Exercises in Thirds

One of the greatest challenges to us piano players is playing our 3, 4 and 5 fingers consecutively. Because of the way tendons are connected in our hands, it’s difficult to play fingers 3 and 4 or fingers 4 and 5 one after another. It can be so frustrating, sometimes we find ourselves avoiding playing with our 4-fingers altogether 😆. These Exercises in Thirds can help you gain more finger agility, if you practice them like this:

Using the PENTASCALES chart, practice Exercise #1 Parallel Motion (Parallel Motion means that your hands are playing the same notes and moving in the same direction) in the C pentascale (a pentascale is the first 5 notes of a major scale), then G, playing through all the rest of the 12 pentascales. Once you can play the Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales fairly well, move on to Exercise #1 in Contrary Motion in all 12 pentascales. Contrary Motion means that your hands are playing different notes, moving in opposite directions, but using the same fingering (i.e. both hands are playing fingers 1 – 3, 2 – 4, and 3 – 5 at the same time, but your hands are playing different notes.)

Next, move on to Exercise #2 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales. After playing all 12 in parallel motion fairly well, play Exercise #2 in Contrary Motion in all 12. You will have better and deeper brain retention and small motor skill development if you do each part of each exercise in all 12 pentascales (i.e. Exercise #3 in Parallel Motion) before moving on to the next part (i.e. Exercise #3 in Contrary Motion.) Students sometimes like to play all of the exercises in each key at once, but trust me 🙋🏻‍♀️, you will gain greater flexibility if you play each exercise part in all 12 keys before moving on to the next part. Here is Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in C and Db:

Click to Print Exercises in Thirds and the Pentascales chart:

I hope you find these exercises helpful. I like to have my students go back and review these exercises yearly or at least every other year; each time you review them you increase dexterity and finger independence.

How is your spring going so far? Here in Los Angeles it has been an uncharacteristically spring. We haven’t gotten much rain, but I am nevertheless enjoying watching my few vegetables grow in my garden (artichokes, corn, tomatoes and collards). What are you growing in your garden? Or are you planting seeds for new ideas or new summer projects? Please leave a comment and tell us what you are playing on the piano, what you are composing, or what seeds you are planting for new growth in your life. I do hope that you have been vaccinated and are enjoying increased in-person connections with loved ones.

With love and music, Gaili

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

March Free Sheet Music: A Jig, A Reel, and a Beautiful Irish Air

Cashel, Ireland

Happy March! This month we celebrate 🇮🇪Irish music🇮🇪, a genre near and dear to my heart, as I fell in love with Celtic music in my youth, and married an Irish-American musician in my 20s. I learned even more about Irish music when my daughters became Irish dancers. They participated in dance competitions – called a Feis (pronounced “Fesh”) – bouncing up and down with arms firmly at their sides for Jigs and Reels. The difference between the two dances is that a Jig has a 3 or 6 feel, while a Reel has a 4 feel. An Air is a slow tune that we listen to rather than dance to. I’m giving away one of each this month, to give you plenty to play in March!

First is a gorgeous Irish Air called Down By the Salley Gardens, which originated with a poem by William Butler Yeats. I posted this piece several years ago (and it appears in my instruction book UPPER HANDS PIANO: Book 3 with simpler block chord inversions) but today I added a moving bass line to give it a little more rhythm and fullness. This is an intermediate arrangement, and it will be posted on my website for just 1 year, so print it today! ⬇️⬇️⬇️

PRINT: Down By the Salley Gardens

Down By the Salley Gardens demonstration

If you’re looking to play something more lively, you can print The Galway Piper reel, below. Note that the chords are in block form in the A section, and are broken in the B section. If you are a beginner, just play block chords throughout. If you are an intermediate player, you can play broken chords throughout:

Finally, you might also enjoy this easy arrangement of The Irish Washwoman which I have my students play as an exercise throughout March. It’s the most popular Irish Jig in America, and it’s really fun to play:

I hope you are enjoying some warmer weather as we inch nearer to spring. Have you gotten your Covid vaccine yet? I can’t wait to get mine, and am so excited about the prospect of emerging from our long pandemic hibernation, later this year.

