Classics for Students: Bach, Mozart & Beethoven

By Jane Magrath

Book-1-CoverThe Bach, Mozart & Beethoven books in three progressive levels make up the first volumes in the new Classics for Students series.  They are designed to encourage students to bring new life to the music, as well as to provide core literature by the most important Baroque and Classical masters in one book. The selections are at the center of the standard repertoire at these levels, and the book format provides aids to help connect students with the composer.  Each volume includes spacious editions of the pieces, inviting composer biographies, and study guides that focus on three key teaching points for each piece.

Mozart-bio-1The Composer Biographies are divided into two parts. For example, the first section of the biography for Mozart in Book 1 provides a basic overview of his life and works.  In the second section, his life as a Child Prodigy and the difficulties related to this are discussed. This section explores how Leopold Mozart booked engagements haphazardly for Wolfgang.  He relied on word of mouth for concert promotion. Once, when the family was temporarily stranded in London, the children performed in a tavern to earn enough money to continue travelling.

Mozart-bio-2In Book 2 the same core overview of Mozart’s life is provided in the first half while the second section goes into detail about the Dueling Pianofortes in Mozart’s competition with Clementi. The discussion reviews the various stages of the contest, what they played, and how Mozart and Clementi were asked to sight-read and improvise in the competition.


The About the Music section provides three key points for students to consider when studying each piece.  For example, for the Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 15oo in Book 1, the key points provide a concise and clear introduction to the piece.About-the-music

Students should play the melody with a light sound and slight emphaMinuet-F-Major-15oosis on first beat of each measure.  I often ask students to circle the two-note slurs throughout (11 in this one-page piece).  Writing in small diminuendo signs beneath each slur reminds the student to taper the slurs. Students can also locate the upbeats that seem to pull over the bar line toward downbeats of the next measure.  In these examples (marked with arrows), two eighth notes pull to the quarter note on beat one, helping to bring the music to life.

Bach-Polonaise-in-G-Minor-BWV-125With the Polonaise in G Minor, BWV 125 from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena in Book 2, students may want to listen to a recording and then divide it into practice sections. I have marked suggested practice sections with brackets. I like to help students discover the surprises (sudden stops on quarter notes) at the ends of the main motives (two sixteenth notes and an eighth note). These unpredictable surprise endings appear at the end of the declamatory gesture each time it appears (mm. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 21, 22). For variety, I usually suggest that the sections beginning at measure 13 and measure 17 be played lighter.

Mozart-Viennese-Sonatina-No-1Some of Mozart’s most attractive writing for students appears in the Viennese Sonatinas that were originally composed as Wind Divertimenti, K. 439b for two bass horns and bassoon. They have become standards in the piano repertoire in these arranged versions.  Pianists can imagine the different sections of the orchestra playing different phrases, alternating in dialogue.  This can expand students’ abilities to “orchestrate” at the keyboard by studying the varying textures (thick and thin) within the examples.  The performer also learns to work with thick versus thin textures in voicing and inflecting the phrases. Both Books 2 and 3 contain a Viennese Sonatina.

A Suggested Order of Study is included in each book as a guideline for teachers. While most students will not study every piece in every book, these guides can aid teachers with repertoire selection. The Suggested Order of Study for each of the three volumes is included below.

Book 1:
Wynn-Anne Rossi





Book 2:
Book 2





Book 3:
Book 3





I hope teachers will enjoy working with students on these pieces and that the information in the books with help student find fresh and creative ways to bring them alive.

Pick Your Side in the Star Wars® Saga

Pam Phillips
It’s coming and the excitement is building. The epic Star Wars story has proven to intrigue all generations. Alfred Music has many settings of this great music that are performed many times every year. In honor of the new movie, a new arrangement titled “Star Wars Heroes” (string orchestra, grade 2½) will be released in January. However, if you are looking for something to work on after the holiday concert/recital, when everyone is a bit excited about the upcoming vacation, try out the classic Star Wars arrangements listed here for everyone from soloists to full orchestra.

