Introducing Important Keyboard Composers and Literature

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To play with correct style, it is essential to understand the historical background of the piece and its composer. Deeper understanding leads to greater expression and appreciation.

With the success and interest in Great Music & Musicians 1: An Overview of Music History, Nancy Bachus and I felt a second book focusing on keyboard composers and keyboard literature would be helpful to piano teachers by providing an easy way to introduce both well-known, and lesser-known, composers and their music to students.
Great Music & Musicians 2Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature explores the progressive development of the piano repertoire and the times and personalities of leading keyboard composers. Great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (known as the “Three Bs”) are household names in the lexicon of keyboard literature and are given greater emphasis. Also discussed are many lesser-known composers who have made contributions to keyboard literature, and are important in understanding the progression of musical styles.
Burgmüller, Clementi, Czerny, Hanon, and Heller are composers likely to be more familiar to students than to the general public. Successful piano teachers themselves, these composers wrote pieces aimed as preparation for more complex concert repertoire. Students learn many of these pieces during their formative years of piano study, since they were specifically created to assist technical and musical development. History is a series of smaller stylistic developments that culminate in works of great masters in each cultural style period. Yet, to students and teachers alike, the lives and times of these influential, often overlooked composers, are commonly unknown.
Great Music & Musicians 2 presents in chronological order, the development of keyboards, style, and composers, with colorful use of fine art to visually guide students through the centuries. Musical examples for listening are provided through downloads to further illustrate the text. Each section of the nine units, is organized into six pages. The final page provides a summary of the unit, musical examples with guidance for listening, and a written activity. Texts are brief and intended to offer easily-read insight on each topic.
The example pages that follow are a small sampling from various units throughout the book that illustrate the approach we took in writing Great Music & Musicians 2.
English Virginal MusicA student may wonder if there was keyboard music before the Baroque period. During the late Renaissance early Baroque period, influential English virginalist composers—Byrd, Gibbons, and Bull, became known through large collections of published keyboard works, allowing the spread of the English keyboard style throughout Europe.

 

Italian Keyboard ComposersConcurrently, in Italy, composers Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and Merulo developed their own keyboard styles. Uniquely idiomatic to the instrument, their music introduces new examples of dynamics and virtuosity.

 

 

Unit SummaryEach activity page contains a unit summary, two listening examples, further suggested listening, and an activity that reviews important concepts from the unit.

 

 

 

Female ComposersFemale composers such as Élizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Nannerl Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Cécile Chaminade are appropriately included throughout the book. Each is placed within their style period, along with their more famous male counterparts.

 

Lesser-known ComposersLesser-known composers, like the Englishman John Field, are included because of their influence on the great composers. In this case, Chopin’s masterful Nocturnes were influenced by Field’s earlier ones, yet he is virtually unknown to many students.

 

 

Master composers such as Claude Debussy are given greater treatment in the book. Notice the image of Debussy’s piano at the top right. Effort was given to show pictures of keyboards throughout history so students can see its development. More attention is given to the piano, although clavichords, harpsichords, and organs are also represented visually and in listening examples.
Master ComposersA vital tool to understanding chronology in piano literature is the numbering systems used for different composers. Where appropriate, the most common numbering systems used for a composer’s catalog of works is introduced. For instance, Debussy’s works are identified by the Lesure (L.) catalogue numbers of François Lesure (French, 1923–2001).

20th CenturyEffort was made to introduce composers in chronological order. However, since multiple musical styles often develop simultaneously, many units focus on unique developments within the major cultural periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century). An example of this is one page of Unit 8 exploring the Spanish style of Albéniz, Falla, and Granados at the turn of the 20th century.

Dmitri ShostakovichA wealth of 20th century piano literature stems from Russia and the Soviet Union. Major composers of this library of literature are Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and student favorites Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. Each page discussing the composers has a visual backdrop that helps to convey the time, like this page on Soviet composers Shostakovich and Kabalevsky. This is to encourage teacher and student to further explore the impact of politics and culture on music.

