Browsing MonthDecember 2018

Music is good for your brain! Well not necessarily…

My name is Dominic and I provide piano lessons in Derby.
Today, we will try to see if music is good for our brain.
I just read two articles in the Guardian about music.
One is about concentrating while listening to music, and why and how music can help us concentrate. Doing two things at the same time should logically be counterproductive. But it appears that studying and listening to music, for example, is actually helping us to focus better.
The second article is called “Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument”.
I want to talk to you a bit about this one, and the reasons why I mention those two articles are because I hope that you will feel the need to read them. They are really interesting.
So music is definitely better for your brain than apps… Wow, What a surprise really!?!?
I realized that students waiting for their lessons with a phone or a tablet (especially children) are generally more hyper and less concentrated during the lesson.
But let’s go back to the main subject.
Quote from the Guardian: “Musical training can have a dramatic impact on your brain’s structure, enhancing your memory, spatial reasoning, and language skills”.
After reading this, you start thinking that taking music lessons for you or your children might be a good idea?
Well, you are perfectly right…
Except that there are music lessons and music lessons… Both sound the same but are slightly different. Let me explain…
What is the standard in the UK to define a qualification in music?
If you answered “the grades” you are mostly right. Well done. So you are naturally thinking that the more grades your children will pass, the more the impact on enhancing their memory, spatial reasoning, and language skills will be important.
Well, let me explain a few things before you start to pay a lot of money for the piano lessons of your children or for yourself.
My students can testify that I’m not a grade factory teacher. When a student or a parent says to me “I want to pass (my children to pass) all the grades and I don’t want (them) to play anything else” I generally ask them to go to another teacher.
There are many and many teachers that are really good at teaching only grades and how to pass the exams. So What are grades?
Grades are an evaluation of what you know, of how you can play on the day of your exam. Nothing more, nothing less.
Am I totally a grades hater? No, but I maintain that working a few scales, three pieces of music, and a bit of sight-reading for a year will not train you to play music.
Music is a language and you need to learn to speak it, read it and most important understand it!
Playing only the grade pieces is absolutely ridiculous, three pieces on the entire repertoire existing and pretending that you are a musician is absolutely disgraceful and a barefaced lie!
Playing grades one after another without understanding what you play is like typing a letter on your computer without understanding a word of it. Or learning a poem in Japanese because it sounds nice but not understanding a word of it. So it is nice, it helps probably to train your memory a bit, but otherwise, I can’t see how it would develop anything else.
To understand what you play, understand the language, you need to learn it, and most important: feeling it.
My teacher uses to tell me: ” you are a musician from your first second in the front of the instrument, you don’t need to wait until you pass grade 8 to be a musician.”
Now You are going to say “But I don’t want to be a professional musician so… I don’t care about what you are saying Dom!” or “My kid doesn’t want to be a professional pianist just playing for fun!”.
So just one question then: is it really fun (For your kid, for you or me) to play a piece of music so bad that you can’t recognize the difference between an ambulance passing on the street and the piano playing of your kid or yours or mine?
Don’t you want your child or yourself to learn something from the piano lesson?
Also, why being an amateur means that you have to play so badly that people would want to throw a chair on you? Or a table? Or a piano (ouch)?
An amateur musician is a musician who decides that he doesn’t want to pay his bills with music… That’s it. It doesn’t have to stop you from being a good one.
Playing an easy Menuet of Mozart, “Fur Elise”, or “Les barricades mysterieuses”, or all the Chopin studies, is the same pleasure, the same challenge, the same investment.
I prefer a student who plays an easy piece with devotion than a person who plays a Chopin scherzo with his feet and no passion!
Practicing 8 hours a day is not bad, but practicing well 30 minutes a day is even better. A good teacher will help you to develop that good method of work. The problem with grades as the only goal is that you have a lot of time to prepare yourself for it. Generally, a year or 10 months when you only do that.
A lot of people don’t really practice at home and they really start to do it 2 months before the exams.
They pass their exams and forget everything about it.
I’m not an elitist teacher and I don’t look for a standard with my students, but if you think “I’m an amateur, I don’t want to play like a professional so I don’t have to practice really, because I just do that for fun” then you are not on the right path.
When you start, even 5 minutes of practice is enough ( I mean good practice). That’s my experience as a piano teacher in Derby and everywhere else I used to teach.
If you do it badly, how can music be beneficial for your brain or the brain of your children?
Do what you can and try to fit your instrument the best way possible in your life!
Now your main question is “How do you prepare yourself to pass grades correctly then?”. Well, my answer is… patience and… patience.
Learn the basics, straight away, learn music, expression. Your first piece of music is not a beginner piece of music, it is your first piece of music! So play it.
Finding a good teacher is really important.
That person needs to be a good musician who believes that teaching is something else than grades or a bank account filler.
Their qualifications are important, but the same as the grades, a teacher coming from a prestigious school is not necessarily a good teacher or a good musician.
I know so many excellent musicians and good teachers that didn’t go to any prestigious school and some others that come from the school with a name that would blow your mind and are just resting on their degrees!
When you meet your teacher for the first time you will know the one who has a passion for it and the one who doesn’t.
You also need to have the “contact” with the teacher, even if your teacher is a very good one, without the “contact” it will be tricky to build a bond with your teacher.
Just follow your judgment and instinct!
Oh yeah and all the adverts that you can see on the net about: “Become a pianist in 10 lessons”, or “With my method, you will play a Chopin study after 6 months!”. So all that adverts,… all of them, every single one of them!!! Are lies as big as Trump saying that he wants to give America its past worldwide glory?
If I say to you “With my method you will learn how to be a professional chef in 6 months” or “With my method, you will become a surgeon in 6 months.” Would you believe it?
If your answer is yes, then I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you…:)
If you want music to be a plus in your life, whatever if you want to be a professional or not, you need to be an amateur first, love it, learn to fit a bit of music time in your life, and then it will be beneficial for your brain development.
Before you learn your first Japanese poem, learn a bit of vocabulary and not just a bit of “how it sounds like”.
Otherwise, all you do is learning how to be a good “Monkey see, monkey do”.
Three monkeys
Common guys! There is nothing more wonderful than entering in the world of music, developing your ears, listening to its magic, its emotional message. Music is probably one of the most universal human activities that we can share all around the globe! Imagine that you arrived for your grade one, with your Japanese poem, knowing exactly what you are saying, how to say it, and most importantly why you say it!
I worked on different academies and some of them are “grades factories” and when I was replacing a teacher there, I asked the students who were “ready” to pass their exams to play only their right hand to me, and they were totally lost! Seriously?!? How that way of playing the piano can develop anything in your brain?!?
Except for typing texts on your smartphone faster…
In conclusion, saying to your new teacher freshly met that for you piano is a hobby and you don’t have to practice much and you don’t expect to be good at it, it is like saying to your french tutor that you don’t really want to speak french because you are not a french professional speaker! Why taking french lessons then?
Grades are not an obligation to be a good musician but can be necessary.
So if you are interested in that two articles, there are the links for them:
Have fun and don’t forget, “playing wrongs note is insignificant, playing without passion is unforgivable!”.