There are play-along books perfect for private lesson fun or gifts!

Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III Instrumental Solos for Strings

Star Wars Instrumental Solos (Movies I-VI) for Strings
Classic Movie Instrumental Solos for Strings

For young players, the books titled Pop Showcase for Strings include a very easy setting of “Star Wars (Main Theme)” set for flexible instrumentation for solos players, small ensembles, and string orchestra.

And, last but not least, check out these arrangements.
Star Wars Main Theme—Full orchestra, Grade 3½
Star Wars Main Theme—String orchestra, Grade 2½
Battle of the Heroes—Playable by strings alone or any combination up to full orchestra, Grade 2½
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part I—Full orchestra, Grade 4
Suite from the Star Wars Epic Part II—Full orchestra, Grade 4

Good luck this season, and may the force be with you!

Pam Phillips
Managing Editor, Suzuki Acquisitions and Strings Editor
Alfred Music

Five Ways for Guitarists to Develop Their Ear

By Jared MeekerMeeker

Playing music can often be related to the visual elements: stage lights, clothing and appearances, visual shapes of patterns on the guitar up and down the neck and reading guitar tablature and notation. However, any great guitarist and musician will tell you that it all comes down to having a well-trained ear. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet Robert Montgomery, Wes Montgomery’s son, who told me stories about how his dad didn’t read music and would learn extremely complex songs and note-for-note solos by ear. This kind of listening led him to understand the highest level of jazz harmony by relying on his hearing and formulating his own vocabulary. It can be said for many great studio guitarists that they can hear melodies, chord progressions and forms and play them back instantly. How can a guitarist progress and practice developing their ear?

1) Sing what you play. One of the most important techniques is to allow notes to vibrate through you by singing them. If you are new to this, play a note on your guitar and then sing it back. Was it the exact note in the same register, or was it sharp or flat? Try to match precisely and, as you improve, eventually you can improvise anything on the guitar and match it with your voice. Often you can hear guitar greats doing this where they solo and sing with it. Once you have that mastered, try to harmonize with yourself—playing a scale on guitar and harmonizing it with your voice (for example, singing a third above).

2) Listen to the individual elements. When some people listen to music, it is just part of the background—they listen to the singer’s words and melody but the accompanying instruments are in the distance. There is so much more going on. First of all, there are five elements of music to be aware of: melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and form. When you listen to music, be acutely aware of how these elements are used and combined. How is the melody shaped and contoured? What are the chord relationships and how do they evolve through time? What kinds of rhythms are being used by every instrument and do they contrast in different sections of the song? What is the timbre or quality of each instrument, the effects, natural tone and range and equalization that were used in the production? What is the form of the song from the beginning to the end and how many sections were there?

3) Practice ear-training exercises. Ear training exercises are essential for the developing musician. There are some great websites that feature a variety of theory related lessons and ear training interactive players. You should test yourself on the following topics: note intervals, chord qualities, rhythm dictation and melody dictation. Let’s talk about each independently.

• Interval ear training will help you hear and recognize the distances between notes, typically all 12 notes and their multiple spellings. This is particularly helpful when figuring out melodies. At a gig or studio session when an artist or producer plays a melody you need to be able to pick it up immediately without fumble.
• Chord qualities are hearing a type of chord, (typically four triads types and about 7 seventh chord types, built from any root). You should be able to identify the chord the first time, but in the beginning you may need to hear it several times or each note of the chord played separately.
• For rhythmic dictation you will probably have to do yourself if you have a way to record yourself. Record yourself clapping out a few rhythms—start slow with just one measure, but for more advanced training, do several measures—then write out the rhythm on a sheet of paper.
• Finally, for melodic dictation do the same thing, record notes in time and then listen back and write out your melody. Start with only a few notes in a short phrase but, after you improve on transcribing, try longer phrases of four measures or more.