Nancy Bachus and I enjoyed creating this book. One of the most difficult challenges was what not to introduce or explain. We tried to avoid lengthy text and details, believing an introduction to major keyboard composers would be most memorable and helpful to students as they progress in their studies. A framework of the major style periods and composers gives a foundation for students to understand musical style and to interpret it. Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature merely touches the surface of an immense library of literature and the composers who created it. We hope students will be inspired to explore and to learn more about the great music and musicians they are studying!


Tom Gerou
With over 130 publications, Tom is known for the wide variety of his output. His outgoing personality also allows him to excel as a popular Alfred Music clinician, offering special insights into Alfred’s latest publications.

Top 10 Reasons to Perform Musicals in School

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In our age of the Internet, social media, reality television and other “worthy” pursuits that can steal away our students’ attention, are musicals still worth preparing? Of course, my answer is a resounding “YES”!

Here are my top 10 reasons for doing a musical once, twice, or even three times this year (and in years to come). And they’re based not only on my personal experience through the years, but what I’ve heard from countless others over the last three decades:

  1. The Event Factor. Since musicals aren’t performed on a regular basis, whenever they are performed, they’re an event. They can build excitement and a real positive “buzz” in the classroom.
  2. Dramatic Impact. There’s no question we live now more than ever in a fast-paced, visual world. Drama—especially when connected with music—offers a way to tell a story that can leave an indelible impact on its performers and listeners.
  3. Greater Depth. A musical offers a longer time to “plumb the depths” of any given subject, so the potential impact on students is exponentially increased.
  4. Growth. Musicals tend to offer healthy musical challenges that students might not experience otherwise. This can contribute to a growth in confidence and musical understanding.
  5. Outreach. A one-time special event musical is a great excuse to invite friends, family, and community members and showcase your student’s hard work.
  6. Bonding. An event tends to “rally” a classroom together and generate excitement among students. Everyone becomes part of the musical ‘team.’ If there are a few extra rehearsals to pull the musical together, those offer an opportunity for greater bonding between the teacher and students.
  7. Wider Involvement. A musical offers a chance for parents and even more students to get involved, too! They can help with design, building or painting (if there’s a set); audio/visuals (sound, lights, PowerPoint, and/or video); costumes (if there are any, of course), and more.
  8. Encourages Participation. There’s no question that, in general, musicals sometimes take a recruiting process to get students to audition. Use the audition process as another means of outreach to excite students to be a part of the fun!
  9. Dinner or Dessert Theatre. Who doesn’t love the mixture of food and musicals?! Contribute to the ‘event’ factor by offering some appetizers and baked goods. Another great avenue to get the parents involved!
  10. Memories. Students will fondly recall the time they were the singing sidekick or a belting baritone! Memories are another way to help share the joy of making music for years to come.

Bottom line: Musicals—when carefully chosen, prepared, and performed—can create a lasting impact on those who experience them. And that is worth “the roar of the greasepaint, and the smell of the crowd!”

cabaniss_150Mark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, writer, and educator. He is President/CEO of Jubilate Music Group, based in Brentwood, Tennessee. Two of his elementary musicals (Tom Sawyer & Company and Gilbert and Sullivan Rock!) are published by Alfred Music. www.markcabaniss.com

Our Top 7 Music Goals for 2017

Music Goals for 2017 Picture

As we close the curtains on 2016, and 2017 makes its debut (it’s starting on a high note, wouldn’t you say?), we took a moment to list our top musical goals for the next progression around the sun. What do you plan to work on over the next 365 days? Here are some ideas . . .

