I like to use this piece to talk about phrases because for a beginning student, the four phrases are very clear. Each is four measures in length. We begin by looking for parts which are the same - phrase 1 and phrase 3 are identical, phrases 2 and 4 are almost identical. So, we look closer at phrases 2 and 4. Which phrase sounds like it ends on our "home" key? Most of the time students will naturally make the last note of phrases 1 and 2 less to shape a beautiful ending to the phrase, if they do not, then we are able to discuss how the last note will be less to better communicate the sound of the text when we sing it. If we want to get more sophisticated, I can have students listen to the harmonies in the teacher duet and pick which harmony they want to have be the loudest or most intense measure of the phrase. I love how I can do so much shaping and make such a beautiful melody with this piece without having to do complex note reading. This is what we need to be doing as teachers - work on listening skills to hear phrase shaping from early lessons!
(This piece can also be an opportunity for a student to practice identifying intervals.)
This is another piece with clear four measure phrases, 1 and 3 are identical, 2 and 4 only have the last note different. For phrases 2 and 4 we listen for which phrase sound like more of an arrival at home. If the student already knows 5 note scales we can identify the scale of the piece. I love how the melody "zig-zags". Students and I will "draw" the melody in the air. For example, the first phrase would go up, then down, then up and then slightly down. (Maybe this meadow is not a flat one and has a lot of hills to roll up and down.) Our goal with drawing in the air is to feel how the melody moves forward, it will be the most expressive if we feel the energy it takes to do the zig-zags and create a connected line of pitches. I feel moving our bodies to the direction changes helps eventually develop skills of "conducting" which students will eventually need to help with shaping more advanced repertoire.
For this piece I want to look at the B section, which we can also identify as a whole tone scale. We can talk about what is the effect of a whole tone scale and why do we think the composer decided to use it. The notes are slurred into three note groups, but by looking at the direction of the notes we can organize them into four groups of two measures. The first three groups have six pitches, the last group ends with the dotted half note. Students and I discuss the repetition - measures 17 and 18 are the same as 19 and 20, whenever we repeat something, we have to do something with our dynamics (the composer writes a crescendo, but we would do it anyway). Then in measures 21 and 22 the pitches start higher, so we REALLY have to do something! In measure 23 we begin the pattern considerably higher and then to finish the section we end with a half step instead of a whole step, a pretty big deal which leads us back to the A section. When we look at how those six notes and eventually the last 4 notes of the section relate to each other, we see how we can shape the music to create longer phrases (we don't need to wait until the student is playing Brahms). All this coincides with the imagery of flying the ship out into outer space! For the A section we can compare the first and third phrases - what it the difference and how does the sound/effect change because of that difference.
When I teach this piece, I have students study and practice the melody first. We probably will leave out the right hand in measures 1,2,4,9,10,12,14,16,19 for a few days of practicing until the shaping of the melody is very much in the student's ear. I believe when we do hands separate practicing it should not be with the intent to "learn the notes", but instead it is to listen better to how the individual lines are meant to be shaped. If we allow our ears to get used to hearing a line or melody without shape, then our ear learns it is acceptable to play without shaping a line. It is not, we should strive to play every note and thus every line with some kind of shape. We can always change our minds about what shape we want, but NO shape is not an option. This is another piece I often have students "draw" or conduct the melody in the air to help feel the motion of the melody.
We look at the patterns in the phrases. Phrases 1 and 3 have two parts - 2 descending lines. The last two lines could be considered as one long phrase (8 measures) or two 4 measure phrases (students could choose which they prefer). The second phrase I find is often the most difficult simply because it doesn't have the same motion of the other phrases. So, it helps to do some interval analysis (moving into the next theoretical concept) of seeing the thirds from G to E to C to A (maybe be a frog skipping over the keys?)
This piece uses 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and 5ths both harmonic and melodic and moves the intervals into different fingers. For example, the 4th is sometimes with fingers 2 and 5, sometimes with 1 and 4. This way students don't get used to a 4th always using their 4 finger. The steady quarter notes help give the piece a "mechanical" sound. (This piece can also use the concepts of the previous section with using the patterns to help decide shaping of the phrases.)
