I’m so excited to announce a new feature I am starting on the blog called “Be Our Guest!” (If you are like me, you are now singing the Beauty and the Beast song…)
At the beginning of each month, I will feature a special teacher to “Be Our Guest”, who will guest blog and share a post with all of you! Our first guest for February is Sarah Campbell.
Sarah recently started a blog, Sara’s Music Studio where you will find helpful teaching tips for the piano and voice teacher. I have enjoyed her posts so far and look forward to many more. I encourage you to follow her blog! Please enjoy Sara’s helpful post…
Creative Visuals in Piano and Voice Lessons
I’m a visual learner. When I play scales, I see them in intervals and black and white patterns. When I sing, I think of creating lines and colors of sound with my voice. As a college student, music theory just made sense to me because of the visual patterns.
That wasn’t always the case.
When I was a young piano student, I remember trying to learn my scales. The tiny black and white dots were downright frustrating. If the accidentals were written out, it seemed visually cluttered and confusing, and if there was a key signature, I couldn’t always remember all the sharps and flats. When it came to translating a written scale to the piano keys, I just couldn’t see the patterns well enough– I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.
It wasn’t until my high school years when I taught myself how to play vocal warm-ups that I really began to understand the patterns. When I started to play pentascales and scales chromatically, something just “clicked.” I began to notice that pentascales and scales created inverse images of one another. Db major was just the opposite of D major – the same with Eb and E, and F and Gb, and so on. Finally, it all made sense!
Nowadays when I teach scales, I find it helpful to begin with a visual approach. I have a set of Piano Easy Scales visual guides that fit above and behind the keys and enable students to literally see the scale on the keys. (They even include finger numbers for two-octave scales.)
Sometimes we use a “Silent Keyboard” to create scales. Then we practice writing the scale out on a laminated staff so that students can make the connection as to what it will look like in the music. Lately I’ve been working on creating visual aids that students can take home with them. I’ve created charts to demonstrate major and minor pentascales, and worksheets so that students can practice filling in the correct notes.
Last week I started using a major pentatonic blues scale chart with some of my students – it’s a great way to introduce 12 or 16-bar blues form. Students can play swinging blues scales for the majority of the piece and then improv on the scale notes during the V7 – I cadence at the end.
This simple improv is something that voice students can also practice. Have them sing vocalises on a blues scales, and then improvise on scat syllables while you play a 12 or 16-bar blues underneath.
Taking a visual approach during lessons can help make new skills quickly accessible to a student. It also enhances their understanding of spatial relationships, which is one of the most important things that we teach to our students. Give it a try in your studio – help your students make the connection to those black and white dots!
Sara Campbell resides amongst the quiet rolling hills in Western Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Westminster College and a Master of Music in Musicology from Youngstown State University. A private piano and voice teacher since 2005, Sara opened her own music studio in 2010, where she provides lessons to students of all ages. Each summer Sara creates a variety of piano and vocal workshops that take place in the music department at Westminster College and on her beautiful farm. Last year’s workshops included one on vocal performance methods, another on the study of John William’s film score techniques, and a Musical Olympics Camp.
Outside of the studio, Sara has served as a part-time faculty member at Youngstown State University and a guest lecturer on the Semester at Sea Enrichment Voyages through the University of Virginia. As a musicologist, Sara specializes in 20th century American music, and has a penchant for song cycles. You can follow her blog, Adventures of a Piano and Voice Teacher at sarasmusicstudio.wordpress.com.