Professional Piano Teaching: Useful Guides for New and Experienced Teachers

By Jeanine M. Jacobson
Jeanine M. Jacobson
I truly believe that piano teaching is a profession. Consequently, I was motivated to spend the last twenty years of my life writing, editing, and refining the two volumes of Professional Piano Teaching to aid both students and teachers in their teaching endeavors. The books are designed for both university piano pedagogy students and for independent piano teachers. In an easy-to-read style and format they provide both the experienced and new teacher with step-by-step procedures for HOW to teach piano students, leading both the teacher and student toward successful learning at the keyboard. An abundance of musical examples are included to illustrate the topics discussed. Pedagogy instructors at universities will find these books save them time. Pedagogy students can easily read at least one chapter each week and complete the projects provided at the end of each chapter. Experienced teachers will find useful information and teaching strategies.

Volume 1: In the first volume, strong pedagogical principles are applied to beginning and elementary teaching. Teachers will learn about what it means to be a professional piano teacher and how to develop a personal teaching philosophy.  They will become acquainted with the principles of learning and how to teach by helping students discover information as well as learn by rote. Teachers will explore how to prevent errors, present concepts and skills in a systematic way and teach to individual learning styles.

Readers will become aware of the various types of beginning methods and learn to evaluate methods by applying a wide range of criteria. They will also learn how to determine the difficulty of pieces, organize pieces in the proper teaching order and craft piece summaries, effective lessons plans, and assignments. Step-by-step approaches are provided for teaching both rhythm and pitch reading. Technique is taught from the natural way to play and the use of the entire arm to assist the hand and fingers, emphasizing that the sound will be beautiful when the use of the body is effortless.

Teachers will become familiar with the role of aural development, music literacy and creative activities in the development of musicality. They will learn to use these tools to lead students to hear and understand the character of pieces and how they can make pieces come alive by applying dynamics, articulation and phrasing.

Unique strategies for group teaching, teaching pre-schoolers, and teaching adults are thoroughly discussed in separate chapters. Teaching strategies for both standard elementary repertoire and familiar styles of music are provided.

Part of professional piano teaching includes running a piano studio in a businesslike and professional manner. This first volume provides guidelines for teaching in a home studio, in students’ homes, in an established program, or in a rented space. It provides advice for acquiring students, marketing, establishing tuition, scheduling lessons, and communicating with parents. This chapter helps one learn how to use one’s personal teaching philosophy to develop a studio policy that includes tuition payment policies, lesson attendance, practice requirements, and performance participation. This chapter includes numerous sample forms for all aspects of running a piano studio.

The first volume concludes with a chapter to help teachers evaluate their own teaching. Effective and ineffective teaching strategies are listed and criteria and evaluation formats are provided for a variety of ways to critique one’s own teaching.

Volume 2: This volume offers insight into the teaching of intermediate and early- advance-level students.  Like the first volume, the same strong pedagogical principles are now applied to the teaching of students at these levels. What defines intermediate levels and the early advanced levels is clearly articulated.  Helpful teaching strategies are provided to assist students in progressing from the elementary levels into the intermediate level and from the intermediate level into the early-advanced level. Topics include how to understand and teach teenagers, how to help transition a transfer student into one’s studio and how to prepare a student for a college audition.

Rhythm, reading and technique are approached using the same strong pedagogical principles as in volume one and applied to the higher levels of piano learning. The technique chapter helps teachers learn how to recognize and alleviate excess tension in their students’ playing by understanding the principles of movement as it applies to piano playing. It also explores the role and use of the fingers, hand, wrists, and arms at the keyboard.

Teachers are guided to observe the elements of rhythm, pitch, and sound and how these observations coupled with strong aural skills lead students to artistic interpretation. Criteria for determining the style of pieces is provided and teachers are given a template for both internal and external evidence within pieces that will ultimately lead to appropriate stylistic interpretation.

The role of intrinsic motivation in successful teaching and learning of piano music focuses on how to teach in ways that will assure student motivation and lead toward effective and efficient practice. A multitude of practice strategies are described in detail and applied to sections of student repertoire.

A thorough discussion of the role of memory in piano performance provides teachers with a detailed analysis of the three phases of memory, the factors that influence the memory process, and the various types of memory—kinesthetic, tactile, pitch, rhythm, aural, visual, and intellectual. A step-by-step process for developing intellectual memory is applied to a section of a piece. Practice routines for developing continuity in performance are also included as are strategies for controlling performance anxiety.

Summaries and Projects: Both books have summaries and projects at the end of each chapter (See the attached examples from Chapter 1 of Volume 2). Unique projects are provided for both new teachers and for experienced teachers. Teachers are encouraged to apply what they have learned in each chapter to teaching before going to another chapter.