How to choose the best piano, keyboard for beginners?

How to choose the best piano, keyboard for beginners?

This is it, you had your first piano lesson and you enjoyed it!
Now is the time to think about buying your first piano.
Whatever you want to buy, it is a real jungle and you can quickly be lost on the multiple choice that you can find on the market.
So What is the best piano, keyboard for beginners?
Let’s have a look at what is what and what you need.


little sa-47 casio keyboardkeyboard yamaha grey 61 keys

Keyboards can be cheap, easy to buy but are not pianos.
If you having piano lessons then don’t buy a keyboard because it is not what you need in the long term.
Don’t get me wrong here, there are amazing keyboards out there, but they have other purposes than traditional pianos and a very good keyboard is the same range of prices than a good digital piano.
 Nord electro 5
The first difference between keyboards and pianos, the number of keys.
A piano is normally composed of 88 weighted keys.
You can find the same number of keys on a keyboard but they generally have fewer keys than a traditional piano.
The word I used in the previous sentence, “weighted keys” is important because the piano has weighted keys and you have to get used to playing on that type of mechanic.
 mechanic schema upright piano
Finally, depending on the price/type of keyboard you buy, your range of dynamics can be a bit lower than a piano.
From my point of view, investing on a keyboard can look cheaper but you will have to invest in another instrument a bit more expansive really quickly after your purchase.
My advice is: buy a keyboard because you know exactly what you want to do with it, but learning the piano on a keyboard is the same thing as learning piano on a church organ…

Digital piano

 black digital piano with one pedal                             clavinova digital upright
They look like keyboards but are not keyboards.
First of all, the purpose of a digital piano, generally, is to try to emulate the feeling of playing on an acoustic piano.
They have 88 weighted keys.
Now the “go for it” and the “Not so sure about it”.
This is my personal taste but I really like Yamaha Clavinova for a digital piano. I think they are the best in terms of emulation of piano touch and sound, even if it will never replace an acoustic instrument.
Go for it:
– No need of tuning (you can’t tune your piano yourself, you need a professional to do it for you)
– You can plug headphones and practice in silence
– You can adjust the volume
– It generally takes less space in your room
– It is more affordable than an acoustic piano
Not so sure about it:
– Whatever the price you put in, it will never replace the sound of an acoustic piano.
– The mechanic is good and close to reality, but it is not the same mechanic.
– After a moment, when your progression brings you to a wonderful and good level, you will feel the need for an acoustic piano.

