Although we think of Chopsticks as a quirky beginner’s tune, it is actually not that easy to play! Chopsticks is most fun when we play it as a duet, but if you are sheltering in place, a duet partner might not be so easy to find.
This Chopsticks arrangement has a secondo part that is easy and repetitive enough so that even a non-musical but willing companion in your quarantined life should be able to pick it up with a little patience and practice after watching the video below.
The first page of the sheet music shows an easy secondo accompaniment you can teach your partner by rote. In the video below, my husband is playing the first pagesecondo part throughout, which is the best choice for a non-pianist. My husband felt most comfortable using his Right Hand 3-4 fingers for F-G, and 2-4 fingers for E-G, but your partner might prefer using just RH 2-3 fingers for both chords. (You can make it even easier by having your partner play just a RH G throughout, instead of RH F-G and E-G.)
The second and third pages add some notes in the secondo part which you can teach to someone who has some piano skills. The primo part changes on each page.
These were the variations I learned as a child, but I bet you know some others! Click Download below for some additional (more advanced) variations that include some fun glissandos:
Chopsticks was originally called The Celebrated Chop Waltz and was composed by a 16-year-old girl named Euphemia Allan, in 1877. Her brother was a music publisher and helped her get it published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. Allan gave this instruction for the primo: “Play both hands turned sideways, little fingers lowest, so that the movement of the hands imitates the chopping from which this waltz gets its name.”
I hope that you are coping as well as possible during this sad and difficult time. If you are sheltering in place, I hope you have a bit of fun learning the Chopsticks duet with a partner! 🎵 😊 🎵
One of the most daunting aspects of writing music is the limitless possibilities for chords, melodies and lyrics. In this post I will give you some strategies for how to begin writing a melody using examples from popular songs and pieces, and by setting some limitations for yourself.
When I was a film composer in the 1990s and 2000s, I would ask the director to describe the emotion of the scene for which I was writing background music. How did s/he want the the audience to feel? Excited? Terrified? In love? Triumphant? Suspicious? Ecstatic? Once I knew the emotion, I searched for a childhood memory of feeling that emotion (childhood memories are the most poignant, but any moment from your history works). Then I started humming melodies, or playing them on the piano with chords, until I found one that seemed to capture the emotion best. (BTW- always record your humming or keyboard noodling – you can use the voice memo app on your smartphone, or invest in a small digital recorder.) If you are writing a song with lyrics, then you may already know what you want to write about. But if you are writing an instrumental piece, decide upon an emotion, or think about a story you want to tell through your music.
For your first tries at composing, write within a scale, (such as the C-scale as suggested in the Part 1video, as well as the Part 2 video below) and start the song on the 1-chord (C Major). Notes within a scale are not all created equal! Watch the video below to learn about the strong and weak notes in a scale:
After watching the Part 2 video, play a C Major chord with your left hand and experiment with notes with your right hand until you find a melody you like. Have fun with this first step and celebrate when you find your first melody line. In Part 3 we will go deeper into setting chords to melody, or melody to chords!
I hope you have been getting your creative juices flowing after spending some time improvising on your instrument. If you haven’t yet tried improvising, read this post.
To compose a song or piece, you can start with the chords, or the melody, or the lyrics, or a combination of those three elements. In this post we will approach composing using chords. To show you how to find the chords that will work for your song or piece, I have made a YouTube video demonstrating chord theory, with examples of chord progressions from popular songs and pieces. It might seem confusing at first, but after watching it a few times I hope it starts to make sense:
To reiterate what you saw in the video above, you can find the chords for your song by playing triads (3-note chords that skip a key/letter) on each note of whichever key you choose to write in, using only the notes from the scale to form your chords.
In the video I chose to use the key of C for ease and comfort. But if you are composing a song with lyrics you might need to use other keys in order to accommodate the range of the singer.
To make it easier for you, here is a chart showing the seven chords associated with each scale, or key. Click to Print:
After watching the video and printing out the chart, experiment with some chord progressions. Keep trying combinations of chords until you find a progression you really like. Or you can use one of the progressions outlined in the video. Have fun with this! Don’t expect to write your masterpiece on your first try!
In my next post I will approach composing from the melody, but you will find it easier if you already understand the chord theory described in the video and chart above.
Best wishes for your good health, with love and music, Gaili
I first fell in love with Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do when I heard Alison Krauss sing it in the 2003 movie Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts and Kirsten Dunst. It has also been featured in other films and television shows, and was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and Linda Ronstadt.
