Monthly Archives: November 2013

Developing Improvisational Skills on Recorder

JIm SolomonBy Jim Solomon

Teaching elementary school music full time for over 30 years and working with middle/high school students every summer has allowed me to experiment with and develop ideas that work with students. Through the years I have become convinced that we need to begin improvisation (and composition) immediately with our beginning recorder players. Click HERE for an excerpt from pages 4-5 of my newest Alfred Music  publication, Hot Jams for Recorder with Guitar and Drum. The focus is how to develop improvisational skills with students in a practical way. I hope it works for you!

*A simple definition of improvisation: “Make your own to fit the music.”

*Improvisational sections are included in five pieces in this collection. For improvisation (improv), all five pieces use the notes of the G pentatonic scale (G-A-B-D-E) centering either on the “la” tonal center (E) or “do” tonal center (G). On the soprano recorder these notes line up in descending order as B-A-G-E-D. Upper octave notes D2-E2-G2-A2-B2 are also available for improv with advanced students. The tonal center is E in all of these five pieces except for “Samba in the BAG,” in which the improv begins over the Em chord, but resolves to G.

*Start working on improv early in the learning process.

*In the beginning practice stages, have students improvise as a group. This will give them the opportunity to experiment and make mistakes without being put on the spot.

*In the later practice stages and for performances, use solo improvisers. Give any interested students the opportunity to solo improvise during the later practice stages.

*When beginning improv practice, start with only one note: B. Teacher plays the guitar part, and students play their ideas that fit with the rhythm and the feeling of the song using only B.

*Then, “Add the note A. Start on B, but add the note A sometimes.” Teacher plays guitar, students experiment with two notes.

*Then, “Add the note G. Start on B, but add A and G sometimes.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice improvising with three notes.

*Then, “Add the note E. Start on B or on E, and add in the others when it feels good to you.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice with four notes.

*Then, “Add the note D. Start on B or E, and add in the others when you wish.” Teacher plays guitar, students practice with the full pentatonic scale.

*For your very capable players, add in any upper octave notes they can comfortably play: D2-E2-G2-A2-B2.

*I’ve found it to be extremely helpful to limit the number of notes they can use in the beginning. Many students, when given a full scale to use at the outset, will randomly play all over the recorder. Starting with one note will focus them on playing within the feeling of the music. Adding one note at a time will gradually increase their options.

*Include vocal improvisation in your practice time. It is excellent for developing improv skills. Echo speak or sing rhythms and melodic patterns that fit the feel of the music.

*Set up improvisation sections according to the abilities of your group. Individuals can:
(Note: In the beginning of Question/Answer practice, Teacher plays the Question and Student plays the Answer. As they develop ideas, change this to Student/Student.)

>Perform their own question and answer.

>Improvise for the length of a section.

>Improvise over the song, or add in “fills” the last time through the song.

Click here to find out more about Hot Jams for Recorder, Book & CD.

Other publications by Jim Solomon:

Conga Town (00-BMR08002)

D.R.U.M. (00-BMR08009)

Hands On (00-25898)

Do you have any improvisation or composition success stories you’ d like to share? We would love to hear  from you!

Easy Tips for Creating Guitar Music with Finale 2014

By Tom Johnson, Finale Product Specialist

TomJohnsonHave you heard this one?

Q. How do you get a guitar player to turn down the volume?

A. Put sheet music in front of them.

While I know some guitar players who are great readers, one way to get better results from any guitar player is to put great sheet music in front of them, and today we’ll see some of the ways in which Finale makes that easy.

Let’s start with a chord chart. Whether you prefer writing a C major seven chord as CM7, CMaj7, Cmaj7, or something else using a triangle, Finale’s got you covered. Finale allows each user to select, or even create, any chord name they wish.


Similarly, guitar fretboards can be added automatically by simply choosing Show Fretboards from Finale’s Chord Menu. And, if the resulting fretboard isn’t exactly what you want, you can choose from a large pre-existing library or create anything you wish using Finale’s Fretboard Editor.

finale2Creating guitar tablature is as easy as creating standard notation. In fact, the methods used are almost identical. Use Document Setup Wizard to add a tablature staff (in your choice of tunings) and an accompanying staff in standard notation, if desired.

