Archives for category: piano duet pieces

There’re tunes that I use with my beginner students of any age at the early stage of their piano learning; young children, older children and adults.  Ideals tunes that serves the purpose of keyboard orientation as well as introducing fundamental elements of how music works; sound, pulse, silent pulse, melodic shape, character, articulation, dynamics, theory, etc.

1.Whole-tone scale based tunes:
To the Moon_small

On the Moon_small

Back to the Earth_small

By the end of exploring the keyboard playing these tunes, students are usually well aware of what makes spacey sound (whole-tone scale); 3 black-key followed by 3 white-key (around 2 black-key) or 2 black-key followed by 4 white-key (around 3 black-key).  They also learn to listen attentively!

 

2.Chromatic scale based tune: Pink Panther by Henry Mancini

Preparation
Thumb on the white key and middle finger on the black key.

chromatic scale playing_small

tip for chromatic scale playing_small

Pink Panther _ bass patterns:
Pink Panther-bass patterns_small

This exercise teaches the students about counting, listening, articulation, dynamics, optimum hand shape, relaxed wrist, how to use thumb for piano playing, etc.

Next scales to explore will be diatonic ones, which is basically a mixture of above two scales!

I hope you enjoy a little time with your students to explore what piano can do before reading study begins.

Happy exploring!

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure it’s a natural development for many enthusiastic and creative teachers to write pieces for their students.  The reason to do so may be for pure enjoyment on both parts or born out of necessity. There’re as many types of students as there’re teachers.  Every teacher is different and has his/her own approach and so is what each student wants out of the lessons. As one of the teachers who are trying their best to respond to such needs, I’ve also been writing many little pieces for my students for the past years, often tailored to the level of their playing skill and most importantly in a style of music that they can relate to. For me, the challenge is to help those who started the piano for the first time without any musical background (no music learning in their schools, etc.) and their age is about 9 years old and above. Unlike small children, those age group children have been regularly exposed to the music surrounding them and the reason why they want to take up piano lessons often is because they want to play like someone or want to play some songs they enjoy listening. That means that they have a rough idea what they wish to get out of their lessons. Having had gone through some tricky situations where I couldn’t seem to find enough materials for those particular age group beginners, I’ve started to write pieces for them, inspired by what they enjoy listening and wants to play. It took me some years before I managed to put them into sensibly categorised collections.

I’m pleased to announce that one of such collections is finally finished and professionally printed for publication.  This book is the second in the series aimed at the late elementary to early intermediate levels.  It came out earlier than the book one simply I frequently use the pieces from the book two with my teenage students at the moment.  Having said that, one of my ambitious little players who have just passed ABRSM grade 1 also started using it.  Hopefully, book one and three to follow soon, and then book four.

My students are happy now to have those pieces in a book form, not on the A4 printed sheets on their ring binders!

Please have a visit to my website if you’re interested in having a look. It’s available for purchase.  I’m gradually put all my other pieces into several collections (some etudes for piano beginners, some fun rhythm pieces based on morse code, some folk songs for children, etc.), which I hope to add to my website shop under sheet music in the near future.

Happy playing!

In prior to the piano duet concert I’ll be performing with Marie-Noëlle Kendall, the local TV came to film us.  To be honest, I was horrified by the idea that I had to speak to the TV.   But at the hands of this man, Frankie Lowe, made this experience tolerable for me and managed to make me feel like I was speaking to a friend.  I’m ever so grateful for his efforts.  He was in charge of camera & lighting set-up, sound check, interview, filming, editing; basically everything.  How he managed to take bits and pieces out of our 1-hour interview and turn them into something coherent as a whole.  I say, that’s a talent and dedication.

_________
Broadcast on Cambridge TV, 23rd June on The M.A.C. (Music, Arts and Culture) programme as part of Cambridge News.

