Free Christian Piano Arrangements

Those of you who are church pianists, or those who just enjoy playing sacred arrangements, should check out these free arrangements at KoertsMusic.com. So far, there are three arrangements available: For the Beauty of the Earth, Praise to the Lord, and Joy to the World. And while you’re there, you should click over to the page for the CD Wondrous Love and listen to the tracks. The CD is described as “Christian music with piano and orchestra.” Amazingly, you can listen to the whole track for each song, and you can download the entire album for $9.99! So far, I’m loving all of it and have added it to my universal wish list!

HT: The Church Pianist

Intervals by Ear

Have you seen the Create Your Own Interval Examples page on the EarMaster website? What a fabulous resource! Our Music Progressions evaluations are in April each year, so I’ve been assigning several of my students to work on specific ear training exercises at different websites. This is with the hope that maybe they won’t all bomb the listening test like we do most years…aural skills is not one of my strengths and it’s an area I rarely devote time to in the lessons, other than having students pick songs out by ear and compose original arrangements, so unless they are naturally gifted in this area, they usually don’t fare so well.

Anyway…I’ll be passing along the link to this interval example page. I love that it has links to YouTube videos so that students can immediately listen to songs representing each interval! (Maybe I should spend some time there, too… 🙂 ) Do you have any other good resources you’ve found for working on aural skills with students? Please do share – I can use all the help I can get in this area!

HT: Wendy

Organizing with Storage Pockets

One thing that I highly value is organization. I don’t function very well when things are cluttered, so I am always looking for better and more efficient systems that will help maintain order with minimal effort. An area where I have not developed a good system is with the variety of flashcards and small paper and game pieces that I use for games and activities. I’m constantly sifting through a stack of flashcards to pull out all the treble clef notes in a certain range, or to separate the sharp from the flat key signatures, etc. So I was absolutely thrilled to come across this brilliant idea in Laura Lowe’s post, 5 Tips for Studio Organization: Storage Pockets! Now why didn’t I ever think of that? That is definitely going on my list for my next studio re-organization day. 🙂

Review of How Sweet the Sound

When our local music teachers association dubbed our first meeting of the year a “New Music Review” I knew exactly what I wanted to play. I had recently received Wendy Stevens’ newest book, How Sweet the Sound, and fell in love with the first arrangement – Day of Arising. It’s a gorgeous setting that just makes the piano sing (of course, it helps that the teacher’s studio where I performed it is the new home to a magnificent Kawaii grand piano!).

Each of the other intermediate/late-intermediate arrangements are also enjoyable, offering the fresh, vibrant, elements that players of Wendy’s music have come to expect and love.

In How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds and Amazing Grace, I was pleasantly surprised to experience an arrangement of Amazing Grace that didn’t leave me feeling disengaged due to overuse, as often happens on those songs that have almost become too familiar.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence exhibited a somber character with lots of open 5ths and a pretty drawn out feel, complemented nicely by the passionate, thicker-textured section toward the end.

Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said was, like a number of the hymns in this collection, unfamiliar to me. This is a fun, lively arrangement in 3/2 with a quick triplet figure and crisp staccatos leading the way into the theme. You can almost feel a bit of suspense or mystery in the sound as you play that grabs the attention and keeps the listener engaged.

There Is a Balm in Gilead was a pleasant and easy read with an overall soothing quality, set in large part in the upper register of the piano.

The collection finishes out with arrangements of Thine Is the Glory, This Is My Father’s World, ‘Tis So Sweet, and We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight. As is often the case with unfamiliar melodies, a couple run-throughs are helpful for assimilating the style and drawing out the character of each arrangement. But I found them all to be very accessible and a welcome addition to my collection of sacred piano solos. I look forward to incorporating them into my Sunday music selections and know that many other church pianists and congregations will also enjoy them!

Monday Mailbag – Duets with Students

When you do an ensemble recital, with duets, how do you work with the students in their individual lessons?  Do they each practice their parts separately, then get together a few times to work together?  Do you play the other duet part with each of them so they know what it sounds like?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

I love doing ensemble playing in my studio, but it is a challenge to incorporate it regularly into lessons! This is how I approach it with each student: Typically my first step is to record one part onto my Clavinova and then play the other part along with it at the student’s lesson so that they can hear what it will sound like all put together. Then, I give them their part, go over it briefly, and they work on it on their own during the week.

When they come to their lesson, yes, I play along with them so that they get used to hearing the parts together. I also help them practice keeping a steady pulse by playing straight through the other part and not stopping or adjusting for their mistakes! Once each student has learned their part well, I often have one of them come to the other’s lesson so that we can rehearse together. Usually they also arrange other times to get together, either at my studio or at one of their homes to practice together. If they are planning to play it for a festival, I also try to make sure they have it ready in time to play it at a group class prior to the festival so that they get a little bit of performance experience with it.

Another thing that I do occasionally is record the duet part and e-mail it to the student as an mp3 so that they can download it and practice playing along with it during their individual practice sessions at home. This is especially helpful for the students who need extra reinforcement with keeping a consistent pulse!

Anyone else have any ideas for working on ensemble/duet repertoire with students?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Game: Chord-Building!

