Author Archives: mrskeys

Introducing…Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Drumroll please….I am excited to announce the launch of my brand new online course called Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is a course designed to get you improvising satisfying music at the piano. In this unique curriculum, you will learn a variety of techniques to get started improvising exciting music at the keyboard. Learn how to explore different harmonic material, melodic ideas, accompaniment techniques and started points for creating improvisation compositions. In addition, we cover how to improvise pop piano solos and jam on the blues!

This course is perfect from pianists of any level, from experienced beginner too advanced. Piano teachers will also get some great ideas and exercises to work on with their students. Discover the enjoyment of developing your technique, harmony and rhythm in a creative environment. Experiment with new sounds and ideas to apply to your songwriting or composing. The exercises are structured, but open ended enough that you could take the work in whatever direction you want to go.

Check out the course HERE!

Video: What is your why? Strategies for Success

It is easy to get bogged down with lists of things you have to do, but before that you need to identify your “why”. Why do you want to learn piano? Leave your comments below…

Want to know more about my work?  Check out my suite of unique online  piano courses  –     Piano and Voice With Brenda. Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work!

Video: How to establish a practice routine

Here are tips and solutions to the “how the heck am I supposed to practice” problem. As a longtime teacher, I have 25+ years of helping people to achieve their musical goals and gain much-needed piano skills. Make sure to check out my mom-hack where I share how I get my son to practice every day! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below.)

 

Enjoying this information?  Check out Piano and Voice With Brenda – my suite of unique online courses that will take your piano playing to the next level!

VIDEO: How I get my son to practice every day (and how this will help YOU!)

My 8 year old practices the piano every single day without fail and (almost) without tears.  How did I get him to do that?  How will this help YOU to practice regularly?  Watch the video to find out!  Make sure to hit subscribe and leave a comment below.

Check out my amazing suite of online courses called Piano and Voice With Brenda and find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work.  Get your piano skills together!!

On Getting S**t Done: Advice from the Trenches

            I have had several friends and colleagues tell me that they are amazed by my ability to juggle so many different balls at the same time.  I take is as a huge compliment and also am quick to point out that for the past several years I have been doing a lot of personal work trying to get myself to be able to function this way.  Thanks to the myriad of changes during the Covid-19 Pandemic, I find myself juggling even more balls than ever before.  (I’m guessing you are having the same experience?!?!). This blog post is written to show you exactly what I did to make my life more productive.

I am naturally a messy and disorganized person (just ask my Dad or my college roommates).  My disorganization has often been a source of frustration and has held me back in a lot of aspects in my life.  Now that I’m a mom, I basically had no choice but to get my bananas together so I could actually get something done in my life.

HOW DID I DO THIS?!?!?!

