February Free Sheet Music: Theme from Groundhog Day (film)

One of my favorite yearly rituals is to watch the film Groundhog Day on February 1st, the night before Groundhog Day. Bill Murray plays a rude, miserable television weatherman who is on location in Punxsutawney, PA to report on the annual Groundhog Day festivities with his producer, played by Andie McDowell. For some mysterious reason, Bill Murray’s character relives that day over and over, phasing through various attitudes as the days wear on. At first he is frightened, then hopeless, then finally decides to try to become a better person. One of the things he does to redeem himself is to learn to play the piano. We hear him practicing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43, Variation 18, and eventually the first few measures beautifully at the town’s Groundhog Day celebration, while the Andie MacDowell character watches him admiringly.

It’s a beautiful piece, so I thought you might like to learn to play it too! This arrangement is for intermediate pianists. If you would like an easier arrangement, send me (Gaili Schoen) an email at upperhandspiano@gmail.com. I can also send you the free sheet music from Valentine’s Day 2018, the beautiful Irish tune, Red Is The Rose. Feel free to share my arrangements with other teachers and students.

CLICK to PRINT the piano theme from Groundhog Day

If you have recently subscribed to my blog, thank you and welcome! Please check out my piano instruction books for adults over 50 on my website, UpperHandsPiano.com. These books teach both classical and popular styles with larger notes and fonts, and emphasize learning chords right away. I’ve done a great deal of scientific research into how the brain learns and retains musical information to help you learn to play the piano as quickly and enjoyably as possible. Learning to play the piano is not easy, but it’s great for your brain and a lot of fun to play, so give it a try! It’s never too late.

You might peruse the topics on the right to see if there’s anything you might like to read or reread. I recently posted 5 Exercises for more experienced pianists to be able to play softer with one hand than the other.

Many subscribers have not been receiving my blog posts for the last couple of months. WordPress is trying to help me resolve the issue, but so far none of their suggestions have worked. It would help me if you left a comment telling me you received this post by email. Or please leave a comment if you did not receive this post by email. Hopefully the issue will be fixed soon! Thanks for hanging in there with me.

I hope you are staying warm and cozy wherever you are. If we’re lucky, the groundhog will predict an early spring! With love and music, Gaili

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

Available on Amazon.com

How to Play Softer With One Hand: 5 Exercises

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Dynamic Independence

As you progress in your piano studies an issue will eventually come up that we piano teachers call hand independence, particularly where dynamics (volume) are concerned (also called tone balance). What this means is that more experienced pianists are able to play more softly with one hand than the other. This is an important skill because you want to be able to bring out the melody of a song or piece while keeping the accompaniment softer. 

At first it feels impossible, like rubbing your stomach while patting your head! But after some concentrated practice over time (it takes time for the brain to grasp this skill!) you will be able to play with your hands at different volumes, naturally. 

Toward this end I’ve developed a set of five progressive exercises, each of which you play in all 12 keys (using the first 5 notes of each scale, called the pentascale). It’s important that you do practice each exercise in all 12 keys in order to fully learn the technique. If you haven’t pretty much mastered an exercise by the 12th key (not uncommon at all), play it again in all 12 keys until you’ve got it. I suggest you play the exercises in chromatic order as it is good for the brain to mix it up, with difficult keys following easier keys:

C, D-flat, D, E-flat, E, F, G-flat, G, A-flat, A, B-flat, B. 

CLICK HERE to print 5 exercises for Dynamic Independence

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As a side benefit, these exercises teach (or review) major triad inversions! Inversions are when we change the order of the notes of a chord, and are important to learn. If you’re playing classical music styles you will come upon inversions all the time, and if you are familiar with them, you will learn the music more quickly and accurately. If you are playing popular music styles you will also be playing lots of inverted chords, and it would be great to become familiar with the chord symbols if you’re playing from “fake books” or “lead sheets” (treble melodies written with chord symbols above the staff). 

You might also like trying some ideas by another teacher which involve “ghost playing” with one hand (tapping the keys without depressing them) while the other hand depresses the keys. They are more difficult to learn than my exercises, but you might like using both. Start at 2:25 here.