  1. Step outside of your musical comfort zone—learn to play a new style. Listen to some New Age, Metal, Classical, Jazz, R&B, Bluegrass, or whatever you listen to least. Pick up a new instrument. Momentarily abandon what you find to be safe—what you’re good at—and feel what it’s like to be new at something again. You’ll be rewarded with an expanded musical palette and a bigger musical mind for new ideas. Warning: this may result in ultimate personal growth.
  2. Experience more live music—FYI, your studio and/or classroom don’t count as live music venues. And if you’re digesting the same scales, exercises, and songs day after day, week after week, season after season, then it’s time to refresh your ears! Maintained inspiration = maintained motivation.
  3. Create more—there’s no such thing as too much music, and we’ve just begun another year to make some more! Try to set some time aside to compose a new song, score, melody, lyric, or even a lesson plan for the classroom. Get those ideas on paper, and share them with the world. Not a fan of performing? See goal #1.
  4. Practice, then practice some more—this is a musician’s equivalent to the-rest-of-the-world’s “exercise more” New Year’s resolution. Simply put, it’s the most obvious and necessary evil element to being a successful musician. Don’t just fit it into your routine—make it a habit, and find ways to make practice fun, efficient, and enjoyable. List your specific practice goals, and consistently track your progress over time.
  5. Take breaks—while this may sound contradictory to everything else on the list, we often get caught up in adding so much to our plates and we don’t consider the consequences. Fatigue can lead to loss of motivation and a drop in performance—every musician’s absolute nightmare! As important as each note on the page may be, the space in between is equally as important. Take time in your routine to turn it all off, step back, breathe, and be silent.
  6. Collaborate—take it from us, this is a big part of what makes music fun. Get out and join a band, orchestra, or choir. Accompany someone, or find a new writing partner. Expand your network, make new friends, and connect with others over the joy of making music.
  7. Continue to share the joy—our personal favorite. As students, keep learning. As teachers, keep teaching. And as musicians, keep playing. It’s all of our duties to spread the joy of making music with the rest of the world, and there are so many ways to do so. It’s contagious!

While the New Year is certainly a great opportunity for self-reflection and goal-setting, realistically we should constantly be evaluating our goals and refining the roadmap to being our best musical selves—for the next 365 days, and beyond. What are some of your biggest musical goals?

Fostering Reading Skills in Preschool Pianists

By E. L. LancasterE. L. Lancaster
The materials used in piano lessons for young students (ages 4–6) tend to be much less performance-oriented than those used with average-age beginners (ages 7–9). Young children should experience a variety of music activities that provide a general introduction to music. Any repertoire performed at the piano must take into account the small hands of the child. Most four- and five-year olds cannot play three-note chords or music with many independent voices split between the hands. In general, the introduction to notation and staff reading should follow activities that allow students to respond to music and learn about keyboard topography.
At the same time, the activities in lessons for young children need to change frequently due to their limited attention spans. They do not sit and listen to long verbal explanations. Physical activity (moving and responding to music) is an important part of learning. To a great extent, learning depends on imitation, and demonstration is very important in the lesson. “Hands on” experiences are more important than verbal explanations. With these characteristics in mind, teachers need to move from activity to activity about every three minutes. That does not mean that one cannot return to the same activity within the lesson since repetition is important in the learning process.
In the Music Lesson Books of Music for Little Mozarts, students are introduced to musical concepts and performance pieces at the piano. The other core books help add variety to the lesson with activities that are done away from the keyboard. The Music Workbooks reinforce concepts with pages for children to color. They also focus on the training and development of ear. The Music Discovery Books include singing, listening, and movement activities. Included in the books are songs to sing for fun, motion songs to introduce musical responses to music, songs to reinforce specific rhythm patterns, and songs to aid in the development of musical expressiveness.

The newest books in the Music for Little Mozarts series are the Notespeller & Sight Play Books. Each page of the books has two activities – a written activity and a playing example. The written activity reinforces notes on the keyboard and the staff through coloring, circling, drawing, or matching. The sight-play examples help students:

  • Relate notes and musical concepts to performance on the keyboard.
  • Move out of fixed hand positions.
  • Identify melodic and rhythm patterns.

Both of the activities in these books lay a foundation for developing strong reading skills. They provide systematic instruction and reinforcement of reading principles while helping students understand the concepts that are essential to being a secure music reader. Becoming a good sight-reader takes an extended period of time, but elements presented in these books are of prime importance in establishing the skills needed for this long-range development.
The remainder of this article will highlight some of the important concepts and skills necessary to become a good reader by examining a page from each of the levels of the Music for Little Mozarts Notespeller & Sight-Play Books. Before students encounter notation on the staff, they must be totally comfortable with finding keys on the keyboard.MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 1The written example on page 13 of Book 1 (see Example 1) asks the student to color keys on the keyboard, helping to develop the skill of finding keys quickly.