I have created two arrangements for you. The first is an intermediate/advanced arrangement with a moving bass line:
One of the things I love most about this song is the way it moves from major chords to minor chords so much. For example in the first full measure with lyrics (lyrics starting with “do”) there is a C major chord. In the second measure (lyrics starting with “you”) there is an F minor chord (Fm6 in the intermediate arrangement). In the third measure it’s major, the fourth it’s minor, and so on. Reflecting life itself (especially now), this song alternates in tone between gratitude for we have cherished, and grief for what has been lost.
(Remember that the free sheet music I post is only available for a year, so be sure to print before May 2021!)
I hope that you are staying healthy and are enjoying playing your piano. Have you tried some composing or improvising as I discussed in my last post? Please let us know how you are doing with it in the comments below! Coming soon, I am going to give you some tools for taking the next step towards writing a song or piece.
Be well and practice on! With love and music, Gaili
P.S. Hershey Felder is doing an online encore production of his portrayal of Irving Berlin to benefit The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts on Mother’s Day! I have seen this show and it is truly wonderful, and very educational. For example, did you know that Irving Berlin wrote about 1500 songs, but dictated his songs instead of writing them down? And he played almost entirely in the key of F# because he preferred playing on the black keys! You can can view the show by clicking here. There is a household fee to watch.
With all of the extra time you now have, it is a great time for you to stick your toe into the pool of songwriting. Ok don’t scream, shudder or declare “absolutely not!” before you hear me out. Think about this: We improvise all of the time in our daily lives; when we speak, when we prepare a meal, when we exercise, etc. We are born improvisors, putting things together as we go along. So why not play around a bit on your keyboard just for the fun of it? Or just out of curiosity? Also, improvising is REALLY GREAT for your brain. If you don’t believe me, listen to Charles Limb’s 16 minute Ted Talk and you’ll be fully convinced. Then please read or reread my blog posts about improvising: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to get you started playing to some chord progressions.
If I have convinced you to try improvising, here are some ideas to take you to the next step. First, de-clutter your practice space. Move sheet music you aren’t currently playing away from your field of vision. An open space supports an open, creative mind. Keep your tools (blank manuscript paper, pencils, eraser, pens) neat, clean and visible, so that you’re reminded to practice whenever you pass by. Begin your practice with small steps and low expectations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every artist was first an amateur.” Start by setting an intention to just mingle with your keys for 10 minutes a day. Make it part of your healthful daily routines such as brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast. Don’t let your head hit the pillow at night until you’ve jammed on the keyboard for 10 minutes. Notice which musical phrases you liked, and which you didn’t like. Write down the phrases you liked either as notes on manuscript paper (blank sheet music lined paper) or as letters going up or down on the page. You might use the phrases you like in a song later.
If you would like to try to write a song with lyrics, scribble words—any words—on paper for 10 minutes. Write about your angst, your fear, your lethargy, your blank page—whatever the obstacle is feeling like at the moment. I have a piano student who one day realized that he wanted to become a songwriter. When I asked him what he’d like to write about first, he grimaced, “I can’t do it! I’m so uncomfortable!” “Great!” I replied. “That’s your first line.” And he wrote a great song called, Uncomfortable. Or you might write about what or who you love, about your gratitude, or about something fun (remember having fun? call upon those memories even if you aren’t having fun right now!) Just play around with your lyrics ’til you get a couple of lines down that you like. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is great advice. Forget about creating your masterpiece. Just flex the muscles of your imagination. Shake hands with it and take it out for a little spin. Taking those first tentative steps daily, saves us from the tyranny of procrastination. With time, try to become a little braver during your 10 minutes . Trust your creativity more than your fear. As author John A. Shedd said, “A ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for.” What are you built for? Begin to tap into your own style, voice, and perspective. Get curious and dabble. Then find a small focus towards your creative progress and work on it. For at least 10 minutes each day. Set your phone timer for 10 minutes then forget about time and focus on your art.
In my next post I will help you get started with putting a song (with lyrics) or instrumental piece (without lyrics) together.
How is your piano practice going? Do you find it relaxing to practice? I hope you are coping as well as can be during our quarantine. With love and music, Gaili
P.S. If you need a manuscript book for your compositions you can click on the yellow book below to purchase ours on Amazon. You can also check out our Upper Hands Piano instruction book and our Songs of the Seasons: Spring book!
Subscribe (top left) to receive new sheet music coming May 1st!
Since most of us are confined to our homes with more time to play the piano, I decided to post the complete Rhapsody in Blue today, rather than spreading it out over the next two months. Pages 3-4 present the final and most beloved theme, with a powerful, majestic finish. There are many octaves on the last two pages; if it feels too difficult to play all of the notes for these widespread chords, you can drop the bottom note of each of the right hand chords, and/or drop the top note of each left hand chord. *Note* I also changed the last chord on p. 2 to an arpeggio followed by a fermata, to adhere more closely to the original sheet music. After you play the arpeggio, the fermata signals a pause in the music before continuing on to page 3.
