Well this may be the least eventful Halloween we have ever experienced, but we can still have fun watching spooky movies and playing spooky music. I think Chopin’s Marche Funèbre (Funeral March) is one of the most ominous pieces ever written, and it is super fun to play. John Williams based his Darth Vader Theme (The Imperial March) on Chopin’s piece, so it will sound very familiar to Star Wars fans! I have simplified the piece for the late beginner/early intermediate player, and I am also posting the original sheet music for the more advanced pianist:
The simplified arrangement is from my Songs of the Seasons: Autumn book (I have a sheet music songbook for each season, all available on Amazon – see below!)
What are you doing on Halloween? Halloween is such a fun neighborhood activity, and we are so sad to not be giving out candy this year. But my husband and I host a singalong every Friday night from our front porch, and this Friday we and our neighbors will all be in costume, so we will still feel social, even though we will be distanced. This year wearing a scary mask will be de rigeur! On Halloween night (Saturday) there will be a full moon (aka a “blue moon”, because it is the 2nd full moon in October!), and the end of daylight savings time in California.
I hope you are doing ok in spite of all, and that you enjoy playing the Funeral March this week. Thanks for following my blog, friends, and please leave a comment or a spooky poem if you feel like it! With 👻ghostly 👻 love and 🎃creepy 🎃 music, Gaili
Searching for beautiful melodies, I suddenly remembered that Chopin believed that his theme for Étude Op. 10, No. 3 was his most beautiful melody. I first came upon it in childhood when I opened a music box containing a ballerina dancing to Tristesse (according to the label beneath); though Chopin didn’t name his composition Tristesse, it has become the popular title, so I defer!
You can listen to the original piece here, and watch a video of my intermediate arrangement below:
Happy September! I think many of us are looking forward to the cooler days of autumn. With all of the recent disasters, I hope that playing your piano can remind you of all that is beautiful in your life.
I have some additional posts planned for this month, and be sure to leave a comment if you have a piano-related issue you would like me to address in a post. Do you have a favorite piece you would like me to arrange for beginning or intermediate piano? Remember, I can only give away arrangements of songs and pieces that are in the public domain (i.e. written before 1925). How is your practice going? Give us an update! Be well friends 💛
Scott Joplin was one of the most innovative composers in the history of western music. Credited with inventing ragtime music in the 1890s, Joplin composed over 100 pieces before he died at age 48. One of my favorite Joplin pieces is Solace. Though not as popular as The Entertainer or The Maple Leaf Rag, Solace, with the subtitle, A Mexican Serenade, is a slow, reflective piece that expresses a wide range of emotions. You may remember that Solace was featured in the 1973 film, The Sting.
I have arranged the final theme from Solace for early-intermediate piano. As always, remember that the fingering I have printed is only a suggestion. If you find a fingering you like better, cross mine out and write yours in, in order to keep your fingering consistent.
If my arrangement is too difficult for you to play, just play the top notes of the treble staff; that way you will still enjoy Joplin’s beautiful melody without the difficulty of playing two right hand notes at a time. If you are a more advanced pianist and would like to play Joplin’s original sheet music, click below:
I hope that playing the piano is providing some solace for you. Sometimes a tasty meal, a cutting of flowers, or a beautiful melody can lift our spirits and remind us that a world of beauty surrounds us. What are you doing to self-care?
Now more than ever it feels important to play beautiful music, to calm and elevate the spirit. The theme from Swan Lake has a gorgeous, haunting melody that I hope you will enjoy playing. I have created an early intermediate piano arrangement for you that expands on the theme I offered in Upper Hands Piano BOOK 4. If you are a beginner, you can play just the treble staff notes, or you can add a note or two from the bass staff. You can listen to a Youtube video of the Swan Lake theme here.