The Sight-Play section on this page contains two examples. The examples use exactly the same notes, but are played with different fingerings. This helps student realize that any key can be played with any finger.
One of the early keys to good reading is the ability to recognize steps and skips both on the keyboard and on the staff. On page 23 of Book 2, students are working with identifying skips on the staff and naming the notes in each skip.MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 2The Sight-Play example at the bottom of the page applies this to a short two-measure reading example (see Example 2).
One of the most difficult tasks when reading music is reading notes in two clefs simultaneously. In Music Lesson Book 3 of Music for Little Mozarts, hands-together playing is introduced. The written examples at the top of page 24 in Notespeller & Sight-Play Book 3 (see Example 3) MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 3ask the student to name a different note in each clef and circle the correct answer. The Sight-Play example has the same left-hand note throughout the entire example while the right-hand notes change. This allows the student to focus on the coordination necessary to execute the music at the piano with minimal reading challenges.
Identifying patterns, both rhythmic and melodic, is essential to the continued development of reading skills. The written examples on page 30 of Book 4 (see Example 4)MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 4 require students to identify five-finger patterns by name. The Sight-Play at the bottom of the page gives them two beats of rest to change to a new location on the keyboard within a specified amount of time.
Each lesson for young students should include a short amount of time devoted to “practicing” sight reading skills in a systematic way. The Notespeller & Sight Play Books provide a solid structure to allow this practicing to happen within the lesson time. At the same time, it moves the student to and from the piano bench providing the necessary change of activities to keep young students truly involved – happy sight reading!

Pieces with Pedagogical Value Can Also Be Fun!

By Mike Springer
Mike Springer
As a composer, I endeavor to create music that has pedagogical value, but also is fun for students to play and for audiences to hear. The pieces in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3 were written over a period of years to best exemplify this idea. Each solo in the series focuses on one or more pedagogical issues that teachers face on a daily basis. The remainder of this article highlights these issues in two pieces from each book.

Medieval TournamentBook 1: The first piece in Book 1, entitled Medieval Tournament, takes the student back to the medieval times! With the exception of measures 8 and 24, the left hand consists of perfect 5ths (See Example 1a).
The right-hand melody, beginning in measure 5, incorporates simple repetitive rhythm patterns that make the piece easy to learn. Also beginning in measure 5, the right hand completes the chord by adding the third to the open fifths in the left hand. This creates an excellent opportunity to discuss triads with students.
Perfect 5th ImprovisationAs a supplement to this piece, I have included an improvisation exercise that I use in my studio (See Example 1b). Ask the student to play a perfect fifth (A and E) in the left hand, while improvising on perfect fifths in the right hand. Avoid the fifth in the right hand that begins on F (F and C) and use F-sharp when playing the open fifth that begins on B to avoid the dissonance associated with F natural and the left-hand E.
Majestic Mountain

 

Majestic Mountain, a former selection included in the Federation Festivals Bulletin of the National Federation of Music Clubs, is a piece that I wrote after my wife and I took a trip to Alaska. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the state and the grandeur of the mountain ranges. This is a piece that sounds very big, but is quite easy to play. It is an excellent study of the diatonic chords in the key of C major and uses many triads in root position in both hands to create interesting harmonic structure. The B section, beginning in measure 17, allows the student to explore a more gentle touch and dynamic range. A gentle, but definite crescendo beginning in measure 25 leads back to the A section (See Example 1c).

Sunset SerenadeBook 2: Sunset Serenade uses a variety of five-finger patterns that move around the keyboard. This makes it a great piece for students with small hands. Lush harmonies, found throughout, include many examples of 6th and 7th chords (See Example 2a). As a composer, sometimes I have very specific ideas for dynamics in mind and include such markings in the score; at other times I wish to leave it open to allow students to experiment with dynamic subtleties in the piece. For example, the student could make a gentle crescendo in measure 1 and a gentle diminuendo in measure 2. At measure 15, the piece could build even further to the beginning of measure 17. I have included some additional suggestions for dynamics in example 2a, although many other possibilities exist. Ask students to be creative in selecting appropriate dynamics that will aid in shaping phrases, and let the creativity flow!
El Toro
The opening of El Toro begins with a strong A major to B-flat major harmony that is indicative of the Spanish style (See Example 2b). The remainder of the piece allows the student to work on expression and a variety of touches and color. Beginning in measure 16, a slower more lyrical touch is required. The indication at measure 16 says ‘slower with freedom’ (emphasis on freedom), to allow the phrase to breathe. Measure 33 can begin more slowly with an accelerando to the beginning of measure 40. At measure 41 the lyrical nature returns, but with more passion and force.

