Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Though it feels like our cold, wet winter will never end here in California, my garden is abloom with the vibrant colors of spring. I love the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes with their equal measures of darkness and light, because it reminds me to think about balance: to balance work with play ⚖️ intensity with calm ⚖️ solitude with social activities ⚖️
For piano players, it is also a great time to learn or review Dynamic Balance exercises – drills that can help you to play louder with one hand than the other. This is an important skill for bringing out melodies and for playing ostinato (repeating) lines more gently. (Note: Dynamic Balance exercises are for more experienced piano students – intermediate and beyond.) I have made videos of my six exercises to help you increase dynamic balance and overall finger control. Read my post HERE; play the exercises in all 12 keys at least 3-4 days per week during the spring season, and by summer you will notice that your hands can move more independently! Stronger, more agile hands will enable you to play more expressively, and that is what we’re going for. These exercises are not all that fun or creative; but as one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert said,
“The difference between those who do and those who wish to do is often those who can bear the tedium.” 😅
So balance out these exercises by playing some or your favorite songs and pieces, while enjoying the increased agility and power they will bring to your fingers!
With love and music, Gaili
P.S. If you are ready for some new books, here are some of my favorites:
Happy September Piano Friends! Lately I have been posting a lot of classical sheet music, so today I thought I would offer something popular. I watched Sleepless in Seattle lately and was reminded of how much I like the song Bye Bye Blackbird. In the movie, the little boy Jonah’s mother used to sing it to him when he had nightmares, and the song is featured throughout the movie.
I have arranged Bye Bye Blackbird for Advanced, Intermediate and Easier-to-Play (not exactly for the earliest beginners, but will be a comfortable challenge for those who have been playing for 6 months or more.)
The Advanced arrangement is available for only a year, so print it now!
I have made a demonstration video of how an advanced player might approach my arrangement. Notice that I am keeping strict time with my left hand accompaniment, but I play the right hand melody with a rubato jazzy feel. With popular music, especially jazz, you don’t necessarily have to play the melody exactly as written, but you do want to keep a constant beat with your left hand.
For Intermediate players, both hands stay in time, and there are fewer notes and chords:
Beginners might like to try this arrangement I call “Easier to Play” because nothing is EASY when you are first learning to play the piano. There are so many notes to learn when you are a beginner! Just take it slowly, learning a few measures at a time.
I hope you or your students enjoy playing one (or all!) of these arrangements. Bye Bye Blackbird has been recorded by Joe Cocker [excerpt from Sleepless In Seattle], Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Miles Davis and so many other artists!
September has always been the time for new beginnings: new classes, new clothes, new school supplies, new projects, the bountiful Fall harvest, and the gradual drawing back within our homes and ourselves as the climate cools. Besides loving the stunning colors of Fall I enjoy the quiet time between the busy summer and holiday seasons because it can be an optimal time for focus and intention. If you are like me, “more piano” has always been at the top of my Autumn to-do list. Remember that cognitive science shows that short daily exposure to a challenging skill reaps better rewards than one long practice session per week. Try to play for at least 10 minutes per day, at least 5 days per week, to keep progressing.
What are you playing now? Leave us a comment below so that we can support your practice! Are there any pieces you plan to study this Fall? Hope you are staying safe and cool wherever you are. With love and Music, Gaili
P.S. If you are new to this blog, welcome! I am a veteran piano teacher of 35 years! I post free sheet music every month, arranged for beginning to intermediate piano students, plus posts to motivate and inform. I have written piano instruction books specifically for adults 50+ (UpperHandsPiano.com), younger adults and teens (PianoPowered.com), Songs of the Seasons piano sheet music books for seasonal classical and popular favorites, and my latest piano/guitar/vocals books called The Music Remedy – sheet music collections to restore and revitalize the spirit. Check out my books on the websites above, or click below to view them on Amazon.com. Thanks for your support!
