This post was sponsored by Piano Marvel. All opinions are my own.
Do you know those piano students who:
- Have an awesome ear
- Have really great technique on the piano
- Have a mature taste in music
- Really struggle to read sheet music
You know the ones, don’t you?
In my studio, we’ve had a number of advancing students over the years who are really awesome pianists, but playing accurately from sheet music doesn’t come easily.
These are students who are excited to play classical music, but when they’re reading they often end up doing things like playing in the wrong octave, inverting chords incorrectly or playing 90% of the notes and fudging the rest.
In a lot of situations, this type of playing will fly. In fact, these students have some really amazing musical gifts. They’re usually really strong performers, they can play improvisationally, and they have a fantastic sense of musical style.
But, locking in those sight-reading skills can be really tough. Since these students usually aren’t tied to sheet music, it takes a lot of discipline for them to stay true to exactly what is on the page.
Piano Marvel is my favorite tool for helping ear players strengthen their sight reading skills.
If you’re not familiar with Piano Marvel, it is a web-based piano-learning app. You can read a very thorough review of it here.
Piano Marvel has sheet music to thousands of mainstream piano learning pieces. Within the app, there are tons of built-in practice tools to help students master their music efficiently and correctly.
I want to introduce you to three of my students who have all experienced a lot of progress in their sight reading skills, thanks to Piano Marvel.
All three of these students are great students and have a lot of natural talent for playing the piano. Piano Marvel helps my best piano students be even better.
Jake, age 7
Jake started piano with me as a 5 year old. Piano Marvel has been an awesome resource for Jake because he’s the type of kid that just can’t get enough of piano. We are working through a method book and some other supplemental piano material, but Piano Marvel also has a special place in Jake’s lessons because it has really helped him to take off with sight reading. Thanks to Piano Marvel, Jake has a lot of confidence when he flips through piano books to try out new music.
Jake loves working through the Piano Marvel method because the methodical approach to note-reading really suits his learning style well.
In the Piano Marvel method, notes are introduced in each hand around Middle C position. While I’m a fan of all of the different note-reading approaches, Middle C position seems to work especially well for young beginners since it’s symmetrical and fits nicely under small hands.
The built-in practice features in Piano Marvel really seal the deal on sight reading. Piano Marvel gives students instant feedback on how accurately they played. It gives students a score out of 100. Jake is the type of student who is always eager to try again to get his score closer to 100. This repetitious practice with motivating feedback is perfect for Jake and younger students.
Grayson, Age 12
Grayson is in 7th grade and has been playing the piano for a few years. He’s one of those students who picked up piano really quickly at first. His technical skills quickly surpassed his reading skills.
Grayson was excited to start learning some of the simpler classics such as Spinning Song and some Sonatinas. Grayson has the reading skills to figure out all the notes in pieces like these, but he prefers to just memorize the music quickly and not refer back to the page. When he does this, he often starts adapting the music to how he thinks it goes, rather than what’s really on the page.
Grayson started using Piano Marvel to practice Spinning Song and a Clementi Sonatina and it helped him tremendously to break down his music into small piece to really drill the correct notes. Practicing with Piano Marvel has helped Grayson to learn his music really well in his weekly practice.
Previously, he’d come to his lesson with his music somewhat-learned, put pretty messy and inaccurate. Piano Marvel helps him to know that he’s practicing correctly every time.
Here are some specific examples of things that Grayson benefits from with Piano Marvel:
- Grayson will commonly play his left hand an octave too low, so practicing with Piano Marvel helps him to hear and see the the correct octave for his left hand.
- Grayson gets caught up on transitional sections such as moving from an Alberti bass pattern into a scale run. Piano Marvel helps him move consistently from measure to measure.
- While Grayson prefers tackling both hands at the same time, there is a lot of benefit to mastering one hand at a time. Piano Marvel forces him to practice each hand separately before putting them back together.
- Grayson loves to play fast! He knows slow practice is better, and Piano Marvel forces him to play at a slower tempo until he’s really ready to go faster.
Max, Age 17
Max has perfect pitch and came to piano lessons about 8 years ago already knowing how to play tons of pop songs that he had figured out by ear. Max can figure out how to play almost anything, but if he’s expected to read sheet music, it’s a pretty slow and painful process.
Max is also known for adding a lot of creative embellishments to his music. When he’s entered competitions or had auditions, playing what is on the page with accuracy is a big challenge for Max.
Max has decided to go to college for music and has realized that he can’t rely solely on his ear to figure out all of his music any more. Max has been using some classical pieces to practice his sight reading skills. Recently, he’s played Gymnopedie No. 1 by Satie and Chopin’s Prelude in e minor.
Piano Marvel is just what Max needed to help him really focus on playing accurately from the score. Max has a tendency to start from the beginning and play until the end without stopping, no matter what happens in between. This can be helpful at times, but Piano Marvel forces Max to practice smaller sections until they are perfect, rather than skimming past the uncertain parts until a familiar part returns.
Piano Marvel has also helped Max read more complex rhythms. Max has always played very rhythmically accurately since he has a strong ear. But, reading sixteenth note rhythms, polyrhythms and ornaments is messy when you are learning higher level music without a strong background in reading. Seeing the complicated rhythms while also hearing them has been a really helpful approach for Max.
If you recognize any of your own students in Jake, Grayson or Max, I highly recommend introducing Piano Marvel as a tool to help your ear players become more proficient sight readers.
Piano Marvel normally costs $15.99/month, but you can use my code, verypiano, to bring cost down to $12.99/month. Or, save even more with an annual subscription at $110.99/year. Click here to get started.
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