Piano Teaching Tips from Mike Springer

Mike Springer

Ah, the big band era—formal ballrooms with a large dance floor, and a band complete with a tight rhythm section, trumpets, trombones, and saxophones all playing the greatest standards of the time—standards that continue to live today.  I love that era, and my piece “Ballroom Big Band” recreates many textures and harmonies you might find in big band classics!

Even though the series Not Just Another Jazz Book, vol. 1-3 was created with the idea that a student could have an experience playing with a jazz combo (piano, bass, and drums), I also included pieces in styles such as rock, ragtime, and Latin.  The performer of “Ballroom Big Band” should imagine a 1940’s big band while playing this piece.  I like to play old recordings of the Glen Miller Orchestra to show my students examples of what I have tried to recreate, and to help them understand the style better.

The piece starts with loud brassy textures in the first full measure.  The thick chords throughout this piece mimic the rich sounds of mid-20th century big bands.  Play these chords with great force, especially the notes that are syncopated.  Use the pedal as indicated in the first measure (and similar measures) to sustain the syncopated rhythm, followed by accented staccato notes.  One of the keys to performing this piece well is following the articulations exactly as indicated to help create energy and forward momentum! Continue to follow the pedal indicators carefully, giving special attention to the pedal lifts since there are so many instances where the phrase ends with a staccato and/or accented chord.  At the conclusion of the “A” section, begin measure 21 softly, with a big crescendo during the measure.  This will lead nicely to measures 22-24, where the energy continues to build to the beginning of the “B” section in measure 25.  This measure includes a “stride” style LH, that emulates drum hits on beats 2 & 4.  The end of the “B” section (measures 31-32) should be energetic, but not accented.  This will help boost the energy level of the return of the “A” section in measure 33.  Although the dynamics are strong in many places throughout the piece, conserve just enough energy to really “take it home!” in measure 42.

My students have a great deal of fun with this piece, especially after they know it well enough to play along with the accompanying CD.  The CD has three tracks for each piece:

  1. For listening, the Performance Model Track features the piano solo with orchestrated background in a complete performance.
  2. For practicing, the Practice Tempo Track features the orchestrated background (without the piano solo) at a slower tempo.
  3. For performing, the Performance Tempo Track features the orchestrated background (without the piano solo) at the performance tempo.

I instruct my students to learn the piece without listening to the CD first, to ensure that they gain the benefit of learning to read and count the rhythms properly (and not by ear).

I hope you enjoy “Ballroom Big Band” as well as the other pieces from the series Not Just Another Jazz Book.  Also, please check out the other books from the series:  Not Just Another Christmas Book, vol. 1-3 and Not Just Another Scale Book, vol. 1-3.

Mike Springer
Author, Arranger, Composer


Ballroom Big Band


3 responses to “Piano Teaching Tips from Mike Springer

  1. Marilyn Burdett

    thank you for the alfred ledger lines. I found the Not just a scale book at a clinic with Gail Kowalski. That has truly been a life saver for my jr hi and hi school students and scales. I am eager to try the jazz and big band books.

    thanks Marilyn Burdett

  2. Seems to me the ascribed prescriptiveness is rather antithetical to the jazz idiom. Just sayin’.

  3. seems to me that zeke7 needs to leave a more descriptive explanation of her or his commentary. As zeke7 would say… “Just say’in”.

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