By the way, my husband and I will be playing Irish music (me on accordion😆, him on guitar and vocals) on Facebook Live on Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day, at 7pm PST. If you would like to watch, follow me on Facebook @UpperHands Piano. I’m not the best accordion player, but we’ll have a lot of fun playing Jigs, Reels and songs you can lift a pint to. Have a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day, and thanks so much for subscribing to my blog! Here’s an Irish blessing I love:

☘️ May peace and plenty bless your world
With a joy that long endures
And may all life’s passing seasons
Bring the best to you and yours. ☘️

With love and music, Gaili

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

February Free Sheet Music: Romance Sans Paroles (by Fauré)

📷 by David Brooke Martin

For the last year I have been researching calming, melodic pieces, and Gabriel Fauré’s Romance Sans Paroles Opus 17, No. 3 is a beautiful, lyrical “song without words” addition to my list. I hope you or your student will enjoy playing the Romance in February, the month of piano love ❤️🎹❤️.

It’s been about a year since the pandemic shut us in, and I am finding that I need to play and listen to beautiful music more than ever, don’t you? Romance No. 3 has a strong repeated melody that you can really sink your heart into; I transposed it from A-flat to C, added fingering, and simplified the left hand to eighth notes instead of sixteenths, but the melody is the same and the harmonies remain intact. Below you can print my intermediate arrangement from my website, or print Fauré’s original if you are a more advanced pianist:

Print Romance Sans Paroles (intermediate)

Remember, all the free sheet music on my site is only available for a year, so print now!

Print the original sheet music for Romance Sans Paroles below:

If you are new to my blog, welcome! And thanks for joining us. You might want to check out some of my former posts including the best ways to practice using what we know about how the brain learns, help for losing your place in your music, motivational practice tips, or click to print some free worksheets to help you learn to read treble and bass ledger lines. Check the blog posts listed on the right ➡️ for more inspiration!

I hope you are staying warm and snug ☕ wherever you are. It has been raining here in Southern California, and we love the rain! Please leave a comment below and tell us what you are playing right now. Are you finding it easier to practice during lockdown due to fewer distractions, or is it more difficult for you to get yourself to the bench?

Please click on the links below to view my piano instruction books called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul plus my Songs of the Season books. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are a gentle and fun introduction for mature adults wishing to play the piano. The Upper Hands Piano series is steeped in research into the best ways for older adults to learn both classical and popular piano, including lots of chords, brain games, review, mnemonics, videos, and support. I just noticed that Amazon put Book 1 on sale! Thanks for checking out my blog and books!

With Valentine’s Day love and music, Gaili

January Free Sheet Music: Look for the Silver Lining

Happy New Year Friends!

I hope this finds you well, and feeling at least somewhat optimistic about 2021. Last year was admittedly abominable, but some of us have been fortunate to have also acquired some new skills, or have experienced some new growth, or other benefits due to the pandemic: I have learned how to teach piano online, and although in-person lessons are more enjoyable, my students have embraced the technology and continued with lessons in a way they never would have dreamed of before it became our only option; since April my husband and I have been hosting sing-alongs on Friday nights that wonderful neighbors we hadn’t previously met attend in their cars; some of my students that have been too shy to perform in my in-person piano recitals, have been participating in my video recitals; and I have been writing some fun new music books and reading great new novels (if you love to read, see my reviews of books that feature older adult characters at RipeReads.net!) with my extra time.

I have heard people refer to these positive aspects of our stay-at-home lives as Silver Linings, a term that reminds me of an old standard I love, called Look for the Silver Lining by Jerome Kern and B.G. DeSylva which has been recorded by so many great artists: Tony Bennett, Chet Baker (uptempo), and Judy Garland (she adds the introductory phrases), and contemporary artists Brad Mehldau and Lane Webber.

I have arranged Look for the Silver Lining three ways. On my website you can print the intermediate/advanced arrangement:

PRINT Look for the Silver Lining (interm/adv)

(The above intermediate/advanced arrangement will only be posted through Dec 2021, so print it now!)

My easiest arrangement is here:

And the following arrangement appears at the end of Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2, and was designed to help you practice your left hand chord inversions:

Finally, below is the original sheet music for those of you who want to explore the 1920 arrangement:

Will you please comment below and tell us your silver linings stories? We can all use the encouragement! If you have lost someone you love, then you will be hard-pressed to see any positives, but I hope that playing this song can help some of you to Look for the Silver Linings in your life.

