Category Archives: Piano

How to Teach Improvisation on the Piano

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By Loren Gold

I’ve been playing keyboards on the road with The Who since 2012. It is the greatest job I’ve ever had, but it was a long road to gather all the techniques needed to get this dream gig. My journey started with classical piano lessons when I was seven. My first piano teacher may not know it, but they nurtured my love of piano, and got me on the path to “stardom” by giving me a solid foundation in technique. Having a solid background in classical music has allowed me the freedom to become creative with my composing and while playing other styles like ragtime, blues, rock, gospel, and R&B. Here’s how you can start incorporating improvisation in your piano lessons with your students:

  1. Establish a strong foundation in technique, ear-training, and theory: During lessons, you’re likely already focusing on fingering, hand position, scales, and other techniques that help create a strong and healthy musical foundation for students. Having a strong ear and theoretical understanding of compositions will allow students to be more creative improvisers.
  2. Choose repertoire that makes sense: The goal is to provide your students with all the tools needed to learn to improvise in lots of different styles, but to make the best impact on your lessons, introduce improvisation along with pieces that compliment what you are working on, or songs the student is already familiar with.
  3. Seek Inspiration: Before diving into soloing themselves, students should study and listen to example solos by other artists to help inspire ideas. Students can transcribe these solos and learn to play them lick-by-lick, including dynamics and articulations.
  4. Connect the dots: Like any other piece of music you’d teach in your lessons, point out how the chord progression is utilized in the construction of the example solos. Connect the dots between how scales, modes, and popular licks relate to chords, and how they can be used in crafting original solos.
  5. Leave the page: Once your student has mastered an example solo, encourage them to slowly branch out and incorporate their own ideas. It is essential that they are encouraged to eventually stop thinking about what they’ve learned verbatim, and begin to “go off the page” and play from the heart. You can try comping the chords, so the student can focus solely on their soloing, or use a backing track if one is available. Remember, there are no wrong notes when experimenting with improvisation! It’s time to explore and find a voice. Encourage mistakes while also helping them remember what works.

whiskeylights-1A great example of a familiar tune that can be used as a starting point in introducing improvisation is “Whiskey Lights” from Sitting In: Rock Piano. “Whiskey Lights” is in the style of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and includes a repeated eight-bar section for improvising (mm. 26-33). The first thing you’ll notice in the piece is that there is a solid repeated bass line throughout the entire song. Once this bass line is mastered, the right hand is free to explore mixing and matching various rhythms, ideas, and patterns to create something unique through improvisation.

If your student isn’t familiar with “Light My Fire,” encourage them to listen to a recording of it, and particularly pay attention to what keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger play during their solos.

A great way to correlate “Whiskey Lights” to their standard repertoire is to show how those pieces present similar challenges. For example, look at the first four bars of Mozart’s “Sonata K. 545.”

Sonata_k545

If the simple Alberti bass pattern is played evenly, the top melody can sing above it just as an improvised solo should be free to soar above the accompaniment in “Whiskey Lights.” It is a simple correlation, but critical to being a good soloist. You can also talk about the makeup of The Doors: they didn’t have a bass player so Ray played all the bass lines on the organ. Rock trivia and history can be a huge inspiration to some students!

Next, play through the entire written music of “Whiskey Lights” including the notated comping in the solo section. Point out how the chord symbols above the right hand show the chord progression, and how the same progression is used in the solo section. Show the theory behind the chord construction and related scales including the E Dorian mode which will be useful in soloing.

Page_9-10There are also four sample licks on pages 9-10 that provide notated ideas and suggestions. Note that “Lick 1″ adds a flat-5 to give the solo a more bluesy sound.

Now it’s time to start improvising! While it’s great if you and your student play a duet on the piano—you comp on the chords while your student solos—the tracks that accompany the book include live bass, drums, and guitar players (and sax on some tracks) who are playing in the appropriate style. Encourage students to use the “Rhythm Section Only” tracks at home when practicing on their own. Click here to access the rhythm track for “Whiskey Lights.”

During lessons, continue to focus on fingering, hand position, and other techniques while your student is learning improvisation. The idea of soloing in a lesson shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Mix it in with standard pieces so you can focus on the similarities of techniques needed to play well, no matter what style the student is playing. Having correct technique lets you be a more creative improviser, and maybe you’ll even have a dream gig with The Who someday!

LorenGoldLoren Gold is an in-demand keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter who has played extensively with international pop and rock acts such as Roger Daltrey, The Who, Kenny Loggins, and more. He has served as musical director for artists such as Taylor Hicks, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato. In addition to touring and session work, Loren composes original music for films and TV. Learn more at www.lorengold.com.  


 

 

Job Requirements for Private Piano Teachers

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By Gayle Kowalchyk

The path I took to my career in independent piano teaching was not a straight one. Sure that I wanted to do something in music, and knowing I didn’t want to be a public school music teacher, I began my college career with a major in Music Therapy. One year later, I switched my major to Piano Performance. By my senior year, I had developed an interest in piano pedagogy and decided I wanted to teach class piano at the college level. I set my sights on a Masters Degree in Piano Pedagogy and upon graduation, got a job teaching class piano and piano pedagogy in Illinois. I was all set on my career path!

But along the way, I fell in love, got married, and moved to Oklahoma. With no college job prospects in sight, I decided to open a piano studio in our home. My first student, Joel, was a transfer student in the third grade. We clicked immediately, and together we were off on a journey that continues to this day – Joel studied piano with me until he graduated from high school. He has continued to play piano and keep in touch with me since then.

There were other students like Joel, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. I loved teaching children and running my own studio. But never in a million years when I began college as a Music Therapy major would I have envisioned myself as an independent piano teacher!

I imagine that many independent piano teachers’ career paths have wound around just as mine has. This got me wondering – if I saw a job advertisement for an independent piano teacher position, would I apply? What would that job description entail? I then wrote the following as a hypothetical job announcement for someone seeking work as an independent piano teacher in the 21st century.

Wanted

Long-term position open for someone looking for challenging permanent work in a changing world. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours including afternoons, evenings, and some weekends.

Responsibilities

Must be able to work with a variety of ages and levels and assume responsibility for the final end product. Must schedule all lesson times, reschedule lesson times, and once again reschedule for clients who are continually adding other activities to their schedules. Candidates for this position must have their own studio space, piano, music library, and other needed supplies. Aside from scheduled lesson times, candidates should devote part of each week to lesson preparation and practicing the piano.

Wages and Compensation

Candidate will set his or her own wages, but must also bill for them and collect payment. Must be prepared to handle clients who pay late and clients who ask for family discounts. All continuing education is paid for by the candidate and will include out-of-town travel. During this time, wages will be lost unless other arrangements have been made.

Knowledge of Technology

Candidates must have access to a computer, the internet, and perhaps someone who can show them how to use these things.

Possibility for Advancement and Promotion

None. The job remains the same for years, but candidates must consistently retrain and update their skills so that their clients no longer need them.

Benefits

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no paid holidays, and no stock options are offered (unless you create your own), this job supplies limitless opportunities for changing lives one at a time, instilling the love of music in the hearts of many, and in general, making the world a better place to live.

Obviously, all of us have accepted this position! Congratulations on choosing a career that touches the lives of many and enriches the world in which we live. There is none other like it.

gayle
Dr. Gayle Kowalchyk and her husband, Dr. E. L. Lancaster, have authored more than 400 educational piano books based on their years of experience on college faculties and in their private piano studios.

How to Incorporate Jazz in Your Piano Lessons

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By Wynn-Anne Rossi

Revolution is a powerful concept. Humanity has experienced it in many forms, from our fight for freedom to dynamic social and cultural change. When I consider musical revolution, jazz is the first thing that comes to mind. In America, it all began with jazz. Jazz is the foundation, the building block that has opened doors to the modern music heard every day on the radio. Rock, hip-hop, dubstep, and many other musical genres would not exist without these radical beginnings.

Jazzin’ Americana is a four-book piano solo series that celebrates the American jazz revolution from the roots of ragtime and blues to the groundbreaking styles of Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis. Stretching in level from late elementary through late intermediate, students will become familiar with the adventurous sounds of jazz. With the help of interesting musical facts, they will also gain an understanding of its complex history and cultural influence. Improvisation is not the focus of these books. However, teachers and students may find it fun to utilize certain left-hand patterns or chord sequences from the books as springboards for free experimentation.

As most of jazz music was not originally conceived for solo piano, I initially set out to compose original tributes to jazz movements and musicians. This meant research! I spent many hours reading stacks on stacks of jazz books at the library and listening to recording after recording. My aim was to create accessible, playable music without sacrificing the sophisticated melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that define the essence of jazz.

Let’s explore a piece from each book!

Beginning with “Bird in the Bebop” in Book 1, notice that each piece provides enlightening trivia, inspiring curiosity, and personal research.

Interesting facts about “Bird in the Bebop”:

Saxaphone player Charlie Parker (also known as “Yardbird” or “Bird”) was at the forefront of the bebop revolution. Faster tempos, improvisation, and complex harmonies spread like wildfire, and “hot jazz” was born.

