Most beginning piano methods include illustrations, words, and descriptive titles that help students develop interpretative ideas about tempo, dynamics, touch and mood. Many of these beginning pieces can be considered easy “character pieces,” a form associated with the Romantic era. After a while, students study pieces without words and with very few pictures (if any). Finally, they perform pieces with no words or pictures and with generic word titles such as nocturne, prelude, scherzo, and ballade.
When writing Musical Scenes, Books 1-3, my intention was to create musical “character pieces” with titles that help create the mental picture of a particular scene, event, or feeling. When introducing these pieces to students, I often ask them to try writing lyrics for the music to reflect the title. The title of the piece often fits the melody line, and adding these words can help with touch, phrasing, and mood. I have also found that the lyrics can help students play musically and with feeling.
An example of the title fitting the music is “I’m Happy” from Book 1. When saying the word “happy,” the emphasis is on “hap,” and “py” is spoken with less emphases. In the music, a staccato dot on “py” requires students to lift the hands to get ready for the rest that follows. The hands then drop to start the new identical phrase.
Students may not always come up with lyrics that you like! An example of words that one of my students created for “Practicing” from Book 1 follows. When you read the words, you will know why I did not really like the words, but the student was honest. The piece opens up with a four-measure, smooth phrase with a crescendo. It is followed by two short phrases that decrescendo. At measure 16, the B section suggests a mood change.
When I was writing these pieces, I particularly had teenagers in mind since this age group is known for changes in emotions. One day they are up; the next day they are down. They may be full of tears one minute and filled with laughter the next minute. I wanted them to be able to express their feelings through the music in the pieces in Musical Scenes.
In “Why?” from Book 2, the title is a questioning word. Because it is not possible to crescendo on a single note, saying the word “why” on a long note helps students feel that the sound is sustaining.
Other pieces in the series suggest other emotions.
- “I Just Get So Mad!” from Book 1 – anger
- “Tension” from Book 1 – uptight
- “Wishing on a Star” from Book 1 – hopeful
- “Being Silly” from Book 1 – happy
- “Where Am I Going?” from Book 2 – confusion
- “The Stay-at-Home Blues” from Book 2 -boredom
- “Storm” from Book 3 – anger
- “Skeletons’ Ball” from Book 3 – happy
In my experience, students can create interesting, thoughtful, and provocative words. It is also acceptable to only create words for specific phrases or sections rather than for the entire piece. Some students will sing the words, but others feel more comfortable just speaking them. Even just thinking about the words can help them with interpretation.
My favorite lyrics created by my students were for “More Salsa, Please!” from Book 2.
The pieces in Musical Scenes are really similar to preludes, nocturnes, and scherzos. By studying these pieces and adding words, I hope that students will be able to apply similar interpretative techniques to such pieces by master composers from the Romantic era.
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