Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Golden Ratio

 The piano keyboard is a repeating pattern of eight white keys interspersed with five black keys. That statement is dull unless you see its association with the Golden Ratio.  Eight and five and their sum, fifteen, are part of a number sequence related to the Golden Ratio, and this numerical patterning is found often in nature. Before you raise an eyebrow at this seemingly numerological statement, take some time to acquaint yourself with the subject.
While it has nothing to do with numerology and is merely an observed aspect of nature, you begin to realize why people would come up with this idea that approaches a superstitious character.

The actual Golden Ratio number (rounded) is 1.618.  The following are called "claims," but so many observations and some undeniable associations strongly suggests the truths of the increasingly popular "Intelligent Design" movement:

  Bees follow it in their reproduction: their male to female ratio is golden.  It is seen in the architecture of flowers, stems and leaves as well as skeletal structures.  The spirals of DNA molecules, cyclones, shells and galaxies follow it.  Polls show a face is more attractive if it reflects the golden ratio.  It was even observed in the shape of  woman's uterus at its most fertile. (!)

Famous artists use it.  Renaissance painters were obsessed with it.  And it isn't a recent discovery: the ancients used it, as seen by the architectural of the Pyramids and the Parthenon.

Read more HERE about The Golden Ratio in music.

The intersection of music and science are fields that I know almost nothing about but find absolutely fascinating.   When it comes to my musical work, I'm more a laborer than a philosopher.  I practice, practice, practice, and then teach how to practice. But here and there I can dabble in musical metaphysics and science, and write a little post to hopefully inspire greater appreciation for the wonderful gift of music.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Keep Performances of the Same Piece from Getting Stale

Like Chopin, never play it the same way twice.  This article from Bulletproof Musician is fabulous.  The popular posts on the right side bar look great as well. 


How to Keep Performances of the Same Piece from Getting Stale


How to keep performances of the same piece from getting staleMore engaged musicians

A trio of researchers (including conductor Timothy Russell) ran a study to see if a more mindful approach to performance would be a) more engaging and enjoyable to the musicians, and b) preferable (and noticeable) to listeners as well.

To test their hypothesis, they recruited 60 members of a college orchestra to perform the finale from Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 two times.

The first time, the conductor gave the orchestra the following instructions: “Think about the finest performance of this piece that you can remember, and play it that way.”
This was the control condition – where musicians were given an aspirational and presumably motivational goal, but a comparatively passive goal, geared more towards recreating a performance than creating it anew in the moment.
Before the second performance (the experimental condition), the musicians were instructed to “Play this piece in the finest manner you can, offering subtle new nuances to your performance.” The idea with these instructions was to get the musicians to be more present and mindful, to think more creatively and spontaneously in the moment, and be more improvisational in their performance.

To gauge the impact of these two sets of instructions on the performers’ level of engagement, the musicians were asked to rate their enjoyment of the performance after each run-through.

Not surprisingly, musicians rated the more mindful, improvisational performance as being more enjoyable. The results suggest that being more actively involved in creating something new is more engaging than striving to recreate something from the past.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Canned Laughter

Of course Weird Al Yankovich is the king of musical comedians.  Tim Hawkins is a great second.

And what was his name?  Oh yes, found him:Victor Borge.  I knew it started with a B.

He did musical stand up comedy to make uprights fall over.
I tried.

Oh, and I must insert my favorite piano joke:

Which kind of piano does God love best? 

God favors the upright.

*canned laughter*

Not as much a shining group, but maybe worth perusing: 10 Essential Musical Comedians - About.com Comedians

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bach Would Be Proud: I Teach Modern Basso Continuo (Chords)

As I talk to prospective students and their parents, I think more about explaining why I teach playing by chords and ear, not just by note reading like most teachers, and how remarkably effective this
teaching method is.  I'm passionate on this and want to spread this method!   Learning chords is a very old and somewhat forgotten essential keyboard skill.  Really, essential.  Like scales.  But it's been lost for the most part.  Why?  Especially since learning to play by ear and aural training is still common in Eastern Europe, Russia (Eur-russia is where a LOT of the greatest pianists and composers come from) and Asia (think Suzuki method for toddlers).

Familiar with Bach? In Bach's day, it was taken for granted that a keyboard player could be given the basso continuo (their equivalent to chord symbols) and realize the appropriate harmony in order to accompany other musicians or simply a melody.  Bach would be proud: I teach that.  Why don't others?

There are many reasons many pianist don't know, much less teach, chord playing today. Since I'm a history buff and music history was my major's concentration, this development was fascinating to me.  One reason for chord playing's neglect is that this skill was not the rage of the mid to late 1800's, when learning piano became a favorite American hobby especially for the young.  The rage was to be able to play like Chopin - or at least play Chopin.  And every other virtuoso that was the rockstar of Victorian audiences.  Seriously, Franz Liszt was the Beetles/BG's/Ricky Martin/One Direction/Backstreet Boys of his day.   (I had to think hard for the names of these girl-gaggle-gathering boy stars.)

