Tag Archives: piano

Our Favorite Music Moments


Our mission here at Alfred Music is to help the world experience the joy of making music. We’ve certainly experienced this joy ourselves, and it has helped guide and shape our lives in one major way or another. In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, we reflected upon some of our own music classroom moments that brought to us the very joy we hope to share.


“My middle school band director was extremely understanding when I told her I had trouble breathing and couldn’t play the clarinet anymore. She saw potential in me, and handed me some drumsticks. Switching to the percussion section was a blessing in disguise. I was the only female percussionist among 4 rowdy boys, so I quickly learned how to speak up. It also helped me make a lot of new friends. I continued playing drums in my high school jazz band, and in the pit orchestra for our senior year school musical. Drumming gave me confidence, introduced me to new types of music, and became an important piece of my identity. I can’t believe what a crazy turn my life took, and it’s all because my middle school band director gave me a chance.”
—Brooke Greenberg, Graphic Designer

“Some of my best memories span across all of high school. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we had show choir rehearsal. This was where the magic happened. Everyone left their troubles at the door to make amazing music. The energy was electric. It was as if we all came together with one goal in mind, to sing and dance without fear. Best memory was when our choreographer roped our director into warming up with us! He happily joined in, even though he had no dance experience. Made the rehearsal so much more fun!”
—Toni Hosman, Product Marketing Manager, Instrumental Solo & School Performance 



“Throughout school, I bounced back and forth between band and choir, but mostly focused on band in high school. But every time I was in band rehearsal and heard the choir, I wished I was in choir. The sound of the voices, the emotion and meaning that could be communicated through words and vocal inflection. And every time I was in choir and heard the band, I wished I was in band. To be surrounded by beautiful brass and woodwind instruments, a different kind of choir. My band director was great, but I was more inspired by my choir director. He was unique in that he also coached football, wrestling, and track. In fact, he knew me by ‘Rees’ (my last name at the time) because he knew my brothers from track and football. His recruiting campaign to get more guys in choir was hanging ‘Real Men Sing’ posters everywhere, and it was brilliant! Choir went from three guys to an entire section within one semester of campaigning. Honestly, I don’t think it was just the posters that did the trick. It was his true joy while teaching choir—it was contagious. He created an atmosphere where we could ask questions, struggle with parts, and try out for solos without fear of ridicule or judgement from him or other students. It was ultimately that teacher that made me choose voice for my instrument in college.”
—Victoria Meador, Product Marketing Manager, School Methods & Suzuki

Heidi Smith


“As a pianist, the majority of my music education was solitary until college. A whole new world opened up to me when I started college! A classroom full of other musicians, long choir rehearsals and weeks on tour buses, accompanying soloists, spending hours ‘together’ in the practice rooms, struggling through theory and music history homework . . . these experiences helped me bond with my classmates quickly and foster friendships that will last a lifetime. A community of musicians is special, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of my favorite memories is from my 8 a.m. theory class, discussing the form of pieces. Our professor told us to sit on the floor in a circle and passed out plastic cups to each of us. She demonstrated a couple different rhythm patterns to tap on the cups, passing our cup to our neighbor every so often. We listened to ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles—clapping out rhythms, changing the pattern when a new section of the song started (verse, chorus, bridge). We felt a little silly at first, but I think we all secretly had a blast and loved it! The story was told throughout the music department and in subsequent years, everyone knew what it meant when a theory student said it was ‘Yellow Submarine Day.'”
—Heidi Smith, Product Marketing Manager, Piano

Billy Lawler


“My favorite moments from studying music in school happened in between classes. Singing in my school’s vocal jazz ensemble, playing piano in combos, or serving as an accompanist provided so many opportunities to practice alongside others and grow with others as musicians. We shared the common goals of improving both together and as individuals, and that was a major factor in establishing lifelong friendships with my classmates. Our teachers felt more like mentors, coaches, and comrades compared to instructors I’d had in other subjects, and growth as a musician translated into growth as a person. The process of studying music taught me so much more than just how to play an instrument.”
—Billy Lawler, Social & Digital Marketing Specialist

How to Teach Improvisation on the Piano


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.”


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.  



How to Incorporate Jazz in Your Piano Lessons


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


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


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!

Mike Springer

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.

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!

Understanding Latin American Musical Styles

By Wynn-Anne Rossi
Wynn-Anne Rossi
Teachers and students may wonder why a Minnesota composer is writing Latin American music. In short, I could not be more “taken” with this fabulous musical style. In today’s small world, where Russians write jazz and Japanese compose big band music, I feel that I can certainly take on the mambo (and other Latin styles).

When I appeared at the Tango Lights Music Festival in Langdon, North Dakota for the premiere of one of my Latin pieces, students were surprised to see that I had blonde hair. To top that off, my French is better than my Spanish. But, this does not dampen my enthusiasm for Latin American music.

