Monthly Archives: October 2016

Assembling a Vocal Library

By Sally K. Albrecht

Growing up, I was always busy as an accompanist. I played for musicals, choirs, solo singers, and instrumentalists alike. When I was in middle school, I accompanied my two older high school sisters and their singing friends at vocal solo contests all over the state of Ohio. Generally, I was handed a vocal collection or some kind of book or piece of sheet music from which to play.

In my junior year of college, I began taking some voice lessons. My teacher always insisted I purchase the necessary books at the beginning of each semester, even if we were only going to study one or two songs from the collection.

My next voice teacher didn’t do that. She just made me photocopies of specific songs from her fabulous library of music. It saved me some money at the time, but a few years down the road, when I was teaching and wanted to perform those songs or see what else of interest might have been in those collections, I had no way of knowing where those treasures had come from! (And way back then, in the dark ages, I couldn’t just search a song title on the internet to find out!)

Maybe I didn’t know all of the rules about photocopying then, but I have a feeling my instructor did. And, to be honest, I did toss those illegal copies many years (and moves) ago. But I still really wish I had at least some of those songs/books in my vocal library.

So do your students a favor: work with them to purchase those wonderful and important tools called vocal anthologies. What a great investment it will be for their future. Teach your singers how to order music from a retailer. Help them start to assemble an appropriate, important, and wonderful vocal library, containing a variety of literature that will help them grow as performers.

Here’s my list of top “basic” books from Alfred Music that will stand the test of time in your vocal library. Most are available in Medium High and Medium Low voicings, with or without accompaniment CDs.

1. 26 Italian Songs and AriasEd. by John Glenn Paton. Contains the most important songs and arias, along with background information and translations. By far, the best edition on the market.

2. Singer’s Library of SongCompiled & Ed. by Patrick M. Liebergen. Features 37 songs from the Medieval era through the 20th Century, with historical information, IPA, and translations where needed. Includes a few songs in several different languages, plus a handful of folk songs and spirituals… something for everyone. An excellent potpourri for developing vocalists.

3. Folk Songs for Solo SingersCompiled & Ed. by Jay Althouse. Volume 1 contains 11 arrangements (including the favorite contest solo “Homeward Bound”). I also enjoy the variety of songs in Volume 2 (features 14 arrangements). You’ll also see another great choice, American Folk Songs for Solo Singers!

4. The Spirituals of Harry T. BurleighArr. by Harry T. Burleigh. An incredible anthology of 48 awesome spiritual settings. Did you know that we recorded accompaniment CDs (set of 2) for this collection? There’s a reason most of these arrangements have been in print continuously since around 1920. Did I mention that these arrangements are truly awesome?

5. Favorite Sacred Classics for Solo SingersCompiled & Ed. by Patrick M. Liebergen. Features 18 well-known sacred classics by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others. You’ll be ready to sing in any church or recital hall.

6. Pathways of SongCompiled, arr., translated, and ed. Frank LaForge & Will Earhart. This comprehensive series offers concert songs in appropriate vocal ranges for the voice student, by composers such as Schubert, Brahms, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. The series is available by volume or a compilation of the best songs from every volume!

7. Christmas for Solo SingersEd. Jay Althouse. This books compiles some of the most well-known and time-tested seasonal favorites. Great for seasonal recitals and concerts. Take this book with you to Grandma’s house on Christmas day, and you’ll get the whole family singing along!

Reading Music in Your Comfort Zone

00-42546By Tom Dempsey

As guitarists, for better or worse, we tend to approach the instrument from a visual and/or tactile perspective. We are first introduced to fingerings, grips, diagrams, and other references that we tend to internalize from either one or a combination of these perspectives. As a matter of entry to the instrument this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is in how we approach it as students, and eventually as teachers that allows us to harness the true power of this perspective.

When students first learn how to read music on the guitar there is a tendency to be disconnected from previous knowledge acquired on the instrument. A more effective way to approach reading on the guitar is to connect to prior knowledge or skills acquired. Consider this fingering of the F major scale:

f-major-scale

As students practice learning this scale they should also practice reading the scale. This will help to connect the eyes, brain and fingers together so that when you see that first note you will know that it is an F played on the first fret of the 6th string. In doing so students will soon be able to connect something that is familiar, a scale fingering, with something that might be less familiar like reading music. Through making this connection reading music starts to be come a more comfortable experience.