Summaries & Projects

The quest for improvement of piano teaching skills never ends. Whether you are a new teacher or an experienced teacher refining your skills, I hope that Professional Piano Teaching will aid you in your journey. I wish you continued success as you pursue your career in professional piano teaching.


Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Understanding Latin American Musical Styles

By Wynn-Anne Rossi
Wynn-Anne Rossi
Teachers and students may wonder why a Minnesota composer is writing Latin American music. In short, I could not be more “taken” with this fabulous musical style. In today’s small world, where Russians write jazz and Japanese compose big band music, I feel that I can certainly take on the mambo (and other Latin styles).

When I appeared at the Tango Lights Music Festival in Langdon, North Dakota for the premiere of one of my Latin pieces, students were surprised to see that I had blonde hair. To top that off, my French is better than my Spanish. But, this does not dampen my enthusiasm for Latin American music.

It has indeed been a pleasure to research Latin American music to complete my vision of eight books devoted to this style. The recent release of Musica Latina, Solo Book 4 completes that vision of four books of graded solos and four books of graded duets. Solo Book 4 is written for the late intermediate pianist. Writing at this level gave me the flexibility to use challenging syncopations and rich harmonies.

In the spirit of this series, each piece includes a “nugget” of information that offers students the experience of a journey through Latin America. Book 4 opens with Trem para Paranaguá, capturing a spectacular train trip from Curitiba to Paranaguá in Brazil. This route crosses over 67 bridges and runs through 13 tunnels, descending a steep mountain to the sea.

Each piece also includes a rhythm workshop to help students move from counting to “feeling” the difficult rhythms present in the music. I recommend that students begin by counting and “lap clapping” these slowly, three times in a row. A drum can also be used to play the rhythm. The goal is for students to internalize these rhythms and speed them up until the rhythms feel natural. Latin rhythms can be very tricky, and counting aloud can often get in the way of a smooth performance.

Trem para Paranaguá
Notice the unusual ties in the rhythm workshop for Trem para Paranaguá. Ties are a sign of syncopation, and in this case, a polyrhythm. In the first measure, the right hand has a 2+3+3 against a left hand 4+4. Polyrhythms are at the heart of Latin rhythm, thanks to a history of multiple drummers simultaneously performing multiple rhythms. In the second measure of the workshop, you see a more common use of syncopation. The tie over beat 3 causes an anticipation and natural accent to fall on the previous note.

Rhythm is not the only hallmark of Latin music. Rich, colorful harmony abounds in this style. In both American jazz and Latin styles, you can find extended harmonies (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) along with quartal and quintal configurations. However, the two styles sound very different. I think of this as similar seeds that have been sown in completely different ground.

In the score above, I have marked several things that should aid students in performance, analyzing the music, and understanding the style. Enjoy the ever-changing rhythms, rich colors, and conversational melodies that are so unique to this American music from our southern neighbors!

Helping Students Become Comfortable Playing In All Keys

By Melody Bober
Amy Greer
I remember the fun that I had studying repertoire in a variety of keys. Experiencing the unique character and physical sensations that each key created was a fascinating journey. Some composers who wrote collections using all major and minor keys include Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Carl Czerny (1791–1857), Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Following in this tradition, I am excited to present In All Keys, a two-book series that includes original solos in all major and minor keys.

Frederic Chopin (1810–1849) used the following order for his 24 Preludes, Op. 28: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor, etc. The order follows the circle of fifths, with major keys followed by their relative minor keys. Each book of In All Keys contains 16 pieces and follows Chopin’s circle-of-fifths model, with major keys followed by minor keys.

Book 1 features one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “sharp” keys (G, D, A, E, B, F-sharp, and C-sharp major) and their relative minors (E, B, F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp, and D-sharp minor). Book 2 includes one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “flat” keys (F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat, and C-flat major) and their relative minors (D, G, C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat minor). The C major and A minor pieces of Book 1 are different than the C major and A minor pieces of Book 2. However, the pieces with five, six, and seven sharps in Book 1 have been transposed to their enharmonic flat keys for Book 2.

Between the two books, there are a total of 26 different pieces, six of which appear in both sharp keys and their enharmonic flat-key equivalents. Experiencing the pieces in enharmonic keys provides students with the opportunity to read music in challenging keys while playing familiar notes and rhythms. As an example, “A Night in Cordoba” is written in D-sharp minor in Book 1 and written in E-flat minor in Book 2.

