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:
One of my favorite pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach is his Cello Suite No. 1. It was popularized in the 2009 film, The Soloist, about a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) who writes a story about a schizophrenic homeless cellist (Jamie Foxx) who had once been a music student at Juilliard.
The Cello Suite No. 1 is so beautiful and captivating, I wondered if I could arrange it for piano. Since it is in the cello’s range, I put both hands in bass staves. It will feel strange playing bass notes in both hands, but it is a great means to practicing reading bass notes, and because it is so different than what you are used to, it provides a particularly potent brain workout. I divided the melody line many ways, testing it over and over until I found which hand worked best for each note. The notes in the upper staff are played with the right hand, and the notes in the lower staff are played with the left. I provided a lot of fingering, but as always, if you find a fingering you like better, or prefer to switch notes to the other hand, feel free to make changes– just remember to stay consistent with fingering and hand assignments! You can also add dynamics as you feel them.
Here’s a demonstration of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, arranged for piano:
Please leave a comment and let our community know what your experience is playing this piece. Are you enjoying it? Does it feel extremely challenging, or are you finding it easy to play?
Remember I post free sheet music for only a year. If you are reading this after June 2020, the sheet music will be gone. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy. You might also want some of the favorites I have had to take down recently- sheet music for The Water Is Wide, Clair de lune, or the July 4th favorite, Yankee Doodle Dandy! Just send me an email and I’ll send it to you asap.
How is your summer going so far? My little garden is extremely happy these days. We had a good rainy winter this year, so my hydrangeas are finally showing me what they can do! And I am finding new creative ways to use my abundant zucchini crop (don’t gardeners just love to brag?! Since my children live in NY and I don’t have any pets at the moment, I’m focusing my motherly attention on my plants 😆).
A thousand apologies for my tardiness in posting my April free sheet music. March is a busy month for me- I start the month practicing Irish tunes for upcoming St. Patrick’s Day gigs, then on March 18th I get serious about doing my taxes. Then my students and I have our spring Piano and Poetry Party (a friendly, informal recital). Along with all of that March madness I spent many hours arranging Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Swan for you, my beloved blog subscribers. It was a tough challenge to represent Saint-Saëns’ many gorgeous harmonies into an easy(-ish) arrangement for solo piano. By the morning of April 1st I had the 3-page arrangement all finished except for the fingering…..when my computer crashed. I had saved the score to a thumb drive, but when I loaded Sibelius (my music notation software) onto another computer, The Swan file popped up as “corrupt file.” I tried every known fix for my crashed computer but no luck, the computer is toast. Hopefully I will be able to extract The Swan from the internal hard drive in the future, but until then, I decided to switch to working on Amazing Grace instead. (we have to roll with the punches, right?)
Have you seen the documentary about Aretha Franklin called Amazing Grace? It was filmed in 1972, but is now finally being released nationwide. In honor of the amazing Aretha, and to celebrate Earth Day, I’ve arranged Amazing Grace three ways. You can play the first version (easy), the second (intermediate), the third (advanced jazz/gospel), or play all three as a progression from simplicity to the fully colorful. If a version feels too difficult for you this year, print it anyway, and you may be able to play it next year.
As with of my free sheet music on the UpperHandsPiano.com website, Amazing Grace will only be posted for a year, and then I need to make room for new pieces. Look at the other sheet music and print whatever you like now, before it’s gone! If you are reading this after it has disappeared from the website link above, email me at email@example.com to send you a copy via email.
Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd, and is a time to actively protect our environment. Some people plant things, or clean up public spaces, or attend weekend festivals which educate and inspire. You can look here for ways to celebrate Earth Day 2019.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. I am learning the new version of Sibelius software with its steep learning curve, but as we all know, learning difficult things, like playing the piano, is the best way to keep our brains functioning optimally. So it’s all good 🙂
I hope you are enjoying the first flowers of spring, wherever you are! Please leave a comment and tell us which version of Amazing Grace you are playing! Any and all comments are gratefully received. With love and music, Gail
One of the primary differences between experienced pianists and beginners is in the fluidity of the hand moving forward and backward on the keys. Experienced players instinctively move their hands forward on the keys (towards the piano) when playing black keys or encountering a succession of keys that put their hand at an awkward angle. Less experienced pianists however, tend to keep their hand at the edge of the keys (closer to our bodies) so that when they encounter an awkward succession of keys they need to twist and stretch their body.
Check-in with your body when playing a physically challenging musical passage or playing black keys. If you feel your body contorting, try moving your hand forward on the keys instead. Though it can be a little more difficult to press down the keys as you move closer to the wood, it is far better to move your hand forward than to twist your body. Besides looking and feeling awkward, twisting your body takes more time, resulting in missed beats.
It takes some time to develop the instinct for moving your hand forward and backward effortlessly on the keys. When you encounter a musical passage that seems to take extra time and effort for maneuvering, try moving your hand forward instead of twisting your body. Watch this YouTube video of La Campanella (you can find simplified sheet music on my former blog post here) and notice that the pianist is constantly moving her hand forward and backward on the keys, and often plays at the very top of the keys where need be. While most of us are not as advanced as this pianist, we can take her fine technique to heart and apply it to our own playing. Start by becoming more aware of how you move your hands and body at the piano.
I hope that during your Thanksgiving preparations (if you are American!) you will take time to practice your piano, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Playing the piano is a great way to de-stress, and clearing the mind of to-do lists for 10 minutes will help you to think more clearly and increase focus.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my blog subscribers. Your support means the world to me. I so enjoy arranging songs and pieces for you each month, and sharing my practice tips with you. Writing helps me to deepen my understanding of the piano. I love that playing the piano provides us with the opportunity for lifelong learning and development. I’m grateful that you are here, and that we can learn and grow together. Always feel free to leave a comment. When you share what you have observed in your playing, we can learn from each other!