Rhythm workshops also precede each piece, encouraging the student to tap and feel prominent rhythms:rhythm-workshopBird in the Bebop
In “Bird in the Bebop,” a single melodic line begins the piece, allowing the student to push the tempo up and feel the energy of this “hot jazz” style. Throughout the piece, chromatic movement also helps define the genre. Staccato vs. legato is crucial. Notice the strong “bop” ending.

Let’s consider “Miles of Mixolydian” in Book 2. Italian Keyboard ComposersThough modes didn’t begin with jazz, leading musicians certainly took advantage of them. Miles Davis offered many examples of modal jazz in his best-selling album, Kind of Blue. Modal jazz tends to be thoughtful, almost hypnotic. Repetitive motifs—both melodic and rhythmic—allow the listener to relax into this unique sound. When teaching this piece, encourage the student to point out patterns and repeats.

Italian Keyboard Composers
Art Tatum was and continues to be the ultimate role model for jazz pianists. Blind from birth, he broke through technical barriers that pianists are still trying to analyze today. In Book 3, “Tribute to Tatum” begins with a driving Dm6 jazz run down the piano and maintains Tatum-like energy until its final run up the piano at the end. 16th note jazz “licks” and color harmonies are sprinkled throughout the piece, accentuated by dynamic changes.

Italian Keyboard Composers
Women have always had a strong voice via jazz, from the blues of Bessie Smith to the unforgettable voice of Ella Fitzgerald. Book 4 highlights the tragic life of Billie Holiday with the soulful piece, “Lady of the Day.” This music honors her compelling life with a strong dose of A minor, supported by complex harmonies and heartfelt movement. Note the descending chromatic bass line. The B section at measure 9 ramps up the emotion with syncopated, driving 16ths.

The jazz revolution will maintain its influence for many decades to come. Modern music trends will draw inspiration from these healthy roots. Composers and educators will continue to discover the power of our rich jazz history, helping us improvise our way into the future of music.

Be cool. Introduce the hot jazz revolution with Jazzin’ Americana!

Wynn-Anne Rossi
Wynn-Anne Rossi is a nationally acclaimed composer and dynamic educator whose works have reached audiences throughout the United States, Europe, Iceland and Australia. Her passion for promoting creativity in young musicians is reflected in her choice of publications with Alfred Music. For more information, visit Wynn-Anne’s website at www.rossi-music.com.


Introducing Important Keyboard Composers and Literature

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By Tom Gerou

To play with correct style, it is essential to understand the historical background of the piece and its composer. Deeper understanding leads to greater expression and appreciation.

With the success and interest in Great Music & Musicians 1: An Overview of Music History, Nancy Bachus and I felt a second book focusing on keyboard composers and keyboard literature would be helpful to piano teachers by providing an easy way to introduce both well-known, and lesser-known, composers and their music to students.
Great Music & Musicians 2Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature explores the progressive development of the piano repertoire and the times and personalities of leading keyboard composers. Great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (known as the “Three Bs”) are household names in the lexicon of keyboard literature and are given greater emphasis. Also discussed are many lesser-known composers who have made contributions to keyboard literature, and are important in understanding the progression of musical styles.

Burgmüller, Clementi, Czerny, Hanon, and Heller are composers likely to be more familiar to students than to the general public. Successful piano teachers themselves, these composers wrote pieces aimed as preparation for more complex concert repertoire. Students learn many of these pieces during their formative years of piano study, since they were specifically created to assist technical and musical development. History is a series of smaller stylistic developments that culminate in works of great masters in each cultural style period. Yet, to students and teachers alike, the lives and times of these influential, often overlooked composers, are commonly unknown.
Great Music & Musicians 2 presents in chronological order, the development of keyboards, style, and composers, with colorful use of fine art to visually guide students through the centuries. Musical examples for listening are provided through downloads to further illustrate the text. Each section of the nine units, is organized into six pages. The final page provides a summary of the unit, musical examples with guidance for listening, and a written activity. Texts are brief and intended to offer easily-read insight on each topic.
The example pages that follow are a small sampling from various units throughout the book that illustrate the approach we took in writing Great Music & Musicians 2.
English Virginal MusicA student may wonder if there was keyboard music before the Baroque period. During the late Renaissance early Baroque period, influential English virginalist composers—Byrd, Gibbons, and Bull, became known through large collections of published keyboard works, allowing the spread of the English keyboard style throughout Europe.

 

Italian Keyboard Composers

 

Concurrently, in Italy, composers Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and Merulo developed their own keyboard styles. Uniquely idiomatic to the instrument, their music introduces new examples of dynamics and virtuosity.

 

 

Unit Summary

 

Each activity page contains a unit summary, two listening examples, further suggested listening, and an activity that reviews important concepts from the unit.

 

 

 

Female ComposersFemale composers such as Élizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Nannerl Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Cécile Chaminade are appropriately included throughout the book. Each is placed within their style period, along with their more famous male counterparts.