This selection uses 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths within one hand and if you look in measures 13 and 14 there is a 6th and a 9th between the two hands. For this piece, I like to have students really listen to which intervals are more consonant and which are more dissonant. We will use what they hear to help shape the phrases, getting louder or softer, whichever the student prefers as the intervals change.
This piece uses 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths both harmonically and melodically. I like to have students listen and shape the interval changes which happen in measure 3 and 11 (and similar places).
This piece is one of many in the book series which focuses on intervallic note reading. This piece could also be used for chord identification. I appreciate how the composer writes in repetitions to help students really learn to feel the interval patterns. Students encounter 2nds, 3rds and 5ths both melodically and harmonically. A student playing this piece should be getting more fluent with intervals, but this piece has enough slight variances in the patterns that students need to be careful.
This piece is in ABA form with a coda. I have my students begin by looking at the melodic patterns, then we can identify the A section as two parallel phrases, the second phrase more final because of the length of the last note. Then the student has to tell me what is different about the next section. All quarter notes instead of a mix of quarters and halves. More of a zig zag melody instead of a leap followed by a descending melody. The whole point at this level is to see that there are two sections which are contrasting. Then we talk about what the ninja might be doing in the A section versus the B section. Maybe tiptoing around and sneaking up on someone? Then, when we play we try different articulations to find what the student feels is the best for creating the character (or ninja moves) which they have decided best fit.
This piece is ABA with an introduction and a coda. For the A section, I would have students look at the melodic direction - zig zag around a half step. We would compare this to the B section which is ascending by 2nds. Within the B section we can compare the two phrases and identify the first as being major and the second as minor. We can discuss how the different melodic shape creates a different character or effect. To me, the A melody feels like descriptive or declamatory music (also see the text). The B section feels like it is anticipating something and building more excitement. In measure 19 we can listen to how the gradually increasing intervals (Major 2nd, minor 3rd, Major 3rd) build to an arrival on the downbeat of measure 20. This would be why the composer writes in a ritardando - to help us listen to the intervals.
This piece has a more extended form - A, A prime, B, A second. One of the first things students and I would do after identifying the different sections is to discuss what makes each of the sections different and how that effects the sound. This would mean we really look at the last two measures of each A sections. For example, measure 7 is a d minor chord moving to G. Measure 15 is an f-sharp diminished moving to G. Measure 43 should be similar to these two, but instead the composer extends the pattern by continuing the left hand line to an A-flat which then takes us to an a minor chord moving to G. We would play all three of these A section endings and listen for how each is different. The first two are with a piano dynamic, the last is mezzo piano. But, within the composer's parameters, the performer can make sure that each of these cadences have a different sound and we can try out different choices - do we make the final Gs more or less, do we take a bit of time? When we look at the B section we compare the A and the B sections. What is different - melody in LH versus RH, ascending versus descending, G Major instead of C - and how does this change the sound or character. Would we possibly experiment with some articulation changes to help show the character change?
This piece uses the scale of B-flat Major and has outlines of both F7 and C chords (so we could explore subtle dynamic changes for harmony changes). I really like to have students learn five-finger scales really early on in their piano study, so it is lots of fun when we can have pieces which use those scales. This book has a number of pieces uses a variety of scales. Even though the hand position is not what would be considered a B-flat Major hand position, students can still figure out the key. We listen to the piece for what pitch sound like "home". Once we decide on B-flat we can compare it to the five finger scale which they know and yes, it does use the same pitches. Then, we can notice that measure 7 does NOT follow the notes in the scale because of the E natural, that means this is a place in the piece we will want to do something with our dynamics to help the audience hear that something interesting is happening. I also like pieces like this because we can work on identifying the scale or key of the piece without having to talk about key signatures. I think too often we think of key signatures as being PRESCRIPTIVE of the scale of a piece rather than being DESCRIPTIVE of the scale.
In this piece students can identify three different five finger scales - C, b-flat and D-flat. Elvina only gives four different dynamic directions, but because she changes the harmony more than that we can explore doing subtle dynamic changes for all harmonic changes. I really want to stress that I want my STUDENTS to come up with any dynamic shaping, I do not prescribe the changes. We will usually try a couple of options together in the lesson, but then I send students home to try many more options at home. Sometimes what I hear the next week is a bit bizarre, but it is what the STUDENT has decided on. That, to me, is the most important aspect - that the STUDENT is making choices. My job as a teacher is then to simply communicate to the student if their choices are coming across clearly to me, the audience.
