May Free Sheet Music: The Entertainer

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One of the most requested piano pieces is Scott Joplin’s, The Entertainer. Though Joplin wrote it in 1902, it was used in the film The Sting which was set in the 1930s, because it conveys an exuberant sense of humor and mischief. Ragtime is challenging to play because of its syncopated rhythm. Syncopation is when a weak beat (the eighth notes between beats 1, 2, 3 and 4, or the notes we count as “and” and call “upbeats”) is tied to a strong beat (beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, called “downbeats”). An upbeat is made strong when it is tied to a downbeat. In The Entertainer you will see a tie connecting the “and” (upbeat) of beat 2, to beat 3. The tie naturally accents and emphasizes the upbeat. Syncopation creates the jaunty rhythm characteristic of ragtime. Almost every measure of The Entertainer has a syncopated note.

Though I have simplified this arrangement of The Entertainer a bit, it is still quite a challenge to play. I would suggest that you approach the piece by writing the counts under the notes. [Never feel embarrassed to write counts in your music–even professional musicians write in counts for tricky musical passages.] After awhile you won’t have to worry about counting when your ear kicks in, but be meticulous about your counting to start. If you find the introduction too difficult to play with two hands, feel free to play it with just your right hand. And as always, you are welcome to change fingerings if you find something you like better.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT: The Entertainer

…plus other free sheet music from the past year

Remember the free sheet music I post is only available for a year. If you are reading this and want a copy of The Entertainer after The Entertainer is no longer on the FREE SHEET MUSIC page, leave a comment below or email me at upperhandspiano@gmail.com to request a free copy.

I also wanted to point out a new (restored) RESOURCES page on my website. On that page I list books of music that you might like to play while playing through the Upper Hands Piano method (with BOOKS 2+), and after you have finished the series. I have included fake books with popular music and standards, as well as classical collections.

I hope you have been enjoying a lovely spring in your neck of the woods. If you are preparing for an upcoming performance you might find my posts on Performance Anxiety and Recital Season helpful. I’m currently working on worksheets for students who have a difficult time remembering which octave to play their bass notes. If you need help solving piano issues, feel free to make a request in the comments below. I’m always happy to find ways to help students remove their musical roadblocks. Chances are that many others are sharing your difficulties.

With love and music, Gaili

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

Piano and Poetry

 

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My students gather together 3 times per year at my Piano and Poetry parties to share pieces and poems. I used to have 1 recital per year, then I tried holding one recital plus one smaller party each year. But my students just weren’t getting enough opportunities to play in front of others, especially if they had to miss one of our gatherings. So I have them every four months now, and I can tell you that having my students perform more often is working out quite well. Every one is getting a little bit calmer, and playing longer and more complicated pieces. It’s so great for them to support each other’s progress three times per year.

For our February party, I polish my silver trays and tea sets, and make tiny tea sandwiches

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to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  It’s so much fun for me to use these beautiful pieces we have inherited from my grandmother and my husband’s grandmother and mother. My students bring lots of delicious dishes and we have a feast (after playing, when everyone’s appetites have returned!)

I have to hold back my tears throughout the performances because it is so touching to hear everyone playing so beautifully. It takes a lot of courage for my students to come and play in front of 10-15 people (or more at our May recital) three times per year. I have so much admiration for those who choose to attend. Even those who just read a poem feel vulnerable speaking in front of others, but all who participate challenge themselves to show up and work through their fears.

Our blog friend Nancy is having guests this weekend, and said that she was going to try to practice in front of them. As I wrote in my former post, Music Is A Gift, I hope you will seek out opportunities to play in front of others. You can even play just part of your piece. When you stop, just say, “That’s all I know for now!” Believe me, they will enjoy it. And you will have practiced a valuable skill– playing in public. People LOVE to hear you play the piano. Hearing live music is a great gift, even if there are a few mistakes.

Sergei Rachmaninov said,

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.

Keep on playing. At least 10 minutes per day!