4) Reading music that you’re not familiar with. This is just how it sounds: practice reading and understanding the notes on a page and how they turn into sound. Similarly to the previous lessons, it will get easier the more that you do it. Eventually all the musicality that we’ve talked about will come together and you will see the notes, intervals, and chords on the page and know how they sound before you play them.

5) Transcribing note-for-note. Everyone has his or her favorite players and musicians. If you’d like to like to learn from them the best way is to play along. Often you can write down the notes, chords and rhythms to understand them better, but listening, learning and playing along is good enough. Be careful to notice all the inflections, bends and ornaments. There may be great transcriptions and charts out there already but although it may take longer, and figuring it out on your own will ma ke you internalize it more.

Think about great musicians with an incredible musical memory like Wes Montgomery, who had all the melodies and chords of a night stored in his mind, or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who could hear a full symphony and go home and write down what he heard. That musical memory is related to ear training and identifying in a deeper way how you process sound. Good luck, and happy listening.

For products by and featuring Jared Meeker, click  here.

Merry Christmas with Medleys for Two!

By Wynn-Anne Rossi

Wynn-Anne RossiWhat is a medley? A medley is a mixture. In the three books of Christmas Medleys for Two, the medleys mix two favorite Christmas pieces for piano duet. Writing medleys is fun because they offer open-ended possibilities for endless creativity. In my first holiday music project, I arranged three solo books of medleys titled Christmas Medleys for Students. Christmas Medleys for Two is a follow-up to these solo books.

Why teach duets of Christmas medleys? Performance with a partner is always challenging but twice the fun. These Christmas medleys are a little longer than most Christmas solos. Consequently, these duets offer more breadth of interpretation, and students feel quite accomplished when they play a piece that is a little longer than a short two-page solo. And, this does not have to be difficult! I usually assign holiday music that is a little below the students’ normal performance levels, knowing that they have a limited season of practice. I also offer additional opportunities for performance, encouraging family concerts, nursing home visits, and group gatherings of all kinds.

I discovered lots of choices when arranging these holiday duets as medleys. In some cases, I chose two similar carols and joined them with a bridge, making them feel like one piece. Imagine the festive nature of “Deck the Halls” coupled with “O Christmas Tree” (Book 1). In other selections, I chose two completely different styles to surprise both the performer and the audience. For example, in Book 2, I paired “Silent Night” with “Jingle Bells” to create a refreshing surprise!

My third choice was to create a “mash-up,” blending two carols together in creative ways. One interesting example is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with “O Holy Night” in Book 3. The structure of the score is highlighted in the music example accompanying this article. In the spirit of the season, I have marked the two carols in holiday colors. “O Holy Night” entrances are marked in green, and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” entrances are marked in red.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring/O Holy NightBoth the primo and the secondo parts start with red arrows, meaning this arrangement begins with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Notice the up/down interval pattern in measure three of the primo. The first entrance of the “O Holy Night” (green arrow) is in measure 10. In measure 11, a similar up/down interval pattern to the one found in measure three appears in the primo. This up/down pattern is a bonding feature that both carols have in common.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring/O Holy NightMeasures 10–27 feature “O Holy Night” with motives from “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” appearing in the secondo. At measure 28, the two carols begin to speak as one. The primo features “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” while the secondo clearly focuses on “O Holy Night.” However, motives from both pieces appear in each part. Notice the eighth-note follow-through in measures 38–39 and 42–43 of the secondo. At measure 44 of the secondo, the up/down interval pattern reappears. Finally, there is a lovely echo of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in measures 59–61 of the primo. These two beautiful compositions could not have been more compatible and fulfilling to transform into a medley.

I wish you and your students a fabulous musical adventure as you enter the holiday season. May these Christmas Medleys for Two bring added enjoyment to lessons and performances.