The evolution of 'Jazzy Locomotive'Book 3: When I was growing up, my father would often refer to the music of Floyd Cramer, who created his own style by adding a static note that was part of the chord above a given melody. This type of device was used in his very famous piece Last Date. When I first sat down to write Jazzy Locomotive, I was not trying to write something that sounded like a locomotive. However, when I applied to the same techniques Floyd Cramer used in his music to my jazzy melody, the tritones in the right hand reminded me of a train (See Example 3a).The piece should begin moderately loud and get stronger when “the locomotive starts to move” in measure 9 (See Example 3b). Jazzy LocomotiveIt is very important to observe all articulations in this piece to achieve the maximum effect. Notice the train whistles in measures 19 and 20 and in measures 34 through 37. Finally, “drive” the sound of the triplets in measure 40 to the beginning of measure 41 until the locomotive comes to rest on the last note.
Rio Grande

 

 

Rio Grande is one of the pieces from my Recital Suite “Mexico: South of the Border.” On a trip a few years ago, my wife and I went to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. As we stood on the mesa looking over the river separating Texas and Mexico, (without billboards, telephone wires, or anything else to ruin the landscape) I had a wonderful serenity that came over me and inspired me to write this piece. The piece should not be played too fast, and must begin very quietly (See Example 3c). Enjoy the gentle flow until measure 26, when the crescendo takes us to a new level of passion. Avoid getting too loud in measure 29, as the ultimate climax of the piece occurs in measure 39. In the coda, imagine the setting sun shimmering on the water of the river, and then let the ending fade into dusk.

Enjoy the music in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3. May it spark the imaginations of you and your students. Best wishes and success to you in your teaching endeavors!

Sincerely,
Mike Springer

Teaching Masterworks to Developing Choirs

Dr. Russell L. Robinson
Emeritus Professor of Music Education, University of Florida
Composer, Arranger, Consultant, Speaker

www.RussellRobinson.com

I have been arranging masterworks for young choirs for over 20 years, from madrigals to larger choral classics to recently arranged solo masterworks for choirs. It has been my goal to create choral music for young choirs (elementary through high school, and even college choirs who have many non-music majors) to help elevate their choral sound and be proud of their musical results.

You must start with a great piece of music. We cannot make great arrangements out of bad pieces. Classics that have stood the test of time are best. From some of my first arrangements such as: “Sing We and Chant It” (Morley/Robinson), “In These Delightful Pleasant Groves” (Purcell/Robinson), “Sing Unto God” (Handel/Robinson), and “How Lovely Are the Messengers” (Mendelssohn/Robinson) to lately taking solo works and arranging them for choirs. Pieces such as Faure’s “Pie Jesu” (ed. and arr. Robinson) and the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” (arr. Robinson) are good examples of this. These timeless melodies are often familiar to singers and audiences, but not in a choral setting.

Let me for the moment focus on the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” As the performance notes say, this piece was originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) as his “Prelude No. 1 in C major” for
piano (clavier) and later a melody was composed by Charles Gounod for solo violin. The traditional “Ave Maria” lyrics were added later. Since that time, such famous soloists as Placido Domingo, Jackie Evancho, Renée Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli have performed this piece. So, there is a good chance that many audience members will have heard the melody and perhaps the singers themselves. It’s timeless and beautiful.

So how does one arrange these masterworks, such as the “Ave Maria,” to be accessible for young choirs or inexperienced singers?

There are many considerations when writing such arrangements of classics regardless of their style. First, the ranges should be treated intentionally. If it is a 3-part mixed (where the third part is for changed or changing male voices and uses a range from F below middle C to D above middle C) or a SAB arrangement, and the boys/men’s voices can go lower, I try to “think like a young man” when writing their parts. Avoidance of great leaps in the intervals is essential. And, in the case of the “Ave Maria”—allowing parts other than the Soprano to sing the melody. In addition, the piano part should subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reinforce the parts to assist the singers. An arranger of these masterworks should not alter the musical or lyrical qualities of the original piece. I always feel like the original composers are looking over my shoulder from above, and I want their “ok” in what I’m writing.