With love and music, Gaili

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Fear

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Invisibilia

On Friday NPR premiered a new show called Invisibilia, “…a series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” This is the kind of show I LOVE to listen to; I’m always fascinated by what it is that drives the human mind and behavior.

Friday’s show (which was rebroadcast this morning) was called Fearless and was divided into two parts. I listened to the part called “Disappearing Fear,” discussing ways in which we can reduce our fears. A man named Jason Comely described his fear of getting rejected after his wife left him. His fear prevented him from talking to people and he became very lonely. Then he began thinking about the Spetsnaz, a Russian military unit with an intense training program.

“‘You know, I heard of one situation where they were… locked in… a windowless room, with a very angry dog….They’d only be armed with a spade, and only one person is going to get out — the dog or the Spetsnaz.’

And that gave him an idea. Maybe he could somehow use the rigorous approach of the Spetsnaz against his fear.”

Jason began to seek out rejections every day. He would ask people for favors, and smile at everyone he passed by. He turned his fear around by welcoming the thing he feared the most. Every time he got a rejection, he would say, “Thank you! I got my rejection.”

The funny thing is, Jason often found it difficult to get his daily rejections. Even when asking for discounts at stores or asking for rides from people going in the opposite direction, Jason found that people were more receptive than rejecting.

This story got me thinking about our fear of playing the piano in front of others. Performance Anxiety is a debilitating problem for us musicians. But what is the fear? It’s a given that we will probably make some mistakes, and I think that we fear that our mistakes will make us seem stupid, ridiculous and unstudied. Perhaps deep down we believe that we can’t really play, and when we perform we’re afraid that our incompetency will be revealed to the world.

What would it look like if we tried to institute Jason’s rejection therapy into our everyday life? We would seek out opportunities to have people laugh at and criticize us. And each time they would, we’d say, thank you! I got my ridicule for the day!

But do we really have to go through that torture? Jason says that people don’t judge us nearly as harshly as we judge ourselves. He says that our fears stem not from what people actually think about us, but what we think they are thinking.

“We are always, always, always telling stories to ourselves, about the situation that we’re in and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that’s the problem.”

Jason counsels us to go out there and do things like smiling at everyone, dressing much differently than usual, asking strangers for favors, and asking friends to listen to us play. We should try to elicit looks of ridicule from others so that we can practice disregarding our fear.

What stories do you tell yourself about playing the piano in front of others? Think about those stories and ask if they are really true, or if they are just the stories you habitually tell yourself. I’m sure you would not judge other piano students nearly as harshly as you judge yourself.

Maybe this year we can practice just give ourselves a break. Maybe we can say to ourselves, I’m enough. I’m great exactly as I am today. I’m not going to play flawlessly, but I’m playing well enough and I’m enjoying myself.

Thanks to my student Maggie for telling me about Invisibilia!

With love, music and taking a break from fear, Gaili

Your Music Is A Gift

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My parents are very social people. When I was growing up they had monthly couples’ poker games and dinner clubs.  My mom played a weekly Mah Jongg game and my dad was involved with a masonic lodge. Their friends were always coming over and I enjoyed hearing them laugh and talk and loved to taste the candy and crunchy snacks my mother set out for them.

I was a very shy and sensitive young girl. Though I loved playing the piano, I was so embarrassed when my mother asked me to play for her friends. I was convinced that they had no interest in my playing and that my mother was forcing them to sit politely and listen. Most of the time I refused and ran to hide out in my room.

As a parent myself, I later understood that adults do really enjoy hearing kids play, seeing them dance, or share whatever art they study, even when it’s elementary. I regret having disappointed my mother so many times. After all, my parents were paying good money for my lessons; couldn’t I just indulge their requests once in a while?

Now here I am, a piano teacher asking my students to play in front of me for 45 minutes every week! How brave my students are to hold their performance up to my scrutiny. And I further ask them to perform three times per year for other students. Have I turned into my mom? Am I saying, just as she did, “Come, play for my friends! Let me be proud of you!”