It has indeed been a pleasure to research Latin American music to complete my vision of eight books devoted to this style. The recent release of Musica Latina, Solo Book 4 completes that vision of four books of graded solos and four books of graded duets. Solo Book 4 is written for the late intermediate pianist. Writing at this level gave me the flexibility to use challenging syncopations and rich harmonies.

In the spirit of this series, each piece includes a “nugget” of information that offers students the experience of a journey through Latin America. Book 4 opens with Trem para Paranaguá, capturing a spectacular train trip from Curitiba to Paranaguá in Brazil. This route crosses over 67 bridges and runs through 13 tunnels, descending a steep mountain to the sea.

Each piece also includes a rhythm workshop to help students move from counting to “feeling” the difficult rhythms present in the music. I recommend that students begin by counting and “lap clapping” these slowly, three times in a row. A drum can also be used to play the rhythm. The goal is for students to internalize these rhythms and speed them up until the rhythms feel natural. Latin rhythms can be very tricky, and counting aloud can often get in the way of a smooth performance.

Trem para Paranaguá
Notice the unusual ties in the rhythm workshop for Trem para Paranaguá. Ties are a sign of syncopation, and in this case, a polyrhythm. In the first measure, the right hand has a 2+3+3 against a left hand 4+4. Polyrhythms are at the heart of Latin rhythm, thanks to a history of multiple drummers simultaneously performing multiple rhythms. In the second measure of the workshop, you see a more common use of syncopation. The tie over beat 3 causes an anticipation and natural accent to fall on the previous note.

Rhythm is not the only hallmark of Latin music. Rich, colorful harmony abounds in this style. In both American jazz and Latin styles, you can find extended harmonies (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) along with quartal and quintal configurations. However, the two styles sound very different. I think of this as similar seeds that have been sown in completely different ground.

In the score above, I have marked several things that should aid students in performance, analyzing the music, and understanding the style. Enjoy the ever-changing rhythms, rich colors, and conversational melodies that are so unique to this American music from our southern neighbors!

Helping Students Become Comfortable Playing In All Keys

By Melody Bober
Amy Greer
I remember the fun that I had studying repertoire in a variety of keys. Experiencing the unique character and physical sensations that each key created was a fascinating journey. Some composers who wrote collections using all major and minor keys include Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Carl Czerny (1791–1857), Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Following in this tradition, I am excited to present In All Keys, a two-book series that includes original solos in all major and minor keys.

Frederic Chopin (1810–1849) used the following order for his 24 Preludes, Op. 28: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor, etc. The order follows the circle of fifths, with major keys followed by their relative minor keys. Each book of In All Keys contains 16 pieces and follows Chopin’s circle-of-fifths model, with major keys followed by minor keys.

Book 1 features one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “sharp” keys (G, D, A, E, B, F-sharp, and C-sharp major) and their relative minors (E, B, F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp, and D-sharp minor). Book 2 includes one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “flat” keys (F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat, and C-flat major) and their relative minors (D, G, C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat minor). The C major and A minor pieces of Book 1 are different than the C major and A minor pieces of Book 2. However, the pieces with five, six, and seven sharps in Book 1 have been transposed to their enharmonic flat keys for Book 2.

Between the two books, there are a total of 26 different pieces, six of which appear in both sharp keys and their enharmonic flat-key equivalents. Experiencing the pieces in enharmonic keys provides students with the opportunity to read music in challenging keys while playing familiar notes and rhythms. As an example, “A Night in Cordoba” is written in D-sharp minor in Book 1 and written in E-flat minor in Book 2.

A Night in Cordoba


Regardless of the length of time students study, it is unlikely they will play repertoire in all major and minor keys. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them that opportunity through pieces that also reinforce the study of scales, arpeggios, and chords that are common to those keys? For instance, in Book 1 “Rushing River Rapids” is a piece that features changing meter, arpeggios, and a chromatic scale in a dramatic and fiery setting.

Rushing River Rapids

There are a variety of styles and forms represented in each book: ragtime, boogie, Latin, marches, ballades, and showstoppers. The waltz on page 10 of Book 2 is “Waltzing Through Time” in F major. This delicate piece features four-voice writing, arpeggios in 6ths, and left-hand scale passages.

Waltzing Through Time

Within each book, there is a treasure trove of various technical challenges. “Night Gallop,” the D minor piece from Book 2, is a fast-paced showstopper with crossovers and the D minor scale in both parallel and contrary motion.

Night Gallop


The pieces in the two books also provide effective solos for recitals and competitions. It is my hope that students enjoy performing repertoire in a variety of styles while unlocking the skills necessary to explore music In All Keys.