Chopin was only twenty when he composed his Nocturne Opus 9, No. 2 in 1831, and it is one of the most beloved pieces in piano literature. I originally excerpted the first page of the Nocturne in my Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 4, and decided to expand it to encompass the full piece (minus a couple cadenzas and repeated sections) for you for the summer! I transposed it to F, and arranged it for intermediate piano. If you are a beginner, just play the treble line, and the first bass note in each measure, to simplify. Learn the first two pages this month, and next month I will provide you with pages 3-4!
How is your summer going so far? Here in Southern California it has been very dry, and because of the drought we are cutting back on watering our gardens. But of course global warming has been affecting the weather everywhere; I hope you are doing ok in your part of the world.
Have you set any goals for the summer? I am going to start studying French again this month, and I am practicing my accordion a few times per week in addition to jamming each week outside with neighbors. It has been a while since I’ve composed music for films, but now I am composing BOOK themes! I’ll tell you more about that later, as soon as I have posted some in my RipeReads (book recs for adults 50+) blog, and Ripe Reads Instagram accounts. And of course I play the piano every day- classical, jazz, rock, original music… I love it all. What are you planning to do this summer? Travel? Relax more? Learn how to play Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2? Leave a comment below and share what your plans are! With love and music, Gaili
Today is the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (though there is some confusion about the date). To celebrate, I have arranged Bach’s Arioso for intermediate piano. Bach’s Arioso has a bittersweet quality that makes it the perfect piece for the season. I have posted an intermediate piano arrangement of Arioso on my website:
In Atlas of the Heart, Brown expands on the concept of effortful learning:
Comfortable learning rarely lead(s) to deep learning…. I used to have a sign in my office…that said, “If you’re comfortable, then I’m not teaching well.”There’s a zone of optimal confusion, there’s desirable difficulty. – Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart.
Robert A. Bjork and Elizabeth L. Bjork coined the term Desirable Difficulty in 1994 when writing about how to enhance learning, and the data is even stronger today: In order to learn deeply and to remember what we have learned, we need to space out our practice so that each time we practice we have forgotten some of what we have learned, and in relearning a concept or skill, we understand and remember it more deeply. “Learners should interpret errors as opportunities for enhanced learning.” (1)
I love these terms “optimal confusion” and “desirable difficulty.” While we teachers are working with students we are constantly observing whether the student is receiving an appropriate balance of challenge with fun, confusion with understanding. Brown asserts that too much confusion can lead to frustration, which can cause the learner to disengage, feel bored, or quit an activity. But as it relates to piano lessons and home practice, if you are not feeling challenged when learning something new, you are not moving forward in your studies as much as you could be. So the next time you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at your piano, think of it as a good thing! Take some deep breaths and recite your mantra: This is desirable difficulty; This is optimal confusion. Maybe take a short exercise break, have a snack or a drink, then get back to your bench, and keep playing.
I hope your April is filled with beautiful music, and the resplendent gifts of spring.
I hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day spent with someone you love, or doing something you love to do! (Like eating chocolate?! Playing some beautiful pieces?) Congratulations to the winners of my Giveaway for 20 of The Music Remedy books No. 1 and 2! I so appreciate your enthusiastic support and I hope you enjoy your books. Here are the winners:
Thank you all for your support! I hope you are enjoying The Music Remedy books, and are finding the music to be both beautiful and revitalizing!
||: Beginners you might want to take a look at my post on Repeat signs. It takes awhile to remember repeat protocols! :||
🤏Intermediate piano players would do well to review this finger exercise for a few weeks in 2022!🤏
🏃🏿 You also might want to review these ideas I posted years ago about Aging Well. Now that the numbers of new Covid Cases are going down (hopefully we won’t have a big Super Bowl surge here in Los Angeles) we can begin to be social again soon. Being social is one of the three main components of Aging Well. 🏃🏿
🌹 Stay warm, cozy and musical for the rest of February. If you haven’t already, be sure to print and play my free arrangement of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.🌹
We know that setting goals can be an effective way to focus our practice time. In the past I have held “Pledge to Play: 10 Minutes A Day” challenges, where everyone pledges to get themselves to their benches for at least 10 minutes every day for a month. During those 10 minute practice sessions we concentrated on short-term goals such as learning a difficult musical passage smoothly, memorizing a short piece, or learning the minor 7th chords in all 12 keys, etc. Challenging yourself to practice every day for 10 minutes is a great way to become a better musician, as research shows that daily exposure is the best way to improve.