  1. Everybody contributes.  I’m lucky to have a great partner in my husband who is willing and able to do whatever needs to be done.  It took us time to figure out a balance that works, especially because he has a crazy job, but we did and it means that I’m not stuck in overwhelm getting everything done.   Our 7 year old also has a role to play in upkeep.  We have taught him to tidy his room, tidy    up after himself, he sets and clears the table and loads the dishwasher, in addition to putting his own laundry away.  It took a lot of work to teach him how to do it, but his help means I’m not doing every damn thing.
  2.  Simplifying and Minimizing.  Over the past several years, I have made it my mission to simplify every aspect of my life.  I have consumed a great many books, podcasts and blogs about minimalism, which have completely changed my life.  We have gotten rid of so much stuff, from clothes to toys and books.  I even did a huge overhaul of my studio space, getting rid of mountains of sheet music, paper and over 200 music books. (Check out my blog post on The Paperless Studio for more insight on how I did that!). I have simplified meals by choosing more straight forward dinners, which also simplifies our grocery shopping.  Our schedules are more simple too, as we are careful not to say yes to everything.  We do miss birthday parties and even the odd school or (gasp!) family event, but we do it so that we can enjoy our lives and focus on the things we really want to accomplish.
  3. Deciding what I want to do and only doing that.  My time is so limited and it has taken me until now to realize that I can’t possibly do everything I want to do.  This means that I prioritize my time to save my sanity.   A few times a year I make a master list of everything I want to accomplish, which are broken into categories like performance, teaching, online course and family.  On this list I brainstorm and dream.   Every month or two I take a look at this list and decide how much I can tackle.  If I have a lot of performances or a recording session, I prioritize practicing.  If I have a lot of open time, I may take one a larger project like creating additional material for my online course Piano Skills for Singers.
  4. Batching work.  I try to organize tasks that that I do a bunch of the same things at the same time.  If I’m going to edit and post performance videos, it makes way more sense for me to do a bunch of them at one time.  By the time I’ve remembered how to use the editing softward and have gotten the branding right, I may as well tackle 10 of them.  This also works great if I’m entering songs into Finale, sending emails to promotors for gigs or even writing blog posts. I try to choose a block of time when no one’s around (sometimes at 5am!!) and bang a bunch of similar tasks out in one sitting.
  5. Throw money at the problem.  When things get particularly busy or I’m in the middle of a lot of work, I sometimes just throw some money at the problem.  No time to do laundry?  I can send out a huge bag of it for $30.  No time to cook?  Time to pick up a rotisserie chicken or a damn pizza.  House is a mess?  Time to call a cleaning service.  My family isn’t super spendy, so if we do this now and then it’s not going to destroy us financially.
  6. Avoid procrastination.  Motherhood has taught me that I no longer have the luxury of procrastination.  My kid is in school from 8:40 until 3pm and if I don’t get done what I need to do then, it’s NEVER going to happen.  I have managed to (mostly) overcome time sucks like social media use and rampant email checking, mostly by going cold turkey.  Procrastinating is no longer a luxury I can afford, and somehow everything seems to get done.
  7. Letting it go.  Sometimes you have to make like Elsa and “Let it Go.”  (Cue eye rolling from my kid).  Some days all Hell breaks loose and getting things done just isn’t in the cards.  Take a break, say some bad words and move on.  Tomorrow is another day.

Hopefully this list helps you.  I work at all of this on a daily basis, trying to balance and juggle my family life while also trying to stay productive in my work life.

What do YOU do to get s#%t done??

VIDEO Quickie #3: Piano Improvisation 101: The Ostinato

Improvisation is an incredible skill that people of all levels and genres can and should experience.  You don’t have to be a jazzer to improvise, people!!  In this short tutorial, I show you a great technique to explore improvisation: using an ostinato.  You can use this technique in its simplest form, or make it more complicated if you are a more advanced pianist.  Give it a try! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment!)

   Like this post?                     Check out          Piano Improvisation for Everyone! – a unique course that explores improvisation on the piano in many different forms.  Perfect for pianists of every level – from beginner to advanced.  It’s also jam packed full of tools that are perfect resources for piano teachers to try with their students.

VIDEO Quickie #4: Piano Improvisation 101: Erik Satie

This is the fourth video in a new series called “Quickies” – short, info-packed tutorials designed to give you great information you can use TODAY. In this tutorial, I show you how to explore improvisation using a left hand pattern inspired by the Impressionist composer Erik Satie. This improvisation is so easy and creates a satisfying and meditative space for you to explore improvising at the piano.  (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment!)

 Like this post?                     Check out          Piano Improvisation for Everyone! – a unique course that explores improvisation on the piano in many different forms.  Perfect for pianists of every level – from beginner to advanced.  It’s also jam packed full of tools that are perfect resources for piano teachers to try with their students.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Online Courses

I have had so many people asking me questions about my popular online classes, that I thought it was time to write a blog post answering some of these questions!  I hope this is helpful!

When do the courses start and finish?

They start immediately and never end!  You get lifetime 24/7 access to the course and you can take the lessons as many times as you like.  Many students even practice along with the video lessons!

Each course contains video lessons with closeups of the keyboard and meticulously notated print materials that you can download and print or read from your computer or tablet.

How long have you been doing what you do?  Why did you create these courses?