Probably so; I AM proud so of my students’ progress. But it’s more than that. Music is so beautiful to listen to at any level. Sharing your music is truly a gift to others. Don’t you love hearing other people play? Really, who cares if you make mistakes? Making yourself vulnerable takes a tremendous amount of courage but I ask you to play in front of others so that eventually it won’t feel so terrifying and embarrassing.

Look for opportunities to play for others, even if it’s just a bit of a piece (the part you know best!) You can just say, “Can I play a little bit of what I’m working on for you?” Your friends and family will love it. Notice their smiles? You have just given them a gift!

With love and music, Gaili

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PERFECTION

PERFECT 5thHave you ever heard the expression, Practice Makes Perfect? That has got to be one of the worst clichés, ever. Practice will not make you or your playing perfect. You see great improvement when you practice, and hope to achieve a high level of competence and beauty when you have practiced a piece thoroughly. But perfection is transitory, and not even worth pursuing. 

Sometimes we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” but do we REALLY embrace that? Do you actually accept yourself as you are? Do you accept your friends’, family’s or spouse’s flaws? Or do you feel disappointed or angry when you or someone else doesn’t live up to your expectations or standards? Who is the judge of what is perfect or not? I don’t always share my pets’ view of perfection!

There are things about music that are perfect, such as the perfect 5th pictured above. Perfect 5ths are always 7 half steps apart. Like mathematics, music has rules and formulas that are precise and constant. I love that you can count on musical principles to be perfectly consistent. But that’s not what we love about music. We love the nuances; the way that music can express our deepest longing and our greatest joy. We love a beautiful melody, the full sound of chords, and complex rhythms. We love the way music makes us feel.

I have been thinking about the word perfect and way the word is used. A perfect stranger is a total stranger, but certainly not someone we see as ideal in any way. I was born with what is called perfect pitch, but it is not so perfect anymore! I am often off by a half step now. A perfect score means that you didn’t have any wrong answers, but it doesn’t mean you are perfect! I hope to never find myself the victim of a perfect storm, or perfect murder, but I’ve often experienced what feels like a perfect day. So the word perfect can mean either flawless, or complete.

Where piano performance is concerned, I hope you will let go of the idea of playing perfectly. It’s just not going to happen, for any of us. I have yet to attend a concert anywhere when I haven’t heard at least one clam in the orchestra. Sometimes my students feel that they have ruined a piece if they make a mistake. Don’t do that to yourself. Accept your mistakes, and enjoy all that is good about your music, too.

Of course it is important to work on the difficult sections, but sometimes just play it through and listen for what is right, instead of what is wrong. Maybe if we use the other definition of perfect as complete or total, we might not find the goal to be so elusive. Practice Makes Complete doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as well, but complete feels friendlier than flawless. You can complete a piece without playing it perfectly.

What are your thoughts?

With love and music, Gaili

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

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Performance Anxiety

I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened            – Mark Twain

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I loved that Mark Twain quote provided by Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada this summer at a seminar she gave at a music teachers conference entitled,

Crush the jitters! Strategies for Performance Anxiety Management
Dr. Cornett-Murtada specializes in the treatment of performance anxiety for musicians and had some great insights and strategies for alleviating the stress that we and our students feel when entertaining others:
1. The best solution is physical exercise. 5 minutes of aerobic activity 10 minutes before performing.
2. The mind can not process negatives. When we say to ourselves, “Don’t make mistakes” or “Don’t play badly,” the brain perceives, “Make mistakes” and “Play badly.” Focus instead on what you WANT to happen. “I will play well and enjoy the experience.”
3. Deep breathing really works! There is a nerve connecting the diaphragm to the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain that gets activated when we experience fright. When we take deep breaths, the brain calms. Try controlled breathing: breathe in for 3 counts, then breathe out for 3 counts.
4. Creative visualization is another great technique. The same part of the brain and nervous systems get activated when you imagine playing as when you are actually playing! Visualize a wonderful performance. The more senses you can engage in your visualization, the better the experience. This takes practice, so start now! Remember, that which preoccupies our thoughts tends to become our reality.
5. Performance anxiety isn’t all bad! It brings us increased energy and concentration, mental acuity, and reminds us that we really care about what we are doing.
Please visit or revisit my blog, Recital Season for more thoughts about playing in front of others and additional relaxation techniques.
With love and music, Gaili