Pledges can be a great motivational tool, but what about after the 30 days is over? Just as after a weight-loss program, we have to create an enduring plan for maintaining the good practices we cultivate while working towards our musical goals.
When in maintenance mode we might speak in terms of intentions rather than goals. Life coach Jennifer Louden writes that the word intention comes from the Latin “intendere” which means “to stretch toward something.” Louden suggests that while a goal drives you toward a future outcome, an intention helps keep you in the present. Louden writes:
The goal feels positive, but closed, almost a should, and it doesn’t inspire the imagination nearly as much as the intention, which feels open-ended, expansive, encouraging….
Instead of, or in addition to setting a goal such as, “I will learn this piece in 60 days,” you might want to form an intention, such as, “I am folding piano practice into my life four days per week.” Or, “I am exploring improvisation in my piano studies this year,” etc.
Write down your intention. Then come up with a structure to support it. You can adjust your expectations and intentions as you go along, but a written intention and structure acts as a roadmap. For example, if your intention is to become a more skilled musician, schedule 4-6 piano practice sessions per week in your phone calendar using the repeat: weekly and the alerts functions. Schedule your practice at times that you believe you can consistently follow through. Some might be 10-minute sessions, some might be 30 minutes or more. If you miss a session, reschedule it, or just let it go and look forward to your next scheduled practice. If your intention is to explore improvising, the structure might be scheduling weekly improv, just noodling around on your instrument or trying my improvising exercises, watching jazz, rock, or folk YouTube videos, and planning monthly visits to jazz and folk concerts (when it is safe to attend concerts in your town!) Whatever your intention(s), find a structure that you can embrace. Setting unreasonable expectations is counter-productive.
When you have to leave town and won’t be able to practice, set an intention to put practice aside until you return, and name the date that you will resume your practice routine. That way, your travel becomes part of your intention, and not an aberration.
When days or weeks pass in which you didn’t fulfill your intention, let regrets go. Start fresh the following week doing your best to reinstate your structure. This isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Keep it light and enjoyable. Intentions are about how you want to live your life. Your intentions are driven by your values. A little guilt is ok if it keeps you aligned with an intention, but don’t let yourself slide into shame and negative self-talk.
Be brave enough to live creatively…. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You…get there…by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: You will discover yourself.
Please leave a comment below to share your goals or intentions with our piano community, and let us support you! While we are still battling Covid-19, community support is especially important for our emotional well being!
If you are new to this blog, welcome! I am a veteran piano teacher of almost 35 years! I post free sheet music every month, arranged for beginning to intermediate piano students, plus posts like this one to motivate and inform. I have written piano instruction books for adults over 50 (UpperHandsPiano.com), younger adults and teens (PianoPowered.com), Songs of the Seasons piano sheet music books for seasonal classical and popular favorites, and my latest piano/guitar/vocals books called The Music Remedy – sheet music collections to restore and revitalize the spirit. Check out my books on the websites above, or click below to view them on Amazon.com.
I hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter’s day wherever you are. With love and music, Gaili
It is November at last, and having enjoyed a nearly normal Halloween, I think many of us are looking forward to gathering in-person with loved ones for Thanksgiving. I usually post one of the two Thanksgiving favorites in November — Over The River and Through the Wood, or We Gather Together — because the holiday seems to demand these festive traditional songs! But there is another (somewhat obscure) Thanksgiving song written by the great Irving Berlin in 1912 called We Have Much to Be Thankful For that you might enjoy playing for your Thanksgiving guests this year. I love this song it because it is about gratitude, and being thankful for being alive. Click to print my simplified arrangement:
If you would like to play the original sheet music CLICK HERE (pages 3-5)
I also wanted to let you know that next month I will have some exciting news about a new songbook series I will be releasing before the holidays. My editors are taking their final look at all of the sheet music, making sure I have the lyrics, chord symbols, fingering and notes all as they should be. I can’t wait to tell you about my new books! But I will wait until they are completely ready, when I am sure that all of the songs and pieces are just right.