Teacher New Year’s Resolution

Chris M. Bernotas

Happy New Year! What an exciting day of the year January 1st is! Everything is new again. We have a new outlook on life and we set new personal goals in an effort to better ourselves. We look at the prior year, consider the highs and lows and try to address anything we would like to improve upon. So why am I talking about New Year’s now? As a teacher we celebrate New Year’s twice a year. The start of school (August or September) is our New Year! At home, we have our resolutions—you know, I am going to lose weight, go to the gym, eat healthier! Sadly, those usually last about a month—okay, a week—then it is back to buffalo wings and professional couch sitting. As teachers in school we have an opportunity to look at our previous school year and wipe the slate clean with a fresh start. Each new school year we have the opportunity to hit the “reset” button. How exciting is that? It is a part of the profession that I just love, and by approaching each year as a new opportunity for personal and professional growth—and sticking to your resolutions—you can avoid the dreaded burnout.

That doesn’t mean that your prior year has to have been a disaster to take the New Year’s Resolution approach. By reflecting on even the most successful year you will find that there are areas that could have been better in some way. Maybe the collection of uniforms could have been more streamlined or maybe your attendance taking skills could use a little brush up. Or maybe there are specific concepts that you would like to focus on with your students. The exciting aspect I find is that there is never a lack of ideas on how we can improve the classroom experience for both our students and ourselves. I would like to share three of my own personal improvement goals, or School Year’s Resolutions with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to think of your own. I am excited for this school year, my 25th as a teacher, and I wish you all the best in your year!

  1. Play more, talk less. This simple phrase is so important. Everything I have to say is so incredibly important! I am sure this is true for you as well. We have all the answers and want to share those answers with our students. Many times the best education happens when you say nothing at all. Students discover the answers as we guide them. The play more, talk less approach keeps that concept in mind. It is also a wonderful tool to help with classroom management. When students are actively engaged (or have an instrument on their face) they will be less likely to talk to their neighbor!
  2. Don’t Say It. Do you ever yell over the ensemble? “BASSOONS! YOU ARE TOO LOUD!” Ok, you’ve never said that one. How about this, “TRUMPETS TOO LOUD, TROMBONES ARTICULATE, PERCUSSION WATCH ME!!!” Me too. It is so easy to just tell them with our voice, and it works in the short term. However when we do this, we are taking away from our ultimate goal of communication from the podium. We want our students to watch us to understand our interpretation, but if we yell instruction at them, why would they watch? So, my goal here is to not talk (or sing) over the ensemble as they are rehearsing.
  3. K.I.S.S. We love analogies. I know I do. They are so effective when trying to get kids to understand concepts. When a student gets a concept through an analogy it is like a beautiful ray of sunshine beaming through the darkest of clouds. (See what I did there?) I would never say to not use a wonderful analogy or share a great pun—just be sure to not overuse them. Many times we just need to keep it simple. Give a short direction with simple and direct instruction. How about saying, “Alto saxes, there is a wrong note on beat 2 of measure 5,” instead of, “Alto saxes, there is a criminal lurking in the shadows of measure 5. You need to swoop upon it to eradicate the musical world of this eternal evil.” Use your analogies, I used one this morning and it really connected with my students, but also keep it simple.

I wish you all a Happy New School Year and hope it is your best yet! If you have a resolution to share, please send me a note ( and perhaps I will compile them and share them in the future. Until then—be active, maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet!