I have been studying piano for over 35 years, and have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in jazz piano.  I have performed as a pianist, singer, singer/pianist and conductor all over the world in the fields of jazz, music theater, classical and pop/rock.  I have taught every imaginable level from early childhood, through high school, to the college level and teaching professional development to established teachers.

After many years of teaching voice and piano, I decided I wanted to make my unique teaching methods available to a much broader audience.  I had witnessed so many incredible musical transformations that I thought I could help so many people make music at the piano and develop skills that would help them with their businesses.  I taught myself how to shoot and edit video (I had never done it before!) and created Level 1 in Spring of 2018.  A couple of years later and now I have hundreds of students worldwide.  It’s been a dream come true!

How are these courses different from conventional piano training?

Each one of these courses has evolved from my private teaching.  I have taught hundreds of students from every imaginable background, level and musical genre.  While I am classically trained, I borrow much of my pedagogy from my experience as a performer and trying material out one-to-one with students.  These courses are unique, because they are designed from a lifetime of teaching and exploring the most efficient ways to learn to play piano.

I borrow from jazz, classical, music theater, pop (I was a piano bar entertainer on cruise ships) and combine technical and theory work in the most playable way possible.  I have left out a lot of the busy work, and just give you the material that you need to be successful in way less time.   I have distilled the necessary skills into an easy-to-use, straight-to-the-point curriculum that will have you playing the piano in a hurry!

What if I am already a classically trained pianist?

The Jazz Piano Accompaniment and Piano Improvisation for Everyone! courses are perfect for you.  Both courses build on your classical background and help you to gain authentic skills that will deepen your playing.  If you are a piano teacher, they are also perfect courses to help you expand your offerings to your students!

What results can I expect?

The methods in these courses have evolved over 20+ years of private teaching and they have been “tested” on hundreds of students of differing experience levels.  The courses are designed to be easy-to-use and get you playing the piano quickly and comfortably.  You can expect the best results if you commit to daily practice and take your time going through the material.  Keep a positive attitude and watch the videos as many times as you need to!  Most people notice a huge change in their playing within a couple of weeks – you just have to practice!

What ages are best for these courses?

These courses are ideal for people aged 13 and up.  For younger people, I suggest private lessons, unless they are super self-motivated and have some musical background.

Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers Level 1 or Level 2?

Absolutely not!  These courses are perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to play the piano quickly and effectively.  Many of the course participants are singers, songwriters, voice teachers and choral conductors, but the courses also serve general music teachers, music therapists, instrumentalists and music enthusiasts.  The skills taught in this course can serve anyone who is interested in learning them!

How much should I practice?

Generally, you can work your way through this material pretty well with only 30 minutes a day, but you can make a lot of progress with even 15 minutes a day.  The key is to be deliberate and focused with your practice, and I even include practice guides with each course to help you structure your practicing!

Do I have to be able to read music?

For Piano Skills for Singers Level 1 you don’t have to at all, but for the other courses it is helpful to know how to read notes on a very basic level.  All of the courses have print materials included, but the videos show a close up of the piano so you’ll have no problem learning from watching the keyboard.           

What if I choose the wrong level?

The entire suite of courses has a 30-day no-questions-asked money back guarantee, so you can always return the course and get one better suited to you instead.  If you aren’t sure which course is for you, read this blog post.

What if I need help?

Each course gets you an invitation to a private Facebook group, where you can ask questions, get exclusive content and interact with other course participants.  You can also reach out to me personally (brenda@pianoandvoicewithbrenda.com) if you need specific help.

Intrigued?  Check out the courses page HERE.  Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are RAVING about these amazing online courses!

Frequently Asked Questions About Piano Skills for Singers

I have had so many people asking me questions about my popular online courses, that I thought it was time to write a blog post answering some of these questions.  I hope this is helpful!

When do the courses start and finish?

They start immediately and never end!  You get lifetime 24/7 access to the course and you can take the lessons as many times as you like.  Many students even practice along with the video lessons!

