OLE! Multi-cultural Piano Music

!Ole! Sheet Music by Lee EvansI just got home from teaching feeling pretty good about my last student’s lesson. He’s a senior in high school, just counting down the days until he’s free for the summer and then off to college on the opposite corner of the country. We’ve been working on pop music, reading from fake books for the last year or two. In the beginning this was a way to make the lessons more interesting, but now our weekly half hour is just plain fun. Each week I throw in a little sight reading because, hey, it’s April of senior year. Practicing? What’s that?

One of the books I got in my last music book order was a volume of original Latin American Dance music, !Ole! by Lee Evans. We read through a Rhumba today as well as a Conga and a Merengue. We also talked about the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, and to top it off, what do I see on TV tonight? Sugar Ray Leonard dancing the Pasa Doble on DWTS.  So yes, piano lessons are more than Hanon and Clementi.

Today, over at ComposeCreate, Wendy had a terrific guest post by Kristin Yost, Executive Director of the Centre for Musical Minds in Frisco, TX. She talks about what it means to be a “modern” piano teacher. One criteria she uses is “Multi-culturalism. She says:

The teacher embraces many backgrounds and musical tastes in lessons. Teaching music from other countries in order to develop an appreciation for good music in ALL forms. Recently I had the privilege of writing pedagogical commentary for a new series, Piano Accents, and am thoroughly convinced it is our responsibility as piano teachers, to make music from all over the globe come alive, not just music from western Europe.


Please read the entire post – Modern Piano Teacher as Entrepreneur.


SheerPiano: Contemporary Music for Contemporary Students

Dror Perl - Blue

Dror Perl - Original Compositions for all level pianists

I have found that the use of the word “position” in beginning piano lessons is not helpful in the long-run. Many young students quickly become dependent on knowing what position they start on that they never really learn how to read lines and spaces. I find myself telling the little ones that there are 88 keys and since they only have ten fingers they are going to have move their hands away from C position, Middle C position, and G position at some point. Then they have a bit of “scary” fun lifting their hands out of “position” and plopping them down randomly all over the keyboard.

Kudos to jazz pianist, Dror Perl of SheerPiano who has put together a series of “Color” piano books which snap students out of their comfort zone from the first book –Blue, Contemporary Music with a Harmonic Twist. I appreciate the fact  that from the opening pages, the left hand starts on a note other than C, F or G. For example, The man in the blue house, (shown above) starts on G#. The 5th finger of the left hand moves chromatically up to A and then down to Eb and the harmonies are labeled.

As the student progresses through to Red, Jazz, Blues and Funk the rhythms, phrasing and articulations, and harmonies become more complex – perfect for students of all ages who want to dip into jazz and a more improvisatory style.The pieces sound complicated but are still fairly easy to read and memorize.

And who can’t help but love the colors – inside and out!

Carmen Fantasy for Two Pianos

Just came across this wonderful new video from Anderson & Roe. The music from Carmen has been a favorite of mine since I was very young, reminding me about how important it is for young students to listen, listen, listen! Are you listening, students?

Aston – Classical Crossover

More and more students are coming into their piano lessons with sheet music from Coldplay,  Lady Gaga, Christina Perri, Taylor Swift, etc.  and I love it! Here’s why:

  • Turns out that most students practice the music they like and, the more they practice, the more their overall piano playing improves. Just like in any other type of music, popular music has many rhythmic and technical issues for students to work on.
  • As a teacher, I look forward to my students coming into their lessons with in an engaging performance of a song by Lady Gaga or Coldplay, as opposed to yet another unenthusiastic (sometimes pedantic) performance of a Clementi Sonatina.
  • I have no doubt that the same students that learn to play the piano by playing the music they enjoy, will not hesitate to open up a book of Bach Preludes and Fugues when they “discover” Bach or a book of Mozart Trios, when they decide to get together with some string students.
  • And finally, I can be certain that the students who are enthusiastic about playing popular music truly love playing the piano. They are not being pressured by their parents or by unrealistic goals and they have no plans to major in music in college. But, unlike some of these other students, I can be sure they will be playing piano for the rest of their lives.

I can still remember my favorite pieces from that stretch from 6th grade to 9th grade – the theme from “Born Free,” the “Maple Leaf Rag”, and “King of the Road.” The one piece I did NOT like during those early years was the 1st movement of the Moonlight Sonata. In fact, that piece almost drove me away from piano all together. So anyway, what do I have out on my piano right now in preparation for a 2011 Salon Concert? The Moonlight Sonata, of course, and I’m loving it.

Thanks to classical crossover groups like the Australian group, Aston, young students see that just because they’re taking piano lessons (or violin or cello), it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to work for hours and hours on music that doesn’t speak to them. By working on the music they love, they are putting in their 10,000 hours and working on the same musical and pianistic skills they will need regardless of what type of music they end up playing.


Inspired by this article about the endless supply of adaptations of Bach’s music, I started looking for some myself and found Egon Petri’s transcription of “Sheep May Safely Graze” from Bach’s Cantata 208 (free score here.) Here it is performed by Yeol Eum Son, silver medalist in the 2009 Van Cliburn Competiton. Enjoy!

My Piano Music Stack

Piano repertoire goes through style changes just like fashion. What’s all the rage one year might not appear on any recital program the next year. I remember one audition where I announced I’d be playing Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse and one of the jury members rolled his eyes and asked his colleagues “Again? How many times have we heard that one today?”

These days my practice time is limited and I’m always on the lookout for new short pieces of substance.  This is one reason why I love to listen to emerging artists – for their repertoire choices.  For example, this performance of James Rhodes playing Bach’s transcription of Alessandro Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe and Strings in d minor has gotten me hooked on this beautiful piece.  I can’t believe I hadn’t heard it before this. Thanks to the Petrucci Music Library I was able to download the PDF and play it and add it to my piano stack.

What else is in the stack? Of course there are the ever-present Chopin Nocturnes, Waltzes, Etudes and Impromptus – in preparation for my upcoming Chopin Salon recital. But I’ve also added some Schoenberg and Berg songs in anticipation of our next Theramin and Piano event, a couple of Etudes by Moszkowski, (to get the fingers moving, again thanks to James Rhodes), a waltz by James Ricci, and the beautiful Rachmaninoff Etude Tableau Op. 33 No. 2 (just because I love it!)