A Night in Cordoba


Regardless of the length of time students study, it is unlikely they will play repertoire in all major and minor keys. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them that opportunity through pieces that also reinforce the study of scales, arpeggios, and chords that are common to those keys? For instance, in Book 1 “Rushing River Rapids” is a piece that features changing meter, arpeggios, and a chromatic scale in a dramatic and fiery setting.

Rushing River Rapids

There are a variety of styles and forms represented in each book: ragtime, boogie, Latin, marches, ballades, and showstoppers. The waltz on page 10 of Book 2 is “Waltzing Through Time” in F major. This delicate piece features four-voice writing, arpeggios in 6ths, and left-hand scale passages.

Waltzing Through Time

Within each book, there is a treasure trove of various technical challenges. “Night Gallop,” the D minor piece from Book 2, is a fast-paced showstopper with crossovers and the D minor scale in both parallel and contrary motion.

Night Gallop


The pieces in the two books also provide effective solos for recitals and competitions. It is my hope that students enjoy performing repertoire in a variety of styles while unlocking the skills necessary to explore music In All Keys.

Joys and Rewards of Rote Teaching

By Amy Greer
Amy Greer
Yesterday Jake came into the studio with the screen door banging behind him.  “What new song are you going to teach me today?” were the first words out of his mouth.  He was almost shouting in his excitement.  Jake is six years old, a precocious child who started lessons almost a year ago.  He is progressing nicely.  He can play major and minor five-finger patterns in all twelve keys.  He has been initiated into the “flashcard club,” meaning he can identify the notes on the piano of 30 flashcards in under a minute.  He is halfway through the Lesson and Performance Level 1B books in Alfred’s Premier Piano Course.  A few weeks ago he earned a “Superior +” rating at a local piano festival.  It goes without saying that Jake is a kid I love to teach.

Jake is happy and good-natured about whatever I assign, but what he really loves are the “songs,” or what I call “rote pieces.” This is the music that I teach him by rote—note by note, phrase by phrase—without him ever laying eyes on a written score. Every week I take a few minutes of lesson time to teach him at least a portion of a rote piece, music that is beyond his rhythmic and note reading skills, but well within his technical grasp.

During his very first lesson I taught him “Desert Rose,” a simple pentatonic piece. “What is a desert rose anyway?” was the question that Jake asked as I broke down the phrases and demonstrated each musical gesture.  At that first lesson, he didn’t know his finger numbers and he couldn’t identify a single note on the piano.  He had no idea what a quarter or half note was.  But he could learn “Desert Rose.”

As the weeks went by, his repertoire of rote pieces grew.  At the same time, he was learning all the traditional concepts taught in beginning piano lessons: note reading, rhythms, technical exercises, and finger numbers. But from the start, he also had “real songs” to play – music that sounded interesting and sophisticated.  This music used more than the few octaves in the middle of the piano and had imaginative titles that asked him to play creatively and dramatically.

I knew that these rote pieces were helping Jake build skills related to pattern recognition and memorization.  He was developing his listening skills and his musical ear.  He was not only improving his physical coordination, but gaining a tactile sense of keyboard geography as well.  All Jake knew was he was learning “songs.”

I reach for my trusty notebook of rote pieces not just during the first few years of lessons when students are still trying to acquire basic skills.  But, I also use rote pieces when a student’s motivation might be flagging and in need of a musical pick-me-up.  I have used rote pieces to help students struggling with memorization.  I have turned to rote pieces when I felt students were too tied to the written page.  I have relied on rote pieces to inspire improvisation and compositional assignments.  A well-chosen rote piece has saved many lessons.

Until recently, there has not been an easy source of rote music for the inquiring teacher.  Although easy-to-teach rote pieces can be found in method books and solo collections, teachers searching for rote music at their local music stores would have been hard pressed to find anything at all.  Often when giving workshops, I would mention in passing the concept of “rote music.”  Inevitably, questions such as “Where can I find rote music?” or “How do you teach rote music?” would follow.

Repertoire for Rote, a book that I wrote with Dennis Alexander, is the answer to both questions.  Dennis wrote seven pieces that can easily be taught by rote and I developed steps for introducing them along with a musical map for students to take home after learning them in the lesson. Unlike other collections that are purchased by the student, in the true spirit of rote teaching, this book is designed for the teacher. Remember that students are learning this music without using a written score.  Pieces range from the simple “Desert Rose,” which could be taught on a first lesson, to slightly more technical pieces like “Roadrunner” or “Bells are Ringing,” which might better suit a student after several months of lessons.  While one could wait until students have developed the rhythm and note reading skills to play any piece in the collection, there is no reason for the delay.  By definition a good rote piece is tricky to read, but easy to play.  Pieces like “Green Frogs” (Key of F# Major) fit the description precisely.

