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

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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

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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

July Free Sheet Music: Triumph of Time and Truth plus new WEBSITE and BLOG

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Arc de Triumph

In these troubled times, listening to and playing beautiful music helps us stay positive, empathetic and receptive. One of my favorite pieces is the gorgeous [listen:] Aria – Sarabande from Handel’s Triumph of Time and Truth. There is much pain and searching, but ultimately love and hope triumphs. I have adapted this piece for piano in both a short and long form. The first page is the short arrangement, and pages 2-4 contain the full piece. 

CLICK TO PRINT TRIUMPH OF TIME AND TRUTH                 (only available until July 2019)

Those of you who have been following Upper Hands Piano’s blog will notice that I have a new look to my website! It has been quite a laborious experience constructing the new site. I have an aversion to learning computer technology, but I know that it is important for my brain to learn new, difficult tasks, so I have soldiered on and triumphed as well!

Two problems remain:

I had to change my blog address. It is now blog.upperhandspiano.com.

The other problem:

Most of the links from previous blogs no longer work. In the coming weeks I will open each post and reload the links, but if you encounter a problem with a link before I can get to it, please send me an email at UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com and I will send you the sheet music or other link directly. I apologize for this glitch- I didn’t realize when I changed servers that I would lose my blog address.

On the free sheet music page, look through the other piano arrangements and see if there are any additional titles you might like to print as they are only posted for a year. Some favorites that will soon be deleted are Fascination (August) and The Water Is Wide (September). Please let me know hat you think of the new website! Or let me know if you encounter any issues with this blog or features on the site. 

May you have a joyful July 4th celebration and enjoy the fruits of summer. 

With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com 

June Free Sheet Music: Tchaikovsky’s June

Tchaikovsky's June

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I hope you are enjoying luxuriously lengthening days as we launch into summer. My garden is crying out for me to do some much-needed pruning, weeding and watering, but thankfully I can always count on my lavender to thrive without making any demands whatsoever. This is a photo of the gorgeous lavender fields at the lovely Senanque Monastery in Provence, France. My lavender doesn’t look quite like this 🙂 but I can dream…

This month I wanted to share Tchaikovsky’s June with you. It’s a beautiful piece that reflects the June gloominess we experience here in on the California coast. I have simplified it for the early intermediate student who wants to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous theme. Some in our piano community believe that we shouldn’t simplify piano literature, but I think it’s inspiring for students to get to be able to play beautiful themes from the masters, as they are learning. And anything that inspires practice is a win in my estimation. This arrangement is from our Songs of the Seasons: SUMMER book, available on Amazon along with our Upper Hands Piano books for older adult students

CLICK  HERE  TO  PRINT:  JUNE                                                 (only available until June 2019)

You might also want to scroll down on the free sheet music page to print last June’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon. It will only be available until the end of June, so print it now! (I take down all pieces after a year to make room for new content.)

Speaking of inspiring practice, I am currently engrossed in writing a practice journal for people who need some strategies and words of wisdom and encouragement to keep them on track with their creative practice (I know that I have in the past!) I am loving the process of writing and researching this book, and hope to have it finished by the end of the summer. In the coming weeks I will excerpt some of the pages from the book that best apply to piano students, in hopes that it will help get you to the bench. Do you have any summer goals for your piano practice? Is there a piece you wish to complete, or a skill you would like to improve? Please leave a comment so we can support your goal! 

With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

May FREE Sheet Music: Pavane

Pavane

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My dear student Joan requested the beautiful and melodic Pavane by the French composer Gabriel Fauré so I wrote a couple of arrangements for our piano community 🙂 One is exactly like the original, only a bit shorter, and the other I simplified to an early intermediate level. It has been used in many films and television shows so it will probably sound familiar to you. The Pavane is one of those pieces that appeal to both the young and old, so please feel free to share it with your friends, students or other teachers. *** Update! My student pointed out that the Pavane is played in the hiphop hit Paparazzi by Xzibit! Keeping it current 🙂

 

CLICK HERE TO PRINT PAVANE                                                (only available until May 2019)

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Maypole in Los Angeles

Happy May Day! In Europe and Scandinavia May Day was traditionally celebrated with a maypole dance in which neighbors circle around the maypole weaving their ribbons in and out. What might you like to weave into your life this spring? Think about an intention you might set for your practice, and begin each practice session by setting a small goal for a small section of your music, in support of that intention.