What are you playing right now? How is it going? Leave a comment below and tell us about your piano practice. If you are having any challenges with your playing or your students’ playing, please tell us about them! Perhaps I can offer some advice if you would like it. I am teaching online for about 4-5 hours per day instead of my usual 6-7 hours of in-person lessons, so I have more time too.
I hope you have enjoyed playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It is a wonderful piece and I have done my best to maintain the integrity of the original sheet music in my intermediate arrangement. With any luck, our social isolation will be over by the time you master the piece! I look forward to the days ahead when we begin to emerge from our cocoons, transformed by the experience of confinement, feeling gratitude for our return to some of life’s simple pleasures.
By the way, this will be my last post on Blog.UpperHandsPiano.com. I will be refocusing on other musical projects that will preclude me creating piano arrangements and discussions. Thanks for joining me these past eight years!
Hahaha – Nope, just fooling. I love blogging and arranging music for you, and nothing can keep me away! If you want to receive notice of my free piano sheet music, musical worksheets, exercises and discussions via email, please subscribe! I never share or spam email addresses. Best Wishes for a happier, healthier April. With love and music, Gaili
I received requests for more pieces from the 2020 adaptation of Emma (now playing in theaters as well as online!), so today I am sending you another three pieces (and a few extra arrangements).
I loved the song Country Life the minute I heard it resounding over an exterior scene in Emma, but some people I know didn’t care for the track. I grew up listening to old English and Celtic music on a radio show called The Thistle and Shamrock, so I was used to the harmonies and the the raw vocal style. What do you think? Click on the free sheet music download below the video to play and sing Country Life:
Emma plays and sings an Irish Air called The Last Rose of Summer to entertain guests at a party. It’s noteworthy that the actress Anya Taylor-Joy is actually performing this sweet and beautiful song herself! There is no Youtube recording from the film, but here is a performance by Celtic Woman:
I found three interesting arrangements of The Last Rose of Summer. First, this is the traditional score with the vocal part and piano accompaniment:
Do you enjoy listening to film soundtracks? I love listening to underscoring (background music) during feature films, which are full of emotion and often fully orchestrated. Film scores are the best way for contemporary composers to support themselves, so there are some wonderful musicians writing our film music today. The score for Emma is beautiful, but since it is not in the public domain I cannot give you the sheet music for it. You might however enjoying listening to the soundtrack on Youtube, iTunes, Amazon music or other music outlets. I love the operatic theme entitled “Emma Woodhouse”, best.
That’s it for now, in a few days I will be posting Part 3 of my Rhapsody in Blue piano arrangement. (Click here to print the first set of pieces from Emma 2020.) I hope you are getting some extra piano practice in during these unsociable days. And try to take some time to listen to beautiful, uplifting music every day. With love and music, Gaili
Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Available on Amazon with instructional videos on Youtube!
In the last month I have seen the 2020 film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma twice; once in the theater, and a second time last Friday when it was pre-released for rental on Amazon. Though the rental was expensive ($20), being able to watch it as a family makes it worthwhile. I also purchased the soundtrack as I absolutely love it. There are classical pieces and old English Airs, as well as beautiful underscoring by a female composer named Isobel Waller-Bridge. As a former film composer, I cheer for any woman who is able to break the barriers and score a feature film.
Besides the entertaining story, the gorgeous costumes, majestic homes and delicious food styling, you will love the music of Emma! I thought it would be fun to give you a few pieces of sheet music for songs and pieces featured in the film, which you or your students might enjoy playing.
1. At 9:15 in the film – Menuet and Trio No. 1 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Emma demurely plays this piece (which was written by Mozart when he was 5 years old!) as Mr. Knightly walks in and speaks to her father. Here is a Youtube video of the piece, with the clickable free sheet music below it:
2. At 44:00 in the film – O Waly Waly (The Water Is Wide); After Emma rebuffs his romantic advances, Mr. Elton storms out of the carriage and we hear The Cambridge Singers singing this gorgeous tune. I posted the free sheet music for this piece in 2018 and am reposting Easy and Advanced arrangements again for you below the video:
3. At 1:03:40 in the film – Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes; Distressingly for Emma, Mr. Knightly plays and sings this lovely tune with the dreaded Jane Fairfax. Below the video you can print an easy arrangement with Treble notes and chord symbols from Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1, as well as the traditional intermediate sheet music:
I hope you enjoy playing these pieces from the 2020 Emma. I just love adaptations of old English novels and this one is particularly beautiful to watch. Stay tuned for Part 3 of Rhapsody in Blue – I will post the free sheet music at the beginning of April. For Rhapsody in Blue Parts 1 and 2, click here.