Admittedly, rote teaching is different than teaching done primarily by referencing written notation.  For each of the seven pieces in the collection, there are step by step instructions for breaking down the music into small teachable units, followed by a reproducible “memory map” (in non-musical notation, of course) for students to help with both learning and memorizing.  Ideally, the memory maps printed in the book would only serve as a reference for the map students might design for themselves.  Teachers who purchase the book are granted permission to copy the memory maps for students.

For example, the music for “Desert Rose” follows:

Desert Rose
Notated Piece for the Teacher

Even with a simple piece like this one, detailed steps are provided for teachers:

Step-by-Step Instructions
Step-by-Step Instructions for Introducing the Piece

The memory map suggested for the piece is intended to help the student organize the musical gestures in a visual format.

Memory Map for the Student
Memory Map for the Student

Just as thoughtful rote teaching is only a piece of the pedagogical puzzle, this book is just a beginning.  Dennis Alexander and I hope that after working with the seven pieces in this book, teachers will make rote teaching an integral part of their pedagogical approach, much like incorporating technic work or theory into lessons.  Soon, teachers will begin to recognize previously undiscovered “rote” pieces in the music they already teach regularly.  After all, a good rote piece is quite simply a piece that sounds more difficult than it is.

Last week was my spring studio recital.  As always, I asked students to practice performing their recital pieces for the students whose lessons were before or after their lessons.  Little Jake proudly showed off his recital “song” (“Green Frogs”) for fifteen-year-old Richelle, who had been busy preparing Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-sharp  Minor” for the program.  After Jake left, Richelle shook her head, “You know, it wasn’t that long ago when I was playing those frogs.”

She was right.  Blink, and “Songs” turn into “Preludes.” “Desert Rose” becomes a Chopin nocturne, and “Green Frogs” morphs into Rachmaninoff right before our eyes.

To learn more about Alfred Music products, visit our website. To learn more about Amy Greer’s studio and to read her blog, click here.

Create a Song in GarageBand Using Loops

Learning Music with GarageBand on the iPadBy Floyd Richmond

GarageBand for the iPad is one of the strongest reasons musicians, students and teachers would consider using the iPad. Its collection of traditional and electronic instruments and its touch screen permit expressive performances that can be recorded, edited, and enhanced. With a set of computer speakers, the iPad becomes a performance or classroom instrument. With a small mixer or hub, you can form iPad ensembles. GarageBand’s collection of loops, effects, and editing tools permit composing and performing on an unprecedented level. When a song is finished, GarageBand’s sharing features provide the opportunity to create a portfolio of songs to share with the world through YouTube, SoundCloud, and other channels.

Creating a Song with Loops
One of GarageBand’s great features is the large number of included prebuilt musical building blocks, called loops. Songs may be composed in a wide variety of styles and instruments using only these loops. Loops can be repeated, combined, stacked, and edited as needed to create the sound you’re looking for.

#1) Create a New GarageBand Song
Launch GarageBand, navigate to the song list and tap the “+” button in the top-left corner of the screen to create a new GarageBand song. The Instrument Selection list will automatically appear. See image below.IMG_0001

#2) Navigate to the Track View
To build a song with only loops, you must navigate to the Track View. This requires you to create an instrument track, even if you don’t use it. Tap “Audio Recorder” and then tap the Track View button at the top of the screen. This will create an empty track that you can delete later if you don’t use it. GarageBand defaults to an eight-measure section of music. To work on longer or shorter songs or sections, tap the “+” button in the top-right corner of the screen. See images below.

Navigate to the Track View

#3) Search for Loops
You can search for loops and preview them before adding them to your song. Tap the Loop button at the top of the screen to view the Loop Browser. You’ll find a wide variety of loops for various instruments and styles. You can search by individual instrument or style. Just remember, some will work well together, and others won’t. See below image.

Search for Loops

#4) Add a Loop to Your Song
You can preview any loop by tapping on it. Once you find a loop you like, simply drag it from the Loop Browser to the timeline of the song. Repeat this step to add additional loops. You can position, layer, combine, repeat, and edit them as needed. See below image.

Add a Loop to Your Song

#5) Preview Your Song
Press rewind to move the playhead at the top of the track window to the beginning of the first measure of the song and press play! How does it sound? Now that you have the foundation of a song, you may decide to reorder sections, add some vocals or record your own instruments using GarageBand’s virtual instruments. The possibilities are endless. See below image.

Preview Your Song



For more on Learning Music with GarageBand on the iPad by Floyd Richmond, click here.

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) was just 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.

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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.