If you are new to this blog, welcome and thanks for joining us! I give away free sheet music every month, and you might want to check out the list on the right of this post for practice tips, flash cards and other helpful resources. One thing you might explore in 2021 is composing a piece or writing a song! If you have always loved Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but aren’t able to play the original, check out my intermediate arrangement here! Click the links below to learn more about my Upper Hands Piano books on Amazon.

Many thanks for your support throughout 2020, and here’s wishing you a New Year with renewed good health and happiness. With love and music, Gaili

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

Composing – How To Write a Song or Piece, Part 3 Melody and Chords

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

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul, Songs of the Seasons, and a wide-ruled manuscript book for your creative endeavors!

When You Lose Your Place In Your Music

One of the biggest issues piano students struggle with when their hands have to jump more than a few keys, is finding their location on the keyboard without losing their place in their sheet music. In Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, the left hand has to leap to get from the single note to the chord in each bass staff measure:

All but the most experienced pianists must constantly look down at their hands in order to hit the correct bass notes in passages like this, and that can cause the student to lose their tempo as well as their place on the page.

There are a few things we can do to improve our geographical sense on the keyboard. But before I talk about strategies, I would like you to consider that the spatial aspect of playing the piano provides one of its greatest brain benefits.

While all instrumentalists get a brain boost from the multi-sensory experience of playing their instruments — integrating the visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and tactile (touching) senses with rhythmic awareness, pattern perception, memory and emotions — a piano player develops the broadest spatial intelligence, which means developing an instinct for how far to move one’s hand to play the intended keys. Brain scans reveal that because of this additional challenge, playing the piano activates the most widespread portions of the brain, improving brain structure and cognitive functioning, by increasing the number and health of brain cells and neural connections. So let’s view piano key leaps as a good thing! 😉💡👏

In a book I think of as my learning science bible called, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors recount interesting scientific data they call the “Beanbag Study.” In the study, two groups of children practiced throwing beanbags into a bucket; one group tossing from three feet away, the other tossing from both two and four feet away. After twelve weeks, both groups were tested on tossing into a bucket three feet away. Surprisingly, “the kids who did the best by far were those who’d practiced on two- and four-foot buckets” even though they had never tried the three- foot buckets! (Make It Stick, p.46.) This is because varied practice (such as tossing beanbags from mixed distances) gives you a deeper understanding of how you need to move your body to learn a visual/spatial skill. You can adapt these findings when practicing piano key leaps by doing the following exercises :

  1. Keep your eyes forward, then practice moving each of your hands in octaves (from one C to a higher or lower C) and other intervals (G up to E, D down to F; B up to A, C down to D, etc.) by taking just a quick glance at your hand as it approaches the second key.
  2. Practice moving each of your hands in octaves and other intervals up and down, with your eyes closed, seeing how close you can get to your intended key. You can graze the tops of the black keys with your fingers to guide you; that’s how blind pianists learn to play.
  3. In the same way, work up to finding intervals greater than an octave (nine keys or more) with just a quick glance down, and later with your eyes closed.
Finding notes with your eyes closed is a great exercise!

By developing an intuition for distances between keys, we reduce the need for constantly looking down from our music, or we reduce the length of time we need to look down, to a quick glance. If you do need to look down at your hands for a piece such as Chopin’s Waltz in A minor (above), you can do the following to help keep your place in the music:

  1. Don’t let yourself look down until you make a mental note of where you are on the page, even though that will interrupt your tempo.
  2. If you notice that you consistently get lost in a particular measure, get out some colored pencils and make a mark above that measure. If there is more than one, number each measure in which you get lost, so that when you need to look down, your brain quickly registers red 1, blue 2, green 3, etc. When you look back up you will quickly find the red 1 your eyes just left a moment ago.

Sometimes you lose your place because you have memorized part of your music, but not all of it. For that issue as well, use colored numbers above the measures in which you consistently lose your place. Once you stop losing your place, you can erase the markings, as well as other penciled markings on your page that you no longer need.

Give these practice strategies a try and leave us a comment to let us know how it went. As with all new skills, you will get better with time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if the exercises doesn’t work too well for you at the beginning.