When scoring a film I am constrained not only by the emotion and action of the scene, but also by its length, which could be anywhere from 5 seconds to a few minutes. Limitations make it so much easier to compose! You might want to set some limitations on your music too. Set an intention to write 2 verses and 1 chorus for your first song, or a short 16-measure theme for your instrumental piece. You might also want to limit yourself to playing in one key. In these videos on composing, the limitation I set was that both my melody notes and chords will be within the key of C. To review the chords in any key, watch Composing – How To Write a Song or Piece, PART 1 and print out the chord chart.
Once you have come up with a short melody you like on the 1-chord (C Major), you can start to expand on the melody. Just work on one short phrase at a time, finding a melody, then the chords to go with it. Or you can start with a short progression of chords, then find a melody you like to go with them.
Keep your piece short and simple. Keep moving forward on your piece even if you aren’t loving it; try to always complete a piece before starting a new one. As with all things, you will get better at composing with time and practice. Don’t expect your first try to be a masterpiece! REALLY, lower your expectations, and enjoy the process of learning without judgement.
If you are drawing a complete blank, take a walk outside, or get in your car and drive, bringing your phone or digital recorder with you. Sometimes when we aren’t so hyper-focused, the creativity flows more easily. While you are driving or walking, think about a memory, an emotion or a story you might like to tell, and start humming melodies. Be sure to record the melodies you have been humming. Later you can listen back and expand on the melodies that interest you.
Thanks for joining me in this composing adventure! Let us know what you are writing in the comments below! With love and music, Gaili
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! 🎵 😊 🎵
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:
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
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.
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
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!
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.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.
For many of us, it has been difficult to focus on anything beyond the Coronavirus. On any given day we might feel the full spectrum of negative emotions, sometimes even concurrently. When our thoughts turn their darkest, it can be helpful to balance them with feelings of gratitude; gratitude for nature, for family and friendships, for good books and good music. Though this virus seems interminable, remember that as our mothers told us, this too shall pass. Here are some things that have helped me remain positive:
Comfort food. For me, there is nothing more comforting than eating pancakes. Since I am allergic to gluten I make my pancakes with almond flour, but they are delicious nonetheless. Chocolate is also helpful, and filled with antioxidents! What foods bring you joy when you feel scared or depressed?
Nature walks. Since I don’t feel like going to the gym these days, I have been taking walks up the foothills near my house. The wildflowers are beginning to reappear, and when I go out early enough I see the cutest jack rabbits scampering around. They fill my heart with joy.
Playing the piano. I’ve been playing some of my favorite pieces by candlelight in the evenings, letting myself fully appreciate the beauty of the music. Why punish ourselves by limiting our thoughts to pessimism? Appreciating beauty is allowed, and even essential, when dark thoughts are conspiring to dominate our minds.
Dancing. Another great way to exercise alone is to put on some music that makes you want to get up and dance. You can dance or sway any which way; as long as you are moving to the beat you are getting a great workout and releasing endorphins into your brain that will make you feel better. On Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day!) you might try dancing to some Irish music on Youtube.com or other music sources. Irish music always gets me going!
Sensual pleasures. As long as I am washing my hands all of the time, I am using scented soaps that I love. If you are able to find a scented soap that tickles your fancy, washing your hands will become more enjoyable.
Maintaining a balanced view. I have found this video of a patient from the quarantined cruise ship helpful in giving me a balanced view of this virus:
“For me, the most inspirational people are the ones who put their shoulders up against the wheel of despair and PUSH back really hard — not just once, not just a few times in their lives, but every single day.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, author Eat, Pray, Love
To help cheer you up, here is the sheet music for 🌹Red Is The Rose🌹 (the same tune as the Scottish Loch Lomond) which I posted a few years ago. It think it is one of the most beautiful Irish songs, with beautiful chords and a familiar melody. Even if you have played it before, now would be a good time to enjoy it again! Click to Print:
If you feel like sharing some of what is helping you to cope in these dark days, we would love to hear about it. I look forward to the warmth of spring and am holding onto positive thoughts of our lives returning to normalcy as this virus fades into history, as no doubt it will. Until then, join me in looking for ways to enjoy life within your music and beyond. With love, Gaili
Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul and Songs of the Seasons SPRING: