Today, one of my 10 years old students proudly showed me what he’s picked up from one of the piano tutorials on YouTube over the weekend.  In his playing, I detected a few fragments of that popular circus theme tune for clown(s).  When I played the full melody to ask him if it was what he meant, his eye shined with joy. This piece of music is actually written as a military march and originally titled Grande Marche Chromatique.  Full of chromatic scales with quirky harmonies here and there.  For 10 years old beginner students, it’d be a hard work to be able to play it properly but his fascination with a chromatic scale will certainly help overcome a few hurdles. So, I’ve decided to arrange a very short and easy version of it. Luckily, I found out that this piece of music is now in a public domain, so I’m delighted to be able to share the sheet music with you right here.

Free sheet music download:

Entry of the Gladiator by Julius Fucík

Have fun!

In one of the Jane Sebba’s Abracadabra piano books, I found the most useful word rhythms to teach one of the most commonly used polyrhythms; 3 against 2.  She gives us a tune called ‘Cold Cup of Tea’.  This is how both hands fit into the syllables. 3 against 2 As you may find out, it works instantly without any complication.  Now, can we use this brilliant idea to learn trickier polyrhythms such as 4 against 3.  How about this: 4 against 3 Works for you? Next step is to apply this exercise to your playing.  Instead of tapping every syllable with your hand, try using different finger for each syllable. For 3 against 2: 3 against 2-fingers For 4 against 3: 4 against 3-fingers When you become comfortable with the above finger exercises, try swap the patterns between the hands. For 3 against 2: 3 against 2-fingers-2 For 4 against 3: 4 against 3-fingers-2 Are you ready for the final challenge?  Try saying ‘1, 2, 3′ instead of ‘Cold Cup of Tea’ and ‘1, 2, 3, 4′ instead of ‘Cold Cup of Tea and Buns’. To go further, pick the notes of your choice on the piano and try with the sound.  You can also try different fingerings. Working on such polyrhythms as these certainly work hard on improving your coordination between the hands, eyes and also ears (always listen attentively to what you’re hearing, which will play a great part in improving your coordination!). Good luck!

When one of my young piano students just finished learning the final piece from the W. Gillock’s Accent on Solo Book 1, he suddenly played ‘Mary had a little lamb’ with his right hand, as if he was saying, ‘Remember this song? I can play it so easily now.’ Then, I thought why not recycle this song to introduce the Alberti Bass, which is one of the most common left hand patterns appeared in many sonatinas and sonatas of standard classical repertoires. Here’s how we did:

1. Sing and play ‘Mary had a little lamb’ with the right hand while rotating the left wrist in the air as if you’re turning a screw driver. One syllable for each wrist turn:

Words & LH & RH RH pattern only

2. Do the same exercise as above, except the left hand now stays on the keyboard surface while rotating it (no need to worry about playing any note with the left hand just yet!).

3. Sing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ while playing C & G alternately with the left hand, maintaining the wrist rotation. Words & LH LH pattern only

4. Sing and play ‘Mary had a little lamb’ with the right hand while playing C & G alternately with the left hand, maintaining the wrist rotation. The player should focus on the right hand pattern (visually and aurally) while the teacher can help rotating the player’s left hand, so that the s/he gets used to the feeling of moving the hands in a different way. RH&LH

5. When playing the above exercise becomes comfortable, change C & G to F & G when singing ‘little lamb’ for the second time and also ‘fleece is white as’. End the song with C – G – C instead of C – G – C – G. This exercise will keep the player busy for a while! LH pattern only2

6. When ready, add an extra note (E) for the first left hand pattern (C & G). Try without the right hand first to learn this new pattern. Always practise with singing the song. Play E instead of C for the second time (C-G-E-G, C-G-E-G…)

LH pattern-alberti bass

7. Finally, if the player feels ready, add an extra note (B) for the second left hand pattern (F &G). Play B instead of F for the first time (B-G-F-G, B-G-F-G…)

LH pattern-alberti bass2

Good luck!

Yesterday was a revisiting experience for me and also for my husband. It was the annual Alumni event at one of the colleges in Cambridge. I’d been invited to perform a couple of times in the past but this year’s Alumni was somewhat special since it was the last event presented by the retiring Master whom we’ve known some years. It’s been several years since we last visited the college. We saw some familiar faces but somewhat older as you can imagine. Some transformation around the college, we’ve noticed too! The Alumni event usually ends with a mini concert followed by the Alumni dinner. For this concert, I asked the violinist, Mifune Tsuji to join in. Over the past years we’ve been building up our favourite repertoires, and we picked a few for this event. The theme for the Alumni concert was ‘Music Without Frontiers’, exploring eclectic selection of music from around the world. Our programme started with my piano solo, playing G. Allevi’s Downtown. Followed by Miyagi’s The Sea in Spring, Piazzolla’s Libertango (The CelloProject version), Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Then, two piano solos, playing Grieg’s Arietta and Debussy’s Arabesque No.2 followed the highlight of our programme, my transcription/arrangement of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango for violin and piano, recently published from the Piazzolla’s original publisher, Bèrben. It was our public premier performance and we managed to record it but the microphones position was not ideal since the room was very small and the audiences’ seats were close up to where we were performing, there were only two obvious spots for them. Either the piano side or the violin side; we definitely didn’t want to put them in the middle to distract the audiences’ view. Since the piano lid was fully open, my choice was to take the violin side. Although, the recording condition wasn’t ideal, I think it captured the momentum of our performance. Both the violin and piano parts are mostly truthful to the Piazzolla’s original but we allowed ourselves to have some rooms to put our own stamps on it. It was well received and again I think we created a very good programme to keep the audience engaged to the end.

