By Mike Springer
As a composer, I endeavor to create music that has pedagogical value, but also is fun for students to play and for audiences to hear. The pieces in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3 were written over a period of years to best exemplify this idea. Each solo in the series focuses on one or more pedagogical issues that teachers face on a daily basis. The remainder of this article highlights these issues in two pieces from each book.
Book 1: The first piece in Book 1, entitled Medieval Tournament, takes the student back to the medieval times! With the exception of measures 8 and 24, the left hand consists of perfect 5ths (See Example 1a).
The right-hand melody, beginning in measure 5, incorporates simple repetitive rhythm patterns that make the piece easy to learn. Also beginning in measure 5, the right hand completes the chord by adding the third to the open fifths in the left hand. This creates an excellent opportunity to discuss triads with students.
As a supplement to this piece, I have included an improvisation exercise that I use in my studio (See Example 1b). Ask the student to play a perfect fifth (A and E) in the left hand, while improvising on perfect fifths in the right hand. Avoid the fifth in the right hand that begins on F (F and C) and use F-sharp when playing the open fifth that begins on B to avoid the dissonance associated with F natural and the left-hand E.
Majestic Mountain, a former selection included in the Federation Festivals Bulletin of the National Federation of Music Clubs, is a piece that I wrote after my wife and I took a trip to Alaska. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the state and the grandeur of the mountain ranges. This is a piece that sounds very big, but is quite easy to play. It is an excellent study of the diatonic chords in the key of C major and uses many triads in root position in both hands to create interesting harmonic structure. The B section, beginning in measure 17, allows the student to explore a more gentle touch and dynamic range. A gentle, but definite crescendo beginning in measure 25 leads back to the A section (See Example 1c).
Book 2: Sunset Serenade uses a variety of five-finger patterns that move around the keyboard. This makes it a great piece for students with small hands. Lush harmonies, found throughout, include many examples of 6th and 7th chords (See Example 2a). As a composer, sometimes I have very specific ideas for dynamics in mind and include such markings in the score; at other times I wish to leave it open to allow students to experiment with dynamic subtleties in the piece. For example, the student could make a gentle crescendo in measure 1 and a gentle diminuendo in measure 2. At measure 15, the piece could build even further to the beginning of measure 17. I have included some additional suggestions for dynamics in example 2a, although many other possibilities exist. Ask students to be creative in selecting appropriate dynamics that will aid in shaping phrases, and let the creativity flow!
The opening of El Toro begins with a strong A major to B-flat major harmony that is indicative of the Spanish style (See Example 2b). The remainder of the piece allows the student to work on expression and a variety of touches and color. Beginning in measure 16, a slower more lyrical touch is required. The indication at measure 16 says ‘slower with freedom’ (emphasis on freedom), to allow the phrase to breathe. Measure 33 can begin more slowly with an accelerando to the beginning of measure 40. At measure 41 the lyrical nature returns, but with more passion and force.
Book 3: When I was growing up, my father would often refer to the music of Floyd Cramer, who created his own style by adding a static note that was part of the chord above a given melody. This type of device was used in his very famous piece Last Date. When I first sat down to write Jazzy Locomotive, I was not trying to write something that sounded like a locomotive. However, when I applied to the same techniques Floyd Cramer used in his music to my jazzy melody, the tritones in the right hand reminded me of a train (See Example 3a).The piece should begin moderately loud and get stronger when “the locomotive starts to move” in measure 9 (See Example 3b). It is very important to observe all articulations in this piece to achieve the maximum effect. Notice the train whistles in measures 19 and 20 and in measures 34 through 37. Finally, “drive” the sound of the triplets in measure 40 to the beginning of measure 41 until the locomotive comes to rest on the last note.
Rio Grande is one of the pieces from my Recital Suite “Mexico: South of the Border.” On a trip a few years ago, my wife and I went to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas. As we stood on the mesa looking over the river separating Texas and Mexico, (without billboards, telephone wires, or anything else to ruin the landscape) I had a wonderful serenity that came over me and inspired me to write this piece. The piece should not be played too fast, and must begin very quietly (See Example 3c). Enjoy the gentle flow until measure 26, when the crescendo takes us to a new level of passion. Avoid getting too loud in measure 29, as the ultimate climax of the piece occurs in measure 39. In the coda, imagine the setting sun shimmering on the water of the river, and then let the ending fade into dusk.
Enjoy the music in Mike Springer’s Favorite Solos, Books 1–3. May it spark the imaginations of you and your students. Best wishes and success to you in your teaching endeavors!