Monthly Archives: January 2014

Modes On The Piano

One of my students is studying for his Grade 4 Rockschool Piano.  As part of the technical exercises required for the exam, he must play two octave scales, hands together, in a variety of keys and modes.

He must learn Ionian (major), Dorian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Aeolian each starting on C, G, F, D and Bb. Phew – and that’s just for starters!!

This post isn’t to discuss the theory behind these modes, nor the theory behind asking a student to master them. This blog post is to share some resources I created to help him learn them.

After much thought, and this will be different for each student, we decided that he needed to learn them by exception.  So for each key, he will learn the major scale and then learn the differences needed to turn that major scale into each of the modes required.

So for example if C major is


then for Lydian we just need to sharpen the 4th to make

C D E F# G A B C

I have created some scale sheets to show how to create each mode from the major (Ionian) starting point. Note I haven’t included the key signatures for each mode as we decided that learning the key signatures was an unnecessary distraction – instead he is just learning the exceptions or accidentals.

Another point of interest is my positioning of the Dorian scale. I deliberately moved that from it’s usual second place, down to the bottom as it has a minor flavour so I felt that, if learning by exception, it was easier to relate it to the Natural Minor (Aeolian) rather than the major.

I hope you find these interesting and useful. I have deliberately omitted any fingering so that the student can define their own. If you are still struggling to master these, or any other scales, then you might be interested in my post on Learning Scales Using Keyboard Shapes.

Modes on C imageModes on GModes on D

Modes on F imageModes on Bb image

Examination Rules: How Many Hours Practice Does it Take?!

A great article from Elissa Milne demonstrating the amount of practice needed for healthy progression through the grades. Notice that she recommends 200 hours practice between the first lesson and Grade 1. So when you ask if your child is ready for Grade 1 yet, just bear this in mind. And remember that the time investment pre-Grade 1 will pay dividends later.

Elissa Milne

One of my ‘rules’ for a while now has been that students need to do at least 100 hours practice to get from one grade to the next. My assertion is that if you managed a B/merit in your last exam then another 100 hours practice will get you to a B in your next exam. If you want to guarantee a B+ you’ll need to do 120 hours, and if you want to guarantee an A/distinction  you will need 140 hours. Of course, if you only manage 75-80 hours practice you should be only just able to manage a C!! But if you achieved an A/distinction result in your previous exam then 100 hours (or not much more) should deliver you an A result in your next exam too.

I was chatting about this with Samantha Coates (Ms BlitzBooks!) and she was sharing anecdotal evidence she’s been gathering…

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