In the past, I’ve come across with quite a few discussions in various forum sites regarding the violin and piano version of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. It’s originally written in C minor for the cello and piano, and Sofia Gubaidulina did a fabulous virtuosic arrangement for the violin and piano that are well known amongst the violinists who fell for the charm of Piazzolla’s music. Having played the Gubaidulina’s versions with the dynamic violinist Mifune Tsuji on several occasions, my desire to perform this piece in its original form started to grow. As I was making an attempt to arrange it in its original key for the violin and piano, I discovered a couple of problems; some of the notes in the violin part go lower than A below middle C; tonal balance between the violin and piano is not quite right; those who are used to play the Gubaidulina’s version in D minor have to relearn the whole thing! So, I’ve decided to maintain Gubaidulina’s choice in key. As a result, I had to apply a compromise to the modulation after the slow middle section (missing from the Gubaidulina’s version) so that the second libero e cantabile section is played in the subdominant key (G minor) rather than staying in the same key (D minor) as the first libero e cantabile section. If I were to keep the modulation as the original, the Piu Mosso section ends up starting in A minor, which is a perfect 5th higher than the Gubaidulina’s version. This simply was not going to work! By compromising on the modulation, the Piu Mosso section now starts in the same key as the Gubaidulina version. This new arrangement is now available from Bèrben Edizioni Muscicali, Italy. Catalogue number: 5810. Or from the SheetMusicPlus online shop in the USA. I’m happy to announce that Mifune Tusji and I will be giving the premier performance of the piece on 27th September 2014, at the Alumni event at St Edmunds College, Cambridge. I hope that this new arrangement will find its usefulness and deliver the essence of the piece that Piazzolla originally intended. Piazzolla-Le Grand Tango

—update 1— Following the premier performance of the above work, I’m giving away 3 copies (sheet music) to the musicians who may be interested in performing it in the future. Please send me a message. All I’d ask of you is a postage (by paypal) and to share the information of this work. Thank you. NB: Permission to give free copies away is granted by the publisher, Bèrben s.r.l.

—update 2— Two copies are given to the violinists from Hong Kong and Finland, so far.  One more copy is available. (as of February 2015)

—update 3— The last copy went to the violinst from Poland.  Thank you all again for your interest in this new version.
15th February 2015

—update 4— A few more online shops appear to have it in stock.  Here are those I’ve found recently:

Japan
Academia Music

Swizerland
MusikHug

Italy
Birdland

USA
The Juilliard Store

I rarely share a story regarding what’s happening in my piano studio but I had a very heart-warming experience with one of my 9 years old piano beginners.  I thought I’d share this story with you here.

One of my 9 years old beginners brought his grandma (visiting from Edinburgh) to the piano lesson yesterday. Once in the piano room, he prepared the cushions on the sofa for her, and started to play ‘Pink Panther’ instead of the piece we were currently working on. So, I whispered to his grandma ‘He wants to show off!’ and he turned around and grinned at me as he continued playing.

During the whole lesson, he showed the best behaviour I’ve ever seen and managed to focus on every details we worked on and covered quite an amount of tasks: learned a new etude by rote, fixed problems spots to be able to play a duet, did aural training by rhythm dictation, transcribed a picture-notated score into a standard notation, read notations to learn a new piece partially, did a pattern analysis to find a sequence, etc.

When it was time to leave, he gently escorted his grandma out of the piano room.  Both looked content :)

Grandma, please come back any time!

I find it very refreshing to face a challenge that puts me to the test as a piano teacher, from time to time.

One of my 8yo pupils brought a sheet of paper with the lyrics of Christina Perri’s Human written on it, and told me that she wants to learn to self-accompany on the piano singing this song for the talent show at her school in 3 weeks time.

Next week is a half term, hence no piano lesson next week, so basically she was asking me to show her how to play the piano part of a song I’ve never heard of in 30 minutes, with her late elementary piano playing skill.

My PC in my piano room just crashed the night before, so no YouTube access! Then I realised that my husband has got an iPad (the only time I found it very useful unquestionably)! So, we YouTubed it and listened to the song and created a simple harmony in an easier key for her to be able to play as she sings. Not easy for someone who’s still learning to coordinate between singing and playing different things at the same time.

I generally like Christina Perri’s songs. Her songs tend to have some elements that can be explored in an educational sense, either harmonically or rhythmically based on a clean song form; verse – pre chorus – chorus – bridge – chorus.

Here’s what we came up with during the lesson and learned in 30 minutes.

Human by Christina Perri-piano part

We set the accompanying pattern to be a simple repetition of descending parallel 10th, in two different keys (C major & A minor), with a sustaining major chord (F major) for the pre-chorus section and also to link between Chorus and Verse.

Simple idea sometimes works just as fine as more elaborate one. What we have here is just a three-note descending scale with the hands separated by the interval 10th. One note each for each hand consists partially of a major or minor chord, which defines the harmonic base for this song.

Since this piano part is very simple, it can be a good coordination exercise for those who are starting to sing and play different things at the same time. It gives you an unexplainable joy when two things fit together and out comes a pleasing harmony! This song in particular offers a very simple and repetitive melody, so coordinating with piano playing can be easily done for the very beginners too, I suspect.

All you need is a sheet of paper with a song’s lyrics in front of you and play these harmonies on the beat where it should fit as you sing. In that sense, it’s a good aural training as well. Have a try!

My pupil seemed content with this piano part without feeling tricky to coordinate with her own singing. Relief… Her singing was amazing though, it was the first time I’ve heard her sing a pop song properly. She’s been practising self-accompanying Adele’s Someone Like You for a very long time in the lessons, and she just started to get a grip on coordinating singing and playing different things at the same time. Now it’s time to put herself to the test to see if all this hard work is actually paying off or not.

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