To celebrate a month of thanksgiving, I am going to keep a gratitude journal, and I want to invite you to join me! Some people find that when they keep a gratitude journal they feel happier and less stressed in their daily lives. If you’re interested in keeping a gratitude journal, just write down 3-5 things that you’re grateful for each day, for the month of November (or even just a week or two). It can be something as basic as being grateful for having a home or a piano, or for your eyesight or hearing, as in our Irving Berlin song. Or you might write a sentence about something someone said to you that made you feel good, or the color of the leaves on the trees you see on your morning walk…. Sometimes just noticing the beauty around us can evoke feelings of joy and deep appreciation. Leave a comment with any observations you would be willing to share about how keeping a gratitude journal is affecting you this month.
I want to wish you a beautiful Thanksgiving, and I hope you stay healthy and happy throughout the season. I am deeply grateful to all of you for following my blog, and for the kind comments and questions you put forth. It’s a wonderful feeling for me to see that so many of you are clicking on and printing my arrangements; it gives my life meaning and elevates my sense of purpose. Thanks so much for meeting me here each month.
Although we think of Chopsticks as a quirky beginner’s tune, it is actually not that easy to play! Chopsticks is most fun when we play it as a duet, but if you are sheltering in place, a duet partner might not be so easy to find.
This Chopsticks arrangement has a secondo part that is easy and repetitive enough so that even a non-musical but willing companion in your quarantined life should be able to pick it up with a little patience and practice after watching the video below.
The first page of the sheet music shows an easy secondo accompaniment you can teach your partner by rote. In the video below, my husband is playing the first pagesecondo part throughout, which is the best choice for a non-pianist. My husband felt most comfortable using his Right Hand 3-4 fingers for F-G, and 2-4 fingers for E-G, but your partner might prefer using just RH 2-3 fingers for both chords. (You can make it even easier by having your partner play just a RH G throughout, instead of RH F-G and E-G.)
The second and third pages add some notes in the secondo part which you can teach to someone who has some piano skills. The primo part changes on each page.
These were the variations I learned as a child, but I bet you know some others! Click Download below for some additional (more advanced) variations that include some fun glissandos:
Chopsticks was originally called The Celebrated Chop Waltz and was composed by a 16-year-old girl named Euphemia Allan, in 1877. Her brother was a music publisher and helped her get it published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. Allan gave this instruction for the primo: “Play both hands turned sideways, little fingers lowest, so that the movement of the hands imitates the chopping from which this waltz gets its name.”
I hope that you are coping as well as possible during this sad and difficult time. If you are sheltering in place, I hope you have a bit of fun learning the Chopsticks duet with a partner! 🎵 😊 🎵
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
I recently came upon the song Tico Tico in a book of songs played by the French Gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, and fell in love with it. Tico Tico is a spicy Brazilian Samba in a minor key, with a dark, dramatic, sexy rhythmic feel.
My arrangement is not easy, but worth the effort if you are an intermediate student or beyond. I have included fingering for nearly every note, because as we piano teachers know, if you want to play fast, first learn your pieces slowly with good, consistent fingering! (Feel free to change the fingering if you would like, but play it slowly enough so that you can learn your fingering correctly right from the start.)
I love world music and think it is great for students to experience playing melodies and rhythms from non-western music.
(Note: After May 2020 you may request this free sheet music by commenting below or sending me an email: email@example.com)
On our Free Sheet Music page you will also see 11 other pieces from the last 12 months. Please print whatever appeals to you today, as each piece can only be posted for a year. If you are reading this and Tico Tico is no longer available, please contact me though my website: UpperHandsPiano.com, and I can send you a copy.
Here is a very old arrangement I found for Tico Tico- it has Russian writing on it, so I guess it has found popularity all over the world! This original music features a growly moving bass line that might fun to play for advanced students:
I hope you are enjoying a warm June weekend, wherever you are.
What’s one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade.
If you plan on taking a vacation and don’t wish to lose ground on your piano progress, read my post called The Think System, about how you can maintain your piano skills whether you are in flight or enjoying a luxurious day on the beach