 

Our piano duet programme will be a good mixture of old time classics (Schubert’s Rondo in A & Fantasie in Fm & Schumann’s Bilder aus Osten) and something modern & exciting (Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques & Gorb’s Yiddish Dances).  Performing at the church venue is always a challenge because of the boomy acoustics.  Pedalling and tempi will have to be discussed and subtly adjusted on the day at the venue.  Having said that, one of the pieces we can take advantage of the church acoustics will probably be the Debussy piece. Irony is that this piece has the least number of notes between us, but yet causes the more hand clashes if we’re not careful.  Overcoming this slight problem, the sonority of this particular piece will surely sound magical in the church setting – to me, it’s an ultimate soundscape.  We hope that we’ll be able to give something to the audience that they can take home.  I look forward to having you with us on the day!

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Piano Duet Concert (Marie-Noëlle Kendall & Yukie Smith)
Saturday, 9th July at 7.30pm
Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge UK

For the concert details: New Europe Society Events

It started with one of my intermediate level piano student’s request. He wanted to learn to play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as a piano solo piece. At that point, I didn’t think it was ready for him to play this piece as a solo unless we make lots of comprises in arrangement. When pupils usually ask for a particular piece, they already know how it should sound like, so it’s not ideal to give them a simplified version because they usually get disappointed for it being sounding not as cool as the original. So, I looked for a piano duet version. We are all familiar with the Henry Levine’s piano duet transcription that he based on the Gershwin’s original score. The problem is that even with cuts, it’s a little bit too complicated due to the amount of modulations (key changes). When I searched for easier versions that are not over simplified, it was virtually non-existent! That was a deciding factor for me that I should make an attempt in arranging one for my student.

A challenge was to work out how to keep it manageable for intermediate level players without making too much compromise. Based on the Ferde Grofé’s recast orchestra score of Gershwin’s original, I managed to engineer it so that the piece stays within one sharp or flat key. My aim was to make this arrangement as an educational as possible as well as fun to play so that the players can enjoy the satisfaction of being able to contribute to each other in creating a powerful quasi-orchestra sound.

Keeping that in mind, I did my best to give both players a fair share of technical challenges. Out came an abridged version that last about 5 minutes and a half. After a successful performance of my arrangement by my student and his piano duet partner at the EPTA’s chamber concert in November 2012, the score has finally been published and can reach those who wish to have a go! It’s available from Goodmusic Publishing. You can listen to the audio sample generated from the score while you look at the score. I hope it’ll find its usefulness in bringing more fun to piano playing.

Happy ensemble playing!!

IMG_0002-small

Performing with my teenage pupil for whom I wrote this arrangement:

One of the joyful experiences you can have in piano duet playing is to be able to explore the sound of rich harmonies and a wide range of dynamics that piano is capable of producing.  For the very young beginners, it’s still possible with just a few keys on the keyboard to have a taste of that experience even before they start learning to read notation.

I have 3 videos with 3 different tunes here as an example where we explored various elements of music as well;

No.1 – The Ground Is Breaking

  • steady pulse (pupil listening to other than him/herself)
  • metre (we sang 1-2-3-4 in tune with the melody)
  • structure (3 sections to be aware for their different characters)
  • harmonies (something that piano is excelled at!)
  • musical character (make use of what children are good at; making a story according to the character of the tune, then coming up with the title of their own for the tune!)
  • articulation (detached rather than legato to follow the character of the tune)
  • dynamics (loud and soft with the use of arm weight)



No.2 – The Grand Old Duke of York
In addition to the above list, we had a few extra activities to explore.

  • composing (some little ones are full of ideas, give them a chance to use their own imagination to make the tune special to them!)
  • articulation (legato was achieved by the finger walking game on the keyboard)



No.3 – Going Home
This tune has a bit more movement than the other two previous tunes.  So, we needed to work out something more visual so that my pupil can internalise the tune in an organised way.  In doing so, we created a colour-coded shape for each phrase pattern.  Colourised drawing of some sort always comes in handy when reading notation is not just yet part of a regular practice in the lessons.  Here’s the example of what we came up with:

colour-coded phrase patterns

Finally, here’s my thought on why I choose to spend more time on using black keys for the young beginners.  Not only it helps them to orientate themselves around the keyboard geography, but also tiny hands and fingers can learn to develop a nice grip easier with the black keys than the white keys because of the fact that the level of the hand stays more or less with the level of the while keys when the black key is pressed.  Less chance of the wrist dipping when the finger presses the key!