If you are new to my blog, welcome! Thanks so much for subscribing. Please check out my fun, supportive piano instruction books for adults over 50 on my website, (where you will also find lots of free sheet music, which I give away each month). The Upper Hands Piano books teach both classical and popular styles with larger notes and fonts, and emphasize learning chords. They use the latest scientific data on how the brain learns and retains musical information, to help you learn as quickly and enjoyably as possible. 

Speaking of free sheet music, in honor of Groundhog’s Day (Feb 2nd) I will soon be posting an easy-ish arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Variation 18 – Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini that was played by Bill Murray in the beloved movie Groundhog Day (I must admit that I watch it every year!) I can’t include his jazz solo, but there will be a full arrangement of the theme:

I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter wonderland, wherever you are. Here in Los Angeles it has been raining (which is wonderful for us), but I do feel envious of the snowscapes I see on Instagram and Facebook. If you are on those social media platforms, please follow @UpperHandsPiano to get updates on free sheet music and piano practice tips. 

And PLEASE feel free to ask questions or share your observations about these 5 exercises (or anything else piano related!) We love to hear from you, and everyone learns when someone asks questions or shares their experience. Stay cozy, and enjoy your piano practice!

P.S. Many people have reported that they are no longer receiving my blog posts. I am working on this issue- it’s a technical problem which is not my forte! But I am working with a support team, so hopefully the issue will be resolved soon. So sorry if you have missed some of my posts lately, or if you got this post twice! ;(

With love and music, Gaili

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

Available on Amazon.com

January Free Sheet Music: Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne
“We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne”

Though you might be busy practicing your Christmas carols such as I Saw Three Ships and Silent Night, it occurred to me that you might also like to start practicing Auld Lang Syne for New Year’s Eve, too! So I have posted an arrangement of Auld Lang Syne for the late beginner piano student that you will be able to learn in the next 11 days 🙂 If you have friends who sing or play violin, oboe, flute, recorder, bass or guitar, ask them to join you! They can all read from your music as I have included chord symbols and lyrics. 

Click Here to Print AULD LANG SYNE

The song Auld Lang Syne was originally a poem written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and set to a traditional tune. “Auld Lang Syne” can be translated to mean “for old time’s sake,” and asks an interesting question: Should we forget about the past or cherish it? I am greatly sentimental and tend to come out on the side of cherishing the parts of my personal history that were meaningful to me, without dwelling too much on painful memories. New Year’s Eve is a great time to reflect upon the past year and set intentions for the coming year. Rather than making resolutions, intentions can help you to learn and grow without the pressure of an end point. If you are interested, read more about Goals vs. Intentions here

Another reason for me to post a Scottish song is that I have been watching the Scottish series called Shetland on DVD (from the library) lately. It is a BBC murder mystery which isn’t my usual genre, at all. But the characters and story are engaging, the scenery is gorgeous and the music is beautiful. I am a great lover of Celtic music, especially Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton songs and pieces, and Shetland features lilting traditional Scottish background music throughout its episodes. It’s so wonderful when we get to see and hear traditional music played on traditional instruments on the screen.

I hope you are enjoying these last days of 2018. Though I am a pianist, I also enjoy playing Celtic music on a small student-sized accordion. My intention is to practice my accordion a little bit each day if possible, so that I can become a better player. By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I hope to be able to play Irish songs more smoothly. What are your musical intentions for 2019? 

With love and music, Gaili Schoen

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

December Free Sheet Music: I Saw Three Ships

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the traditional English carol, I Saw Three Ships. I like Sting’s recording, and lots of other singers and choirs have sung it with varying melodies and lyrics. 

I have arranged I Saw Three Ships for easy piano; if you’re a beginner, listen to Sting’s performance to help you hear the rhythm. Intermediate students might also enjoy playing this fun and easy song (which doesn’t SOUND easy!) I have included 4 verses but there are many more; I hope you’ll play it for your loved ones and encourage them to sing along. Singing together is so fun!

