Archive for the year 2013

NEW for December 2013! The National Anthem of the People's Republic of China
     in Level 3C
Greetings to the proud people of China! A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting Beijing and had the pleasure of interacting with the people there. I found them always friendly and smiling and happy to go out of their way to help an North American tourist who did not know their language.

This piece fills a significant hole in my "National Anthems project." Home of nearly one fifth of the population of the world, China has become an influential player on the world stage.

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New Music for November: "When I First Came to this Land" in Level 4A
               The Pennsylvania Dutch made up this song about persevering and surviving as immigrants in a new land. It was translated from the original German by Oscar Brand ("Dutch" is actually a mispronunciation of "Deutsch", the German word for "German").

Learning this song will introduce you to the all-important stretch of an octave in both hands. The contexts for both stretches will serve you well since they are so common: in the left hand you will leap down an octave on the fifth note of the scale (sol) just before the end of the phrase--good preparation for classical pieces which often contain this figure. In the right hand the stretch is incorporated into a broken chord--good preparation for the arpeggios which advanced pianists practice so much.

So have fun learning this new skill in this fun song!

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New for October: The Apple App, "Sing That Note!"
        This FREE iPhone and iPad App will help improve your listening skills!
"Sing That Note!" (singing optional) is a must have app for anyone interested in improving their ability to listen to and read music .

Have you ever wondered what notes are being sung, what chords are backing up the singer, or how high that crazy trumpet line leaped up? If so, Sing That Note! can help you begin to hear these musical elements. All these listening skills are based on the recognition of one all-important note: the key note, the tonic, the syllable do, or scale degree one (it goes by many names). Test yourself to see if you have recognized the key note in real music as played by live musicians. Just listen to a musical phrase and sing OR PLAY the note you believe to be the key note back into your iPhone. Sing That Note! then analyzes your note and tells you if you have hit the correct one. [--from the iTunes store]

Click the App store graphic on the right.

New Music for October: "Hino Nacional Brasileiro",
        The National Anthem of Brazil, in Level 4B
         In the past decade Brazil has come to the attention of people around the world as an economic powerhouse and as host to several high profile international events. Brazil was host to Pope Francis in 2013 and will soon host the FIFA World Cup (in 2014) and the Summer Olympics (in 2016). Traditionally an exporter of coffee and soybeans, Brazil's economy is becoming more high-tech, in the words of the CIA factbook, "outweighing that of all other South American countries, and expanding its presence in world markets" .

It is true that Brazil has recently gone through some political and economic challenges, but what modern country has not? Brazil's problems are those of a vigorous people suddenly finding themselves on the world stage and struggling for a trustworthy and honest government.

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September's Pieces: Two Musettes, one by Gil (your host here) in Level 3C
    and one by Bach in Keyboard Classics
A musette is an old French bagpipe with a soft small sound. If you're used to the loud Scottish ones designed for big military marches, this quiet instrument may come as a surprise to you. French peasants would play musettes for themselves or an occasional sheep which wandered by as they watched their flock. When the nobility began idealizing the "simple life" of the poor, they asked their court composers to make up simple, rustic pieces called Musettes.

In both new pieces for this month you will play the typical drones of the bagpipe. In Bach's there is a long held G; in mine there are repeated A's and E's played together. Against these static, unmoving accompaniments the right hand plays a folk inspired melody.

I hope you like these pieces. I am offering my own composition for free this time. It is the only original composition of mine on this site which is available for free.

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Music for August: "Faith of our Fathers" in Level 2C
         Faith of our Fathers is an English hymn, the words of which were written in 1849 by Frederick William Faber in memory of the Catholic martyrs from during the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII. In the U.S. it is usually sung to the tune "St Catherine" by Henri Hemy--and this is the tune I arranged here--while In England and Ireland it is usually sung to the traditional tune "Sawston".

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July's New Music! "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster in Primer Level C
This song tells of a lover serenading a "Beautiful Dreamer", who is oblivious to all worldly cares. Helen Lightner writes, "This sentimental ballad is folk-like in character with its repetitious but lovely melody and its basic harmonic accompaniment. The quiet and calm of this mood is portrayed by the arpeggiated accompaniment [in the original] and by the repetitiveness of the melodic pattern. --from Wikipedia

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The innocence of the dreamer in this song is in contrast with the mood of the next song. Read on...

More Music for July: "Hard Times, Come Again No More" also by
    Stephen Foster in Primer Level C
         There was a resurgence of interest in the song, "Hard Times" with the financial crisis of 2008. Many people identified with the difficulties Foster portrayed. With an important and serious theme, this piece can be quite meaningful to adult beginning pianists.

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New Music for June! "The Music Box" by Gurlitt in Keyboard Classics
Here's the perfect piece to introduce treble clef in the left hand and the stretch of an octave. The octave is approached gradually and systematically while the high notes in the left hand reflect the high pitches of a music box. In addition, I have simplified the look of the piece on the page by changing the meter from 3/8 to 3/4 thereby doing away with those nasty looking 16th notes!

