Piano Teaching Tips from Dennis Alexander

Dennis AlexanderAbout a year ago, I became enamored with the tango when I was introduced to the music of “QTango,” a professional music ensemble that performs regularly in Albuquerque and throughout the United States. Their music immediately captured my attention, and ever since then I have been interested in writing more music for students in this wonderful, rhythmical, and musically appealing style!  MTNA recently commissioned me to write a chamber music work for their 2013 National Conference in Anaheim, and my “Dance Suite” for violin, cello, and piano (of which the first movement is an “Introduction-Tango”) was premiered at that conference last March.

A Splash of Color, book 3Tango a la Mango” is now one of my favorite pieces in A Splash of Color,  book 3 and I am delighted that the National Federation of Music Clubs has included it on their new 2014-2016 syllabus. This collection contains seven colorful solos in romantic and contemporary styles designed to enhance an awareness of imagery in performance. When performing this piece, the performer needs to envision the seductive sounds of the tango style, along with the elegant and beautiful dancing that accompanies the music! The musical element that really sets tango apart from other dance styles is syncopation. Most often seen written in 2/4 time, it is characterized by being in a duple meter. Simple, repeated syncopated rhythms (like this one: dotted 8th, 16th, 8th, 8th) are very commonly heard. Since the dance is supremely rhythmic in nature, it is important that any performance of a tango is accurate and very well controlled from a rhythmic standpoint.

Tango a la Mango

Tango a la Mango, from
A Splash of Color, book 3

I have thus marked the opening tempo moderato e deciso in the hope that all of these rhythmic figures will be played “decisively” and no faster than quarter note = 63-69. The pedal markings should be strictly observed to create the correct articulation and color of the dance. Be sure that students count the triplets in measure 2 as two even sets of triplets (and not as two 16ths, followed by a triplet). Saying the words “trip-e-let, trip-e-let” at the very beginning of the measure starting on the 8th rest might be helpful for some students.

In measure 6, be sure to cross the LH over the RH following the rapid group of 32nd notes. This makes the execution of this rhythm easier and more pronounced. Voice out those top notes in the RH chords from measures 9-15.

The B section starts suddenly mp and is seductive, warm, and passionate. Listen for an ultra smooth, legato line; take a little time going into the beautiful D major chord in measure 17. This is often referred to as “rhythmic placement”. This section modulates through several different keys, including a deceptive cadence at measure 27, and leads into a dramatic cadenza beginning in measure 31. Take some time in measure 30, with big sounds in the LH last two 8th notes. Start the cadenza slower, and then accelerando into measure 33…count that half note at its full value, and then just “melt” into the return of the A section in measure 35.

Again, voicing in the RH is important, just like in the first section. The piece ends quietly and mysteriously. Observe the pedaling; listen for exact rhythms in the LH patterns of measures 49-51. In measure 52, a quarter pedal with the staccato notes helps create a wonderful color.  Play the last two-note slurs delicately and stretch the last 16th note slightly, again placing the last 8th note just slightly past the down beat.

Teachers and students might enjoy hearing me perform this work by going to my personal website (www.dennisalexander.com) and clicking on my “compositions” link. Simply click on “New Releases,” scroll down until you see the cover for A Splash of Color, book 3. Then click on the second arrow on the right for “Tango a la Mango.” I hope you have as much fun teaching and/or performing this piece as I had composing it!

Sincerely,
Dennis Alexander
Author, Arranger, Composer

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One response to “Piano Teaching Tips from Dennis Alexander

  1. Thank you, Dennis! My students are really enjoying this book, and especially Tango a la Mango!

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