  Though the piano rage started to wane as Elvis and the Beatles came on the scene, it seemed like by the 50's, hardly a house lacked a piano, and everybody's aunt taught lessons. For the purpose of playing classical and sacred music by note.

And still today piano teachers are trying to get every student to be Rachmaninoff.  And yes, I totally completely 100% want every pianist to play classical music!!!  But, Bach would say they need to play chord symbols too.  And Rachmaninoff would scoff (I had to) if he heard musicians didn't have aural training.  So, let's all get together, take over modern America, and LEARN TO PLAY THE THREE WAYS!  **cue in 1812 Overture Canons**

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I just searched online: "humor piano"

 Oh. the. joy. Where have I been? I posted that question to facebook. And tagged all the musician friends I could think of in 20 seconds. And there was much rejoicing.

And I'll just post one find - you can go indulge on the rest.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Paperman - Pixar Short

I must learn this piece - probably by ear, but I'll check out if there's sheet music available.  This is part of my youtube playlist "Uplifting and Serene."

Track from Paperman Short Movie before Wreck It Ralph

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monthly Wrapup: August 2014

A Few Facts: 

- It's been over 3 years since my last piano lesson.  I want to find a teacher for a 2 month stint.  I could also find some masterclasses to attend at a school of music.

- Film composers often have a motley assortment of projects they've worked on.  Often you can look up the works of your favorite composer and find new ear candy. 

 - Michael W. Smith's Freedom is one of my favorite instrumental albums.  Orchestral, celtic, drama, epic, sweet...

- Weird Al does the greatest parodies.  New album just came out!  You have to watch the music videos.

"From his earliest days as a prodigy in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven's great ambition had been to travel to Vienna to meet - and take lessons with - the man he knew was the greatest living composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart." Read more.

Awesome thing from this month:  
- I've had seven prospective students with whom I've been chatting or arranging meetings.  Since I only taught ONE lesson this month, I realized how much I would miss it if I got much more of a vacation!  I'd miss the interaction, involvement, relationship, and I'd loose my touch.  Use it or loose it, as I always say.  For all you students/parents who read this, I hope you know that you make my day and add so much zest to my life! :)  Thank you!

To-do's and Goals for this Month: 
- Finish memorizing Finlandia.  I've performed this so many times over the last 4 years that it's almost there, and has almost been there for too long.
- Change my quickly updated cell phone answering greeting - It's many people's first impression of me!
- Speed up the first page of Flight of the Bumblebee - one of the pieces I'm reviewing. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Requirements & "Bad" Students are Worth It

What students or their parents require of me:  

Often it's that I am classically trained, along with teaching ability which I've trained in as well, though it's for you to judge whether I have good rapport with your child. I teach according to your preferences and goals, but do have methods and teaching material which I think are effective in making lifelong successful musicians, both professional and amateur, and would be happy to discuss my ideas.*

What I Require of my Students: 

 All I require is practice and a fair amount of respect.  I don't require great love of music or enthusiasm in practicing, because a lack of those can be overcome. :) Everybody can love music and love practicing (oh yes, like achieving anything, it's a hard but rewarding road). I'm not saying I'm able to conquer any student's dislike of learning piano. I'm only saying, I can teach them.  And maybe, with time and persistence, that hatred can turn to love.

It did for me.

My beloved piano teacher, Dave Clark, always said his most fulfilling teaching moments were when difficult students seemed to turn a new page. He described how many students would crawl along, and then, seemingly out of the blue, it was like the scales fell from their eyes and their musical ability finally came out. Oh, it's a hard wait for a teacher, but the reward is great.  It's worth it.

"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great & noble.  The world is moved along not by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."
Helen Keller (1880-1968)

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." --Thomas A. Edison

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." Statue of Liberty Inscription

"It is better to give than to receive." Bible

*The Three Ways to Play Piano

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Pinterest Board

I love finding neat resources from other musicians and especially music teachers.  Recently, I put this pinterest board on my "save now, read later" list, and today finally looked at it.  Lynnette has a lot of other great music boards, so I'll have lots of fun when I get to my "read later" list!

There are some great free sheet music links here:


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Greek Music Reconstruction

Some of the few earliest notated music pieces mankind has preserved are Greek.  Fascinating archeological and musicological project, as we try to cipher what those squiggles and jots mean.  Read article here:


 The Classical Greeks wrote the earliest expositions on the science of sound,  which I never miss an opportunity to expound on to my students or chance passers by. :)  As best as I can, despite my sparse knowledge of this science, I explain why some notes sound great together while others are difficult on the ears, like an out of tune instrument (voice!).  The reality of consonance (stable) and dissonance (unstable) in sounds comes out of the way our world is, how it was designed, I believe.  It is elemental to understanding music composition and forms the basis of our theories about music and the emotions it conveys. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Flash Mob Motherload

I think I also have an obsession with flashmobs! See this post:   My Obsession (Flashmobs)   Many are musical, so enjoy, my friends!