I want to remind you to think about your posture when playing the piano. When you want to bend forward, be sure to bend with a straight back. Check-in with your body now and then to make sure you are not curving your back or extending your neck. We tend to hunch over and extend our neck as we age,  (and as we text!) and that can cause “forward head posture”, with its attendant neck and back pain.

I hope you enjoy a lovely May filled with flowers and a few showers, wherever you are! With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

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Practice Small

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Smaller goals

Dear Piano Players:

Last year I wrote a blog post called Goals vs Intentions, and today I would like to explore those ideas further.

To start with, we might approach our practice by creating intentions in the form of questions:

  • What do I need to do to become a better player?
  • How can I learn to accept my mistakes without becoming discouraged?
  • How can I learn to read notes better?
  • How can I improve my rhythm?
  • Can I allow myself to relax and play?
  • How can I play with more emotion?
  • How can I play more smoothly?
  • How can I be a more effective teacher?


In his book Practice Like This, Dr. Jonathan Harnum asserts that setting goals for a single practice session is an effective learning tool towards supporting that intention. For example, if your intention is to play more smoothly, Harnum suggests you set immediate, micro, and nano goals for your practice session, which might look like this:

Immediate Goal: “During this practice session, I would like to be able to play measures 6-8 more smoothly.”

Micro Goal (smaller): I will focus on my fingering in these two difficult passages by playing slowly with hands separately.

Nano Goal (smallest, specific) 1: I will practice crossing my RH 3-finger over my 1-finger on B following with my 2- and 1-fingers on B-flat and A, until I can play it three times correctly.

Nano Goal 2: I will practice the accompanying LH chords with my eyes both open and closed, until I know them well. (Once you know the left hand notes, your brain will be more available to focus on the right hand fingering.) 

Harnum suggests that when you achieve your nano goal, “…savor the accomplishment because that will fuel your motivation to continue.” 

I recommend setting your nano goal at no more than three correct repetitions; learning science shows that after a few repetitions, the skill becomes less effortful and therefore no longer advances learning. Instead, after you have played the passage correctly a few times, move on to practicing something else (perhaps alternate with your other nano goal). Then come back to the first passage after leaving some time for forgetting to set in. Each time you cycle back to recall a skill after forgetting it somewhat, your learning grows stronger and deeper. Click to learn more about: The Best Ways To Practice Using the Latest Brain Research.

Start your practice session with your immediate goal in mind; the brain best remembers what we study first and last during a practice session, and you don’t want to run out of practice time before addressing your greatest challenges. However, be sure to also play your piece from the beginning periodically. In her Great Courses lecture series called How We Learn, Dr. Monisha Pasupathi shows that we must continue to practice recalling both what has become easy and what is still difficult in a piece, in order to be able to play the whole piece smoothly:

“The most effective strategy for learning is to repeatedly retrieve both items that are known and items that are not as well known….Over time, people [start] forgetting the unpracticed items…; it’s as if failing to practice these items makes them unlearned.”

Remember also, that what we call “talent” is, for the most part, simply having become motivated enough to put in the time and effort. In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin shows that very few superstars in the business, sports or music world were born with any discernible innate talent. For both Mozart and golf pro Tiger Woods, for example, it was their fathers making sure they were practicing daily, that gave them the skillful edge. Forget about talent, it’s primarily about your practice. Using nano goals you can grow your talent one small step at a time.

With love and music, Gaili

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

Available on Amazon.com

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