All the pieces in this collection are in a different key, so the whole volume is very helpful for helping students with relating scales to actual pieces. I like this piece because it uses both the f minor scale as well as the chromatic scale. (It also even uses secondary dominant in measure 7.) So, we can discuss the different effects of the two scales and how we might shape those differently.
This piece has only a few chords - d, B-flat, B-flat German 6th and A, so it is excellent for working on identification. I have students just practice the RH chord changes, not just to feel the finger changes, but to also HEAR the difference. We especially do this with the German 6th chord and the B-flat Major chord. I ask students to listen the sound difference between the two chords and then experiment with different ideas for shaping. For example, in the first two measures we have the d minor leading to the German 6th then in the next two measures the d minor leads to the B-flat Major. How are these going to be different? Is one going to have more of a crescendo than the other or are we going to voice the top note of the chord more? In measures 17-24 we have the pattern four times, how are we going to shape each of those two measures differently and how are we going to relate them so we end up with an 8 measure phrase?
"Easter Eggs" from All Year Round by Linda Niamath
This piece uses broken chords - E-flat, f and B-flat. The last line is an elongated cadence. I love it how the composer has chosen to not include dynamic markings in this cadence so students can feel the freedom to experiment with different options. What do they like the best - the ii chord the strongest or the V or the I? They can do this all within the mp parameter given by the composer, but the cadence will be most satisfying when the performer does something to indicate that they truly are helping their audience listen to the chord progression.
"Tension" from Musical Scenes, book 1 by Joyce Grill
I don't necessary like the title of this piece, since I really don't want my students to ever think "tension" when they play the piano. But, I understand the intent of the title - to remind us of the MUSICAL tension of a dominant function chord resolving. I appreciate how the composer has given us the whole first page with almost no dynamic markings so that students can really explore showing the harmonic changes. Please note, I am not meaning for these dynamics to be huge, but subtly leaning into a certain harmony and relaxing another harmony. In measure 17, I like for students to think about WHY the composer has marked this measure with p. Hopefully, we will eventually come up with the answer that it is because of the change to C7, which is really a huge shift from the primary chords of e minor.
"Tango Espanol" from Piano Solos in Lyrical Style by Carolyn Miller
I have had some students play this piece and without much prompting end up with a wonderfully expressive performance. Others have to work through the piece more in order to hear all the beautiful non-chord tones. We usually start by identifying the chords, which means we focus on the left hand. After a student has done their analysis (could be done with or without me based on the student's analytical ability), they should be able to tell me that there are three harmonies - d minor (tonic), g minor (sub dominant) and A Major (dominant). What I then like them to do is spend time practicing only the left hand. In order to help hear the function of each of those harmonies we might need to overemphasize them a bit in practice. For example, we might need to practice the dominant always being louder and then less on the tonic. I am not saying that this would necessarily be how we will eventually perform the piece, but it might be a practice tool to help actually feel the resolution of the harmonies. The goal is to feel that every time we return to the d minor harmony, we have returned "home". Ideally, with only this left hand practice, we will achieve a left hand part which already shows the expressive quality of the tango even without a melody.
For the right hand, I have students circle all the non-chord tones in the melody. Then we experiment with the many different options of leaning into the non-chord tones or pulling away from the non-chord tones, changing the articulation in some of the phrases, the options are endless. But, we make decisions based on whether or not the melody notes are in the chord or not. Then, to help hear the harmonic outline of the melody better, we play the melody plus the bass note. Not all the left hand notes, only the lowest note of the left hand pattern. At this point and in all the previous points in the learning process of this piece, our focus has been on making each note show the direction of the phrases and the harmonic outlines. We have never done practicing to "just learn the notes". Every note played we listen for if we are creating a phrase or showing a new color.
Eventually, once I am convinced that the student has an aural "image" in place, I allow them to add all the left hand notes. If we have done the careful listening throughout the process, we hopefully will avoid ever playing the piece without being expressive.