Please read this article written exclusively for Art of Piano Playing Music School by Mina McKiernan – mother of Ella and Leila McKiernan! “Stricking a beautiful chord”
Three years ago, my daughter started piano lessons as a Kindergartner. Her school offered classes as part of the after-school program. Along with a handful of other children, she spent an hour a week learning the basic concepts of piano playing. I always wished that I had learned to play, but with no musical background or talent, I was thrilled in her interest. We bought an electrical keyboard, and encouraged her to play around with it as much as possible. We must have listened to Hot Cross Buns a thousand times that Fall.
The bond between her and Dina, her instructor, grew throughout the school year and by the time summer rolled around, she wanted to continue. Dina suggested private lessons through Art of Piano Playing Music School, a school she herself had founded a few years ago in New York City– and we excitedly signed on. To say that we got lucky stumbling across Dina and the Art of Piano Playing Music School is an understatement. This amazing organization currently teaches close to 50 private students at various levels, while also working with public schools providing group lessons. There are 20 talented instructors servicing New York City and Long Island.
As I listened in on the lessons at home, I loved seeing and hearing the connection between student, teacher and musical notes. Dina has a true gift in working with children and made it fun for my daughter right from the start. She’s sweet and encouraging and somehow manages to keep the attention of a five-year-old for a full 45 minutes. At that age, it’s no small feat to get through that long without any requests for bathroom or water breaks!
All summer, my daughter looked forward to her lessons and most times, she even practiced on her own. Those first tunes were short and simple but once she mastered them, her pride grew exponentially. Her motivation to learn more challenging pieces grew with time. By the following Fall, Dina encouraged us to invest in a real piano and to start our younger daughter with lessons as well. As luck would have it, a family friend was looking to get rid of their piano, so with some creative reconfiguration of living room furniture, we surprised the girls at Christmas with a tuned piano, adorned with a red bow. Everyone was thrilled – everyone, that is, but our downstairs neighbors!
My daughter’s first recital was at Steinway Hall and I remember how excited she was to get all dressed up and show off her hard work. I was amazed that at five-years-old, she and her fellow performers did not seem at all nervous, but instead excited and impatient for their turns. The recital happened to fall on her grandfather’s birthday and she melted his heart by surprising him by playing ‘Happy Birthday’, with her little sister accompanying her on vocals. Afterwards, she glowed while holding bouquets of flowers and happily granting requests for pictures from supportive family members. It was a proud moment for us as parents. For her, it was one of the first instances of the feeling of pride and accomplishment that comes from hard work and determination. It’s a great feeling at any age – and even sweeter when you see your child experience it first-hand.
Last year, when she expressed an interest in composing her own music, Dina not only encouraged her, but quickly introduced her to Curt, one of the instructors at her school, who also started composing at a young age. My daughter instantly connected with Curt, who is just as wonderful with children. She jumped right into learning the concepts of composition, eager to create original work. Now, my little one is coming up on completing her first year of lessons and has also fallen in love with the piano.
It’s so interesting to listen to them during their lessons and see what different learners they are, how they each respond to direction and the different types of pieces they are drawn to. Despite these differences, they are united in their love for this special instrument. Some weeks their lessons are tough. They know very well that if they haven’t put in enough practice time, they will be called on it. It surprises me how readily they accept constructive criticism and how hard they both work to get it right.
Their lessons are typically right after school, at the height of their tired-cranky-hungry state. Miraculously, Dina is able to keep them focused and complaint-free for a solid hour. She’s the perfect mix of seriousness and fun; while strict, there is plenty of praise throughout the lesson and even some giggles. I love listening to her tell my daughters stories about the lives and techniques of the greats like Mozart and Beethoven. Every week, she makes their time together so much more than just about practicing scales and memorizing keys. Once a year, they even have the opportunity to go to a recording studio and make an actual CD of their music. They love feeling like ‘real’ pianists and are always excited to give the gift of their own music to family and friends.
I’ve read about all the benefits of piano lessons for children and fully believe that, aside from helping children develop a talent and appreciation for music, it also increases their concentration, self-esteem, coordination, critical-thinking , dexterity, and ability to receive and process feedback. This time of year, when most of us are feeling especially thankful for the classroom teachers who have taught our kids the basics and so much more, I’m also so thankful for all the other instructors in their lives; the coaches from a full range of sports teams, the tutors, the art teachers, and all the musical instructors out there. These professionals enable our children to learn new skills, sometimes developing remarkable talents and discovering passions, outside of school, all while becoming well-rounded individuals. For me, teaching my kids to play piano would never be something I could do for them. I am thankful to Dina and Curt for not only teaching my kids this classical art, but also teaching them in a way that has instilled in them, a genuine love and enthusiasm for it.
A few nights ago, we attended our girls’ summer recital. As I sat in the audience listening to students as young as 4 and as old as 50 sit still, focus and proudly play beautiful music, I was in awe. The pieces ranged from the theme of the Flinstones to complicated pieces by Bach. I felt extremely grateful for individuals who have chosen to combine their talent with their profession and share their gift by working with children. As a result, my daughters are learning to play and appreciate beautiful music while gaining skills that will help them long after their lessons may end.
I’m hopeful that with the help of excellent mentors, their passion for the piano will only grow with time and that there will be many more recitals and enthusiastic shouts of ‘Brava’ in their futures.
Art of Piano Playing Music School CD recording session was held on April 12th 2013 at one of the professional recording studios at the Times Square in New York City. It was our student`s first recording session ever and they all did a great job! Also they enjoyed working with Michael -our recording engineer. Please listen to the recordings our students made.