What about responsibilities of the director/teacher and singers?

Pure vowels are essential regardless of language! All vowels should be sung with a bit of “oo” in them. In other words, ah-vowels should be sung “aw”—ee-vowels should be sung with an “ee” in the inside of the mouth and an “oo” vowel on the lips to keep the vowel from spreading. For more information on these concepts, see these recommended Alfred Music publications: The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book (Robinson/Althouse), Creative Rehearsal Techniques for Today’s Choral Classroom (Robinson), and Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs (Robinson).

Perhaps most importantly, pay close attention to dynamics and text accents. There should be an audible difference between piano and mezzo forte. I hear too many choirs that sing with a limited range of dynamics, usually from mezzo forte to forte. Dynamics contrasts are essential. And, text accents—no two syllables or words should be sung at the same volume, regardless of language. In just the two words “Ave Maria” we have an example of text accent treatment. “Ave” should be sung with an accent on the first syllable and a dramatically softer second syllable. The same with “Maria” where there are three syllables. The second syllable gets the accent and the first and third are unaccented.

Taking into account these considerations and steps—a great original masterwork, along with a well-written arrangement, and finally pure vowels, dynamic contrasts, and text accents will lead singers to making beautiful music with these classics.

Assembling a Vocal Library

By Sally K. Albrecht

Growing up, I was always busy as an accompanist. I played for musicals, choirs, solo singers, and instrumentalists alike. When I was in middle school, I accompanied my two older high school sisters and their singing friends at vocal solo contests all over the state of Ohio. Generally, I was handed a vocal collection or some kind of book or piece of sheet music from which to play.

In my junior year of college, I began taking some voice lessons. My teacher always insisted I purchase the necessary books at the beginning of each semester, even if we were only going to study one or two songs from the collection.

My next voice teacher didn’t do that. She just made me photocopies of specific songs from her fabulous library of music. It saved me some money at the time, but a few years down the road, when I was teaching and wanted to perform those songs or see what else of interest might have been in those collections, I had no way of knowing where those treasures had come from! (And way back then, in the dark ages, I couldn’t just search a song title on the internet to find out!)

Maybe I didn’t know all of the rules about photocopying then, but I have a feeling my instructor did. And, to be honest, I did toss those illegal copies many years (and moves) ago. But I still really wish I had at least some of those songs/books in my vocal library.

So do your students a favor: work with them to purchase those wonderful and important tools called vocal anthologies. What a great investment it will be for their future. Teach your singers how to order music from a retailer. Help them start to assemble an appropriate, important, and wonderful vocal library, containing a variety of literature that will help them grow as performers.

Here’s my list of top “basic” books from Alfred Music that will stand the test of time in your vocal library. Most are available in Medium High and Medium Low voicings, with or without accompaniment CDs.

1. 26 Italian Songs and AriasEd. by John Glenn Paton. Contains the most important songs and arias, along with background information and translations. By far, the best edition on the market.

2. Singer’s Library of SongCompiled & Ed. by Patrick M. Liebergen. Features 37 songs from the Medieval era through the 20th Century, with historical information, IPA, and translations where needed. Includes a few songs in several different languages, plus a handful of folk songs and spirituals… something for everyone. An excellent potpourri for developing vocalists.

3. Folk Songs for Solo SingersCompiled & Ed. by Jay Althouse. Volume 1 contains 11 arrangements (including the favorite contest solo “Homeward Bound”). I also enjoy the variety of songs in Volume 2 (features 14 arrangements). You’ll also see another great choice, American Folk Songs for Solo Singers!

4. The Spirituals of Harry T. BurleighArr. by Harry T. Burleigh. An incredible anthology of 48 awesome spiritual settings. Did you know that we recorded accompaniment CDs (set of 2) for this collection? There’s a reason most of these arrangements have been in print continuously since around 1920. Did I mention that these arrangements are truly awesome?

5. Favorite Sacred Classics for Solo SingersCompiled & Ed. by Patrick M. Liebergen. Features 18 well-known sacred classics by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others. You’ll be ready to sing in any church or recital hall.