Another important issue I’d like to address is that singing the tune while playing is a very positive start of learning to perform musically.  Not only it helps to internalise the tune with steady pulse, but also helps the fingers to find the right notes on the keyboard.  Having said that, I must admit that singing the black-key range (g♭’, a♭’, b♭’) may be a bit out of comfortable voice range for some children.  It may help if the teacher sings along in the right pitch and sing down an octave when necessary.  The focus here is to follow the melodic shape reflected in the singing, not to sing absolutely in tune.  It’s amazing to realise what’s capable when the ‘listening ear’ is truly open!

I hope this video serves a useful purpose of helping to inspire anyone who involves in music making with young children.

In this video recording I used the following equipments and software:

Piano model: Yahama C5A
Microphone: 2 x AKG P420 (MS setting)
Digital recorder: Zoom H4n (I didn’t use its inbuilt XY mics)
Audio editor: Cubase LE4
Video recorder: Flip Video Ultra HD
Video editor: CorelStudio Pro X5

I’d like to write a blog about my home recording at some point.  This is a never-ending experimentation since recording and capturing the sound of piano is considered to be the most difficult task because of its wide range of dynamics, frequencies and overtones.  A slight change of positioning and angle of the microphones easily affects how the sound comes out in the recording, I find!

It’s been two years since one of my piano duet partners, James Williams, moved to China. Although we weren’t sure whether it would be possible, we sort of said to each other back then that we’d do a reunion piano duet concert when he comes back to the UK for a short visit in two years time. He had 2 months in the UK this summer, visiting friends and families, and travelled around for a proper holiday, etc. Amongst his packed schedule including performing 2 piano solo recitals, he managed to find time for us to make this reunion piano duet concert happen! Probably the most limited amount of rehearsals we had with this concert… So, maybe not as good as we’d have liked but we enjoyed playing together again and the audience seemed to have enjoyed it too, so I think I can say it was a successful concert! After all, music is for your soul and spirit, and share with others, isn’t it? I think we managed that.

We particularly enjoy playing for this lunchtime concert series, which is open to the public free of charge.  Some people literally drop by during the lunch break from work, some tourists who just happen to be passing by, some who can’t afford to pay to go to live concerts; they are all free to come and go.  I think this concert series is a godsend for both audience and performers.  We’ll definitely continue to contribute towards spreading the music and to share it with others.

James flew back to China the following day… Our next reunion concert will be in two years time!

Programme:

Robert Schumann
Symphony No.3, Allegro (no video for this one, please go to – http://youtu.be/Y7JD0SlkRQg)

Johann Wilhelm Wilms (~23:50)
Sonata on B flat
1. Allegro
2. Poco adagio
3. Allegro

Florent Schmitt (24:07~)
Humoresque, Op.43
1. Marche Militaire
2. Rondeau
3. Bucolique
4. Scherzo
5. Valse Sentimentale
6. Danse Grotesque

Johannes Brahms (40:27~)
Hungarian Dances No.8 & No.15

encore (46:38~)
J. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5 (no video!)
primo: James Williams
secondo: Yukie Smith

Recorded at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge UK
http://emmanuel-urc.org.uk/
Wednesday, 8th August, 2012

Piano duo:
James Williams
Yukie Smith (http://soundcloud.com/yukiest)

