When You Lose Your Place In Your Music

One of the biggest issues piano students struggle with when their hands have to jump more than a few keys, is finding their location on the keyboard without losing their place in their sheet music. In Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, the left hand has to leap to get from the single note to the chord in each bass staff measure:

All but the most experienced pianists must constantly look down at their hands in order to hit the correct bass notes in passages like this, and that can cause the student to lose their tempo as well as their place on the page.

There are a few things we can do to improve our geographical sense on the keyboard. But before I talk about strategies, I would like you to consider that the spatial aspect of playing the piano provides one of its greatest brain benefits.

While all instrumentalists get a brain boost from the multi-sensory experience of playing their instruments — integrating the visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and tactile (touching) senses with rhythmic awareness, pattern perception, memory and emotions — a piano player develops the broadest spatial intelligence, which means developing an instinct for how far to move one’s hand to play the intended keys. Brain scans reveal that because of this additional challenge, playing the piano activates the most widespread portions of the brain, improving brain structure and cognitive functioning, by increasing the number and health of brain cells and neural connections. So let’s view piano key leaps as a good thing! 😉💡👏

In a book I think of as my learning science bible called, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors recount interesting scientific data they call the “Beanbag Study.” In the study, two groups of children practiced throwing beanbags into a bucket; one group tossing from three feet away, the other tossing from both two and four feet away. After twelve weeks, both groups were tested on tossing into a bucket three feet away. Surprisingly, “the kids who did the best by far were those who’d practiced on two- and four-foot buckets” even though they had never tried the three- foot buckets! (Make It Stick, p.46.) This is because varied practice (such as tossing beanbags from mixed distances) gives you a deeper understanding of how you need to move your body to learn a visual/spatial skill. You can adapt these findings when practicing piano key leaps by doing the following exercises :

  1. Keep your eyes forward, then practice moving each of your hands in octaves (from one C to a higher or lower C) and other intervals (G up to E, D down to F; B up to A, C down to D, etc.) by taking just a quick glance at your hand as it approaches the second key.
  2. Practice moving each of your hands in octaves and other intervals up and down, with your eyes closed, seeing how close you can get to your intended key. You can graze the tops of the black keys with your fingers to guide you; that’s how blind pianists learn to play.
  3. In the same way, work up to finding intervals greater than an octave (nine keys or more) with just a quick glance down, and later with your eyes closed.
Finding notes with your eyes closed is a great exercise!

By developing an intuition for distances between keys, we reduce the need for constantly looking down from our music, or we reduce the length of time we need to look down, to a quick glance. If you do need to look down at your hands for a piece such as Chopin’s Waltz in A minor (above), you can do the following to help keep your place in the music:

  1. Don’t let yourself look down until you make a mental note of where you are on the page, even though that will interrupt your tempo.
  2. If you notice that you consistently get lost in a particular measure, get out some colored pencils and make a mark above that measure. If there is more than one, number each measure in which you get lost, so that when you need to look down, your brain quickly registers red 1, blue 2, green 3, etc. When you look back up you will quickly find the red 1 your eyes just left a moment ago.

Sometimes you lose your place because you have memorized part of your music, but not all of it. For that issue as well, use colored numbers above the measures in which you consistently lose your place. Once you stop losing your place, you can erase the markings, as well as other penciled markings on your page that you no longer need.

Give these practice strategies a try and leave us a comment to let us know how it went. As with all new skills, you will get better with time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if the exercises doesn’t work too well for you at the beginning.

FYI- You only have a few more days to print Auld Lang Syne from the FREE SHEET MUSIC page of my website, before last JANUARY’s arrangement disappears. Everyone loves to sing that song at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, even if they don’t know exactly what the lyrics mean 😆

I hope you find your way to the 🎹 bench amidst the holiday rush; playing the piano is a great way to relax and re-center yourself. Happy Holidays! Thanks so much for joining our community. With love and music, Gaili

Gaili Schoen

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul

OOPS!

My Apologies friends- It Had To Be You will be available on January 1, 2020. Check back then! So sorry!

O Holy Night & Giveaway Winners!

For the past two months I have asked my subscribers what their favorite holiday songs are, and the winner is the Christmas carol, O Holy Night, written by French composer Adolph-Charles Adam in 1847. O Holy Night was recorded by Mariah Carey in 1994, Celine Dion in 2004, and Andrea Bocelli in 2009, amongst many others!

I have written an early intermediate arrangement in the key of C in hopes that you will be able to learn it by Christmas! You’ll find a lot of fingering in this arrangement, but as always, if you find a fingering you like better, feel free to cross mine out, and add your own. Whatever fingering you use, try to keep it consistent. The quickest way to learn a piece is to practice it slowly, being vigilant about the fingering as you gradually increase your tempo over the days and weeks.