By Chris M. Bernotas
Alfred Music Composer & Sound Innovations Author

A Creative Christmas

By Robert D. Vandall

Robert D. VandallTo celebrate the Christmas season, I love colorfully orchestrated arrangements of familiar carols and songs. My new three-book series of holiday music, titled Christmas Extravaganza, contains my imaginings of familiar seasonal pieces. I wanted the pieces in Christmas Extravaganza to have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy. In each arrangement, I strived to use both fresh and familiar harmonies, unique melodic treatments, and interesting rhythms. At the same time, my goal was to keep the technique required to play each piece within limited boundaries to ensure students’ success.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 1“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is from Book 1. The tempo is a very quick ¾ meter and the student should play beat one slightly stronger than beats two and three so that there is a gentle, dance-like lilt in each measure. Notice that the left hand uses only two chords for measures 1–14 (F and F sus 4). This allows students to concentrate fully on the dancelike articulation of the right-hand melody.
Measures 32–42 are exactly like measures 5–15. After practicing these measures, students should move to measures 54–61 to focus on like phrases. In these measures the melody is played in the bass register with the right hand crossing over the left hand. The rests in measures 19, 23, 27, 31, 42, and 53 allow time for the right hand to move to the beginning of the melody in the different registers.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 2To create interest, I like to develop motifs from the melody. Measures 16–31 develops the first melodic motif, moving through the keys of D minor and F minor. The left-hand harmonies are the minor i and major IV chords in those two keys. The right hand plays the motif above the left-hand chords and then crosses over the left hand for the next motif. This happens both in D minor and F minor.
Beginning in measure 43, the second part of the melody enters in the right hand accompanied by 5ths in the left hand (measures 43–49). In measures 47–49 the right hand also plays 5ths. When combined with the left-hand 5ths, seventh chords are created. The molto riten. in measure 49 creates a dramatic tempo contrast before the return to a tempo in measure 50.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas, pg. 3The coda (ending) of the carol uses the melodic motif found in measures 60–61. In these measures, the right hand plays the motif below the left-hand chords in the low register. It plays the same motive above the left hand in measures 62–63. The right hand then moves up an octave to play the same motif with a quarter rest between the D, G, and E. One expects to hear the final melodic F on beat one of measure 66, but there is a whole measure of rest before playing the final F on beat one of measure 67. The surprise is even more striking because the p mark in measure 64 is followed by the sudden f of measure 67.

Many elements combine to create surprises for the audience when listening to this arrangement. Among them are many hand crossings, dynamic changes from motif to motif, key changes, dance-like articulations contrasted with legato phrases, changes of tempos, rests and accents. I hope that you and your students will enjoy exploring the compositional devices used in the other arrangements in Christmas Extravaganza. (See the list of titles below for all three books.) Merry Christmas!

Book 1
Angels We Have Heard on High
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Good King Wenceslas
The Holly and the Ivy
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent Night
We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Book 2
Away in a Manger
Deck the Halls
Jingle Bells
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (Theme and Variations)
Joy to the World (Improvisation)
O Come, Little Children
Ukrainian Bell Carol
We Three Kings of Orient Are

Book 3
Ding, Dong! Merrily On High
The First Noel
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
O Christmas Tree
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

Latin Philharmonic

Victor Lopez

Providing all students with multiple music opportunities has always been a priority at Alfred Music, and the latest publication for strings certainly supports that intention. Co-writers of Latin Philharmonic,, Victor López and Bob Phillips, present with a new concept that is original, comprehensive, flexible, practical, and intended for classroom or studio instruction, as well as performance. Read on to learn more about teaching cha-cha-cha and how to rehearse Latin rhythms!

Latin Philharmonic is a collection of original Latin dance tunes for strings and rhythm section. All pieces are written in the “Philharmonic” format that features flexible instrumentation. This format allows string students to switch between playing the melody, accompaniment/bass line, solos, and the included Latin percussion parts. Each piece has a complete audio track and an accompaniment track for performance or practice. Today, one can hear the influence of Latin music on the radio, commercials, television, movie soundtracks, and other mediums. The titles presented in this publication will provide students the musical experience necessary for understanding the several different Latin styles that have influenced today’s music.

For this article, I have chosen to discuss “Muchacha Cha” from the book and highlight the crucial rhythmic patterns of the piece. The clave rhythm pattern provides the foundation for the Latin music style. This selection is written in a cha-cha-cha style, one of the most popular Latin music styles. It is a medium slow Cuban dance and the pulse is based on quarter notes. Most people are familiar with this pattern. One song that comes to mind, written by Tito Puente and made famous by Jorge Santana, is “Oye Como Va.” In Puente’s original recording, one can hear the basic rhythmic characteristics of the cha-cha-cha style, which basically are the quarter note pulse, the rhythm played by the pianist, and the clave pattern (2/3 Son clave).