In Finale, you can freely copy music between standard notation and tablature staves, and when you do, Finale translates automatically. Start with this example:finale3

Select the music in the standard notation staff and drag it onto the TAB staff, choosing a desired lowest fret. In an instant you see this:


Use the Simple Entry Tool to enter into a TAB staff directly. Choose a duration, click the string and type the number. That’s all there is to it.

You can even play on a MIDI guitar and the music will notate correctly as one performs.

As you can see, Finale offers much for the guitarist from chord charts to real-time entry and everything in-between. So pick up your guitar, start notating, and turn that volume back up!

For over 25 years, Finale has remained the world standard, in part because of its exclusive flexibility to create any anything you can imagine. While Finale 2014 is easier than ever to use, if you ever have a question, help is close at hand. Only Finale offers interactive tutorials, videos, searchable solutions to commonly asked questions, and FREE on-line support. To learn more, visit

Creating a Handbells Used Chart with Finale 2014: Now More Flexible and Easier to Use

Justin PhillipsBy Justin Phillips

With a service each week, you need the ability to produce music quickly, often with a changing group of instrumentalists and singers. Scan a song or hymn and orchestrate with ease! With a few clicks of the mouse, you can change the key, transform your instrumentation, and create that perfect final stanza.

While Finale 2014 includes a pre-made handbell template, some customization is often required to adapt the template to your specific ensemble, such as the range of your bells. If this is the case you may prefer to use a plug-in, included with Finale, to automatically create your list of bells used.

To do so, enter the notes of your handbell piece first. Now select the Selection Tool and go to Edit menu > Select All. Next, navigate to Plug-ins menu > TG Tools > Create Handbells Used Chart.

Handbell ChartSelect or adjust any options needed, then press Go. The plug-in will automatically create a handbells used chart at the top of the score, parenthesize any accidentals, resize the staff and notes, and reset the measure numbering.

As a worship leader you impact lives positively and eternally through God’s gift of the transforming power of music. Let Finale enhance your impact! Finale is now easier than ever to use, but if you ever have a questions, help is close at hand. Only Finale offers interactive tutorials, videos, searchable solution to commonly asked question, and FREE on-line support. Visit for more information.

A Note from the Suzuki Editor

By Pam Phillips

As the Suzuki editor for Alfred Music, let me first thank all the Suzuki committee members who invest hours of volunteer effort on behalf of the Suzuki Method. It is a pleasure to work with all of you!

It is an exciting time with new technology available for books and recordings, along with other news. Just recently Violin Volume 1, Viola Volume 1, Cello Volume 1, and Bass Volume 1 became available on iBooks®. The violin book is in English with the other languages to be released soon.  The long-awaited release of mp3 downloads of Suzuki materials is getting closer. The Violin Committee is working on the revision of Volume 7 and the plan is to release that by the end of 2014. New print volumes now include what we call an AMPV number above the copyright. This number allows the reader to identify the version of the book. This applies to volumes printed or revised since 2010 but not to earlier books. Later this winter a list of the most recent AMPV numbers will be available.

One last news item – Alfred Music is once again able to accept submissions for supplemental books. Remember, if your book submission includes Suzuki material, it must first go through the ISA approval process which can be found here.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the SAA Conference in Minneapolis in May!

Reflecting on the Season

Michael SpresserBy Michael Spresser,
Director of Pop and Lawson-Gould Publications

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Traditionally, November is a month reminding us of the blessings and good that surround us. For music educators, it is also a month of much preparation for the upcoming holiday season and all it brings. In the midst of rehearsals, concert planning, faculty meetings, fund-raising and so on, it is important to remind ourselves that there are students and parents who are grateful for all we do. Many times that gratitude may be unspoken, but we can see it if we look closely:

• the student eyes that light up when they finally grasp a new concept
• the sheer joy that performing often brings to both performer and audience
• the way music positively affects our schools and communities
• the student who becomes a music teacher because of our influence

As we head into this busiest of seasons, I join my editorial colleagues, Andy Beck and Anna Wentlent, in sharing our gratitude for everything you do in the classroom and beyond. We appreciate your continued support of Alfred Music and encourage you to remember that even as life gets busier, even when you are too busy with “non-teaching” responsibilities, even if at times you feel you have a very small heart, there is always something which can fill your heart and mind with gratitude.