CLICK HERE to PRINT I SAW THREE SHIPS

(and other giveaways from the past year)

As we near the end of 2018 I look back at the year with so much gratitude for being able to do my musical works. I love playing the piano and teaching my wonderful students. I also love writing this blog– gathering my thoughts about piano technique, musicality and motivation, and arranging songs and pieces that I hope are accessible to all. To say thanks for following my blog, I’d be happy to also send you an additional easy arrangement of Silent Night or Oh Chanukah, from my Songs of the Seasons: WINTER sheet music bookJust send your request to me at UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com and I’ll email the song back to you. (Don’t worry- I won’t use your email for any other purpose and will not even save your e-address)

Is anyone else reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming? I bought the hardcover book for my daughter at an independent bookstore on the east coast (I am a great lover of books and indie bookstores, and visit them wherever I can find them!) then bought myself the audio book on Audible to listen to as I take my daily hikes. Though I am loving it all, I especially enjoyed Michelle describing her early experiences taking piano lessons, and her first recital. Michelle had taken lessons on her great aunt’s piano and that was the only piano she had ever played. At the recital she was to play on a gorgeous baby grand, but without the marker of  her aunt’s chipped key that marked middle C, she froze, until her aunt finally came to her rescue. “Maybe she knew that the disparities of the world had just quietly shown themselves to me for the first time,” writes Michelle.

I hope you enjoy your winter holidays wherever you are. Please leave a comment and tell us about what you are practicing, what your struggles are, what you enjoy about piano lessons, or anything you wish to share with our piano community. With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Available on Amazon. Visit our website

KEY UP: Moving hands forward on the keys

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One of the primary differences between experienced pianists and beginners is in the fluidity of the hand moving forward and backward on the keys. Experienced players instinctively move their hands forward on the keys (towards the piano) when playing black keys or encountering a succession of keys that put their hand at an awkward angle. Less experienced pianists however, tend to keep their hand at the edge of the keys (closer to our bodies) so that when they encounter an awkward succession of keys they need to twist and stretch their body. 

Check-in with your body when playing a physically challenging musical passage or playing black keys. If you feel your body contorting, try moving your hand forward on the keys instead. Though it can be a little more difficult to press down the keys as you move closer to the wood, it is far better to move your hand forward than to twist your body. Besides looking and feeling awkward, twisting your body takes more time, resulting in missed beats. 

It takes some time to develop the instinct for moving your hand forward and backward effortlessly on the keys. When you encounter a musical passage that seems to take extra time and effort for maneuvering, try moving your hand forward instead of twisting your body. Watch this YouTube video of La Campanella (you can find simplified sheet music on my former blog post here) and notice that the pianist is constantly moving her hand forward and backward on the keys, and often plays at the very top of the keys where need be. While most of us are not as advanced as this pianist, we can take her fine technique to heart and apply it to our own playing. Start by becoming more aware of how you move your hands and body at the piano. 

I hope that during your Thanksgiving preparations (if you are American!) you will take time to practice your piano, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Playing the piano is a great way to de-stress, and clearing the mind of to-do lists for 10 minutes will help you to think more clearly and increase focus. 

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my blog subscribers. Your support means the world to me. I so enjoy arranging songs and pieces for you each month, and sharing my practice tips with you. Writing helps me to deepen my understanding of the piano. I love that playing the piano provides us with the opportunity for lifelong learning and development. I’m grateful that you are here, and that we can learn and grow together. Always feel free to leave a comment. When you share what you have observed in your playing, we can learn from each other!

With love and gratitude, Gaili

Gaili Schoen

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul available on Amazon.com

November Free Sheet Music: Sonata Pathetique (Adagio cantabile)

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To reawaken love and beauty when life feels overwhelmingly painful, we can turn to our music. This gorgeous theme from the  2nd movement (video) of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique reminds me that alongside recent horrific events, there have been incredible acts of human kindness and generosity that fill me with optimism and love. I hope that playing Beethoven’s music swells your heart as it does mine.   

Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique is an advanced piece, but as you know, I like to take difficult pieces and make them accessible to beginning and intermediate piano students. So I have transposed the Adagio cantabile theme to the key of C, and simplified it ever-so-slightly for the intermediate student. I hope in doing so I have retained the original beauty of the movement, while offering a challenging, yet more easily played arrangement for the intermediate pianist. 

CLICK TO PRINT Sonata Pathétique, Adagio Cantabile, intermediate (on our website)

I also have a very easy 1-page arrangement of the Sonata Pathetique for beginners. The easy arrangement loses much of the beautiful harmonies of Beethoven’s theme, but for the beginner it might be a fun entry. To get the 1 page arrangement, please email me at upperhandspiano@gmail.com and I will happily send it to you. No spam, ever, I promise! 

