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.

May Free Sheet Music: What’ll I Do (Irving Berlin)

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:

CLICK TO PRINT What’ll I Do (int/adv)

I also arranged What’ll I Do for late beginners (beginners who have reached Upper Hands Piano BOOK 2 level) using broken triads. Click below for the easier arrangement:

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

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

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.

Composing – first steps (WHO ME?)

With all of the extra time you now have, it is a great time for you to stick your toe into the pool of songwriting. Ok don’t scream, shudder or declare “absolutely not!” before you hear me out. Think about this: We improvise all of the time in our daily lives; when we speak, when we prepare a meal, when we exercise, etc. We are born improvisors, putting things together as we go along. So why not play around a bit on your keyboard just for the fun of it? Or just out of curiosity? Also, improvising is REALLY GREAT for your brain. If you don’t believe me, listen to Charles Limb’s 16 minute Ted Talk and you’ll be fully convinced. Then please read or reread my blog posts about improvising: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to get you started playing to some chord progressions.

If I have convinced you to try improvising, here are some ideas to take you to the next step. First, de-clutter your practice space. Move sheet music you aren’t currently playing away from your field of vision. An open space supports an open, creative mind. Keep your tools (blank manuscript paper, pencils, eraser, pens) neat, clean and visible, so that you’re reminded to practice whenever you pass by. Begin your practice with small steps and low expectations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every artist was first an amateur.” Start by setting an intention to just mingle with your keys for 10 minutes a day. Make it part of your healthful daily routines such as brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast. Don’t let your head hit the pillow at night until you’ve jammed on the keyboard for 10 minutes. Notice which musical phrases you liked, and which you didn’t like. Write down the phrases you liked either as notes on manuscript paper (blank sheet music lined paper) or as letters going up or down on the page. You might use the phrases you like in a song later.

If you would like to try to write a song with lyrics, scribble words—any words—on paper for 10 minutes. Write about your angst, your fear, your lethargy, your blank page—whatever the obstacle is feeling like at the moment. I have a piano student who one day realized that he wanted to become a songwriter. When I asked him what he’d like to write about first, he grimaced, “I can’t do it! I’m so uncomfortable!” “Great!” I replied. “That’s your first line.” And he wrote a great song called, Uncomfortable. Or you might write about what or who you love, about your gratitude, or about something fun (remember having fun? call upon those memories even if you aren’t having fun right now!) Just play around with your lyrics ’til you get a couple of lines down that you like. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is great advice. Forget about creating your masterpiece. Just flex the muscles of your imagination. Shake hands with it and take it out for a little spin. Taking those first tentative steps daily, saves us from the tyranny of procrastination. With time, try to become a little braver during your 10 minutes . Trust your creativity more than your fear. As author John A. Shedd said, “A ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for.”  What are you built for? Begin to tap into your own style, voice, and perspective. Get curious and dabble. Then find a small focus towards your creative progress and work on it. For at least 10 minutes each day. Set your phone timer for 10 minutes then forget about time and focus on your art.

In my next post I will help you get started with putting a song (with lyrics) or instrumental piece (without lyrics) together.

How is your piano practice going? Do you find it relaxing to practice? I hope you are coping as well as can be during our quarantine. 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 need a manuscript book for your compositions you can click on the yellow book below to purchase ours on Amazon. You can also check out our Upper Hands Piano instruction book and our Songs of the Seasons: Spring book!

Subscribe (top left) to receive new sheet music coming May 1st!

April Free Sheet Music: Rhapsody In Blue (complete)

Forget-me-not!

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.

CLICK HERE to print Rhapsody in Blue (complete)

*Remember my free sheet music is only posted for a year, so print it now!*

We have all been so immersed in news of the Coronavirus, I don’t want to write too much about it here, but you can click here to read some suggestions for piano players coping with confinement.

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!

😂😂😂APRIL FOOLS!😂😂😂

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

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Available on Amazon with instructional videos on Youtube.

More Pieces from Emma 2020 (Free Sheet Music)

I received requests for more pieces from the 2020 adaptation of Emma (now playing in theaters as well as online!), so today I am sending you another three pieces (and a few extra arrangements).

I loved the song Country Life the minute I heard it resounding over an exterior scene in Emma, but some people I know didn’t care for the track. I grew up listening to old English and Celtic music on a radio show called The Thistle and Shamrock, so I was used to the harmonies and the the raw vocal style. What do you think? Click on the free sheet music download below the video to play and sing Country Life:

Emma plays and sings an Irish Air called The Last Rose of Summer to entertain guests at a party. It’s noteworthy that the actress Anya Taylor-Joy is actually performing this sweet and beautiful song herself! There is no Youtube recording from the film, but here is a performance by Celtic Woman:

I found three interesting arrangements of The Last Rose of Summer. First, this is the traditional score with the vocal part and piano accompaniment:

This arrangment is a piano solo; I suggest you skip the intro page and start on page 2:

This third arrangement is a lovely Theme and Variations by Felix Mendelssohn:

After Emma performs The Last Rose of Summer, Jane Fairfax embarrasses Emma by showing off with Mozart’s Sonata in F (K.332 Allegro Assai):

Do you enjoy listening to film soundtracks? I love listening to underscoring (background music) during feature films, which are full of emotion and often fully orchestrated. Film scores are the best way for contemporary composers to support themselves, so there are some wonderful musicians writing our film music today. The score for Emma is beautiful, but since it is not in the public domain I cannot give you the sheet music for it. You might however enjoying listening to the soundtrack on Youtube, iTunes, Amazon music or other music outlets. I love the operatic theme entitled “Emma Woodhouse”, best.