PRINT: O HOLY NIGHT

(O Holy Night will only be available on my website for year, so if you want a copy after November 2020 leave a comment below and I will send it to you)

✡️✡️✡️ If you would like a copy of the song Sevivon to play for Chanukah, leave a comment below this post and I will email it to you! ✡️✡️✡️

It’s time to announce the winners of the 12 copies of Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 1! If you are on Instagram, head over to my @UpperHandsPiano account (tonight or tomorrow) to watch the videos of me reaching into my hat and picking the 12 winners in my STORIES. My husband took the videos of me grabbing the 12 names, so you can see that I picked them randomly. I will be emailing the 12, but if they don’t write me back with their addresses within the week, I will choose additional names from the hat!!

Here are the winners: 1-Donna, 2-Ann, 3-Sarah (with @att.net email), 4-Linda, 5- Catherine, 6-Vicki M, 7-Amy, 8-Sandra, 9-Patricia, 10-Kathy B, 11-Mary K, 12-Joni

🎇CONGRATULATIONS!!!🎇

And remember, everyone that wasn’t chosen today is automatically entered to win one of the 20 the Kibcoh sheet music page holders I’m giving away in January!

Thanks so much for playing along with me! I just loved reading your comments- it gave me a better idea of who is reading my blog posts, and what their needs might be (teacher/student etc.) Happy Holidays and thanks so much for subscribing!

GIVEAWAY! 12 copies of Upper Hands Piano BOOK 1

Since this is the month for expressing gratitude, I would like to say that I am deeply grateful for the work I get to do– blogging about issues of interest to piano players and teachers, composing and arranging music, and playing and teaching piano. I can’t believe that I’ve been teaching piano for over 30 years! It is still the most enjoyable, rewarding (and cozy 🏠) work I can imagine. To give back to the 🎹 community, I try each month to give you the best content I can think of– free sheet music, worksheets, flash cards, and the latest science on the best ways to practice.

Recently I’ve seen book giveaways from 📚Bookstagrammers📚 (people who talk about and review books on Instagram) , and I suddenly thought, “Why not give away some Upper Hands Piano books?” So today I have stacked these 12 copies of Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1 (a $23.95 value) that I can’t wait to give to my subscribers. These books are 100% brand new, and would make a great holiday gift for any adult who has been wanting to start piano lessons, and just needs a little nudge. They are however last year’s edition and I had to cover the old BLOG address with the current one, with a sliver of adhesive paper. Other than that issue, these books are up to date. If that’s ok with you, then please enter to win one of 12 new copies of Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1!

GIVEAWAY RULES:

  • You must be a subscriber to this blog 💻
  • ✅You must write a comment on this post: Your favorite holiday song? 🎵Or tell us something about your piano playing? 🎼 Or just say hello!🙋🏽
  • ✅You must be over 18 👩🏾👴🏽
  • ✅You must live in the United States 🇺🇸

The contest closes Saturday November 30th at 12 midnight EST. I will post a video of me picking random names from a hat on my @UpperHandsPiano Instagram stories, and will announce the winners here on my blog (I won’t give out your full name). I will also email the winners (only I see your email address if you leave a comment), and will send the winners a free Upper Hands Piano BOOK 1 via media mail, but you must email me back with your address! Don’t worry, I never share anyone’s information with anyone, ever.

YET ANOTHER GIVEAWAY!

Do you see the little metal gadget on the lower right side of the stack of books in the photo above? Those are called Page Holder Bookmarks, and are incredibly handy for keeping your sheet music books open. I have 20 of them to give away! If you leave a comment on my blog and didn’t win a book, you will be automatically entered to win the Page Holders in my January GIVEAWAY. So stay in touch!

By the way, your chances are pretty good that you will win a book or page holder. Though I have 4,614 subscribers on my blog (including my mom👵🏻 and she is disqualified), they are not very chatty! I get only a few comments each month, and without a comment you will not be entered to win!

Meanwhile, check out some of my former posts on the right ➡️to print free sheet music, flash cards, worksheets and to read about important practice tips. I want to be your resource for making piano lessons as fun and as understandable as possible.

Thanks again for following my blog, and good luck to you! With love and Music, Gaili

P.S. If you’re having trouble subscribing to my blog, send me an email at UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com and I will subscribe you myself. Sorry, this technology is flawed!

November Free Sheet Music: Over The River and Through The Woods

When the calendar flips to November the first thing we Americans think about is Thanksgiving. To celebrate our beloved holiday, I am posting the classic Thanksgiving song we all know and love, Over The River and Through The Woods.