Because I have been suffering from some nasty food poisoning, it’s taken me awhile to tell you my big news… 

American Music Teacher magazine has published an article I wrote entitled Geragogy: The Joys of Teaching Older Adults, in its October/November issue! American Music Teacher is The Official Journal of Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) of which I am a proud member and contributor. 

American Music Teacher magazine, Oct/Nov

If you are a member of MTNA you can read my article on p. 16 of the current Oct/Nov issue, or you can read it online here. I offer specific teaching examples for piano teachers, but most of the article is useable by teachers of all instruments. Thanks American Music Teacher for encouraging me to write about my passion: teaching piano to older adults. I’m working on a follow-up article about teaching students using scientific studies on how the brain learns and retains musical information (for teachers of students of all ages.) 

I hope you have a beautiful Thanksgiving filled with good food, good friends and/or family. Perhaps you can serenade your loved ones with the Adagio cantabile if you start practicing the piece today! Look around and see how the faces of your audience have softened into love, peace, and joy while listening to your beautiful music. Remember, it doesn’t have to be even nearly perfect. Play from your heart and your listeners will feel elevated by the beauty of the music. 

With love and deep gratitude, Gaili

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

Available on Amazon.com

October Free Sheet Music: La campanella

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La Campanella (The Little Bell)

One of the most beloved pieces in piano literature is Franz Liszt’s La Campanella (“The Little Bell”) which is Liszt’s take on Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2. I was reminded of this gorgeous piece lately when I while watching the documentary, They Came to Play about the Van Cliburn Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. La Campanella is an extremely difficult piece, so naturally I began thinking about how to make its beautiful melody accessible to less advanced pianists 🙂  I hope you enjoy playing this simplified arrangement of La Campanella. As always with my arrangements, feel free to print and share it with other students and teachers.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT LA CAMPANELLA 

…plus 11 other simplified arrangements from the past year on our website

I hope you are enjoying the first bite of autumn, wherever you are. Here in LA there are rumors of rain, but we won’t get our hopes up too high. 

I have some exciting news that I will share with you later this week! Until then, enjoy an abundant and peaceful fall harvest. With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

September Free Sheet Music: Clair de lune

Clair de lune

I have had many requests for easy sheet music to Debussy’s Clair de lune, and so have transposed it to C and simplified it for the intermediate piano student. I also have a one page EASY arrangement of Clair de lune for the beginner which I am not able to post on the website (see below), so please leave a reply if you would like me to send you the easy one-pager! (I’ll email it to you privately.)

FREE Clair de lune EASY sheet music
Leave a reply if you would like this EASY one-page arrangement

CLICK HERE TO PRINT Clair de lune (intermediate)

Here is a performance of this intermediate arrangement of Clair de lune:

Clair de lune, (translation: “moonlight”) is the third movement from the Suite bergamasque by French composer Claude Debussy. It has been featured in many films for its beautiful, emotive quality. I have written in fingering, but as always it is only a suggestion, and you can change it per your own comfort.

Labor Day feels like the beginning of the end of summer. Are you sorry to feel the air chilling and the days shortening? Autumn is my favorite season so I am happily anticipating the days ahead. Perhaps you or your students can learn Clair de lune to play for your family on Thanksgiving! Remember that sharing your music is a gift to your loved ones, and planning to play for an event is a great way to get motivated to practice. 

For those of you new to my blog, let me tell you quickly that I am a piano teacher of over 30 years, who has spent the last decade doing research on how the brain learns and retains musical information. I’ve used principles of the learning sciences to write a series called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul (available on Amazon.com), and am currently writing a series called Piano Powered, for children and young adults. I have an article coming out in the magazine American Music Teacher soon about teaching older adults, with an article about the best ways to learn and retain music, to follow. 

Thanks for subscribing to my blog. Feel free to request simplified sheet music for pieces you love (written before 1923!) and reach out with your questions, comments, observations and celebrations. I love to hear from you! With love and music, Gaili

Gaili Schoen

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

PianoPowered.com

August Free Sheet Music: Shenandoah

In the last year I’ve been enjoying posting sheet music for beautiful folk songs such as Wayfaring Stranger, Star of the County Down, Red Is The Rose, and The Water Is Wide. Unfortunately I can only keep these arrangements on the website for one year in order to make room for new pieces. So I want you to go and print The Water Is Wide right now! Because 1- It was posted last September and will disappear by September 1st of this year, and 2- It’s one of the most gorgeous pieces ever written and I want you to have it!

