way she used to?”

I can’t say that we came up with an easy way to deal with the problem. At various times we felt guilt, got angry, got scared, got sad, or prayed.  However, through it all I learned that even though Ashy hated to practice, she loved music.  We could see it as she showed off to her friends or spontaneously played songs throughout the day. This gave us hope.

We began explaining to Ashlyn that her songs she loved playing were only possible due to her hard work at the piano; that with no practice, there would be no music. Every day we made her practice. Daily we had new challenges. Sometimes talking helped.  Sometimes exercising an unusual amount of patience helped.  Sometimes, ruling with an iron fist helped. At times she understood. Other times she responded with indifference.  But after we planted the seeds of consistent practice, Ashlyn slowly began to embrace our message.    

I suppose the practicing difficulties were and are due to her age.  New emotions, strong feelings, and a history of no self-discipline all mixed together to create this storm.    Things are much easier now; we have a regular practice schedule, and we’ve learned how to relate to Ash in a way that she can handle.  Most importantly, we have a history of working through hard times that set a precedent of daily practice, no matter what.

Are you struggling to motivate your child to practice?  Maybe he / she loves music but just doesn’t like the discipline of working hard.  Learn how to teach self-discipline.  Teach the value of long-term goals.  If your child doesn’t understand, show ultimate care by being persistent about practice.  You’ll be thanked someday.

Do you have any tips for practicing? Please share!

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.  

Why Should I Tune My Piano?

Painting by Diana Ballard (watercolor)

Painting by Diana Ballard (watercolor)

As a piano teacher, one of my most difficult and delicate tasks is to help (you!) my students understand why your piano should be tuned.  For me, tuning is an obvious necessity.  Out-of-tune notes are like fingernails on chalkboard for me, and I can’t possibly imagine that the true beauty of music can be enjoyed when a piano is screaming wrong notes.  If you are put off by the cost or just don’t think your piano needs to be tuned, read on.  You may become be compelled at the following five reasons to tune your piano!

Why You Should Tune Your Piano

1.  Your Kid is Learning the Wrong Stuff

When you play and “A” and it doesn’t sound like an “A”, that’s a really bad thing.  Imagine that your grew up being told that the color yellow was named purple.  Essentially, the same thing happens when your piano creates the wrong notes. It "tells" you bogus info.  I like what my piano tuner says: “You don’t give a kid a deflated basketball and expect him to get good at basketball.  So why would you give a kid an out-of-tune piano and then ask him to get good at piano?” 

2.  Piano Becomes More Fun

This one is a “no duh.”  Music is more fun to play when it sounds correct.  In my years of teaching I have seen many students go from apathetically playing the piano to enthusiastically loving the piano, essentially overnight....thanks to a simple piano-tuning.

3.  You Are A Frog in Boiling Water

Drop a frog in boiling water and it will jump out right away.  But it you put a frog in cool water and then slowly bring it to a boil, the frog will never notice.  Unless you are a musician or have very sensitive ears, you might not know if your piano is out of tune.  Sure, it started out great, but over time it slowly slipped out of tune. The day-to-day changes were so minuscule that they remained unnoticed.  Don’t wait to notice the cranky notes--be proactive and call your piano tech.  Not sure if your piano needs tuning?  Chances are, if it hasn’t been tuned in the last 12 months it needs a little lovin’.

4.  Return on Investment

Practicing on an out-of-tune piano means you aren’t getting your money’s worth from piano lessons.  Sour piano notes mean your child isn’t loving piano as much as he should, and isn’t progressing as fast as he could.

5.  Your Piano Is Like a Car

Your piano can be likened unto a car in that it needs regular tune-ups to stay in shape.  Allowing your piano to go untuned for too long could require special tuning techniques called “pitch raises".  Pitch raises can be expensive, requiring several visits by the tuner or very long tuning sessions that add to the normal cost of tuning.  

Not sure how often your piano should be tuned? Check out this helpful article: How Often Should I Tune My Piano?

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.  

How Often Should I Tune My Piano in Southern California?

antique piano.jpg

So just how often should you tune your piano?  The answer depends on a few factors, but generally speaking it should be tuned one to two times a year.  There are a few factors that effect your piano’s tune, including weather, placement in the home, and amount of use, and age.  

Weather

Believe it or not, weather exerts more influence on your piano’s tuning than any other factor.  Humidity in the air can cause the wooden parts of your piano to swell, resulting in the steel strings being stretched.  Conversely, warm dry air (usually found in the winter months from heating your home) can dry out wood, causing the strings to contract.  It is this stretching and contracting of the strings that causes your piano to go out of tune.  

Here in Santa Clarita (southern CA region), we experience Santa Ana winds.  The Santa Anas occur in the fall and winter months, blowing very hot, dry winds our way from the desert regions.  This wreaks complete havoc on our pianos' tuning.  If you are So. Cal resident, keep this in mind!

