Thursday, September 30, 2010

Learning With Yamaha: Part One

Welcome to the first installment of "Learning With Yamaha". In this series of articles, you can follow along with our interns as they work on learning more about music and improving their keyboard skills with Yamaha keyboards and Online Services. First, Aaron takes us through his experience with "Passport to Music" on the CVP-509.

I will begin by saying that I am not an amazingly gifted keyboard player by any means. My area of expertise is percussion, and even though I took piano as a child, I have not seriously played a keyboard in years—my last performance being a recital as a 10 year-old. In that regard, I feel that my under-qualifications make me perfectly qualified to discuss the ways in which you can "Learn with Yamaha" on the Clavinova CVP-509.

To start out learning to play the Clavinova, I turned to "Passport to Music". Available through Internet Direct Connection, "Passport to Music" is a series of downloadable lessons that are designed to give you the skills to make comprehensible music in just a few short sessions. I found the service to be intuitively easy to use. The instructions on the display are easy to read, and they guided me to all of the lessons that I wanted to check out with just the press of a button.

The lessons in "Passport to Music" cover basic aspects of playing such as posture, breathing, technique, reading music, and improvisation. Lessons are organized into "classes" and then split into chapters. In each chapter there are short exercises, playing tips, and songs to play. The first lesson, called "Meeting the Keyboard," is FREE, and offers enough information to keep a beginner busy for an afternoon. The lesson discusses elementary principles such as posture, keyboard layout, and basic finger technique. I found the lesson to be quite easy for me, and I breezed through it in no time. It reminded me of the very first lesson I took as a child, not knowing anything about the instrument. I feel that this lesson is perfect for any student that is freshly beginning on the keyboard. And at the end of this lesson, you're already playing music!

Supported by a programmed accompaniment, you're given visual cues from the display that tell you which notes to play, since in this lesson you are not yet taught how to read music notation. It was a little tricky for me at first, because I'm so familiar with reading sheet music; but eventually I got the hang of it, and it was fun. The lessons get progressively more difficult from here, making them also beneficial, in my opinion, to students of the instrument who are slightly more advanced.

The second lesson is called "Reading the Notes," and it starts to help you recognize the correlation between the notes on a staff in sheet music and the keys on the keyboard. I found that this lesson is appropriately more difficult than the first with the introduction of the left hand to the keyboard. When playing along with the sheet music on the screen, there is a bouncing ball that will guide you through it. It was really easy to follow and brought back memories of watching old sing-along movies as a young child. Because I played a couple of wrong notes the first time through, I used the "Go Back" feature to replay that section of the lesson, and got it right the second time around. With this feature, you can review parts of a lesson as many times as you want to. Having the ability to replay sections is hugely beneficial in my opinion, and encourages the student to get it right before moving on to the next lesson.

The third lesson, "Exploring the Keyboard," introduces the myriad possibilities that exist when using a Yamaha keyboard. In this chapter, you start to learn how to use the dozens of various musical styles that have been programmed into the Clavinova. You see how the styles can be manipulated by changing tempo, and incorporating intros, drum fills, and endings. At first I was overwhelmed by the number of buttons on the Clavinova, but this lesson will show you how to use every section of the keyboard. In my experience as a musician, I have found that many times in sheet music there will be chord symbols written over the melody, and the performer will have to know the exact notes in order for the music to sound good. In this lesson, chord symbols are also explained and you learn how to play along with them using the "auto-accompaniment" feature. Using the auto-accompaniment feature, you can play complete chords by pressing only one key on the keyboard with the left hand. This makes it easy to play and hear chords that harmonize with the songs and exercises you had been working on previously.

As the lessons go on, you'll learn about scales, legato and staccato playing styles, how to read music in the bass clef, advanced rhythmic concepts, and sight reading.

For only $9.99 the student can have unlimited access for three months to all of the lessons! This is an amazing bargain, considering that you're able to access any of the lessons at any time. If you're a beginner to intermediate level player, these lessons can be a valuable tool to help make you a better musician.

Over the next few months, Aaron and our other interns will continue to learn and advance in their studies using Yamaha keyboards and Online Services. Check back, and follow along with their progress - you might learn something!

- Aaron