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More Music for June: Three Moods by Türk, also in Keyboard Classics
As you play Three Moods think of the contrasts between the pieces. First is an easygoing 4/4 entitled "Carefree", then comes a slow piece in minor, and finally there is a piece with spirited scales in D major--I call it "Scaling the Heights." Three Moods is a great set for older beginners who can easily reach octave skips. All three pieces are from Daniel Gottlob Türk's "Kleine Handstücke," a set of 49 very short compositions, most a mere 8 measures long.

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But wait! There's still more: Tons of new practice tools in Keyboard Classics

When you find your new June pieces you will also notice lots of new practice tools for every single piece on the page. There are new audio files, some with playback at a slow speed and some with right and left hand alone, and there are new Youtube videos of talented musicians playing the pieces you want to learn. All this new material will give you more valuable resources for your goal: learning to play the piano.

Music for May! "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in Level 3B
This song is wonderfully and deceptively complex. The melody is simple enough for a child who is anticipating the return of a parent, yet the words also mention the ladies who will turn out and men cheering from the crowd. The minor key reflects the danger of a soldier's job while simultaneously the song's words are joyous and exuberant: "Johnny is coming home!" How complicated we are in these intense situations; How well this song has captured a whole range of our emotions!

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More Music for May: "Home, Sweet Home" Level 4A
A nice counterpoint to the above song, I have set this piece with solid and simple chords--nothing fancy and with minimal dissonances. Just a sense of comfortable calm. It is good to be home!

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For April, think ahead: Learn "Pomp and Circumstance" in Level 4A
Congratulations to all graduates! Yes, it does seem early to be thinking about graduating, but I know how long it takes to decide what piece to play (or who should play it), to learn it, to memorize it, and to finally perform it. So here we are at least a month ahead--no excuses for passing it up.

A few comments about the piece itself: Sir Edward Elgar wrote a set of six "Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches", and what we normally call "Pomp and Circumstance" is the trio of the first March. The tradition of playing this piece during a graduation ceremony began at Yale, and has become so common, especially in high schools,that the idea of omitting it has become all but unthinkable.

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More Music for April: "Hickory Dickory Dock" in Level 1B
I'm using this fun kid's song to help you learn (or teach) a shift in the right hand five-finger position from thumb on C to thumb on D. It's a great introduction to getting the right thumb off of C. It involves only a short stepwise phrase, and you can have all the time in the world to shift your hand--I have provided two (count them, 2) fermatas immediately beforehand.

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Music For March: Practice with I and V7 Chords

The block chords in this month's pieces are basic to almost every accompaniment a pianist plays, and practicing them early is a great way to build up to more complicated patterns--"chord figurations" as composers call them. Challenge yourself to play the pieces smoothly, with no pauses as you prepare to change chords. Both "Lazy Mary" and "A-Tisket A-Tasket" have versions in the keys of C, D, F and G.
"Lazy Mary" in Level 2A will help you get familiar with I and V7 chords in the left hand. It is a popular American folk song (and has nothing to do with the Italian song by the same name as sung by Lou Monte).

"A-Tisket, A-Tasket" also in Level 2A will give you practice with the same chords in the right hand. Though basically a children's song, it was popularized by the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald--proof that a great performance depends as much on interpretation as on the sophistication of the piece.

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Music For February: Two Italian Songs

My mother taught me these songs, as she did a few others on these pages, and I have fond memories of singing about the mountains around Turin which our family so loved. Bardonecchia, Melezet, Aosta... these towns showed us a calmer and more peaceful life than that of the big bustling city.
"Sul cappello" or "A Feather in our Hat" in Level 2A was first sung during World War I by the "Alpini", a tough military regiment which specialized in the rugged and forbidding terrain of the Alps. The feather in their hat was a source of pride and, as the song states, served as their flag. See the videos.

"Quel mazzolin di fiori" or "That Little Mountain Bouquet" in Intermediate Level 1 is a popular mountain song with a quick and cheery tune. "Watch out that my bouquet doesn't get wet," the narrator sings. "I want to give it as a present for my husband this evening." There is no hint in the first verses that the husband probably won't be coming home because he will be visiting Rosina. Don't worry. As an Intermediate piece I did not feel compelled to include these initially bright, but ultimately disappointing, words. See the videos.

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Music For January, 2013: Four(!) Versions of "Banks of the Ohio"
    in: First Pieces,  Primer,  Level 1  and Level 2

Whether you have never played before or you have played for a good year or two, you will find a version of this old mountain song at your ability level. You no longer have to say, "I sure wish I could play that tune, but it's too easy [or hard] for me." Arrangements of folk music are not written in stone. Part of their beauty is that arrangements can be written appropriate to any skill, any instrument or even any genre. Maybe in the months to come I will arrange some harder versions--Maybe I'll even arrange a jazz or classical version! "Horrors!" would say my purest folk musician friends. "Would he dare??" Well stick around. I just might!

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See earlier postings of sheet music in the archives for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.


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