There are two major types of clave rhythms in Afro-Cuban music, the son clave and the rumba clave. Usually, the son clave is associated with dance styles, while the rumba clave is associated with folkloric rhythms. The clave rhythm is a two-measure pattern with three notes in one measure and two notes in the other measure. Therefore, one may start the pattern as a 3/2 (forward clave) or 2/3 (reverse clave.) The melody is the determining factor as to which clave pattern is played. “Muchacha Cha” has a 2/3 Son clave pattern and, as is customary, basically continues the same way from beginning to end. However, in many contemporary compositions, we find that composers/arrangers have interchanged the patterns within the same composition.

The following example shows the basic 3/2 and 2/3 Son two-measure patterns:

Basic Clave Pattern

This clave concept is the same throughout all of the other titles in Latin Philharmonic. All parts in the rhythm section should be practiced individually before putting it all together. Start with the hand percussion instruments first, then, add the other instruments one at a time. Aim for a cohesive interrelated sound in the section. The conga drum part will be the most challenging as it requires basic hand position and techniques. Practicing slowly is key to developing the correct hand technique. Should a student not be ready to play the written pattern, then, have the student play the open tones (black head notes) only. The students who play the hand percussion instruments could do a little research on the instrument they play. There are many good videos on YouTube that will show exactly the correct playing position and sound for each instrument. The complete audio track and accompaniment track included on the CD will be most helpful. It is ideal to use authentic percussion instruments. The drumset part is made available for support only although recently many Latin bands are using drumset also. This same process can be employed when learning the other tunes in the book.

The last step is to add the strings to the rhythm section. Use the same strategies to teach the rhythm patterns to the strings, particularly in the bass and accompaniment parts.

Here’s how to use the book:
Each piece in Latin Philharmonic repeats four times and includes the following parts: melody, accompaniment, bass, solo 1, solo 2, piano, guitar, hand percussion 1–4, and drumset (Optional). Each part can be assigned to different groups of players or soloists. The first and last time through, all parts except the solos should be played. The second and third time through, the solos are played by an individual or group while the rest of the ensemble plays the accompaniment or bass, as appropriate. String students can play the hand percussion or a drumset player can use the optional drumset part in the rhythm book. There are two tracks for each piece on the CD. The first track is a complete track, and the second track is an accompaniment track to be used in rehearsal or performance in place of the rhythm section.

Ultimately, as an added value, Latin Philharmonic is a bilingual publication written in English and Spanish, which provide the classroom and studio teacher another valuable tool for effective teaching of non-English speaking students.

Victor López

Reading Music in Your Comfort Zone

00-42546By Tom Dempsey

As guitarists, for better or worse, we tend to approach the instrument from a visual and/or tactile perspective. We are first introduced to fingerings, grips, diagrams, and other references that we tend to internalize from either one or a combination of these perspectives. As a matter of entry to the instrument this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is in how we approach it as students, and eventually as teachers that allows us to harness the true power of this perspective.

When students first learn how to read music on the guitar there is a tendency to be disconnected from previous knowledge acquired on the instrument. A more effective way to approach reading on the guitar is to connect to prior knowledge or skills acquired. Consider this fingering of the F major scale:


As students practice learning this scale they should also practice reading the scale. This will help to connect the eyes, brain and fingers together so that when you see that first note you will know that it is an F played on the first fret of the 6th string. In doing so students will soon be able to connect something that is familiar, a scale fingering, with something that might be less familiar like reading music. Through making this connection reading music starts to be come a more comfortable experience.

Once a student begins to feel a connection with the scale fingering of the major scale and the notes on the staff, consider presenting a melody found in the “Guitar 101” Book 2:

Guitar 101 Melody

When doing so a connection should be made to the previous F major scale fingering. This allows us to access a certain comfort zone and connect to prior knowledge. Through these types of connections we are able to feel more comfortable and confident reading music on the guitar. Once we start to move up the neck of the guitar learning additional fingerings for our F major scale we can begin to connect to those respective fingerings. In doing so we are now starting to read all over the neck of the guitar. This allows us to have a new level of freedom throughout the entire fret board.

