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!

Coping With Corona and Free Sheet Music

“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:

BOOK 1

May Free Sheet Music: The Entertainer

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

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

CLICK HERE TO PRINT: The Entertainer

…plus other free sheet music from the past year

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

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

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

With love and music, Gaili

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

April Free Sheet Music: Amazing Grace

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.

CLICK HERE to print Amazing Grace

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 upperhandspiano@gmail.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 🙂

If you haven’t already, please check out my piano instruction book series called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind Heart and Soul, along with my Songs of the Seasons books of seasonal favorite pieces (all available on Amazon.com).

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

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

June Free Sheet Music: Tchaikovsky’s June

Tchaikovsky's June
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I hope you are enjoying luxuriously lengthening days as we launch into summer. My garden is crying out for me to do some much-needed pruning, weeding and watering, but thankfully I can always count on my lavender to thrive without making any demands whatsoever. This is a photo of the gorgeous lavender fields at the lovely Senanque Monastery in Provence, France. My lavender doesn’t look quite like this 🙂 but I can dream…

This month I wanted to share Tchaikovsky’s June with you. It’s a beautiful piece that reflects the June gloominess we experience here in on the California coast. I have simplified it for the early intermediate student who wants to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous theme. Some in our piano community believe that we shouldn’t simplify piano literature, but I think it’s inspiring for students to get to be able to play beautiful themes from the masters, as they are learning. And anything that inspires practice is a win in my estimation. This arrangement is from our Songs of the Seasons: SUMMER book, available on Amazon along with our Upper Hands Piano books for older adult students

CLICK  HERE  TO  PRINT:  JUNE                                                 (only available until June 2019)

You might also want to scroll down on the free sheet music page to print last June’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon. It will only be available until the end of June, so print it now! (I take down all pieces after a year to make room for new content.)

Speaking of inspiring practice, I am currently engrossed in writing a practice journal for people who need some strategies and words of wisdom and encouragement to keep them on track with their creative practice (I know that I have in the past!) I am loving the process of writing and researching this book, and hope to have it finished by the end of the summer. In the coming weeks I will excerpt some of the pages from the book that best apply to piano students, in hopes that it will help get you to the bench. Do you have any summer goals for your piano practice? Is there a piece you wish to complete, or a skill you would like to improve? Please leave a comment so we can support your goal! 

With love and music, Gaili

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

UpperHandsPiano.com

April Free Sheet Music: Wayfaring Stranger

In light of the fact that we’re having some pretty strange spring weather on both the east and west coasts, and because I have been hearing that you’re enjoying the old folk songs, I decided to arrange another beautiful oldie, called Wayfaring Stranger. This dark tune  which probably originated in the southern Appalachians, has been recorded by many fine artists, many of whom you can watch here. I think my favorite version is Jack White’s:

You can watch a bit of the song as White sung it in the 2003 film, Cold Mountain (starring Renée Zellweger, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law): 

I offered an easy arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger in Upper Hands Piano BOOK 1, and have also re-arranged it for intermediate piano. You can download both, below:

Print Wayfaring Stranger INTERMEDIATE HERE                    (only available through March 2019)

UPDATE- I COULD NOT INCLUDE THE EASY ARRANGEMENT OF WAYFARING STRANGER ON MY NEW WEBSITE. PLEASE EMAIL ME AT upperhandspiano@gmail.com AND I WILL HAPPILY EMAIL IT TO YOU. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE!

In the intermediate arrangement I tried to simulate some of that mountain guitar sound that Jack White creates, but I have kept the melody to the traditional notes. Here is a video to help you play Wayfaring Stranger, intermediate:

Here are the lyrics to the third verse, which I didn’t include in the sheet music:

I know dark clouds will hover o’er me
I know my pathway is rough and steep
But golden fields lie out before me
Where weary eyes no more will weep
I’m going there to see my Mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
So, I’m just going over Jordan
I am just going over home

You might also want to scroll down on the FREE Sheet Music Page and print a few more songs before they disappear! (They are available for only one year.) If you haven’t already, print The Water Is Wide. It’s such a beautiful song; I want everyone to know it!

I hope Wayfaring Stranger helps you enjoy the final vestiges of cloudy/rainy/snowy moody/gloominess before the dawning of a sunshiny spring!

With love and music, Gaili

Gaili Schoen, Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul (BOOKs 1-4, available on Amazon.com)

UpperHandsPiano.com