Just Make it Up

Sometimes when students are preparing for a performance I encourage them to “improvise” when they get stuck or have a memory lapse. Some students understand this, but for others who are younger or more concrete thinkers, I found a very simple phrase this week to help them keep going in a performance. Around 1:27 in the following video you’ll hear Claire say, “I forgot that part.” All I had to say was “Just make it up” for her to turn right back around and keep playing. For Claire, who is highly literal, this phrase made perfect sense and she was able to improvise some chords until she got back on track. It’s simple, but I have heard it said that it’s better to teach the same thing seven different ways than seven things one way. Now I have one more easy way to teach students to keep going through any performance!

[This is a lovely arrangement of The First Noel by Melody Bober in the book, In Recital! with Christmas Favorites, compiled by Helen Marlais]

Sacred Christmas Volume 2 – Giveaway #3

Do you have those composers that you love to play? You wait expectantly for their next release? You know that when you sit down to play through their work that it will be a treat for your ears? Even though I am not a fan of hearing Christmas music ad nauseam this time of year, ever since I first played James Koerts’ Wondrous Christmas selections a few years ago, I approach playing his arrangements with more delight than dread, certain that it will be an enjoyable experience. And I was not disappointed when I sat down for an hour with his latest book, Sacred Christmas, Volume 2!

Also, having just participated in George Litterst’s live webinar on Making Sense Out of Digital Scores, I resisted the urge to print out the 50 pages and instead gave them a run-through on my iPad mini. True to past experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the selection of very accessible intermediate arrangements. I particularly liked the cool factor of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” If you’ll forgive my less-than-stellar rendition of it, you can watch my recording of the arrangement (even though it’s not polished hopefully it will give you a good idea of the style):

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…James has kindly offered to giveaway one copy of Sacred Christmas, Volume 2, to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be drawn on Friday, December 11, at noon (CST) using a random number generator. This will provide some great playing time for you or an intermediate level piano student in your studio!

Sign up for the NoteRunner Online Piano Competition

You still have a little over one week to sign up for the NoteRunner Online Piano Competition. The contest is open to participants of all ages (including teachers!) and is designed to help promote the work of independent composers. Winners can receive cash prizes. Check out the list of songs to find a piece that grabs your interest. And you can read all the contest details here. I love that these online competitions are becoming more frequent and look forward to having some students participate one of these days!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas?

If I was going to be completely honest (and I do try to make a habit of it), I would have to say that I really don’t like much Christmas music. I know that’s practically blasphemy to many Christmas die hards, but it takes all of about one day for me to be done with Christmas carols. Less if it happens to be October or earlier. And I have three children in my house that are already breaking out the Christmas music!

Maybe it’s the bland, trite arrangements that make me groan, or maybe it’s just the pervasiveness of it the last couple months of the year. I don’t know for sure. But just as I will continue to teach Fur Elise for the sake of my students, I will continue to endure the familiar yuletide tunes to support these motivated aspiring pianists. That makes me a nice teacher, right? 🙂

All that said, I was intrigued by the latest newsletter from Alfred Publishing on “A Creative Christmas.” Robert Vandall talks through his latest contribution to the Christmas repertoire – Christmas Extravaganza – and the various composition techniques he employed to “have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy.” I’m actually looking forward to playing through some of these selections and hopefully finding some new, fresh, inspiring music that I can enjoy listening to this Christmas season!

One Week and Counting!

In one week from today we’ll be having our September Surprise! to kickoff a new year of piano lessons! In addition to getting all the finishing touches put on our practice incentive theme for the year – Jungle Expedition – I’ve also been collecting student repertoire and resources for group classes throughout the year. It’s motivating for me to spend time playing through a lot of great music, and it’s fun trying to figure out just which ones to use for each student that I hope will capture their imagination and inspire them to work hard!

Here’s a snapshot of some of the great music and resources we’ll be using this year! I’m especially excited about a unique find that I came across at our state music teachers conference this summer – 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano. This should be a fun way to work on rhythm in an ensemble setting! I’ll keep you posted (and hopefully share some videos!) along the way.

Giveaway of 3 Piano Solo Collections!

Don’t you just love having a new book of beautiful piano solos to play?! One of my favorite things to do is sit down with a new collection of lyrical piano pieces and just lose myself in the music. Thanks to composer James Stevens, there are three more such collections available to pianists everywhere (Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade). In honor of his latest releases, James is generously giving away one copy of each collection to three special Music Matters Blog readers! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, August 1, 2013.

In the meantime, check out James’ music at the following links:

Website Info: New Piano Music by James Stevens

Sheet Music: Like a Dream Flying By, Relaxing and Romantic Piano, and Winter Serenade

Free Giveaway of 44 Birthday Variations by Forrest Kinney!

Those of you who have been around here for a while know that my teaching philosophy and approach has been largely influenced by Forrest Kinney and his Pattern Play books and teacher workshops. I am excited to share that he has a new website and has been working on lots of projects to share with fellow pianists and teachers!

And, even better, he has graciously offered to giveaway a complete set of his new 44 Birthday Variations to one Music Matters Blog reader! You can listen to sample recordings of them on the individual variation pages (e.g. here’s the New Age one). Just leave your name in the comment section below, and a winner will be selected using a random number generator on Friday, July 11, at 12:00 noon (CST). I know you and/or your students will love these!

Faber’s New Studio Collection

Randall and Nancy Faber recently announced their new Studio Collection, “a spectacular mix of styles with carefully selected pieces from the PreTime® to BigTime® Piano Supplementary Library.”

I love that you can click each book’s image on the site to view videos of Randall Faber performing and sometimes discussing the pieces. What a great resource for students who want to learn these familiar tunes!

Review and Giveaway of Be Still by James Koerts

When James Koerts contacted me about his new collection of hymn arrangements titled, Be Still, I jumped at the chance to play through them! After having such a satisfying experience with his new book of Christmas piano arrangements a couple of years ago, I had high expectations for this latest release. And I was not disappointed. 🙂

The book of piano solos was just as advertised, “A reflective collection of 10 piano solos designed to encourage and inspire. Ideal for the late intermediate to early advanced pianist.” Since it’s sold exclusively as digital music, if you’re not into the e-music reader world yet (I confess, I haven’t yet crossed over into the new era of digital sheet music yet…), you’ll have to print the sheet music yourself, but I decided to just “bite the bullet” and print the whole book at once and then put the pages in plastic sheet protectors. This worked out nicely and Be Still was quickly added to my repertoire of prelude music.

In fact, funny story…I was in the process of selecting prelude music for a local homeschool graduation ceremony and decided to use several of these arrangements in the mix. When I was at the rehearsal for the ceremony, all the parents were being lined up outside the entry doors, so I decided to get a feel for the piano with some of the prelude music. I began playing James’ arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Unbeknownst to me, the parents started filing in, and by the time I realized what was happening it was too late to transition over to the piece I had intended to play for the parents’ processional. In the end, the “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” worked out so well that I decided to keep it there and use it for the actual ceremony. The style was perfect for the occasion and many people commented on how much they enjoyed the music.

Now…for the exciting news! James has generously offered to giveaway three copies of Be Still to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing to win your copy of this collection of lovely piano solo arrangements of favorite hymns. The winners will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, June 27.