Katelyn Holub

blogging about music, art, and creativity

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So You’re Thinking of Quitting Piano Lessons?

A Letter to my First-Grade Self

Dear First-Grade Katelyn,

I know you’ve been taking piano lessons for a couple years and you are sick of practicing scales day after day. You are tired of constantly being corrected about your hand position, not remembering the dynamics, or forgetting your lifts at the end of phrases. Everything seems too hard and you want to give up, but don’t quit now. Believe me, you’ll regret it if you do.

I know you are frustrated by all the things you have to remember while playing even the stupidest sounding pieces, but soon you will get better and will choose what longer pieces you want to study—and those pieces will be really cool.

Piano Recital

Playing at a Piano Recital

If you want to be logical in your decision whether to quit piano or not, keep in mind that sticking with your piano lessons means . . .

  • You’ll learn how to have better focus and attention to detail after figuring out how to memorize all the fingerings, tempo changes, dynamics, and repeats in a piece
  • You’ll learn how to budget your time by having to find time to practice every day on top of getting your homework done
  • You’ll gain patience realizing that your hard work may not be rewarded right away with getting to play cool songs
  • You’ll have more courage in the future when you are performing or speaking in front of large audiences from having played in all those monthly piano recitals
  • You’ll learn how to take criticism better and not be so sensitive later in life when teachers, bosses, and other people say mean or critical things of you

Besides all those logical reasons for sticking with it, there are plenty of other reasons too. Once you become a better pianist, you will be glad you can sit down and sight-read any piece or compose a cool song.

Playing piano will inspire you, energize you, refresh you, and help you cope with difficult times. Your ability to play piano will be kind of like a superpower for you—there at the ready, should you need it to save your day.

So please, Katelyn, think over what I’ve told you before you decide whether to quit piano lessons. I hope you stick it out and show that piano you are not so easily defeated!


Your Older-Self

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about quitting an instrument?


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Can Musical Expression Be Taught?

It’s battle week on The Voice, and I’ve been excitedly watching pairs of singers duel over one song in order to stay in the competition.  Although I love watching the singers perform, I especially love watching their vocal coaching sessions leading up to the battle.  There is such a big transformation from their first rehearsal to their performance.

At this stage in the competition, everybody on the show has a good voice; it’s just a matter of who can make the most of their voice in the song they are given by their coach.  When Usher was counseling Biff Gore and T.J. Wilkins on singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” he emphasized the importance of conveying the begging, pleading, desperate emotion expressed in the lyrics.  Beyond giving them technical tips, Usher taught Biff and T.J. the importance of musical expression and being able to draw an audience into a performance, which made me realize . . .

What sets the best artists apart from the rest?  Their ability to emote.  You can hit all the right notes, but if you lack expression, people won’t listen. 

*Photo Credit: starmanseries

*Photo Credit: starmanseries, Creative Commons

Some people seem to be naturally expressive, but everyone else must be taught.  And unlike teaching technical skills, it can be really difficult to teach musical expression.

Can musical expression be taught? 

I think so.  And it starts with teaching and developing empathy.  Even if you haven’t experienced a situation first-hand, you can learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—vividly imagine how that person would feel, and get into their character.

*Photo Credit: AndyRobertsPhotos

*Photo Credit: AndyRobertsPhotos, Creative Commons

Once you establish what emotions are trying to be conveyed, there are limitless musical tools that can be used to embody an emotion.  For singers, think about how we intuitively use our speaking voice to convey different emotions—angry shouts, joyful exclamations, and heartfelt soft whispers.  Other expressive tools to think about:

  • Breath support.  Varying the amount of breath support given to a particular line can help convey a certain feeling.  Less support creates a more airy, weaker sound versus a fully-supported confident, powerful sound.
  • Phrase endings.  Should the line trail off or end in loud exclamation-point way
  • Special vocal effects.  You can sprinkle in different kind of tones—like raspy, gritty, vibrato, nasal-voice, chest-voice—for different expressive effects.

Alright, now I want to know: Have you ever had to teach someone musical expression?  What have you learned that’s helped you be more expressive?