Video: Flip Video Ultra H
Audio: Zoom H4n
Piano: Kawai

It’s been about a year since Erica Sipes (@ericasipes) and I (@yukiest) decided to team up as a virtual piano duo, aka Musical Partners in Crime (@MusicalPinC).  So far, we’ve done Schubert’s Fugue D. 952 (http://snd.sc/wq42bN), Daniel Barkley’s (@DanielBarkley) Nexus (http://snd.sc/zHdWFP), and then we became too busy to work on a new project for a while.  But finally we’ve found some time for each other and completed another project!  This time, we picked Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C, K.545 with an accompaniment arranged by Grieg.  Mozart is one of the composers we both adore.  The fact that Mozart never wrote unnecessary notes in his music; all the notes are meant to be there, not a single note too many or less, makes you wonder how on earth Grieg managed to dare adding something to it.  We just have to stand back in awe.  Greig played an accompaniment part to some of Mozart’s piano sonatas for his students. I can see the reason for it is not only for pleasure but also for educational purposes.

We started this project with a bit of skepticism. And we simply didn’t know the full scale of joy we get out of this until we heard the result.  Since what we have for each other is a pre-recorded audio fed through a headphone set, it’s not often easy to ‘feel’ how we emote to the music that we play, let alone actually hear how we’re resonating together in raw sound.  But with a careful ‘virtual’ rehearsing with each other, you’ll be surprised how far you can go that way.  Although, there’s one great feature about this virtual duet that makes rehearsing go easy; your partner never changes how s/he plays every time!

Once individual recording is done, the actual part of combining audio files together is not that difficult these days, if you have a decent DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software.  You can cut and paste the audio seamlessly and balance the volume between 2 pianos.  Even changing the tone colour by tweaking EQ (equalizer), which I usually tend not to do to keep our original piano tone as natural as possible.  But what I did was to change the audio sampling rate (format) between 44khz/16bit and 96khz/24bit at the time of recording on my part to better balance with Erica’s Steinway piano tone.  My Yahama piano can be sometimes too bright and sharp.  96khz/24bit seems to catch the tone depth of my Yahama and gives a bit of warmth to it although 44khz/16bit works better when playing dense harmony aiming for clearer and crisp tone.

Here are the details of what I’ve done for Mozart recording:

1st mvt: Yukie recorded first the primo part (Mozart) at 44khz/16bit
Erica recorded later the secondo part (Grieg)

2nd mvt: Erica recorded first the primo part (Mozart)
Yukie recorded later the secondo part (Grieg) at
44khz/16bit

3rd mvt: Erica recorded first the primo part (Mozart)
Yukie recorded later the secondo part (Grieg) at 44khz/16bit
Yukie recorded a cadenza in the secondo part (Grieg)
separately at 96khz/24bit and pasted it in later

The only problem I had in putting our audios together was that my recording of the 2nd movement seems to have prolonged in duration at a fraction of a second from the halfway through to the end when I imported the file into a DAW software (Cubase LE4 that came with my Zoom H4n) – I still can’t figure out why, anyone who knows the answer please write to me!  This problem may be undetected if it’s a piano solo but a tiny fraction of second delay becomes a tricky problem for piano duet.  So what I had to do was to choose the places in my recording where the volume is lowest, then cut and move it forward less than a millimeter in length.  This manipulation had to be done from the half way through towards the end. This 2nd movement is quite long and if it had been shorter, then I probably wouldn’t have had to go through with this.

A final touch I added was a small amount of room reverb to each individual recording at different rates.  Slightly more reverb was added to Erica’s recording than to mine.  This seems to have done a wonder to have Steinway and Yahama tones merged to an agreeable level, in another words, disguised the tone differences well.

There you have it.  What came out of having engineered our recordings is an orchestral sound of Mozart with a touch of Grieg. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but Grieg’s liking for exotic (somewhat jazzy) harmony sometimes gives us a little surprise here and there, which I think is a treat for modern listeners.  To mark our success with this Mozart=Grieg recording, we’ve decided to release it on www.bandcamp.com.  It’s free to stream and free to download, so please share with others!