Placement in Your Home

Since temperature effects tuning, the location of your piano in your is important.  Placing your piano against a perimeter wall of your home exposes it to large temperature variations.  Cold and hot outside temperatures are absorbed through your perimeter walls and transferred to your piano, causing it to go out of tune.  Keeping your piano against an internal wall is ideal.  

Amount of Use

Pianos are designed to be played, and to be played often.  Even so, heavy use or extremely forceful playing can take its toll on a piano.  Typically, heavy use does not affect a piano’s tuning as much as weather and temperature.

Age and Condition

Even the best-made pianos expire eventually.  Old pianos can start to show their age by having loose tuning pins (the pins on which the piano strings are wrapped).  Cheaply made pianos or pianos that have had unusual abuse can also have trouble keeping their tune.  Unless the piano is a collector item or has a very high brand name, its not financially worthwhile to fix something major like a pin block (the block of wood that contains the tuning pins).  Sometimes piano technicians can repair pin blocks without replacing the entire block, so its worth investigating before you sell or dump a piano.  

Who Should Tune?

We recommend using a piano technician from the Piano Technician's Guild (PTG).  The PTG trains piano techs to the highest standards of excellence, passing them only after they pass a rigorous hands-on test administered by a top-notch industry pro.  ere in Santa Clarita, we recommend PTG's Gary Kahn (661) 269-8411.  

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers. 

 

Trick to Motivating your Child to Practice Piano

Photo by Jennifer Kallin

Photo by Jennifer Kallin

"Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative," says education expert Dr Teresa Belton in a message to the BBC.  Dr. Belton goes on to explain that boredom is the playground of creativity; that too many activities filling the day of a child strip the opportunity for creativity.  Her comments were riddled with examples, studies, and real-life stories from famous artists and writers. 

It sounds kind of funny, but boredom could be the trick to making your child practice the piano.  At least, that's what it would seem if we take Dr. Belton's words at face value.

As I think through my childhood, I remember many a day where boredom turned into creativity.  Long car rides to relatives' homes allowed for daydreaming, which turned into ideas, which turned into creative activities (creative bad ideas even--I once almost killed myself when I inserted copper wires directly into a electrical socket and touched them to a lightbulb...it immediately exploded.)  Occasionally I played and practiced piano tunes in my head during life's dull moments.  I did this even into my college years as I sat through dry lectures.  

I have been teaching piano lessons in Santa Clarita, CA for 16 years now and have seen how kids get too busy to be creative.  Parents understandably pursue the generational goal in which they seek to "give my kid every opportunity I never had."  Santa Clarita is the epitome of the all-American family town: a great economy, some of the best schools in the state, amazing sports programs, perfect houses and neighborhoods.  Perhaps most alluring of all is the never-ending array of enriching activities for kids.  Want sports? They're all here. Want gymnastics?  Go train with the city's olympic athletes.  Boy & Girl Scouts are here too, of course.  Ballet, chess club, cooking class, sewing class, private music lessons, blah, blah, blah.  They are all here.  Don't get me wrong--I think they're wonderful.  However, if a child is schlepped from one activity to the next all day long in the name of opportunity, isn't he robbed of the imagination necessary to make opportunities fruitful?

My own daughters are ages four and seven.  They are ripe for trying all the activities that this wonderful town has to offer.  They already go to gymnastics and art class, but more tantalizing choices for betterment always dangle before them.  This year I'm making a choice to give them the gift of creativity over the gift of Girl Scouts.  Maybe I'll regret it.  But maybe I would regret pilfering their delicate inspirations and fantasies even more.  

Parents, remember: 'A jack of all trades and a master of none' leaves your child truly a "master of none."  Piano practice requires imagination, creativity, curiosity.  These all-important elements won't happen while your son or daughter is en route to the fourth activity at 9pm on a Tuesday night.  Hey, try letting your kid get bored sometimes.

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.  

Southern California Junior Bach Festival

Bach Painting.jpg

This year's SCV branch recital for the Southern California Junior Bach Festival (2013) was fantastic!  40 students representing eight teachers from Santa Clarita all did a great job in playing the much-loved music of J.S. Bach.  Congratulations to Evan, Abbie, Sarah K, Sarah G, Kaleb, and Chloe.  We look forward to hearing you play in the Regional Bach Festival on May 11th.  The recital will be held at First United Methodist Church, 1338 East Santa Clara, Ventura, CA.  

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers. 

 

Fall Recital Round-Up

The 2012 Fall piano recital was wonderful.  We are proud you students and your hard work! As many of you know, we run Alberti Publishing, a piano sheet music company. One of our newest published works is the Christmas medley, What Child is This? / Away in a Manger, arranged by Dr. Ken Mays (my piano professor from Master's College).  This arrangement is absolutely stunning, with hints and recalls of the great harmonies and textures so prominent in the '30,s, '40s, and '50s. Here is a video of our performance.

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.