6. Pathways of SongCompiled, arr., translated, and ed. Frank LaForge & Will Earhart. This comprehensive series offers concert songs in appropriate vocal ranges for the voice student, by composers such as Schubert, Brahms, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. The series is available by volume or a compilation of the best songs from every volume!

7. Christmas for Solo SingersEd. Jay Althouse. This books compiles some of the most well-known and time-tested seasonal favorites. Great for seasonal recitals and concerts. Take this book with you to Grandma’s house on Christmas day, and you’ll get the whole family singing along!

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:

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.

Preparing Students to Improvise

BJim Snideroy Jim Snidero

Improvisation is a scary proposition for many music students and teachers. But the word “improvisation” is fairly misleading, as much of what an improviser uses to create a solo is actually preconceived, and therefore can be learned and developed.

Preconceived concepts regarding form, rhythm, melody, harmony and importantly, solo construction, are some of the elements that are tirelessly practiced and perfected by great improvisers (e.g. masters). This creates a foundation for what will be played. Furthermore, masters have preconceived concepts regarding how they will play. Tone, technique, time feel, articulation, phrasing and vibrato style are often the thing that most identifies a master, being carefully formulated and developed, then repeated over and over again.

What separates an improvisation master from everyone else is (1) the quality and quantity of what’s preconceived, (2) art and, (3) taste. The good news is that (1) can be studied and practiced to the point that you can gain control over a massive amount of preconceived concepts. The bad news is that not everyone can create a work of art, and not everyone has exquisite taste.

Masters strike a balance between preconceived concepts and going with the moment, letting their “spirit,” for lack of a better term, lead them to very human expression. This creates a kind of inspired flow. And this sense of balance between essentially “knowing and not knowing,” to quote Chick Corea from a 1976 Keyboard Player magazine article, is informed by incredible taste and yes, talent. But here’s the thing: it’s very tough to create (2) and (3) without (1)! And (1) is something that most definitely can learned.

There’s a little secret that masters know regarding preconceived vocabulary. To quote Chick again from the same article:

“The myth is that you always have to play something different to be spontaneous. But that’s not true. What’s important is how “there” you are when you’re playing: that’s really the point. Good music is just good music whether it’s composed, improvised or whatever.”

No matter how many times you play an idea, if you are “in the moment,” it is spontaneous and can never actually be played the exact same way again, as no one ever experiences a moment exactly the same way. Charlie Parker played some of his signature ideas thousands of times, but they never sounded exactly alike. The same can be said about virtually every master. So preconceived vocabulary is crucial to the creative process.

Transcribing a solo is the best way to build vocabulary, but quality books are also a good source. For example, the new edition of the Jazz Conception series contains a section on improvisation, extracting over 100 ideas from 21 etudes over various common chord progressions. Vocabulary and context!

Once ideas are committed to memory, you then have material to develop both timing and balance. If one idea is active, dense with notes or rhythms, perhaps the next idea could be static, using just a couple of notes or rhythms. If the contour of an idea ascends, perhaps the next idea might descend, creating a peak. This helps you to develop a sense of balance, maybe even taste.

These instincts then allow you to assemble ideas in a logical and musical manner, often helping to “say” something when improvising. The more material, the more you can say. Eventually, your instincts will allow you to play new things that you hear spontaneously in a musical, logical manner, or react to what your bandmates are playing. You will then be able to balance improvisation between “knowing and not knowing.” It’s powerful stuff, not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Jim Snidero is an alto saxophonist, author and educator living in New York City. He is a Savant recording artist, author of the Jazz Conception series and president of The Jazz Conception Company.

Shop the Jazz Conception series here.

Christmas in October

Gayle KowalchykBy Gayle Kowalchyk

Front porches may be dotted with pumpkins, and you might be pondering what kind of candy to buy for your Halloween trick-or-treaters, but it definitely is not too soon to be thinking about Christmas music for your piano students. In fact, in my piano studio, students start working on their holiday music on November 1st. I use the month of October to choose the collections they will be using.