Each course contains video lessons with closeups of the keyboard and meticulously notated print materials that you can download and print or read from your computer or tablet.

How long have you been doing what you do?  Why did you create these courses?

I have been studying piano for 37+ years, and have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in jazz piano.  I have performed as a pianist, singer, singer/pianist and conductor all over the world in the fields of jazz, music theater, classical and pop/rock.  I have taught every imaginable level from early childhood, through high school, to the college level and teaching professional development to established teachers.

After many years of teaching singers how to play the piano, I decided I wanted to make my unique teaching methods available to a much broader audience.  I had witnessed so many incredible musical transformations that I thought I could help so many people make music at the piano and develop skills that would help them with their businesses.  I taught myself how to shoot and edit video (I had never done it before!) and created Level 1 in Spring of 2018.  A couple of years later and now I have hundreds of students worldwide.  It’s been a dream come true!

How are these courses different from conventional piano training?

Conventional piano training is meant to train pianists to play challenging piano music, which takes a lot of years.  This course is all about giving singers, voice teachers and choral conductors the skills they need to be successful in their work.  I have distilled the necessary skills into an easy-to-use, straight-to-the-point curriculum that will have you playing the piano in a hurry!

What results can I expect?

The methods in these courses have evolved over 20+ years of private teaching and they have been “tested” on hundreds of students of differing experience levels.  The courses are designed to be easy-to-use and get you playing the piano quickly and comfortably.  You can expect the best results if you commit to daily practice and take your time going through the material.  Keep a positive attitude and watch the videos as many times as you need to!  Most people notice a huge change in their playing within a couple of weeks – you just have to practice!

What ages are best for this course?

This course is ideal for people aged 13 and up.  For younger people, I suggest private lessons, unless they are super self-motivated and have some musical background.

Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers?

Absolutely not!  These courses are perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to play the piano quickly and effectively.  Many of the course participants are singers, songwriters, voice teachers and choral conductors, but the courses also serve general music teachers, music therapists, instrumentalists and music enthusiasts.  The skills taught in this course can serve anyone who is interested in learning them!

How much should I practice?

Generally, you can work your way through this material pretty well with only 30 minutes a day, but you can make a lot of progress with even 15 minutes a day.  The key is to be deliberate and focused with your practice, and I even include practice guides with each course to help you structure your practicing!

Do I have to be able to read music?

For Level 1 you don’t have to at all, but for the other courses it is helpful to know how to read notes on a very basic level.  All of the courses have print materials included, but the videos show a close up of the piano so you’ll have no problem learning from watching the keyboard.           

What if I choose the wrong level?

The entire suite of courses has a 30-day no-questions-asked money back guarantee, so you can always return the course and get one better suited to you instead.  If you aren’t sure which course is for you, read this blog post.

What if I need help?

Each course gets you an invitation to a private Facebook group, where you can ask questions, get exclusive content and interact with other course participants.  You can also reach out to me personally (brenda@pianoandvoicewithbrenda.com) if you need specific help.

Intrigued?  Check out the courses page HERE.  Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are RAVING about these courses!

Tips on choosing a digital piano (and why I love the Casio Privia)

***This article contains links to my favorite keyboards, but they are not affiliate links and I am not being compensated for writing this article.***. (Just being a helper!)

As a performing pianist and piano teacher, I am frequently asked by about getting an instrument to practice on.  First off, while a real piano is nice to have, not everyone has the budget to buy one or the space to put it.  Having a digital piano also means you can practice in any space at any time, since you can use headphones.  (Hello, practicing after the kids have gone to bed!). Nowadays, there are excellent digital pianos that not only provide a good sound, but also mimic the feel of a real piano.  And, they never need to be tuned!

Here are my top tips for choosing the right digital piano for you.

1.  Choose an instrument that has 88 keys and has at least one decent piano sound.  Stick to instruments called “digital pianos” and avoid “synthesizers”, as they are very different products.  Digital pianos usually have weighted, touch-sensitive action which will feel more like a real piano and will be better for your technique.  Synthesizers are more for programming or recording and tend to have a lot of sounds but don’t often have weighted keys.

