Instrument Pack: Piano

Piano Instrument PackThe piano Instrument Pack provides video tutorials and practice MP3s to add instrument-specific guidance to the core musicality training provided at Musical U.

Resident Pro: Sara Campbell

Sara Campbell

Sara Campbell is a rising star in the world of piano teaching, helping to lead the popular Upbeat Piano Teachers community, contributing regularly to Piano Bench Mag, and regularly running workshops as part of her own music studio in Pennsylvania. Trained as both a singer and a pianist Sara brings a deep understanding of how to nurture musicians’ creativity and provide interesting and modern ways to develop the inner skills needed to feel free in music.

Resource Pack Previews

Every month we release a new Resource Pack for piano. Here are previews of the packs so far:

Pack 1: Beginning Improvisation

It can be intimidating to improvise on piano because typically you’re expected to provide both harmony and melody using your two hands. In this month’s Resource Pack our Resident Pro for piano Sara Campbell teaches some simple but effective ways to get started improvising great-sounding arrangements:

Including:

  • The natural minor scale and a simple chord progression you can use with it
  • Exploring rhythmic and chordal patterns
  • How to completely change your sound with different left-hand patterns
  • Tips and tricks for feeling relaxed when exploring improvisation
  • Applying the same techniques in a different key
  • MP3 tracks demonstrating two different rhythms, two different left-hand patterns and an example solo using them.

With the approach that Sara teaches here, you can simply sit down at the keyboard and easily start creating music. Combined with the core listening skills you can learn with Musical U training, you have everything you need to dive deep into improvisation with confidence.

Pack 2: The Major Pentatonic

Building on the easy and accessible approach to piano improvisation taught in the first Resource Pack, Sara shows how the major pentatonic can be a great way to explore easy piano improv. Through a mix of clear finger-pattern exercises and great-sounding improvisation exercises, she shows how you can quickly and easily master this valuable tool.

Including:

  • Major Pentatonic Scale basics: how to figure it out in any key.
  • Two Pentatonic Scale warmup exercises to help you get familiar with all 12 pentatonic scales.
  • A fun boogie-bass improvisation exercise.
  • Various patterns you can use to explore the sound of the pentatonic.
  • A handy tip for knowing when to use the pentatonic to improvise.
  • MP3 practice tracks for the warmups and improvisation exercises.
  • Quick reference sheets for the two warmup exercises showing the scales in all 12 keys.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when considering improvisation on piano or how to master scales across all 12 major and minor keys. Fortunately, Sara knows exactly how to crush that barrier and make learning pentatonic improv fun, easy and effective from the very beginning.

Pack 3: Audiation

As Sara points out in her video, pianists sometimes struggle because their fingers are so far from their ears! Bridging the gap through audiation and singing can help you gain the “instinct” for which notes your fingers should be playing.

Including:

  • Audiation: What is it? How can you do it? And most importantly, how can audiation be useful for pianists?
  • Audiation and singing exercises that you can use to sharpen your skills.
  • Demonstration of specific ways to use your voice while learning to play a song by ear on the piano.
  • Tips, tricks and cool stuff you can do with singing and audiation.
  • MP3 Practice Tracks for singing exercises based on scales and tunes.

From simple scale-based exercises to more advanced song-based practice, Sara explains a step-by-step method to make singing and audiation an easy and natural part of your piano practice and gradually build that inner sense of where the right notes live on the keyboard.

Pack 4: Scale Degree Recognition

To apply scale degree recognition for practical musical purposes you need to get the hang of two things: relating it to your instrument, and actually working out music using scale degrees, note-by-note.

In this Resource Pack Sara tackles both of these, introducing an exercise and variations to help you get the basics of solfa in place, and then valuable tips and tricks for using this to play melodies by ear.

Including:

  • A quick rundown about how scale degrees (solfa or numbers) can be helpful when figuring out a melody by ear
  • A simple chords exercise that will help you hone your solfa ears
  • Two tips that will help you apply your knowledge of solfa to figure out melodies that have tricky leaps or chromatic alterations
  • MP3 Practice Tracks for the chord solfa warmup exercises

Pack 5: I-IV-V Chord Progressions

In this pack Sara explores some creative ways to improvise accompaniments for three-chord songs and made it easy to find the I, IV and V chords in any key.

Including:

  • The I-IV-V Progression Trick: An easy way to figure out the I-IV-V progression in any key by using the finger numbers in your RH
  • Tips and tricks for I-IV-V progressions
  • Four different accompaniment patterns of varying difficulties. These can be really useful when you’re learning I-IV-V in an unfamiliar key!
  • MP3 Practice Tracks providing the left-hand part for two different progressions in two different keys, leaving you free to experiment with different right-hand patterns.