 

Lesser-known ComposersLesser-known composers, like the Englishman John Field, are included because of their influence on the great composers. In this case, Chopin’s masterful Nocturnes were influenced by Field’s earlier ones, yet he is virtually unknown to many students.

Master composers such as Claude Debussy are given greater treatment in the book. Notice the image of Debussy’s piano at the top right. Effort was given to show pictures of keyboards throughout history so students can see its development. More attention is given to the piano, although clavichords, harpsichords, and organs are also represented visually and in listening examples.

Master ComposersA vital tool to understanding chronology in piano literature is the numbering systems used for different composers. Where appropriate, the most common numbering systems used for a composer’s catalog of works is introduced. For instance, Debussy’s works are identified by the Lesure (L.) catalogue numbers of François Lesure (French, 1923–2001).

20th CenturyEffort was made to introduce composers in chronological order. However, since multiple musical styles often develop simultaneously, many units focus on unique developments within the major cultural periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century). An example of this is one page of Unit 8 exploring the Spanish style of Albéniz, Falla, and Granados at the turn of the 20th century.

Dmitri ShostakovichA wealth of 20th century piano literature stems from Russia and the Soviet Union. Major composers of this library of literature are Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and student favorites Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. Each page discussing the composers has a visual backdrop that helps to convey the time, like this page on Soviet composers Shostakovich and Kabalevsky. This is to encourage teacher and student to further explore the impact of politics and culture on music.

Nancy Bachus and I enjoyed creating this book. One of the most difficult challenges was what not to introduce or explain. We tried to avoid lengthy text and details, believing an introduction to major keyboard composers would be most memorable and helpful to students as they progress in their studies. A framework of the major style periods and composers gives a foundation for students to understand musical style and to interpret it. Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature merely touches the surface of an immense library of literature and the composers who created it. We hope students will be inspired to explore and to learn more about the great music and musicians they are studying!

Tom Gerou
With over 130 publications, Tom Gerou is known for the wide variety of his output. His outgoing personality also allows him to excel as a popular Alfred Music clinician, offering special insights into Alfred’s latest publications.


Fostering Reading Skills in Preschool Pianists

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By E. L. LancasterE. L. Lancaster
The materials used in piano lessons for young students (ages 4–6) tend to be much less performance-oriented than those used with average-age beginners (ages 7–9). Young children should experience a variety of music activities that provide a general introduction to music. Any repertoire performed at the piano must take into account the small hands of the child. Most four- and five-year olds cannot play three-note chords or music with many independent voices split between the hands. In general, the introduction to notation and staff reading should follow activities that allow students to respond to music and learn about keyboard topography.

At the same time, the activities in lessons for young children need to change frequently due to their limited attention spans. They do not sit and listen to long verbal explanations. Physical activity (moving and responding to music) is an important part of learning. To a great extent, learning depends on imitation, and demonstration is very important in the lesson. “Hands on” experiences are more important than verbal explanations. With these characteristics in mind, teachers need to move from activity to activity about every three minutes. That does not mean that one cannot return to the same activity within the lesson since repetition is important in the learning process.

In the Music Lesson Books of Music for Little Mozarts, students are introduced to musical concepts and performance pieces at the piano. The other core books help add variety to the lesson with activities that are done away from the keyboard. The Music Workbooks reinforce concepts with pages for children to color. They also focus on the training and development of ear. The Music Discovery Books include singing, listening, and movement activities. Included in the books are songs to sing for fun, motion songs to introduce musical responses to music, songs to reinforce specific rhythm patterns, and songs to aid in the development of musical expressiveness.

The newest books in the Music for Little Mozarts series are the Notespeller & Sight Play Books. Each page of the books has two activities – a written activity and a playing example. The written activity reinforces notes on the keyboard and the staff through coloring, circling, drawing, or matching. The sight-play examples help students:

  • Relate notes and musical concepts to performance on the keyboard.
  • Move out of fixed hand positions.
  • Identify melodic and rhythm patterns.

Both of the activities in these books lay a foundation for developing strong reading skills. They provide systematic instruction and reinforcement of reading principles while helping students understand the concepts that are essential to being a secure music reader. Becoming a good sight-reader takes an extended period of time, but elements presented in these books are of prime importance in establishing the skills needed for this long-range development.

The remainder of this article will highlight some of the important concepts and skills necessary to become a good reader by examining a page from each of the levels of the Music for Little Mozarts Notespeller & Sight-Play Books. Before students encounter notation on the staff, they must be totally comfortable with finding keys on the keyboard.MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 1The written example on page 13 of Book 1 (see Example 1) asks the student to color keys on the keyboard, helping to develop the skill of finding keys quickly.

