One of the scariest Halloween pieces I know is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. I have adapted this organ piece for early intermediate piano so that you can scare your trick-or-treaters when they innocently come knocking on your door…😱
Here is a demonstration of this arrangement. Notice that I used pedal on measures 7-9 for the ascending phrase, and I am playing rubato (not in strict tempo) throughout:
Happy October! The night time weather has suddenly taken a nosedive here in Los Angeles, and it is such a pleasure to sleep with a blanket on again! Have you been working though your triads and inversions with my blog posts, How to Build Chords on The Piano, Part 1 and Part 2? If you are already comfortable with triads and their inversions, I will be posting an instructional video about 6th and 7th chords soon, in How to Build Chords on The Piano, Part 3. Also check the sidebar to the right (on this page) to see if any of my previous posts would be helpful to you.
If you are looking for more Autumn musical inspiration, check out my piano book called, Songs of the Seasons: AUTUMN, in the link below. I’m also including a link to BOOK 1 of my piano series, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. What pieces do you like to play in Autumn? I am enjoying playing Autumn Leaves, Autumn in NY, and Vivaldi’s Autumn (free sheet music available here). I am very sentimental about my seasonal repertoire 😂! Thanks for following my blog, and enjoy your October.
In my post How to Build Chords at the Piano, Part 1, I demonstrated how to build Triads (3-note chords) using formulas. Once you have learned your major and minor triads, you can start experimenting with “inverting” them, which means mixing up the order of the notes. A “C Major Triad” that is played C-E-G (left to right) is in “root position.”
If you move the C to the top of the chord, with E on the bottom and G in the middle (E-G-C left to right), you have built a C chord, 1st inversion. If you move the E to the top and now have G on the bottom and C in the middle (G-C-E left to right), you have built a C chord , 2nd inversion. No matter how you mix up the order of the notes, C-E-G played together is a C chord; but inversions sound a bit different than root position chords, and they sometimes make it easier to move from one chord to another.
There are lots of exercises and songs in which to practice inversions in Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2, (currently on sale at Amazon for 24% off!) but if you would rather not buy the book, I demonstrate how to build Major and Minor inversions in this video:
The notation for inversions is in the form of slash chords. C Major Triad 1st inversion is written C/E. F# Major 2nd inversion is written F#/C#. Some people find this notation to be counter-intuitive. Just remember that the letter to the left of the slash is the chord name. The letter to the right of the slash tells you which note is on the bottom of the chord. Eb/G means it is an E-flat major chord with a G at the bottom, Bb in the middle and Eb on top (1st inversion). A/E means it is an A major chord with E on the bottom, A in the middle, C-sharp on top (2nd inversion). It takes awhile to get used to this notation, so review this paragraph and the above video until you have it.
In How to Build Chords on the Piano, Part 3 we will be building 6th chords, plus Major, Minor and Dominant 7ths. You will also be able to click to print flashcards for all of the the 7th chords. Please subscribe to get these blog posts plus free monthly sheet music delivered to your Email inbox. I never share or spam email addresses, ever.
With love and Music, Gaili
PS While writing this post I realized that Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 2 is available on Amazon.com for 24% off today! Not sure how long they will extend this sale:
Songs of the Seasons: AUTUMN’s Classical selections include Vivaldi’s Autumn, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin’s Funeral March, Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1, and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. Popular standards include Shine On Harvest Moon, School Days, My Melancholy Baby, Over The River and Through The Woods, We Gather Together, Irving Berlin’s We Have Much to be Thankful For, and Jerome Kern’s Till the Clouds Roll By. This small inexpensive songbook will help you practice all of the chords we cover in my blog posts, How to Build Chords on the Piano, Parts 1-3
Music is made up of chords that blend with melody within a rhythm, to tell a story. As pianists we are called upon to play chords all of the time, broken (one or two notes at a time) or block (all of the notes played together) for all genres of music including classical, jazz, and all popular styles. The better we understand chords, the easier it will be to read music and chord symbols (letters above the lines of popular sheet music that tell you which chord to play). And the better we read, the faster we will learn. In three posts, I want to unpack chords, digging deep into what they are and how to build them. Here in Part 1 we will focus on the basic 3-note chords called triads; Part 2 moves on to inverted triads; and Part 3 explores 6th and 7th chords, and will include free flash cards to further help you learn your 7th chords.
I love chords, so I’m so glad that I play a chordal instrument. When I was a child, my parents played 1920s-1950s music on the record player while we were doing household chores. Then I would go pick out the melodies on our piano. When I found the chords to fit the melodies I was enthralled; I was playing songs! When I began studying jazz in high school (in addition to my long standing classical lessons), I expanded my knowledge of chords to include all kinds of exotic sounds. I love the way that different chords elicit different emotions. When I was a film composer, I used a variety of rich chords to make the audience feel whatever emotion the director wanted them to feel. Chords are magic!
If you are a beginner, you might just be starting to explore the world of chords. In Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1, I teach Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented Triads (3-note chords) within a series of exercises. By the end of the book you are playing triads in songs. But even more experienced pianists might not know that chords are based on musical principles that are like mathematical formulas. I have made a video to show you how to build MAJOR, MINOR, DIMINISHED, AUGMENTED and SUSPENDED triads using these formulas:
Here is a recap of the triad formulas you just learned: MAJOR: 4 half steps | 3 half steps; MINOR: 3 | 4 ; DIMINISHED: 3 | 3 ; AUGMENTED 4 | 4 ; SUSPENDED: Root 4th 5th.