Today’s internet technology, provides an ideal way to learn to play a musical instrument in the privacy, security and comfort of your home, without the added expense and inconvenience of traveling to lessons! If you live in an area with no easy access to a teacher, are housebound, or due to a busy lifestyle, find it difficult to schedule lessons , then you may find that Skype lessons are the ideal answer. Please contact our Music School if interested.
Here is an example where a student (Eliana 5 y.o.) is being taught to listen attentively to the musical texture of the one-voice melody and to obtain not only an exact realization of the musical text and its correct phrasing, but also an intelligent reproduction of the content of the piece and its musical character. Here are a few words on how it can be done in six steps: Step 1 – learn the words of the song. If student is unable to remember the whole line of the words the song should be subdivided into short phrases and read in sections. Step 2 - read the words of the song while clapping the rhythm (with help of a teacher). Step 3 - find “long” words/sounds of the song. Step 4 – read the words again while clapping the rhythm and making stops on the long words. Step 5 – try to sing song with tune (while clapping the rhythm). When singing it is vital to have clear intonation as well as musical expression and rythmical accuracy (teacher plays song on the piano, helps siging it during the exercise, uses Kodaly hand signs method). Step 6 - sing and play by ear.
Please listen to the recordings our students made at “The Smooth Spot” studio located at the Times Square! It was a very rewarding experience for our young performers!
“The Smooth Spot” Recording Studio and Entertainment in New York City provides affordable high-quality audio and video demo and other recording services.
We invite everyone to record achievements on CD or DVD which could be a college application, a birthday, anniversary or other special event gift! If you register for a semester with the Art of Piano Playing Music School you get this RECORDING SESSION FOR FREE!
Michael -recording engineer
track 1 - Bach Invention
track 2 - Czerny Etude
- MTNA competition
- Princeton Festival
- New York Piano Competition
- New York Music Competition
- Woodmere Friday Music Club Competition
- American Protege
- Music Educators Association of New Jersey
Here is a piano lesson with Dina Volkova:
Click to listen to:
01 Rachmaninoff – Prelude in C-sharp minor Konstantin, piano (class of Dina Volkova)
There are a few main challenges in this piece we have been working on: image, massive texture and technical difficulties associated with it, sophisticated “quater” pedal and tempo. Now a little bit more detailed on each of them:
Although Rachmaninoff never told anyone about a program of this Prelude and what he had in mind writing it, any performer has to find an image for this music to be able to understand and consequently to play it better. It is not easy to find a right image of the Prelude, but we agreed that it could be a funeral march (no wonder somebody said it sounds as “someone has been buried alive”!!). The prelude opens with a slow descending three note motif at fortissimo which introduces the grim C-sharp minor tonality that dominates the piece. In the third measure, the volume changes to a pianissimo and the six sounds chords set a tempo of a measured tread. The motif of the opening repeats almost everywhere in the piece, therefore, it has to be heard throughout. I would suggest to segregate the sound of the motif with the sound of the chords by making the motif notes sound “cold” as an inanimate beginning.
The recapitulation of the mail theme represents the theme in four staves to accommodate the volume of triple forte. The quadrupled texture of the recapitulation requires not only exaggerated lateral movement accross the keyboard, but also “all the force the player is capable of” (Rachmaninoff). A performer encounters here a problem of playing these “thundering chords” with “all the force” and at the same time without banging on the keys. This section has to be played using the “arm weight method”. Simply let your hands drop chords on the keys by the gravity and weight of your arms. Wrists and elbows have to flex slightly to take the shock of landing. All upper muscles have to relax immediatedly after each chord. It is very importand not to stiffen the arms after because it will transfer the entire arm weight to the keys and simply add force. A performer`s muscles have to be relaxed without any tenseness or unnecessary forces at all times. This way of playing will produce a pleasant, deep tone.
The middle section of the Prelude needs a special attention of a performer. It begins with highly chromatic triplets which are difficult to play because of the highlighted upper voice and increased tempo (Agitato). A pianist would have to practice right hand in a slow tempo holding down the melodic voice. Such practice will require a very close to the keys and strong (but not punchy!) touch so the muscle memory can remember its way through these highly chromatic phrases.
Now a few words about the pedal. There are a few spots in this Prelude where the base notes in the left hand have to be sustained for a long time. For example, in measure 7 (also mm. 11, 15, 28, 29, 32, 33, 50,54), the base note has to last for about 4 beats and there is no way to hold it physically since both hands are involved in playing chords above this base. A performer can use a pedal to hold the base note throughout, but there is a danger to either loose the base note or get a messy sound unless a performer uses the so-called “quater pedal” technique. This means a pianist has to take the base note on the pedal and then make a quater (not full!!) changes on each new chord of the phrase. This way the base note gets sustained and wouldn`t interfere with the constantly changing harmonies above.
Now about the tempo. As I already said everything in the Prelude makes you think of the slow march. Once we found a right image of the piece it became clear what tempo to choose. Another words the tempo (and other agogics by the way) was driven by the image of the Prelude. Here is a bright example of it. The last few measures of the Prelude, the so called Coda, are about a Russian bell, the sound of which was so much loved by the composer. It is easy to hear how bell rings six times before it eventually stops. To make it work effectivelly a performer needs to feel a slow measured motion of a big bell and how it slows down by itself at the end of the piece delaying and making each “ring” softer.