This is an easy arrangement for piano, vocals and guitar, and your friends who play violin or flute can also look over your shoulder and jam with you at your Thanksgiving Day celebration! Kids love this song, so you might like to teach your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews the words, to sing along.

PRINT: Over The River and Through The Woods

(This sheet music will only be posted on my website for a year, so if you are reading this post and the sheet music is no long available at UpperHandsPiano.com, just send me an email at UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com and I will happily send it to you.)

This arrangement of Over The River and Through The Woods came from my Songs of the Seasons, AUTUMN Book which you can click on below, to view on Amazon. There are a lot of great easy-to-intermediate arrangements of holiday songs in the Songs of the Seasons series, especially the WINTER book (also below).

Next month I would also like to post some free holiday sheet music for you. Please leave a comment below and let me know which holiday song you would like me to arrange. There are so many great ones, so I need your votes! It has to have been published before 1923, so I can’t give away songs such as White Christmas, or Hanukkah in Santa Monica 😄. But any of the older classics would be great. What’s your favorite vintage holiday tune?

Stay well and enjoy your playing! 🎹 With love and Music, Gaili

Gaili Schoen, Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul

Runnin’ Wild! (Marilyn Monroe) Free Sheet Music

In Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 2 the song Runnin’ Wild (from the film, Some Like It Hot) appears on p. 10 as a “lead sheet” ( just a melody line with chord symbols). Some Like It Hot stars Marilyn Monroe, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag playing in her all-women band. Here’s a video of Marilyn singing Runnin’ Wild from Some Like It Hot.

Besides loving the song and the movie, I also used Runnin’ Wild in BOOK 2 because it has a simple right hand melody, which gives the piano student the opportunity to focus on the numerous left hand major and minor triads. This sheet music helps the student to really learn the notes of the chords, and to get used to intuiting the distances between each chord. While later in BOOK 2 the student learns chord inversions which reduce some of that hand movement, students still need to practice the skill of finding chords quickly, until those distances becomes more instinctual. Here’s why: if you develop a strong sense of how far to move your hands between the keys, you won’t have to look down at your hands as much. That means you can play faster and more accurately, and you won’t lose your place as often. Here is the original sheet music for Runnin’ Wild from Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 2 which you can click to print:

As promised on p. 10, here is Runnin’ Wild in 6 additional keys, to give you even more practice playing chords on your keyboard.

Another great way to practice Runnin’ Wild is to find a key amongst these seven versions that works for your voice, and sing along as you play. Singing and playing is a great way to boost your brain power, increase your focus and improve your rhythm, and it’s also great for training your ear.

Have a Happy Halloween! If you are wanting to play some spooky music, click here to print the Toccata from Bach’s ominous Toccata and Fugue, or click here to print a simplified piano arrangement of Chopin’s Funeral March (from my October 2017 post!):

Thanks for following my blog! With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul

How to Build Chords on the Piano, Part 3 – 6th and 7th chords

Welcome to Part 3 of How to Build Chords on the Piano! In this video I explain how to build 6th chords, and 7th, MAJOR 7th and MINOR 7th chords. I refer to the “formulas” we covered in Part 1, so you might want to review Part 1 first if you don’t know what I mean by chord fomulas.

(Click if you would like to enlarge on Youtube.com: https://youtu.be/X4di8DIQy6A)

It is important to understand chords and chord symbols if you want to play popular music using sheet music or fake books. However even classical pianists benefit from understanding chords as they show up in most all classical music, sometimes broken (1 or 2 notes at a time), sometimes block (all notes of the chord played at once). The better you are at recognizing a chord when you play it, the faster you will learn your piece, because you will understand what it is you are playing. And since I am all about tools that provide short cuts to deeper understanding, I have created a set of flash cards for 7th, Major 7th, and Minor 7th chords, in both treble and bass staves. As I stated in the above video, print out just set at a time, writing the answers lightly in pencil on the back of each card. For example, when you print out the set of Major 7th cards, all you will have to know at first is the root. If you see the root (bottom note) is an F-sharp, you can write F#Maj7 on the back, since you already know that the whole set consists of Major 7ths. Write the answers on the back of each card in each set before printing the next set. Once you have all the cards labeled, mix up all of the cards, and start quizzing yourself at the piano.