Joel was the very first piano student I had in our studio in Norman, Oklahoma (this was many years ago!). Joel and I hit it off immediately. He was a transfer student in the fourth grade when he began with me, and he arrived at each lesson eager to learn and to share his interests with me. Over the years, I learned a lot about what books he liked to read, What Child Is This?games he liked to play, and the world of scouting (he went on to become an Eagle Scout). One thing that we had in common was that we both loved the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” This was the only song Joel wanted to play at Christmas, so each year, I had the task of finding a new, harder arrangement for him to play. When he graduated from high school and headed off to college, my graduation gift for him was my own arrangement of this beautiful carol dedicated to him.

At that time, the only Christmas music available for piano students to play were arrangements of traditional carols or secular songs. Year after year, the choices remained the same even though new arrangements were always being written and published. I remember a year when one of my students asked, “Aren’t there any new Christmas songs?” The answer was “no.”

That was then. Today, I could answer that same question with a resounding “yes!” Contemporary Christian music has become a popular source of supplementary Christmas music for piano students of all ages. Christmas Praise music is a genre that is perfect for students who know this music and want to perform it as well as for students (and teachers!) who are looking for new music that celebrates the season. Alfred Music has collections at several different levels that are sure to fit beautifully into your teaching this fall.

My husband, E. L. Lancaster, and I arranged some songs from this rich genre for two easy books, Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise and First Book of Christmas Praise. Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise has 11 solos that are perfect for beginning pianists. Even students who have only had a few weeks of study or have limited skills in note reading will enjoy playing this music.

“How Many Kings” is an example of how the pieces are arranged for this level. How Many Kings (Pre-Reading)Melodies in this collection are divided between the hands and are shown on the page using pre-reading notation. A keyboard chart at the top of the page shows students where to place their hands. Some melodies remain within a single position (as this one does), but others use accidentals that require movement out of the position. While the rhythm of this melody is easy, there are some pieces for which the rhythm notation may be unfamiliar. In these cases, students will usually play the rhythm correctly by ear, or it can be learned quickly by rote. Each piece also has an optional accompaniment for teacher or parent. These accompaniments give the pieces richer sounds and can aid the student with rhythmic security.

How Many KingsFor students who are just beginning to read music, First Book of Christmas Praise contains the same pieces as Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise notated on the staff. By comparing the two versions of “How Many Kings,” you can see that everything remains the same except for the way the melody is notated.

 

 

“Bethlehem Morning,” also foundBethlehem Morning in each volume, is another favorite of students. These two books offer a fun way to reinforce reading and rhythmic skills while enjoying the music of Christmas. (Scroll through attachment to see both sample pages.)

 

 

 

Christian Hits for Christmas, arranged by Melody Bober, features 24 arrangements of contemporary songs for late intermediate to early advanced pianists. These are hits that are frequently heard on Christian radio and Not That Far from Bethlehemperformed in contemporary church services during the Christmas season. I first heard of “Not that Far from Bethlehem” years ago when I became a fan of the female vocal group Point of Grace (two of the original members are from Norman, Oklahoma), and this song was on one of their Christmas albums. I was thrilled to see that Melody had arranged it for this volume. Students can further their skills in lyrical playing and balance between melody and accompaniment while enjoying the gentle beauty of this song.

One Small Child“One Small Child” is an excellent arrangement for analyzing chords in both root position and inversions. Students can study the chordal treatments in this piece and then take these ideas to use in harmonizing other melodies.
This Baby“This Baby” combines “What Child Is This?” with a Steven Curtis Chapman classic. Even Joel would like this combination!

 

 

Carol Tornquist’s’ Praise Solos for ChristmMary, Did You Know?as contains 40 advanced arrangements of Contemporary Christian favorites. If you (or your students) play in church, this collection will be a valuable resource as it can be used for services throughout the holiday season. Two of my favorite pieces are in this collection. “Mary Did You Know?” is a hauntingly beautiful piece (look for a recording of a vocal performance on You Tube by Jubilant Sykes) that is immensely powerful.

 

Breath of Heaven“Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton is equally satisfying to play. Students will want to bring out the left-hand melody on the first page. Both pieces offer students the opportunity to create musical performances while experiencing such things as modulation and key changes, meter changes, and other musical elements.

While the calendar and the weather do not indicate that Christmas is on the way, it is just around the corner. Take time today to choose holiday music for your students, and then dig into that bag of Halloween candy to treat yourself!