Whether you are trying to look for new strategies to read music or you are searching for new methods to utilize when teaching students to read music consider the following:

1. Make connections to prior knowledge and skills
2. Practice scales while reading the music in an effort to create familiarity through these connections
3. Present reading examples of simple diatonic melodies
4. Connect those melodies to scale fingerings
5. Connect melodies to additional scale fingerings up the neck

When these types of methods are put in place reading music begins to become a less complicated experience. Through connecting to prior knowledge you will begin to read music in your comfort zone.

Tom Dempsey is a New York based jazz guitar performer, recording artist, and educator. He is the author of four books for Alfred Music and the co-author of both volumes of the new Guitar 101 series. Currently Tom is an Associate Professor of Music at LaGuardia Community College as well as an instructor at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Jazz Ensemble: The 80 percent rule.

Pete BarenBregge

A jazz ensemble should always try to find its energy output “sweet spot.” What does this mean?
The sweet spot is all about playing with efficiency, and how much output or power the band can deliver. When the band can play with dynamics, have a core sound that is focused, deliver blend and balance, hear each other, and ultimately produce a cohesive and full sound as an ensemble—then you have found the sweet spot.

Often, if the band sees a fortissimo dynamic marking, that means they will play as loud as possible, at 100 percent. When that happens, that means every player is maxed out—with no room left for any nuances. In other words, you have nowhere to grow energy-wise, and that’s all you have to offer—you’re done! Instead, when the band plays, they should play at 80 percent. If they play unified attacks and releases, listen to each other, and play together as a unit, they will hardly ever exceed an output level of 80 percent of their potential. Let me be clear, this does not mean playing softer or with less intensity—you can still give 100 percent musically! This also doesn’t mean that the band should never play past the 80 percent level. There will be times when the band exceeds the 80 percent target. If the band is playing together and listening to their section and the ensemble, then every indicated dynamic and nuance and the overall band sound will be totally effective—all with the desired intensity.

Beyond the fact that when players exceed 80 percent output there is no room for nuances, the ensemble sound will be “spread.” This applies to every instrument, including the rhythm section. For example; if the rhythm players are playing too loud / too much, it will sound cluttered and the groove will typically be smothered, which means there is no space. The groove, no matter what the style is, needs some space to breathe. The saxes will be over blowing which will produce intonation problems, a distorted and poor tone, and the players will tire easily. The brass will also have intonation issues, the sound of the horn will be exaggerated, distorted with a wide sound with no center core, and players will definitely tire easily. Combine all that and the ensemble sound is “spread.” We’ve all heard bands do this and it’s not a good sound. Rhythm players will tire easily and wind players may feel tightness in their throat, hurt their ears, and more. It’s like putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time—not practical and not good.

Simply put, avoid over blowing the music. Yes, it’s loud but the sound will not carry to the back of the room because it is so spread. The goal is to back off a bit, get the same intensity, play together as one but with a solid and efficient tone that will project. The band will have more endurance, be able to execute dynamics and nuances, hear soloists, hear each other, and still be able to deliver 100 percent of the music with efficiency.

Let’s call the 80 percent concept “efficient playing.” An efficient band can deliver all the intensity it can muster and rarely exceed 80 percent. This includes all the dynamics—from fff to ppp, and any physical movements as well. The soloists will be heard, the background behind soloists will be just that, background. The rhythm section players will hear each other: the saxes and brass players will hear each other and play with better intonation. The audience will hear the nuances and dynamics, and not be overwhelmed with sheer volume. Everyone wins!

It all boils down to this: back off a notch and save some juice for that special moment. You’ll need to remind your band frequently about this efficient and more effective concept (and maybe remind certain individual players a little more often).

Enjoy the jazz!