For this game, I just used three dice and three game markers. One die had Major, minor, augmented, and diminished on various sides, another die was just a 9-sided number die, and the final die had Root Position, 1st Inversion, 2nd Inversion on varying sides.

The student rolled the three dice and the built the specified chord on the piano keys with the game markers. We just used the number to represent the identity of the chord (1=C, 2=D, 3=E, etc.). For another student later in the day, we used the scale blocks for this purpose instead of the number die. Here’s an example, then, of what is pictured above:

1=C

Root Position

Augmented

This is really helpful preparation for our yearly Music Progressions evaluations because one of the written theory requirements is that students both identify and complete chords on pictured keyboards. This helps them learn to identify and create chords without hearing the sound – quite difficult for those aural students! You could also adapt the game and instead of having them build the chords on the keyboard, have them do so on a printed staff. In fact, eventually, I will probably do both – have them build it on the keyboard and then transfer the same chord to a staff so that they see the relationship between the two, especially valuable for learning to recognize inversions of chords in music!

Game: Interval Grab

This is the game that I used all last week and everyone loved it!

Here are step-by-step instructions for how we played Interval Grab:

1. Dump out a bunch of scale blocks on the piano fallboard (or a table) and place a bell within reach of the student.

2. Instruct the student that you will call out a direction, an interval, and a starting note (e.g. “up a 3rd from F” or “down a minor 6th from B,” etc.). They must grab the scale block that represents the answer to the instruction, ding the bell, and then say the name of the note.

3. The goal is to see how many the student can correctly identify within an allotted period of time. I pressed start when I said the name of the key to start the interval from and stopped it when the student dinged the bell. All correct answers got moved to the right to form a pile.

4. Count the number of blocks in the “correct” pile at the end of the allotted time and then list the score on a white board in the studio.

5. Of course, this game can be easily adapted to all different levels even by just using steps and skips for the beginning students or by incorporating diminished and augmented intervals for the more advanced students.

For a fun variation, I played an Interval Grab/Spell-It! game with several sibling pairs who come to their lessons at the same time. I placed a board in between them and called out the various interval directives so that the final results would form a word. As soon as they had the designated number of blocks and could identify the word, they would ding the bell and call it out. A bit of a challenge, but they really enjoyed it!

Game: Note Line-Up


This game is very similar to the Key Signature Line-Up game, but is designed to drill note identification instead. First I give the student a selection of note flash cards (in this case, we were working on bass clef notes from the low G up to middle C) and have him line them up in order from the lowest to the highest note. (This can be very revealing as it’s surprising sometimes to see a student struggle even with this first step and realize that they need help understanding the basic ascending pattern of notes on a staff.)

Once lined up, they place a scale block with each card to correspond to the name of the note. Again, sometimes it’s surprising to see which students still haven’t fully grasped the way the notes move alphabetically up the keys/staff. If the student struggles with this at all, we continue repeating this phase of the game until they grasp it and can line everything up quickly.

For phase two, mix the cards up and have the student lay them out in a random order and try to match the scale blocks with the corresponding card. You can time them and let them try to beat their previous times or just emphasize accuracy and let them work at their own pace, developing understanding as they go. Anything hands-on like this is great for kinesthetic learners and those who lack the focus to do worksheets reinforcing the same concept. And they have fun doing it!

10 Ways to Improve Your Musicianship in 2010

I know we’re a ways past the first of the year now, but I’m still contemplating goals I want to work toward and improvements I want to make – personally and professionally. Chris Foley has a fabulous article on “10 Ways to Improve Your Musicianship in 2010.” Check out this great statement:

“Single-mindedness and dedication will in large part determine the outcome in a process where talent usually means less than the hard work required for others to think that you were talented in the first place.”

My favorite item is 5. Go on a diet – of listening. A fascinating concept. Chris concludes with this observation, “If you become a part of the performing culture of your chosen musical style, it will add an energy and passion to your musical endeavors that will help propel your playing to the next level.” I’ve never been very “up” on different performers and haven’t made a point to listen to a wide variety of musicians in the past, so I’m excited about the possibility of making an intentional effort toward this end this year. We’ll see how that goes!

Game: Key Signature Line-Up

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Monday Mailbag post about Finding Time for Games, this week I’ll share some of the games that I’ve been using in my studio this year.

This is a really simple game! First, have the student line up the key signatures in order from the least number of sharps or flats to the greatest. Then, they place a scale block in front of each key signature to identify the name of the key. You can see in the above picture that I had this older student identify both the Major and minor key. I try to emphasize the Circle of 5ths over and over so that my students use that to figure out their keys.

As an aside, I never use mnemonic devices or the other little tricks for figuring out key names. (Although sometimes they learn them at school and them come and proudly announce to me that they found out another way to identify their keys…at which point they often proceed to confuse themselves trying to remember which trick went with which keys, etc. :-))

But I digress…back to the game! After they’ve lined them up correctly, we proceed to phase two of the game. I mix up the key signatures and then place them on the music rack in a random order and the student proceeds to line up the scale blocks again, matching the key names to the corresponding key signatures. If it’s a student who loves competition, I often time them to see how fast they can place them all correctly, then let them try one more time to see if they can beat their previous time. Lots of fun and easily adapted to a range of levels by doing only Major or minor keys or just using a few key signatures at a time.