The Sight-Play section on this page contains two examples. The examples use exactly the same notes, but are played with different fingerings. This helps student realize that any key can be played with any finger.

One of the early keys to good reading is the ability to recognize steps and skips both on the keyboard and on the staff. On page 23 of Book 2, students are working with identifying skips on the staff and naming the notes in each skip.MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 2The Sight-Play example at the bottom of the page applies this to a short two-measure reading example (see Example 2).

One of the most difficult tasks when reading music is reading notes in two clefs simultaneously. In Music Lesson Book 3 of Music for Little Mozarts, hands-together playing is introduced. The written examples at the top of page 24 in Notespeller & Sight-Play Book 3 (see Example 3) MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 3ask the student to name a different note in each clef and circle the correct answer. The Sight-Play example has the same left-hand note throughout the entire example while the right-hand notes change. This allows the student to focus on the coordination necessary to execute the music at the piano with minimal reading challenges.

Identifying patterns, both rhythmic and melodic, is essential to the continued development of reading skills. The written examples on page 30 of Book 4 (see Example 4)MLM: Notespeller & Sight-Play, Book 4 require students to identify five-finger patterns by name. The Sight-Play at the bottom of the page gives them two beats of rest to change to a new location on the keyboard within a specified amount of time.

Each lesson for young students should include a short amount of time devoted to “practicing” sight reading skills in a systematic way. The Notespeller & Sight Play Books provide a solid structure to allow this practicing to happen within the lesson time. At the same time, it moves the student to and from the piano bench providing the necessary change of activities to keep young students truly involved – happy sight reading!

Pieces with Pedagogical Value Can Also Be Fun!

By Mike Springer
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.

Medieval TournamentBook 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.
Perfect 5th ImprovisationAs 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

 

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).

Sunset SerenadeBook 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!
El Toro
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.

The evolution of 'Jazzy Locomotive'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). Jazzy LocomotiveIt 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

 

 

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!

Sincerely,
Mike Springer

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!

The Method Dilemma

E. L. LancasterToo Old for a Children’s Method and Too Young for an Adult Method
By E. L. Lancaster

Today’s students are more sophisticated than ever due to technology and social media. Our seven- and eight-year old students usually like typical beginning methods with colored art work and words to beginning pieces. When beginning students are nine-years and older, sometimes beginning methods appear to be too juvenile for them. At the same time, adult methods present too much information for them to successfully assimilate and move too quickly for technical and musical success. Since the release of Premier Piano Course, many teachers have said that their older students like the music, but they can sometimes move faster.

Premier Piano Express is a method for those students who can progress more quickly than younger students but need less information to absorb than is found in adult methods.
Book 1 includes all concepts introduced in Premier Piano Course, Levels 1A and 1B. Book 2 includes all concepts introduced in Levels 2A and 2B. The features of the “Express Course” follow:
• It is designed for students who need a faster-paced approach to piano study.
• It integrates Lesson, Theory, Technique, and Performance pages into each book.
• Like the regular course, it utilizes a non-position reading approach to avoid fixed hand positions and introduces rhythms in multiple-note patterns.
• Each book includes a CD+ with MIDI files, TNT2 Custom Mix Software, and MP3s of orchestrated accompaniments with piano, orchestrated accompaniments without piano, acoustic piano performances at practice tempos, and acoustic piano performances at performance tempos.

The TNT2 Custom Mix Software allows the user to change tempos in the audio files. In addition, the CD-ROM contains General MIDI files that can be downloaded. For students who do not have a CD-ROM drive, these files can be downloaded at alfred.com/premierpianoexpress.
This comprehensive course is organized into skills-based units that feature clear explanations of important musical concepts, written worksheets to provide review and strengthen understanding, as well as optional duet accompaniments to create fulfilling musical experiences. The Unit titles follow:

Premier Piano ExpressBook 1
Unit 1: Keyboard Basics
Unit 2: The Music Alphabet
Unit 3: The Staff
Unit 4: Steps in Bass Clef
Unit 5: Steps in Treble Clef
Unit 6: Skips on the Staff
Unit 7: Legato and Staccato
Unit 8: Intervals of 2nds and 3rds
Unit 9: The G 5-Finger Pattern
Unit 10: Intervals of 4ths and 5ths
Unit 11: Sharps and Flats

Premier Piano ExpressBook 2
Unit 1: The C 5-Finger Pattern
Unit 2: Dynamics and Tempo
Unit 3: Tonic and Dominant in C
Unit 4: Eighth Notes
Unit 5: Tonic and Dominant in G
Unit 6: Half and Whole Steps
Unit 7: Major 5-Finger Patterns
Unit 8: Interval of a 6th
Unit 9: New Notes on the Staff
Unit 10: Minor 5-Finger Patterns
Unit 11: Intervals of 7th and Octaves
Unit 12: C and G Major Scales and Chords
Unit 13: Dotted Quarter Note