Today I have posted an intermediate arrangement of Shenandoah. You can hear it sung by Sissel, and Van Morrison and the Chieftains. You’ll notice that each musician alters the lyrics, melody or chords a bit (which is ok for folk songs), so here is my arrangement with chords that sound a little different; play it as written or feel free to make it your own. Below is also a video performance of my arrangement of Shenandoah.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT SHENANDOAH SHEET MUSIC

I apologize for the delay. I usually like to post my free sheet music within the first few days of the month. This month, however, I had multiple guests staying in the room in which my keyboard and music notation computer live, and then I took a lovely vacation to the Pacific Northwest. The photo at the top left is actually not the “wide Missouri” river from the song Shenandoah, but the  Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula. I had a wonderful time hiking in the Olympic National Forest with my family. Being in nature away from computer screens, cel phones and freeways helps me to reconnect with the deepest part of myself, and reminds me that we are all part of an interdependent ecosystem. I live in Los Angeles which is beautiful in its desert-ish way, but sometimes I long to be in the woods, hearing the sounds of water over rocks:

Olympic National Forest video

Have you been able to travel this summer? Where is your favorite place to unplug and decompress? I hope you enjoy the last weeks of summer, wherever you are. With the fires surrounding the Pacific NW, and the intense heat we have been experiencing in LA, I can’t help but look forward to cooler, wetter days of Autumn. 

With love and music, Gaili

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

Available on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accountability

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Play music together!

 I recently heard author (of Eat, Pray, Love) Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creative work:

Everything that is interesting is 90% boring… and we are in a culture that’s addicted to the good part, the exciting part, the fun part.

I laughed out loud when I heard her say that. It’s so true! It is incredibly difficult dealing with the tedium of practicing something challenging, day after day…but the willingness to work through that tedium is exactly what separates the artists from the quitters. What can really help us become more productive is a system or structure of accountability. If you are a piano player, please read my post called Have a Plan, with lots of suggestions for getting your bottom to the bench. 

Luckily for me, piano students usually require teachers to make sure they are playing correctly. Good teachers also act as trusted mentors, helping students to stay on track with consistent practicing. An effective mentor guides without dictating; s/he offers you the wisdom of experience while also listening to and respecting your voice. Director Steven Spielberg famously said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” A mentor or teacher should hold high expectations of you, and question and challenge you in a positive way. The ideal piano teacher is open to the styles of music you want to play, and helps you address your challenges. Give your piano teacher permission to level criticism when s/he sees you going astray, or not taking your piano studies seriously. Teachers should also acknowledge your progress.

Another great means to accountability is playing the piano for and with other people. My students and I hold a Piano and Poetry Party three times per year to share music, and support each other’s progress. It is wonderful for me to see my students making more time to play  before a performance. The anticipation of performing gives us that extra edge of motivation to practice. As a result, the pieces we perform are the ones we remember the best, even years later. If you don’t have recitals or performing opportunities with your piano teacher, you can seek out other ways to get social with your music. There are lots of meet-up groups and open mics for musicians that want to play for each other, and pianists can get together with other instrumentalists such as guitarists, flutists, violinists and singers to jam on a few tunes.

Ultimately, however, you must make yourself accountable to your values and your vision. Plan your practice sessions at the beginning of each week, allocating the minutes (or hours) in your calendar. Establish a structure for practice and stick with it. When you need to miss your practice session for an extended period of time, such as for a vacation, write your intention to leave for the appointed amount of time and resume your practice when you return. Take yourself seriously; keeping aligned with your creative objective even when it is incredibly difficult is an act of self-love and a sign of healthy self-worth.

How to you hold yourself accountable to your creative practice? Please leave a comment! It is great to share ideas 🙂

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Passion Practice

This post has been excerpted and edited from my upcoming book called Passion Practice: A Playbook for Overcoming Obstacles to Creativity, which will hopefully be available in the fall! I will be giving 10 copies away as soon as it is in print, through Goodreads and Amazon.com. I’ll keep you posted!

With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com