Stay tuned for How to Build Chords on the Piano, Parts 2 and 3 coming soon (videography is not my forte 😆so it takes me awhile) where we will build chords that will further enrich your music. I will also be posting my free October sheet music soon.
I hope you are enjoying the first tickle of autumn in your town or city. Here in Los Angeles it is still quite warm, and we are longing for cooler days when we can wear cozy sweaters, cook apple sauce and soups, and play songs like Autumn Leaves and Vivaldi’s Autumn. To help you feel the fall spirit, here is an easy (free) arrangement of Vivaldi’s Autumn, from my Upper Hands Piano: Songs of the Seasons, AUTUMN book for you to download and print:
By the way, I hope you don’t mind too much that to support this blog, I advertise my Upper Hands Piano and Songs of the Seasons books sometimes (you can find links at the bottom of this post). I also wanted to tell you that for arrangements of songs and pieces not in the public domain, I post arrangements on Sheet Music Plus. I recently arranged Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah for intermediate piano, and you can find Autumn Leaves- EASY here, and intermediate here. For those of you who are new to this blog, thanks for joining us! You can find free sheet music here, but remember that each piece is only posted for a year.
If you have any questions after watching the above video, PLEASE post your questions below. I love talking about chords and want to make this discussion as clear as possible for you. With love and music, Gaili
In Upper Hands Piano: BOOK 3 (p. 62-63) there is an arrangement of the popular theme from the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, which he titled Alla Turca. In BOOK 3, I arranged only the first theme, because the music that follows it would have been too advanced for the BOOK 3 student. Recently my sister-in-law asked if I might be willing to expand the arrangement, so I have done just that- advancing the theme a bit beyond my original arrangement, and adding the next three themes. As in BOOK 3, the piece is transposed to the key of D minor (down from A minor) in order to keep most of the notes on the staff (avoiding using ledger line notes). In my arrangements I endeavor to maintain the integrity, excitement and fullness of the pieces, while eliminating a few notes that make the music difficult to play. In Alla Turca I worked especially long and hard on the fingering, testing it on students who are early intermediate players, to build the very best and most efficient fingering possible; but as always, if you find a fingering that works better for you, cross out mine and write in yours. Always try to slow down and keep fingering consistent right from the beginning, for maximum memory retention. You can listen to Alla Turca here, but don’t be disappointed if you are not able to play it this fast!
Due to space limitations, each free sheet music arrangement is on the website for only a year, so if a free arrangement I mentioned in a blog post is no longer available on my free sheet music page, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email it to you asap.
Have any fun plans for Labor Day Weekend? I’m looking forward to picnicking at The Hollywood Bowl for a John Williams concert. It’s a super fun event where the LA Philharmonic plays Williams’ music along with film clips he has composed for. I used to be a film composer, and I just love underscoring, which is the music under the action.
But mostly this weekend I will be working on my next blog post which will be all about…. C H O R D S. I want to give you a comprehensive chord primer complete with flash cards because chords are so fundamental to an understanding of music, especially for pianists. So look for a post in the next week or two about chords. I hope you will find it helpful for yourself or your students.
If you have a second, leave a comment below and let me know if you are a piano student or piano teacher. I can be most helpful if I know who I am writing for. Thanks so much for following my blog!
If you’re new to this blog, I want to let you know that the “BOOK 3” I referenced above is from a series I wrote called: Upper Hands Piano: A Method for ADULTS 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul. There are four instruction books plus some songbooks to go along with them. You can check them out on my website, or on Amazon.com (see links below). They make great gifts for the people in your life who would like to “someday” get back to playing the piano, or would like to learn for the first time as an adult.
Last month Upper Hands Piano blog subscriber Colin commented on my blog post asking for a simplified arrangement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise (thanks for your comment Colin!) While I did simplify it, this is not an “EASY” piece; if I had to rank this arrangement I would place it at late beginner level. Für Elise is in the key of A minor, and it is full of drama 🎭 switching between a dark, pensive moodiness, and a light joyful frolic. Für Elise is translated from German as “For Elise,” and there is much mystery surrounding the identity of “Elise!” Though it is one of his most popular pieces Beethoven wasn’t quite satisfied with Für Elise in his lifetime, even after his later revisions; it was not published until almost 40 years after his death in 1827. When you are playing Für Elise try to connect to strong emotions you experience in your life to make the piece come alive.
On the same web page you will also find other free sheet music from the past 11 months. Each piece will only be available for a year, so print whatever you might like to play, now.
If you have previously played Für Elise I want to offer you another free song for August. In celebration of how well my home team is performing this year– the Los Angeles Dodgers — I am including Take Me Out To The Ball Game, from Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 3. Click on the black box below to Download:
If you are new to this blog, you might want to check out some of the former posts you see listed on the right side of my blog. Subscribers tell me that they have found these posts to be particularly helpful:
If you are a teacher and are new to teaching adults over 50 with Upper Hands Piano Books, email me a for Tips for Teachers materials and I’ll be happy to send them to you: UpperHandsPiano@gmail.com. Here are some of the books on my website as well as Amazon.com (below) if you would like to learn more about them:
Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind Heart and Soul, BOOKs 1-4
Upper Hands Piano: Songs of the Seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring)
I hope you are finding this blog to be helpful in your piano playing and teaching. If you have an issue related to playing the piano that you would like me to address, please leave it in the comments below and I will try to address it. Thanks for subscribing, and have a happy August!
With love and music, Gaili
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.
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
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 😎
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 email@example.com 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 😆).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.