P.S. Don't miss the ones posted in the comments section! 

P.P.S. Here's one of my favorites (because I think I already posted Handel's Messiah somewhere else!) :

Monday, June 16, 2014

Scales and Great Performers

I find great fodder for blogging in the trenches of piano teaching.  Today's subject is entirely ordinary - but it makes for extraordinary musicians.  And instead of just pasting my rather dry links to exercise charts, let me relate the inimitable way my best piano teacher, Dave Clark, describes the world's greatest musicians:
1) they know their scales
2) they know more than one instrument
3) they dress funny.

Now on to the dry stuff: I needed to find printable scales for a student to practice from.  Using a book for this is a sure way to kill the binding, so a few pages printed is worth the effort: 

Major Scales Chart 
(except Ab, go here for that one)

Natural Minor Scales Chart

Go here to view images of keyboards to see which keys to play
in either major or minor scales.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Helpful Program for Studio Management

There are a number of applications and programs available to help teachers to manage their studios.  Moosic Studio was recommended at today's meeting  of the Fairfax Loudoun Music Fellowship.  I've been sent another recommendation, way back in my email inbox somewhere!  Since I've never taught more than 15 students at a time, I haven't needed this time saver. 

I think there might be free programs as well(another word for application, but application generally denotes for cell phone/ iPad use only.). 

The teachers that met today also were highly interested in a seminar about helpful apps during lessons.  I should look into that more! Two out of the 15 teachers there use their iPad in lesson regularly.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Holst's The Planets

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this expose on The Planets, a symphonic work with which I was only just familiar.  I first heard the theme of Jupiter sung by world famous child soprano Charlotte Church in the song, "I Vow to Thee, my Country" and later found the tune used for the hymn, "O God Beyond All Praising" in the Trinity Hymnal.   The tune is magnificent and enjoyably singable.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Slightly Insulting Wagner


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 FLMF Spring Recital

2014 Recital for Students of Gabriela Morris

The Fairfax Loudoun Music Fellowship Spring Recital will be held on Saturday, May 17 in the afternoon, and, as I am a member of the fellowship, all my students are welcome to participate. This is a great opportunity for them to perform music which they have learned so far as well as hear what other students of all levels have accomplished. 

I heartily encourage attendance even for those students who choose not to participate. The recital will be recorded.

The available times are at 1:30 p.m. &  3:00 p.m.   If you have a time conflict, let me know.  

Public admission is free; however, there is a fee of $20.00 per performer, $10 for additional siblings, required by April 15th. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends – all very welcome!


Reston Community Center Theater - Hunters Woods
(703) 476-4500
2310 Colt's Neck Drive, Reston, VA  20191

Friday, March 7, 2014

Recital Participation and Attendance Protocol

Recital Protocol - adapted from flmf.org


1. Arrive 15 minutes early.
2. Go directly to the front two rows in the theater where the performers will find their name on a program on their seat.
3. Remain for the entire recital.  It is distracting and discourteous for performers or audience to leave before the program is finished.
4. Stress courteous audience behavior.   Whispering and rattling of programs spoils the atmosphere.
5. Dress appropriately.  Look your best!   No tee-shirts, jeans, sneakers, or flip-flops.  Wear knee length or longer skirts or dress pants.
6. Video camera use is only allowed if the camera is not obstructing any patron’s view during the recital.  
7.  Photography must be delayed until after the recital.
8.  Students: Don't forget to BOW or CURTSY!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Event: FLMF Student Piano Ensemble Concert

Ensemble Festival postponed to Saturday, Feb. 22, John Champe High School, Aldie, 7:00 p.m.

 I am very excited about discovering the Fairfax Loudoun Music Fellowship.  Their piano ensemble concert looks very well done, from photos and all the information they have posted.

Concert Date:   Saturday, Feb. 15, Dominion High School, Sterling, 7:00 p.m.

Concert Snow Date:  Saturday, Feb. 22, John Champe High School, Aldie, 7:00 p.m.

They record the student's playing, which is such a great souvenir and gift for them to have.  This year's performances are listed here.

Some Concert Night Etiquette, provided by FLMF for students (applies to guests too)
  1. Arrive for the concert no later than 6:40pm. Students must be in their seats by 6:45pm. The concert will begin promptly at 7:00pm.
  2. The dress attire is .. Knee length or longer dresses/skirts for young ladies and shirts with collars and black pants for young men are recommended. ... No tennis shoes, flip flops, Uggs boots or short skirts or dresses. 
  3. Please plan to stay for the entire concert. The start time of 7:00 should enable younger performers and family members to stay. It is important that all performers have a full audience to listen to and enjoy their hard work.   Please show respect for ALL of the performers in the festival.  Those who leave early are displaying their lack of respect and/or lack of knowledge of concert manners.
  4. If you have an emergency during the performance please leave only during applause.
  5. This concert is free to the public....There will be a donation box at the entrance to the auditorium. Please show your appreciation for such a unique educational opportunity for our children by making a donation at the concert.