According to the learning science bible called, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, self-testing or “retrieval” is one of the very best ways to learn:

One of the most striking research findings is the power of active retrieval — testing — to strengthen memory…. The act of retrieving learning from memory has two profound benefits. One, it tells you what you know and don’t know, and therefore where to focus further study…. Two, recalling what you have learned causes your brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthens its connections to what you already know and makes it easier to recall in the future.” — From Make It Stick pp. 19-20

Regarding using flash cards, Make It Stick states: “…don’t stop quizzing yourself on the cards that you answer correctly a couple of times. Continue to shuffle them into the deck until they are well mastered. Only then set them aside — but in a pile that you revisit periodically….Anything you want to remember must be periodically recalled from memory.” (p. 204)

Aside from the flashcards I will often ask my students to tell me what (broken or block) chord they are playing in various measures of their classical sheet music. Then I have them write the chord symbol (as triads, slash chord inversions, or 7ths etc.) above the notes of the chord for practice. You can do this yourself; see if you can identify chords in your pieces. If the notes don’t seem to form any recognizable chord, try another measure, or have your teacher point to notes that form a chord you have studied here (Major/Minor/Diminished/Augmented Triads, 1st and 2nd inversions of Major Triads, and 6th and 7th Chords). You will see that chords are everywhere! And in fact, nearly all western music is made up of chords, which add beautiful 🎨 color 🎨 to music.

NOTE: ALL FLASHCARDS MUST BE PRINTED IN LANDSCAPE ORIENTATION (wide/horizontal) INSTEAD OF PORTRAIT (tall/vertical) IN YOUR PRINTER SETTINGS.

Click “Download” below to print Major 7th chord flashcards:

Click “Download” below to print 7th chord flashcards:

Click “Download” below to print Minor 7th chord flashcards:

I hope you find these flashcards and the instructional video above helpful to your piano studies. Feel free to share these media with other piano students and teachers. They are not included with my piano instruction books Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul or my Songs of the Seasons books (see below) but I hope that all who have purchased the books (Thank you VERY MUCH! 🙋🏻) will find their way to this post. If you’re new to this blog, check out the navigation bar to the right to see if there is any free sheet music you would like to print, including my recent Toccata piano arrangement for Halloween 🎃. Please comment and let us know how you are doing with these three posts on building chords!

With love and Music, Gaili

October Free Sheet Music: Toccata (from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue)

One of the scariest Halloween pieces I know is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. I have adapted this organ piece for early intermediate piano so that you can scare your trick-or-treaters when they innocently come knocking on your door…😱

CLICK HERE TO PRINT Toccata

Here is a demonstration of this arrangement. Notice that I used pedal on measures 7-9 for the ascending phrase, and I am playing rubato (not in strict tempo) throughout:

Happy October! The night time weather has suddenly taken a nosedive here in Los Angeles, and it is such a pleasure to sleep with a blanket on again! Have you been working though your triads and inversions with my blog posts, How to Build Chords on The Piano, Part 1 and Part 2? If you are already comfortable with triads and their inversions, I will be posting an instructional video about 6th and 7th chords soon, in How to Build Chords on The Piano, Part 3. Also check the sidebar to the right (on this page) to see if any of my previous posts would be helpful to you.

If you are looking for more Autumn musical inspiration, check out my piano book called, Songs of the Seasons: AUTUMN, in the link below. I’m also including a link to BOOK 1 of my piano series, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. What pieces do you like to play in Autumn? I am enjoying playing Autumn Leaves, Autumn in NY, and Vivaldi’s Autumn (free sheet music available here). I am very sentimental about my seasonal repertoire 😂! Thanks for following my blog, and enjoy your October.

With love and Music, Gaili

How to Build Chords at the Piano, Part 2 – Inversions

In my post How to Build Chords at the Piano, Part 1, I demonstrated how to build Triads (3-note chords) using formulas. Once you have learned your major and minor triads, you can start experimenting with “inverting” them, which means mixing up the order of the notes. A “C Major Triad” that is played C-E-G (left to right) is in “root position.”

If you move the C to the top of the chord, with E on the bottom and G in the middle (E-G-C left to right), you have built a C chord, 1st inversion. If you move the E to the top and now have G on the bottom and C in the middle (G-C-E left to right), you have built a C chord , 2nd inversion. No matter how you mix up the order of the notes, C-E-G played together is a C chord; but inversions sound a bit different than root position chords, and they sometimes make it easier to move from one chord to another.