Once a student begins to feel a connection with the scale fingering of the major scale and the notes on the staff, consider presenting a melody found in the Guitar 101, Book 2:

Guitar 101 Melody

When doing so a connection should be made to the previous F major scale fingering. This allows us to access a certain comfort zone and connect to prior knowledge. Through these types of connections we are able to feel more comfortable and confident reading music on the guitar. Once we start to move up the neck of the guitar learning additional fingerings for our F major scale we can begin to connect to those respective fingerings. In doing so we are now starting to read all over the neck of the guitar. This allows us to have a new level of freedom throughout the entire fret board.

Whether you are trying to look for new strategies to read music or you are searching for new methods to utilize when teaching students to read music consider the following:

1. Make connections to prior knowledge and skills
2. Practice scales while reading the music in an effort to create familiarity through these connections
3. Present reading examples of simple diatonic melodies
4. Connect those melodies to scale fingerings
5. Connect melodies to additional scale fingerings up the neck

When these types of methods are put in place reading music begins to become a less complicated experience. Through connecting to prior knowledge you will begin to read music in your comfort zone.

Tom Dempsey is a New York based jazz guitar performer, recording artist, and educator. He is the author of four books for Alfred Music and the co-author of both volumes of the new Guitar 101 series. Currently Tom is an Associate Professor of Music at LaGuardia Community College as well as an instructor at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Preparing Students to Improvise

BJim Snideroy Jim Snidero

Improvisation is a scary proposition for many music students and teachers. But the word “improvisation” is fairly misleading, as much of what an improviser uses to create a solo is actually preconceived, and therefore can be learned and developed.

Preconceived concepts regarding form, rhythm, melody, harmony and importantly, solo construction, are some of the elements that are tirelessly practiced and perfected by great improvisers (e.g. masters). This creates a foundation for what will be played. Furthermore, masters have preconceived concepts regarding how they will play. Tone, technique, time feel, articulation, phrasing and vibrato style are often the thing that most identifies a master, being carefully formulated and developed, then repeated over and over again.

What separates an improvisation master from everyone else is (1) the quality and quantity of what’s preconceived, (2) art and, (3) taste. The good news is that (1) can be studied and practiced to the point that you can gain control over a massive amount of preconceived concepts. The bad news is that not everyone can create a work of art, and not everyone has exquisite taste.

Masters strike a balance between preconceived concepts and going with the moment, letting their “spirit,” for lack of a better term, lead them to very human expression. This creates a kind of inspired flow. And this sense of balance between essentially “knowing and not knowing,” to quote Chick Corea from a 1976 Keyboard Player magazine article, is informed by incredible taste and yes, talent. But here’s the thing: it’s very tough to create (2) and (3) without (1)! And (1) is something that most definitely can learned.

There’s a little secret that masters know regarding preconceived vocabulary. To quote Chick again from the same article:

“The myth is that you always have to play something different to be spontaneous. But that’s not true. What’s important is how “there” you are when you’re playing: that’s really the point. Good music is just good music whether it’s composed, improvised or whatever.”

No matter how many times you play an idea, if you are “in the moment,” it is spontaneous and can never actually be played the exact same way again, as no one ever experiences a moment exactly the same way. Charlie Parker played some of his signature ideas thousands of times, but they never sounded exactly alike. The same can be said about virtually every master. So preconceived vocabulary is crucial to the creative process.

Transcribing a solo is the best way to build vocabulary, but quality books are also a good source. For example, the new edition of the Jazz Conception series contains a section on improvisation, extracting over 100 ideas from 21 etudes over various common chord progressions. Vocabulary and context!

Once ideas are committed to memory, you then have material to develop both timing and balance. If one idea is active, dense with notes or rhythms, perhaps the next idea could be static, using just a couple of notes or rhythms. If the contour of an idea ascends, perhaps the next idea might descend, creating a peak. This helps you to develop a sense of balance, maybe even taste.

These instincts then allow you to assemble ideas in a logical and musical manner, often helping to “say” something when improvising. The more material, the more you can say. Eventually, your instincts will allow you to play new things that you hear spontaneously in a musical, logical manner, or react to what your bandmates are playing. You will then be able to balance improvisation between “knowing and not knowing.” It’s powerful stuff, not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Jim Snidero is an alto saxophonist, author and educator living in New York City. He is a Savant recording artist, author of the Jazz Conception series and president of The Jazz Conception Company.

Shop the Jazz Conception series here.

Christmas in October

Gayle KowalchykBy Gayle Kowalchyk

Front porches may be dotted with pumpkins, and you might be pondering what kind of candy to buy for your Halloween trick-or-treaters, but it definitely is not too soon to be thinking about Christmas music for your piano students. In fact, in my piano studio, students start working on their holiday music on November 1st. I use the month of October to choose the collections they will be using.

