One of my favorite holiday rituals is listening to Tchaikovsky’s enchanting Nutcracker Suite. Though we won’t be able to attend the ballet in person this year, there are several online performances we can watch, and of course we can play his beautiful music on the piano.
I love the mysterious Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy for its playfulness as well as its dissonant harmonies and E minor key. Tchaikovsky used the celesta for his piece, but it sounds beautiful on piano as well!
I have written two arrangements for intermediate piano: one for the intermediate level 1, and one for the intermediate level 2 players amongst our blog subscribers. Print them both if you are not sure. If you feel more comfortable with the level 1 arrangement this year, you might be ready for the level 2 arrangement next year! I can only post the level 2 arrangement on my website for a year, so if the year has passed, leave a comment below and I will send you level 2.
As always, remember that the fingering I wrote in is just a suggestion. If you find a fingering that works better for you, that is perfectly fine. Just be sure to cross out mine and write in yours. You will learn faster if you use consistent fingering.
In other music news, this month would have been Beethoven’s 250th birthday! He was baptized on December 17th 1770, so the guess is that he was born a day or two before that. To celebrate I will post a free arrangement of one of his pieces around the time of his birthday, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already!
What is your favorite Beethoven piece? He was such a prolific composer, it’s difficult to choose just one of his beautiful pieces.
I hope that you are maintaining good physical as well as mental health, wherever you are. Playing the piano can help. If you know of anyone over 50 who might like to play the piano or to refresh their piano skills, please keep my Upper Hands Piano books in mind as holiday gifts! I also have a parallel series for adults under 50! It’s called Piano Powered. There are links below if you would like to check them out on Amazon.com.
Until Beethoven’s birthday, stay warm and well. And thanks so much for following my blog! I hope you find the sheet music enjoyable and the piano skills posts helpful!
It is SO EXCITING when a new year’s worth of songs come into the public domain! As of today, all American songs and pieces written in 1924 are now available, and there are some really great ones I can’t wait to arrange and give to you this year!
There is also a funny scene with Diane Keaton singing It Had To Be You in the 1977 film Annie Hall, and it has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and many others; so you might enjoying listening to some additional recordings on Youtube.com.
Friends, it has been such a pleasure writing this blog, and arranging pieces for you. I have also enjoyed addressing some of the issues that arise for adult piano students, finding short cuts or tools to help you advance your piano studies. We have another GIVEAWAY coming up soon (for 20 sheet music page holders) and I have lots of ideas about things to write about in the coming year; if you have an issue you are struggling with at the piano, please leave a comment below and I will try to help in whatever way I can.
If you don’t already know, I have written a series of piano instruction books called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Click on the links below to view a few of them on Amazon.com.
I hope you have a wonderful new year, filled with music and magic, love and luck. Do you have any piano goals for 2020? Leave a comment below and let us know what your wishes and intentions are for the coming year. Let us support your musical dreams! With love and music, Gaili
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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 fingeringas you gradually increase your tempoover the days and weeks.
(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
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!
One of the greatest months for music (in my humble opinion) is March, when we celebrate Irish music for St. Patrick’s Day. I love Irish music and get to play lots of it on my accordion at St. Paddy’s Day gigs. One of my favorite traditional tunes is The Parting Glass as performed by Ed Sheeran, andThe Wailin’ Jennys. These artists interpret it with different rhythms and tempos-which do you like best?
The Parting Glass is the last song in BOOK 4 of my Upper Hands Piano method instructional series, and I also wanted to make it accessible to you for St. Patrick’s Day. Besides expressing the sorrow of goodbyes, it also celebrates the sweetness and joy of friendship.
Another fun St. Paddy’s Day favorite is The Irish Washerwoman which is easy to play and can even be used as an exercise. Start playing it now, increasing your tempo gradually, and work up to playing it fast by the end of March! CLICK TO PRINT:
I hope you are enjoying the final weeks of winter wherever you are. Here in LA it has been much colder and wetter than usual, which we love. My hyacinths are in full bloom, my tulip and daffodil bulbs are shooting up, and jack rabbits have reappeared in the hills near my house, evoking the first stirrings of spring. Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, and let me know how it’s going playing these Irish songs. I love to read your comments!
With love and music, Gaili
P.S. I’ve posted some of the method books and song books I’ve written for adults, below. Click on the links to view them on Amazon.com, if you’d like!
If you are a beginner you can play just the right hand melody. More advanced students can either read the chords or use the chord symbols to play the chords. Learning about chords is really important for pianists, so it is a big part of what I teach in the Upper Hands Piano method books.
I hope you enjoy playing Waltzing Matilda, perhaps with a piece of toast and vegemite, some barbecued snags (sausages) and maybe a couple of stubbies (beer). It’s summer in Australia, and we can dream….
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.
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?
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!
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: email@example.com and I will email it to you! Don’t worry, I won’t spam or share your email.
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 book. Just 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
It’s March, and I’m enjoying practicing Irish tunes for a few upcoming St. Patrick’s Day gigs. Though I already have two Irish folksongs — Red Is The Rose and Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral — posted on the Free Sheet Music page of the website, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to offer you one more Irish beauty: Star of the County Down. Van Morrison and The Chieftains made a great recording of it in 1988, but I love when it is played as a slow waltz. I wrote two arrangements, one easy, the other intermediate.
If you’re a subscriber to my blog, thanks very much! I hope you are finding the practice tips, cognitive science connections, and free sheet music helpful. If you have arrived here via a link from social media, could you take a second to leave a comment telling me where you linked from? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn? To thank you I’ll send you free sheet music for The Irish Washerwoman. My students often play it as a fun exercise in every key!
PRINT Star of the County Down HERE (only available through February 2019!)
There is some question as to whether the lyrics are in the public domain so I didn’t include them. But if you would like to have them, click here.
Since we’re celebrating the Irish influence in America this month, is there an element of Irish culture that makes your heart sing? Do you have a favorite Irish book (Ulysses, Angela’s Ashes, The Country Girls, Brooklyn, Waiting for Godot, Circle of Friends)? Author (Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, Bram Stocker, W.B. Yeats, Maeve Binchy, Oscar Wilde)? Song (Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, She Moved Through The Fair, Si Bheg Si Mor, Rocky Road to Dublin, Lagan Love, Sailor’s Hornpipe)? Band (U2, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Sinead O’Connor, The Bothy Band, Planxty)? Films (The Quiet Man, The Secret of Kells, The Crying Game, Once, My Left Foot, The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, Ryan’s Daughter)? There is so much of Irish culture to enjoy. As soon as the Oscars are over I just might have to re-watch The Secret of Roan Inish! That is one of my all-time favorite films, filled with music and magic.
Next week I will be back in your inbox with some new practice tips from my latest research in learning science. Hope you enjoy the last weeks of winter wherever you are!
As Valentine’s Day is approaching I wanted to find a beautiful love song, and I when I came uponRed Is The Rose, I knew my search was over. Red Is The Rose has the most beautiful melody, which is almost the same as the melody to the Scottish tune, Loch Lomond, but the rhythm is a bit changed and the lyrics are very different. Red Is The Rose is Irish, which means that you can play it not only for Valentine’s Day, but also throughout March for St. Patrick’s Day! There is some question as to whether the tune began in Ireland or Scotland, but it doesn’t really matter– both songs are gorgeous.
What is it about the Celts that makes them such amazing artists? The music, the poetry, the literature… so much beauty and history! In my travels around Ireland and Scotland I’ve noticed that nearly every child either plays a musical instrument, sings, or does traditional dance. Adult and children’s competitions abound for all three. You can find live music in every pub, and everyone knows and loves the traditional songs. The Scots and Irish hugely influenced music in Northern America since so many immigrated in the 19th century. Here in Southern California we have a Scottish Festival at the RMS Queen Mary this month, and an Irish Fair in June, plus a St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Los Angeles. Seems like we’re all a bit Celtic at heart.
I have arranged Red Is The Rose for intermediate piano. (If it feels too difficult now, print it out for another time–it will only be available for a year!) It has an intro and an outro and can be played as a solo piece, or to accompany a vocalist. The chord symbols are also included for guitar, bass, etc. You can print the music below, and also watch the video to see the fingering I am using. In the Youtube videos I linked above for Red Is The Rose and Loch Lomond, you will notice that the artists took liberties with the rhythms and notes. You can also feel free to take liberties with this arrangement– express yourself through the music (dynamics, tempo, rhythm) however you feel it.
You might also want to print You Made Me Love You on the FREE Sheet Music page from last Valentine’s Day, and other songs and pieces from the past year.
I hope you will enjoy playing Red Is The Rose, and I hope you will sing it as well. The Irish don’t care if they are singing perfectly in time or in tune. Everyone enjoys singing! Try it- -singing is incredibly therapeutic!
Soon I will begin blogging about practicing tips again– it’s been a busy year with taking classes, teaching teachers, writing books, traveling and teaching my beloved piano students. But I do want to get back to some of the nuts and bolts of playing the piano. Leave a comment and let me know if there are any particular piano technique topics you would like me to discuss.
I hope Valentine’s Day finds you playing and listening to beautiful music.
With much love, Gaili
If you like Red Is The Rose, you might also like the sheet music I posted last September for The Water Is Wide— another gorgeous folk song.