There are lots of exercises and songs in which to practice inversions in Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2, (currently on sale at Amazon for 24% off!) but if you would rather not buy the book, I demonstrate how to build Major and Minor inversions in this video:

The notation for inversions is in the form of slash chords. C Major Triad 1st inversion is written C/E. F# Major 2nd inversion is written F#/C#. Some people find this notation to be counter-intuitive. Just remember that the letter to the left of the slash is the chord name. The letter to the right of the slash tells you which note is on the bottom of the chord. Eb/G means it is an E-flat major chord with a G at the bottom, Bb in the middle and Eb on top (1st inversion). A/E means it is an A major chord with E on the bottom, A in the middle, C-sharp on top (2nd inversion). It takes awhile to get used to this notation, so review this paragraph and the above video until you have it.

In How to Build Chords on the Piano, Part 3 we will be building 6th chords, plus Major, Minor and Dominant 7ths. You will also be able to click to print flashcards for all of the the 7th chords. Please subscribe to get these blog posts plus free monthly sheet music delivered to your Email inbox. I never share or spam email addresses, ever.

With love and Music, Gaili

PS While writing this post I realized that Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2 is available on Amazon.com for 24% off today! Not sure how long they will extend this sale:

Songs of the Seasons: AUTUMN’s Classical selections include Vivaldi’s Autumn, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin’s Funeral March, Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. Popular standards include Shine On Harvest Moon, School Days, My Melancholy Baby, Over The River and Through The Woods, We Gather Together, Irving Berlin’s We Have Much to be Thankful For, and Jerome Kern’s Till the Clouds Roll By. This small inexpensive songbook will help you practice all of the chords we cover in my blog posts, How to Build Chords on the Piano, Parts 1-3

How to Build Chords on The Piano, Part 1 (and free Autumn sheet music)

© Agb Photo Library | Dreamstime.com

Music is made up of chords that blend with melody within a rhythm, to tell a story. As pianists we are called upon to play chords all of the time, broken (one or two notes at a time) or block (all of the notes played together) for all genres of music including classical, jazz, and all popular styles. The better we understand chords, the easier it will be to read music and chord symbols (letters above the lines of popular sheet music that tell you which chord to play). And the better we read, the faster we will learn. In three posts, I want to unpack chords, digging deep into what they are and how to build them. Here in Part 1 we will focus on the basic 3-note chords called triads; Part 2 moves on to inverted triads; and Part 3 explores 6th and 7th chords, and will include free flash cards to further help you learn your 7th chords.

I love chords, so I’m so glad that I play a chordal instrument. When I was a child, my parents played 1920s-1950s music on the record player while we were doing household chores. Then I would go pick out the melodies on our piano. When I found the chords to fit the melodies I was enthralled; I was playing songs! When I began studying jazz in high school (in addition to my long standing classical lessons), I expanded my knowledge of chords to include all kinds of exotic sounds. I love the way that different chords elicit different emotions. When I was a film composer, I used a variety of rich chords to make the audience feel whatever emotion the director wanted them to feel. Chords are magic!

If you are a beginner, you might just be starting to explore the world of chords. In Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1, I teach Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented Triads (3-note chords) within a series of exercises. By the end of the book you are playing triads in songs. But even more experienced pianists might not know that chords are based on musical principles that are like mathematical formulas. I have made a video to show you how to build MAJOR, MINOR, DIMINISHED, AUGMENTED and SUSPENDED triads using these formulas:

Here is a recap of the triad formulas you just learned: MAJOR: 4 half steps | 3 half steps; MINOR: 3 | 4 ; DIMINISHED: 3 | 3 ; AUGMENTED 4 | 4 ; SUSPENDED: Root 4th 5th.

Stay tuned for How to Build Chords on the Piano, Parts 2 and 3 coming soon (videography is not my forte 😆so it takes me awhile) where we will build chords that will further enrich your music. I will also be posting my free October sheet music soon.

I hope you are enjoying the first tickle of autumn in your town or city. Here in Los Angeles it is still quite warm, and we are longing for cooler days when we can wear cozy sweaters, cook apple sauce and soups, and play songs like Autumn Leaves and Vivaldi’s Autumn. To help you feel the fall spirit, here is an easy (free) arrangement of Vivaldi’s Autumn, from my Upper Hands Piano: Songs of the Seasons, AUTUMN book for you to download and print:

By the way, I hope you don’t mind too much that to support this blog, I advertise my Upper Hands Piano and Songs of the Seasons books sometimes (you can find links at the bottom of this post). I also wanted to tell you that for arrangements of songs and pieces not in the public domain, I post arrangements on Sheet Music Plus. I recently arranged Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah for intermediate piano, and you can find Autumn Leaves- EASY here, and intermediate here. For those of you who are new to this blog, thanks for joining us! You can find free sheet music here, but remember that each piece is only posted for a year.

If you have any questions after watching the above video, PLEASE post your questions below. I love talking about chords and want to make this discussion as clear as possible for you. With love and music, Gaili