Joel was the very first piano student I had in our studio in Norman, Oklahoma (this was many years ago!). Joel and I hit it off immediately. He was a transfer student in the fourth grade when he began with me, and he arrived at each lesson eager to learn and to share his interests with me. Over the years, I learned a lot about what books he liked to read, What Child Is This?games he liked to play, and the world of scouting (he went on to become an Eagle Scout). One thing that we had in common was that we both loved the Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” This was the only song Joel wanted to play at Christmas, so each year, I had the task of finding a new, harder arrangement for him to play. When he graduated from high school and headed off to college, my graduation gift for him was my own arrangement of this beautiful carol dedicated to him.

At that time, the only Christmas music available for piano students to play were arrangements of traditional carols or secular songs. Year after year, the choices remained the same even though new arrangements were always being written and published. I remember a year when one of my students asked, “Aren’t there any new Christmas songs?” The answer was “no.”

That was then. Today, I could answer that same question with a resounding “yes!” Contemporary Christian music has become a popular source of supplementary Christmas music for piano students of all ages. Christmas Praise music is a genre that is perfect for students who know this music and want to perform it as well as for students (and teachers!) who are looking for new music that celebrates the season. Alfred Music has collections at several different levels that are sure to fit beautifully into your teaching this fall.

My husband, E. L. Lancaster, and I arranged some songs from this rich genre for two easy books, Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise and First Book of Christmas Praise. Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise has 11 solos that are perfect for beginning pianists. Even students who have only had a few weeks of study or have limited skills in note reading will enjoy playing this music.

“How Many Kings” is an example of how the pieces are arranged for this level. How Many Kings (Pre-Reading)Melodies in this collection are divided between the hands and are shown on the page using pre-reading notation. A keyboard chart at the top of the page shows students where to place their hands. Some melodies remain within a single position (as this one does), but others use accidentals that require movement out of the position. While the rhythm of this melody is easy, there are some pieces for which the rhythm notation may be unfamiliar. In these cases, students will usually play the rhythm correctly by ear, or it can be learned quickly by rote. Each piece also has an optional accompaniment for teacher or parent. These accompaniments give the pieces richer sounds and can aid the student with rhythmic security.

How Many KingsFor students who are just beginning to read music, First Book of Christmas Praise contains the same pieces as Pre-Reading Book of Christmas Praise notated on the staff. By comparing the two versions of “How Many Kings,” you can see that everything remains the same except for the way the melody is notated.

 

 

“Bethlehem Morning,” also foundBethlehem Morning in each volume, is another favorite of students. These two books offer a fun way to reinforce reading and rhythmic skills while enjoying the music of Christmas. (Scroll through attachment to see both sample pages.)

 

 

 

Christian Hits for Christmas, arranged by Melody Bober, features 24 arrangements of contemporary songs for late intermediate to early advanced pianists. These are hits that are frequently heard on Christian radio and Not That Far from Bethlehemperformed in contemporary church services during the Christmas season. I first heard of “Not that Far from Bethlehem” years ago when I became a fan of the female vocal group Point of Grace (two of the original members are from Norman, Oklahoma), and this song was on one of their Christmas albums. I was thrilled to see that Melody had arranged it for this volume. Students can further their skills in lyrical playing and balance between melody and accompaniment while enjoying the gentle beauty of this song.

One Small Child“One Small Child” is an excellent arrangement for analyzing chords in both root position and inversions. Students can study the chordal treatments in this piece and then take these ideas to use in harmonizing other melodies.
This Baby“This Baby” combines “What Child Is This?” with a Steven Curtis Chapman classic. Even Joel would like this combination!

 

 

Carol Tornquist’s’ Praise Solos for ChristmMary, Did You Know?as contains 40 advanced arrangements of Contemporary Christian favorites. If you (or your students) play in church, this collection will be a valuable resource as it can be used for services throughout the holiday season. Two of my favorite pieces are in this collection. “Mary Did You Know?” is a hauntingly beautiful piece (look for a recording of a vocal performance on You Tube by Jubilant Sykes) that is immensely powerful.

 

Breath of Heaven“Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton is equally satisfying to play. Students will want to bring out the left-hand melody on the first page. Both pieces offer students the opportunity to create musical performances while experiencing such things as modulation and key changes, meter changes, and other musical elements.

While the calendar and the weather do not indicate that Christmas is on the way, it is just around the corner. Take time today to choose holiday music for your students, and then dig into that bag of Halloween candy to treat yourself!