Pack 6: Rhythmic Precision

In this pack Sara approaches rhythmic precision from the question of “what trips piano players up, when it comes to rhythm?” and she answers it with practical tips, exercises, and tech resources to help you improve

Including:

  • The most common rhythmic pitfalls for pianists
  • Tips for keeping good rhythm when playing in a group
  • Useful left-hand patterns that can help you keep the beat
  • Recommended apps that can help you gain rhythmic precision.
  • MP3 tracks for practicing left-hand patterns as well as your ability to “count through the rests”

The exercises and ideas Sara shares can be applied no matter what music you’re working on, and provide a variety of great ways to work on your rhythmic precision on an ongoing basis as you learn piano.

Pack 7: The Power of Dynamics

In this pack, Sara approaches the topic of dynamics in terms of storytelling and what a musician can accomplish musically through effective use of dynamics, and she shares exercises you can use to develop your skill with both the core techniques and the musical application of dynamics.

Including:

  • Dynamic Overview: A quick run-down of Italian dynamic signs and terms that you may come across in sheet music.
  • Storytelling with Dynamics: What we can learn from acting and script analysis when it comes to dynamics, and how we can apply these concepts to enhance our own storytelling abilities at the piano.
  • Messa di voce: A simple dynamic exercise based on a term that comes from the Italian school of singing.
  • MP3 Practice tracks demonstrating and providing backing for the dynamic exercises covered.

Although any pianist can and should learn to accurately reproduce the intended dynamic levels in a piece, from pianissimo to fortissimo and beyond, you’ll take your playing to another level of musicality when you learn to really use dynamics in your own way to bring the music to life.

Pack 8: Improvising with Chord Tones

In this resource pack, Resident Pro Sara Campbell looks at one of the most useful (but sometimes tricky) methods: improvising with chord tones:

Including:

  • Triad Basics: How to find the correct chord tones using chord symbols.
  • Seventh Chords: Taking chord improv a step further with a variety of seventh chords.
  • More tips, tricks, and cool stuff to simplify the process of playing with chord tones.
  • MP3 backing tracks and guided exercises.

Not sure why you should learn how to improvise with chord tones? Take a look at the sheet music of some of your favorite songs. (A version with chord symbols above the piano part would be best!) You’ll see that the majority of notes in the melody can also be found within the chord structure. If you want your improvised melody to sound as natural as the original, improvising with chord tones is your ticket!

Pack 9: Syncopation

In the piano pack, Resident Pro Sara Campbell introduces an improvisational approach to amp up your syncopation skills in rhythmic and melodic playing:

Including:

  • What Exactly is Syncopation? A terminology rundown and discussion about a couple types of syncopation.
  • Syncopation Exercises: three exercises in a variety of keys and styles.
  • Tips for Learning Syncopation: If you get frustrated with counting or deciphering scores, these tips will really help.
  • Clear Notation: Composers and transcribers, this is for you!
  • Play-along MP3 backing tracks to sharpen your syncopation skills.

Enjoy your rhythmic learning as you create while you syncopate (with the added bonus of working through your fluency in all keys).

Pack 10: Swing Rhythm

Resident Pro Sara Campbell breaks down the mysterious “feel” of swing with simple mathematical concepts – until this rhythmic style becomes more clear and accessible. She also clears up many sight-reading issues that pianists typically encounter when reading music in swing rhythm, especially regarding pick-up notes, sixteenths and other rhythmic complexities:

Including:

  • What Exactly is Swing Rhythm? How to feel (and count!) swinging 8th notes.
  • Counting Complex Rhythms: What to do with triplets, single 8th notes, and 16th notes.
  • Swing Rhythm Exercises:  three exercises to help you with common swing rhythms.
  • Playalong MP3 backing tracks to sharpen your syncopation skills

Banish the fear of the “Swing Feel” marking on your sheet music, and bring your piano playing to life with Sara’s swinging Resource Pack.

Pack 11: Improvising with Phrasing and Form

Resident Pro Sara Campbell loves songs. In this resource pack, Sara shows you how you can deploy the standard structure of popular songs to literally improvise a new song on the spot. Also, how improvisation can be used as a compositional tool within song form to create new and lasting piano instrumentals with shape, depth, and meaning.

Including:

  • Song Form and Structure: How using song form can assist you in telling a story.
  • How to expand your melodic ideas through phrasing, structure, and sequences.
  • Improvisation Exercise: A chord chart and piano chart that will help you develop different melodies for various parts of a song.
  • Playalong MP3 backing tracks with a beautiful song-form chord progression in two different keys – over which you improvise your own melodies.

Rather than just improvising a solo on someone else’s song, improvise the entire song yourself! And, in the process, learn how to shape your musical expression with form.

Get the Piano Instrument Pack

Instrument Packs are available for purchase within Musical U as an upgrade to your member account.

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