I have been teaching via Facetime at home. It has been really fun trying something new that continues our lessons while keeping us all safe. And seeing my students, even remotely, is a wonderful blessing. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. Remember that playing a musical instrument can make you feel better (much!), so get yourself to the bench and start playing some of your favorite pieces, or some of these gems from Emma.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.
For many of us, it has been difficult to focus on anything beyond the Coronavirus. On any given day we might feel the full spectrum of negative emotions, sometimes even concurrently. When our thoughts turn their darkest, it can be helpful to balance them with feelings of gratitude; gratitude for nature, for family and friendships, for good books and good music. Though this virus seems interminable, remember that as our mothers told us, this too shall pass. Here are some things that have helped me remain positive:
Comfort food. For me, there is nothing more comforting than eating pancakes. Since I am allergic to gluten I make my pancakes with almond flour, but they are delicious nonetheless. Chocolate is also helpful, and filled with antioxidents! What foods bring you joy when you feel scared or depressed?
Nature walks. Since I don’t feel like going to the gym these days, I have been taking walks up the foothills near my house. The wildflowers are beginning to reappear, and when I go out early enough I see the cutest jack rabbits scampering around. They fill my heart with joy.
Playing the piano. I’ve been playing some of my favorite pieces by candlelight in the evenings, letting myself fully appreciate the beauty of the music. Why punish ourselves by limiting our thoughts to pessimism? Appreciating beauty is allowed, and even essential, when dark thoughts are conspiring to dominate our minds.
Dancing. Another great way to exercise alone is to put on some music that makes you want to get up and dance. You can dance or sway any which way; as long as you are moving to the beat you are getting a great workout and releasing endorphins into your brain that will make you feel better. On Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day!) you might try dancing to some Irish music on Youtube.com or other music sources. Irish music always gets me going!
Sensual pleasures. As long as I am washing my hands all of the time, I am using scented soaps that I love. If you are able to find a scented soap that tickles your fancy, washing your hands will become more enjoyable.
Maintaining a balanced view. I have found this video of a patient from the quarantined cruise ship helpful in giving me a balanced view of this virus:
“For me, the most inspirational people are the ones who put their shoulders up against the wheel of despair and PUSH back really hard — not just once, not just a few times in their lives, but every single day.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, author Eat, Pray, Love
To help cheer you up, here is the sheet music for 🌹Red Is The Rose🌹 (the same tune as the Scottish Loch Lomond) which I posted a few years ago. It think it is one of the most beautiful Irish songs, with beautiful chords and a familiar melody. Even if you have played it before, now would be a good time to enjoy it again! Click to Print:
If you feel like sharing some of what is helping you to cope in these dark days, we would love to hear about it. I look forward to the warmth of spring and am holding onto positive thoughts of our lives returning to normalcy as this virus fades into history, as no doubt it will. Until then, join me in looking for ways to enjoy life within your music and beyond. With love, Gaili
Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul and Songs of the Seasons SPRING:
It’s a gray day here in LA, the best weather for getting cozy with a book (it’s stay home and read a book day!) or some new sheet music for the second page of Rhapsody In Blue. (Click here for pt. 1 if you haven’t yet printed it.)
How are you doing with the first part of the Rhapsody? Tell us where you are in your process so that we can support your progress. As with pt. 1, some passages of pt. 2 have been simplified a bit, but many are in their original state, so it is definitely not an “easy” arrangement. I hope you enjoy playing this gorgeous piece! Stay tuned for pt 3!
In case you’d forgotten, 🍀St. Patrick’s Day🍀 is just around the corner! I am practicing my accordion to get ready for upcoming Irish music gigs, and taking out all of my Irish sheet music for students who want to play their green on March 17th! Leave a comment below if you would like me to email some Irish tunes to you between March 1-17th 2020; I have Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, The Irish Washerwoman and others, ready to send to my blog subscribers! Let me know if you prefer simplified or intermediate (sometimes I have 2 versions of an arrangement.)
Also this month is the spring equinox, the day when there are an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours. CLICK HERE to read about spring piano goals and maintaining balance at the piano. This might also be a good time to reread my post called Practice Small about setting small goals for your practice sessions.
I hope you enjoy the warming renewal of spring in the coming weeks. In my walks around the neighborhood I am seeing blooming blue bulbs and purple magnolias, and it fills me with gratitude for all we have to enjoy and experience. With love and music, Gaili