The music in Premier Piano Express was written by Dennis Alexander and Martha Mier. To make the course more appealing to older students, the original art work has been removed and any juvenile words have also been eliminated from the music. The last three pieces in Book 1 illustrate the various styles featured in the course. They include two familiar arrangements and an original piece in a showstopper style. (Click the image below and scroll through to see all the sample pages).
Premier Piano Express
This accelerated approach includes method, theory, performance, and technique pages in each unit – giving students a comprehensive approach upon which to build musical understanding and performance skills. Pages 21–24 of Unit 4 from Book 2 illustrate pages that focus on these four important areas. (Click the image below and scroll through to see all the sample pages).
Premier Piano Express
Choosing a method that appeals to each student is a teacher’s most important job when working with beginning students. In Professional Piano Teaching, Book 1, Jeanine Jacobson lists important criteria to consider when selecting a method. She summarizes in three important points:
• The function of a method book is to provide a logical progression for learning concepts and skills, and music for the practice of these elements.
• Choosing the appropriate method will help students move through the beginning stages with relative ease, while laying a strong foundation for future study.
• The student’s learning style, experience with music, understanding of the keyboard, aural and physical development, reading capabilities, and rhythmic maturity are all factors to be considered when choosing a beginning method.
Premier Piano Express fills the need for students who are too old for a children’s method and too young for an adult method.

Arranging Popular Hits to Reinforce Concepts

By Tom Gerou
Tom Gerou

Over the years, I have enjoyed arranging many titles for the Top Hits, Praise Hits, and Patriotic Solos books in Alfred’s Basic Piano Library. Knowing that students enjoy playing familiar popular music, I recently added Popular Hits, Levels 1A, 1B, 2, and 3 to the library. In choosing pieces, I selected more current titles than are contained in many pop books that are a part of methods. These arrangements are correlated page by page with the Lesson Books and reinforce the concepts introduced in the method.

Arranging popular music to reinforce the concepts introduced in the Lesson Book pages presents unique challenges. At the early levels, this is especially true. Choosing age-appropriate titles with melodies that fit within a limited range of notes is one of those challenges. To ensure that pieces are not too long, I often only arrange the most recognizable section(s). At the earlier levels (1A and 1B), teacher duet parts support the student part and offer a richer, more satisfying experience. The remainder of this article will point out the concepts reinforced in pieces from various levels of the Popular Hits books and identify challenging that I encountered when making them musically and technically accessible for students.

Popular Hits, Level 1A: Just the Way You Are (Amazing)

The slurs in the arrangement of the Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are (Amazing)” reinforce legato playing. The legato RH melody alternates with harmonic 2nds, 3rds, and 4ths in the LH. The intervals fill in the harmony between fragments of the melody. The common note (G) at the top of each interval makes the motion easier. In measures 12-13, the lower notes of the harmonic intervals are ascending. Measure 16 uses a broken C major triad (skips or 3rds) before finishing the final chord.

Repeat signs are introduced in this level, and I encourage students to always observe the repeats. Not only does the piece sound more substantial by being longer (albeit with a literal repeat), but it encourages students to respect the balance of form when learning sonatinas and sonatas in later studies. Repeats are essential to balancing sections within the form of the piece—they are not optional. To avoid using the half rest, which has not been introduced, the piece begins with a 2nd in the LH in the student part. When taking the repeat, the 2nd also helps propel the motion.

Just the Way You Are (Amazing)

Popular Hits, Level 1A: Theme from Superman

The arrangement of “Theme from Superman” is an example of the melody re-notated in 3/4 meter with augmented (doubled) rhythmic values to avoid the use of triplets. In the method, students have not been introduced to triplets that are essential to this melody. When played up to tempo, the perception is the same as a triplet, yet the quarter-note notation allows the student to count with familiar rhythmic values.

This arrangement is in C position with an accidental (F-sharp in measure 18) placed within an interval of a 3rd. Sharps are new to the student and the use of the F-sharp remains within the RH range of C position. The duet part directly supports the student part with emphasis placed on hearing the pulse—essential to the beginning student.

Theme from Superman

Let It GoPopular Hits, Level 1B: Let It Go (from Walt Disney’s Frozen)

When students begin to play hands together, it is important to avoid too many occurrences in the same arrangement. In “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, a pattern is set up using 3rds in both the RH and the LH. Students briefly play hands together. In these instances, the interval of a 3rd is used as an accompanying figure, requiring careful balance between the hands.