2.  Consider also where you will put your electric piano.  If you have a dedicated space for your electric piano and won’t need to move it often, you could get one that has a permanent built-in stand.  If you will need to put away the keyboard on a regular basis, or plan to use it for gigs or rehearsals elsewhere, you should probably purchase a keyboard with a separate stand.

3.  Choose a keyboard with built in speakers.  Some keyboards have built in speakers, which saves you having to purchase an amplifier.  Even if you plan on playing with headphones on most of the time, you will want a keyboard with built in speakers so you can play for others or just practice without headphones on all the time.

4.  Consider how you will use your digital piano.  Will you be playing rehearsals or gigs?  If so, you’ll need to make sure the keyboard is portable and has a spot where you can plug it into an amplifier.  If you plan to use your keyboard for writing or recording music, you will want to invest in something that is MIDI compatible so that you can plug it into the computer.

There is a wide range of cost for digital pianos, from less than $100 dollars to over $2000.  Generally speaking, a good quality keyboard will cost between $500-$800 and will include a power cord, a foot pedal and a music stand.   All of my picks have built in speakers and are MIDI compatible, which makes them perfect for home recording.

www.sweetwater.com

When purchasing gear, I always go to Sweetwater.  Not only do they have an excellent selection and really great prices, they also have the absolute best customer service around.  My sales engineer Cody Kraus has been super helpful every time I have questions or need help and he always keeps me posted when gear I’ve been looking at goes on sale.  He was even kind enough to give me suggestions and share his picks for this article!  (You can contact him at cody_kraus at sweetwater dot com. Tell him I sent you!)

Cody Kraus knows a lot about gear (and has great hair!)

My #1 top pick for keyboards that gives great bang for your buck is the Casio Privia PX-160 Digital Piano.  For only $599, it comes with a sturdy stand.  It doesn’t take up a lot of room and has built in speakers and a headphone jack.  I have a higher-end Casio Privia that has been gigging with me for years and I love the touch and sound.  This one is a terrific entry-level keyboard that comes with its own stand.

Cody says,   “The PX-160 is the best value on the market in terms of sound quality and feel. Flexible too! With a console stand option and only weighing in at 25lbs, it makes for a perfect home piano and a portable stage piano.”

For a bit more money, the Casio Privia PX-S1000 is a bit higher end.  For $649, it offers more options for touch sensitivity and a more complex piano sound.  You can pick up a portable stand for this one for less than $100.

Cody says, “Casio took all of the great features of the PX-160 up a notch with the PX-S1000. New slimmer design and soft touch buttons provide a more elegant experience while 88-key digital scaling and simulated string resonance bring the playing experience of this keyboard closer to that of an acoustic grand piano.”

I didn’t want to just sing the praises of my beloved Privia without giving you other options.  Here are a few other choices that are solid choices for your digitalpiano needs.

Yamaha is a trusted name in pianos and electric pianos alike and the Yamaha P-45 gets the job done.  It has a good sound and a decent touch and is a steal for only $499.  Make sure to buy a portable stand like this one and you’re good to go!

For the next level up, I recommend the Yamaha P-125 Digital Piano.  It comes with a few more whistles and bells for $649.   It has a solid piano sound and a few other sound choices, plus it is a well made and reliable keyboard.

Korg is another electronic instruments company with a great reputation and excellent products.  Their entry-level digital piano the Korg LP-180 Digital Piano is $649 and features all three foot pedals, which is a bonus.

For a higher end experience, the Korg SP-280 Digital Piano is $799 and has 30 different instrument sounds.  It also comes with its own stand.

While the Casio Privia remains my favorite, any of the digital pianos listed above will serve your purpose and will be great to practice and perform with.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.  If you want some great, personalized help while you prepare for this investment, reach out to Cody Kraus at Sweetwater.

Have you been searching for a digital piano?  Did this article help?  What instrument did you buy?  Leave a comment below!