Monthly Archives: July 2013

Piano Teaching Tips from Martha Mier

Martha MierI have always loved the cool sounds of jazz or blues music. My Jazz, Rags & Blues series has been very popular with today’s young piano students. Many piano teachers have told me that these books have prevented “drop-outs” in their studios. Their students would be losing interest, but when given a jazz book, their enthusiasm returned and they were once again happy piano students. Motivational music is the piano teacher’s “magic wand!”

Premier Piano Course, Jazz, Rags & Blues, book 1B

As part of Alfred’s Premier Piano Course, your students can now enjoy these styles of music with the supplementary series called Premier Jazz, Rags & Blues. Each book of the series correlates with the corresponding levels of the lesson books, giving students invaluable reinforcement of the concepts presented for a more positive learning experience.

Let’s take a look at two short pieces from the all new Premier Jazz, Rags & Blues supplementary books.

A Funky Song

The first piece is from Book 1A, a pre-reading piece on the three black keys. Beginning on the black keys allows students to focus on hand position, rhythm, and arm relaxation without having to read notes on the staff. Above each piece a keyboard is pictured to help the student find where to place the hands. In “A Funky Song,” several new concepts from the lesson book are used and reinforced:

  1. A new rhythm pattern (half-quarter-quarter)
  2. New dynamic signs (forte and piano)
  3. The repeat sign
A Funky Song

Click here to view the full score
with notes to “A Funky Song.”

Before beginning to play, be sure your student is sitting up straight and has relaxed shoulders. The hand position should be rounded, using curved fingers. Drop into the first key with arm weight and play with strong fingers. In measure 2, the importance of the rest on beat 4 should be emphasized; ask the student to raise the hand with a gentle lift of the wrist. The repeat sign at the end asks the student to play piano the 2nd time, reinforcing the difference between forte and piano.

Each piece in books 1A and 1B has a duet accompaniment that adds harmonic interest and rhythmic stability. The jazzy sounds are in the duet parts. In subsequent books, the duets will no longer be needed as new concepts are gradually introduced. The pieces will stand alone as jazz, rags, blues, or boogies.

The Thing-a-ma-jig

The Thing-a-ma-jig

Click to view the full score with
notes to “The Thing-a-ma-jig.”

From Book 1B, “The Thing-a-ma-jig” demonstrates more hand-together playing, and reinforces concepts of legato phrasing, staccato notes, and intervals of 2nds and 3rds.

In measure 1, play the staccato notes with a short, crisp, sound. Be sure to hold the left hand C in measure 2, beat 1, while the right hand plays the staccato notes on beat 2.

Measures 5, 6, and 7 are phrased, and should be played, with a smooth and flowing legato sound. The student should drop into the first note of each phrase, then transfer the arm weight to subsequent notes in the phrase.

Alfred's Premier Piano Course, Jazz, Rags & Blues, book 1BWe all know that students will practice diligently to learn a piece if they like the style of the music. Now your students can enjoy the sounds of Jazz, Rags & Blues in this new series which is carefully correlated with the lesson books of Alfred’s Premier Piano Course.

Martha Mier
Author, Arranger, Composer

The Power of Song

Beth JacobyBy Beth Jacoby
Actor, Teacher, and Writer/Lyricist

On May 15th in Chicago’s Millennium Park, 3,500 members of the Chicago Children’s Choir came together to perform a song about standing up to bullying, exclusion, and discrimination. The song was entitled “The Power of One” and I, along with composer Larry King, wrote it.

Certainly, we couldn’t help but be affected by the sheer scope of the performance. (The fact that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had requested the song be performed right after his speech didn’t hurt either!) But what was more affecting was the impact that the song had on the children who sang it, and the audience who heard it.

“It starts with one voice, that opens the gate…”

Before we actually wrote “The Power of One,” we asked ourselves a few simple questions: “What if we could create a song that could inspire kids to be ‘up-standers’ and not by-standers when encountering issues of discrimination, exclusion, or injustice?” And, “What if that song had multiple solo opportunities, so kids could see and hear how ONE voice really can make a difference?” So that’s what we set out to do.

What happened next was sort of our own version of “If you build it, they will come.” An ASL teacher created some beautiful sign language to accompany the song’s chorus. A group of students in the Chicago Children’s Choir agreed to make a “test market” recording for us. Studio musicians and engineers generously donated their time and talents. And somehow, it all came together.

While we knew we were on to something, I’m not sure any of us could have predicted the response we have received, and not only from kids, but from parents, too. Quite literally, it has “struck a chord.” In recent weeks, I’ve travelled to numerous school choirs in the Chicago area to teach the sign language that goes with the song. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve asked the following question: “How many of you have ever been bullied?” At least a third of the group always raised their hands. We talked about how it made them feel, and what we all could do to help each other. We could have spent each entire class talking!

If we just make the choice, we can end all the hate…”

Though it may be painful at times, this is exactly what needs to happen! It’s only through dialogues like these, in our classrooms and homes, that we’ll be able put an end to a problem that is hurting all of us. The fact that our song has been able to play a role in this process is a testimony to the power that music has in our lives to be a catalyst for change. We extend our sincere thanks to all the kids, choir directors, and parents for their support and hard work. We are extremely grateful.

Click here to listen to and view sample pages for “The Power of One,” which is available in SATB, SAB, and 2-part voicings.

The Development of a Piece

By Dr. Andrew H. Dabczynskidabczynski

Not too many years ago, my wife and I took our children – as have so many other American families – on a pilgrimage to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, certainly one of the most venerated shrines to our nation’s ongoing quest for freedom. We explored the hills and valleys of the bucolic landscape trying to envision the scope and sequence of the terrible events that transpired there, attempting to fathom the staggering loss of life, seeking to understand the very personal and yet broadly national meanings of the battle’s outcomes. We stood on Little Round Top, and in the field that was Pickett’s Charge. We took pictures of monuments dedicated to the brave regiments, and honored the grave of an ancestor who died there. Our experiences were profound and unforgettable.

This month we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. And along with this anniversary, we honor that great leader whose words – delivered to the nation just a few months after the battle – gave meaning to the towering heroism as well as the unspeakable horrors that were endured there. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become perhaps the most iconic speech in this nation’s history, never to be forgotten.

With these things in mind, I sought to create an opportunity for string students to experience for themselves, and to express to others, the meaning and importance of this turning point in our great national struggle. And so I wrote Lincoln at Gettysburg for string orchestra, percussion and narrator (published by Alfred Music, 2013). The piece combines an original musical score with a narration describing Lincoln’s labors to compose his address. Lincoln at Gettysburg begins in a somber and reflective mood conveying Lincoln’s own deep sense of sadness over the catastrophic loss of life in the battle. Themes borrowed from several famous Civil War era songs are heard, including “Kingdom Coming” by Henry C. Work, and “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” a poignant parlor song by George F. Root. As the piece builds to a patriotic finale, additional melodies join in, first from the marching tune “The Battle Cry of Freedom”also by George F. Root – and finally “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steffe. Lincoln at Gettysburg conveys Lincoln’s successful struggle to find the words that would reassure a grieving nation, and would live on to inspire and unify generations of Americans to follow.

As with our family’s experiences visiting Gettysburg – and perhaps like yours – I hope that both students and listeners will never forget their own encounter with Lincoln at Gettysburg.