Happy April! Today I have arranged April Showers as a slow jazz ballad, because it seems to encompass the wistful sentiment of the day, and as actor Timothée Chalamet says in the film A Rainy Day in New York, “I love a cocktail lounge piano, outside it drizzles, gray….” My favorite April Showers recordings are by Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra!
The April Showers jazz ballad is a late-intermediate arrangement, and it will only be on the website for a year, so print today!
I hope that you are doing well and feeling hopeful today. I am receiving my second Covid vaccine tomorrow, and feel so excited about the new freedom and peace of mind it will bring me in two weeks. I am imagining seeing students in person again, going to the movies, LA Philharmonic concerts at Disney Hall, and eating at restaurants with friends. What are you most looking forward to doing again? Will you go back to in-person piano lessons, or will you opt to continue with online lessons? Leave us a comment and let us know how you are doing! Have you April-fooled anyone yet today?
I am still working on my new books: I can’t wait to share them with you. They are being reviewed by publishers this month. Meanwhile, below you can find my Upper Hands Piano books for adults over 50. Take care and be well!
You may have heard of the phrase, The Circle of 5ths. It’s a useful tool for musicians to understand, and for composers and songwriters to use in their pieces. In Part 1 of this series on Composing and Songwriting, I suggested that you start by limiting your piece to just the chords which are built on the C scale (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim) and I provided you with a chart so that you could figure out the seven chords in any key. But perhaps you are now feeling that you want to step outside of the key. For example, if you are in the key of C and want to move to an unexpected B-flat major chord, you can use the circle of 5ths to help navigate your way back to the key of C.
I’m going to let my friend Fred Sokolow take it from here because he is the Circle of 5ths master. Start at 5:30 in the video below and continue on to the end if you would like to join him for his jam:
Fred is an crazy good multi-instrumentalist and has created a small vinyl cling decal of the circle of 5ths for $3 which you can purchase here. You can safely stick it to your piano because there’s no adhesive. (Fred also gives private online lessons in banjo, ukulele, guitar, mandolin and dobro if you are so inclined!) If you have a Paypal account would you consider “tipping” Fred to say thanks for today’s instruction here or search for Fred Sokolow on Venmo? Any amount even $1 or $2 would be appreciated! You can receive notice of Fred’s future mini lessons (there are a lot of great ones!) by joining his mailing list: email@example.com. For more jams and free lessons, follow Fred on Facebook.
In classical music there are many ways to structure a piece. Generally when you are starting out, you want to establish a primary theme, move to second theme, then come back to the first theme and end the piece. All of what I wrote about in Parts 1 (chords), 2 (melody), and 3 (melody and chords) are relevant to composing classical music, as well as the Circle of 5ths discussion above, as all melodic music is based upon chords. You can also add lyrics to your classical piece, as with an aria or operatic piece. Feel free to ask questions in our comments below, and please tell us how your songs and pieces are coming along! It would be great to emerge from the Covid quarantine with a few original songs or pieces under your belt!
When scoring a film I am constrained not only by the emotion and action of the scene, but also by its length, which could be anywhere from 5 seconds to a few minutes. Limitations make it so much easier to compose! You might want to set some limitations on your music too. Set an intention to write 2 verses and 1 chorus for your first song, or a short 16-measure theme for your instrumental piece. You might also want to limit yourself to playing in one key. In these videos on composing, the limitation I set was that both my melody notes and chords will be within the key of C. To review the chords in any key, watch Composing – How To Write a Song or Piece, PART 1 and print out the chord chart.
Once you have come up with a short melody you like on the 1-chord (C Major), you can start to expand on the melody. Just work on one short phrase at a time, finding a melody, then the chords to go with it. Or you can start with a short progression of chords, then find a melody you like to go with them.
Keep your piece short and simple. Keep moving forward on your piece even if you aren’t loving it; try to always complete a piece before starting a new one. As with all things, you will get better at composing with time and practice. Don’t expect your first try to be a masterpiece! REALLY, lower your expectations, and enjoy the process of learning without judgement.
If you are drawing a complete blank, take a walk outside, or get in your car and drive, bringing your phone or digital recorder with you. Sometimes when we aren’t so hyper-focused, the creativity flows more easily. While you are driving or walking, think about a memory, an emotion or a story you might like to tell, and start humming melodies. Be sure to record the melodies you have been humming. Later you can listen back and expand on the melodies that interest you.
Thanks for joining me in this composing adventure! Let us know what you are writing in the comments below! With love and music, Gaili
I first fell in love with Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do when I heard Alison Krauss sing it in the 2003 movie Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts and Kirsten Dunst. It has also been featured in other films and television shows, and was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and Linda Ronstadt.
I have created two arrangements for you. The first is an intermediate/advanced arrangement with a moving bass line:
One of the things I love most about this song is the way it moves from major chords to minor chords so much. For example in the first full measure with lyrics (lyrics starting with “do”) there is a C major chord. In the second measure (lyrics starting with “you”) there is an F minor chord (Fm6 in the intermediate arrangement). In the third measure it’s major, the fourth it’s minor, and so on. Reflecting life itself (especially now), this song alternates in tone between gratitude for we have cherished, and grief for what has been lost.
(Remember that the free sheet music I post is only available for a year, so be sure to print before May 2021!)
I hope that you are staying healthy and are enjoying playing your piano. Have you tried some composing or improvising as I discussed in my last post? Please let us know how you are doing with it in the comments below! Coming soon, I am going to give you some tools for taking the next step towards writing a song or piece.
Be well and practice on! With love and music, Gaili
P.S. Hershey Felder is doing an online encore production of his portrayal of Irving Berlin to benefit The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts on Mother’s Day! I have seen this show and it is truly wonderful, and very educational. For example, did you know that Irving Berlin wrote about 1500 songs, but dictated his songs instead of writing them down? And he played almost entirely in the key of F# because he preferred playing on the black keys! You can can view the show by clicking here. There is a household fee to watch.
Since most of us are confined to our homes with more time to play the piano, I decided to post the complete Rhapsody in Blue today, rather than spreading it out over the next two months. Pages 3-4 present the final and most beloved theme, with a powerful, majestic finish. There are many octaves on the last two pages; if it feels too difficult to play all of the notes for these widespread chords, you can drop the bottom note of each of the right hand chords, and/or drop the top note of each left hand chord. *Note* I also changed the last chord on p. 2 to an arpeggio followed by a fermata, to adhere more closely to the original sheet music. After you play the arpeggio, the fermata signals a pause in the music before continuing on to page 3.
What are you playing right now? How is it going? Leave a comment below and tell us about your piano practice. If you are having any challenges with your playing or your students’ playing, please tell us about them! Perhaps I can offer some advice if you would like it. I am teaching online for about 4-5 hours per day instead of my usual 6-7 hours of in-person lessons, so I have more time too.
I hope you have enjoyed playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It is a wonderful piece and I have done my best to maintain the integrity of the original sheet music in my intermediate arrangement. With any luck, our social isolation will be over by the time you master the piece! I look forward to the days ahead when we begin to emerge from our cocoons, transformed by the experience of confinement, feeling gratitude for our return to some of life’s simple pleasures.
By the way, this will be my last post on Blog.UpperHandsPiano.com. I will be refocusing on other musical projects that will preclude me creating piano arrangements and discussions. Thanks for joining me these past eight years!
Hahaha – Nope, just fooling. I love blogging and arranging music for you, and nothing can keep me away! If you want to receive notice of my free piano sheet music, musical worksheets, exercises and discussions via email, please subscribe! I never share or spam email addresses. Best Wishes for a happier, healthier April. With love and music, Gaili
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