That’s it for now, in a few days I will be posting Part 3 of my Rhapsody in Blue piano arrangement. (Click here to print the first set of pieces from Emma 2020.) I hope you are getting some extra piano practice in during these unsociable days. And try to take some time to listen to beautiful, uplifting music every day. With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. Available on Amazon with instructional videos on Youtube!

Pieces from Emma 2020 (free sheet music)

In the last month I have seen the 2020 film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma twice; once in the theater, and a second time last Friday when it was pre-released for rental on Amazon. Though the rental was expensive ($20), being able to watch it as a family makes it worthwhile. I also purchased the soundtrack as I absolutely love it. There are classical pieces and old English Airs, as well as beautiful underscoring by a female composer named Isobel Waller-Bridge. As a former film composer, I cheer for any woman who is able to break the barriers and score a feature film.

Besides the entertaining story, the gorgeous costumes, majestic homes and delicious food styling, you will love the music of Emma! I thought it would be fun to give you a few pieces of sheet music for songs and pieces featured in the film, which you or your students might enjoy playing.

1. At 9:15 in the film – Menuet and Trio No. 1 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Emma demurely plays this piece (which was written by Mozart when he was 5 years old!) as Mr. Knightly walks in and speaks to her father. Here is a Youtube video of the piece, with the clickable free sheet music below it:

2. At 44:00 in the film – O Waly Waly (The Water Is Wide); After Emma rebuffs his romantic advances, Mr. Elton storms out of the carriage and we hear The Cambridge Singers singing this gorgeous tune. I posted the free sheet music for this piece in 2018 and am reposting Easy and Advanced arrangements again for you below the video:

3. At 1:03:40 in the film – Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes; Distressingly for Emma, Mr. Knightly plays and sings this lovely tune with the dreaded Jane Fairfax. Below the video you can print an easy arrangement with Treble notes and chord symbols from Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1, as well as the traditional intermediate sheet music:

I hope you enjoy playing these pieces from the 2020 Emma. I just love adaptations of old English novels and this one is particularly beautiful to watch. Stay tuned for Part 3 of Rhapsody in Blue – I will post the free sheet music at the beginning of April. For Rhapsody in Blue Parts 1 and 2, click here.

I have been teaching via Facetime at home. It has been really fun trying something new that continues our lessons while keeping us all safe. And seeing my students, even remotely, is a wonderful blessing. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. Remember that playing a musical instrument can make you feel better (much!), so get yourself to the bench and start playing some of your favorite pieces, or some of these gems from Emma.

With love and Music, Gaili

Author, UpperHands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul (available on Amazon, with instructional videos on Youtube.com)

March Free Sheet Music: Rhapsody In Blue, pt.2

It’s a gray day here in LA, the best weather for getting cozy with a book (it’s stay home and read a book day!) or some new sheet music for the second page of Rhapsody In Blue. (Click here for pt. 1 if you haven’t yet printed it.)

How are you doing with the first part of the Rhapsody? Tell us where you are in your process so that we can support your progress. As with pt. 1, some passages of pt. 2 have been simplified a bit, but many are in their original state, so it is definitely not an “easy” arrangement. I hope you enjoy playing this gorgeous piece! Stay tuned for pt 3!

CLICK HERE TO PRINT Rhapsody In Blue, pt.2

In case you’d forgotten, 🍀St. Patrick’s Day🍀 is just around the corner! I am practicing my accordion to get ready for upcoming Irish music gigs, and taking out all of my Irish sheet music for students who want to play their green on March 17th! Leave a comment below if you would like me to email some Irish tunes to you between March 1-17th 2020; I have Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, The Irish Washerwoman and others, ready to send to my blog subscribers! Let me know if you prefer simplified or intermediate (sometimes I have 2 versions of an arrangement.)

Also this month is the spring equinox, the day when there are an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours. CLICK HERE to read about spring piano goals and maintaining balance at the piano. This might also be a good time to reread my post called Practice Small about setting small goals for your practice sessions.

I hope you enjoy the warming renewal of spring in the coming weeks. In my walks around the neighborhood I am seeing blooming blue bulbs and purple magnolias, and it fills me with gratitude for all we have to enjoy and experience. With love and music, Gaili

P.S. Here are some of our piano instruction books: Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul, Books 1 and 2; Piano Powered: An Innovative New Piano Method to Power the Brain and Feed the Soul (for adults and children); and Songs of the Seasons: Spring. You can view pages on our website, or click below to view on Amazon.com:

You Made Me Love You and Giveaway!