Recital Season / Alleviating Stage Fright

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May is recital season. We walk those hallowed recital halls wearing our hearts on our sleeves, silently fearing the worst, while hoping for the best. Why do we agree to play in recitals and performances? Is it really worth all of the worry? Here are some reasons why teachers encourage their students to perform, and how to lessen performance anxiety:

Why is it important to play for others?
  • Preparing for a recital motivates you to learn your piece thoroughly. Never underestimate the fear factor where piano practice is concerned! Your recital pieces are the works you remember the longest, because you have rehearsed them the most, and have paid attention to the details.
  • It is important to become more comfortable playing in front of others. Even if you take lessons just to play for yourself, you will be approached by others and asked to play, and the more you do, the easier it becomes.
  • You get an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment when you have completed a piece and performed it in public. It’s like a graduation ceremony!
  • You get to see your fellow students grow and learn along with you. Participating in a student recital fosters a wonderful sense of camaraderie and mutual support. No one expects you to play flawlessly; your audience is on your side!
  • Playing music is a gift to the community. When you play, others get to enjoy your music, and you get to enjoy theirs.
Preparing for a recital:
  • Practice starting from various points in your music, so that if you get lost while performing, you don’t have to restart from the beginning.
  • Practice playing in front of friends and family members on different pianos, at different times of the day. Mix it up so that you become more adaptable.
  • Practice playing without stopping to correct mistakes. Just let the mistakes go, and move on. Then at other times work on just your problem sections by drilling over and over until you have them down.
  • If you find that you are having a lot of trouble with a part of piece the week before the recital, ask your teacher if there is a way of omitting that section or shortening the piece for this performance. Pick a piece that you feel comfortable playing. If you’re struggling with your piece even when you’re alone, you might not be ready to perform it. Keep practicing it for the next performance opportunity!
  • On recital day, do something that relaxes you. Meditate, watch a funny movie, dance, take a run, listen to soothing music, or do whatever works for you.
Strategies for alleviating stage fright:
  • Stage fright occurs when we are focused on our performance, instead of focusing on the music itself. Remember, it’s about the music, it’s not about you. Practice keeping yourself completely involved in your music–the melody, the rhythm, the sounds You are producing, and your expressiveness.
  • Anxiety disrupts normal breathing patterns producing shallow breaths. Deep breathing before and during a performance relaxes the body. When I make mistakes I take deep breaths to calm myself.
  • While you are waiting to play, try progressive muscle relaxation. Squeeze and relax muscles beginning with your feet, moving up through your body to your shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Seattle violinist Paul Hirata teaches musicians to halve your anxiety. Inhale, exhale, relax, loosen your tight muscles and let go of half your tension, saying quietly to yourself, half. Then take another breath in and out, relax a bit more, and let go of another half of the tension that remains. Continue breathing and relaxing and saying half, half, half….
  • Let go of expecting perfection! So many of my students seem to believe that if they make a mistake, it ruins the piece. That’s absolutely not true. Forget about the mistakes, letting them blow away like a kite. Breathe, and focus on the sound of your music.
  • Be as loving and non-judgmental with yourself as you are with the rest of the performers. If you are taking piano lessons, it is understood that you are learning and not a professional. However you play, it will be enjoyable to your peers. You are good enough just as you are.
  • If you feel that you need a little extra help, experiment with these before the recital day: Herbal remedies such as relaxation teas or valerian capsules, or homeopathic remedies such as Calms or Rescue Remedy are said to take the edge off of anxiety. Some professional musicians use beta-blockers such as Inderal to subdue stage fright. However, beta-blockers can create a detached feeling which makes it difficult to connect to your own music. Make sure that if you try one of these, try it well before the recital to observe the effects they have upon you, and your ability to play.
  • Play with love and joy. This is your hobby! Don’t sweat it too much.
With love and music, Gaili
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