FYI- You only have a few more days to print Auld Lang Syne from the FREE SHEET MUSIC page of my website, before last JANUARY’s arrangement disappears. Everyone loves to sing that song at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, even if they don’t know exactly what the lyrics mean 😆

I hope you find your way to the 🎹 bench amidst the holiday rush; playing the piano is a great way to relax and re-center yourself. Happy Holidays! Thanks so much for joining our community. With love and music, Gaili

Gaili Schoen

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

Treble Staff Ledger Lines: Free Worksheets

©Alexey Arkhipov Dreamstime.com

A couple of month ago I posted worksheets for learning bass ledger lines, and this month I wanted to follow up with worksheets for learning treble staff ledger lines. In both sets of worksheets I use octaves to help the brain grasp where the notes fall on the keyboard. It really helps to orient yourself on the staff and keyboard when you play notes you know, alongside the notes you might just be guessing at. These treble staff worksheets will train your brain to recognize the notes from three ledger lines below the staff (F3), up to three ledger lines above the staff (E6). I didn’t use numbers such as A4 on the treble worksheets because there is so much confusion about octave numbers. Some editors call the lowest key on a standard piano A0 and others call it A1. In my Upper Hands Piano instruction books for Adults 50+, I call the lowest note on the piano A1, which makes middle C, C4, because that seems to be the system most agreed upon. If you find the key numbers confusing don’t worry about learning them. They are just a learning tool, and work better for some than for others. Practice these treble note worksheets a few lines at a time, eventually playing all the lines from 1-16 at one sitting.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT TREBLE STAFF LEDGER LINES WORKSHEETS

I hope you are still able to play your piano in these dog days of summer. It is hot and humid here in Southern California, but of course it has not been nearly as bad as in many cities around the world this week.

In a few days I will be posting the free sheet music for August- I have arranged a few classical favorites that my blog followers have requested in their comments. I love getting your requests! Keep in mind that I can only post songs and pieces written before 1924 (i.e. in the public domain), for free.

Have you set an intention to learn a certain song or piece this summer? Let us know what you are playing so that we can support your efforts! Stay cool, 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 have a GMAIL account and would like for these posts to come to your Primary mailbox instead of your Promotions mailbox, just drag the (unopened) email up left into your Primary tab, and, and they will arrive in your Primary mailbox forevermore 😎

June Free Sheet Music: Tico Tico

Tico Tico

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.

Here is a guitarist playing Tico Tico, and I love this version by the Andrews Sisters!

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.

CLICK HERE to print TICO TICO

(Note: After May 2020 you may request this free sheet music by commenting below or sending me an email: upperhandspiano@gmail.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.

-Gertrude Jekyll

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

If you are new to this blog, welcome! And thanks for joining us. 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, as well as piano songbooks called Songs of the Seasons. You can check them out below or on my website.

Happy young summer, and let me know what you think of Tico Tico! With love and music, Gaili

Bass Staff Ledger Lines: Free Worksheets

Birds on Musical Staff
blog.UpperHandsPiano.com

Some of my students who have been working through the ledger line worksheets are having trouble figuring out which octave in which to play the low bass ledger line notes. To help you get a handle on which bass note is where, I have created another set of worksheets 😆

The first page starts with a chart to show you that A3, which is two white keys below middle C, is written on the top line of the bass clef, A2 is an octave below A3 and is written on the bottom space of the bass staff, and A1 is an octave below A2 and is written three ledger lines below the bass staff. If you can learn the octaves for those three As, you can use them as touchstones to find the octaves for all of the notes in between. I have color coded the notes by octaves, so that you can refer back to the chart on page 1.

CLICK HERE TO PRINT:

If locating the correct octave is an issue for you with bass notes, start by playing line 1 forwards and backwards for at least a week, until you feel confident that you know where each note is on the keyboard. Then slowly go through the first few lines on page 2, referring back to page 1 to make sure you are in the right place. As always, play the lines forwards and backwards to double your practice, and challenge your brain. Another great way to practice is to say either “A2,” “A3” or “A4” when you come across each A.

I hope you find these worksheets helpful! I’m always looking for ways to help students overcome their musical obstacles, so leave a comment if you have another issue you would like me to highlight.

If you are new to this blog, thanks for joining me! 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. My mission is to make learning how to play the piano easier and more fun for older adults by applying the latest innovations in learning science, along with using larger notes and fonts, brain games, videos and lots of encouragement. You can check out the books on my website, or on Amazon.com.

With love and music, Gaili

P.S. I just noticed that Amazon has put Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2 on sale for about 25% off at $16.63 (regular $21.95). I have no idea how long it will be on sale, but if you’re nearing the end of BOOK 1, now might be a good time to purchase BOOK 2!

May Free Sheet Music: The Entertainer

blog.upperhandspiano.com

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