Acoustic piano:

                                            open schimmel upright
Well, I think if you want to learn the piano, these instruments are the best of the best, but…
First of all, you can find extremely awful instruments out there!
It is better to invest in a good digital piano than a very bad acoustic upright piano.
Oh, by the way, what is an upright piano, and what is grand?

Upright piano:

 black upright yamaha u3


 yamaha baby grand piano
For the grand, you have different sizes available. You don’t need to buy the massive concert one.
The same thing for the upright, different sizes is available.
Now, we need to be clear, the price for an acoustic piano is a bit more expansive than a good digital, but, it is the best choice for your piano playing.
There again check that your piano has 88 keys.
Now let’s go for the “go for it” and the “I’m not so sure about it”
Go for it:
– Well, you choose to have piano lessons and we are talking about buying a piano so…
– It is always the best choice for dynamics range and key response
– Yamaha does a thing called the “silence system”, it allows you to use your piano like a digital piano with headphones and being able to use it as an acoustic piano.
– It is the best choice, but only if you choose the good one
Not so sure about it:
– It takes a bit more space in your room than a digital
– You have to tune it sometimes
– It is a bit more expansive than a digital
– If you choose a very bad one, then it would actually be worse than buying a good digital piano
Now, how to buy your instrument?
Just be careful if you buy a new instrument on the net. A digital piano, even if it is less heavy than an acoustic, is still heavy. If there is something wrong with it, good luck with sending it back…
Plus it would be tricky to ask advice to the seller by email sometimes and the most important, you need to be able to try it before purchase. Remember my last post about “Music is good for your brain. Well, not necessarily” (click the link to the article to be able to read it if you didn’t do it yet!?!)?
If you didn’t read it yet, then it is definitely your fault!
I said: “Your very first piece of music is not a beginner piece, it is the first one!” So you need to be able to play on your new piano and enjoy it!
That’s why playing on the instrument before a purchase is important!
On the internet, you can have a good deal but hope that everything is ok with your purchase or it will cost you more… A lot more!
Second hand:
Be careful, just go and see the instrument. Check that all the keys works, the speakers, the pedals,…
Don’t let pass anything, if the speakers don’t work for example, then it could be the start of a bigger problem who can cost you a lot, so even with a massive discount, don’t buy it!
If the instrument is not on warranty (it is generally the case) if you have any problem with the instrument then… good luck!
You can buy a nice instrument for a good price second hand, but the same as purchasing on the internet, be sure that everything is ok or it will cost you more than what you save. The good thing is that you can try the instrument before buying it.
Music shop:
Those are a good choice but choose a good shop. In a big chain generally, they don’t care about your profile they just want to sell you something.
There are good shops in Derby.
Now, the pro music shop is; Warranty, if something goes wrong they are easy to reach, they generally try to find the best instrument to your budget/profile, they are not necessarily more expansive than the net, and the most important, you can try the instrument before purchase.
And in my point of view, Nothing replaces human contact!
In Iron gate, in Derby, you can find Foulds Music shop (click the name of the shop to see their website). They are really professional and friendly.
It is a family business established for a very long time in Derby.
If you want to give them a call, ask for Max Gordge, he is friendly and nice and will take all the time you need to choose the right instrument for you.
It can be a little bit more expansive to buy a piano in a music shop, but first of all, you can negotiate and you might actually save money in case if something goes wrong with it. Plus you can have professional pieces of advice and try your instrument before purchase.
The price range for a digital piano or an acoustic piano? Well, it can go from around £200 to the price of a three-bedroom house in Derby!
That model is probably one of the most expansive, but I don’t think you need this one. It is magical to play on one of those instruments. Just in case you want to buy me a nice present for my birthday in April…
 grand Steinway
And finally, if you really want to spend a lot of money and buy the latest of the latest grand piano, then I would like to introduce you to the Peugeot-Pleyel design piano:
design peugeot-pleyel piano


A digital piano is good for a beginner but an upright is even better.
A cheap digital piano is good for a few years, depending on your progression, but you will feel the need for a better quality instrument after a moment (probably a few years).
When you start the piano, you don’t need to buy an expansive instrument, because if you have to stop after a few months or worse… just don’t like it, then it would be a shame to spend a lot of money on a good instrument.
If you having a piano lesson don’t buy a keyboard because you will have to change it and buy a piano after a few months!
You can also ask more about it to me or your piano teacher.
 I hope this is helping to choose the best piano, keyboard for beginner, and don’t hesitate to contact me for any help with purchasing your instrument.
Have fun!