Cantina BandPopular Hits, Level 1B: Cantina Band (from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

Staccato and legato touches are used in this arrangement of a Star Wars® favorite, “Cantina Band.” Students are given ample opportunity to review sharps and flats introduced in Level 1A and utilize eighth notes introduced in this level.

 

Popular Hits, Level 1B: Batman ThemeBatman Theme

The well-known Batman theme is a wonderful correlation to the pages in the Lesson Book where half steps are introduced. The theme passes from LH to RH, offering the opportunity to practice half steps in both hands. In measure 2, an eighth rest is added in the LH to allow students to prepare for the next measure. A quarter rest in the RH serves the same function. The 2nds in the RH melody are held, letting students focus on the accompanying chromatic pattern.

All About That BassPopular Hits, Level 1B: All About That Bass

D-flat is used to allow the natural sign to be reinforced in the Meghan Trainor hit, “All About That Bass.” By using a D-flat instead of a C-sharp, the student can clearly see the interval of a 3rd when approaching the B-flat. I took advantage of the title and arranged the melody in the LH (the “Bass”) throughout. On the second page, the melody is repeated an octave lower.

Over the RainbowPopular Hits, Level 2: Over the Rainbow (As sung by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole)

This famous melody, “Over the Rainbow,” was reinterpreted by the artist IZ with the accompaniment of a ukulele. A typical ukulele accompaniment pattern is retained in the LH. To avoid unnecessary difficulty, the pattern is dropped and restarted throughout the piece. Although the melody is familiar, the interpretation by IZ provides a contemporary version of the melody.

Hand shifts are necessary throughout the piece but are preceded by rests to allow time for the hands to move. Measure 8 uses an ascending five-finger pattern in the LH, while measures 15 and 16 use an extended hand position and the interval of an octave in the RH.

Take on the WorldPopular Hits, Level 2: Take On the World (Theme from Girl Meets World)

“Take on the World” is the theme from a popular Disney Channel series, Girl Meets World. The two rhythm patterns in the LH in measures 1-2 and 3-4 are used throughout the song. By minimizing the number of patterns that are used, students can easily learn and practice them. In measures 9 and 10, the RH melody uses an ascending G major scale. The LH scale descends in measures 11 and 12 as part of the accompaniment.

Star Wars Main ThemePopular Hits, Level 2: Star Wars (Main Theme)

This arrangement of “Star Wars® (Main Theme)” requires the LH to cross over the RH in measure 7. Students enjoy the motion and it serves to avoid stretching or changing hand positions to reach the high D. The RH remains in D position for the chords in measures 8-9. The melody shifts between the hands when the LH crosses over the RH.

What Do You Mean?
Popular Hits, Level 3: What Do You Mean?

This Justin Bieber song is perfect for reinforcing pedaling, playing 8va, and easy hand shifting. I added an introduction (measures 1-4) to the beginning and repeated it in measures 22-25 to give variety to the arrangement. In measure 5, the student pedals the first three beats as the harmony settles on a 9th chord. The sound is unique so the student should let the chord ring out, an effect supported by the pedal. Similar pedaling is repeated throughout the piece.

A LH rhythm is introduced in measure 13 that echoes throughout the remainder of the piece. It helps the piece move forward with more rhythmic activity. The measure also provides an opportunity to cross finger 2 over finger 1.

See You AgainPopular Hits, Level 3: See You Again (from Furious 7)

As students make progress, they gradually extend out of a five-finger position. “See You Again” from the movie Furious 7 opens with a C major triad using fingers 1, 2, and 3, so that the 4th finger can execute a wider-range melody.

In measure 1, intervals are played instead of triads that students have not yet learned. In measure 3, a second inversion F major triad (IV) and the root position C major triad (I)are used since students have studied these close position chords. This change of harmonic density offers variety throughout the piece.

Colour My WorldPopular Hits, Level 3: Colour My World

“Colour My World,” by the band Chicago, allows the student to practice broken triads in the RH. I only arranged the introduction, as it stands quite well as an individual piece. In measure 1 of the original, the RH would have played a broken, four-note 7th chord. I eliminated the first note in each pattern of this arrangement so that the RH only plays triads throughout. This piece is also an excellent vehicle for working on syncopated pedaling as the downbeat of each measure is pedaled consistently throughout.

Correlating popular songs to a method is a challenging undertaking. However, the final result provides student-friendly arrangements that thoroughly reinforce the skills and concepts at each level while making them satisfying for students, teachers, and audiences. I hope that you and your students enjoy playing these “Popular Hits.”

A Four-Point Plan for Student Success at the Piano

Teaching Tips from Elvina Pearce
Elvina Pearce
Starting a new piece is a special event, and getting off to a good start is very important! When introducing a new piece, I use a “Four-Point Plan” to help students. The lesson plan that follows is one that I use to introduce “Toccata Breve” from my book, Elvina Pearce’s Favorite Solos, Book 2.

