While we Americans are patiently 😁 awaiting our presidential election results, we might turn our attention to the fact that it is the season of gratitude. In the US, the weeks approaching Thanksgiving are a time to slow down and take stock of all the things we are thankful for. Life is such a gift, and I grieve for all who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, and am grateful for our own good health. What are you thankful for, in spite of all the disasters we have experienced this year?
I have posted the Thanksgiving favorite, We Gather Together for my November giveaway. This is replacing last year’s Over The River and Through The Woods. If you want that arrangement, leave a comment below and I will email it to you.
This month is also your last chance to print O Holy Night from my website. Just click on the link above and you can see all the other downloadable free sheet music from the past year.
I hope you are well, and will be able to connect with your loved ones during the holidays, even if it is only online. I am deeply grateful for all of the kind people who subscribe to my blog and tell me that they are playing and enjoying my arrangements. Bringing more music into your life gives meaning to mine. Thank you for joining me here, and for all of your good wishes.
Leave a comment below if you have a request for an arrangement of a holiday song or piece for December!
Well this may be the least eventful Halloween we have ever experienced, but we can still have fun watching spooky movies and playing spooky music. I think Chopin’s Marche Funèbre (Funeral March) is one of the most ominous pieces ever written, and it is super fun to play. John Williams based his Darth Vader Theme (The Imperial March) on Chopin’s piece, so it will sound very familiar to Star Wars fans! I have simplified the piece for the late beginner/early intermediate player, and I am also posting the original sheet music for the more advanced pianist:
The simplified arrangement is from my Songs of the Seasons: Autumn book (I have a sheet music songbook for each season, all available on Amazon – see below!)
What are you doing on Halloween? Halloween is such a fun neighborhood activity, and we are so sad to not be giving out candy this year. But my husband and I host a singalong every Friday night from our front porch, and this Friday we and our neighbors will all be in costume, so we will still feel social, even though we will be distanced. This year wearing a scary mask will be de rigeur! On Halloween night (Saturday) there will be a full moon (aka a “blue moon”, because it is the 2nd full moon in October!), and the end of daylight savings time in California.
I hope you are doing ok in spite of all, and that you enjoy playing the Funeral March this week. Thanks for following my blog, friends, and please leave a comment or a spooky poem if you feel like it! With 👻ghostly 👻 love and 🎃creepy 🎃 music, Gaili
Searching for beautiful melodies, I suddenly remembered that Chopin believed that his theme for Étude Op. 10, No. 3 was his most beautiful melody. I first came upon it in childhood when I opened a music box containing a ballerina dancing to Tristesse (according to the label beneath); though Chopin didn’t name his composition Tristesse, it has become the popular title, so I defer!
You can listen to the original piece here, and watch a video of my intermediate arrangement below:
Happy September! I think many of us are looking forward to the cooler days of autumn. With all of the recent disasters, I hope that playing your piano can remind you of all that is beautiful in your life.
I have some additional posts planned for this month, and be sure to leave a comment if you have a piano-related issue you would like me to address in a post. Do you have a favorite piece you would like me to arrange for beginning or intermediate piano? Remember, I can only give away arrangements of songs and pieces that are in the public domain (i.e. written before 1925). How is your practice going? Give us an update! Be well friends 💛
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:
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.
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
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
One of my favorite pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach is his Cello Suite No. 1. It was popularized in the 2009 film, The Soloist, about a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) who writes a story about a schizophrenic homeless cellist (Jamie Foxx) who had once been a music student at Juilliard.
The Cello Suite No. 1 is so beautiful and captivating, I wondered if I could arrange it for piano. Since it is in the cello’s range, I put both hands in bass staves. It will feel strange playing bass notes in both hands, but it is a great means to practicing reading bass notes, and because it is so different than what you are used to, it provides a particularly potent brain workout. I divided the melody line many ways, testing it over and over until I found which hand worked best for each note. The notes in the upper staff are played with the right hand, and the notes in the lower staff are played with the left. I provided a lot of fingering, but as always, if you find a fingering you like better, or prefer to switch notes to the other hand, feel free to make changes– just remember to stay consistent with fingering and hand assignments! You can also add dynamics as you feel them.
Here’s a demonstration of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, arranged for piano:
Please leave a comment and let our community know what your experience is playing this piece. Are you enjoying it? Does it feel extremely challenging, or are you finding it easy to play?
Remember I post free sheet music for only a year. If you are reading this after June 2020, the sheet music will be gone. You can email me at email@example.com to request a copy. You might also want some of the favorites I have had to take down recently- sheet music for The Water Is Wide, Clair de lune, or the July 4th favorite, Yankee Doodle Dandy! Just send me an email and I’ll send it to you asap.
How is your summer going so far? My little garden is extremely happy these days. We had a good rainy winter this year, so my hydrangeas are finally showing me what they can do! And I am finding new creative ways to use my abundant zucchini crop (don’t gardeners just love to brag?! Since my children live in NY and I don’t have any pets at the moment, I’m focusing my motherly attention on my plants 😆).
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!
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.
…plus 11 other simplified arrangements from the past year on our website.
Note: I can only keep each free sheet music arrangement on my website for a year. If this title is no longer available on the Free Sheet Music page of my website, please request it by email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email it to you! Don’t worry, I won’t spam or share your email.
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.
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 have also arranged a one-page EASY version of Clair de lune for the beginner.
Note: I can only keep each free sheet music arrangement on my website for a year. But I have reissued it here.
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