Pete BarenBregge

Instrumental Jazz Editor

Premier Piano Course and Piano Maestro: The Perfect Combination

By Linda Christensen, JoyTunes Director of Education

A little over a year ago, Alfred Music began a collaboration with JoyTunes by including one lesson book from the Premier Piano Course inside the Piano Maestro app. Since that time, Alfred Music has become a strategic partner with Piano Maestro, adding numerous additional publications. Click here to see a full list of the Alfred Music publications available in Piano Maestro.

First, it helps to understand the organization of Piano Maestro. When you first register for Piano Maestro as a teacher, you can add all of your students by lesson day. When you open the app after that, your students for that day are listed on the first screen. You can simply choose the appropriate student and begin!

It is easy to explore on your own. Simply choose “start a lesson with any student,” see your name at the top, and choose “Explore.” Doing this allows you to use the app in the same way as the student and explore the available material.

The next screen shows the available material:

Journey mode is Piano Maestro’s built-in curriculum, based on Middle C. It is the “game” part of Piano Maestro, where the student must achieve enough stars to get to the next chapter. This is a good place to begin your exploration of the app and learn to how the game works.

This article will focus on the Library option, in the middle of the screen. This is where you will find the Alfred Music material by choosing “Library,” and then “Methods.”

But, how does one incorporate the Alfred Music and Journey material into lessons? Here is an example of how to use a Premier Piano Course Lesson Book, the online material from Premier Piano Course, and the Journey feature of Piano Maestro together. To help with this, JoyTunes has a great resource that correlates all of the Journey material with the Premier lesson books by concept. You can find that PDF here.

If you are on Premier Piano Course Lesson Book 2A, page 20, you first would need to introduce the concept of eighth notes. To support your efforts, you and the student could watch the free Premier Online Assistant instructional video with your student:

Next, introduce “Qwerty,” the piece on page 21 that uses eighth notes. You could introduce it with the book or take a different approach and learn it in Piano Maestro! After going to the methods section and finding Premier Piano Course, Lesson Book 2A, you can move the arrow over to the screen that includes page 21, “Qwerty,” and select the song.

When you select “Learn,” you see a few available options.

At the top, you can listen to the piece to hear how it sounds while following the music in the Lesson Book. Then, ask the student to go through the learning steps for the piece. The first step has the student focus on the correct notes by stopping whenever an incorrect note is played. Step 2 focuses more on rhythm by having the student play slowly with the background music. Each of the steps takes one phrase and repeats it, reinforcing section practice. When you feel the student has grasped the concept well, you can stop the learning steps and have the student play the song by pressing “Play.”

After working on “Qwerty,” you can consult the correlation chart to see what pieces use two-eighth notes in Journey mode. One piece is “Angry Birds” in Chapter 14! Go to the Songs section of the Library and search for “Angry Birds.” Start the piece and then immediately tap the top of the screen where you see a metronome. This will bring up some practice options.

You can choose options to slow the tempo, practice one hand alone, turn on the Hold On feature, or turn on the note names.

Tempo allows you to slow the tempo down as much as 50%, or speed it up as much as 125% of the original tempo.
Choose Hand allows you to isolate and practice each hand before trying hands together.
Hold On is a feature that removes the background track, adds a metronome, and stops if the student does not play the correct note. If the correct note is not played within a very short time, the app will show the student where the correct note can be found, highlighting it on the on-screen keyboard.
Note Names allows the student to toggle the note names on or off.

If you tap the small arrow at the bottom of the screen, these options are hidden and you are free to scroll through the piece looking for trouble spots, eighth notes, or other tricky measures. Since there are only four measures in the piece that use eighth notes, the student could practice only those measures before playing with the background music.

Finally, you will see many examples on the correlation chart to assign as Home Challenges for the student. To do this, make sure you are in the student profile, and select the small icon that looks like a house.

Using Premier Piano Course with Piano Maestro will help your students stay motivated and engaged in the learning process! This is a great, magical combination of pedagogy and technology! The online resources that follow will aid you in your teaching using Premier Piano Course:

Frequently Asked Questions about Premier Piano Course:

Premier Piano Course correlation with other methods:

Premier Online Assistant: