Composing – How To Write A Song Or Piece, Part 5 expanding chords using the The Circle Of 5ths

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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: sokolowmusic@gmail.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!

With love and music, Gaili

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

Composing – How To Write A Song Or Piece, Part 1, Chords

I hope you have been getting your creative juices flowing after spending some time improvising on your instrument. If you haven’t yet tried improvising, read this post.

To compose a song or piece, you can start with the chords, or the melody, or the lyrics, or a combination of those three elements. In this post we will approach composing using chords. To show you how to find the chords that will work for your song or piece, I have made a YouTube video demonstrating chord theory, with examples of chord progressions from popular songs and pieces. It might seem confusing at first, but after watching it a few times I hope it starts to make sense:

To reiterate what you saw in the video above, you can find the chords for your song by playing triads (3-note chords that skip a key/letter) on each note of whichever key you choose to write in, using only the notes from the scale to form your chords.

In the video I chose to use the key of C for ease and comfort. But if you are composing a song with lyrics you might need to use other keys in order to accommodate the range of the singer.

To make it easier for you, here is a chart showing the seven chords associated with each scale, or key. Click to Print:

After watching the video and printing out the chart, experiment with some chord progressions. Keep trying combinations of chords until you find a progression you really like. Or you can use one of the progressions outlined in the video. Have fun with this! Don’t expect to write your masterpiece on your first try!

In my next post I will approach composing from the melody, but you will find it easier if you already understand the chord theory described in the video and chart above.

Best wishes for your good health, with love and music, Gaili

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

Runnin’ Wild! (Marilyn Monroe) Free Sheet Music

In Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 2 the song Runnin’ Wild (from the film, Some Like It Hot) appears on p. 10 as a “lead sheet” ( just a melody line with chord symbols). Some Like It Hot stars Marilyn Monroe, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag playing in her all-women band. Here’s a video of Marilyn singing Runnin’ Wild from Some Like It Hot.

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:

As promised on p. 10, here is Runnin’ Wild in 6 additional keys, to give you even more practice playing chords on your keyboard.

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.

Have a Happy Halloween! If you are wanting to play some spooky music, click here to print the Toccata from Bach’s ominous Toccata and Fugue, or click here to print a simplified piano arrangement of Chopin’s Funeral March (from my October 2017 post!):

Thanks for following my blog! With love and music, Gaili

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

Treble Staff Ledger Lines: Free Worksheets

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A couple of month ago I posted worksheets for learning bass ledger lines, and this month I wanted to follow up with worksheets for learning treble staff ledger lines. In both sets of worksheets I use octaves to help the brain grasp where the notes fall on the keyboard. It really helps to orient yourself on the staff and keyboard when you play notes you know, alongside the notes you might just be guessing at. These treble staff worksheets will train your brain to recognize the notes from three ledger lines below the staff (F3), up to three ledger lines above the staff (E6). I didn’t use numbers such as A4 on the treble worksheets because there is so much confusion about octave numbers. Some editors call the lowest key on a standard piano A0 and others call it A1. In my Upper Hands Piano instruction books for Adults 50+, I call the lowest note on the piano A1, which makes middle C, C4, because that seems to be the system most agreed upon. If you find the key numbers confusing don’t worry about learning them. They are just a learning tool, and work better for some than for others. Practice these treble note worksheets a few lines at a time, eventually playing all the lines from 1-16 at one sitting.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT TREBLE STAFF LEDGER LINES WORKSHEETS

I hope you are still able to play your piano in these dog days of summer. It is hot and humid here in Southern California, but of course it has not been nearly as bad as in many cities around the world this week.

In a few days I will be posting the free sheet music for August- I have arranged a few classical favorites that my blog followers have requested in their comments. I love getting your requests! Keep in mind that I can only post songs and pieces written before 1924 (i.e. in the public domain), for free.

Have you set an intention to learn a certain song or piece this summer? Let us know what you are playing so that we can support your efforts! Stay cool, with love and music, Gaili

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

P.S. If you have a GMAIL account and would like for these posts to come to your Primary mailbox instead of your Promotions mailbox, just drag the (unopened) email up left into your Primary tab, and, and they will arrive in your Primary mailbox forevermore 😎

Bass Staff Ledger Lines: Free Worksheets

Birds on Musical Staff
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Some of my students who have been working through the ledger line worksheets are having trouble figuring out which octave in which to play the low bass ledger line notes. To help you get a handle on which bass note is where, I have created another set of worksheets 😆

The first page starts with a chart to show you that A3, which is two white keys below middle C, is written on the top line of the bass clef, A2 is an octave below A3 and is written on the bottom space of the bass staff, and A1 is an octave below A2 and is written three ledger lines below the bass staff. If you can learn the octaves for those three As, you can use them as touchstones to find the octaves for all of the notes in between. I have color coded the notes by octaves, so that you can refer back to the chart on page 1.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT:

If locating the correct octave is an issue for you with bass notes, start by playing line 1 forwards and backwards for at least a week, until you feel confident that you know where each note is on the keyboard. Then slowly go through the first few lines on page 2, referring back to page 1 to make sure you are in the right place. As always, play the lines forwards and backwards to double your practice, and challenge your brain. Another great way to practice is to say either “A2,” “A3” or “A4” when you come across each A.

I hope you find these worksheets helpful! I’m always looking for ways to help students overcome their musical obstacles, so leave a comment if you have another issue you would like me to highlight.

If you are new to this blog, thanks for joining me! 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. My mission is to make learning how to play the piano easier and more fun for older adults by applying the latest innovations in learning science, along with using larger notes and fonts, brain games, videos and lots of encouragement. You can check out the books on my website, or on Amazon.com.

With love and music, Gaili

P.S. I just noticed that Amazon has put Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2 on sale for about 25% off at $16.63 (regular $21.95). I have no idea how long it will be on sale, but if you’re nearing the end of BOOK 1, now might be a good time to purchase BOOK 2!