In just a few days I will hold my drawing for 20 Sheet Music page holders! All who have left a comment since December have been entered to win! This is an essential little tool to use with our Upper Hands Piano™ and Piano Powered™ method books, but also for any sheet music books you play with. Leave a comment today and you are entered to win a sheet music page holder! (Sorry, you must live in the USA to win)

Since I posted the first installment of Rhapsody In Blue for my February Free Sheet Music , I wanted to also give you a love song to play for Valentine’s Day. One of my favorite love songs is You Made Me Love You. I love this recording by Harry James with singer Helen Forrest. (It was featured in the Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters.) Click the sheet music below to print:

Remember to leave a comment to enter! I will post a video of the live drawing on my Instagram stories (@UpperHandsPiano) so you can see if you won, right away. The drawing will be on February 14th of course!

I hope you enjoy a wonderful February with the ones you love, whether it be your honey, your friends, your parents, children or pets. Thanks for being my blog Valentine! With lots of love and music, Gaili 🌹💌🌹

February Free Sheet Music: Rhapsody in Blue (Pt. 1)

Piano Friends, I am so excited to offer you a medley of Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin! One of the most beloved pieces by an American composer, Rhapsody In Blue just came into the public domain in 2020. I have created an intermediate arrangement which I will post in sections: each month you will receive a new part (if you are a subscriber!) until the piece is complete.

Here’s the Rhapsody In Blue video from Fantasia 2000:

And here is HyeJin Kim playing the full piano solo:

Rhapsody in Blue is a long piece, so I have included most of the main themes and have simplified some (but not all) of the chords. It is such a beautiful piece, and I have strived to maintain the integrity of the harmonies. I hope you enjoy playing it! Do you feel that Rhapsody in Blue is a jazz piece or a classical piece? Please leave your comments below as you are learning it. As with a book club, we can experience playing the piece together, and share our progress!

Another incentive for leaving a comment is that I will be holding a drawing for 20 of these ↗️ sheet music page holders on Valentine’s Day, to express my love and appreciation for my followers! Each time you leave a comment on a post in December, January, and February you are entered to win. (Only one comment per post will yield an entry!) On February 14th I will draw 20 names out of my cloche hat, and will post a video of the drawing as a story on my UpperHandsPiano Instagram account. (Sorry international friends, you must live in the US to win the page holders.)

Have a wonderful month of February 💌 love. Hopefully the groundhog will bring us an early spring tomorrow! But if not, stay cozy and play your piano. Feel the magic of the keys under your fingertips. With love and blue music, Gaili

PS- If you don’t already know about my piano instruction books for adults over 50, you can take a look at them on my website, or on Amazon:

Claire de lune free sheet music reissued!

It has been awhile since I posted, as I was in France and England for 4 weeks, enjoying amazing architecture, music, art, books, and food with my family. One lucky day last spring I received a request to exchange my little house in Los Angeles for this 17th Century chateau in the Cognac region of France 😮 We hadn’t planned on a trip to France, but when someone wants to give you their chateau for 4 weeks, you must at least consider it!

The chateau was located on 300 acres of lush grasslands, lakes, apple orchards and hiking trails. Though it was large (5 bedrooms) and majestic, it was very cozy inside, and we had the time of our lives! Unfortunately the French family did not own a piano, but they had a little keyboard, so I was able to keep my fingers moving 🎹

And of course a few days in Paris (also on a home exchange) brought breathtaking views, wonderful bookstores, music and museums.

While driving through the French countryside, we listened to all kinds of French music: Satie, Debussy, Charles Trenet, Charles Aznavour, and Django Reinhardt.

We flew in and out of London where we got to visit the National Gallery. The Vermeer paintings of women playing a virginal (early harpsichord) were beautiful.

This all brings me to the issue at hand. Ever since I retired the sheet music for Clair de lune from my website I have had almost daily requests for it. I am happy to send it by email, but I thought that I might repost the Clair de lune INTERMEDIATE and EASY sheet music here for those of you who would like to print and play it but missed the original posting.

Click below to print Clair de lune:

Clair de lune INTERMEDIATE sheet music

Click here for a video demonstration of me playing Clair de lune, intermediate.

Clair de lune EASY sheet music

I hope you enjoy playing Clair de lune as much as I have enjoyed listening to it in France! And I have some exciting news: In a few days I will begin posting a medley of the main themes to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue! I’m so excited that it came into the public domain this year. It’s a long piece, so I am taking the most beloved themes and arranging them for intermediate piano, and I will offer it free to you in installments, starting with February.

Also to celebrate the month of love, I will be hosting another GIVEAWAY in 💌February! I will be giving away 20 Kibkoh sheet music page holders to followers of this blog (in the U.S.) who leave a comment on my post in February. Every comment you leave in December 2019, and January and February 2020, gives you an additional chance to win.

I hope you are staying warm and cozy wherever you are. With love and music, Gaili