Step One: Exploring What the Piece Is About

I ask the student a series of questions to aid with learning. I explore these questions together with the student in the lesson. Questions for this piece follow:
• What is a toccata?
• What does breve mean?
• Above measure one, what words are used to suggest the piece’s character?
• How will the dynamics and other things such as the tempo, rhythm, staccatos, and accents affect the interpretation and mood of this piece?

Step Two: Hearing a Performance of the Piece

After discussing what the piece is about, I play it for the student before determining how to practice it. I play it because I think it is unrealistic to expect students to be enthusiastic about learning to play a new piece without having actually heard it. However, I do make an exception to this policy with elementary-level students who are in the process of acquiring reading skills, because I want to be sure that they are actually reading their pieces and not just playing by ear.

Step Three: Analyzing the Piece’s Form and Structural Elements

Because I always ask my students to follow the music as they listen to the performance, they are ready to analyze its structure, dividing it into sections and labeling them. Example 1 illustrates how a student might mark and label the form of “Toccata Breve.”

Toccata Breve

In addition to its formal structure, I discuss with the student other useful information that a formal analysis reveals about this piece. Some examples follow:
• Except for the last line, the LH part consists of only two intervals. What are the two intervals? (4ths and 5ths) Which two fingers play the 4ths? (1 and 4) Which two fingers play the 5ths? (5 and 1)
• The RH also consists mostly of just two intervals. What are the two intervals? (3rds and 4ths) Which two fingers play the 3rds? (1 and 3) Which two fingers play the 4ths?(1 and 4 as in m. 6, or 2 and 5 as in m. 11).
• How many times does the RH play three-note blocked chords? (Seven) All but one of these are 6/3 (1st inversion) chords. In which measure is there a different chord? (m. 16) What kind of a chord is in this measure? (A 5/3 root position minor triad).
• Dynamically, how is the B section different from the A section? (The B section is mf, softer than the first A section which is f.)
• In which measures does the tempo slow down? (m. 20, and mm. 31-32)

Step Four: Determining Practice Procedures

The successful outcome of a piece depends on practice—not on how much, but on how it is practiced. Besides understanding the form of a piece before beginning to work on it, a thorough analysis of its structural elements also provides valuable clues about how to practice it.

I categorize practice procedures such as those that follow as the “mechanics” of practicing. These are the things that need to be done to be able to play pieces accurately at the appropriate tempo with technical ease and security.

Practice Tips for Working Out “Toccata Breve”

Recommended tips for how to practice “Toccata Breve” follow. When students try these practice steps, they are able to learn this piece quickly!

• LH: Play the two notes in each circle blocked together as shown in Example 2. Practicing just these circled shifts of position means that students are practicing the entire LH part.

Example 2

• RH: Play the circles only (not in rhythm) moving from one circle to the next until these changes can be easily executed as in Example 3. When this can be done easily, play the RH as written, adding the rhythm, and counting aloud.

Example 3

When playing “Toccata Breve” at a slow tempo, I recommend that it be counted as if written in 6/8 time rather than 2/4 because of the triplets. See Example 4. Notice that the accented quarter note occurs on count 5.

Example 4

• HT (Hands Together): When practicing hands together, work in short sections (A, B, Coda). First, play each section HT with LH as written and RH blocked as shown in Example 5.

Example 5

Next, play HT as written at a “thinking tempo.”A “thinking tempo” is the speed at which a piece can be played 100% accurately with technical security. This is usually very slow in the work-out phase of a new piece, and in the case of “Toccata Breve,” a “thinking tempo” might be eighth note = 96. When secure at eighth note = 96, once again working in sections, increase the tempo incrementally until arriving at the suggested performance tempo (quarter note = 84).

Once a piece can be played securely at the desired performance tempo, then the focus in practice can shift from mechanics to musicality. In “Toccata Breve,” this would entail adding the dynamics, the ritardandos, the pedal in measure 20, and above all, striving to create a very lively and energetic character throughout.

When the approach is based on the Four-Point Plan, learning the piece will get off to a good start. Students should have access to and then carefully follow specific practice steps that are designed to make it possible to achieve maximum success with a minimum amount of time and effort. The overall goal is always to get to the “good stuff”—the musicality of a piece—as soon as possible so that the player can experience the enjoyment and satisfaction of creating a rewarding musical performance!

The pieces in the three books of Elvina Pearce’s Favorite Solos series were designed as recreational music that can be learned quickly and played for enjoyment. “Toccata Breve” is one of my favorite pieces from Book 2 and I hope that you will enjoy playing it and the other pieces in the series as much as I enjoyed writing them!